Of Curse and Cage

Gadfly had nearly managed the task of taking a sip of his Chatthalmay tea when he was found, seagulls circling above, by Halfhand the porter. He had prepared himself, physically and mentally, for whatever would come from that horrible brew and had gotten far enough into the process that its acrid aroma had made it past his thin and ridiculous mustache, up into his tiny nostrils that gave him, the temple wives had told him as much, a look like a woman or a glenchild. Some had even gone so far as to question his heritage, asking him to predict the weather or to give up the day of their death, or more often the deaths of their enemies. Which cow was likely to give the most milk? Where would one best dig a well? “I’m not an elf,” he’d mumble. “I can’t tell when the geese are off to Gungsuny, or what the stars portend. I’m just a delver.”

“You mean a thief.” The thick boorish voice of Halfhand brought him back to reality, sitting on the side of a cobblestone road that turned as it descended down the hill from the noisy market above. He was in the great western city of Seacourt, a place sectioned off by stone aquaducts, raised upon arches which divided the city into warrens by usage. To be precise, he was sitting on a line of empty crates in one of Seacourt’s more austere warrens: Pauper’s Swell. His nostrils were thick with the smell of Chatthalmay, whatever that was, the ocean wind, and low tide. It all competed with whatever accursed stock they unloaded into the warehouses nearby. The low end stuff that was already rotting by the time it made it into port and made the Swell, when the winds came from the sea, nearly uninhabitable.

Having been out in the Fade the last three months, Gadfly preferred the afforded isolation and found it a much needed midpoint step between what was out there beyond the city walls and the toxic naïveté that prevailed within them.

“No,” Gadfly answered, “I mean a delver.”

“Not a scout, then?”

“Not a scout. Not a rogue. Not a shadowman. Just a delver.”

Halfhand asked dismissively what the difference was: “the same basic skillset. Anyone’ll tell you that,” and the same blatant disregard for the sanctity of someone else’s property. Gadfly knew the difference. He robbed the dead, or Cthonia knew what else, but he wasn’t rifling through the houses of fat merchants. It was, to him, an important distinction. Halfhand would have thought it better to rob the merchants. The same might be said of the opinions of most of the civilized world, what there was left of it, anyways. The same gods that guarded the merchants tended to guard the thieves.

Having repeatedly, over the years, been accused of sylvan ancestry, Gadfly had grown in the mustache. It was odd enough that he was a delver. He’d imagined a full mustache and a pointy beard to go along with the patterned bandanna that he used to keep the hair out of his eyes. He didn’t realize it, but his imagination had borrowed the look from an Iponian pirate he’d seen when only a boy back at Sage’s Pier: dashing and formidable.

The reality was, though, that the beard would not grow, and the mustache was too thin. It gave him the appearance of having a bloated lip like the half-cursed one occasionally met walking around Seacourt. You pretended not to notice but you were always left wondering, “what did their parents do?”

Maybe he really did have sylvan blood. Somewhere on his mother’s side, maybe. She was, after all from Yinguard, which meant that he had Yinguard blood too, but even he knew better than to trust those people.

He tried to take another sip. The acrid smell was like a wasp threatening his nose. How did people drink this? The worst of it, he had been told, would come after.

Halfhand scowled, “the difference is that a thief would get careful and not get made.”

“I haven’t been made,” Gadfly responded. Then, taking Halfhand seriously, he set the cup back down on the tin saucer. “Why would you say I’ve been made?” He looked around. “I haven’t been made, have I?”

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if you’d been made, now would I?”

Gadfly lifted the cup back to his lip, nearly taking a sip. Across the sky, galleons were slowly flying along. Behind them, connected to great chains, a floating island, and on top of it, the colossal domed monument to some unknown god. It was up there alright, just as sure as the clouds were up there. Rowers hidden in their hulls, pulled it like Pelor moving from dawn until dusk. Seagulls flew up to it and took roost. Water poured from it out into the ocean in breathtaking waterfalls. The visions were getting worse. The tea smelled terrible. “You have me, then, Halfhand: why are you here?”

“Dame Geldring’s why.”

“What about her?”

“You’re supposed to be watching her. Surveillance? The Beggar’s Union is paying you to…”

“Damn it Halfhand, I know why the beggars are paying me. Why are you here?”

“I’m here ‘cause the beggars are now also paying me to watch you. Something there about you being reluctant and whatnot to call yourself a spy or a thief. They don’t go in, as much as you’d think, for that whole delver business.”

Halfhand wasn’t bad. For a dweller, he knew his business. He understood Seacourt from tip to stern as they were fond of saying around the Duke’s Fair, but nothing beyond the gate. He probably hadn’t even seen the farms just outside the wall. He was born in some Seacourt gutter, he’d been raised, just left of the gutter, and now he never got further away from the city then the docks. When he finally died, they’d most likely bury him up behind the temple of Erathis. The goddess of civilization would bless the poor body of this scoundrel who’d broken most of her laws. People like Halfhand, they got maimed in a barroom brawl, they’d never think twice of it. He probably told himself, I never should have insulted that Noethian’s boat. Out in the Fade, you learned better.

Things like that were never accidents in the way that dweller’s used the word. You break the rules of the goddess once too often, she took her pay. In Halfhand’s case, currency was in fingers: pinky and ring. Next offense, she’d leave you bleeding out somewhere. Somewhere civilized. There’s humor in that. Gadfly scrutinized Halfhand’s broad dumb face in deep consideration, it looked as though she’d already accepted teeth as payment in the meantime. And yet, there it was, the symbol of Erathis hanging from around his neck, carved into wood. The ever-present trinket of a dweller.

“I’m watching her well enough.”

The Jostler’s braid that hung from Halfhand’s temple swung in front of his eye as he snapped his head to look across the bridge and up towards her house. He giggled one chortle. Halfhand was a dock man most of the time. Gadfly would have thought he’d be more comfortable closer to the water, but that was the problem: the beggars were wondering why, exactly, Gadfly had positioned himself down near Pauper’s Swell rather than up near the front of the house where its gate abutted the Duke’s Fair.

“Because, if she’s going to receive anyone worth talking to, she’ll call them around the back where there aren’t going to be hundreds of fat merchants watching. That means I either sit here or out on one of the sea walls. Which one’s less conspicuous?”

“How do you know?”

He knew because he’d paid off one of the fat merchants, but he wasn’t going to say such a thing. He didn’t tell the beggars about the merchants and he didn’t tell the merchants about the beggars, but he didn’t really work for anyone except on contract: there was no reason for him to remain loyal just so long as the job got done. The beggars hadn’t intended for this to be three days’ worth of work.

“They seem to be operating under the impression that you’ve taken their money, and being a delver and all, are now using it to get drunk down here, or doing whatever it is that you delvers do with all that gold you haul back.”

“Do I look drunk?”

Halfhand considered the answer, the indelicacy of it, Gadfly with the tea cup in his hand like a gentleman, the miasma of rotting pinchfruit abandoned across the way, stinking up the alley. “No, you don’t look drunk.”

Across the road, on a little score of stony beach, between two ramshackle hovels that passed for wharfs, three rusty iron man-cages lay on their sides, chained front and back, to the ground. That was the real Pauper’s Swell where extreme debtors were punished in a time honored tradition titled, “asking Melora for forgiveness.” Placed inside the cages at low tide, they could expect that by high tide, they would be drowned like rats, but not before feeling the surge of the tide try its best to pick them up and move them up the beach. According to legend, if the goddess of the sea, Melora, found favor in your prayers, the waves would succeed. They’d pick it up, cage, pauper and all, and move them up the beach so that the next day would find them no worse for wear. Gadfly had been down here for three days trying to drink his tea. He’d yet to see any of the paupers offer proper supplication. All of them were freed by their friends. It was a good scare, as long as you had friends enough not to let it go any further.

The Swell was an especially bad place for the beggar’s union who considered the whole area too prophetic to be worth their time. Quite frankly, they thought the place cursed, which was a word Dwellers rarely used and so it carried extra weight. Part of the reason Gadfly had chosen it had been to force their hand in case they decided to survey him as he surveyed the venerable Dame Geldring. That was one reason for choosing this spot. He wasn’t worried about their curse. After all, he wasn’t a pauper.

Again, his thoughts turned to the mustache and whether or not it was time to shave it. The temple wives at the brothel were constantly checking his ears and claiming that they could sometimes see scars where the elves would have them clipped so as to pass as men. Dweller superstition.

“And anyways, why would you suggest that I’d been made.”

“You’re sitting in front of this slough art hovel and you’ve been drinking the same cup of tea for hours. It’s a giveaway.”

“It isn’t.”

“That tea’s ice cold by now.”

“It’s still warm.”

“It’s not still warm.”

“It is.” Gadfly drew a clean flat pebble from the tea. As Halfhand watched it, the water evaporated from its surface.

Even in a place like Seacourt, even where you’d least expect it, they were still so naïve. “What’s that?”

Gadfly thought about the amount of exotic material that must get schlepped on and off of Randolph’s Pier by jostlers just like Halfhand. To be interested in anything like a heat rock, it was confounding.

“It’s a heat rock. It stays hot.” He turned it over in his hand, passing it through his fingers. It is a trick that he is sure, suddenly, that Halfhand could not do. “When I first got it, you could hardly handle it. It would burn paper, if you wrapped it up in it. Tivold tried, right. Something a magician does. Curious lot. Too curious sometimes. That’s why they say they go first.” He looks to Halfhand for a reaction, but doesn’t see one. “He put the thing under logs to start fires at night. I used it as a sling stone of course. This stone here has lit many an orc’s black mane on fire. It’s a horrible way to go, I assume, but then, it’s hard to feel anything like pity for them orcs. They’re born of hate, they say. That’s the legend anyways. When the first human tried to kill the second, he was turned into an Orc by Corellon, and Gruumsh who had wanted to kill off the world along with the old gods, he took him in kind, and the worlds had orcs ever since. Old as elves. Maybe older.”

“I heard elves come from somewhere else. That’s why you never see many of them, not at one time, and never the same one twice.”

“Yeah, I heard that too.”

“So, where’d you get that, then?”

“Boggins gave it to me. It was a present.”

“Boggins, who’s Boggins?”

“Not a who, a what. Boggins. They’re little fey creatures like fairies or pixies. Mischievous aint the word for them, something worse than that. They have poison that’ll make you sleep for a year and a day.”

“And I suppose they live off of honey-suckle and claret, eh?”

“It’s true though. The whole world out there’s different. You go off into the forest, and you see things that don’t want to be seen by civilization.”

“Yeah, you see things.”

Gadfly ignored the inference. Nobody else could see the slave ships in the sky. The men driving carts filled with barrels of Billomar weed were just men, dressed in the standard garb of traders from the northern coast of Gungsuny, and not venomfolk in disguise. He would have checked but, if they were already worried about his losing his cover, stopping the cart to rifle through it for kidnapped children would not be in his best interest. He knew this. He knew it; but they had the heads of snakes even if he chose to ignore them. They, and their hallucinatory cousins, had been strolling past him for days. That was another reason for Pauper’s Swell: less people around for his imagination to turn into orcs, obellion, or medusa in turbans. Pauper’s Swell was where the poor sailors unloaded from their ships. It was a reminder to them not to get in too deep with the Half-Blind Ante, the casino down the road that was fabled to be the last stop before being finally interred into a cage at the Swell. The Obrivel brothers who ran the place were said to own the keys. Augus Obrivel even had the badge that made him the law in Pauper’s Swell.

“Has anyone been to see her?”

“No.” Halfhand mistakes Gadfly’s newest attempt to take a drink as reluctance. It isn’t. The stuff in the cup does not smell like anything anyone should drink down. Gadfly puts the pebble back thinking that he’ll try again once he’s alone

“You’ll tell them if someone does?”

“Of course. That is what they’re paying me for, isn’t it.”

The stone had begun to lose its heat the second he first caught a glimpse of the chimneys of the huts and cabins of civilization. It stayed in the lantern even as it cooled, but the light that it shed had faded to nothing. By the time he had made it past the white gate and into the city of arches, the light was gone and the stone was worth nothing more than a tea warmer. Ridiculous, but even that was something the dwellers found exotic. Tivold told him to make for the man of curses down in Pauper’s Swell for the Chatthalmay tea.

“What do they make it out of?”

“Better you not know, delver.”

“I’ve heard it’s horrible.”

“You’ve offended something out there, Gadfly, and you don’t know what it is or what it will want as an offering. Want my advice? Drink the tea. Consider it an occupational hazard.”

He’d heard stories. Some men died after drinking the stuff. It was just as likely to appease a god as it was to make it angrier, and besides, only the priests of Wee Jas knew what was in the rot swill, and if even her men of curses refused to reveal its contents, he was afraid of what might be in it. What if he really did have elf blood somewhere way back? Would that affect it? A mammoth walked by, an impossible beast, it couldn’t even fit under the entrance arch to Pauper’s Swell. How could it have gotten here? His imagination was getting lazy. Tivold would never take him out there again. Not like this. And even among the dwellers, he was already getting a reputation. How long before the beggars’ guild decided he was more of a liability than an asset? How long before that cutthroat Halfhand was meeting with him to tie up loose ends or pointing him out to the guards for the cage. Or worse, how long before he walked off into the Fade all by himself and never to return?

The bald man of curses, reluctant priest of Wee Jas, walked out to where Gadfly sat on a row of emptied crates. “Drink your tea, sirrah. It is an only cure for an sick mind.” He stood with his arms folded and hidden in the sleeves of his dark robe.

But Gadfly was no longer listening. Two men were now standing at the back door of the Geldring estate. He could see them there, silhouetted in the twilight.
Just across the cobblestone way, a man in one of the cages began to groan. In just a few hours, Melora would have him at the bottom of the Hornridge sea, where the souls of the dead are doomed, forever, to live out their days, or else return to the world of mortals as merfolk and tempt their old friends onto the rocks.

He handed the Chatthalmay tea back to the man of curses. “Take this and keep it for me, I will be back.”

The face of the man of curses bent into a rye smile. “But sirrah, you must understand, it cannot be drank if it goes cold. Even just brewing the tea was a risk.”

“I will be back. Just keep it for me. I will.” Down by the swell, he could see Melora’s giant hand reaching up the beach. Her skin the color of the shallows in the ocean silently crept towards her sacrifice.

He rose from the crates, and walked towards the famous arches in the wall that divided Seacourt up into its warrens and kept the water from collecting into floods after the storms. When the guard eyed him through his bronze visor, Gadfly tensed, and felt the familiar delver’s surge: the understanding that the first strike wins the battle, but the anxiety was unnecessary. Just a city guard, and with sense enough not to offer up questions for someone who was obviously not a native of the Swell. He didn’t even turn to watch him as he passed. Convenient. It was just then that Gadfly disappeared.

When he reappeared, he was sitting on a branch on the leeside of the manor, his back to the bay, and its maze of sea walls. In front of him, the lanterns of the house were being lit by a valet. He had predicted Dame Geldring’s habits well enough. She’d meet with him in the best room in the enormous house. Its architecture was new, but it was trying to look the part of the old city from the central warrens: a mix of stone and wood. It suggested ornamentation, but a delver was more concerned about its shape. How easily might he get on top of it or into it? He considered the upper branches where they touched the roof. He considered the dormered windows. He could be up and in with just a few quick lurches upwards and perhaps a jump.

Below him, where city ended at cliff, the sea was already coming in. It was flooding through the cages on the beach. It was easily a forty foot drop into water that wasn’t there for half the day, but the sun had just gone down and Sehanine had begun to rise in the east. He could not see it. The Temple to the Twelve blocked it from view, but the sky and its first stars shown with the cloudy light of the rising moon at twilight. He eyed it from his perch on one of those bouncy trees that grow out of the side of mountains, limber but strong: trees built for wind and rain. It was the sort of tree that changed shape as it was climbed. At the top branches, would he still find it resting against the roof, or would his weight bend it down?

He considered the climb and the possible fall. He considered the cages they’d put him in if they caught him, or something similar to them, and then he considered the beggars’ guild itself. What were they really paying him to do here? This wasn’t a delve. It wasn’t a free-for-all. He knew what he’d find here. They were paying him to describe the people who came to call on Dame Geldring at her place of residence. Maybe they’d pay extra for names. They might not like it, however, if he knew too much, say, for instance, what subjects were talked about. He was, after all, just their hireling.

The lights on, Dame Geldring positioned herself to receive visitors at a velvet and rosewood throne. The Geldring family prided itself on having brought culture to Seacourt, which wasn’t exactly true, but they did have a long and illustrious history of bringing books to Seacourt from Gungsuny, Noethia, and even, by overland trek, from Starfell. The libraries of Seacourt’s most affluent were stocked with tomes brought in by the last generation of the Geldrings. Dame Geldring belonged to that next generation of wealth that had learned to use money to make money. Still, the vast library of the Geldring estate was quite impressive. Even Gadfly, who had no particular use for books, felt a certain awe at the collection. Tivold would have felt more. Of that, he was certain.

But then, Tivold hardly seemed to notice.

Tivold? Wait. What was he doing in there? Of the two men who had been accepted into the estate at twilight. One was Tivold, the Second Eyes as he was affectionately called by both his closest enemies and his most trusted allies, and the other a man dressed in street leather: some kind of tough by the look of him, although perhaps that estimation fell a bit south of its mark. Gadfly had a tough time of this, he knew. Any dweller who didn’t look like common rabble either looked like a member of a guild or some kind of overdressed priest. Dame Geldring’s visitor was tall. A lion’s beard to go with the reddish blonde that didn’t easily suggest any of the great cities in particular. It was true he was dressed in leather and that the sword he carried on his hip looked more ornamentation than practicality, but something about the pauldrons gave Gadfly the first umbrage of suspicion: they were dyed red, thoroughly, as if they’d been scrubbed pale first by an alchemist. Dyes like that, Gadfly knew, would cost a thick kheen. The uniform may have looked like a tough’s, but the shoulders, yes, they gave it all a bit away.

He liked the detail. Tomorrow, the beggars would ask him about whom he’d seen talking with Dame Geldring and he’d tell them about the shoulder pads. He wasn’t sure how he’d handle the details of Tivold. Tell them about the wizard and he might be turning in one of his own allies for the once over. Tivold was good in a ruin. He was patient. It was an admirable quality and rare among wizards. But if he didn’t tell the beggars, it might come back to haunt him when they found out. He could ask Tivold about it, but then he’d know more than he wanted to know. Jobs like this with dwellers were the opposite of their delver counterparts: delvers always wish they’d known more, dwellers get punished for knowing too much. Besides, Tivold would most certainly ask him about the tea.

At night time, the visions tended to abate, or maybe they were still there; he just couldn’t see them in the dark, but where the light went, they seemed to return with equal intensity. The bronze clad guards below carrying torches through the streets let off steam as they walked. They looked like the machine soldiers of Krimfolet. Inside the room, the man with the red poltroon had two men bring in a chest of brass and red teeg wood. Dame Geldring leaned in closer. The chest was opened. From inside of it, one of the man’s allies pulled out some item wrapped in black satin cloth and brought it forward to Dame Geldring. Once in front of her, he pulled back the cloth to reveal a curious collection of brass parts which were, unmistakable to Gadfly, the dissassembled crown of Levois.

The crown of Levois; what was that doing here? Gadfly leaned in closer remembering the chute of spinning blades he’d descended through to get to that little room with the cage. He’d had to guess at its timing with Tivold behind him telling him to breathe in through his nose, out through his mouth, a number of times equal to the stars in Pelor’s robe, whatever that meant. He closed his eyes, held his breath against the advice of Tivold, and jumped in with the wizard swearing at him for his stupid bravado. In the Fade, Gadfly was a delver. This is what he did. The wizard could say what he wanted, this was the thing he knew how to do. He’d opened his eyes and looked up as he slid down the heart of the thing so that he could watch the blades swing out from the walls in a bronze wake behind him.

Of all the things they pulled out of that…ruin? Cave? Tomb? Whatever that place was? Of all the things they pulled out, the crown was the one thing the Boggins didn’t care about. No one could explain it, not even Tivold. Gadfly kept trying to hand it off, but to no avail. Finally, they’d given him the dumb rock to get him to stop. Better that then some crown with curses on it, who knows what else, except he did know what else. He’d gotten the curse. Probably from the crown, maybe from something else. He’d done a hundred things to offend a god in that tomb. Who could tell for sure?

Except here was the crown, now, in front of him. Handed by the man with the red shoulder pads to Dame Geldring, and Tivold over it with the mumbo jumbo, until, no surprise for Gadfly, it glowed as if it had just been taken from the fire.

When Tivold had said that he had a buyer in mind in Seacourt, Gadfly had thought of an exotics broker or an auction house. Maybe an exporter bound for Hoshovonius; elves, he’d heard, loved these kinds of things. He hadn’t imagined the home of some grizzled old rich lady, and who was the guy with the red shoulder pads? Was Tivold trying some kind of double cross? Damned wizard, was this what became of him when he fell in with Dwellers.

Gadfly looked back up to where the tree met the roof. No telling if, when he got there, his weight wouldn’t have bent the tree away. Right then, it was a short but timid jump from weak branches upward. Something a squirrel could make without a thought but he, Gadfly, however short, was no squirrel, and this was not the Fade where he could spring like a panther. This was Seacourt; the Center, as it is sometimes called. The tree would bend under him and wobble. He reached upward, scrambling for the upper limbs, each hand up closing around thinner and thinner branches with Delver courage that is madness in the Center.

Down below, the sea rolled into the cove. The white swell of the tide’s foam sparkled in the moonlight. Gadfly thought about falling. The water might be deep enough that he’d only break a bone and not fall to his death. He couldn’t think about it for long. The tree buckled and wobbled whenever he took his concentration off the task at hand.

There was no way to make the jump. It wasn’t far, but when he straightened his knees to spring, the branches under him just absorbed the trauma and recoiled. It was like pumping his legs while floating in the water; it had an effect, but it certainly wasn’t the same as jumping. But worse might have been the same principle that if a climb took everything you had to get up, it would necessarily be beyond your ability to get down. Gadfly, like a cat, was stuck up in a tree. He eyed the cage. The obvious destination if he called for help.

Down below, at the window to the library, the light extinguished. It was dark enough now that it couldn’t be called twilight any longer. Night had come. Sahuanine shone just over the hilltop temple to the Twelve Lords at the center of Seacourt, the Abbarathian, where the grand hierophant holds court among perfumes and tile work of scale stone and mauer. Pauper’s swell was dark except for the wooden casino at the end of walk where the beach gave way completely to its next ridge. Even if he called for help, who would hear him?

He tested the branches below him again. They refused to hold. His legs would extend and the branches would simply give them the slack. There was nothing to push off of. Thinking about it, he could feel himself rising and falling like a bob in the ocean’s swell. Rising and falling. Just as the limber bayside tree refused to stay solid beneath him, so too did it quell after the violence of his tests. He did not here cracking or even groaning. He tried it again. This time pushing down not just with his legs but his whole body. The branches dropped to a few feet below the roofline and then sprang up above it. Up and down. Up and down. At some point, he tried to imagine himself simply falling off the branch at its apex and landing on the roof. It was an illusion. The roof was always a few feet in front of him, but he could now bounce the full height of a man over the shingles.

In his mind, he knew that he needed only a hint of forward motion. Not enough to make him cat like, just enough for him to miss a fall to certain death. That was all. As he thought about it, he could hear the unmistakable sound of cracking down where the branch met the trunk, an entire story below his perch. If he tried to climb down now, it would be no use, no way to cover that distance before it dropped pell-mell into the swell below. Without thinking his foot caught the crook of a branching and he pressed, not down, but back, knowing that he was now crushing the little branches which he had, only until then, been careful not to break for fear of dismantling his escape route.

They gave, broke, and then his foot went through them. For a moment in the air, he imagined his boot catching on some branch and him dangling four stories above the water. But it didn’t catch, the momentum had been enough to land him with an amazing thud on the roof of the Geldring Manor. Exhausted he watched the moon, and the various silhouettes of the creatures flying across it which he knew were not really there.

Thankfully, it was the manor of a second generation merchant and its attic seemed to hold all the treasures left over when Geldring’s father had given up the ghost. Certainly, had Gadfly known where the goods were, and had he secreted a crane to pull the stuff out the dormered windows, he could have probably made a fortune. It was attractive in the exact opposite way as the Fade called to him. Stealing. Thievery. All you really to worry about was a day of torture followed by an execution up the hill, in the square in fron to fhte temple. Of course it wasn’t really that easy. You had to know how to play against Porters, the Baristers, and the Beggars, and probably more syndicates to boot. It just seemed easier to steal from rich people. In reality, the hard part was asking for permission, and the hardest part of that was knowing who to ask.

At least in the Fade, the Loa you faced wanted to kill you for a reason you knew. As long as you could tolerate the walking dead, giant creatures, ghouls, goblins, all that noise, you’re fine. You might even earn a fortune. Gadfly had b een promoted on the last expedition to eighth specialist and an eighth of a share was nothing to scoff at. Of course, it was a bit of field promotion after Telvia Feen had lost it and jumped off that bridge. Plus, it wasn’t exactly like the others were down at the Swell looking for him after he told them about the halucinations. They would be out again. Razor Tom couldn’t abide the Center; he was just…too far gone, which means that they’d left him behind—him and his eighth of his share.

“And now, I’m just a low grade spy for the beggars. Shunted back down to a thirty second and me a right fit delver.” Of course, a thief wouldn’t have hit the roof like a bag of rocks, but, however grievous his error, it seemed like a he’d managed to escape notice.

Anohter pebble on the bank, as they say, was that he wa in a house and houses were a lot easier to navigate then some strewn labyrinth out in the Fade. He made his way to a staircase, found himself in the master bedroom and then, deft as a dodger, after sliding past some guard, he was in the library where Tivold and the red shouldered him of a man had made their deal, or whatever it was for dssassmbled crown of the Birchman and, as if the gods had frankly decided to change their minds, there too was the very thing itself: the crown, disassembled and capable of, who knew what, maybe nothing. They called it the Fade, but it was on this side that things seemed to lose their magic. In the Center, there wasn’t a whole lot of Gabbius or Narfiends, but then you couldn’t even keep a hold of something as pitiful as a heat stone. He’d heard of elvers burned at the stake in places like Eincondor or Barrowston for showing some local Bonder’s Wax or a speaker’s toad. The boggins hadn’t wanted the crown, just junk to them, but if it worked on this side of the veil, so what if it was valley bargaining, it might still fetch a ridiculous price.

Gadfly stopped at the doorway of the room to make sure the shadows weren’t alive or that the carpet hadn’t imaginable depths into which he might sink. The books on the shelves kept switching palces in the flickering firelight and that seemed as if it might mean something, some clue to the lurking dangers in the room, but them he remembered the halucinations and all his cautiousness seemed, suddenly to him, misplaced.

“What am I doing?” he wondered aloud.

Tovold had said he’d sell the thing, right? So what if he sold it to Dame Geldring? She had the money. It was most certainly a pure accident that he’d been called upon by the Beggar’s guild to watch Geldring manor nd report back once she’d had a strange visitor from elsewhere. Just a coincidence, of course, that that visitor had turned out to be Trovold, or should he believe tha the beggars had chosen him specifically because he’d recognize ol’ Third Eye. And now that he had, what was he supposed to say to them, or should he just skip town. Tovold had a share; Gadfly an eigth. Technically, the company would call it insubordination even if this was leave. But then, if the point was to betray Tovold, the Beggars would likely leave him floating under a dock if he didn’t follow suit. And then, there was the man with the red poltroon; who was he supposed to be and why did it look so much like Tovold was brokering a deal for them with the company’s crown? Something was off.

Gadfly did what Gadfly did; he crept into the room as quickly and quietly as could be. He searched the thing carefully for any triggering strings or wires. Nothing.

‘Seacourt: Home of unsuspecting sots,’ he whispered as he reached in.

He’d held the crown and contact the others and force Tovold to explain himself to the entire company. Then, even if Tovold did have an explanation, and it was all just a misunderstanding, what could they say except to praise Gadfly for his caution?

It was optimism’s illusion. They’d side with Tovold, and he knew it. He knew it as soon as he had the crown in his hand and the guards had the door, and unless he wanted to jump out the window, there was no escape.

Then, it only got worse. Dame Geldring appeared flanked by the man with the Red Poltroon and, of course, Tovold.

“Tovold!” Gadfly called out, hoping their allegiance could bring him out of this without involving the city’s guards. “Tovold, this is all a misunderstanding.”

“This man knows you.” Dame Geldring had turned in shock to Tovold.

“He’s a low ranking specialist in my company, just an eighth.”

“Then this has all been a trick. Explain yourself!”

“No trick, madam. I have no idea why this man is here.”

“I suppose, then, that you won’t mind our calling the guards and having him arrested, then?”

“Third Eye? Please man, the brotherhood.”

“Silence thief. I would recommend the guards at once. This man is a Delver. He is both cursed and dangerous.”

As far as punishments go, there are worse places to find one’s self than in a Pauper’s cage. The serious criminal element in Seacourt are put inside Gull Cages out on the Tidewall. There, watched by guards, you are sunburned and dried out, fed on by gull and hopper fish at high tide, and your only hope is that the sea devils will wait until you’re dead before they eat you. Sea devil, it is said, prefer live prey.

The pauper’s cage is only a night of drowning, and not even that if one of your friends comes along. Being put in the cage on a moonless night is a right of passage in the guilds. You can’t find a beggar, a barrister, or a jostler who hadn’t spent their night in the cage. Unfortunately, this particular night wasn’t exactly moonless, but rather, the opposite, and as for allies, he did contract work for the beggars and the mage of his company had just given him up to the guard. The Brotherhood of Shi’ibe simply weren’t going to help.

That left Melora, the sea goddess herself. The tide might carry the cage up the beach. It might. It never did, but that it might was conceivable.

Except that it wasn’t.

The water that poured throught he cage hardly moved it at all. Gadfly began to scream and turn, like a panicking animal, within his cage.

“Calm yourself, thief, Melora does not come for those who panic. You must have faith to attain the goddess’s blessing.”

Gadfly cannot bring his legs up to get pressure on the cage door. He presses it awkwardly with his knees. It’s the best he can manage. “You see that Slough hovel across the street. I’ve sat there for three days. Melora doesn’t come for anyone. Listen friend, are your people coming for you. I could pay if you’d convince them to help me out too. I’ve got most of an eighth share left of a lucrative expedition. What thay say is true: trolls teach delvers how to hoard. God friend. You can have it!”

“I’m afraid my friends are faw away Delver.”

“And magic! Relics! Powerful charms! The tears of gods fallen to the earth!”

“I wish I could help you Delver. The gods do not look kindly on drowning.”

“What? Are you some kind of holy man?”

“I am not. I am a speaker of conduct.”

“What in the Infinite Hells is that?” Gadfly realizes the awkwardness of his position. He’s pushing the cage with his face.

“I enforce the laws of my people. I was on a quest, charged with balancing an injustice.”


“Was. My target no longer breathes. Your people did not appreciate my sacred charge and so I am now here locked up with common criminals.”

“Well big fellow, I hate to deliver horns, but I’m not a criminal and those aren’t my people.”

“No matter.”

“Where are you from that you don’t deserve the cage?”

“I am from Neederham. Those are my people.”

“Neederham. Never heard of it.”

Of Curse and Cage

Interactive Novels monstro95968