I entered this into the Writers of the Future Contest and it received an honorable mention, which is a big, huge honor. This contest easily gets more submissions than any other contest in the world, so any kind of recognition from them is high praise. I did end up including this story in Sorrowfish, so you might recognize it.
Tabor crossed Sahxe’s village green, pausing only to adjust his cravat, wig and spectacles. His disguise was not ideal, but it would have to do. He would rather be demeaned than recognized as himself, the Baron Tabor Demitri. Cantors and the town guard were seeking his companion, the bard Prince Trystan dan Tenkor. They weren’t looking for his “manservant” Burtyn. Fools underestimate those they consider beneath them.
He set off again, this time at the pace of an aged gentleman, unhurried and diffident in mien.
The Inn, a half-timbered structure, sprawled along the narrow edge of the green. The moon’s Arc glowed just above the roofline. It was an hour before midnight, the hour when most of the townsfolk should amble home from the pub. Yet, the streets were empty. Tabor pushed through the Inn door to find its innkeeper protesting as two acolytes prepared censers. Five guards stood by, their faces impassive, ready to quell protests. The room was filled with patrons, yet hushed. It was devoid of laughter and music.
The villagers were being detained for purification.
Tabor licked his lips in thinly veilecd disgust. The Cantor in charge was a pompous coward, eager to not only protect himself from perceived danger posed by the Broken Song, but to bully the village. Cantors knew the difference between a dewin, a music-mage, and someone who played an enchanted instrument. Purification would not affect a mere player. The incense and essences would, however, send a message to the townspeople. We can wipe your mind if we choose. It was the true reason to prepare this rite.
Unless they were seeking Dane and his companions, as well.
Tabor paused, considering. It was possible, if the Conclave knew Dane was here. If they knew Dane was the dewin, the luthier who had created Trystan’s lute? If they knew Dane had recently escaped from High Cantor Siles’ tender care? Then this rite was a precaution. Perhaps the Cantor was not a fool. Perhaps he was informed. There was no further time to consider. At that moment, the innkeeper’s eyes fell on “Burtyn.” He pointed, babbling. “There’s no need for such trouble, there’s the bard’s man now. He can lead you.”
Tabor tilted his head and shuffled forward, squinting. “What’s all this?”
A narrow-faced Cantor in full regalia rounded on him, brandishing a staff. “We have questions for your master. Lead us to him.” The Cantor gestured and two of the town guard flanked Tabor.
Tabor blinked, bemused, and looked askance at the guard. Assuming his most benign expression, he rubbed his nose. “Of course, of course. But might I know what your interest is in my Lord Prince?”
The Cantor’s face purpled. “Your prince has exposed these good people to the broken Song!” The statement was loud enough to broadcast to the entire common room. “We are ensuring their safety. I have orders from High Cantor Siles himself to detain your master.”
Tabor kept his voice and expression mild, feigning offended shock and disbelief. “The Song, you say? My master is a bard-in-training. I’m certain there is some misunderstanding. Trystan performed for these good souls, ’tis true. But the only effect was a desire to dance.” He coughed, and glanced across the room, seeing several villagers nod in agreement.
“We shall make sure there was no harm done,” said the Cantor, his tone ominous. He nodded to the acolytes who had paused, listening to the exchange. They hurriedly returned to their task.
“That you will, I’m sure, your grace.” Tabor shuffled to the acolytes, peering over their shoulders at their mixture of dried herbs. “I’ve always wondered what you put in those. The stink is abominable,” he said, wheezing as if already affected. As he turned back to the Cantor, Tabor’s hand slipped into his waistcoat pocket. He produced a tiny snuffbox. He opened it gently and offered it to the nearest guard. “Care for a pinch?”
The guard smiled and nodded, taking a generous pinch. As he inhaled, he started sneezing uncontrollably. He stumbled forward and knocked into one of the acolytes, sending the censer and its contents tumbling to the floor. The acolytes stooped to retrieve it at the same time, scrabbling to scoop up scattered herbs. Tabor shut the box with a snap and put it back in his pocket, clucking. “Oh dear. Deepest apologies.”
The guard choked and gasped, his eyes streaming tears. He stumbled toward a table with empty chairs and sat heavily. The Cantor’s eyes blazed. “Leave it, “ he ordered the acolytes. “You come with me.” He turned to face the common room. “All shall remain here until my assistants attend you. No one leaves.” He glowered at the remaining guards. They nodded, two of them falling in to escort Tabor forcibly. Tabor sighed and bowed his head in submission. He allowed himself to be led outside, trailing the acolytes and the imperious Cantor. The town chapterhouse loomed, its distinctive steep-pitched roof visible just beyond the Inn proper.
“My master was in the stable…” he began. A glowing horse with wings formed from flame rose into the air just in front of the chapterhouse. Sara, she did it, she found another Watcher. He stopped and pointed.
The Cantor’s eyes rounded in horror as the horse swooped over the village. He made the sign of the Arc and rushed out of the courtyard, trying to keep the horse in sight. The acolytes and one of Tabor’s guards followed. Tabor lost no time. Stamping on the remaining guard’s foot and twisting hard, he punched the guard in the chin, precisely below his jaw. The guard’s head snapped back and he crumpled instantly. Tabor dragged him into the shadows. “Sorry dear fellow. Nothing personal,” he whispered. Tabor loped toward the outer courtyard wall. He removed his wig and spectacles, jamming them into his belt, and began to climb. scaling quickly. He crouched low and scrambled over, dropping to the other side, silent as a cat. The Chapterhouse stable, a plain stone building with large arched entrances and a thatched roof lay before him. A pavilion stood in front of it, roofed with planks. Under this, an elaborate gilt coach gleamed in the moonlight.
“Hello beautiful,” Tabor said to the carriage, admiring. “You’re perfect. The Cantor does love his comfort. I approve.” He slipped inside and checked the interior. The coach was cleverly built and large enough to hold his entire party. It had a strongbox hidden in the seat, under the cushions. Tabor inspected this, finding a sizable amount of gold, a bottle of wine and an extra set of black Cantor’s robes. He quickly donned these, retrieved a Cantor’s pin and ring from his waistcoat and assumed a pious expression, making the sign of the Arc. “Thank the Cyntae for their blessings,” he said, uncorking the wine. He sniffed it and took a swig. Nodding to himself, he placed the wine and his discarded effects in the strongbox. He descended carefully from the coach. An acolyte crossing the yard froze, staring at him. Tabor straightened.
“I need this coach readied immediately,” he said, waving one hand like scepter. “I’ve come from the Rifthouse on important business and my horse died from exhaustion. There is no time to waste.”
The acolyte stared at him, uncertain.
“Now, boy!” Tabor roared.
The acolyte bowed and hurried into the stable. He returned post-haste, leading two horses.
It would take time for the coach to be readied. Tabor eyed the chapterhouse and allowed himself a small smile.
The rear entrance was unlocked and he stepped into the cool darkness beyond. Tabor blinked as his eyes adjusted. The landing opened into a large corridor. To his right, the hall turned. To his left, a stairway led down to living quarters. Tabor turned right, following the hallway.
Most chapterhouses were built in the same manner throughout the Weldenlands. This hall contained offices, Tabor knew. It would open into the Quiet Hall. Tabor went to the High Cantor’s office to wait.
The Cantor is a pig. A mahogony desk strewn with papers and ashes from a filthy pipe sat in the midst of chaos. Books lay haphazard, sideways and upside down on shelves and tables. The fire had burned out. A lone glowstone flickered in a corner sconce. Dust lay thick on every surface. Tabor sniffed and set to work. Two missives from Siles lay on top of a pile, their seals broken. Scanning, he sighed in relief. No mention of Dane. Messengers hadn’t reached this village yet. Trystan was to be detained if seen. The wording suggested a general warning. They don’t know precisely where he is. Good.
The office door flew open and the High Cantor swept into the room. Behind him, Brother Bren followed, with Zonah, the Chymaera. Tabor drew himself up with his most regal expression, eyes narrowed, and addressed Bren, his tone made of ice.
“Where have you been?”
Play along man, Tabor implored, silently.
The Cantor looked from Bren to Tabor, uncertain.
Bren folded his hands and bowed his head in submission. “We tracked the bard, your grace. I apologize for riding ahead.”
Tabor nodded, briefly. His eyes flicked to the priest. “You must be the local Cantor…I see you have received our message. Have you seen the blackguard?” He held out his hand, presenting his ring to be kissed. The Cantor stepped forward and kissed it, perfunctorily.
“I ..we.. have one of his companions being questioned, your eminence,” said the Cantor, covering his confusion.
Zonah strode forward, presenting herself to Tabor. Her catlike grace made each movement a dance. Her sapphire eyes glittered. “The trees whisper of the bards passing. They move north, milord,” she said.
“Find them.” His terse reply cracked the air, whip-like.
Zonah half-bowed from the waist and loped from the room without looking back.
“I require your carriage. My horse is dead,“ said Tabor. “I have ordered it to be made ready. You will take all resources available. Search the northern road and forest. Spare no one.”
“The village…it must be purified, your grace.”
“All available. Immediately. He must be found. Am I understood?”
The Cantor choked, purple creeping up his neck to suffuse his narrow face. His eyes were defiant as he answered. “Yes, your grace.”
Tabor returned the man’s gaze steadily. He said nothing. His silence chilled the air between them.
The Cantor lowered his eyes.
“Now!” said Tabor. The Cantor jumped and turned, hurrying to obey. Tabor heard him shouting orders as he rushed out the door.
“You saw Sara?” Tabor asked Bren, breaking into a grin.
Bren nodded, “We shall rendezvous with her, and with the others, beyond the meadow to the south.”
“While the good Cantor searches north. Not my finest work, but it will do. Come, let’s dance the shadows, my friend.”
The coach was waiting for them. Tabor shook his head at the acolyte perched in the drivers seat. “No. Brother Bren will drive.” The boy frowned but clambered down, handing over the reins. Tabor winked at Bren before climbing into the coach. He lifted the seat cushion and opened the strongbox, retrieving the wine. The carriage jolted, moving toward the road. Tabor settled back in the deep cushions and sighed. “Not my finest work, but not bad.“
He took a swig of wine. “Not bad at all.“