Chapter Thirty Three


The town of Baram sat at the crossroads of two great thoroughfares. The north south route led from the frontier towns in the great northern wilderness down south through the plains to the core of the Kingdom on the Galian peninsula. The east west road led from Pantaglia harbor in the west, then eastward through the boarder city of Teklos out of Mandaria to the Kingdom to the east. Because of this convenience almost all goods that traveled any distance through the Kingdom passed through this town. As a result Baram had turned into the greatest marketplace and trading town outside of the Galian peninsula. Goods of all shapes and sizes could be found in Baram, things you couldn’t find in any other city within a hundred leagues. The main square of the town was one massive bazaar where merchants pitched their tents every morning to hawk their goods. The streets were filled with the dust from carts being unloaded or loaded with merchandize destined to be sent to the four corners of the Kingdom and beyond.

Willbrand had seen enough of the world by now to no longer be awed by such sights. Still he felt a certain excitement to be exploring another new town. As with every city they had visited since he had left Crotasia, this one was similar to others yet uniquely different as well. It lacked the magnificent view and blue harbor of Pantaglia, nor did it have the staid old world charm of Donelan. The city it reminded Willbrand of most of, in fact, was Keesa. Both were relatively new towns that had risen up out of economic necessity. But Keesa was truly a frontier town, nestled deep in the great northern wilderness. Because of that the buildings had all been constructed of wood. Baram lay on an open plain, surrounded by farmland or low hills of long grass. There were wooden houses here as well, but trees were much scarcer here. Willbrand saw buildings of stone, brick, mortar and mud, and even more dubious building materials. It seemed people used whatever they could get their hands on. They passed large well constructed two story houses of stone right next to huts made of little more than mud and grass. Baram’s population was large and growing, and the trade in the town drew people from all walks of life, wealthy merchants as well as the destitute looking for a chance at a better life.

Off to the south of the road, right on the outskirts of town, a huge field stood completely covered with tents. Flags and banners of red and black flew above or beside many of them. The men moving among the tents were tall and dark haired, their clothing brown and gray of hide and furs and obviously made for riding. The reason for the riding gear was immediately apparent, for to the left of the tents stood a huge herd of horses. Willbrand had thought he had seen enough of the world not to be awed anymore but he was wrong. There were more horses gathered there than he had ever seen, more than he had ever imagined. There must have been hundreds of them, standing still in the morning breeze, or trotting across the plain, or partaking of the lush grass that grew at their feet.

This then was the Tarkans, a fierce nomadic people that roamed the plains following the ancient migration patterns of their ancestors, or so Willbrand had learned from his Loremaster. They built no permanent abode, but lived in tent cities that could spring up overnight and be gone just as quickly the next day. They traveled far across the plains on their horses, mostly in the Kingdom to the east but sometimes in Mandaria and, it was rumored, sometimes even farther afield. They honored no boarders and called no man their King. Their horses were said to be long lived, indeed, some said to live as long as their master, whom they were loyal to for life. The horses would tolerate no saddle or bridle and were said to have an intelligence far superior to any mere beast. They did not need to be fenced in, for they would not roam far from the camps. They would let no man save their master touch them, and would come immediately when called. More than one war had been fought when the King of Mandaria or one of the eastern Kingdoms had gotten it in their head to try to subdue the Tarkans, but no King had ever succeeded. Most of the time a fragile peace existed between the Trakans and the Kings, with both sides keeping a watchful eye on the other but leaving each other for the most part alone.

Such had been the teachings of Willbrand’s Loremaster. He wasn’t sure how much of it was true. Quite a bit of what his Loremaster had taught him, what he had always assumed was immutable fact, had been called into question since he had left Crotasia.

They wended their way north through the town, eventually once more reaching the outskirts. This area was mostly low rolling hills or meadows covered with crops, mostly wheat and corn. The shimmering stalks ungulated in the wind like fields of gold.

Merigan slowed down now, looking more and more hesitant as she stared at the farmhouses around them. Willbrand did not fail to notice.

“Are you lost?” he asked.

Merigan did not reply right away, just continued to look around.

“It’s been a long time since I was here,” she said eventually.

She was looking over three farmhouses that stood on their right. The plots of land were not very large so the farmhouses were fairly close together, as it was throughout the Kingdom. .The farms were all run by individual families. Most of them indentured servants, though their were a few who owned the land outright. With only a single plow and, if lucky, and ox to pull it, a man by himself or with the help of his family, even working from dawn to dusk, could only work a few acres at best.

Merigan lifted her hand and pointed to the last one in line.

“I think it’s that one there,” she said.

They made their way down the lane until they stood in front of the last farmhouse. It was pretty much what Willbrand expected. Though it seemed to be constructed well it was simply fashioned of plain unadorned wood, weathered to a mottled gray by the elements. The house itself was one story and small. It looked barely large enough to hold a family. Willbrand could not even see a barn, which did not bode well for sleeping accommodations, he mused gloomily.

A man with a hoe stood not far from the rear of the house. Merigan walked over to him with Willbrand in tow. The man stopped his hoeing and looked up at them as they approached.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for a farmer named Winton,” Merigan said hesitantly.

The man lifted his arm and wiped the sweat from his brow, then looked at them curiously. Willbrand looked at the man, trying to hide his distaste. The man was filthy. He was tall and thin as a rail, almost malnourished. His hair was dark but receding. There was little of it left on his head.

“Who might you be?” he questioned.

“My name is Merigan,”

“What’s your business here?”

He did not sound particularly friendly to Willbrand, nor did he look at Merigan as if he recognized her.

“Umm… we were traveling in the area and were hoping we could stay here for the night,” she said, sounding not at all sure of herself. “With farmer Winton that is. Umm, that’s if you’re him.”

“I’m him all right,” the man replied. “But I have no idea who you might be, nor why you’d ask to spend the night here. I ain’t of a mind to give out accommodations to every stranger that strolls by.”

“I…I’m sure you’re not,” Merigan stammered. “But I’m not a stranger. Don’t you remember me? From Donelan? With Ktan?”

“Ktan?” the man repeated, looking at her sharply.

“Ktan Hammerlane,” Merigan said.

The man stood there just looking at her for a moment, then his expression suddenly changed.

“Little Merigan?” he repeated. “You’re that Merigan?”

Merigan nodded.

“Yes it’s me,” she told him. “Though I’m not so little anymore.”

“I can see that!” Winton replied. “Who’d have thought little Merigan would grow up to be such a beautiful young lady. How long has it been?”

“I’m not sure,” Merigan replied, shrugging and looking slightly embarrassed, much to Willbrand’s amusement. “Years.”

“It must have been,” Winton replied. “So where is Ktan? And Jenya? Are they all right? Why aren’t they with you? And who’s this young man? I don’t know him, do I?”

Winton suddenly shook his head and spoke again before Merigan could decide which question to answer first.

“But I am forgetting my manners. I suspect you’ve traveled far to get here. You are probably tired and perhaps hungry. Come inside. I don’t have much, but will share what I can. Come inside and rest while you tell me your story.”

Neither Willbrand nor Merigan had any objection to this. They followed the man into his home. There they met his wife, a tiny woman, even smaller than Merigan, by the name of Melia, and five out of, as they later discovered, seven of the couple’s children. Winton bade them sit down at a small table while his wife brought them some clear water to drink, then disappeared into the kitchen.

Merigan related their tale, or as much of it as she was willing to tell. Willbrand was mostly silent. In these kind of situations he was never sure how much to say, how much the man might know about Merigan’s situation. The man was obviously a friend and it seemed he knew quite a bit about Merigan, but even he wasn’t sure how much they should even let someone who was a friend know. He did notice Merigan left out all reference to her unique skills when she told the story.

The man looked at Merigan sympathetically when she finished up with how all their coin had been stolen on the road.

“Aye, there’s many in the area willing to take advantage of the unwary,” he said when she had finished. “Getting so you can’t trust anyone these days. I wish I could help but unfortunately I’m poor myself. Can’t make naught much more off this land than what it takes to feed my family.

“We understand,” Merigan replied. “We will try to trouble you as little as possible. But there is something you may be able to do for us, if you will.”

“What might that be?”

“Is there any way you can get word to Ktan about where we are?” she asked.

Winton mulled that over for a moment.

“Well its been a long time since I was in contact with anyone like that,” he replied eventually. “But I still know a few people who were loyal to the Maidens. I’m sure I can get someone to get word to Donelan. I’ll do it first thing in the morning.”

“Thank you,” Merigan said appreciatively.

“But what are you going to do without coin?” Winton questioned. “Are you going to stay in Baram?”

Willbrand and Merigan just looked at one another. It was obvious even to Winton they had little in the way of plans at this point.

“I think we will have to stay here for a little while at least,” Merigan finally replied. “We can’t go off without any coin at all. But I’d rather not stay here for very long if we can help it.” She had learned this much at least from all these years from Ktan. It usually wasn’t wise to stay in one place for too long. “Once we have some coin I’d like to head south to Settler’s Point. When you send a message to Ktan, you can tell him to meet us there.”

“Very well,” Winton agreed. “As for coin, I may not be able to give you any but if you go into town it shouldn’t be difficult to find work. The merchants in the marketplace are always looking for more hands to help them load and unload goods. It may not pay very well and its hard work but it will be something. That’s where my two older boys are right now.”

Willbrand wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea of getting a job as a common laborer. He considered such things beneath him. Nevertheless he made no comment. For one thing, he might not have to get a job like that at all. It was possible he might be able to find something else, something more befitting his station. There were thieves around, he could testify to that. Surely with all these goods being transported there was need for protection against such men. That at least would be a job he would consider worthy of doing.

But even so, even if he couldn’t find a job like that, or something similar, even if he had to take something menial, he would still do it. As he had reminded himself innumerable times before he was no longer a noble, there was no job that was beneath him at this point. They had no coin, and as a result could hardly turn down any type of work that was offered. Hell, if he had to spend his day cleaning out stables he would grit his teeth and do it. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

“I guess that is what we will have to try to do,” Merigan said, looking at Willbrand.

There was not much else for them to discuss. Winton had to get back to work in his field, and Willbrand thought it best to try to find some work for themselves as soon as possible. He wasn’t looking forward to it but the sooner the found work the better he would feel. He did not like walking around with nothing. It was all Cavi’s fault. They had trusted the man. If they ever ran into him again, Willbrand promised himself he would skin the man alive.

Soon they found themselves leaving Winton’s house and heading back into town.

“What’s Settler’s Point?” Willbrand questioned, thinking back on their earlier conversation. The name sounded vaguely familiar to him but he couldn’t place it.

“It’s a hill out on the plains south of here,” Merigan replied. “You can see it from very far away. It was used as a landmark and rest stop for settlers heading north in the early days of the Kingdom. It’s a well known landmark and not visited very much anymore. Ktan should have no trouble finding us there.”

Willbrand nodded but said nothing. He couldn’t help but wonder who else might have no trouble finding them there. Now that they had returned to civilization they had to once more be wary of pursuit. Hopefully their little excursion into the wilderness had thrown anyone looking for them far off the trail. If they were lucky they would be reunited with Ktan and his friends before anyone else could sniff out their scent, but even so, they would have to be careful.

The marketplace was as crowded as it had been when they had been their earlier. They strolled around for a while, looking at the merchants to see which one’s seemed shorthanded or harried enough to be looking for some help. A few times they inquired about employment but each time were told by the merchant that he wasn’t looking for help at the moment. They had not been there very long, however, when Willbrand suddenly reached out and gripped Merigan’s arm.

She turned toward him and saw him staring off into the crowd.

“What is it?” she asked.

“It’s him!” Willbrand snapped.

“Him? Him who?” she questioned, looking off in the direction of his gaze. There were people everywhere, but she saw nothing out of the ordinary.

“Cavi!” Willbrand retorted.

Merigan opened her mouth but then she saw him, standing in front of one the merchants stalls not far in front of them. He did not appear to have noticed them.

Willbrand’s face burned red with anger. His hand went to his sword as he started toward the man. But even as he did this Merigan’s hand shot out, grabbing hold of his wrist.

“What are you doing?” she questioned.

“What do you think I’m doing?” he snapped, annoyed at her for staying him for even a moment. “I’m going to get our coin back!”

“And how do you propose to do that?” she questioned, still holding on to him.

He stared at her for a moment. Why was she asking such stupid questions?

“How do you think?” he replied. He went to pull out his sword but she held his wrist tightly.

“You can’t do that!” she said.

He looked at her in disbelief. What was wrong with her? Here he was, the man who had stolen their coin, standing right in front of them. Willbrand had dreamed for such an occurrence from the moment he found out their coin was gone. He had never thought they would see the man again, could hardly believe they had run into him, and now she wanted to hold him back?

“You can’t make a scene!” she hissed. She looked around. Already some of the people nearby were looking at them curiously. There were no Imperial Knights here, but there were plenty of town guards. They had passed quite a few of them already and she could see at least two not that far away. This area of the town was heavily patrolled. Merigan pulled Willbrand closer to her and whispered in his ear. “Don’t forget we are fugitives!”

Willbrand glared at her. He knew that but even so he could not let this rest.

“No one knows us here,” he replied, trying to keep his voice down. “No one knows we are fugitives. We can’t just let him get away with it!”

“If you confront him the guards are bound to come,” Merigan replied. “If you start slicing people up you’ll be the one the guards haul off to prison!”

“I wasn’t going to slice him up,” Willbrand retorted, though that had been exactly what he had in mind. “I was just going to threaten him.”

“And look like a robber yourself?” Merigan questioned.

Willbrand looked at her sourly.

“If the guards interfere we’ll just tell them the truth, that Cavi stole our coin. He’s the one they should be hauling off to prison!” he tried.

“And what proof do we have of that?” Merigan shot back. “Its not like the coin has your name written on it. No one saw him take it. It’ll be his word against ours. We’re strangers here, who would believe us?”

No matter how much he wished otherwise, there was no denying the truth in what Merigan was telling him. If he confronted the man he could very well look like a robber himself. If they went to the guards they would all probably be taken into custody until things were sorted out, and could they really chance that? It seemed like all avenues for righting this wrong were stymied.

And that did not please Willbrand one bit.

“So we’re supposed to let him just walk away?” he snapped. “I dreamed of running into him again and now that we have you expect me to do nothing?”

“I didn’t say that,” Merigan replied. She looked around one more time, but the people who had stopped to glance at them had moved on. No one was paying any attention to them anymore. She turned back toward Willbrand and whispered once more. “I’m not saying we can’t confront him at all. What I’m saying is this is not the time, and here is not the place. Perhaps if we are patient, the opportunity will present itself.”

This appeased Willbrand to some extent, enough to get him to lower his hand from his sword hilt. Anger still smoldered within him, but Merigan had managed to subdue it for the moment. She was right, of course. Though it galled him to just stand here and watch the man who had cheated them without doing anything, he took comfort from the thought that perhaps his revenge was merely postponed and not thwarted altogether.

They followed Cavi around for quite some time. He almost saw them more than once, for he was wary. Quite often he would turn suddenly and look about him. But the marketplace was crowded and it would have been difficult to spot any one person, especially if they were deliberately trying to conceal themselves. Cavi gave no sign that he saw them.

Cavi was moving around the bazaar it what seemed to be a random fashion, but after a while Willbrand realized it was not so. He always seemed to gravitate toward the merchants who were selling the most items, who were busy with many customers. The reason for this soon became apparent. When the merchant was busy taking care of someone else Cavi waited until he thought no one was looking at him and then would surreptitiously slip a small but valuable item or two into his sleeve or pocket.

He had done this several times when he stopped in front of a merchant selling goods imported from one of the southern Kingdoms, or so the merchant proclaimed in a loud voice. Either his exhortations or the items themselves must have had some effect, for quite a crowd had gathered round him. Because of this Willbrand and Merigan were able to get quite close to Cavi without being seen. Indeed, with the people so packed together it was necessary to get close to him to make sure he didn’t slip away. Cavi stood no more than ten paces in front of them when, seeing his chance, his hand reached forward for a momentarily unguarded item on the man’s cart, but just as his hand was about to close about it he suddenly jerked it back with a cry.

Willbrand almost jumped himself at the violence of Cavi’s reaction, and for a moment he thought the man had been caught somehow but it seemed as if this was not true. The movement had caught the merchant’s eye as well. He turned to look at Cavi, then at the cart in front of him and suddenly he laughed.

“Ah so you’ve seen one of the spiders eh?” he said. “That’s a small one. They’re all over the place in the southern Kingdoms. Some of them as big as dinner plates, or so I’m told. It’s almost impossible to keep them out of the merchandize.”

And with that he picked up a long staff that was leaning on the wagon beside him and brought it down upon the unlucky spider.

Cavi just shuddered, then turned and walked rapidly away, right in Willbrand and Merigan’s direction.

“Hey, don’t let a little thing like that scare you away!” the merchant called out. “I’ve got some fine silk here from Kallan. I’ll sell it to you at a special price!”

Cavi did not reply, just continued walking, faster than ever. Willbrand caught one glimpse of his face, white as a sheet, before the young noble had to turn away in order to avoid being seen. When he looked again Cavi had already passed them.

Willbrand’s eyes narrowed. He gave Cavi a long look then turned to Merigan.

“So, it looks like our friend is afraid of spiders,” he observed.

Merigan nodded slowly, looking at him.

“Yeah. Does that mean you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking?”

Willbrand’s gaze turned once more to Cavi, a smug look coming over his face.

“Yes,” he replied. “I think I am.”




Cavi jerked awake instantly at the sound of someone pounding on his door. A person in his profession was wise to sleep lightly. The first thing he felt was panic. It wasn’t the first time someone had pounded on his door at night, and every time it had happened the consequences had been bad. Now he sat up in bed, staring into the darkness, his hand reaching underneath the lumpy pillow for his dagger. Usually when this happened the banging would increase, until eventually the door was broken open followed by an inrush of angry guards, or sheriffs or some other group of irate men. Fortunately, the other times the door had held long enough for him to beat a hasty retreat.

Blade grasped in his hand he got up out of bed. He listened carefully, but heard no more sound. It was dark in the room. The window was shuttered, and the cracks let in almost no light. He was certain it had not been a dream. Someone had banged on his door. For what reason?

His heartbeat began to slow back to normal. Whatever had happened, it seemed he had not been discovered. The banging had ceased. He could think of no reason why though.

He hesitated, unsure of what to do. If it was someone who was after him, why would they have stopped? If it was a fire, always a danger in any habitation in this day and age, he would have heard pounding on other doors, and shouts as well. Perhaps it had just been someone who had knocked on the door of the wrong room and realized it. Or perhaps it was just someone playing a prank.

Still, his suspicious nature had been aroused. He didn’t believe in coincidence or accident, he couldn’t afford to.

His dagger still in his hand he walked over to the door in the dark and opened it up.

He stood there blinking for a moment. His room was near the back of the Inn, in a long extension that jutted out between two larger buildings to either side. He stood now in a narrow hallway lit by flickering torches that the hired help replaced when they burned low. To his left the hallway ran on for quite some way before reaching a door that lead outside behind the Inn. To his right the corridor turned to the left, leading back to the common room of the Inn. There was no one in sight.

He stood there for a moment, looking and listening, but neither saw nor heard anything unusual, just the sound of voices and laughter coming from the direction of the common room. Finally, convinced whoever had banged on his door had done so in error, he turned back to reenter his room.

Turned back and stopped dead in his tracks.

With both the door and the shutters closed it had been too dark for him to see much in his room. He had made his way to the door more by feel than by sight. Now, however, the flickering torches in the hallway cast enough light into his room for him to be able to see, and what he saw there froze him in terror.

Spiders. Dozens and dozens of them. They hung from the ceiling on invisible stands, crawled on the floor beneath his feet, scurried across the table where he had laid his possessions, peeked out at him from the sheets on his bed. They were everywhere, all over the room, crawling, creeping.

Suddenly he couldn’t breath, couldn’t even move, so seized with dread was he. He hated spiders, had hated them all his life. He had no idea why but he had always felt this way. Perhaps he had had some bad childhood experience with them that he could no longer remember, perhaps it was something else. Whatever the reason, whenever he saw them he felt unreasoning, paralyzing fear. How could this happen? Where could they have come from? How long had they been in there? He had been in that room, in that bed that now crawled with them…

With a rasping scream of panic he turned and ran down the hall.




Willbrand stood in the common room of the Inn, near the entrance to the hallway leading to the back rooms. It came as no surprise to him, of course, when Cavi suddenly burst from the hallway, his face pale as a ghost, an abject look of horror on his face. Those in the common room immediately turned toward him when they saw him rush in. Willbrand, however, simply let him run past then stepped into the hallway himself.

He quickly ran back to Cavi’s room, knowing he didn’t have much time. Cavi was bound to summon the owner, and it wouldn’t take them long to return, that was, if Cavi had the courage to come back.

Willbrand entered the room. It was dark inside, but there was enough light coming in from the hallway for him to see well enough. Cavi’s belongings were piled on a crude wooden table beside the bed. Willbrand quickly went over to them and starting searching through them.

They had followed Cavi back to the Inn. It hadn’t been difficult for them to find out which room the man was staying in. With that information in hand he and Merigan had hatched their little plot. Though he could not see her he knew Merigan stood outside the window, peering in through the cracks in the shutters. It had been her, of course, who had been responsible for the spiders Cavi had seen. Willbrand had banged on his door, hoping to rouse him and open the door so there would be enough light for him to see the illusion Merigan was creating. And so far it had all worked just as Willbrand had hoped. Now all he had to do was get their coin and get the hell out of here before Cavi came back.

He found the coin in the pocket of Cavi’s trousers. Quite a bit of it, in fact. He was sure it quite a bit more than he and Merigan had had. When he had come in his intention had been only to take what had been stolen from them, but he realized he wasn’t exactly sure how much he and Merigan had had when Cavi had stolen it. Even if he did, he didn’t have time to stand there and count it out. Already he heard voices approaching from the hallway. Damn, Cavi hadn’t wasted any time. He scooped up most of the coin and shoved it quickly into his pack. If it was more than had been stolen then so be it, Cavi could consider it payment for all the trouble he had put them through. As far as Willbrand was concerned, the man should consider himself lucky they left him anything at all. He certainly hadn’t done the same for them.

The voices were getting closer, and Willbrand heard the sound of pounding feet. He ran over to the window and pulled open the shutters. Merigan stood outside in the darkness, waiting for him. A shout made him pause momentarily, halfway out the window. He looked back to see Cavi standing in the entrance to the room, silhouetted by torchlight, the owner of the Inn standing behind him. Willbrand couldn’t help but smile, seeing the look of shock on Cavi’s face, shock to see not only no spiders in the room, but also someone slipping out his bedroom window with his ill gotten coin. Not able to resist just a little bit of grandstanding, Willbrand blithely waved to the man before leaping out the window and following Merigan as she ran down the street.




Cavi had practically had to drag the owner back to his room. The man had not been happy at all about some lunatic running through the Inn ranting about spiders in his room, that kind of talk hardly being good for business. When his efforts to calm the man down had fallen on deaf ears, however, he had decided that humoring him would be the best option, so he had followed Cavi back to the room.

Cavi had been reluctant to come back at all, but there was no other way to prove his point, and even in his agitated state he could tell the owner was skeptical, in fact, probably thought he was unbalanced. He wanted to at least stand in the doorway beside the man and see the look on his face when he saw that Cavi’s claims were true.

Of course, he was disappointed in this. When he built up his courage enough to look back in the room there were no spiders at all, just an intruder climbing out his window.

Fear turned to bewilderment which turned to rage. Not only was it an intruder, but it was an intruder he recognized. Even in the dark the boy was not far away. When he paused to wave, Cavi got a good enough look at him to recognize him as the boy whose coin he had stolen out on the road the night before.

They had told him they were coming to Baram. They were also naïve enough to have told the truth about it. He had known it was possible if he returned here himself he might run into them but so what? What could they do? They had no proof he had stolen their coin, He had merely to deny it. He had been doing this a long time. As soon as he had seen them on the road he had marked them as two who would be easy pickings, who would not be suspicious of him at all. That was the reason he had been so quick to ask them to join him when he had noticed them. They hadn’t actually seen him take their coin. He didn’t think, even if he ran into them again, they would be anything he couldn’t handle.

He hadn’t expected this, that somehow they would get in his room, that they would be so devious. He didn’t have to look around to know what they had been after.

Coming to his senses he gave a shout, but the boy was already gone from the window. Forgetting the owner he ran over to the window himself, just in time to see two shadowy figures racing down the street. He hauled himself out the window with some difficulty. He was neither as young as he used to be nor very fit. Still he had some hope of catching them, or the girl at least. He had to wonder why the boy had brought her along. The boy was young and in good shape. Cavi had little hope of catching him. The girl, on the other hand, might be a different matter. He might have a chance with her.

He ran down the road as fast as his legs could carry him. And it seemed indeed that he began to catch up. He had gained some by the time the two in front of him ran around the streetcorner ahead. Cavi rounded the corner himself, then stopped suddenly.

They were gone.

He looked around, his head jerking back and forth. This was a crowded area of the town, even at night there were people on the street. A group of three men were walking by just a few paces from him in fact, but there was no sign of the two he had been pursuing.

It was late at night and most of the stores lining the block were closed. Light came from one tavern just a short way down the street, signifying it at least was still open. It was almost halfway down the block, and Cavi didn’t think the two could have reached it before he came around the corner himself, but he could not see anywhere else they could have gone, unless they had somehow managed to slip into one of the closed shops.

That didn’t seem likely but if it was true then he had little hope of finding them. Apparently he had underestimated them from the start. Perhaps they hadn’t been as innocent as he had first assumed. He walked over to the tavern and entered, but looking around he could find no sign of them.

He spent quite a bit of time looking, searching the tavern and the streets nearby but he did not see them again. His initial rage had cooled, replaced even by a smidgen of admiration. The irony of a con man being conned was not lost on him, and one who did such things every day to others could hardly complain if it happened to them, who should know better. Still, as he made his way back to the Inn and reflected on just what had happened, trying to piece together exactly how they had done what they had done he was troubled. There was one glaring hole in the theory that the two young people had set him up somehow, and it all had to do with the spiders.

Where had they come from? Where had they gone? Even if the couple had known about his fear of spiders, and he couldn’t see how they could have known even that, where would they have gotten all those spiders from? Certainly they hadn’t been carrying them around in their pockets. He had only met them yesterday, it hardly seemed possible they could have had the time to learn his weakness, find dozens of spiders and somehow manage to seed his room with them while he slept, all in a single day.

And even if that were possible, where had the spiders gone? There had been none in the room when he had returned. Had the boy filled his pockets with them before he left? The whole thing just seemed impossible. It was as if they had conjured the spiders out of thin air, and then when they were done with them had returned them to just that, thin air.

He was almost back at the Inn now. He had a feeling he wouldn’t be welcomed back. After making such a scene, and for no apparent reason, it might be best if he left immediately and with as little fanfare as possible.

Conjured out of thin air. That thought led him to another one. He had come down from the north on his way to Baram. A few days ago he had run into a stranger, a stranger asking questions about a witch.

He hadn’t paid much attention at the time. He remembered in the years following the Witch War witch hunters had been quite common. The concept had eventually fallen out of fashion, however. It had been a long time since he had seen one of them, and he had been surprised, since he had assumed they were all long gone. Even when they had been common he hadn’t put much stock in them. There were plenty of things he didn’t understand, powers that might be far greater than he, but for the most part they didn’t concern him. He didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother him. He was just a simple thief, concerned only with getting by from day to day.

So he hadn’t paid much attention to what the man had said. But now Cavi remembered he had been searching for a young woman with a male companion of about equal age. He didn’t really remember much of the description the man had given him, but what he did remember of it seemed to match the two he was looking for now.

Cavi reached the Inn and climbed back in the window. The owner was not there, but he had a feeling the man would be looking for him. No sense in making himself seem any more a fool than he already had. He gathered up what was left of his things and exited through the window once more. The air was crisp and cold, and though it was late, he felt no more need for sleep. The witch hunter, who went by the name of Brohan, if he remembered correctly, had been heading north, but had not seemed in any rush. Cavi suspected it wouldn’t be too difficult to catch up with the man. If the girl really was the witch the man was looking for, then perhaps that would explain the mysterious appearance and disappearance of the spiders in his room. Brohan had promised a substantial reward for anyone giving him any information about his quarry’s whereabouts. Perhaps some profit could be made of this after all.

Hefting his possessions over his shoulder, Cavi started down the road that led north out of town.