All The Plagues Of Hell – Snippet 30
His first reaction was a dangerous fury that they dared do something like this. He’d turn those coins to scorpions… and melt their entrails for daring to take his money. He could put a tracing spell…
He shook his head. Folly. Not worth it for a few coins. He was still angry, but on further thought it did tell him something good and valuable: he had successfully posed as what he was supposed to be. No thief would have dared touch a magician’s pouch, let alone the pouch of a noble of high degree who was also a master magician, who could inflict a torturous death on them. Theft was something the lesser orders were prey to. They could, he thought irritably to himself, now that his own funds were somewhat more limited, less afford it.
So he went back to the wagon and sent the other two off, with no more than a warning to hold tight to their money, and to stay together. He was still somewhat annoyed. While camouflage was all very well, some respect and the protection that gave were going to be necessary. And he would, in a few months, need to find a protector, or at least a source of income.
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud belch from the man who had just walked up to his cart, which occupied the space next to the count’s wagon. The fellow had his charm-cantrips over his arm, and a mug of beer in his hand. He flicked a small copper coin to the urchin who had been sitting on one of the poles of his cart, drained his beer, and set the charms in his cart, before turning to go and unhitch his scrawny horse, tied to a post some yards off. Mindaug noted his pouch bulged. The fellow gave the count a wave, and out of professional interest, Mindaug walked across to help him harness up the horse. Not that he knew much about harnessing horses, but possibly more than the fellow knew about writing spells. That would not be hard.
“I won’t help you kill your wife. Or your mother-in-law. And I’m all out of love philtres,” said the fellow cheerfully.
“I have no real need of those,” said Mindaug. He hoped the scorn didn’t show. “So this is regular business of yours? Do people often ask you to kill someone?”
“Oh, all the time. Don’t go there. The church will get onto you before you can say ‘Emperor Charles Frederik.’ Where are you from, fellow?”
“I am from Bohemia. My mother was Hungarian.”
“Ah. And you have come down in the world, have you?”
He was fishing… Mindaug’s barriers rose… and were dispelled. “I can tell your fortune for you. My magical arts can show what the future holds,” said the mountebank. “The past and future are an open book to me. I know you were born to wealth.”
My accent betrays me, thought Count Mindaug, knowing he’d have to do something about that. He chose to ignore the offer, and instead passed the strap to the man. “Your accent is not from here, either,” he said calmly.
“I come from sunny Italy, my friend. Where I will be again before the bitter winter bites here. Now that Duke Visconti is dead, I’m for Milan. They say that the new Protector is not hiring magicians.”
“This is different?” asked the count.
“Visconti was too busy hanging or burning any he found to be not hiring.” The fellow, realizing he did not have a customer, got into the cart and took the reins. “Farewell. I want to make the real city by nightfall. Linz calls. There’s profit in these small towns but the city is the place for me.”
Count Mindaug let him go, and went back to the wagon with some food for thought. It seemed that he might find employment in Milan. And if a mountebank and a charlatan could fill his purse, well… he could be a far more effective mountebank. He could, without resorting to real magic, fool a more intelligent audience than this. And so… the church did watch but tolerated these frauds? There were obviously lines not to cross and he would have to establish where those were. Spying magically on the empire, and reading about it–those did not add up to the same thing as being here.
Emma and Tamas returned, loaded with purchases, and small change they punctiliously returned–which they expected him to inspect and assumed he would know how well they had done. They were excited by the shows and the music, disgusted by the prices, and amazed at the variety. Well, they’d see a bigger city in Salzburg, before they travelled on to Linz and then Italy.
The naturally frugal Emma had of course not wasted money on made clothes. The idea seemed to shock her when her master mentioned it. “Oh, no! They were far too expensive, master. And not well made.” She could, like any peasant, sew, and better than most, it appeared. She had bought cloth and sewed for herself, Tamas, and shyly presented him with a fresh shirt of finer linen than the wool she had bought for their clothing, about which she had obviously labored with especial care. He’d have to actually make sure tailored clothes were included in her next purchase, as he planned to move up the social scale in his disguise, and thus his servants would have to do likewise.
She was furious with the town of Muthhusen, its inhabitants and the Franks in general when he asked her to repair his slit pouch. It was a good thing she had no magical skills, or they’d be suffering with everything from scales to boils.
Archimandrite Klaus von Stebbens knew just what a high responsibility the Knights of the Holy Trinity, and indeed the Emperor had laid like a cross upon his shoulders, to follow such a one as Count Mindaug. The man was a monster, and an associate of monsters. A killer. Someone who should be destroyed without compunction and with all the haste possible. At all costs, his evil designs had to be thwarted.
They watched Mindaug both magically and physically. Von Stebbens had a number of men with his troop who had been poachers, and one who had missed his ship home to Vinland. He was a man of one of the forest tribes there, and could track a ghost, or sneak up on a rabbit and cut its throat.
And, so far, the count had given them a very pleasant holiday and had engaged in precisely no magical activity, nor committed any of the habitual brutality he was expected to. It could be that he was trying to hide. It could also be, as Abbot Goldenbuss had theorized, that he had no idea that his cargo of books made him very easy to track, magically, even if he was lost in their distant view. Mindaug might well have become so accustomed to the evil aura of some of those tomes that he didn’t realize that, for some magicians, they were like so many beacons in the night.
They thought they’d found out what he was up to at last, when he had headed for the round pyramid deep in the forest between Zwettl and Gross-Gerungs. But he had driven straight past the track to the witch-place as if he hadn’t even known it was there.
They had tried to investigate his two assistants. So far, either they were innocent dupes or mere servants–which seemed unlikely, on the face of it. Klaus had nearly fallen over backward, though, when he was told the young man and woman had gone into a small church in the hamlet of Waldenberg, and asked the priest if he could marry them. The priest had wanted them to wait until he could announce their names before mass to ask if there was any impediment to their marriage. The girl had burst into tears and said their master could not be kept waiting.
The priest had heard their confessions, though. And was being obstinate about the sanctity of that confession. The archimandrite had to respect that, but surely… he had sent a letter to the bishop, asking for his help. He hoped it would be forthcoming.
But the very fact that someone as evil as Mindaug could have associates who would willingly enter a church and confess… was simply hard to grasp.