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An Elf is standing over me. It's Callis, brandishing a lesada leaf. He must have guessed I've been drinking. I wash it down and struggle to my feet. Makri is still sleeping gently on the grass. Jaris has rounded up our horses and is leading them over.
"What happened?" asks Callis, as he goes to attend to Makri. I decline to comment. Callis tells me that when he appeared a tall woman was in the process of loading sacks on to her horse.
"She rode off. Was it the Cloth?" he asks.
"No. Something else. But related to your case," I add, just in case he thinks I'm not working hard enough for him. I curse. Everything has gone wrong. Now Sarin the Merciless has the dwa and the letter.
It's just as well the Elves appeared before she used my sleeping figure for target practice. I wonder why the Elves did happen along, and ask them.
"We were looking for you," explains Callis. "Gurd at the Avenging Axe told us that you had gone to confront Horm the Dead and we wished to help. Even in the Elvish Lands Horm has an evil reputation.
Makri wakes suddenly and leaps to her feet with a savage snarl and a sword in each hand. She looks round in confusion, wondering where the enemy is. When the realisation of what happened sinks in she is angrier than I've ever seen her. The Elves watch in bemusement as she berates me at length at my utter stupidity in misdirecting my sleep spell, sending her instead of Sarin crashing to the ground.
I can think of little to say in my defence and am forced to listen to her rage about my drunkenness, incompetence and general stupidity, after which she proceeds to fume about the disgrace to her fighting honour.
"I met sub-Human Trolls in the gladiator pits who were smarter than you! Number one chariot, are you? Sarin would have stuck you full of holes if the Elves hadn't rescued you. You're about as much use as a one-legged gladiator. You made me fall asleep in front of an opponent!" she yells. "I'll never live it down. That's it, I'm finished. Next time you want some help, don't bother asking, I'm busy."
And with that she leaps on her horse and gallops off without even acknowledging the Elves' presence. They look at me wonderingly.
"A very volatile character," I say, waving my hands in vague explanation. "Takes defeat too personally."
I ride back to Turai with the Elves. They are puzzled that a fine sorcerous Investigator like myself could actually misdirect a spell, thereby putting his companion to sleep, but after I explain about Sarin's own con-siderable sorcerous powers, and the spells she was throwing at me right and left, I don't think their confidence in me is shaken too badly.
Next morning I wake with the mother of all hangovers, the Brotherhood beating on my door, and the city in violent uproar. Once again it is a poor start to the day.
"Money's due tomorrow," says Karlox.
"Fine," I grunt, avoiding some flying debris. "It'll be there. Which is more than you'll be if the Society of Friends keeps picking you off."
Karlox snarls. He doesn't like that. "We got their measure. And we got yours. You don't pay up tomorrow, you better make sure you've been saying your prayers."
I slam the door on him.
I don't say my prayers but it doesn't prevent young Pontifex Derlex from visiting me right after the riot calms down. The sun is beating down more ferociously than ever, making him sweat inside his black religious robe, but he declines my offer of a beer. The Pontifex is doing the rounds in his constituency, checking up on people after the riot. Makri pushes her head through the outside doorway and is about to say something when she notices the Pontifex and clams up. She departs. I notice Derlex's deep frown.
"Loosen up, Derlex. No need to look like your soul's in torment every time you catch sight of Makri."
He apologises, rather stiffly, but admits that Makri does make him very uncomfortable. "The Orcish blood, you know."
"She's got Human blood as well. Elf too. Probably a very interesting soul. You should try and convert her."
He looks uncomfortable again. "I don't think I am allowed to try. It's blasphemous to preach the True Religion to an Orc . . . even one quarter Orc might involve me in some heresy . . ."
I laugh at the thought, and tell him not to worry. Makri is not in line for any sudden conversion.
After a little talk about this and that, he goes on his way.
I wander out into the corridor. A thought strikes me suddenly. Makri appears, heading downstairs for her first shift of the day. I ask her what she wanted earlier.
"To tell you never to speak to me again. Or communicate in any way. From now on, Thraxas, you don't exist."
She walks stiffly past, tossing her head so that her long hair swings around her shoulders. Obviously she has not yet forgiven me for yesterday's escapade.
"It could have happened to anyone!" I yell at her departing form. Now I'm distracted. What was I thinking about? The True Church. Something about it is nagging me.
Downstairs I sit over a beer and a plate of stew and think things over. Why did Derlex visit me? Plenty of other people in riot-torn Twelve Seas must need his help more than me. Now I think about it, Derlex never stops visiting me these days. I never used to see him from one year to the next. What made the Church so interested in my welfare all of a sudden?
Thinking about the Church nudges my memory along and I realise what it is that's been bugging me.
Pazaz. The Orc dragonkeeper. He said that no one spoke to him, apart from Bishop Gzekius. According to Pazaz, Gzekius tried to convert him.
"But that's impossible," I say, out loud to no one. "Derlex just told me it was blasphemous to preach the True Religion to an Orc. The Bishop couldn't have been trying to convert him. He's not going to lay himself open to a heresy charge just for one dragonkeeper. The other Bishops would be down on him like a bad spell."
I stand up, banging my fist on the table. Makri looks at me very coolly.
"That's it! That's why Derlex has been round here all the time. He's spying on me for the Bishop.
And the Bishop is after the Cloth! The Church is behind it all! The Royal Family was attending some special religious service when the dragon was cut open. Which means that the Church would know exactly when the zoo was going to be empty. And the Bishop was talking to the dragonkeeper before that. He wasn't trying to convert him. He was pumping him for information! Just like Derlex has been round here pumping me for information! Derlex was at the Palace that day; he rode home with us in the landus. He probably had the Cloth on him then, passed to him by some other Churchman. And now I think about it, when I returned to Attilan's house to retrieve the spell there was another young Pontifex passing by. He could have stolen the spell, just before I came looking for it."
Makri raises her eyebrows. Sweat is running down her body, making her muscles glisten. She's been listening, but still refuses to acknowledge me.
I wonder why the Church would want the Elvish Cloth. There could be any number of reasons.
Maybe just to sell it. Or perhaps the Bishop needs to do some secret planning without getting spied on by the other Bishops. Gzekius is an ambitious man, it's about time he made a try for the Archbishopric. It seems to fit together well enough. And if I'm right, then the Red Elvish Cloth should be somewhere in the Church's possession right now.
"It might even be in Derlex's church. And if it is, I'm going to find it! Are you free tonight?"
Makri glowers at me. "No. I'm studying. You're on your own."
She grabs a tablecloth, savagely wipes a few tables, then stalks off through the back to bring in a box of tankards. Tanrose appears carrying a large chunk of beef for the lunchtime stew. I buy a pastry and tell her about Makri being mad at me. Tanrose already knows all about it.
"She's angrier than a Troll with a toothache," says Tanrose. "But she'll get over it."
"I need her help tonight. Any suggestions for helping her get over it quickly?"
"Bring her some flowers," says the cook.
The suggestion is so strange that at first I fail to grasp what she means. "Flowers? What for?"
"To say sorry of course."
"Say sorry with flowers? To Makri? You mean go out and buy some flowers and give them to Makri as a present? As a way of saying sorry? Flowers?"