Zyteus opened his mouth to speak, but before he could form any words an expression flashed over his face. It was but a moment, but in it was a wry, almost sardonic smile. Zyteus closed his mouth and gave the room a loud, exasperated sigh. He looked harshly at Aphella, then nodded slightly. “So be it. We shall listen, and discard at our discretion.”
Silence filled the room as Aphella met Zyteus’s gaze, then looked to the other elders, settling on stone-faced Sabon. She took breathed a warm light onto her now cold hands, then recounted what she had seen at the chronolathe, pushing down an urge to hide, or at least gloss-over, the details of the spell Shaenyll had cast on the two of them. She described Frey’s seeming invisibility, and how he subdued the thief.
As she finished and backed away, Zyteus narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips as he stared at Frey. Moments stretched as the other elders whispered to each other, their voices muffled behind a wall of magically dampened air. Zyteus tapped his fingers, and thought flitted over his brow as if he were appraising something of dubious value.
Returning the gaze, Frey said, “You study me.”
“I do,” Zyteus said, his voice clear and loud
“If you are looking for a subject to paint, I would think Shaenyll to be much more pleasing to the eye than me.”
“I study her too,” Zyteus said. His eyes remained on Frey. After a few moments the muffling spell was lifted and the other elders turned toward Zyteus.
“Something on your mind?” Hamon said.
“Just puzzling out motivations,” Zyteus said.
Hamon grunted. “We were thinking of value.”
“What of motivations?” Warka said. “The thief was motivated to steal by everything that motivates thieves, which is money.” Frey raised an eyebrow to her. “And clearly Frey was motivated to catch that thief out of his business interests, such as they are. What else is there to ponder?”
“Perhaps he was trying to impress upon us some sense of virtue he possess, eh?” Sabon said, shifting in his chair.
“But to what end?” A curl was beginning at the side of Zyteus’s mouth, though his brow remained wrinkled in anger.
“There was no end,” Shaenyll said allowed. “He could not see us to impress upon us anything at all.”
Zyteus held up his hand. “You are recused. However, what you have said has given me a thought. Frey.” The trader tilted his head in response. “We received message by beacon notifying us of your coming to the Twillanya. You arrived less than a day past this reception, and yet the closest beacon to ours is in Potsaya, a journey of no less than 4 days from here.” He paused and allowed the silence to settle in. “How did you manage this? Beware; I can compel you to tell the truth, if I choose.” His hand touched lightly the long, thin, Y-shaped bone focus that sat on the table before him.
“I am compelled only by the truth itself,” Frey said. “I can tell you that I did not send a message from Potsaya. In fact, Potsaya I intended to be the next place of rest for my train.”
“Then from whence did you come?” Zyteus said.
“The Eastern road.”
“From the barren lands.”
Frey narrowed his eyes. “Aye.”
“Where no Illuminate dwells.”
“No. It is as lonely as it is desolate. Hence my need for a large train.”
“So you did not come from Illuminare. You are not coming from the capital. What you have said about an empress on the throne of light is a lie.”
“I do not lie. I set out from there, initially. But long journeys-” Frey sighed. “Your need to always prod a conversation with obtuse questions designed to silence the truth tires me.”
“Very well,” Zyteus said, and made to lift his focus
Ignoring the gesture, Frey went on. “I have my own beacon, of course. That is how you received my message. I thought I might be approaching the hot springs of Bolaya, and so I gave you a courtesy in anticipation of my train’s arrival. I see now the answer for courtesy in outer realm.”
“A stolen beacon?” Zyteus said. The council burst into whispers that filled the hall like a rushing stream.
“Mine,” Frey said.
“You cannot carry about a beacon, they are set into the lay lines of the earth and will not work when pried free,” Arda said.
Warka spoke aloud, leaning away from the table “The absurdity-“
“It is not the same as the type of beacon you possess,” Frey said, his voice carrying over the din of the arguing. “Mine is small. Suitable for travel, and will work with whatever lay lines you find, though its range is limited. Hence, the short advance notice.”
“And how did you come to possess, you a mere man, a device of the ancients, eh?” Zyteus said. Aphella was sure she could detect a devious smile.
“Yes, I would know this,” Hamon said, squinting. “No village would sell their beacon. It is forbidden, no matter the cost. Where would you get such a thing, except from one of the holds?”
Frey stood tall, and pointed one large finger across the table. “That, my accusers, is a trade secret. You shall have to suffer only a courteous and vague response.
“What response?” Zyteus said.
Frey cracked a forced smile. “There are many things left in the dark, if you are willing to look for them.”
Zyteus leaned forward. “I think motivations should be obvious now. You stole your beacon, and you intended to steal our chronolathe, assisted by two of our gullible women. You realized too late that Hamon’s wards would not disarm for those outside of Twill blood, and so have improvised this outlandish story with your accomplices.”
“You can’t be serious,” Arda said. “Shaenyll-”
“You intend to make your own hold, eh?” Zyteus said. “A hold for the dim-men who follow you. Or even the dun. To make yourself king.”
“That’s quite too much of a leap,” Frey said. His voice, normally calm and even, was suddenly elevated, filling the corners of the stone room with a strangely dry volume.
Zyteus stood and, in a single swift motion, cast a spell of binding, and pale, luminous air swirled around Frey, binding his arms. “I order, as an emergency edict, that the thief-master Frey be arrested immediately and his goods wholly confiscated as stolen artifacts.”
Frey spoke up, his voice growing in volume and presence, though he moved not. “And now your intentions are laid bare.”
“No, Zyteus,” Arda said fervently. “This is too far. Frey has-”
“I have the right as head of the council,” Zyteus said. “And this man is dangerous. Shaenyll has witnessed him casting time magic, and this force must be mitigated. Barko, Matsii, Shackle him in dry iron!” He looked to the darkened right side of the hall and two young men advanced, normally herdsmen and friendly to Aphella, yet also acting as bailiffs for the council in trade for the few spare coins they gave as salary. They gave each other with tentative glances. Between them was held a rusty chain, a casters bane.
“A red chain!” Aphella cried out. She tried to move, but found herself bound as well.
“I think this has gone on quite enough!” Frey’s voice had grown to fill the room, booming and yet without echo or reverberation, as if it were speaking directly into the ear of all present. With the final word, all the lights in the room went out, hissing and crackling. Total darkness descended. Even the eyes of the parties became invisible to each other. Cries were stuffed and silenced as a more substantial nothingness descended on the room.