Tornmile: Part 13

Part XIII: Cloak and Dagger

Johreel sat in the queue outside the East Gate of Tornmile, the impatient shouts of farmers behind him lost as he ran over the contract in his head. It seemed simple enough – the target, a librarian named Remiel, was an old man, who worked in the library and slept in a house across the road. Johreel liked contracts in the city, because people were tied them down to a few places and that made it easier to pinpoint their exact location to an exact time. It was a vast improvement from the days of following around bandit chiefs as they moved from one camp to another which had occupied much of his time whilst he was at the Sanctuary in Moreana. Normally, of course, he would have preferred something a bit more challenging than one sedentary old man, but with his hand in splints and still throbbing dully, it was better than nothing. Besides, the Magister had said it was important and he would hardly have sent his Dagger to perform the contract if it were not. Perhaps the man had angered someone enough that they were willing to pay a high price for the certainty of the man’s removal. It did not really matter; it was just another contract.

The line moved forward, the guards waving the traders’ caravan in front of Johreel through, to the general relief of its occupants, who had sat for the last hour with exasperated looks on their faces for the money they were losing. Since the Empire had fallen, traders’ caravans were a welcome sight, bringing word of the provinces the Empire had lost and goods from the colonies that were less common at the markets now. Johreel flicked the reins lazily and urged his carthorse forward. Behind him a mound of cabbages under a leather skin acted as a reason for travelling to the city. He could just have walked in, of course, since Tornmile was hardly under immediate threat, but the guards were often suspicious of Abboralans, especially ones carrying weapons. Johreel had placed his more conspicuous weaponry in the cart’s false bottom, concealed beneath the cabbages, though he kept his two curved knives behind his belt. A travelling cloak of poorly spun fabric was wrapped about him and he had smeared a little dirt onto his face.

“Purpose of visit?” the guard asked, frowning at Johreel as he drew the cart up in front of the gate.

“Delivering these cabbages for my master, Aymos,” Johreel said, keeping his eyes low. Guards more readily believed an Abboralan was a servant than a trader.

The guard lifted the leather skin on the cart, picking out a cabbage and sniffing at it. He nodded to himself and placed the cabbage back into the cart, taking a few steps back. He raised a hand to the men stood in front of the entry gate and Johreel prepared to move the cart forward.

“Wait!” the guard said, raising his voice a little, “What have you done to your hand?”

Johreel looked down to see that the splints were showing out of the edge of the travelling cloak. He rubbed at the hand ruefully.

“Bitten by the horse,” he said, eyeing the beast with suspicion. It tossed its mane and flicked its tail impatient at Johreel’s tugging on the reins, but it gave a great effect to the guard.

“I see,” he said, “not that I don’t believe you, but just remember that brawling in the city will get you locked up.”

“Of course,” Johreel said, “I wouldn’t dream of brawling. You’d never catch me doing anything I shouldn’t.”

Neither was a lie. Johreel never brawled and he was certain that the guards would not catch him doing anything he shouldn’t. If they caught him in what he intended to do he was as good as dead anyway and he had been caught out by his victims and their guards too often recently. Two of Minham’s guards had died unnecessarily and the blacksmith had nearly made his hand useless entirely. That in turn had set the boy to try to attack him at the Crucible, and another person who hadn’t needed to had died. It’s what people do – everybody dies. He shook himself as he passed down the main street, the bulk of the Spire towering above the city ahead of him. He was getting soft of late – asking questions, listening to victims, counting deaths and calling them unnecessary. He was the Dagger and a dagger had only one point.

He drove the cart towards the markets, turning into a side street before he reached the wide expanse in front of the Spire. Refugees from the fallen provinces crowded here at night and in the day they milled about the streets. Some of them turned to banditry and pick-pocketing to make enough money for food, but Johreel had little fear of either of those. He stopped the cart and got down from the driver’s seat. Pushing the cabbages towards the front of the cart, he revealed the false bottom, sliding it free of its mounting revealing a change of clothes, a fine, curved sword designed along the fashion of his knives, and his belt pouches with their poisons and explosive powders. He threw off the travelling cloak, wiped the dirt from his face, and changed his clothes, dressed now like he was a great lord of some kind, belting the sword on more for effect than because he needed it. He slung the belt pouches around his waist and slid the curved daggers into their sheaths. Finally he attached the dagger pin that symbolised his rank to the front of the fine tunic and slipped a silver ring onto his middle finger. Change done, he hid the false bottom of the cart, unhitched the horse from the harness, mounting it and riding towards the Library of Tornmile, which was at the opposite end of the marketplace, facing the Spire.

The markets were less busy than they had been only a few months ago, but there were still plenty of people about, the population swelled by the refugees. When people saw Johreel approaching, however, they stepped aside – his fine clothes and weaponry marked him out as a noble and no commoner would dream of standing in the way of a noble, even if they did not recognise the man in the saddle.  Johreel walked the horse delicately through the throngs until he came to the front of the library. It formed a contrast with the Spire – it was a single storey square building in white stone, with steps leading up to the entrance. Carvings of Tornmilian history and legend were worked in the stone on the façade and young men in liveries stood waiting to take horses from patrons of the library. One of them came running forward to take Johreel’s horse as he dismounted. Johreel did not speak to him, barely looked at him, in fact. Coldness was expected of the nobility.

He ascended the steps with grace, his cloak billowing behind him made it seem as if he were gliding, and passed through the door which another of the boys in livery came forward to open. Inside the stone was a muted white, lit by oil lamps with glass shields to protect the books and papers housed within the building from harm. The entrance hall held a desk to one side, behind which sat a city guard. On racks behind him were weapons in many different styles, most of them Tornmilian by manufacture, but with personal markings on the blades and pommels. A few quarterstaffs had also been collected and stood in a rack in the corner.

“Any weapons, my lord?” the guard asked, rising from his seat, “all weapons must be checked in before entering the library.”

“I am not a lord,” Johreel said, unbuckling his sword and placing it on the counter, “at least, not in your country. The title I hold does not translate well to your language, but it is no matter. I come to humble seek wisdom from your books, not to gain deference from people I cannot command, but thank you for your politeness.”

The guard nodded and the corners of his mouth turned up a little. Johreel withdrew his knives from their sheaths and placed them on the counter. The guard took them and the sword and placed them on racks with labels tied around the hilts and passed Johreel a wooden token with the number 54 etched into it. Johreel nodded his thanks, placing the token into one of his pouches, and moved through the large double doors and into the library. The doors swept shut behind him without any nosie at all and the only sounds Johreel could hear were the turning of pages and the scratching of quills. It was a most agreeable noise; Johreel loved to work in silence.

“Can I help you at all, my lord?” came a whispered voice that Johreel took at first for the turning of old paper pages, but which turned out to belong to an old man with silver hair and a large bald patch sitting behind a low table. Leather bound volumes were stacked all about him, nearly obscuring him completely from view.

“I am looking for Librarian Remiel,” Johreel said, accentuating his already accented Tornmilian, “I have travelled far to see him.”

“I am he, my lord,” the man said, standing up, though it made him no taller, “of what service can I be to your lordship.”

“My name is Baseer Fayeez Barakat and I have come from my liege-lord, Malik Jameel Nayim Khaleed. He has in his possession a sword in the Tornmilian style that a certain member of his court assures him is a great relic from the Elder Days, but none of his scholars can tell him if the man is correct or not. He is deeply shamed that his scholars cannot answer his questions, but he has heard of your great knowledge and wisdom, and bade me come to you to see if you could tell if the weapon is as his courtier says it is.”

Remiel looked shocked and pleased; the notion of a high Abboralan lord having heard of his wisdom was clearly gratifying to him. He bowed his balding head and moved out from behind the desk strewn with books. Johreel tried to keep his manner deferential as if he had been ordered here by his liege-lord from Abboral rather than been sent to kill the man in front of him, but it was not all that easy – he towered over the librarian and the man was so frail that he could have snapped him as easily as the wind tears saplings from the ground.

“Most items of that nature possess identifying marks of one nature of another – we have a number of tomes on the subject, many of which are ponderous and of little practical value. Perhaps if you could describe the sword I could recommend a book that may well give your liege-lord ways of identifying if the relic is genuine.”

“Alas, I have not seen the sword myself nor had it described to me. Malik Khaleed is very protective of his secrets and treasured possessions, which I am sure you will understand. All I have been given is a name: Durandal.”

The man started a little at the name, rocking backwards on his heels. Johreel watched him closely – the name had clearly had an effect. Remiel leaned against the desk and wiped his forehead with his hand.

“That name is well known to me, but I cannot imagine that what your liege-lord possesses is the genuine relic. The sword known as Durandal is indeed a Tornmilian relic, said to have belonged to a messenger of the Emperor of Heaven himself. When Siarl the Great was ordered by the Emperor of Heaven to found the city in which you now stand, the messenger gave him the sword Durandal as proof of his divine provenance. The sword was said to be indestructible and its blade always keen. Sources attribute a number of supernatural powers to the sword, but whether or not it truly possesses such powers no man alive could tell you. The sword has been lost for many thousands of years, supposedly thrown into a lake by Siarl’s daughter to prevent his sons tearing apart the Empire he had built as they all claimed their inheritance. It is more likely that the sword was simply the product of a blacksmith’s anvil and the stories around it invented. The myth of it being thrown into a lake may also be a fiction concocted to account for the breaking of an ordinary sword in a time when the other stories were widely believed. In all probability no such relic exists and if it does then it is lost.”

“Could my liege-lord’s courtier not have found the sword then? Is that not a possibility?”

“I suppose there is a very small chance, but I do not believe it likely. There are a number of sources if you wish to take stories and legends back to your liege-lord.”

“Better than taking nothing at all,” Johreel said.

“Then if you would follow me.”

Remiel gestured for Johreel to follow, leading him through large wooden shelves containing hundreds of volumes. The Crucible library looked tiny in comparison. Here and there, well dressed men and women read at tables or took notes from tomes spread out in front of them. Wizened men moved between the shelves, all silent as the grave.

Eventually, in a secluded part of the library, Remiel pointed to a row of shelves on which Johreel could see old books with cracked leather, loose sheaves of paper bound together by string, and tomes with gilded hinges across their covers.

“These detail the legends of the sword we have discussed, for what it is worth to you.”

“Thank you, Master Remiel,” Johreel said, extending a hand. Remiel took it and Johreel pushed his middle finger forward, feeling the slight catch as the needle on the ring broke the skin of Remiel’s palm, poison spread on it speeding into the man’s blood. The man felt nothing – the needle was thin and Johreel only felt it because he expected it. Bowing low, Remiel left Johreel in the stacks and wove his way back towards the desk.

Once he had gone, Johreel took some of the books down from the shelf, searching amongst them and taking pages from them as conspicuously as he was able, before folding them into his belt pouches. Now that he knew for sure that Durandal was real, he could not help but sate his curiosity with the books Remiel had pointed out. Once he had taken all that he was able, Johreel left the stacks and walked calmly towards the exit, stopping only to peer over the books on Remiel’s desk.

Remiel was dead; the poison had done its work. His body was concealed from the library by the books on his desk and by the time it was found, Johreel would be long gone. Besides, the pin prick in Remiel’s palm would go unnoticed and an old man dying was not an unusual occurrence. Johreel had other things to worry about. So far, three people could be connected to the sword known as Durandal, the sword of the Tornmilian god’s messenger, and he had been sent to kill all three of them.

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