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Baereth stood on the rampart overlooking the stronghold palace that was apparently to be his new home. For now at least. It wasn't much, all dull browns and greys that blended in with the surrounding mountainside, but at least from up here it looked clean. He had joined the gutter folk at first, and moved to the dungeons much sooner than he'd hoped. Down there everything was stink and decay. It seemed a more honest portrayal of these people than this.

The spines of the badge Ryertame dug into his palm as his hand tightened around it. He hadn't asked what the symbol meant. It wasn't anywhere that he'd seen, but every guard who saw it let him pass without word, and even gave him directions when he asked. Everyone else seemed to just pretend he wasn't there. It was a different sort of invisibility than he was used to.

"So what do you think of it?"

He didn't jump, but Sarfyndar laughed anyway.

"Ah, I apologise," she said, not sounding even a little sorry. "I thought you might like someone to show you around. Or at least tell you where things are so you can skulk about on your own. Seems your style." A pause, and then a genuine sounding, "No offense."

Really. "Alright, tell me about the joint," he said.

"Let's start at the fringes," she said, leaning on the [railing]. "I won't bother working out what you do and don't know about the place. The outer ring of the palace is the traders, and most of the travellers. There are market places at the north and south. Plenty of competition between the two from what I hear."

Baereth nodded. It made sense from what he knew of the clans in the area. And it might be something he could use.

"Second tier is crafters, lesser nobles and the families of the guards," she went on. "I'm not giving you any details, but it's also where most of the concealed passageways run. None of them reach the upper levels, by the way. I'm sure you'll try to prove that wrong of course. Do let me know how it turns out."

She pushed away from the ledge and began to stroll away, tapping against the stone with one hand. After a moment Baereth followed her.

"The top level has the upper nobles and the guards, with the royals at the centre," she went on. "But you probably know all about that already. Access to the top levels are restricted with a complex system of passes that mean different things to different people. That badge Ryertame gave you? To nobles it means you're employed. Servants will know not to pay too much attention, and they'll do whatever they're told. As for the guards, you'll have free access to everywhere, no questions asked. You want to walk into someone's rooms and pinch all their stuff? Go for it. Captain'll kick your arse, but the guards won't. What they will do is remember."

"Guards spying on the spymaster?" Baereth said with a laugh.

"On their secretary," she said. "Don't know what Ryertame's told you, but official word is that you're Secretary of the Guard, and by extension his. They're expected to look after you, make sure you have whatever you need and no one stabs you when you don't deserve it. Opinions may vary on that one."

"I hope no one gets any ideas about me handling their letters," he said. "Only thing I know how to do with a pen is maim people."

"Let them know that," she said. "I'm sure they'd appreciate a few new tricks for the arsenal. Creative lot they are. Captain encourages it, says it prevents boredom. He seems to have the right idea of it."

Guards with imagination, he thought. That should be fun. Probably why I'm still hurting.

"There are seven places of public worship," she said, stopping to point to the east. "See the crosses? Seven points? That marks them. King Azcarth's father introduced it, and from the stories the guards of the time had much joy enforcing it. They weren't as creative, but very much enthused with their work. If you see anyone wandering around wearing that symbol around their necks, steer clear, at least until you know the politics of it all. Seems there's a hierarchy of gods and none of them can agree on it. The ones happy to keep their faiths to themselves will be more discreet."

She sighed softly, and he decided not to ask.

Pt 9


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April 2012

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