THE MONKS OF THREADWOOD ABBEY - PART 3
Elkedren listened to Malora's tale. It was hard for her to read his mood. The man's face betrayed nothing to her, but cool focus. When she had finished her tale, Elkedren asked her a few questions about herself and her business. Thinking it might expedite matters, she told him of the message she was carrying for the Chief Archivist of the Adamantine Archive. Hearing this, Elkedren's brow furrowed and something sparked in his eyes.
"Well," he said, standing. "That puts this in a different light. Come with me, please."
She followed him out of the room, somewhat uneasy. Elkedren strode down the corridor, into the dimly lit entry chamber. He told the watchman, still bent over his ledger, "If anyone comes looking for me, I'm at the High House."
Before Malora could ask what High House was, Elkedren was striding out the door and into Treeport. She hurried after him, frowning now at the man's back. She hurried to catch up with him.
"Where are we going?"
"High House," said the Sheriff. "I'm going to talk with Lord Terret about your monks."
"And I am going with you because?"
Elkedren glanced at her. "I know his lordship. He won't give me permission to raid the monks without talking to you first."
"If the monks have been as troublesome as they appear, why haven't you moved against them before now?"
"Honestly? Because outside of stealing a few goats and chickens, they haven't broken any of Lord Terret's laws. I haven't had cause. But drugging and robbing a courier for the Adamantine Archive? That . . . ."
"Puts things in a different light," said Malora. "Gives you a reason to go after them."
"Yes," said Elkedren. He smiled a grim little smile. "At last."
"You don't like them."
"When you go after them, I would like to join you," said Malora.
"Can you fight?"
"Then you're welcome to join us."
High House was aptly named. It resided at the top of the giant tree, accessible by a dedicated counterweight-elevator. Like the Temple of Elleru that Malora had seen earlier, High House had been shaped from the living wood of the giant tree. Armed and armored sentries stood on watch outside its entrance. They nodded at Elkedren and stared at Malora with undisguised suspicion, but no one made any attempt to prevent her from entering Lord Terret's home.
Malora found herself standing in a large wooden entry hall. Light poured in from circular openings in the tree-wall. The room smelt pleasantly of green growing things. Tapestries depicting the history of the Terrets hung from the walls.
Elkedren spoke with a servant who told them to wait, then hurried away to notify Lord Terret of their presence. Malora took the time to study the tapestries. She noted telltale glimmers of enchantment in the stitching.
"Does your lord employ wizards?"
"He is a wizard," said Elkedren. "Why?"
Malora nodded at the tapestries. The sheriff grunted.
"You've got good eyes."
"I'd say she has exceptional eyes," said a woman's voice.
Malora turned, watched a slight young woman approaching them from an open door. She wore a fine, white summer gown beneath a tattered cloak made of scraps. A disreputable looking cap was jammed on her head, trying and failing to contain the woman's mane of curly black hair. Her face was round and pleasant, sun-bronzed, with a fine nose and full lips. Her eyes were a startling shade of blue-gray that Malora had never seen before.
"Well met, stranger," the newcomer said, grinning at Malora. She turned that grin to Elkedren. "Introduce me, sheriff."
Elkedren released a long-suffering sigh and gestured at the woman. "Lady Malora, allow me to present Mistress Fericille Icefire."
"Charmed," said Mistress Fericille. "What brings such a lovely visitor to our fair tree?"
"The Black Monks robbed her," said Elkedren.
"Oh! You poor thing!" Fericille was immediately solicitous. She took Malora's hand between her own and peered into her face. "Are you all right?"
"I am fine," said Malora, gently extracting her hand. "Thank you for your concern, Madame Fericille."
"Just Fericille will do," said the woman. "I don't care much for formality." She turned to Elkedren. "So you're here to get Eamor to issue a warrant for their arrest."
"Good! Why are you standing out here? Why aren't you talking with him?"
"We're waitiing. . . ."
"Oh pish," said Fericille. "Come with me."
With that, she gathered up the hem of her white gown and strode toward the twisting stairway at the end of the hall. Malora glanced at Elkedren, who managed to look both vexed and amused.
"We should follow her," he said. "At the very least to be there when she barges in on his lordship."
"Who is she?" Malora asked, lowering her voice, as they hurried to catch up with the woman.
"She's his lordship's mistress."
"I thought she might have been his wife," said Malora.
"Oh no," said Elkedren. "Lady Terret is quite different."
"Hurry up, you two!" Fericille called.