“Eighth Hill is one of the most revered shrines of our order.” Crim took a cup of wine offered by her brother, Archilochus, as she continued her converation with Judge Oliver. “Surely, you respect the right of our followers to practice our faith?”
“Certainly.” Draymond Oliver, whose long white hair and beard made his face seem almost deathly pale, was known throughout the colonies for both fairness and wisdom. “Just as you must surely realize, that the road to Eighth Hill is along a major trade route?”
Crim held her cup with both hands. “Pilgrims are not merchants, your honor. The escort fees are beyond our means.”
“Is this a Perot?” Archilochus had his back turned to his sister and the judge as he spoke, but the volume and pitch of his voice conveyed a clear desire to interrupt their conversation. They turned, to see the large, ruddy man pointing up at a large portrait.
“Why, yes it is.” The judge walked up beside Archilochus, clearly relieved at the change of topic. He had acted swiftly since his meeting that morning with Constable Gent, when the judge became aware of the remarkable outside interest being shown in the Safety Committee’s newest prisoner. Gent was a competent officer and a generally decent person, but lacked the cunning and subtlety required to handle this increasingly difficult situation; he knew the judge was better suited for the coming struggle. As Philos’ chief judicial officer, Judge Oliver had committments that would keep him occupied into the evening, but was able to arrange an after-dinner reception at his manor that evening. Though visibly disappointed at the constable’s refusal to release Prisoner Three into his custody, Archilochus had welcomed the judge’s invitation on behalf of his fellow pilgrims.
Judge Oliver told Archilochus about the auction where he had purchased the portrait, as Crim looked around the judge’s dining room with disinterest. Her concerns about Archilochus now seemed unfounded; from the moment they’d arrived, it had been the strongheaded brother, not the deferential sister, who had been getting along famously with their host. Crim was pleased at her brother’s success, for she knew they would need as many allies as possible in the days to come.
A middle-aged man entered the far end of the room, and called for the judge, who excused himself and followed the man towards the manor’s main door. Alone for a few moments, Archilochus and Crim met near the center of the room’s long table.
“Thank you,” Archilochus said with a grin, “for telling me who painted that thing on the wall.”
Crim sighed. “Your aesthetic sensibility isn’t what’s winning the judge over. He’s drawn to power, to authority.”
“But he’s also not going to release that prisoner to us.” Crim nodded in agreement. “We should excuse ourselves, get back to the inn, figure out a new plan.”
Crim heard footsteps approaching the far entrance. “Bear with us, a few moments longer. I believe we’re about to meet someone important.”
Judge Oliver walked into the room, followed closely by a thin man with a neatly trimmed goatee. “My friends, allow me to introduce you to Lord Jerdain, of New Frisaria.”