Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 6 part 3.40

Posted by harmony0stars on January 28, 2011

In a rare trip down from the temple, Atal escorted Glory and Phoenix to an inn near the main gate of Ulthar. His attendant priests huddled together with sullen expressions in the chilly morning while their master strode about the place with the vigor of a twenty year old. They watched disapprovingly as he spoke first with the guides and then went into the inn to visit with relatives there.

As Atal disappeared inside, Phoenix told her the old man didn‘t look a day over a hundred. Haystack had made a point of telling Phoenix that the high priest was going on four hundred and that they were not to tire him out. He was still too freaked out over Glory’s arm to approach her, though she had the illusion back in place. At least by his snarkiness, she could tell Phoenix was feeling better. He’d moved the amulet to a pouch tied to his belt the night before and had woken up, if not refreshed, then at least not utterly exhausted.

Their guides were a father and son, or possibly brothers. As they formed up the caravan near the gate, the younger man dealt with the merchants and their servants while his partner harangued with the armed guards. The younger looked like he had his hands full accommodating the merchants who were not taking the sun just beginning to spill over the horizon well. Glory approached the older man, Tomas, instead.

He paused long enough to give Glory their itinerary. “Five to six days, depending on the weather,“ he said when she asked. “We’ll follow the river Skai for most of the trip, stopping first at Hatheg to pick up some goods and then Nir.” He glared at her with his face nearly as red as his bushy beard. “I only agreed to this as we leave the river before reaching the Enchanted Wood anyway and usually camp at the foot of Mount Lerion before heading across the plains to Zakarion. Don’t expect anyone to go into Ygiroth with you nor wait for you to come out again. It’s only as a favor to my great uncle that I agreed to this at all.” He nodded towards the door where Atal had disappeared. “Them goblins are nearly as nasty as zoogs, and I want no part of either of them. They’ll both eat a careless traveler.” He gave her a hard look as if to call her a fool without coming out and saying it.

Glory thanked him without bothering to set him straight on her expectations and moved out of the way of their preparations. There was really nothing for them to contribute. At least another night at the temple had allowed her to get a real bath, and by the time the water had cooled, she’d found the robes she’d woken up in had been changed for sturdier garb. Phoenix wore similar garb, his sword belted at his waist. She’d taken the key from its box once she got back to her room and wrapped it in the black silk before tucking it inside her tunic.

Milet had come to the room before dawn, giving her a quick hug before running away to hide her tears. She obviously didn’t expect to see Glory ever again, and Glory was sorry for that. If she did survive Y’qaa, she was determined to find some way of visiting. The cat sat in the doorway a moment, giving her a perfunctory glance as if to assure himself that she was competent to go on her mission, before he loped after the child. It seemed he’d decided he was Milet’s cat, which was all to the good. At least she’d have someone looking after her.

Atal came out of the inn, waving to the people inside. Glory still marveled at how sturdy he seemed. He patted his belt until he found the pouch he was looking for, and then approached Glory and Phoenix.

“When you find an entrance to the catacombs, and that should not be difficult,” he did not elaborate, “burn this to powder and infuse the ashes with your intent. Then blow them into the air. They should lead you to the portal.”

He did not say how this would occur, and after patting Glory on the shoulder in what she had to assume was meant to be a comforting way, he turned without further instruction and walked away. They watched the younger priests and priestesses form up around him to escort him back to the temple. Phoenix noisily blew air through his lips, just short of giving the old man a raspberry. Glory elbowed him lightly, and he snickered in response, muttering senile in a singsong voice under his breath.

By midmorning, the caravan had formed up, and they were on their way. The merchants showed little interest in Glory, though they eyed Phoenix’s sword with relief. In addition to Tomas, and Jarel, his nephew as it turned out, there were four armed guards. The merchants with their servants also numbered four, and so they were inclined to forgive the addition to their caravan if it included an extra sword to guard their wares and fat purses. As there were no wagons, Glory guessed that they were either transporting small valuables or were returning to Zakarion with their profits. Either way, they would pose a ripe target to any bandits in the area.

Their trek over the river and into Hatheg was uneventful. They barely saw the market, bundles of fabric were already wrapped and waiting for the merchants when they arrived. Though the guards griped bitterly at the delay as they tied the bundles to the pack animals, they were not in the market all that long. The merchants snickered and boasted to one another over the deal they had gotten by transporting the packages to Nir themselves and not paying to have it taken there by cart. By the time they reached Nir however, evening was settling in, and the small inn had only two rooms left. The merchants quickly procured these for themselves, leaving their servants and the rest of the caravan to camp by the side of the river.

The merchants’ servants complained loudly and bitterly when Jarel roused them the following morning, but they grudgingly went to the inn to wake their masters though the sun had not even stained the sky pink yet. Even so, the bargemaster glowered at the party as he waited on his boat, already loaded down with the caravan’s horses and goods close to an hour before the merchants finally showed. They patted their bellies smugly and made disparaging remarks behind their hands.

to Book 6, part 3, page 41

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