Birgenes hadn’t told anyone where he was going, what he was doing or why. He had a real fear that if he did, he’d be stopped and detained. As a religious candidate, former religious candidate in his own mind, there was a real chance he’d wind up in a corrective retreat being prayed and chanted to, over and about. The example of Brother Laerches at the seminary was all too clear in his mind – once you were subject to that you were never the same again. There was no appeal to the civil authorities either, the business with the dam had proved that.
It had also been Birgenes’ decision point. He’d had doubts before, raised by the religious texts he’d been studying, but the sheer callousness and feeling of entitlement that the dam scheme demonstrated had made him reject membership of both the priesthood and the people of his birth. If the Benarian hierarchy thought the murder of thousands in a pseudo-miracle of the most macabre sort was appropriate, then Birgenes would uproot his life so as not to be a member.
He tramped westward through the spring night towards the nearest border, consulting the navigation stars when he needed direction.
Archaeology in The Wash, as the glacial rubble that covered the ancient ruins of Senlor was called, could be very profitable if you went the right way about it. Birgenes had carefully opened up an entrance into the mound with a crowbar, spade and a saw, for the tree roots, while Saprista stood guard. Now Saprista thrust the lantern into the hole before her and, when the flame didn’t change colour, followed it with her drawn sword, her head and then her whole body.
“Nothing’s moved in,” the voice of the Gelharine swordswoman who was now his full partner floated back out of the opening to him. “Looks like a temple – this’ll be another donation.”
“Ah well,” Birgenes joined her inside the relatively intact building, holding a second lantern. “The good will of the clergy means no-one interferes with us. Being respectful costs us nothing,” the beam of his lantern caught the intact altar and he bowed to it while Saprista saluted, “and the temple tells us where to look for the other interesting buildings: libraries, prominent houses, town treasury.”
“Blacksmith, goldsmith and potter,” Saprista finished off for him with a laugh. “Whose temple is this anyway?”
Birgenes let his lantern beam wander further beyond the all-around glow given off by Saprista’s. “Thaladeneth’s, by the look of things.”
“I’ve never heard of him,” Saprista admitted. “That theological education of yours is very useful.”
“Of course you’ve heard of him,” Birgenes corrected her. “He’s The Thirteenth Swordlord.”
She turned towards him, slowly and in place, “This is The Black Scabbard’s temple?” Her face was pale. “Have we set off any of the traps yet?”
The two middle-aged men looked at each other. No-one built houses like this one anymore, but it went with the story they’d heard. The building, none of it more than two stories tall, rode the crest and spine of the hill and was all white walls and red tiled roofs, purposely windowless because the rooms looked inwards to courtyards. Orchard groves, pastures and fields of vegetables and grain surrounded it. It was the home of a rich family, a rich Gelharine family, and the two Benarians did not expect it would be easy to rescue their long lost brother from his servitude here. It was probably best that their sons had not accompanied them today.
The long lost brother in question was looking up at them in surprise from his seat at the table in one of the courtyards, books spread in front of him. “Orges. Leodes. I wasn’t expecting you.” Birgenes carefully closed the book in front of him. He turned to the Gelharine girl beside him, “Apina, please go and tell your mother that two of my brothers will be joining us for lunch.”
“Of course.” She made a courtesy obeisance to Orges and Leodes, then left. She was, Leodes noted, quite pretty with almost Benarian features even if her skin was the Gelharine olive rather than the darker, god-blessed Benarian hue.
“Now we can talk,” Orges said with relief. “Birgenes, the priests who attended the convocation at Iboshoer brought us news of your enslavement. We’ve come to rescue you and bring you home.”
Leodes added, “Forgenes, your old friend from the seminary, told us how your owner kept you away from the Benarian delegation. You must have wanted their help.”
Birgenes sighed. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so careful to avoid talking to them. I didn’t realize he was there but Forgenes still doesn’t get out much, does he?” Orges and Leodes looked at each other askance. Birgenes took pity on them. “Come and tidy yourselves for lunch,” he coaxed. “Lunch will give us time to talk.”