As soon as the crowd thins enough for us not to be overheard, Filbert murmurs, "Nim has an Artifact in the river, right under the center of the bridge. It is fortunate that we were delayed there, or I might have missed it."
"Why are they always so public
?" I growl. "Or underwater? Or both? Anywhere else in the city would be better."
"Well," Filbert replies with a placid smirk, "There's one of mine at the very top of the Cathedral." He nods to the massive spire rising abruptly from the center of Joseph's Gap. "Inside, not strapped to the outside or anything. It moves around occasionally."
I shade my eyes and squint to look at it and realize there's no way the Hand's personal chambers aren't right at the top. "Okay, I take it back. That's worse."
Filbert opens his mouth to respond, but Nim cuts him off, grabbing Namia’s hand and tugging her back in the direction of the river. "We'll get that one later. I'm gonna go find mine! Come on, Namia, I might need water breathing or something!"
Charlize’s eyes narrow and her lips press into a thin line. "Nim, it is the middle of the day and there is particularly heavy traffic over that bridge, now that we've panicked the populace so much in the last couple weeks. We can search the river tonight, when we won't be in plain view of anyone with eyes."
Charlize's argument, like anyone's, has no effect on Nim at all. "No, don't worry about it; there's lots of scrub down there; no one will be able to see a thing. Besides, it's me!" He grins. "Meet us by the south bank when you're done with all the boring stuff!" He finally succeeds in dislodging Namia and runs off with her, skirting the crowds of brown-robed pilgrims and disappearing around an unsturdy-looking shed. With a sigh, I turn to Filbert, then meet Charlize’s eyes that are not hers--clearest green rather than sparkling, all-too-recognizable silver. "Well, let's get the boring stuff done fast, I guess."
We find an inn with available rooms in a less crowded part of town, not particularly close to the Cathedral or market, and get keys to a pair of rooms side-by-side. After ensuring the doors lock, Filbert dons his blindfold and we leave the Rusty Ram for the market.
Once there, Filbert and I make for a gentleman's formalwear boutique while Charlize heads in the direction of a dress shop we certainly can't afford anything at. I make a point of leaving Filbert in the square--inappropriate to bring my “servant” into a boutique like this. As I make small talk with the doorman, I catch sight of Charlize disappearing into an alley. Moments later, a stunning blonde in a bright red dress with a dragon motif emerges from the same spot. My heart stutters for an instant before I realize what she’s done, and I smirk to myself and follow the doorman into the shop.
I step back into the street, blinking in the sudden sunlight and scowling at having spent almost a quarter of our wealth on one untailored suit for Nim. Then I sigh, tuck the bundle of soft, slippery green cloth under one arm, and hurry to the center of the square, where a crowd has gathered to watch a young paladin raging at an insolent blind monk.
Pushing a couple civilians roughly aside, I interrupt the red-faced paladin before he draws steel on Filbert. "What is the meaning of this?" I demand as indignantly as possible. "This man is my servant; why have you accosted him in the middle of town?"
"This man," spits the paladin, "has the foulest tongue of any dog in Bloodport! He was shouting the most obscene vulgarities you've ever dreamed at an upstanding young Lady who happened to be passing by. I will not
have such impiety in my city, especially from one who claims to be a man of the cloth! He must--"
"He is my servant," I break in over the furious man's tirade, "and I will see to it that he behaves." The paladin is panting and shaking with the effort of restraining himself, and I turn slowly from him to Filbert. "Now, tell me. Are this man's accusations true?" Obviously the soldier had just decided to exert some authority over someone he perceived as helpless. Filbert's not the person out of line here.
"Yes, it's true." Filbert says it so matter-of-factly I hardly even notice, until the paladin loses control of his anger again.
"There, you see! He admits it! What a base, lecherous--"
"Yes, clearly," I snap, a little quicker than I intended. "Well, then. Arms out; take what you've earned."
Filbert complies, pulling his sleeves back to reveal arms as heavily tattooed as they are muscled. He sighs and makes an inscrutable face. I cannot believe he is treating this so lightly.
In a flash, I pull Honor Bound
from its sheath beneath my cloak, bringing it down in two curved strokes across Filbert's upper arms and sheathing it again just as quickly. The magic of the blade prevents it from doing any serious harm, but the long slashes draw blood, hopefully enough to satisfy the overzealous prosecutor.
Filbert's acting skills are just as terrible as ever, though, or his training is too deeply-learned. He doesn't even flinch as the cuts open on his arms, and the paladin notices. "His arms are too scarred already! He can't even feel them! Here," he says, "use this." My stomach turns as a wicked grin crawls over his face and he swings his pack off his shoulder and pulls it open, offering it expectantly toward me, waiting for me to look inside.
His smile broadens as I peer into the bag and see a thick club of solid iron occupying most of the space within, along with several pairs of manacles. Holding back a resigned sigh, I reach in and draw the cudgel out. Turning to Filbert with the heavy weapon, cold through my glove, I keep the apology out of my voice and pray he'll fall as I step into the swing. "You brought this on yourself."
The metal hits his stomach with a wet sound and Filbert buckles over it, landing in a heap in the dirt. I hand the club back to the paladin, who could win a commendation for how smug he looks. I toss the expensive green fabric balled in my left fist at Filbert and turn away. "Get up and bring those! We're done here."