Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

He wasn’t familiar with the amount of reward usually offered in such cases, but this one seemed unusually generous. The agency offering the reward was located in Bihari, and its name meant nothing to the Prince.

Coincidence? He doubted it. Word of his disappearance had preceded him here. Winged messengers must have been used. Had his friends or family caused the notice to be posted, or was it more of the work of Wood?

Certainly he dared not respond. Turning away from the poster thoughtfully, the Prince decided that his cover as Sir Marland’s page was going to be helpful to him, and perhaps even important.

Besides, Marland had said: “I need you in my plans.” And this offered Adrian enough hope of getting at the Sword to keep him keen on hanging around.

Were other such posters about, and were Marland or Amy going to see them? Even if they did, they might not connect them with their servant. But on the other hand they might.

With everyone well fed for the moment, and with Sir Marland and his new wife now rather more than just decently outfitted, in clothes that indicated at least a moderate degree of prosperity and status, and with a servant to accompany them, it was now time to seek out suitable lodging.

For their first night in this town, Marland selected a modest inn, no better than was necessary for a man of his obvious affluence. He engaged two rooms, so Adrian had a small one to himself. This was the first time he’d slept in a bed in what seemed like months, though it was really not that long.

Draffut still had not returned, and Adrian, with mixed feelings, had about given the creature up for lost.

Next day, the three traveled on by wagon-coach, on into the big resort city itself. Adrian rode in the rear, with the baggage. He was impressed by the city’s size and complexity, though not so much impressed as he allowed Amelia and Buvrai to believe.

The metropolis of Bihari boasted a number of expensive inns, some large and some small, and many of them within easy walking distance of the city’s huge, magnificent, and very famous Red Temple.

The Red Temple offered its own inn for guests; accommodations more luxurious than most of the others, probably more so than any of them.

But Marland rejected that choice out of hand. He wanted to be less liable to Red Temple scrutiny once the real fun started.

As he was about to begin the process of selecting one of the other hostelries for himself and his small entourage, he suddenly announced that soon, perhaps immediately, he ought to hire a bodyguard or two. Adrian supposed his decision had been brought on by a recent hue and cry after a robber in the streets.

“Not that I really need a bodyguard,” he confided to Amelia, patting his Sword hilt. In the privacy of his room, using some expensive pigment, he had whitened that black hilt to something like ivory, in an effort to add to the disguising effect of the oversized scabbard. “Not with the help I’ve got here. But if people size me up as wealthy, which I want them to do, then it might look strange if I travel with no such protection.”

Amelia sighed. “If you’re really going through with this, then we must try to do it properly. Anyway, it won’t hurt to have an armed man or two on our side. We could try one of the agencies,” she suggested.

The man shook his head, and rubbed his Sword hilt, as if that might help him think. “I don’t know. They’re likely to have Temple connections. Maybe I’d better think about it for a while.”

The former Lieutenant Kebbi had by now melded himself with some success into the city of resorts. Pawning a ring that he had managed to conceal from his uncouth captors at the mountain inn, he provided himself with coin sufficient to obtain cheap food and shelter for a time.

Alone in the cubicle he occupied in a lodging house, Kebbi took out the token Karel had given him, and looked at it.

Since his arrival in Bihari, he had occasionally been able to feel the little piece of wood tugging at the pocket in which he carried it. And now, when he took it out and held it in his palm, it tended to slide off in one direction. He had to tilt the flat plane of his hand up on that side to keep the fragmentary toy from falling to the floor.

The missing Prince Adrian must be here, then, and not very far away.

Kebbi no longer had a chance of getting his hands on a Sword, it seemed. But he might, he thought, be in reach of something just as valuable.

Thrusting into his belt the cheap dagger he’d acquired with almost his last coin, he started out to search for the missing Prince.

Murat had no ring to pawn in the big city, and certainly no Sword of Chance, but fortune had smiled upon him anyway. He had an old friend in Bihari, a lady-some would not have called her that-he’d known two or three years ago. Daring to call upon her, even in his disheveled condition, he had the great good luck to find her home and ready to receive him. Often nobility of rank did confer advantages.

Rising from her lounge on the terrace, she surveyed him with an expression of frank dismay. “Aphrodite and Bacchus, Murat, but where have you been?”

He made a rueful little bow. “Busy with military matters.”

“At least you have survived them. And does your wife- do your people know you’re here?”

“Countess, it’s a long story. I shall be pleased to tell it to you one day-if after thinking things over you decide you really wish to hear it. Meanwhile, if you could advance me some money, I will be eternally grateful.”

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask whether he could borrow a weapon or two from her household also. But once he had some money he could buy what he needed along that line.

Murat was also aware that the token given him by Karel was leading him to Adrian.

Kebbi, hanging around in the street outside one of Bihari’s more elegant inns, was required to wait only a couple of hours before he was able to identify Prince Adrian, dressed as a pageboy in the service of a couple Kebbi had never seen before. He had no idea who they might be; certainly they did not look particularly Tasavaltan. Kebbi did not know what the Prince looked like, but if he trusted Karel’s token there was no ambiguity about the boy’s identity. The little wooden block almost jumped out of Kebbi’s pocket when the youngster passed him.

Murat, with a substantial supply of money to help him, was content to observe matters from the middle distance. Once he’d located the inn where Prince Adrian was staying -in the guise of a servant, of all things-Murat rented a room there himself.

The young Prince’s masquerade was so unlikely, although apparently voluntary, that Murat decided he had better make sure just what was going on before he attempted to interfere, and restore the heir to the Tasavaltan throne to the arms of his grateful mother.

The process of selecting a bodyguard had been concluded much faster than either Adrian or Amelia had expected-no doubt Marland’s Sword had given him a hint that the young redhead calling himself Elgar was the right man for the job, though he hardly looked formidable enough to deter a robber.

That task concluded quickly, Amelia decided that she merited, deserved, needed, and wanted at least one maid.

Marland, thinking the matter over, admitted that the presence of a maid would add more realism to his character of a wealthy knight. But at the same time, the gambler said he was reluctant to acquire more servants who were not in on his plot to swindle the casino; and he was extremely reluctant to let anyone else in on it.

Amelia, getting into the spirit of things in her own way, complained: “It’ll look strange if I don’t have a maid, if we’re supposed to be so rich. You said you didn’t want to attract attention.”

“That’s true. But how’re we going to keep her from finding out what we’re up to?”

“We just wont talk about it when she’s around.

“Buve, do you love me?”

“You know I do. I got you out of that hole, didn’t I?”

But despite Amelia’s pleas, Marland put his foot down on the subject of the maid, and none was hired.

After the debate on the maid had been settled, Marland grumbled about all the shopping Amelia found it necessary to do to outfit herself properly for high society. It was not the money that griped him, but the delay, when all else seemed in readiness. But the Sword he wore on his back, and in which he had great faith, was refusing to interfere with Amelia’s plans. He was forced to the conclusion that they were likely to be of some benefit to his own.

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