Rosemary Jones: Cold Steel and Secrets Part 4

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Rosemary Jones Cold Steel and Secrets Part 4
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    Cold Steel and Secrets Part 4
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Rosemary Jones

Cold Steel and Secrets Part 4

You can buy paper crowns on the street in Waterdeep that children like to wear. They try to snatch them from each other and the last one left crowned becomes king or queen for a day. Then it starts all over again. In Neverwinter, the game of crowns is played by older, but not wiser, heads.

— Lord Dagult Neverember

1478 DR

When you’re caught, the only thing to do is to start accusing others. Rucas Sarfael forgot who gave him that advice, but it sounded better than the blood pounding in his ears as Arlon pressed a dagger against his throat.

“Yes, you were betrayed,” he said as calmly as he could to the enraged Nasher.

The wounded man growled. The crowd of Nashers pressed Sarfael against the edge of the bed where Arlon was propped upright. The Nasher’s head bandage still seeped blood from the wounds he got bowling over ash zombies with his thick skull.

“But I was not the one who betrayed you,” Sarfael went on. If ever he needed his luck, he needed it now. He had to turn the night’s disaster into something other than a death sentence for himself. He could make an honest confession, admit that he was a spy for Dhafiyand, but quite truthfully deny that he had anything to do with the Red Wizard who engineered the attack against them and stole the box that might or might not contain Neverwinter’s long-lost crown.

Of course, the minute he confessed to being Dhafiyand’s spy, he rather doubted that he’d get another word out.

So better to lie and lie profusely, to throw metaphorical sand in their eyes, and hope that the blinded Nashers would let him go free.

He still doubted the outcome, but he refused to let that show on his face.

“The Sons of Alagondar sent me,” Sarfael said.

“What?” cried Arlon Bladeshaper, so startled he let his hand drop and knife blade slip. Sarfael tried not to wince as the dagger nicked him.

“The Graycloaks are not pleased with your leadership, your reckless endangerment of your followers, your unwise alliances.” Ah, the words were just rolling off his tongue now. Sarfael almost smirked at the stunned expression on Arlon’s face.

“I am as true and loyal a Son as any man,” Arlon shouted. “No man has done more to reclaim the city. No one wants to see the new Neverwinter governed by its citizens more than myself.”

“Exactly,” said Sarfael, easing back on his heels and shaking off the hands of the stunned Nashers. “You want it so badly, that you do not stop and think about your actions. Older heads, wiser heads, know that a terrible price will be paid by all if you persist. Why look around you, see how many are wounded here tonight. All because you overreached yourself.”

“No! What do you mean?” Arlon grew quieter and the rest pressed close around Sarfael.

“Who were you to take the crown of Neverwinter?” Sarfael spoke with great solemnity. “You should have sent to the Graycloaks and told them your plans. Instead, you spoke rashly and loudly, very loudly, to others. Of course, you were overheard and followed out of the city.”

Not that Sarfael knew that. But it was a good guess that Arlon had failed to keep his mouth shut.

“No,” Arlon said with a quiet firmness that made him sound much more a leader than any shout. “I was with Elyne and the others here for the entire day. No strangers heard us.”

“Then you have a spy among you,” said Sarfael. “Someone who slipped out and betrayed your plans to the Red Wizard who attacked us.” Even as he said it, he was certain he was right. The only question was: Who had been playing his own game amid the Nashers? And, more unsettling, how had he missed the second spy?

“And none of us were ever alone.” Arlon looked slightly dazed at the abrupt switch from accuser to accused, but color was seeping back into his face. Give him a few more minutes, Sarfael thought, and he’ll be bellowing again.

“As is true of Sarfael,” Elyne said, stepping forward and brushing aside the others. “He stayed at the school and helped the students throughout the day. No messages were sent by him. He saved our lives tonight, Arlon, and these accusations are baseless.”

“Someone betrayed us,” Arlon stated.

“It cannot be anyone here,” Elyne said. “We kept to ourselves throughout the day. We left the city in small groups, but nobody went alone and nobody left our sight.”

“Except Montimort,” said Parnadiz. “He went off in the afternoon, said he needed something for his spell to summon the crown.”

Montimort flushed red and started to stutter a denial.

As always, Elyne stepped between the Luskar boy and the others. “He risked the most for us. He worked that spell. Why would he betray us?”

From everything he’d done, and from everything he’d said, Sarfael could think of no reason that Montimort would collude with any enemy. The boy lived to help Elyne. He even wanted to crown her queen of Neverwinter.

Still, Parnidiz’s story did spark a question. Sarfael remembered their earlier conversation about the spell necessary to summon the crown. “You said the spell came from knowing the right order of words, spoken in the correct place. What ingredients would you need?”

Montimort slid off the stool and along the wall, backing away from them.

“What have you done, my friend?” Elyne asked him, very gently.

“Nothing,” Montimort could barely speak. His voice came out in a strangled whisper. His limbs shook and his head began to twitch like a worried rodent.

Another question bobbed up in Sarfael’s worried mind and it was out of his mouth before he stopped to think: “Who gave you the spell to kill Karion?”

He heard Montimort squeak and Elyne gasp. The boy threw one despairing look at them and then bolted toward the door.

Stocky Parnadiz grabbed him. He locked his arms tight around Montimort and dragged him back.

“I did it for all of us,” Montimort yelled into their astonished faces. “I had to. But I would never have let him take the crown. I didn’t know he would try to steal it.”

“So you did know that Red Wizard?” Elyne asked in puzzled sorrow.

“No, yes,” Montimort squirmed under the weight of their stares. “I needed a spell, something to force Karion to help us. He… this man… he offered to teach me. I didn’t know what he was.”

“Did you tell him about the crown?” Arlon asked.

“He never saw the box,” Montimort said. “I would just take him copies of the certain words, ones I needed help to translate. I never spoke about the crown or what it was.”

“But he guessed,” Arlon said. “Something you said. Something you did. He knew what you were trying to summon.”

“He sent you to Upland Rise, didn’t he?” Sarfael asked. The location had made no sense to him at the time, unprotected, outside the city walls. A perfect place for an ambush. Now he understood.

Montimort nodded. “He said that we had to go there. That we could not make the spell work anywhere else. But I never thought he would steal the box.”

“Do you know his name?” Elyne questioned him.

“I never heard a name. Elyne, I meant no harm. I only wanted to help,” Montimort pleaded with her.

Elyne sighed. “You led us into an ambush, whether you meant to or not.”

“What will you do?” Montimort asked in a very small voice. “Will you make me leave the Nashers?”

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