Farthow handed the reins of his horse over to a stable boy and dismounted after he passed through the double-gated entryway to Masala Keep. Guards with familiar faces watched him from the house above. He caught the eye of one, a lad named Janry that he had put on a secret extra payroll to keep an eye on the guard for him, and nodded subtly. Quickly he turned back toward the long set of wide stairs that led up to the keep doors.
The castle itself stood high above the port city of Masala with a cliff to one side, an easily defensible fortress from a more chaotic time. Its foundations and much of its edifice were made of basalt carried from the sea, and it appeared black beneath the grey sky. Holes in the clouds, moving swiftly toward the dry highlands to the west, cast strange shapes upon it that swirled and swayed. Flags flew proud upon the corners of its rounded towers, and the banners that hung from its front walls twisted in the crisp sea wind. Between the parapets shapes that could only be soldiers moved here and there.
As Farthow ascended the stair he heard a voice calling to him from behind. “Cap’n! Cap’n! Your woman’s done sobered up!”
“Quiet, you fool!” Farthow said, turning to see Colby behind him near one of the corners of the keep.
“Catannel’s man is long gone,” Colby said.
“I said quiet!” Farthow jumped the last two stairs and grabbed Colby’s elbow. He dragged him toward the entrance to the outer halls. Colby shrugged off the grip and pumped his arms matching Farthow’s stride. They passed through an opening in the outer walls and rushed across a dusty courtyard, their boots scraping over a floor that was as much weathered stone as dirt. An iron reinforced door stood ajar, a steel cuirassed guard standing beside it with matchlock resting on his shoulder. He raised a hand to his head as Farthow passed by and nodded to Colby.
The pair descended a long narrow stair, the wooden handrail worn to an almost glasslike smoothness. The door clanged shut above them, leaving them with only the lamplight below to guide them downward. The echoes of their footsteps shortened as they reached the bottom. The stairway opened into a cramped room, the floor made of stone. Years of dust had piled up in the corners. Another man, this one fat enough to look uncomfortable in his breastplate, stood near a gate of iron bars, chewing on something that was invisible behind his overgrown black mustache. He did not bother saluting as Farthow walked by, and Farthow did not seem to care.
They passed down a long corridor, with cells branching off to each side. Some were enclosed by iron bars. Others bore banded heavy wooden doors. Another guard stood by one of these, twirling a set of keys on an iron ring. Farthow nodded to him and he unlocked the door. It swung outward with a slight squeak. Against the back wall, lit dimly by a small bared shaft leaning back to ground level, sat a young woman wrapped in a blanket. She was eating a bowl of soup with a wooden spoon, but dropped both with Farthow entered, pulling the blanket tighter around her and shrinking into the corner.
“Relax,” Farthow said. The guard brought in a three-legged stool, and Farthow sat down on it a few steps away from the girl. Silence settled in, and Farthow smiled at her.
“I’m free,” she said after a few moments.
“Doesn’t look like it,” Colby said with a sneer.
Farthow held up his hand to silence Colby and said, “We’re not returning you or taking you to market. I brought you here to help you sleep off the opium daze, and because I needed to talk to you.”
“This is a prison, right?” the woman said.
“The best accommodations I could manage on short notice.” Farthow pulled a silver coin from his pocket and tossed it to the feet of the girl. “Recognize that?”
Hesitantly, the girl picked it up and turned it over in her hand. “It looks like silver.”
“The mark, you dummy,” Colby said.
Farthow gave him a perturbed look and turned back to the girl. “Northmarch silver. A little odd for this part of the world. Where did you get coins like this?”
“I don’t have any coins.”
“But you did. Who gave them to you?”
“There is no need to lie to me,” Farthow said. “I promise, even if you do not tell me, I will not hurt you. I even have this-” He held his hand out and Colby placed a long box into it. Farthow flipped it open and removed a small pill of orange-black opium. He rolled it between his gloved fingers. “To ease the pain.” He produced from the box a small opium pipe and tapped it into his palm.
The woman reached for it. Farthow quickly withdrew his hand. “Just tell me where you got the coin.”
The woman drew her lips into a line. “A man and a woman. The man was tall. He had yellow sort of eyes. The woman had blue eyes. Red hair, maybe. She had it short, I think. They killed the man taking me to market.”
“Were they his coins? The man taking you to market?” Farthow said.
“No. Not Marcos. He was selling me because he was broke.”
“Yes. Sometimes he let me have some.”
“I see. What were their names? The man and the woman?”
“Munin and Hueny. I don’t remember which was which.”
“Where were they from?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where were they going?”
“No idea. They turned me loose as soon as they got in the gate.”
Farthow nodded. “Different business, then.”
“How would I know?”
Farthow smiled. He handed the opium to the girl and laid the box and the pipe on the ground. The girl hurriedly picked it up and removed a small oil lamp from the box. Colby walked over and lit it with a match as Farthow stood up. The girl pushed the pill into the bowl of the pipe and leaned over the lamp, sighing as she drew in the narcotic vapor. Colby covered his mouth at the reek and stepped out of the cell.
“Let her leave when she wills to,” Farthow said to the guard. “But take her out through the south gate. And give her this.” He handed a heavy linen bag to the guard.
“You’re giving her silver?”
“It’s not the coin she was given initially, but it’s of equal weight. Somebody thought she should have it, so have it she shall.”
“Suit yourself, sir,” the guard said, and tucked the bag into his belt pouch.
“You’re on your honor to do right.”
Farthow turned down the hall with Colby. “We’ve work to do.”
“I’m thinking of the docks,” Colby said.