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The Elves pass on the beer. Callis-ar-Del, the younger of the two, swiftly draws a pouch from his bag, crosses over to the vomiting Palax, and places a small leaf in his mouth.
"Swallow," he orders.
Kaby brings water. Palax swallows. He stops being sick. Colour returns to his features. Callis cradles his head in his hands for a few moments, and concentrates. Palax falls asleep.
"He'll be fine now," says the young Elf, gently releasing his head.
I'm impressed. "You a healer?"
Callis nods, before turning to Kaby, who is squatting beside her sleeping lover, still concerned.
"Don't worry," says the Elf. "He will be fine. The leaf of the ledasa plant is very effective in clearing poison from the system, and I have stabilised the colours of his life energy. But he is very unwise to partake of dwa. It is an evil drug."
"I know," says Kaby. "And Choirs of Angels is the worst kind. I didn't know he was taking it till I found he'd spent our week's earnings."
Kaby and Makri carry Palax down to the caravan. I thank Callis for coming to the rescue.
"Are these ledasa leaves any good for hangovers?"
He says they are so I grab a few off him. Clever, these Elves. Talk to the trees and cure your hangover. I fill them in on the case, though in reality there isn't much to fill them in on. I tell them about my theory that the Red Elvish Cloth was inside the dragon but have to report that, if it was, it was spirited away before I got there.
They listen with interest and seem quite willing to believe my theory. Well, they have heard that I am an honest and competent man. I still like that. They take their leave, satisfied at least that I am working hard.
Makri arrives back in my room and reports that Palax seems to be out of danger.
"More than he deserves," I say. "He should know better than to mess with this new dwa. It's too strong. Addicts all over the city are going to be taking their usual dose and ending up dead."
"But it feels good when you get it right," says Makri.
I glance at her suspiciously.
"Well that's what I'm told," she adds.
I hope she is not indulging in it herself.
"The Elves said to thank you for your help with Palax," I tell Makri. "They must be getting used to you."
"Well that makes me happy as a drunken mercenary," says Makri, wryly, and departs.
I clean up some of the mess and ask Gurd if he'll bring in a servant to do something with my rooms.
He will, but it will cost me extra.
I head on out. I have an appointment at the Thamlin gymnasium, a place where aristocrats go to bathe, exercise and relax. It's a very respectable establishment. Senators and their families only. No young girls or pretty boys for hire, at least not openly. Just Senators bathing, reminiscing and talking about politics, while their sons look on respectfully. As in all gymnasia, women are not allowed, one of the many things which aggravate Makri about Turai, although she does claim that given the choice she would rather not see the naked bodies of Turai's rich and flabby upper classes.
There are some very flabby bodies here, though I'm not one to talk, and I feel self-conscious and annoyed as I'm obliged to waddle naked past young athletes disporting themselves in the water, or reclining on couches while servant rub oil into their bodies. I'd rather have kept my towel on but it's frowned upon. I feel more at home when I reach the room at the far end of the gymnasium where elderly Senators and their retinues are gathered, mostly as unfit as me. Also they have less hair. I may get mine oiled, brushed and perfumed while I'm here.
This gymnasium is, incidentally, another of Turai's architectural marvels. It has more than its fair share of splendid friezes, statues and sculptures, although I'm in no mood to appreciate them. I'm here to talk to Cerius. He doesn't want to talk to me. I drag him to a private alcove and shove him on a bench.
He's long-haired and skinny and again I feel ridiculous without a good baggy tunic to cover my obesity.
"I'm working for your father."
Cerius immediately clams up, and stares at his feet. Incongruously, he's clutching a bag of grapes, which servants distribute for free.
"Tell me about it," I say.
Cerius remains silent and hostile. The inside of the marble gymnasium is marginally cooler than the baking city outside, but it's still uncomfortable. I get a strong urge to walk away from this foolish young man and leap in the bathing pool. I think about my gambling debts, and try again.
"You're going to court in a week, Cerius. Dwa dealing's a serious charge. Your family's influence won't get you off, because Deputy Consul Rittius is prosecuting and he's an enemy of your father. Do you want to see your father disgraced?"
"You want to end up pushing an oar in a convicts' galley?"
Cerius puts a grape in his mouth. I consider slapping him. Better not, with so many Senators around. I just can't get him to speak. I don't understand it.
"Who are you protecting? The Prince? They'll find out in court, so you might as well spill it while it can do you some good."
Cerius sits slumped in sullen silence. This is hopeless.
"I'll find out, you know. I'll study your past in the kuriya pool and see where the Choirs of Angels came from."
All of a sudden the young man looks anguished.
"Don't!" he pleads.
"Why not? Who are you scared of?"
Cerius abruptly rises from his couch and rushes off. He leaves his bag of grapes behind. I watch him go then pick up the bag and help myself to the rest of the grapes. I notice he's been doodling on the paper. Odd, ugly shapes, scratched in ink. I rise slowly from the bench. Across the hall there's a fresco of two beautiful water nymphs frolicking with a young man with wings on his feet. He floats gracefully over the water. Lucky guy. I drag my body outside. I'm pleased to leave. All these young bodies make me feel old.
I walk down Moon and Stars Boulevard till I reach the centre of town then take a shortcut through the ruined temple of Saint Isinius. I'm passing a broken-down column when all of a sudden something smacks into the marble in front of me, sending splinters cascading around my head. I drop into a fighting crouch and spin round, sword in hand. No one's in sight. I pad softly round the column, then through the archway in front of me. Still no one. Not even a footprint in this dried-out ground. The ruins are silent and when I sniff the air I can't sense anything. Very carefully, I go back to the column. I have a shrewd idea what struck it.
Lying on the ground is a crossbow bolt, nine inches long. I stare at it, and I don't like it one bit. The crossbow is a lethal weapon, extremely powerful. It can send a bolt through solid armour, take a knight off his horse at a hundred yards. I finger the bolt uneasily, wondering who fired it. I've never heard of the Assassins using such a weapon. Nor the Society of Friends. Very strange. I place the bolt in my bag and hurry on, sword still in hand, which earns me a few funny looks when I pass out of the ruins and back into the main street beyond.
Back at the Avenging Axe, Gurd, a slow reader, is ponderously working his way through The Renowned and Truthful Chronicle.
"Bad weapons," he says.
"Crossbow. Brotherhood boss got killed up in Kushni yesterday. Crossbow bolt through the neck."
I read the report. Apparently that was the second important Brotherhood man to be killed in two days, both by crossbow. It seems like the Society of Friends might be getting the upper hand in the drug war. Aided by the mysterious crossbow wielder. It has to be the same person who shot at me. The crossbow is a specialised art. You need a serious amount of training before you can start firing bolts through people's necks from a distance.
Later Makri wonders why the Society of Friends should be firing at me. It's not like I'm on the best of terms with the Brotherhood. I can't think of an explanation. If the Society still think I've got the Red Elvish Cloth, killing me outright isn't going to get it back for them. Maybe I'm just good for some target practice.