Tornmile: Part 16

Part XVI: A Dead End

Pacing the corridors of the Crucible, Johreel tried to set things right in his mind. He had been sent to kill three people; a high ranking nobleman, part of the King’s Council, a blacksmith that worked in a small village, and a librarian, an expert on relics. These were his last three targets and all had some connection to a legendary sword given to the founder of Tornmile by a messenger of their god, the Emperor of Heaven. Whether r not you accepted that the part of the tale, it was clear that this Durandal was an important sword for one reason or another, and having contracts for three people who had links with it made Johreel suspicious. There was only one way to see if there was something more to this Durandal business than met the eye and that was to see who had ordered the contracts.

Sometimes the kill order came with reasons for the removal of the target, sometimes with the name of the person who had purchased the victim’s life. Sometimes there was no information included at all, but it was one and the same to an Assassin. Confidentiality was important, but there must also be a record so that funds could be changed hands and so that if anything went wrong or it turned out to be an ambush, the Assassins could have vengeance against the person that ordered the strike. Those records were kept in a chamber deep in the Crucible, set into the rock of the cliff on which the home of the Assassins stood. Johreel was now outside the door to that room, a whistling draught echoing down the corridors, bringing a rotting smell with it.

Johreel paced back and forth, not going to the door. What he was doing was a serious business. He, as the Magister’s Dagger, would be able to request those papers he wanted to see, but no doubt the Assassin who kept the records would make a full report to the Magister, which would mean that he would know of Johreel’s curiosity. Curiosity killed the cat, as the Magister was fond of saying. It was a dangerous game that Johreel was playing.

He opened the door decisively and strode into the room. A fire blazed in the grate and the room was hotter than Johreel expected. Sweat began to form on his brow, but he did not wipe it away. He did not want to appear concerned about sweat – only those with something to hide did that. Assassins knew better; all of them had something to hide. Sitting behind a desk made from stone and timber was an Assassin with cropped dark hair and piercing eyes. His jaw was weak, curving like Johreel’s blades, and he was short. His body was built for agility rather than strength, for moving with agility rather than forcing a way through.

“How can I serve you, Dagger Johreel,” the man said. His voice was higher than Johreel had expected, but the deference in his words was encouraging.

“There are some contracts I would like to check, Assassin,” Johreel said. Not knowing the man’s name left him with no choice but to use the honorific, but maybe it would seem more a command that way. “I want to know the origin of the contracts in question.”

“I see,” the man said, “and which contracts would these be?”

“Lord Minham of Tornmile, Seppo, a blacksmith of Tubal, Remiel, a librarian of Tornmile, all contracts given to me, and Lord Colbert, Lord Alain, and Lord Alain’s son, Roderic, contracts given to Assassins Lothar, Cynbel, and Duilyo.”

“Yes, Dagger Johreel.”

The man inclined his head a fraction and then crossed to a large bookshelf on which hundreds of red ledgers stood. Using a ladder that attached to the top of the bookshelf, the Assassin began searching through them to find the ledgers containing the details of the contracts Johreel had asked for. Johreel stood waiting, wondering if the extra contracts had been enough to throw the Assassin off the scent. The murders of Lord Colbert, Lord Alain, and Joderic were all interlinked and had resulted in three good Assassins being arrested and hanged. That did not sit well with the Assassins in the Crucible and invoking the names of Lothar, Cynbel, and Duilyo could still gain a deep reaction, even though the Order had taken vengeance for their lives.

“Here you are, Dagger Johreel.”

The Assassin handed him four red ledgers, open to the right pages for the contracts he had asked about. Johreel inclined his head in thanks, took the ledgers, and went to sit in a chair at the side of the room. The pages of the ledgers were covered with a neat hand, small letters flowing across the page detailing the targets, the Assassin assigned to fulfil the contract’s terms, the name of the person who had purchased the contract or the reason for the contract if there were not outside employer and any details of the victim’s life that might be useful to the Assassin to exploit.

Johreel scanned the first of the ledgers and found Lord Minham’s name nestled between two separate heads of the Weaver’s Guild. Clearly the weavers had been unable to settle on a new head and some factionalism had caused two of those elected to be removed. It was of no interest to Johreel. Minham’s contract details were brief, but Johreel suspected that his position made him an obvious target and that he was well known enough for any Assassin to find him and kill him. Three names were listed as employing the Order to take Minham’s life – Lord Maratin, Lord Soder, and Lord Rolande. Each one of them sat on the King’s Council. It was not unlikely that they would want Minham dead, particularly as he was well on the way to being appointed Regent. Johreel suspected that the three had paid separately for Minham’s removal, rather than one joint venture. One job and three payments. Profit was profit.

Johreel scanned a different ledger, one in which not all the pages were full, and found the blacksmith and the librarian. Seppo, the blacksmith of Tubal’s contract had been paid for by the Tornmilian Smithing Guild, for refusing to join despite “numerous envoys and entreaties”. Johreel wondered if the envoys and entreaties had come away with all of their limbs intact. He flexed the bones in his left hand and stifled a grimace as pain shot through his arm. It was getting lighter, but it still hurt.

Remiel had fallen foul of a lesser lord, a Knight-Baron called Clansey. There was no reason given for why the man had decided to have Remiel killed, but the cost was such that a Knight-Baron might well have bankrupted his estate to pay the price. The Magister had said that this was an important contract, but perhaps he had meant the profit the Order stood to make on its successful completion. There was little of importance about a Knight-Baron to the Assassins.

Johreel was forced to admit that there was very little in the contracts to raise suspicions. The Guilds were protective of their trades and if their own methods of coercion failed they would turn to something more extreme if they felt it necessary. Regents were murdered all the time, either by their rivals directly in the duelling circles, or discreetly with poison in their wine. Sometimes, though, a noble was too difficult to kill in ordinary ways, and the Assassin reaped a high benefit for doing what others could not. The librarian was a strange one, but nobles did pursue vendettas against others for private reasons and if they were willing to pay, the Assassins could help them in that vendetta. All of the costs had been paid in full and there was no name in common amongst them. It was not unusual for librarians to know about relics and histories, and Durandal sounded like the sort of legend any man in the street would have known if he were from the city itself. The blacksmith had been raving, talking as if he had forged the weapon himself, which was not possible if it was a relic from the founding of the city. Minham had a thousand enemies in all probability and his death was the least surprising of them all. Returning the ledgers to the desk, Johreel inwardly breathed a sigh of relief.

“Did you find what you were looking for, Dagger Johreel?”

“More of less,” Johreel said, inclining his head to the man, who returned the nod and took the ledgers to replace them on the shelves. Johreel walked calmly to the door, opened it, and was met with the heavy bulk of Serkan, the Magister’s Sword, standing in the doorway.

“Still reading then, Dagger?”

Serkan almost spat the final word.

“Just checking a few details,” Johreel said, trying to keep his voice level, despite the insult of the out of place honorific, “watching for threats to the Order.”

“Injury hasn’t made you prone to paranoia, then?” Serkan laughed.

Johreel bristled, but tried to ignore the jibe. There was no sense in starting a fight; he could only take the man’s position if he could kill him without anyone seeing him do so, and even that was no guarantee that the Magister would let him live. Serkan’s eyes strayed over Johreel’s shoulder to the Assassin putting away the ledgers. Clearly, he was thinking the same. Johreel stepped forward, forcing Serkan to step back to allow him through. It was a victory of sorts to make the other man move, but only a slight one. He pushed Serkan from his mind as soon as the man had disappeared into the records room, closing the door behind him, and made his way up the draughty corridors back towards the levels of the Crucible that were above ground.

As soon as he emerged into the corridors lit by daylight rather than torches in the walls, a Recruit came running towards him. Instinctively, Johreel drew one of his daggers. The Recruit, however, stopped before he reached Johreel and held out a parchment, politely ignoring the curved blade that was inches from tearing into his throat. Johreel nodded to communicate the Recruit’s impressive resolve, and sheathed the dagger. He took the parchment and cursed himself as the Recruit moved away. If he was going to bare steel against every errand boy then perhaps Serkan had been right. Maybe he was paranoid.

The unrolled the parchment and read the contract inside, frowning slightly as he examined the details. The contract contained no specific location of the target, stating that it was possible that the target had left Tornmile altogether. It would be tricky to track one man and he might be away from the Crucible for a number of days, which would mean requisitioning supplies – bedroll, food, and other necessary items. He would need a fast horse too. Not for the first time, Johreel wished that they had Abboralan horses in Tornmile. Even the fleetest Tornmilian horse here was no match for an Aborralan steed. With days of riding ahead, he would need to pick up more painkilling remedies from the surgeon. The best place to start his hunt for the target was the prison he had escaped from – they were always tricky to track, escaped convicts, particularly if they were clever. Johreel hoped that this one was not too clever – he enjoyed a chase, but a wild hunt soon became tedious. He had no way of knowing which it would be until he got to Tornmile and could begin investigations, but he would find his quarry. I will find you, Mishak the Stamm.

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