Chapter 4 – Payment
Daelynn sprinted through darkened yards, hurdling stone fences and other objects, intent on reaching the safety of the well-lit market with its guard post. Her fall from the window – she assumed someone had unkindly cut her 'rope' – was not far but she had scraped against the rough stones of the adjacent building. Her right arm was now raw and red. She heard the cries of the Black-Scars behind her but they grew fainter as she ran. One last fence. There, she was at the edge of the market. She stopped suddenly. Almost forgot her mask! She threw it to the ground and walked unhurriedly into the crowd.
Black-Scars often worked the evening crowds in the square, picking pockets or brazenly lifting articles from shop stands. She could not be sure that all the gang members had been at the 'service'. Those in the market would soon be altered by the others chasing her and a search would begin. She had to make sure she did not draw any attention to herself. Think small, be unobtrusive, don't stand out, hide!
Wait, that was wrong! Her uncles' words came to her. Something about the 'law of opposites'. It had to do with a business deal he had mentioned to a companion who was visiting their house. Something about doing the opposite of what was expected of you as it confused one's enemies.
So, not small, big. Not quiet, loud? It made an odd sort of sense to her. The Scars would be looking for someone in hiding, shielding their face, screening themselves behind vendor's stalls, not wanting to stand out. So, do not be hidden, be obvious. But she could not show herself in her current state, bloodied and disheveled. From the first vendor she saw that sold clothes she acquired a cheap, gaudy robe. It covered her clothing and injured arm. She removed the cord from her hair, shaking out her locks and letting the wavy mass, or wondering mess as her mother termed it, settle on her shoulders. At the next stall she purchased a basket and filled it with fruit and a few vegetables. She continued to stroll through the market, in no apparent hurry but always making her way to the far side where the guard post was located.
Her next stop was at metal worker's stall where she purchased a small, good quality dagger. Just in case she was confronted by a Scar. Her shuriken were excellent throwing weapons, meant more for distraction than damage, and of limited use in a hand-to-hand fight. She slipped the blade into her sash beneath the robes just as a few Black-Scars passed her.
They were looking intently at the crowd, under stalls and behind curtains, much to the annoyance of sellers and customers. It was a strain to not look at the Scars who pushed their way through the throng of evening shoppers. Daelynn stopped at a stall selling meats and cheeses. It was the last stall before the small stone and wood guard post near the gate that led to the Temple Quarter. She bartered with the vendor for a moment then selected a brick of cheese. All this right beside a Scar! Since entering the market she had spent close to three silvers on her ruse, using the coin she had stolen from Beshaba's shrine. A delicious deceit!
The Scar beside her looked her over quickly then moved on. Daelynn ambled over to the guard house and walked up to a bored looking, grizzled officer. She told him that she was looking for a friend, an older woman with bright blue eyes, white hair, about so tall with a gray cloak. They had planned to meet near here but she could not find her friend and it was getting late. Perhaps he had noticed her?
He replied in the affirmative. A woman matching that description had been by a while ago and paid him a silver to deliver a message to a young elf, should she ask about her. It was a one word message, "Broskers".
Broskers was small shop in the temple complex that served kava. Daelynn nodded her thanks and walked out of the market, through the gate and into the temple neighborhood. Wisps of fog were gathering and there was a chill in the air. Evening had turned to night. The temple complex was huge and busy; it took more than a quarter-hour for her to make her way across it. The temples and shrines in the complex were brightly lit and would stay that way for a few hours. Some temples, depending on their deity's preference, stayed open and lit all night long but most closed their doors by midnight. By the time she reached her destination fog had settled on Capitol making the streets gray, misty and damp. As she entered the shop her nose was assailed by the strong heady aroma of roasted kava. She ordered a small cup of the dark brew and sat at a grimy table by the window. She sipped at the hot drink which she detested as much as her mother loved. How could a drink with such a wonderful aroma taste so bitter?
There was no sign of Lady Alline. There were only a few customers in the shop at this hour. She sat a little longer and managed to force down a few more mouthfuls. Movement on the street caught her attention. Two young men walked by the shop. Their attention seemed to be focused across the broad avenue. One of the men had a Black-Scar tattoo on his left hand! Had they followed her? She had been so careful. She watched as they turned and walked back toward the shop. Her heart beat faster; her eyes widened. They passed the door of the shop, their attention again focused on something across the way. She looked out the grubby window wondering what attracted their gaze. Almost hidden in thickening fog she saw the outlines of Tymora's Temple.
Of course! Daelynn was certain that Lady Alline was a worshiper of Tymora. This place was close by and could be observed from the Temple. As to the presence of the Scars? Braxes had probably assumed that any intruder, or what had he screamed at her? Defiler. Any defiler was a Tymoran or in their pay. The Scars were likely here to watch for any person entering the temple who matched the description of the intruder of Beshaba's shrine. They would only have a general description to follow. However, she knew she had been noticed by other Scars in the market. It was hard not to notice Daelynn; tall, willowy, with ice blue skin, a mass of raven tresses, and violet eyes, she often caught the attention of human males, and some females. And the robe she wore was gaudy enough to be remembered. A girl at a market by a Black-Scar House who also went to evening service at Tymora's Temple was no great coincidence, but considering what was at stake the Scars or Braxes himself might investigate. She would have to change her appearance, again.
Looking around the shop she noticed a long gray cloak hanging on a peg near the door. Turning, she regarded the people drinking kava seated at another table. They appeared to be a father and daughter. Their cloaks or capes were draped over their chairs. So, to whom did the gray cloak belong? Daelynn left her purchased goods at the table and walked over to it. Examining it she noticed a few white hairs on the collar and hood. Holding it up to her nose she smelled something floral. A woman's scent. She caught the proprietor watching her. She returned his stare only to be met with a wink and slow nod. He then turned away and busied himself at his counter. Needing no more encouragement Daelynn doffed the bright robe and donned the gray cloak. Raising the hood and tightening the cloak about her Daelynn stepped out into the night.
She headed directly to Tymora's temple. Just another worshiper who stopped for a hot drink on a cool evening on way to temple. She made her way across the slick stone flagging. Not too fast, not too slow. Her leg and back were stiffening up. It was torture not to be able to run, to flee the streets for a sanctuary. Mounting the stairs she stopped at the open doors and dropped a few coppers into the alms box. An inner set of doors were closed against the damp night air. Standing in the vestibule before them was a minor temple functionary. He opened the door for her, mumbling a blessing. She politely nodded and entered.
Tymora's Temple was not small. Other gods and goddesses, such as Selune and Ilmater, had larger temples. The Triune God's was immense. But Tymora did not compete with these gods for the grandest temple. Hers was of modest size.
The main portion of the temple was a high-vaulted nave with a quire situated to each side. The altar was low, simple and covered by a white tabard. Four-leafed clovers were everywhere; carved on pillars, branded on to pews, stitched on banners. A stained-glass window, now lit by candles, was positioned above the altar. It featured the goddess's smiling face, radiating power, happiness and a homey beauty.
Tymora bestowed Luck. Her adherents happily donated to her coffers when times were good, thanking her for their good fortune; and when times were bad they less happily, but still readily, offered more to bring back Good Luck. It was said that a significant part of the Temple's fortunes was supplied by adventurers and merchants who had made or found great treasures, given in thanks for successful ventures.
Thuribles hung over aisles releasing a pleasant aroma. Two or three dozen parishioners sat, knelt or stood in prayer throughout the nave. At the front of the temple, behind the altar were several radiating chapels. Daelynn moved to the side then worked her way to the front by a secondary aisle. Her leg and arm ached. Her normal confident walk was now a tired limp. Approaching the altar Daelynn peered into the small chapels leading off the apse. Each was lit by a lantern or two, held a few pews, a small hearth, and a Tymoran relic. In the third one was a small, white haired woman standing, head bowed in prayer. Lady Alline in contemplation. Daelynn moved quietly into the chapel moving along the side wall, not wanting to interrupt her.
Alline had left orders not to be disturbed. The spell she was controlling required concentration. It was not easy to enshroud a city in fog and have it appear to be a natural phenomenon. Already other divine forces were attempting to call up winds to disburse what she hoped was sufficient cover for her agent to safely gain Tymora's refuge. She glanced to her side and beheld a hooded, gray cloaked figure. She smiled and released the spell, allowing natural and unnatural winds to slowly move the mist from Capitol's streets.
The elf maid spoke first. "Lady Alline? Or is it Mistress Alline? Greetings."
"Greetings Daelynn. Mistress is more correct," replied the Tymoran priestess. "I was getting worried child. Is all well? You have not been harmed?"
Daelynn's snarky reply about being tricked into stealing from another goddess caught in her throat. She just now realized that she was safe. That it was over. She tore the cloak off, threw it on the ground and sank onto a small pew. She was exhausted. Tyr's left hand but her arm hurt. Her back, butt and left leg ached. She started to cry. No hysterical sobbing, just a little soft weeping. Alline sat beside her watching closely as the Moon elf gathered herself, wiped away a few tears and removed the pendant from around her neck. Making no excuse for her release of physical and emotional fatigue the elf handed the necklace to the priestess.
"I believe you now owe me ten silvers?"
Mistress Alline smiled again, accepted the piece, placing it over her own head.
"Thank you Daelynn. I see that you are injured. Wait a moment."
The priestess stood and moved to the hearth. She removed a small kettle from the coals and poured a dark liquid into a large cup. She returned and offered it to the elf. Taking it Daelynn sniffed at it, then sipped it.
"Is this a healing potion?" she asked.
"It is tea," replied Alline. "But this will heal you".
Alline laid her left hand on Daelynn's shoulder and her right hand on the elf's opposite knee. A warm, tingling sensation spread through Daelynn's tired body. Pain, numbness, aches, all faded. Her arm looked as good as new! The elf sat up straight, flexing her shoulders and stretching her neck out. Amazing! She had felt nothing like it, except once perhaps when she had fallen from a horse while learning to ride. Her father had touched her the same way and made the pain go away.
"Now, tell me of your adventure."
Daelynn related what had transpired since agreeing to retrieve 'Lady Alline's' property. Mistress Alline was more than surprised. She was shocked. She had Daelynn repeat parts of her story again and asked her several times to describe the shrine and Braxes.
"Young elf, I apologize. We had no idea that the street gang who stole my pendant was so closely affiliated with that dark goddess. That some members were Beshabans is not surprising. But a shrine? We knew there were at least three in the city but never suspected one at that location. You know that worship of dark gods is forbidden in Capitol? But there are always adherents to such deities and their shrines arise from time to time. To enter such a place, steal its offerings and desecrate its unholy symbol? And guarded by a man like Braxes... Well, that is task for a Paladin, a fighting priest, or... never mind. What I am saying is that I would not have asked you to enter there if I had known. Again, my heartfelt apologies."
The elf was not sure what to say in response. Alline seemed sincere about the apology and visibly upset by what Daelynn had related. The mention of Braxes' name recalled some of her concerns about the evening's adventure.
"Am I in trouble with this Beshaba? Will a goddess try to hurt me? And that man, Braxes. What was he? He seemed to command the Black-Scars and I think he called a curse upon me! What is to happen?"
The young woman's eyes were wide and she clutched Alline's hand tightly, but it was from reasonable concern, not terror, that she asked those questions. The priestess rushed to assure the elf that no dark goddess was out to avenge the desecration.
"Shrines and temples, while dedicated to a god or goddess, are the responsibility of the presiding priest. It is their function to protect it. Braxes failed in that and it is he who would suffer any retribution from his goddess. Of course, he will want to avenge such an egregious insult to his faith. But as he does not know who carried out that daring raid he is powerless to hurt you. I will make certain that no word about what happened at the Black-Scar house is spoken here, and that talk about it will be heard on the street, say in the Red-Scars territory? That will suggest a rival gang was involved."
Daelynn nodded her head. Her fears were not entirely assuaged, but they were at least somewhat mollified. "Who's Braxes?"
"He is devout follower of that dark goddess you mentioned. By the way Daelynn, we do not refer to her by her name in this temple. If she must be referred to, call her 'the Bad Sister'. From your description of his dress, manner and spell casting I can tell that he is a cleric of that misguided faith. Have no fear. You were not cursed. Whatever spell or orison he unleashed had no effect. Fortunately for you he is likely not too powerful a divine, or perhaps the lucky coin I gave you worked?"
With that suggestion Daelynn pulled out the token and examined it closely. Had one of the four shamrocks been blackened before? She held the coin out for Alline to see. The cleric looked at it, nodded, and wrapped her hands around Daelynn's, pressing the coin into the elf's palm.
"Best you hold on to that," was Mistress Alline's only comment. "Speaking of coin, I believe I owe you this?"
Alline produced a small pouch, jiggled it, making the coins inside tinkle, and handed it to the elf. Daelynn took her reward, hiding it away in her sash. The elf understood that their business was finished and stood to go. Alline handed her the plain gray cloak.
"It is cool out. Take this. You can return it when next you attend Temple."
Daelynn smiled, flung the cloak over her shoulders and strode out of the chapel. Alline watched the young elf walk boldly down the temple's main aisle and out the front doors.
"You heard," she asked?
A shadow detached itself from the far wall of the chapel and moved toward the priestess. Stepping into the light of the lanterns a man approached Alline. He was past middle-age, gray of head and lined of face, but held himself tall and walked with a confident step.
"'Tis not ma hearin' that fails me Preceptress. 'Tis ma eyes and ma strength."
"You seem well enough Roland."
"Today pr'haps, but odder days..."
Preceptress Alline, Matriarch of the Tymoran Church and highest ranking cleric of the faith in the East smiled with affection at one of her oldest friends and her most valued ally. She nodded in the direction of the departed elf.
"You will follow her home? See that she arrives safely?"
"'Course," the man replied, offering a small bow to Alline.
"Roland. We should have known about that shrine. The recovery of the necklace was only meant as a test. She could have been killed."
"What's the term the Kossuthan's use? A 'baptism by fire'? Still you doubt after t'night? That young woman s'what we need. What you need. What Tymora needs." The man offered in his sing-song, lilted speech.
"I do not doubt that our Goddess, The Smiling Lady, favors her. But it is my decision, not yours, as to her progressing any further along the path!"
Roland regarded the woman whose words were his life, perhaps even more than Tymora's. He bowed again, a little more deeply this time.
"I'll see 'er home, safe. But know this Ma'am. Ma time ends, soon. I can feel it. She's the best candidate we've found since we lost Braxes."
With those words of warning, Roland, the aging Divine Seeker of the Tymoran Church, and the Preceptress's personal assassin, stepped back into the shadows vanishing from Alline's sight. The Preceptress stroked her pendant, lips pursed, brow furrowed.
'Goddess, grant me strength', she prayed, 'and watch out for the young elf'.
- END -