After the Safety Committee had disposed of the brigands, Deputy Stenson had personally escorted the pilgrims into Philos. The wounded boy obviously could not make the entire journey to Eighth Hill that day, so the deputy suggested they stay at the Two Brothers Inn, which specialized in lodgings for pilgrims. The Inn had a room large enough for all four travelers.
Long after the sun had sunk below the western horizon, the nobleman and Islander sat by a small table in the center of the room, as the boy reclined on a bed. The two men stood abruptly as the door opened, then relaxed upon seeing the priestly woman enter.
The woman’s face was bright with satisfaction. “I have good news – ”
“You had us worried.” The Islander sounded as if he hadn’t heard her words.
“Indeed.” The nobleman exhaled deeply. “When Ukhala and I came back, and saw you had gone, we were not pleased – and when Billy told us you hadn’t said where you were going, we were especially displeased.”
The woman’s face lost its brilliance, but showed no sign of regret. “We need to find Yungen quickly, and sitting in this room wasn’t getting us any closer – ”
“Crim.” The nobleman’s voice was sharp, stern. “You might be our leader, but you’re also my sister, and I don’t think it’s wise for you to travel alone. Especially at night.”
Crim nodded, as she walked over to the boy’s bed. “Archilochus, my dear brother – I don’t think anything we’ve done so far, has come anywhere close to wisdom.” She sat on the bed, and carefully removed the bandage over the boy’s leg wound. “The apothecary that the innkeeper recommended – he hasn’t been here, has he, Billy?”
Billy shook his head. “No, Miss Crim.”
“Good. And it’s just Crim, please. Or Sister Crim, in public.” She touched the incision made by the stiletto, and as the scent of cinnamon filled the room, the wound healed. She reached for the bloodied bandage, and wrapped it over the location of the healed skin, then looked up at Billy. “Keep that in place for a few days, to keep anyone from asking questions.” She turned back to Ukhala and Archilochus – “Well I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I’m famished.”
Archilochus waved at the small table. “We found bread, cheese, and fruit in town.”
Crim rose from the bed, and looked up at Ukhala. “And any familiar faces?”
Ukhala shook his head. “The faces are different, but I know enough about Yungen’s men to recognize them on sight. And they’re everywhere – just like I remembered.”
Archilochus nodded. “Your years in Yungen’s service – ”
“I served no man, Archilochus.” His companions had become accustomed to Ukhala’s abrupt voice. “Everything I did back then, was just for survival.”
“None of us is interested in judging you, Ukhala.” Crim walked over to the table. “None of our pasts, have any relevance now. Apples – how nice.” She picked up one of the golden fruits, then paused after raising it to her lips. “I spoke to that woman, who attacked us on the road today.” Crim bit into the apple, her eyes smiling.
“You WHAT?” Anger flared in Archilochus’ face.
“Have you lost your mind?” Ukhala pounded the table with his fist. “She’s a criminal, she tried to rob us, KILL us – you can’t go to her alone!”
Crim swallowed. “Who said I was alone?”
Archilochus blinked. “You had Gil with you?”
“Yes.” The voice came from the room’s window on the south wall. The pane was open, and in the darkness the room’s occupants could see the outline of a familiar head. “But no worries, I was not seen.”
Billy sat up in his bed. “Have you been here, the whole time?”
The outline of Gil’s head turned towards Billy. “No. I only came when I heard my name called.”
Crim tore a handful of bread from the loaf. “She agreed to help us find Yungen.”
Archilochus widened his eyes. “And you trust her, to follow through on that agreement?”
Gil responded with a voice that sounded too pleasant for his dark outline. “She seems like a smart person. Smart enough to realize, that working with us is probably her only way to avoid being banished to the penal colony.”
Crim swallowed the bread she had been chewing. “This has always been the plan, to find someone in Yungen’s gang who would lead us to him. And when Archilochus subdued that woman, I felt certain we had the right person. If the Safety Committee hadn’t arrived – ”
“I could have stopped them.” Gil’s voice had become mocking, and the room’s occupants saw a toothy smile emerge from the dark shadows of his face.
Archilochus pointed toward Gil. “You were wise to follow orders. The last thing we need, is a confrontation with the authorities.”
“Oh, and I agree! I never considered interfering with the Safety Committee. I was just letting you know – that I could have stopped them.”
“As I was saying – ” Crim waited for everyone’s attention – “I knew that woman was our best opportunity to get to Yungen. And after talking to her tonight, I’m even more convinced.” She quickly scanned the other faces in the room, and seeing no trace of her own certainty, she continued. “I know who she is, and that she’d just as soon try again to kill us as to help us. But I also know what we’re up against, and you know it as well – we have to find Yungen, and he’s notoriously elusive. If we play it safe all the time, we’re never going to get any closer to him than we are now. Having this woman be our guide, is not something any of us would normally elect to do, but if she can help us accomplish our mission, then I think our path is clear.”
“So this is your choice?” Archilochus folded his arms across his chest. “You choose – to trust this woman?”
Crim swallowed. “I do not choose we should trust her. But I do believe, because of our mission, that we have been chosen to trust her.”
She scanned the faces in the room again. Still no certainty, but acceptance. It would have to do.
“Well then, sister.” Archilochus unfolded his arms. “I believe our next step, is to get this woman you spoke with out of jail. And I believe I have a plan for doing so.”
End Chapter One