(Go back to Part 12)
“Forget that the Plague is the enemy
And brother is turned against brother.
Forget that the Plague is the danger
And swords are lodged in the living instead of the dead.
Forget that the Plague is the threat
And the Fire will be lost.
And when the Fire ceases burning,
The Plague will remain.
The Plague will always remain.”
–The Lexicon, Verses Of Fire And Death 3:12
“There is no chapter house in Dunheim.”
Alex and the sergeant stood on the dock, holding the horses by their reins. Brutus was very happy not to be on board the barge any longer—he snorted and shook his head at all the activity around them.
“No?” Alex was distracted. Stone buildings rose around them on every side, and there was a rush of people to and from the pier as the barge was unloaded. Wagons rattled over the famous 27 arches of the Dunheim bridge, and one of the drivers was in a fierce argument with a gang of street children in rags.
“No. Technically it lies in Riles’s territory, but the Curate has never had a strong presence here. We’ll have to find accommodation on our own.” The sun was setting.
It took an hour, but they found an inn with empty stable space a handful of blocks away. It was a cheap place, thriving on the business of travelers from the docks. Alex and the sergeant shared a silent meal in the common room, eating their own bread and cheese. The owner glared at them, but had his hands full with a crowd at the other end of the room. Alex recognized some of them from the trip downriver.
After dinner, McCann went to go upstairs. Alex remained. “I want to see the city.”
McCann frowned. “Dunheim? Why?”
“I’ve never seen a city before”
“No? Weren’t you a charge?”
“A young one. I don’t remember much.”
McCann snorted. “This is hardly a city, you know. It’s mostly mud and beggars.”
Alex didn’t move. Eventually McCann shrugged.
“All right. Be ready to ride in the morning.”
“I will be.”
The streets outside were lit by flickering lamplight, and while the traffic from the barge had eased, there were still plenty of people about. Alex checked the signpost on the corner before picking a direction that led into town.
She only went a few blocks along the rickety wooden sidewalk before reaching a large open square. It was tiled in grimy mosaics and a plain fountain rose in the center, covered in lounging beggars. Crowds of people pushed their way through the commons, filling it with conversation. Dark figures, shrouded behind shadowy windows, watched the commotion or shouted down to passersby below.
A semicircle of spectators was gathered at the far side of the square. Alex made her way over to them. There was the sound of a violin and the rapid tapping of small cymbals. The rhythm was unfamiliar to Alex. There was a swirl of bright colors spinning in the center of the group, and she pushed her way forward to see what it was.
A woman danced in the space marked by the crowd. Alex was shocked. The dancer’s smooth brown skin glistened in the half-light of the torches, while the sparkling sequins buried in the swirling red ruffles of her dress flashed with each spin. A pair of finger cymbals chattered in each hand, cupped in long slender fingers that were studded with cheap rings. An unshaven man with a mouthful of jagged teeth played a wailing melody to her rhythm on a three-stringed violin.
The tempo picked up, faster and faster, and before she knew what she was doing Alex was clapping along with the rest of the crowd. The woman whooped as she twirled, leaping once in the air to click her heels together, and the audience roared its approval. With a flourish from the dancer and a grinding chord from the violinist, the song ended and a shower of coins flew into the hat in front of them. As the crowd began to chant for another song, Alex felt a tug on her cloak.
Her first thought was to check for her money, but the nearly-empty purse was still on her belt. She looked down to see a barefoot child pulling on her clothes.
“Are you the Curate?” asked the kid.
“Uh, yes? I guess?”
“Come!” He pulled on Alex’s cloak again.
“Come! Not far!”
Alex followed the child across the courtyard. They went a few steps down an alley, where the kid grabbed another man’s cloak. “Mister Curate, Mister Curate, I found her! I found her!”
The other man turned. He was tall and wiry, with tired eyes set in a long face. The red and white of the curate was visible under his cloak, and the marked knife at his belt told Alex that he was at least a full knight.
Alex bowed. “Knight.”
The other frowned back at her. “An Acolyte? Who are you?”
“My name is Alex.”
“They’re not sending acolytes with dispatches now, are they?”
“No, I’m with Knight-Sergeant McCann.”
“Ah, that makes more sense.” He turned to the child, who was still clinging to his cloak and hopping up and down. The curate flipped the kid a small coin and he scampered away. “Is McCann here?”
“Good, I’ve been waiting for him for a week now. Take me there.”
(Go on to Part 14)