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The Church of St. Volinius is by far the most imposing building in Twelve Seas. It's solid rather than elegant, but it's richly decorated, the beneficiary of numerous bequests from the local merchants. If you want to get ahead in Turai, it's a good idea to keep in with the True Church.
I've had a few encounters with Derlex, the local pontifex, and his superior, Bishop Gzekius. They wouldn't regard me as a friend of the Church; in fact I've been denounced from the pulpit on more than one occasion.
The church is closed. Having no time to waste, I walk boldly up to the front entrance and mutter the opening spell, one of the few incantations I can use with any confidence. The door creaks open and I walk in, muttering another word to light up my illuminated staff. I glance at the walls. At the far end of the church, to the right of the altar where the pontifex gives his sermons, there is a picture of St. Quatinius and the whale. I've seen it before. I saw it briefly when I was talking to Nerinax the beggar and Pontifex Derlex came out of the church, but it didn't register properly then. Not till I was full of yams and stew did I remember that the painting was here.
On the floor underneath it there's a grating, and a small brass plaque: Demetrius, first Prefect of Twelve Seas.
In the vault beneath the grating lie the bones of one of the city's ancient notables. Untouched for centuries, apart, perhaps, from when Captain Maxius hid his gold here. I speak my opening spell again and the grating creaks open. So far so good. Underneath the grating is a large marble slab. I hesitate for a moment. I'm about to open a tomb. Some people might look on this unsympathetically.
"But it's for the good of the city," I mutter. "No one could hold it against me."
I use my opening spell again. The slab groans. It's a weightier item than I'm used to shifting. For a moment I think it's not going to work. I reach down and start hauling at it, adding my own strength to the strength of the spell. Finally the slab moves over a foot or so. I wipe the sweat from my forehead. That was an effort. Without the desperate circumstances I'd never have pulled it off. I reach down into the coffin below, and at that moment the front door flies open and Bishop Gzekius and Pontifex Derlex stride into the church. I have rarely seen two men look more surprised.
"What is going on!" roars the Bishop.
"It's Thraxas," cries Derlex. "He's robbing a grave!"
"Send for the Civil Guards," roars the Bishop. "He'll hang for this!"
Pontifex Derlex is aghast.
"Thraxas!" he cries. "Even from you, I never expected this."
He turns to go, to summon the Guards.
"It's for the good of the city . . ." I begin, but abandon the effort. There's no way of convincing them, and time is short. Though I'm not used to casting two spells in quick succession, I can still do it, just about. I mutter the words of my sleep spell and the Bishop and Derlex both tumble gracefully to the ground. Then I have to sit down. The effort has drained me completely. It'll be a week before I can use a spell again. I have to force myself to move, shaking my head and reaching down into the marble coffin. The first thing I touch is a wooden box, something of a relief as I wasn't looking forward to dragging up a lot of bones. I take it out of the grave. It's sealed and there's a small metal nameplate on it. Captain Maxius.
So there it is. The Captain's treasure. Buried under a whale, more or less. I tuck it under my arm, pick up my illuminated staff and hurry from the church. For a first attempt at grave robbing, it's gone rather well. With any luck the Deputy Consul can explain things to the Bishop, thereby preventing any rash attempt to hang me for my crimes.
Outside the church I'm about to climb back on my horse when a hand grabs me by the shoulder and yanks me backwards. I tumble to the ground and find myself looking at a fancy pair of black boots and the fringes of a rainbow cloak. It's Glixius.
"Stealing from the church?" he booms. "Just what I'd expect of you, Thraxas. Hand it over!"
I struggle to rise. It's an effort. I'm still weak from casting the spells. I once knocked out Glixius with one punch but there's no way I can do that just now.
"I need this money," I say.
"So do I."
"What for?" I ask, trying to delay him while my strength returns.
"Gambling debts," says Glixius. "To the Brotherhood. Casax, in fact. He just learned that one of my credit notes from last month is bad. It could be awkward."
He raises one hand.
"But killing you with a spell and taking the fourteen thousand gurans seems to be a solution to all my problems."
Glixius suddenly sags at the knees, and then pitches forward on to the ground. Makri has appeared silently round the corner and hit him with a small leather club. I look at her rather wildly.
"Who's looking after my cards?"
"Aren't you going to thank me for saving you?" says Makri.
"Thanks for saving me. Who's looking after my cards?"
"I saw Glixius following you out so I followed him myself."
"Yes, it was brilliantly done. So who's at the table?"
"Did you just scream?" says Makri.
"Dandelion is looking after my cards? Of course I screamed."
I struggle to get on my horse, frantic at the thought of the barefoot idiot sitting in for me at the card table.
"She'll be fine," says Makri. "I told her not to do anything rash."
"Are you insane, leaving her in charge? Do you want to marry Horm?"
"Well you weren't doing so well yourself," says Makri. "Shouldn't you be getting back to the Axe rather than standing here talking?"
I mount my horse and spur it forward. It's a risk riding at night in the city as it's illegal, but there are so many people exempted from this law in Twelve Seas at the moment, with soldiers, Sorcerers and Civil Guards scurrying round shoring up the defences, that no one pays me much attention. Makri, an inexperienced rider, follows me at a distance.
I stable the horse and rush back into the tavern. If Dandelion has blown my money then it's all over. Once a player is out of funds he has to leave the table, and can't return. I've a faint hope that Makri might have been joking about Dandelion. My heart sinks—even further— when I see that she wasn't. Dandelion is sitting in my seat, with a suspiciously small pile of money in front of her. I glance round wildly at the onlookers, focusing finally on Lisutaris.
"You allowed this to happen? Are you crazy?"
"Captain Rallee volunteered to take your hand. But Horm objected."
I turn to face Horm.
"Since when can an Orc come in here and start objecting to people?"
"There are limits to how many replacements a man can have," says Horm, smoothly. "There was general agreement on the matter."
I glare at them all.
"It's all right, Thraxas," says Dandelion, quite cheerfully. "I'm getting the hang of it now."
"How much of my money have you got left?"