Bel was already closing up shop when I arrived, and I help her pull the counter up over the window and lock it up tight. I do what I can to aid with the cleaning, but it’s a tight space for two adults and I feel I’m more in the way than I am help, though she has the good grace not to say so.

“You’re getting flour on your fancy cape,” she says.

“Nothing that won’t wipe off,” I say. “To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to catch up on my laundry.”

“You want to wash your clothes in our water?”

“That’s a fair point,” I say.

“Of course, if you stay much longer you won’t be able to help it,” she says. “I’ve been heating it to a boil before washing with it, but I’m guessing from your little experiment this afternoon that’s not actually helping me?”

“No, I’m afraid it isn’t,” I say. “Though it doesn’t seem to have overcome your herbal protection, anyway.”

“Are you certain about that?”

“Reasonably so,” I say. “From a casual inspection, you seem to be in better shape than most people in town. I think if you were infected at all, you would be reacting badly to all the garlic.”

“Gives me a chill all the same,” she says. “Oh, well. At least my bathwater is always warm. Come on upstairs and we’ll eat. Nothing much happens outside between sundown and midnight. The fog doesn’t even start to roll in until then.”
I’m feeling a bit smug as I leave Tyrol’s estate, so I stop at the edge of the artificial pond to confirm my impression. There’s still the sense of wrongness in looking at water that’s so utterly transparent and bereft of reflection, but now that I know what I’m looking at it’s not nearly as unsettling.

I hate waiting around and I always think better when I’m moving, so I wander around town some more before heading back to the bakery just before sunset.

“So, you’ve figured it out,” Bel says as she lets me in. It isn’t a question.

“You knew,” I say. It isn’t one, either.

“I was waiting for someone else to say it first,” she says.

“Vampire,” I say.

“In the water or above ground?”

“Very possibly both,” I say. “But I’m afraid I can’t say for sure. I want to see what happens tonight.”

“You can’t mean to go out,” she says.

“No. I will if I have to, but I mean to stay indoors,” I say. “I think your upstairs windows should give a good enough view of the square.”

“You can try, but the fog gets pretty thick,” she says. “But then, I’ve never tried looking for long. I’m not one to tempt fate.”

“Then why have you stayed?”

“Many reasons, some better than others,” she says. “It’s hard to credit a thought about vampires during the day, and impossible to leave at night. Also, this is my home. I wouldn’t settle down and stay somewhere that was haunted, but I already lived here and this… thing… moved in. I’d like to find out if we can do anything about it before I move out.”

“Well said,” I say.

“So, can we?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know… yet.”
“Then I’m more than half a day late for getting there and back before sundown,” I say. “First order of business for tomorrow, I suppose. I don’t suppose you know if anyone’s seen him around lately?”

“I haven’t heard that anything has happened to him, but I’ve never been acquainted with his comings and goings. He’s never been a troublemaker, nor has he ever involved himself in the civic affairs.”

“Well, then, I suppose I’ll see myself out, then,” I say.

“My footman will see you out, and he’ll see you turn out your pockets before you go.”

“That might be interesting, but I’m afraid we don’t have time for that,” I say. “You don’t want to challenge me, Tyrol… well, probably you do, because it’s in your nature to challenge anyone you think might be undermining you, but it would be against your interests to do so. I’ve been here one day and you already know more about the problem than you did before, but you don’t know the solution. Run me off, lock me up, or do away with me now and you never will.”

“You don’t know the solution, either,” he says.

“No, but I can find out,” I say. “And maybe you could, too, now that you have some idea what we’re dealing with. Only right now, it isn’t really ‘we’ who are dealing with it, it’s me. Do you want it to be you?”

“No… no, I suppose that I don’t,” he says. “But so help me, if a single teaspoon turns up missing, you will pay dearly for your trespass.”

“If you want to have talk about payment, we can have a conversation about the fee for my services before I lift another finger,” I say. “Otherwise, I’ll see myself out now.”

Thirty-Two

Feb. 22nd, 2013 07:25 pm
“The baker’s daughter?” Tyrol says. “What…?”

“You all call her that, but you forget that she’s her mother’s daughter, as well,” I say. “Her mother taught her that garlic is healthsome, so when the town started sickening, she started baking it into her bread. Maybe she even knew or suspected, though she didn’t want to say it out loud. A little dried garlic in bread probably wouldn’t do much more than burn the mouth of a vampire bite victim, but it’s the perfect little counter for the incremental infection that’s been creeping in.”

“What do we do? I can’t very well tell the whole town they’ve been drinking bits of vampire!”

“I could, but it’s a bit late to tell the rest of the bakers and cooks to start spicing up their wares, anyway,” I say. “Much of the town is too far gone to take it voluntarily… I don’t think they’re past the point of saving, since they haven’t died yet. I’d say we need to strike at the source. The question is how? If blessing the water didn’t destroy the creature, I can’t see dumping a load of garlic into the well having much effect. And if the vampire is trapped, what’s been causing the disturbances and disappearances at night?”

“You mean there might be another one? Free?”

“Maybe a rescue mission of sorts,” I say. “I don’t know. I need to see this Father Toma. He might be able to fill in a blank or two for me. You said he’s local?”

“Yes, though his dwelling is somewhat remote… he’s a bit of a hermit. That’s why I chose him to bless the well. He’s less interested in things like local politics or other worldly matters.”

“An ascetic?” I say.

“That would be the word, yes,” Tyrol says.

“And is his hermitage easy to find?”

“Easy enough,” Tyrol says. “Just half a day’s ride down the forest road.”

Thirty-One

Feb. 22nd, 2013 12:25 pm
“Coffin?” Tyrol says, nearly choking on the word. “What do you mean? Of course they aren’t coffins!”

“Caskets, then,” I say.

“But who would load up a whole cart full of caskets like that?”

“Someone who needs more than one,” I say. “Here’s what I think happened: Heizer was driving across country, but he wasn’t carrying cargo at all, he was taking a passenger and their baggage. Either your inspector opened the wrong box, or he made Heizer nervous somehow… either way, he died for his troubles. The experience shook Heizer enough that once he was inside town he drank heavily, and in a drunken rage or exhilaration, he took steps to free himself from the thrall of his passenger… by dropping him, box and all, into your well. That’s running water down there, after all, even if it’s running slowly.”

“But… but… you sound as though you’re suggesting…”

“A vampire? It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Wait until nightfall and repeat it to yourself, see how it sounds then,” I say. “And it’s the only thing that fits. The water! I couldn’t figure out was wrong with the damned water, because I couldn’t see anything in it. And that was the problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you spent much time gazing into your reflecting pond lately, Tyrol?” I ask. I can tell by the look on his face that he hasn’t, that it makes him nervous now. “The reflections are gone! Your town’s water doesn’t carry a reflection. You see, your problem is far worse than a vampire on the loose. That’s something that can be hunted. Something that can be fought. Something that can be killed. You can hang up holy symbols and strands of garlic or wild rose to keep a vampire out of your house, but you can’t keep out water. You need it. You carry it over the threshold yourself, or your servants do. You drink it. You cook with it. You wash your face with it.”

“You mean to say that we’ve been drinking… vampire water?”

“Oh, yes,” I say. “You’re one of the lucky ones, though… I suspect you drink more wine than well-water, and in any case you’re one of Bel’s customers.”

Thirty

Feb. 21st, 2013 06:24 pm
“Were they all like this?” I ask. I don’t raise my voice, but it’s unexpected enough to cut through the din anyway. In the resulting quiet, I sit up.

“Pardon?” Tyrol says.

“Accepted,” I say. “The other boxes on Heizer’s cart. Were they all like this one?”

“Look… you. You can’t just waltz into my home…”

“I was invited,” I say, getting to my feet. “I knocked, but no one answered so I showed myself in. Were the boxes all like this?”

“Well, they were individually crafted, so no two…”

“I mean the size, Tyrol. Not the style. Did they all have the same dimensions as this one?”

“Well, er, yes, I would say so. They were all of a similar size.”

“Similar, or the same?” I ask. “It’s important.”

“I didn’t have them all measured…”

“No, but you bought two of them and I’m sure you would have wanted to be sure of exactly what you were buying,” I say. “Were the measurements the same?”

“Yes,” he says. “To the quarter-inch. They seemed to have been made to the same plan. Ninety inches long by thirty-four inches deep by thirty inches high. The interior dimensions are somewhat shorter, of course. But what does this have to do with anything?”

“Didn’t they strike you as being unusually large for a trunk?”

“That was part of the attraction. It seemed a great value. We see boxes carved in this fashion quite often, passing from the other side of the forest, but never of this size.”

“Of course not,” I say. “How many people send all the way across the continent for a coffin-maker?”
It isn’t a terribly thrilling leap that carries me from an upstairs window to an ivy-shrouded wall on the side of Tyrol’s house, I’m very sorry to say, though I give you full permission to imagine it in whatever level of dashing detail gives you the most pleasure. I’m sure I cut a very fine figure clinging there, like a spider or perhaps some kind of great cat, or one of those goats that can walk up the face of a very nearly vertical cliff…

At any rate, it proves easy enough for me to make my way to a window on the desired side of the gap and gain access to Tyrol’s house. I rap my knuckles once on the window frame, for the sake of later honesty and to avoid startling anyone too badly, but the chamber provs to be empty. It looks to be a disused bedroom.

My wand, knowing the object of my quest, draws me towards an upstairs sitting room where I find a carved wooden trunk, the faces of which depict woodland scenes. I don’t know that I would call it exquisite, but I have no doubt it’s one of the pair that Tyrol took off of Heizer.

The most interesting thing about it to me is its size. I lie down on the floor beside it just to confirm my first impression, and then I lie there thinking about running water, and reflecting ponds, and the world of nothing I saw in the bottom of the bucket.

I’m still lying there when I hear the door open, followed by a cry of alarm.

In almost no time at all, Tyrol is standing over me along with two burly gentlemen in his employ. There is a lot of shouting, which I continue to ignore as unimportant.

The important thing is this box.
A kitchen window overlooks the yard. I’m sure there will be someone stationed there against my arrival, so I walk past Tyrol’s house to his nearest neighbor’s.

There are four houses in a block roughly the size of his plot, each of them a palace compared to most of the town. One of them that actually abuts his property looks and feels empty… the windows shuttered, the door chained shut. Possibly its owners have left the doomed town for greener pastures… a lovely option for anyone wealthy enough to have pastures.

I’ve retrieved my cane, since I’m now abroad in the town in theoretical cooperation with one of the Electors. A quick twist of the beaten copper knob on the end frees the long silver wand that hides within it. One vague wave and a few mumbled words has the chain slithering off the door handles like a tamed snake and the bolts retracting inside the locks.

Inside, the house is as quiet as outside. I close the doors behind me and faintly hear the clinking of the metal hardware returning to their previous positions. I put a light on the end of my wand and hold my cane in front of me like a baton, then make for the stairs.

The gap between the sides of Tyrol’s house and the fence are almost nonexistent, and there’s no space between the fence and the outer wall of the house I occupy. The Elector never feared burglars to come in from the direction of his peers’ dwellings… that would have been rude.
“He directed you to the back door, didn’t he?” Bel asks as we wend our way to the Elector’s house in the early afternoon.

“He told me not to use the front one,” I say. “He was not actually specific as to how I should enter. I was thinking a window?”

I want a chance to examine the boxes in privacy if I can… and it wouldn’t hurt anything to send Tyrol a message, that I’m not one of his servants.

Well, it could hurt several things, including my standing in Peram and my chances of success. But it would hurt my pride not to, and I think you will probably forgive me for indulging in an impulse towards vanity every now and again.

“Your funeral, sunshine,” Bel says.

“I don’t suppose you’d want to come and watch my back?”

“I’ll watch the back of you walking in through Tyrol’s back door escorted by his servants, if you like,” she says. “I have a position to think of… if this all falls flat on you, you can just wander down the road again but I’ll be stuck here, dealing with the consequences.”

“Fair enough,” I say. “That’s his house, isn’t it? We should part ways here.”

“Yeah, that’s his… bit obvious, isn’t it?”

That’s something of an understatement. Tyrol’s house boasts a yard, a rare luxury in a walled city whose boundaries are doubtlessly fixed by statute and would be expensive to expand even if they weren’t.

Like the city he rules, Tryol’s estate is walled… surrounded by a fence of stone capped with wrought iron. The back gate has a lock, but it hangs open during the day. Through it I can see a statue garden and the edge of what looks like a reflecting pond. Even that’s enough to put a prickle of unease at the back of my mind.

What is it about the water here that’s so unsettling?

Twenty-Six

Feb. 19th, 2013 06:19 pm
It’s possible that her water would have served, but in case the results of my test turn out the way I hope they will, I want absolutely no doubt as to what had made the difference.

“Is this a thing that will sound silly if I ask you to explain it?” she asks me.

“Slightly, maybe,” I say. I know she’s up on the idea of boiling water to kill disease, but such knowledge might only make her even more skeptical of my notion that it might cure a bad feeling.

“Alright, then,” she says. She empties a teapot sitting on a metal plate on the corner of her oven into a pair of mugs, pours my water in, and puts it on to boil. “It will be ready in a bit.”

“Thank you,” I say.

She gives me one of the mugs while we wait. It’s loose-leaf tea, a rather excellent herbal blend with just the slightest taste of anise. She prepares a long, tough loaf of bread as a trencher and ladles some stew on it when the kettle begins to rattle.

“Let it go for a bit, just to be sure,” I say.

When I judge the water should properly have had the hell or hell equivalent boiled out of it, I ask Bel to pour it back into the bucket. Once it’s cooled a bit, I carry it out into the sunlight for a proper look.

No change.

I still see nothing but the bottom of the bucket, and feel nothing but the mindless, clutching dread.
It’s getting on towards lunch time, and since I am heading back to Bel’s anyway I decide to do an experiment. I grab the bucket I’d found by the well and fill it at the pump. After looking at it again to determine if the feeling of wrongness persisted, I lug it to the bakery.

“Hello, Wander,” Bel says. “Been getting yourself in trouble with the Select, I hear.”

“On the contrary, I’m thick as thieves with your Elector Tyrol,” I say.

“Well, few men are thicker or more thieving,” she says. “I’d watch that he doesn’t have you sent to investigate the well directly, head first. Probably the only reason he hasn’t is he thinks you might have money, and he doesn’t yet know if you have the clout to hold onto it.”

“Nonsense,” I say. “We’re getting along like a house on fire. He even invited me back to his this afternoon. His house, I mean. Not his fire. Though he didn’t give me directions. I guess he assumed it would be unnecessary.”

“It is, since I can show you the way. I do his bread… I don’t usually deliver it myself, but when the boy is late or sick he’s one of the ones who won’t wait for it to be sorted.”

“Excellent! In the meantime, would you mind putting this on to boil for me?” I ask, holding up the bucket.

“You know I have a barrel of water back here, right?” she says.

“Yes, but I need for this water here to be boiled, and then poured back into this bucket, please,” I say. “For science.”
I go back to town feeling stymied once again. I’d expected to come away with something more tangible, some concrete notion of what the matter might be. I’ve gained some information, but no solid answers.

My trip to the pool did confirm that the water is definitely wrong, possibly lethally wrong… it might not be poison, but it is somehow inimical to life rather than sustaining it. Animals know better than to drink it, people feel silly and drink it anyway. They only stopped going to the pool so the wrongness wouldn’t be staring them in the face, but they still use the well.

I spend some time wandering the lanes of Peram, simply observing. Despite my mode of dress I am very good at blending into the background when I wish to. I can disappear into the crowd even when there isn’t much of a crowd, as is the case here and now.

A lot of the people who are abroad during the day look pale or sickly. They shade their eyes from what is a rather mild sunlight. Much of the town seem to be late risers. That’s a contrast to the barflies… possibly because they drink less water? It takes water to make beer, but Peram is a trade town. It might not all be local. It might have been put up before the well went bad. It might be that whatever’s in the water is something that alcohol can kill.

Bel seemed to be in better shape than the late risers, and she said she boils her water. Wherever her family had originally been from, they were ahead of the curve on a few things at least. If boiling can disinfect the water, maybe alcohol could, too.

Of course, it’s still an open question whether boiling makes a difference. I resolve to make a few experiments to try and see.
I pick out west and head in that direction, swiftly finding the wall and then the gate. It stands open, though attended by guards. I touch the brim of my hat as I sweep past them. If they remember seeing me leave, they’re less likely to want a conversation when I come back in.

The well-worn footpath is easy enough to spot. I get my first real look at the local geography outside the town walls. It is indeed up on a sort of bluff. We seem to be on the edge of a hilly territory, in the foothills of some old and gentle-looking mountains that are probably not the ones that Heizer hailed from, unless this world is very small indeed.

The footpath leads down into what looks like a river valley, with no sign of the river. It’s probably still going strong underground. Some ancient cataclysm shifted things somewhere further upstream. It’s unlikely to be related to the current trouble, unless that cataclysm buried something that’s been working its way free. That’s plausible, but it doesn’t strike me as likely. The aldic dirge points to some connection with Heizer and his boxes.

The pool is easy to find, and would have made an idyllic and picturesque spot if not for the fact that the trees and plants around it seem to be in an unseasonable state of wilt. All the greenery that you would expect to spring up around a ready source of clean water is there, it’s just… not green.

Not a lily, not a cattail, not an inch of algae grows in the water itself, which only heightens the impression of being clean and fresh. It’s not just clean, it’s sterile. So clear, I can look down and see the bottom like I’m looking through a fine glass window.

Still, as I look down on the scene, I feel that same itching apprehension of dread I’d felt when I looked into the bucket. I can see nothing in the water to explain it, nothing at all.

Twenty-Two

Feb. 18th, 2013 12:12 pm
“I paid his asking price for a pair of them!” Tyrol says, which tells me just how good a price it must have been. “I recognized that sometimes some flexibility is required in these matters. He wasn’t directly competing with legitimate merchants, not really. He didn’t want to stick around. It seemed like the best thing to do for all involved was to help speed him on his way. I brokered a deal with some established merchants in good standing to buy him out and then helped him purchase a steed.”

“I’d wager you even escorted him right to the gate,” I say.

“He was in a hurry to leave, and I saw no reason to keep him,” Tyrol says. “I might have been less hasty if I’d known there was any connection between him and the disappearance of our customs man, but at that point I’d only received a report that he appeared to have derelicted his duty.”

“Just out of curiosity, did Heizer leave by the eastern gate?” I guess.

“He did.”

“I suppose that was the nearest exit handy.”

“No, he asked to be directed that way,” Tyrol says.

“Right,” I say. I’m sure you’ve noticed what I was driving at, dear one, but I don’t mention that this explodes the theory that his newfound “freedom” had come from escaping the east. It’s such an obvious thing that Tyrol must be choosing to ignore it, and it’s hard to puncture that kind of studied ignorance. I’ll need to have some more facts in my possession before I attempt it. “Well, I have some ideas… or some ideas of where to find ideas. I’ll need to take a look around. I’ll start with the pool you told me about. I’ll need to inspect one of Heizer’s boxes. Could you have it sent around to Bel’s bakery, off the square?”

“Absolutely out of the question,” Tyrol says. “You may come around and examine it under my supervision, this afternoon sometime after the bell tolls two but before it tolls four.” He looks me up and down and seems to be struggling to categorize me in some way again. “Do not use the front door.”

“You’re the boss,” I say.

“And do not forget that!”

Twenty-One

Feb. 17th, 2013 11:29 am
“Did this Heizer have any contact with children while he was here?” I ask.

“Not to my knowledge,” Tyrol says. “By all accounts, he drove his cart straight to the inn… parked it in the yard, stabled his oxen, and went to the bar. The next anyone heard of him, it was the middle of the night and he was drunk off his ass in the town square, raising an awful ruckus.”

“What sort of ruckus?” I ask.

“The hysterical laughing and dancing kind,” Tyrol says. “Apparently he was saying he was free, free… the watchman who found him took him back to the inn, and that morning he sold his oxen, his cart, and his cargo for a very cheap price, bought a pony, and lit out for parts unknown.”

“You said he was carrying the trunks to the west,” I say. “This wasn’t his original destination.”

“No, not according to his papers. As near as I can figure it, he must have been under some term of indenture back east that he realized did not apply in these lands. When he realized he was no longer beholden to whatever boyar or petty lord had enslaved him, he abandoned his task.”

“Possibly,” I say. “Or maybe he’d freed himself of some unwanted possession by dropping it down your well. It would have been easy enough to hide something among the ballast in those boxes, I would think. But you haven’t told me how you came into the story… you said at the beginning that you only have direct knowledge of the end of it. How did that come about?”

“Well… the trunks really were quite exquisite, and the price was good,” Tyrol says. “Though there was some… confusion… about whether they were his to sell, and he was taking up a lot of space, trying to hawk them from the cart in the middle of a lane.”

“So you confiscated one for yourself?”

Twenty

Feb. 16th, 2013 11:11 am
“I only have direct knowledge of the end of the affair, you must understand,” Tyrol says. “I try to familiarize myself with important visitors and frequent guests, but I can’t greet everyone who comes to our town. This… gentleman… may have caused something of a stir when he arrived, but it only reached my ears after the fact, and who knows how it grew in the meantime?”

“Who was he?”

“He was an aldic fellow… dwarven, and slightly bandy-legged. He was driving an oxcart laden with trunks to the west.”

“Trunks of what?” I ask.

“The trunks were the cargo,” Tyrol says. “They had some gravel or something in the bottoms to keep them from sliding around, but they were fine carved oaken chests. They do have good craftsmen in those parts.”

“Did anyone inspect them?”

“That’s where we come to the first sour note,” Tyrol says. “He arrived in the evening, just before the gates were closed. Our customs man went missing that night. The visitor… a Mr. Heizer… says that he waited by the customs house and no one came out, so he went to the gate and hailed the guards there. They asked where his pass was and he said there was no one to give him one, so they sent a man around to investigate and found the customs house empty, but with a fire still burning and a kettle cooking over it.”

“And they let the traveler go in?”

“He was alone, no more than prudently armed, and his papers showed him just passing through… if he’d been trying to sneak anything into the city, doing away with the customs man and then calling attention to it would have been the worst way to do it,” Tyrol says. “The customs seal was sitting out on a table, he could have stamped his own pass and been inside the gates with no one suspecting a thing.”

“It wouldn’t exactly have been the perfect crime, though,” I say. “The guards would have remembered him as the last one to have come through, when the inspector turned up missing.”

“True,” Tyrol says. “But I suppose that’s my point… it would have been senseless for him to have done it, either way. In any case, the guards weren’t thinking foul play. There was no sign of a struggle, just no sign of the man. They checked the dwarf’s papers, opened his boxes, and sent him on his way.”

“Did they open all the boxes?” I ask.

“You know… somehow, I very much doubt that they did.”

Nineteen

Feb. 15th, 2013 01:15 pm
“Just one thing more,” I say, turning my attention back to Elector Tyrol.

“Yes?”

“Earlier today, I heard some children singing a song in a language that I didn’t recognize.”

“Do you think that’s likely to be important?”

“I don’t know enough to know that it isn’t,” I say. “It feels significant, though. It went something like this.”

I try to replicate some of the words for him, as near as I’m able to.

“I don’t recognize those words, but if it isn’t childish gibberish, then it sounds like it could be an aldic tongue,” he says, frowning. “One of the languages they speak up in the mountains on the other side of the forest. We do get travelers from those reaches, carrying their goods to the markets in the west. Hmm….”

“One recent traveler in particular springs to mind,” I guess.

“Yes, but only because the whole thing was so peculiar… but I don’t see how it could relate,” he says. “It happened some two or three weeks before everything started.”

“You mean, before anyone noticed anything was wrong.”

“As I said.”

“You said it happened before everything started,” I say. “If this peculiar event had happened after your trouble, I’d say they were unrelated, or at least that the traveler’s was not likely to be the cause. But if it happened before there was anything to notice? The whole thing could well have started then. Maybe it just took a week or three to get up to speed.”

“You know, I didn’t half wonder if maybe he’d poured something into the well,” Tyrol says. “The man who found him said he’d pried up the covers… only, the water there is always flowing. It’s a gentle enough current at that point, but if he’d tainted it with something, wouldn’t the taint get weaker over time?”

“Possibly,” I say. “I really think you should tell me this story.”

Eighteen

Feb. 15th, 2013 11:15 am
A cave under the town raises the likelihood that whatever’s troubling Peram came up through the well rather than having been introduced down it. If that’s the case, it will make it all the harder to diagnose the problem, to say nothing of fixing it. Tracking down an ancient evil is always harder than running down a relatively recent one.

I’m sure from the moment you read the word “cave”, you’ve been thinking that I’ll probably go down there, but if it were that simple I believe Elector Tyrol would have drafted a few people he wouldn’t mind seeing the back of and sent them down to see what they could find.

But I know something of geology, and sort of cave we’re talking about is not going to be the sort a person can walk around in, or even crawl through. Peram’s spring is likely to actually be an offshoot of an underground river flowing through a honeycomb of channels cut through limestone.

If some ancient monster has awakened in the depths, it will have to be drawn out to the surface. It would be impossible to negotiate the tunnels even if it were possible to navigate through them.

The good news is that it probably is making forays to the surface, if people are disappearing. Well, I say “good”, but I really mean “convenient”, and even that is relative. You must not think me completely heartless, dear one… well, you know what I mean.

More convenient for all involved would be if the source of the evil originated on the surface. I don’t want to abandon that idea, if only because it keeps things simple.

Seventen

Feb. 14th, 2013 11:14 am
“It is within the realm of possibility that a change could be for the better,” Tyrol says. “And that is why I am not having you driven forth from Peram with whips and clubs. Of course, if you do or say anything that furthers our difficulties or casts aspersions on our fair town, that is still an option.”

“For instance, telling anyone you’ve admitted to ‘temporary difficulties’,” I say.

“For instance, that.”

“I’ve heard the well is spring-fed. Is there any other outlet?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “Along the southern edge of town, there’s a stream of water that issues from the side of the bluff. It forms a pool that used to be popular for bathing and washing before running down to meet the river. There’s a footpath from the western gate… little used just lately, but still hard to miss.”

“And has anyone else tried to see to the trouble?”

“Oh, yes,” Tyrol says. “We contrived to have Father Toma, a local priest, bless the well… claimed it was ceremonial, for the anniversary of the town’s founding. We put new covers on it and everything, called it a re-dedication.”

“Ah. Then the covers weren’t in need of replacing because someone had fallen through the old ones?” I say.

“Good heavens, where did you get that idea?”

“Because something has gone wrong with that well, and a death connected to it would make a good start towards explaining what,” I say.

“They were getting a little banged up, but I know of no deaths,” Tyrol says. “When horses first began shying away from it, we dredged it with lines and grapnels to try to bring up whatever might be spooking them, but… well, the well widens considerably towards the bottom. I’m told it’s basically a flooded cave.”

“Ah, well, that sounds promising.”

“Does it?” Tyrol asks brightly.

“Absolutely,” I say.

I don’t tell him that it doesn’t necessarily promise anything good.

Sixteen

Feb. 13th, 2013 11:13 am
“This is what comes of drinking in the morning,” the Town’s Elector says. “Gossip runs wild. Fearmongering. You men have work you’re neglecting to be here, I am certain.”

No one challenges the obvious lie, they simply file out meekly past him.

“And you,” he says to the barkeep when the room is empty except for the three of us. “Know that we’d have no trouble finding a buyer if your license were put to auction.”

Another lie, another meek response.

“As for you, my outlandish new friend… I think you had better come along with me.”

“You know, I think you’re right at that,” I say. Everyone is being so agreeable, it seems like it would be a shame to break the streak.

“I am Elector Tyrol,” he says as he leads me away through the street. “And who might you be, my good, er…?”

He trails off into uncertainty, groping for a word that won’t come. I mentally file him away as one of those types who can’t help slotting people into categories.

“I’m called Wander,” I say. “And I’m not much for titles or honorifics, if the truth be known.”

The town’s beginning to wake up properly, and the people out and about tip their hats to him but give us a wide berth.

“I hope the truth will be known,” Tyrol says. “You have the look of a meddler, Wander.”

“That makes you the second most astute person I’ve met today,” I say.

“Considering the company I found you in, that’s hardly flattering,” he says. “It would be truly convenient if you were the cause of our temporary difficulties and even more convenient if we could end said difficulties by hanging you, but while I am an expedient man, I’m not a simple or wasteful one. When a meddler comes to a town that is prosperous, a town that functions, that is uniformly a bad thing. To take something that is rolling along smoothly and interfere with its charted course…”

He shudders, as though the idea is too distasteful to contemplate.

“But if your present course leads somewhere undesirable,” I say, “then maybe any alteration could be an improvement.”

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theonecalledwander

June 2013

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