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The Princess is wearing a new robe borrowed from Lisutaris and has brushed and plaited her golden hair. Her fancy arm bracelets are dented where she was struck by a rock, and she's lost an earring along the way, but all in all she looks not bad for a woman who had to fight her way through a riot. As I emerge from the cellar—to the well-deserved thanks and congratulations of the Sorcerers—she grabs an opportunity for a word. While not exactly apologising for her previous rudeness, she lets me know she thinks better of me now. I reply graciously. I can just about remember how from my days at the Palace.
The Sorcerers are recovering from the riot with a table full of delicacies and a generous selection of Lisutaris' wines, although I think Lisutaris herself is still a little on edge, probably because she feels that she is long overdue for a blast on her water pipe but doesn't actually want to smoke thazis while the Princess is still there. I don't expect the Princess would mind, what with the riot and everything, but a Sorcerer has to respect the forms of polite society if she wants to get on. Princess Du-Akai rises to leave. Lisutaris offers her a carriage and an escort back to the Palace, but it seems like the Princess has been waiting for my arrival because she declines the offer and elects to go with me. I grab a pastry off the Sorcerers' table and follow. Some servants haul the carriage out of the pond, fit a fresh horse on the front and I squeeze in behind her.
The sun is beating down even more strongly than yesterday. The ever present stals are wilting in the trees, what's left of them. After the coolness of Lisutaris' wine cellar it's hard to take.
"Hot as Orcish hell out here. Where exactly are you going, Princess? Back to captivity?"
She supposes so. When the riot broke out and she found herself trapped in a burning wing of the Palace she naturally decided that it would be a good idea to get out of there fast, but now it's all over it seems best to go back. She wouldn't get far if she fled for real. Too easily recognisable.
"I'll be locked up in my chambers again. Better than a prison cell, I suppose."
We make our way slowly up the debris-strewn road. The elegant pavement tiles are cracked and soot-blackened. The trees, specially bred to stay green through the fierce summer, are broken and burned. Suddenly I spot two familiar figures emerging warily from the shattered front of another villa. It's Callis and Jaris, my Elvish clients. They're followed out by a couple of young and rather shaken-looking Sorcerers.
We stop and greet them. The Elves tell me that they were fortunate to be in Truth is Beauty Lane when the riot broke out, and they took shelter with the nearest Sorcerers. As Elves the Eight-Mile Terror did not affect them directly, but being trapped in the middle of thousands of mad Humans has shaken them badly. They've had enough of city life. They're heading home and plan to take the next ship south out of the harbour at Twelve Seas. I'm displeased to have failed my clients but there's not a lot I can say.
I came close to the Cloth but I didn't recover it. Clients are never impressed when you just come close, and neither am I. We bid each other farewell.
As we ride on the Princess expresses her disappointment at my failure.
I try to reassure her. "I didn't get the Cloth back but I found out who gutted the dragon and removed it."
I explain to her about Bishop Gzekius and the True Church. "I can't exactly prove it in court but I have a fair amount of leverage over the Bishop and I reckon he'll do what's necessary to show you're innocent. If he does then it all stays quiet. Otherwise I'll have no choice but to give a full report on his recent activities for The Renowned and Truthful Chronicle. It loves a Church scandal."
The Princess is grateful. She should be. Till I stepped in she was facing a lifetime in a mountain-top nunnery.
"Please also convey my gratitude to Makri for her efforts on my behalf."
"This Cloth has proved to be very troublesome for Turai, Thraxas."
"Anything floating round that's worth thirty thousand gurans is bound to be trouble."
"Who ended up with it?"
The Palace is now in view. Smoke drifts above, but it's still in one piece, just about.
I admit I don't know who ended up with the Cloth.
"It was last seen in the hands of an Assassin but she was clubbed by something not Human."
"That's right. Which narrows it down I guess. Orcs, probably, or a half-Orc agent. Or . . ."
I feel some inspiration coming on. Right back at the start of the case, when I was being hauled away from Attilan's garden by the Guards. I sensed something there but couldn't identify it.
"Or someone very good at sneaking up on people. Someone renowned for stealth."
"Like an Elf. God damn it! The Elves. It was them all along! No wonder they keep popping up all over the place! Hiring me to help them indeed! Princess, can I borrow your landus?"
She nods. We're at the Palace grounds and soldiers and guards rush up to surround the Princess. I take a swift leave, dragging on the reins and sending the horse racing back the way I came.
I had been meaning to call on Cicerius and pick up some payment, but it'll have to wait. Is it today or tomorrow I have to pay my debt to the Brotherhood? I can't remember. Too much excitement. Too much all-night rioting.
The Elves have gone from Truth is Beauty Lane. I run through the ornamental gardens and hammer on Lisutaris' door. When a servant answers I run right over him and find Lisutaris consoling herself with her water pipe. Fortunately she doesn't yet seem to be too stoned.
"Lisutaris, I need a favour, and quick."
"Can you tell me where a couple of Elves are now?"
I describe them to her. Lisutaris closes her eyes for a few minutes. An expression of tranquillity settles on her face. My nose wrinkles at the powerful smell of thazis in the room.
Her eyes open. "They're at Twelve Seas docks. Boarding a ship."
She's a powerful Sorcerer, Lisutaris, Mistress of the Sky. Pity she smokes so much. I impinge on her for another favour, which she again is willing to grant, aware that I saved them all in the riot. So minutes later I am thundering through Turai on a fine horse from her stables, on my way to intercept two treacherous Elves.
The streets are chaotic. Rubble lies everywhere. Municipal horse carts are starting to collect the bodies but there are still plenty left to choose from. The streets to the south are flooded from a burst aqueduct. Steam rises in the burning sun. It takes me a long time to get down to Twelve Seas and I'm sweating and cursing by the time I'm in sight of the docks.
A giant figure strides in front of me, grabbing the reins and bringing me to a shuddering halt. It's Karlox, of all people.
"So you survived the riot," he growls. "Good. You got another three hours to pay up."
"Karlox. You are dumb as an Orc and you have no idea how much you annoy me."
I swing a hefty boot and catch him full in the face and he goes down in a heap. I spur my horse on, struggling through the hopeless crowds of Twelve Seas, many of whom have been burned out of their pitiful dwellings. There are huge gaps in the skyline where the six-storey slums have collapsed into smouldering rubble on to which municipal firemen are still pouring water. My horse is starting to protest.
In the heat it finds carrying my bulk quite a difficult task. We struggle on.
It's Makri, sword in one hand and a bag of manu-scripts in the other. She's on her way to her mathematics class.
"Makri, you are a madwoman. There won't be any classes today. The Guild College is still on fire and the Professors are probably all hiding in their cellars, unless they're dead . . ."
She looks disappointed.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. Now, if you want to be in on the end of the case, get up on the horse."
She leaps aboard. The horse protests some more. No doubt Lisutaris will be able to nurse it back to health.