Morgenes used a stick to pull the tunic aside.
A few flies rose lazily and circled. “Look,” he said. From a puckered hole in the corpse’s desiccated trunk rose the stump of an arrow, broken off a handsbreadth above the ribs. “Done by someone in a hurry, perhaps – someone who did not want their arrow recognized.” They had to wait a moment for Isaak to finish being noisily ill before they could hurry on to the castle. Smoke on the Wind “Did you get it? Did he guess?” Still pale for all his hours in the sun, Jeremias bobbed along at Simon’s side like the sheep’s-bladder float on a fisherman’s net. “I’ve got it,” Simon growled.
Jeremias’ agitation irritated him; it seemed out of keeping with the masculine gravity of their mission. “You think too much.” Jeremias took no offense. “As long as you’ve got it,” he said. Main Row, open to the harsh noontide sky, tent-roofing skinned back, was nearly deserted.
Here and there the constabulary guard – yellow-liveried to show their immediate allegiance to Count Breyugar, bearing sashes of Elias’ royal green – lounged in the doorways or diced with one another against the walls of shuttered shops.
Even though the morning market was long over, still it seemed to Simon that there were fewer common people in the streets than was usual.
Those to be seen were mostly the homeless who had been flooding into Erchester in the recent winter months, driven out of the countryside by drying streams and failing wells.
They stood or sat in the shadows of stone walls and buildings, knots of indifference, their movements slow and purposeless.
The constables pushed past or stepped over them as though they were dogs in the street. The pair turned right off Main Row onto Tavern Way, the largest of the thoroughfares running perpendicular to the Row.
Here there was more activity, although still the largest number of folk in sight were soldiers.
The heat had driven most of them indoors; they leaned out of the low windows with flagons in their hands, watching Simon and Jeremias and the half a dozen or so other pedestrians with beery disinterest. A peasant girl in a homespun skirt – some ostler’s daughter most likely, by the jug she balanced on her shoulder – hurried past up the street.
A few soldiers whistled an d called out to her, spilling great sloshes of beer into the dust below the tavern windowsills.
The girl did not look up as she trotted by, chin on chest.
Her haste, combined with the heavy jug, kept her steps short.
Simon watched the fluid sway of her hips appreciatively, even turning completely around to keep her in view until she swooped abruptly into an alleyway and disappeared. “Simon, come on!” Jeremias called. “There it is!” In the middle of the block of buildings, standing up from Tavern Row like a rock in a rutted road, stood Saint Sutrin’s cathedral.
The stone of its great face dully reflected the patient sun.
Its tall arches and vaulting buttresses cast thin shadows over the nests of gargoyles, whose lively, twisted faces peered down happily, cackling and joking over the shoulders of the humorless saints.
Three limp pennants hung from the flagpole over the high double doors: Elias’ green dragon, the Pillar and Tree of the church, and at the bottom the gold coronet of Erchester-town on a white field.
A pair of constabulary guards leaned on the open doors, their pikes point down in the wide stone doorway. “Well, here’s for it,” said Simon grimly, and with Jeremias trotting at his heels he made his way up the two dozen marble steps.
At the top one of the guards lifted his pike lazily and barred their entrance.
His chain mail hood was pulled back, hanging like a veil across his shoulders. “What do you want, then?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. “A message for Breyugar.” Simon was embarrassed to hear his voice break. “For Count Breyugar, from Doctor Morgenes at the Hayholt.” A little defiantly, he thrust out the rolled parchment.
The guardsman who had spoken took it and gave the seal a cursory glance.
The other was staring intently up at the carved door-lintel, as if hoping to see written there his dismissal from duty for the day. The first guard handed the parchment back with a shrug. “Inside and to the left.
Don’t be scamping about.” Simon drew himself up to his full height, indignant.
When he was a guardsman, he would carry himself with a great deal more style than these bored, unshaven idiots.
Didn’t they know what an honor it was to wear the king’s green? He and Jeremias climbed past them into Saint Sutrin’s cool interior. Nothing moved in the antechamber, not even the air, but Simon could see the play of light on figures in motion beyond the far doorway.
Instead of going directly to the door on the left, he looked back to see if the guards were watching – they weren’t, of course – then strode forward to look into the cathedral’s grand chapel. “Simon!” Jeremias hissed, alarmed. “What are you doing?! They said over there!” He pointed to the leftmost doorway. Ignoring his companion, Simon leaned his head through the doorway.
Jeremias, muttering nervously, came up behind. It’s like one of those religious pictures, Simon thought.
Where you see Usires and the Tree way in the back, and the faces of Nabbanai peasants and all very close up front. Indeed, the chapel was so large and high-ceilinged that it seemed a whole world.
Sunlight, softened by the colored windows as though by clouds, streamed down from the uppermost reaches.
White-robed priests moved around the altar, cleaning and polishing like shavenheaded chambermaids.
Simon supposed they were preparing for the Elysiamansa services only a week or two away. Closer to the door, moving equally busily but with no other common reference, Breyugar’s yellow-tunicked constables milled back and forth on various errands, dotted here and there with the green of one of the castle’s Erkynguard, or the dun or black clothes of some Erchester notable.
The two groups seemed completely separated; it took a moment for Simon to see the row of boards and stools that had been mounted between the front and back of the cathedral.
In a flash of insight, Simon realized that it was not a fence to keep the scurrying priests in, as was the first impression – no, rather it was to keep the soldiers out.
It seemed that Bishop Domitis and the priests had still not given up hope that the Lord Constable’s occupation of their cathedral would be less than permanent. As they climbed the stairs, they had to show their parchment to three more guards in turn, all of these more alert than those at the massive front door – either because they were inside out of the sun, or else due to their increased proximity to the object of protection.
At last they stood in a crowded guardroom before a seam-faced, gap-toothed veteran whose belt full of keys and air of harried disinterest bespoke authority. “Yes, the Lord Breyugar’s here today.
Give me the letter, and I’ll be passing it on.” The sergeant scratched his chin impassively.
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