Morithes read the message again, even though it was short enough that there really was no room for misinterpretation.
Your presence is required by Bishop Haufren; return at once to the Temple of St. Cuthbert in Verbobonc City.
Shilgen Davers, Canon of St. Cuthbert
8th of Readying
Morithes found himself deciding between faith and desire. His faith compelled him to return to Verbobonc City as demanded by the bishop’s moral authority; he is the head of the church of St. Cuthbert. But his heart told him to remain here, with his new friends, and delve into the ruins near the village. They had barely begun their explorations there when they had been forced to return to the inn.
Morithes clenched his fist. Though nearly half a day had passed since he was poisoned, he was still recovering. The one hour walk back from the moathouse had taken them over two hours. He had assured them he was strong enough to ride, but in truth he had been uncertain of it. Lyn said she would have him back at full strength by the morning and had given him a unpleasantly sweet drink before they retired for the night.
“Why do they want to talk to me now? They weren’t interested in giving me the time of day when I was there.” How quickly they had brushed him aside still angered him. Though he was not an ordained clergyman, he had loyally served St. Cuthbert for over a decade. All that was worth not a copper when he had inquired of the priests if the symbol of a flaming eye was known to them. Not only had they quickly cloistered themselves away, but they hadn’t given him so much as a pat on the head for his efforts. “Spit dogs are treated with more consideration,” he reminded himself.
Morithes looked back at his new partners. They were heading up the street away from Kanley’s house in the opposite direction. He recited a prayer as he walked briskly along the street, “I place my fate and my faith in His just hands.” They seemed like good people, people he could trust. He turned right at the corner and toward the city center.
Five minutes of walking found him in front of the magistrate. A bas relief of Heironeous stood over the double doors at the entrance. Morithes entered, nodded to the town watchmen in the hall and went down the stairs on the side to the jails below. At the bottom of the stairs he was greeted by another guard, this one seated behind a counter.
“Evening sir. How can I help you?”
“Evening. My name is Morithes. Earlier today I apprehended a man for murder. He has since been tried and convicted. Before he goes to his fate on the morn, I would like to ask him a few questions.”
“Oh yes, I heard about that. If you could just sign the log book, sir.”
“Of course.” Morithes took the quill next to the book indicated and signed his name on the first blank line. The guard took the book, flipped back a page, and eyed something for a few seconds before nodding and returning the book. He gestured for Morithes to follow him.
The guard took a set of keys from a pouch on his belt, inspected them briefly, found the key he needed and inserted it into a keyhole in one of the metal reinforced oak doors in the back of the room. The lock opened with a deep, metallic click and he returned the keys to his pouch. He then opened a heavy iron slide bolt and pulled the door open. Morithes could tell the door was heavy by the obvious effort required just to pull it open. The light from the guard room spilled into the cell, dimly illuminating it.
Morithes’s eyes shot open so far he wondered if his eyeballs could actually roll out of his head. He rushed into the cell. “What in the name of all that is holy happened to him?”
“What do you mean,” the guard asked as he stepped from behind the door to see what had alarmed the young monk.
Kanley was lying in a heap with his legs on the bed and his upper body on the floor. Congealing blood had formed a small pool around him. Morithes leaned in and found the source of the bleeding. Kanley’s throat had been cut from nearly one side to the other. The cut was clean and smooth. It had been done quickly and with a very sharp weapon.
The guard gasped audibly as he took in the sight before him. “Oh Hells,” he spat as he turned and ran from the room.
“What else did you know that someone wanted kept secret,” Morithes quizzed the corpse. “How much trouble would it be to kill a man that was going to die in eight hours anyway? I’d shed a tear for you if you didn’t deserve every bit of what you got.” He stood and walked out of the cell. He could hear the sound of many boots approaching the stairway.
As he waited he thought of the irony of the term “dead end,” but the humor did nothing to lighten his dour mood.
It was past midnight by the time Morithes made it back to the Temple of St. Cuthbert. Though it had been his home for a decade, he often still felt like an outsider within its walls. He had been raised here by the clergy after his parents had been killed. He only had vague memories of his life before that terrible day, and rarely thought of them. “Nothing meaningful can come from idling away my time,” he reminded himself on the few occasions he found himself reflecting on those times.
Morithes passed through the public areas of the temple and entered the private living areas. He was headed to the room of Father Glendon, a priest particularly knowledgeable in religious and heraldic iconography. Morithes hoped the father could give him some insight into the unusual seals on the parchments they had discovered.
Morithes gave Father Glendon’s door three hard knocks, pausing slightly between each. He could hear movement within the room—a low mumbling sound, a sharp thump, and a colorful use of language that someone in Father Glendon’s position would feign ignorance of. “They’d give me ten lashes and a day’s fast to reflect upon my transgression if they caught me saying that,” he thought to himself.
The door opened with a yank followed by Father Glendon’s barked greeting. “What is it? What is it that is so important that you plot to have me injure myself stumbling around in the midnight’s darkness?” The older man peered up through bleary eyes at Morithes. Glendon was a sliver of a man back in his prime, and after four decades of Cuthbertine discipline he was little more than sinew and bone.
“Father, I am sorry to disturb you at this late hour. I have questions about some sealed documents I have found. Would you be so kind as to take a look at them?”
“You’ve already maimed me, you might as well come in.” He opened the door and waved Morithes in with his hand. After the monk entered he closed the door with a loud thud. The darkness in the small chamber seemed particularly thick.
“He’s going to make me pay for this, day by day, for a month at least,” Morithes thought.
Glendon intoned a magical phrase and light filled the chamber. The holy symbol mounted in the center of the ceiling glowed with a clear, bright light. “What are you waiting for? Are you hoping I’ll cripple a toe on the other foot too? Show me what you have and be gone.”
Morithes quickly retrieved the parchment from his pack and handed the closed scroll to Glendon. The older man squinted at the red wax seal while inclining his head back and forth, seeking the optimal angle from which to view it. He settled in on a position that gave him the best view and began to scrutinize the seal. He slowly rotated the parchment in his hands inspecting the fine details trapped in the hardened wax.
Glendon’s demeanor briefly became one of shock before he masked it with a passive facade. He cut his eyes at Morithes quickly. “Where did you say you got this?”
“A friend found it in the belongings of a dead acquaintance. Do you recognize the seal?”
Glendon’s brow lowered over his eyes but he did not answer. “Is he inspecting the seal or does he hear the deception in my voice,” Morithes wondered. While what he had said was not an actual lie, there was a world of deceit in the manner in which he had presented it—at least from a Cuthbertine’s point of view.
Glendon’s face fixed into a look of determination. “This is of no importance. Return to your chamber and get some sleep.” With that, he tucked the parchment into his robe and opened the door for Morithes. “Now go so that I can get some rest.”
Morithes stepped out and walked up the hall. He heard Glendon’s door slam shut. As he turned at the end of the hall he flattened himself against the wall and peeked around the corner at Glendon’s door. After a few seconds Glendon slipped quietly out of his door, glanced around, and proceeded down the hall away from Morithes at a quick pace. He reached the door at the end of the hall and knocked quietly on the door to the bishop’s chambers. He spoke briefly with the bishop’s aide and stepped inside.
“What does that symbol mean? What could be so important that Glendon would intentionally lie?”
Morithes placed the quill down on the desk and stoppered the ink. He would leave the note with Master Gundigoot for his companions.
He stood and began to pack his few belongings. He would return to Verbobonc, as was expected of him. To ignore the summons would be to turn his back on all he had learned at the temple, and he was not willing to do that. Quietly, he whispered a mantra to calm himself.
“To follow is to demonstrate your devotion.”