Morath and Celo eased expertly from shadow to shadow, invisible to the idle eye. Some yards ahead, Vorel glanced uneasily about from where he sauntered with Verus, Edric and Bardic. Yes – that rough-dressed townsman was the very one who had studied him closely before. Well, he had a surprise coming!
As his three walking-companions shouldered their way into the most promising of the roadside wine-stalls, Vorel drifted past toward a pitchy-dark alley, checking that his knife was to hand.
Edric’s easy affability and ready coins gained him a somewhat grudging welcome from the three youngsters and teamster supping their rough wine in the stall, and the brawny shoulders and height of Verus and Bardic gained them a warmer welcome from the two slatternly-looking women there. The group were all associated with the house of Kova to some degree. As they toasted new acquaintance, the trio’s attention was caught by a scuffle and a cry from the busy street.
Picking up Vorel’s maneuver without difficulty, Morath concentrated his attention on the stranger. That individual, clutching what seemed to be a concealed knife under his rough shirt, hurried after Vorel into the alley. Morath rushed out from the shadows, aiming his course through the bustling early-night crowd, towards the stranger’s back! Celo, caught off-guard by the need for haste, slipped over on a rut in the cobbles.
Vorel found himself in a dire position! In complete darkness, only the swift scuff of the stranger’s feet and the whisper of a blade told him his intended ambush had been a mistake. Instead, a knife-blade grazed off his jerkin. His reply was even clumsier. As the two attempted to find a mark in the dark, Morath snatched awkwardly at the stranger’s shirt, but failed to get a good hold. The scuffle degenerated into a sprawling, kneeing, squirming pile!
Simulating nonchalance, Bardic and Verus strolled to control the approach to the alley. Celo took up a strategic post in the middle of the still-busy street. They could make nothing of the fight, but trusted Morath’s street-fighting abilities.
Finally, a slime-covered figure exploded from the alley, dodging past Bardic’s zestily-swung punch, and away into an equally-dark alley opposite. Morath and Vorel, now equally-besmirched, disentangled themselves from the alley – but too late to catch the stranger.
Various townsfolk, apparently oblivious, continued to drift in and out of the wine-stalls. The youngest two in Edric’s stall drifted away to be replaced by a couple of teamster types joining their mate there. Edric was left with the older of the three youngsters, a Kova servant named Quesado. He paid for another drink…
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Celo remained behind, spending a few coppers on a bowl of wine, as Vorel and Morath took themselves back to their inn to get washed off, Bardic and Verus escorted the two trulls back to Kova, and Edric and Quesado wandered merrily and unsteadily in the same general direction. Time passed, a few more coppers moved out of his purse, but no-one seemed too curious about the fracas or his company. At last, he was rejoined by two damp-but-clean friends, two heartily-relaxed friends, and one mugged and purseless friend.
Kova’s location and a thumbnail of the family had been obtained in exchange for their pains. It seemed enough for the night, and the six returned safely to their Inn.
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The following day, head still aching but newly-attired in sober town clothes, Edric presented himself at the grand front entrance of House Kova, offering his services as tutor to the daughters of the house. Although he gained his point as far as an interview with the mistress of the house, Naspalia by name, there was a something about his handsome features and sensitive hands that persuaded the lady not to give her two nubile daughters into his care. Edric had to be content at departing with a rough idea of the functions of each floor of the house.
Some fresh planning was called for. Despite their seeming differences, the six blended their counsels well. Edric favored sifting through the history of likely women, while Morath favored casting a wider net to search for possible Sapira enclaves. Still, the best fit for the existing information was that the lad was part of the household, or held there as prisoner. Having worked through the layers of logic swaddling the problem, they decided to allow Bardic and Verus time to develop the glimpse they had gained into a better picture, whilst Edric, escorted by Vorel, travelled into Poitain to deliver a message on behalf of the temple. Morath and Celo maintained a watching brief, lest the stranger or other spies – perhaps of Sapira – return.
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This is the structure of the Kova household, excluding guards and carters:
The major-domo || The daughters of the house (2)
The door-ward || The housekeeper
The body-servants (3) || The ladies-maids (3)
The upper grooms (3) || The upper maids (2)
The lower grooms (3) || The cook
The scullion boys (7) || The scullion trulls (4)
There was no evidence that any hostage or prisoner was secreted away. Nor did anyone spoken to so far seem remotely aware of any Sapira arrangement. All of the seven scullion boys were approximately of the right age to be the son of Dimas, though two could be ruled out – provisionally – as being too plain and two as being too young. They all seemed to be able to snatch a short break away from the house after the meal had been cleared away for the night. It only remained to sift through them to find the best fit. Then the hard job, that of escaping the town with a child that assumed he had been kidnapped, would begin!