Caspian and Karen start walking toward Skarg. Karen tells Caspian about her activities.
| At the bottom of the stairs he started to feel noticeably woozy. But he was determined not to be hindered. Then his right hand began to go numb. He switched his staff to his left hand, and looked at his right. There was a small fresh scratch on his palm. Karen telling him not to use the door knobs echoed in his memory.|
Caspian focused his will, slowing his heart rate. Then he thought for Cyrril to go find the antidote. Cyrril jumped from his shoulder and flew noisily into the kitchen. Caspian followed, the numbness running up his arm.
The housekeeper was making lunch, and packing provisions for travel. Cyrril had landed on the counter and was pulling at her apron pocket. She looked up and shrugged as Caspian entered. She put her things aside and came around the counter; Cyrril fell from the counter, his claws still in her apron jerking him about as he fell to the floor. She retrieved a small glass bottle out of her apron pocket.
“Sit down,” she ordered.
She gathered up the corner of her apron, and wet the end of it from the bottle.
“Show me the hand.” She put the bottle on the table, and took the proffered right hand. She dabbed at the scratch, and the numbness was immediately pursued by fire at about the same speed. She then picked up a spoon from a place setting at the table and poured some of the thin bluish liquid on it.
Caspian opened his mouth, and she popped the spoon in almost gagging him.
“I mostly use a soporific, but with enough other stuff to make you want to keep on your toes. Visitors are not open targets; you should not have been scratched. Use that spoon to eat just to be sure you get all of the agent.” She made sure the bottle was securely closed and back in her apron as she walked back to her tasks.
“Get out of the pot. You had more than enough this morning, you little beast.” She pulled Cyrril off the pot by his tail and tossed him backhanded across the kitchen. He hit the far wall with a squawk, and tumbled to the floor.
She continued her preparations of food for travel.
Caspian slowly felt better, as the antidote countered the soporific. Then the old woman placed a bowl of vegetable stew in front of him and a pan of bread on the table. He pulled his vest and bag off, and started on lunch.
He ate carefully, pacing himself to avoid any severe reactions. Cyrril crawled cautiously up his trouser leg and up onto the table, having slunk carefully around the edge of the room. Caspian looked at his dragon a moment; Cyrril wanting comforting.
“Not this time. You’ve got what you deserved in the pot. Thanks for getting the bottle. Now sit and behave yourself.”
Cyrril had not really been interested in the food, as he usually only ate once a day. He had just run afoul of what killed the cat. After watching a moment, he walked across the table and leapt up onto the dish cabinet and curled up there. Caspian could sense a little forlornness from his familiar. He would comfort Cyrril later.
Karen came down stairs and into the kitchen as he pulled some of the bread apart. For a moment she looked relieved to see him still here, then her features set to her usual neutral. She was dressed in her brown travel clothes, her trousers instead of her skirt. She sat down and was soon using a hunk of bread to push stew onto her spoon and shovel it down as fast as she could to catch up to Caspian. Silence punctuated by flatware was the reigning sound.
Caspian felt better when he finished his bowl and stood. After stretching a bit, he put his dishes in the sink. The stew rather than just sit heavy seemed to be seeping right into him filling him with energy. The housekeeper had finished packing the food, and put the leftover stew in a travel bag. The extra bread was wrapped in some paper.
He distributed his bundles of food around his vest and pack as he put these on. Next, he slung the proffered water skin, freshly filled. Last, he put his robe and cape over top of everything.
“Thanks for the rest and the food. But this is where I leave.” He reached for his pouch of money. “How much do I owe for services rendered?” He looked at the Housekeeper. She looked curiously up at him, with that old woman’s Cheshire Cat smile.
Karen spoke. “You’re not strong enough to leave on your own.”
He turned to her. “That does not matter. They need my help.” He pulled a small bag of gold coins out of his pouch and dropped it on the table. “That’s twenty in gold. It should be more than enough.”
He picked up his staff. Cyrril landed on its head, and bounced to his shoulder. Karen’s gear was in the hall under her horse tack as he went to the door. He walked out the back door, off the porch, and across the yard, looking at the tracker in his hand. He heard the door close as he got to the tree line. Karen walked beside him before he was the same distance into the forest.
“Here’s your money. We don’t run a hotel.”
She managed to get it into his hand before he could argue. He thought about trying, but decided it was not worth the effort.
She then continued. “We are seven days easy foot travel from Skarg, on this road. Four if I try hard. Ten if you try for four, because you will collapse before the end of tomorrow.”
“How do you know,” he put the tracker back in to a pocket.
“I had to learn it the hard way, from my psi-teacher.”
Caspian could tell how weak he really still was, but did not care. His body was willing, but still did not yet have all the connections straight. Travelling would help that. He took a deep breath of fresh forest air.
“Seven days. Do I still have to worry about you trying to kill me?”
“Do I need to kill you in the next seven days?”
“Then you don’t. Besides, I was already paid. As far as they are concerned, you are dead.”
Cyrril perked from his usual looking around at that comment. He gave a quizzical look at Karen.
Karen noticed and looked at the little dragon. “That’s right.” She adjusted back to Caspian. “The captain of the company that attacked us saw you dead, and paid me for the job. If they want to recollect their fee because of mispayment, when they did not even check the body, that’s their problem.”
The velvet of her voice was thin as she finished, showing the steel underneath. Few merchants could bargain as hard as an assassin could. Fewer people ever tried to collect a mispayment. As far as the Assassin Guild was concerned if you were sloppy about inspecting their work that was your problem. Once you released the assassin from the contract, he was done. Any further complications were your problem.
Caspian was following the tracker through the woods, figuring that he would find the road one way or another, as the road curved around the rolls of the land some, and passed through several meadows in this forest. Karen had not told him where they were, he had simply gathered they were in the same town they had previously stopped in. Now she began to steer him gently south to the highway.
As they walked, she tried to take his hand. At first he resisted. Later as they crossed a meadow to the highway, he realized she had been holding his hand for a while, and could not place when she had taken it. They did not get as far as the last day the Caplan’s had been with them, which was a relief to Karen.
That night, she watched amused as Caspian initially started to setup camp for a size including the Caplan’s. He then reduced it to just the two of them, while she readied dinner. For warmth they made one lean-to and curled up under it, almost next to each other.
Come morning both were still wrapped in their blankets, and snuggled against each other against the cold. Cyrril did them the favor of restarting the fire as they got themselves going. Caspian had to concentrate to get himself going in the morning cold. Karen watched amused, remembering that her time in the drill of recovering from this lever of psionic attack had been in summer.
A warm breakfast and other morning necessities finished, Karen got Caspian going. Once he was moving he was steady and stronger than the previous day.
When they walked past the turn to the camp where the Caplan’s had been taken, Karen almost cringed that Caspian might notice. But he was too focused on keeping going to apparently pay attention to the landscape in that manor. She vaguely wondered if the site had been noticed by anyone else, or what happened to the horses.
Over this day as they followed the trackers to Skarg the signals were relatively still. Caspian again realized Karen was holding his right hand as his staff moved in his left, and wondered briefly if she realized she was. Either way, he was enjoying walking with her. After checking the trackers again, Caspian concluded that the Caplan’s were in Skarg, and doing what ever Karen had programmed them to do. On voicing this opinion, Karen became surprisingly talkative.
“Caspian, what do you know of local politics?”
“Very little. I know that Krogg has been stable since its last war, when there was some territory consolidation. I know a little more about its markets, that one of the cities exports fine wooden musical instruments. That there is some mining, but its primary export is summer time fruit.”
Karen nodded at this. “Actually our primary exports are sheet glass and textiles. But only those in those markets would know that. As for the politics, we have a king and queen who have no heir. Further the queen is bound to some magical creature. The surrounding kingdoms, and their and our duchies, counties, and baronies are all to stable to risk conquest. The society, which you got a very skimming taste of, is stable and more worried about prosperity and status through the market, than about consolidation of political power.
“Into this pudding, add the garnish of a prophecy that this current king and queen will be killed by the Harbingers of the Chaos Bringer. As a result the palace set up a small section of the university and their spy networks dedicated to tracking down everything about them.”
Caspian interrupted. “That’s why they knew to send all the way to Terra for the Caplan’s. I never could figure that one out. I had many of the other pieces, but not the explicit one about the prophecy until you gave it. But then I could not figure out how they knew where to go look for them. Though I was more concerned with other bits of it.”
“Yes. Once Diana and Alex were here, they were sent to the two villages you retrieved them from: I was contracted by the queen to do what I could to stop you and Steven and Rox. I was then counter hired by the Viceroy to see that the kids would be able to fill their destined appointments with the king and queen. It was left to me to figure out how to do this.”
Caspian nodded in comprehension. “Thus all the things you were pushing Steven and Rox to know and do. And by extension, Diana and Alex.”