“You want me to go with you on your vision quest?” Geoffrey asked Abigail. “Why?”
“Isn’t it obvious? There are bears up there, and wolves, and bandits, and who knows what else.”
“I’m not sure what help we’re going to be,” said Ayoob. “Unless you want someone to talk the bears to death. Maybe you should take a group of soldiers with you.”
“You’re not taking any of my soldiers into the mountains,” said the general. “We’re short of manpower as it is. I can’t have my people eaten by bears for no good reason.”
“I wasn’t intending to take soldiers with me,” said Abigail. “You can’t commune with mountain spirits with an army around you.”
Abigail noticed that the town residents were listening in to the conversation and began walking back to the castle, Ayoob hurried after her. “Maybe there are some caves that aren’t too far into the mountains,” he said. “Maybe even within town limits.”
“Maybe there’s a cave in the castle dungeons,” Geoffrey called after them.
The general tapped his shoulder. Geoffrey turned around. “I think we lost them,” the general said. And, in fact, Flame and Steuan were both gone, as were Bartram and Mistress Ermyntrude.
“We got distracted,” said Geofrey. “Took our eyes off the prize.”
“She’s probably canoodling with him somewhere right now,” said the general.
“I take it you mean Flame and the faith healer,” said Geoffrey.
“Yes, but Bartram and his mail-order wench too, probably,” said the general. “Can you believe he sent away for a woman?”
“It does seem a little sad and desperate,” said Geoffrey.
“Really? I was thinking it was very practical. I’m going to borrow his catalog. You know, just in case we can’t stop Flame from leaving with what’s-his-name.”
“You’ve known her for longer than I have,” said Geoffrey. “Tell me about her.”
The two set of walking in the direction they saw Flame and Steuan last. They walked around the goats in the center of the market then continued through the stalls on the far end of the square to the town street beyond.
“I’ve only known her for a couple of weeks longer than you have,” said the general. “She was passing through town when I first got here, doing some research having to do with homesteaders. The Duke thought that as long as she’s going out to talk to people anyway, we could get some use out of it, so he put her on the payroll.”
“Really? The Duke thought this?”
“Well, I might have suggested it to him.” The general sighed. “There’s just something about that woman that makes me want to abuse my position of power.”
“Have you said anything to her?”
“Like, can I buy you dinner?”
“No, I don’t want to come on too strong,” said the general. “I want her to get to know me better. I think she’s been admiring me from a distance. Any day now, she’s going to make the first move. Now that I think about it, the faith healer isn’t a real threat. She’d see right through him. And, after all, I am a man of substance.”
They turned the corner and saw Steuan put his arm around Flame as the two of them walked down the street. Flame was telling him something, but Geoffrey was too far away to hear what it was. Geoffrey ducked back out of sight.
“I don’t think she’s seeing through him,” said the general. “We’re going to have to accelerate our timeline.”
“Well, they’re headed away from the inn,” said Geoffrey. “This is our chance to search Steuan’s room. See if he’s hiding any secrets.”
“Good idea,” said the general. “I’ll distract the innkeeper and you borrow the key and go upstairs and search. I’ll keep an eye out downstairs.”
Geoffrey peered around the corner again. “Now she’s fondling his chest,” he said. “And now they’re kissing. You don’t want to see that.”
“No, I need to know what I’m up against,” said the general and pushed Geoffrey aside. “Ouch. Maybe I didn’t need to know.” He stepped back. “Let’s head back to the inn.”
As they approached the Drunken Pie Inn, the general pointed out one of the windows on the second floor. “That’s her room,” he told Geoffrey. “It’s the last one on the floor. If Steuan’s room is next to hers, that must be his window over there.”
They went inside and the general distracted the innkeeper by ordering a sandwich. Due to the chronic staffing shortage in Heartburgh — and everywhere else in Krim — the innkeeper was also the cook, the bartender, the waiter, and the housekeeper.
The general followed him into the kitchen to micromanage the sandwich and Geoffrey grabbed the room keys from behind the front desk and went upstairs. He unlocked Steuan’s door, put the keys back, then return to the faith healer’s room.
Inside, the room was a mess. Steuan’s bed wasn’t made, his clothes were on the floor, and there were bunches of herbs drying on every surface, including the bed.
On a small desk by the window, Geoffrey found a book titled, “Medicinal herbs of the middle ages.”
What had Steuan said at the market? Something about dill and stomach aches. Geoffrey flipped through the book. The section on dill said that the herb had been used in medicine for more than two thousand years for treating stomach ailments, hiccups, bad breath, and hemorrhoids. He scanned down the page. The herb was also used for sleep disorders, fever, and gall bladder disease, among dozens of other uses.
Geoffrey was impressed. As far as he’d been aware, it was just a cooking spice. He turned the page and the words “lack of scientific proof” jumped out at him. Dill might have been used to treat dozens of different ailments but it was generally known to be ineffective.
If Steuan was going by this book then he knew that his supposed medical treatments weren’t going to do anybody any good.
Geoffrey put the book back where he’d found it and left the room. The sooner he confronted Steuan about what he’d found, the better.