The wizard and the mercenary captain came to a spot where the dark, narrow passage ended in a meeting with a passage running left and right.
"This way, lad!" Harlwystyr called out cheerfully from inside the helm he had borrowed, turning right.
"Alright," Thalric agreed, following, "but where are we going, if I may ask?"
"Ye may," Harl replied brightly, "and if ye're very good, I might even tell thee. Before we get there, that is. Recall that the journey is more important than the-"
"Destination." Thalric sighed. "I know the hoary old sayings, too, sir. What I don't know is why I'm following you at all, when I came here to find the senior hired mage named Ysayne, and... ah..."
"Tell her all about me? That I'm seeking the Flamesteel Blade, is that it? Jalinda told thee?"
"She told me a lot of things," Thalric told him after having been stunned. How did this old man know about his lieutenant, Jalinda? "She told me that you want her to help you steal certain enchanted objects from all over High Rock from various nobles - which frankly puzzles me. Are you lazy, or horribly busy, or just trying to keep your hands clean? If you're so mighty an archmage as the tales tell, why not steal them yourself? Or just seize them, brushing aside all hired mages in Tamriel as if they were ineffectual children?"
"My, her tongue has
been busy," Harlwystyr remarked. "I sense a lot of trust between you. Hmm; are ye lovers, perchance?"
"I'm her superior and friend, old man," Thalric replied, a bit pointedly. "It would not be proper of me to take advant-"
Harlwystyr turned and made a very rude sound in Camry's direction. "Ye're a mercenary of High Rock, lad! 'Proper' is what ye were raised not to be. A complete dolt ye must think me, to think me someone who'll believe 'I am shining justice' pretenses from thy tongue! After all, a plain 'aye' or 'nay' would be sufficient for a man who has naught to hide."
Thalrich knew he should be whipping out his sword, afire with anger, but found himself feeling far too sheepish for any such nonsense. He settled for saying simply, "We talked last night; she's very scared; she trusts me with her life, and I touched her not
. Truth, I swear."
Harlwystyr dragged off the helm, revealing a face glistening with sweat, for just long enough to meet the young man's eyes with his wise and dancing old gray-green ones, and reply, "I believe ye, lad."
Then the helm came down again, and from within it, the old man added, "So, aye, she's an associate of mine and has been for a while, and want her to help me in this undertaking. She'll be needing help, mind; that's why I'm admitting anything at all to ye, lad, rather than just snuffing out the pride of the Camlorn Blades, here and now. Oh, and aye, I do need to get my hands on the Flamesteel Blade; 'tis vitally important."
"And if, say, the Crown of Evermore and the other kingdoms of High Rock think differently?" Thalric asked calmly as they started to move along the passage again. "And then prefers these, ah, ancient and powerful enchanted objects be retained in their respective resting places, in their own hands, to defend the realms?"
"Lad, lad," came the hollow voice from within the helm, "All rulers, and especially their lackeys and toadies, walk the path of latching onto anything they believe might just be of value or hold power - whether they realise its consequences or know how to wield it or not - and guard it forever, or until their realm falls, which always
happens first. Trust these words, from one who'd witnessed more realms fall than ye or any dukes or kings of High Rock ever will, and saved this particular one we're standing in a time or two, as well: I can make better use of them than Rolorn or Patrand or all the nobles of High Rock put together. Trust me."
"My dear long-departed grandsire," Thalric replied cautiously, "once told me that trusting any sorcerer is even more foolish than trusting any noble. I have found that to be wise advice."
"Ye were well raised," Harlwystyr agreed jovially. "Yet how much can any of us trust anyone, really? We'll have to talk more of this, ye and I."
He stopped at a right-angled bend in the passage, slid open another panel in the wall, and waved Thalric through it, indicating that the mercenary captain should precede him.
Thalric bowed and obeyed, stepping into a new and better-lit passage - where he found himself face to face with an out-of-breath senior mage, Ysayne Tullon, who had just come hastening along it.
"I hear you have been wanting a word with me; you have news?" she snapped.
"I do," Thalric replied. "This is the mage Harl-"
He turned, but the passage behind him was empty of a man in old, ill-fitting ceremonial armour. He took a swift step to where the once-again-closed panel was, slid it open with only a moment's difficulty, peered up and down the passage he'd just come from, finding it - of course - empty... and turned back to Ysayne rather helplessly.
"Well, Harlwystyr was
with me, and-"
"I believe you," Ysayne said crisply. "If it really was Harlwystyr and not some dolt just claiming that infamous name, I'd not have wanted to hurl magic at him in the same kingdom as he, anyhail. Report!"
Thalric nodded. "Well, he confirmed everything Jalinda has told me: He's contacted her recently to tell her inform her of his intensions, and he wants her to help him "save Tamriel" or somesuch. Beginning with stealing enchanted objects that are apparently scattered across High Rock, and hold potent magical abilities - you know of these objects?"
"Ah, right. Well, truthfully, that wasn't everything I came here to inform you about."
Ysayne leaned forward, like any high lady wanting in on the latest gossip in town. "Yes?"
"I'm... I'm not half as capable a spy as I thought I was. I am loyal to the duke, mind, just... guarding the kingdom is not half as easy as I thought it would be. Not to mention even less fun."
Ysayne's stare was hard and level. "Others before you, Thalric Camry, have discovered as much. A few of them have even admitted it."