Castelmore just might be the second most ruthless man I’ve ever met. There is a tinge of old bravado in him, but the wit is a dull blade pushed in by the blunt force of excessive brutality. His is the mien of a man who has opted for force so many times that an old flair for the dramatic has dried up into a mere petty affectation.
It seems that my casual attempt at manipulating Castelmore succeeded over expectations, for he has taken a considerable risk to pursue the supposed treasure; his dissatisfaction with Bungisgan’s employ must have been quite real. I adopt a submissive posture, for these are men who fear to commit, and react to setbacks by burning bridges. Better they think me cowed, to feed Castelmore’s fading confidence. He is liable to slay me on the spot, should I continue flouting his preconceptions of how people should think and act around him.
― Please do not hurt master Besnik, I entreat Castelmore, turning my eyes away in a fearful manner. ― I could not bear the thought, and there is no need for it.
Twist my hands impotently for effect before continuing. Peddle the story: ― I will do whatever you ask, dear man. I never wanted any part of Bungisgan’s insanity, I just wanted to find the old ruins of the Citadel for the Vicenza library. Add to our historical wisdom, don’t you see. It was an ill accident for me to sleep upon the Rock and suffer augury, writhing in the moon-light. I don’t think that Fate, or the old Dreamer itself, intended that dream-sending for me, yet nevertheless I saw it plain as day: a rocky cliff, not far from here, is where the body is buried, the body and the gold of the dream-witches of old. It all fits with the tales, does it not? The silk, the gold, the jewelry, the Empress never got her greedy hands on it because the serfs of the Citadel took it all away. Hid it away in the caves, hid it so well they must have forgotten it altogether.
I spy upon the reactions of the other men while speaking. Vallon leaves to care for the horses, as impassive as ever, almost making me doubt whether he understands the proceedings; I fear that the only way for me – or anyone – to truly influence this man is with a whip in hand. Herblay retains a slight, beneficent smile over a set of rowing eyes; I do not know what is truly going on with him, but it is clearly important to Castelmore to paint him a reprobate. My intuition is that unlike Castelmore’s paranoid suspicion and Vallon’s implacability, Herblay does not consider me a threat. Does he consider my words at all?
Fere, however – I fear that a mistake has been made. Something in what I said caught his attention, and it was not the circuitous implications of easy wealth. He can hardly wait to interfere.
― I am onto your game, woman, he exclaims in a reedy voice the moment I stop talking. ― You are Paisviennese born and bred if I am any judge. Furthermore, you are…
― What’s it with you now, Fere? Castelmore turns towards the man in exasperation. Clearly Fere holds little esteem among his fellows for whatever reason.
― She’s cult-blood, Castelmore! Fere exclaims directly to the other man. ― I can hear it in everything she says, it’s all “bear to think” and “dear man” with the ancient nobility.
― So what, Castelmore scoffs. ― It’s clear as day the bitch’s manor-folk, but that’s got nothing to do with this. I am too, well enough, and you don’t see me making up airs about it. What if she’s from Paisviennese, it’s not like she’s here to take you back to the seminary or something.
― You don’t understand, Fere continues patiently. ― She’s not just noble, but I think she’s of the uterine nobility, the old peoples. They’re weird ones, let their women tell them what to do. The old baron was smitten by them. They sing, and lie, and look-see she has the mirror eyes, the Mien.
― So perhaps the little bird is not so innocent after all? Herblay interjects softly. ― Maybe we recount the vote, yes?
― Not likely! Castelmore shuts him down. ― Fere, you’re exaggerating again. I know the bitch is cunning, but I have it under control. She knows what any wrong move means, don’t you little bird?
And that is that: Castelmore is convinced by the lies I spin, and that suffices, for the other three will ever follow him, I suspect, no matter their constant fraternal bickering. They think Fere a dullard, yet the old fool may be the wisest of them all, for he seems to be the only one familiar with the ways of the Flamines. Or perhaps he’s merely the one able and willing to look beyond the surface: Herblay and Vallon are Paisviennese as well, it seems, yet the one treats me like a pet, the other merely as luggage, and neither seems to have any ave to spare for my heritage.
Castelmore is, of course, keen to interrogate me on the details, and I answer his questions glibly: yes, the tomb of the Dreamer should be nearby; no, I do not know the country around here, but the place is very recognizable, and it lies along the big river; yes, we should take rope and shovels with us. Yes, of course Besnik the soap-maker confirms the sleepwalker stories, and of course everybody knows that there is treasure buried in the hills, buried by the elves they say, yet we know better, don’t we?
I’m sorry for Besnik, but at least he seems to be keeping his poise. Perhaps this isn’t so dissimilar to his encounters with the local thugs.
Now that we’re leaving I realize a major mistake I made earlier: I should have foreseen this sequence of events, for I set it in motion myself, yet instead of preparing a message I wasted several hours meditating on magic of all things. Well, no matter – errors happen, and now I will have to make do with my wits and poor Besnik. We will need to string the bravos along until an opportunity for escape comes along.
The four bravos make short work of the travel preparations once they learn that we are going in-country. Herblay takes one of the horses to procure supplies, yet the others do not really wait for him, expecting him to follow along as he might. To my dismay Castelmore starts tying my hands and feet together.
― I can’t ride this way, my lord, I remark, going for a deferential tone of the sort he would be used to in a brothel.
― That is very much the idea, little bird, he sneers. ― I would rather keep you immediately at hand. Make any trouble, and I’ll trade horses with Herblay.
The horses look like such decent Palfreys that I have to conclude that the bravos probably got them already in Marical at their patron’s expense. Hopefully it rides as smooth as it seems, considering how Castelmore hoists me sideways in front of the saddle before following me up himself. Smoothly, like a horseman.
Besnik gets his own horse, perhaps due to his greater stature, although Vallon makes sure he does not stray far. I wouldn’t mind being larger myself if that meant getting a horse. We start down the street and towards the town gates, with the saddle and the horse’s backbone chafing at my midriff as we go. I admit that this is humiliating, but even worse is the blase reaction from the townspeople of Tramellin; here we are, a group of horsemen with a bound person hoisted like so much luggage, and if anything the people seem to conscientiously ignore us. I think the market guards we pass on the way to the gates actually nod at Castelmore’s cheerful wave as we go. I am not stupid enough to try shouting for help.
― You can’t really expect to get anywhere like this, I huff to Castelmore once we get to the outbound road. ― I can’t even see where we are going, how do you expect me to lead you anywhere?
― Follow the river, wasn’t it? Castelmore answers, clearly enjoying my discomfort. ― In the meantime, you can gather your wits. I would hear more about this treasure and the Dreamer, as much as you know.
At least the pace is sedate enough, although I do not know if it is because of our riding arrangement or because the bravos are waiting for Herblay to catch up. We actually stop after getting out of sight of the town, so perhaps it is the latter. Castelmore puts me down on the ground while the bravos gather to talk together. About Bungisgan, I think. It is not too long before Herblay arrives, horse loaded with equipment for the expedition.
At Castelmore’s insistence I point out a direction for the group to advance. Although it would be tempting to simply lead them back towards the Saur Rock in the hopes of encountering the bogatyrs from earlier, I realize that Castelmore probably would not end up in a catastrophic clash of arms with them. Chances are that he hired them for Bungisgan in the first place. Better to stick to my prior inspiration.
Problem is, I don’t really know the country, and all I have is a vague sense of the direction, and a clear picture of the rocky hill from my dream in the morning. Not that it matters much for our errand, but it adds verisimilitude to my lies to speak of a place that I have actually seen, and it is better if we have something definite to look for. I make it a point to describe the green pastures on top of the hill, and the way the ravine descends into the river, hiding the entrance to the cavern below under an outcrop. Not likely to find any treasure there, but at least it is a place that we might conceivably discover by traipsing upcountry along the river. Just hopefully not too soon; there is not much daylight left, and I would rather spend the night with the Herblay than explain to Castelmore why there isn’t any treasure.
To my misfortune Castelmore insists on continuing our seating arrangement as the journey resumes. The man really loves his greasy jests, and now that Herblay joined us we all get regaled by a stream of ribaldry regarding my perilous position. Interestingly, mostly from Castelmore to Herblay. At least it lightens up the men’s mood, and words don’t hurt; I’ll take street braggadocio over murderous threats any day. I could do without Castelmore’s pawing my bottom as we ride, although I can probably use this development if it comes to that. I am being brave, but I also get the sense that Castelmore is the kind of man who lets his guard down for the act of copulation. Like Harshrat, the man I killed five days ago. I need to be compliant, leave myself room to act when I must.
The ride is uncomfortable in the extreme, but at least it does not last too long; we must have gotten only a league or so from town when the night falls. Far enough to avoid any pursuit, surely, unless the pursuer knows where to find us. Fere remarks upon a suitable place to camp, and for some reason or other the bravos accept his judgement without bickering.
― Won’t Bungisgan come after us, my lord? I ask Castelmore as he lifts me off the horse. I need to keep talking to him, even if it becomes painful.
― Not in the dark he won’t, Castelmore grunts as he hoists me outright over his shoulder and carries me away, presumably to avoid my getting stepped on by a horse.
― Won’t you loosen the ropes? I ask him plaintively as he turns to return to the horse. ― I need to pee, and eat, and I can help.
Castelmore looks me over, and clearly I have won something from him in the hours we have been together, for instead of threatening or slapping me he strips the ropes off my wrists.
― Your friend stays roped up, Castelmore remarks. ― Vallon, tie him to a tree or something.
Interesting choice from Castelmore, to free me instead of Besnik, or both of us. I feel quite timid thinking of what unexpected wickedness these men might unleash in the dark of night. It is not difficult to project a mien of chastity, the sort that will hopefully convince Castelmore that I will be no use whatsoever tomorrow should he take his pleasure tonight. Or at least that he should hold onto some decorum in pressing his suit, rather than just having his gang hold me down for him.
Maybe something else for everybody to think about is in order.
― I do not know how close we are to the hill of entombment, I speak raising my voice so that everybody can hear. ― But if we are, and the Moon remains clouded, we could conceivably see the treasure flares on top of the hill. After all, the lares of the Citadel are obligated to burn the mold off the hidden gold.
― Foolish fairy tales, Castelmore scoffs at once.
― But it is after a fairy tale we are here, isn’t it? asks Herblay jocularly, and that gets the four bickering again. Belief in the household elves, the lares, has stuck around in Paisvien since the imperial times, so at least the conceit of what I suggested is familiar to three of the four men. They probably remember same sorts of myths I do, too.
As little as I like it, quite a lot rides now on the Dreamer. I dearly hope that I have not simply become delirious and that he is real, for I have precious few friends I can reach now. At least I will have no trouble falling asleep, assuming the four bravos let me…
― Do you actually spy on me day and night? I ask the Dreamer. It takes a moment for the self-awareness to hit: I am dreaming, and have apparently been for a while, yet only just now did I realize it. What was I talking about with him just now? Why are we in… we are in my dream, are we not?
― Riddlesolver, I think you finally lucidified, remarks the Dreamer, sitting primly on the bed. My bed.
We are in my bedroom back home.
― Why are you in my dream? I ask the Dreamer, suspiciously.
― You should pay more attention to how you sleep, the Dreamer continues non-chalantly. ― Try an exercise if you would, from now on: fall asleep by conscious choice, and never slumber by accident. If you are to continue truly living in both worlds, you need to get out of the regrettable cycle of mental regression that so plagues human sleep. It used to be that we could all fall asleep just like that at a single sounding of a silver bell.
― Once again, I repeat myself patiently. ― Why are you in my dream? I mean, here instead of wherever?
― I already explained that, you just forgot it, goes the disconcerting reply. ― Surely you would agree that it’s your own fault if you cannot hold onto your thoughts.
I look around in my room, remarking upon the water-powered metronome and my harp, both items from a past long ago. Having the Dreamer here feels like the utmost loss of privacy. This is a past I rarely ponder, and never share.
― Do not grow agitated, the Dreamer suggests, for once seemingly understanding something. ― We are meeting here because you are sleeping among some rather disturbing beings. They are husks, twisted by the Anti-Dream. You would not want to see the dream realia of theirs.
What… He must mean the four bravos. It would make sense for Bungisgan to have done something to those four.
― What do you mean by twisting? What has been done to them?
― It is difficult to say precisely without visiting their dreams, the Dreamer explains. ― But the tinge of it is clear, and I can see how its barbs have hollowed them out. Whatever dreams they had are sure to have been twisted; strength of the spirit ebbed until it becomes its own antithesis; virtue subsumed into vice. Who knows, or can imagine, the kinds of people they were before their encounter with the Anti-Dream.
I fall quite silent at that. I almost feel sorry for them.
― Nevertheless you have escaped unscathed from the Anti-Dream, the Dreamer says, raising a hand towards me. ― Your shine is as beautiful as ever.
― I was not worried about that, I say, tilting my head at him.
I sit down on the bed, side by side with the Dreamer. ― You should know that I have learned much about this Anti-Dream of yours, perhaps more than I would prefer. I have learned the Other Law as uttered by Bungisgan the Mad. I shall tell you, but I also need your help: is there not some type of dream magic, moon magic I could use to save myself and my friend Besnik from our waking peril?
― Do you want me to teach you, Riddle-solver? he asks eagerly.
― If there is something, anything. Or barring that, anything you could do to deliver us. Take word to my friends, or mislead our captors. I am not ashamed to admit that I am in serious trouble, and in need of help.
Rolled a ‘5’.
Hero dice: 1|4|2|4|2|1|5
Monster dice: 3|2|6