After two and a half days on the boat, we finally returned to Kreuzhofen late in the evening. Guido and Benito invited us to dinner at the Red Bull that evening, as their guests. In their joy, they invited the whole town, but only a few came; most had already eaten dinner and were preparing themselves for sleep.

During dinner, Guido stood up and made an announcement that surprised everyone, incuding Benito. He stated his claim as the rightful Duke of Marigliano and apologized that his secret presence put eveyone at risk. He said it was time to return and claim his heritage. Benito immediately stated his intention to accompany Guido.

In the absence of beastmen, the dorfrichter agreed to hold the inquest tomorrow. No one was hurt or died while we were gone; in fact, nothing untoward happened at all. Best we close out matters and leave as soon as possible.

I, at least, slept well back at the Black Eagle. A real bed felt quite nice after sleeping on the hard surface of the boat for two nights. I have not told Omi that his arm is completely healed yet. I get so used to being able to reach in and help the healing of those with home I travel. It's hard to remember sometimes how unusual that ability is, and that I can't dare use it openly. How ridiculous it is to view healing as a dangerous tool of chaos, but that is how it would be seen, and I wouldn't live long, I don't think. Even in the monastery I had to hide behind a normal physician's skills. If I ever am able to retire quietly into a monastery again, I'll try to seek out those with skills like mine, and teach them carefully to both use them and to stay safe.

At breakfast, both the beer and the water smelled odd, not just to Ash. It was very subtle, though, and I just couldn't place it. It niggled at me; there was something familiar about it. I drank only the wine, and avoided the bread, on Ash's previous warning. Prestley ate heartily of everything, and I thought at least if the taint harmed him in some way, perhaps I could figure out what it was by his symptoms and cure him before too much harm had occured.

Towards the end of breakfast, the watch captain brought a message to us. I read it aloud to everyone: it simply announced that the inquest would be help at the second hour of the afternnon and that we were all required to be there, including José.

Ash, Miara, and Hy left on some errand, and the rest of remained at the inn.

Later, Hy came running into the inn, jabbering unintelligibly as always. However, Omi understood him, and José cast his spell so that he could, too. He had come for me: they had discovered a woman from the village, injured in the woods. I followed him, along with José and Carmella.

The body of a woman lay on the ground, and I inspected her. At fist glance, it looked like an attack by a vampire, and then I understood the two men looking suspiciously at her holding stakes. To placate them, I supposed, José made a big show of a blessing ritual over her, and proclaimed it was safe now.

At a closer look, the woman had actually been hit on the head first, attacked from behind. Then the bite marks. They were not deep and had missed the jugular by half an inch. What vampire hits his victim on the head and then misses completely and leaves? During broad daylight, yet.

I announced she was fine, just unconscious, and she'd wake up, unhurt. The two men agreed to take her back to town and watch over. I made them promise not to stake her unless she tried to bite them. I didn't completely trust them, so I returned with them.

The doctor showed up and looked her over as well, and confirmed what I had said.

While I watched over the girl, the others spoke with the dorfrichter about the situation. It was clear that someone was trying purposely to frighten the town by simulating the curse of the Reichenbachs. But no one could think of who would benefit from such a plot.

When the girl awoke, she remembered nothing. I told her about the attack, which might have been a mistake, although others would have told her anyway. She freaked out because she thought she was going to turn into a vampire. I couldn't convince her that it had been fake attack, so I gave her a decoction of mawang, an herb from Cathay, to put her to sleep. I then had to argue with the Stoltenburg brothers again.

By that time, it was time for the inquest. As we walked there, Ash stopped, saying he caught a whiff of the odd smell he's been detecting, but this time it was strong. He traced it to the water barrel we had just passed. The water reeked of springwort. In small amounts, it was a mild stimulant, as I had used it on the boat a couple of nights ago. In larger amounts, it induces nervousness and restlessness. As it builds up in the body, it causes paranoia. If the village's water had been tampered with for a while, that could explain their behaviour: the ordinary superstition of the ignorant, collective guilt for the actions of their predecessors 200 years ago, compunded by nervousness and paranoia caused by the springwort.

I know of no way to counteract the effects: you just have to wait for it to be flushed naturally from the body. The length of time varies depending on how much has been ingested. We left the barrel as it was, for proof, and we could tell the dorfrichter the situation after the inquest.

As soon as we arrived and sat on one of the benches set out in the village green for everyone, he began the inquest.

The benches were packed: the whole town was here. One big seething mass of hysteria. I was suddenly very worried about the likelihood of being lynched. Looking around, I could see only a few people who appeared normal: the dorfrichter, Leafglow, the watch captain.

Miara was called first. She told the story honestly and completely. The dorfrichter asked her about the fireball, and she said she hadn't seen who was responsible for it as she was already fighting.

José stood up, though, and said "I did it." The dorfrichter asked why, and he said that was the only means he had to defend himself. He had thrown it at Sir Theodosius's men and was surprised that Sir Theodosius had died from it.

The dorfrichter asked if any of the rest of us had anything to say. There was no way I was going to stand up and say that Carmella had actually caused Sir Theodosius's death, so I remained quiet. Goldrim stood up and testified about the snotlings on Sir Theodosius's lands. He said we were retreating with the baker from the snotlings, when Sir Theodosius and his men attacked us. The dorfrichter said incredulously, "You were running from snotlings?"

He called the doctor to testify next. He gave a graphic description of the horrible death of Sir Theodosius by terrible burns. He ended with the comment that although Miara's band had done some very important things for the town, he could not condone the terrble murder of the Sir. The crowd murmured, already unimpressed with Miara's haughty foreignness, José's admission of fireball-throwing, and Goldrim's claim that the large group of frightening warriors had run from snotlings. The dorfrichter seemed a little ticked off at his editorializing, but the damage had been done in the eyes of the villagers.

Next he called Dieter Crankeld, the gamekeeper for the Eisenstat estate. No one came forward, which annoyed the dorfrichter. Then he called Casper Jeningar, and then two others, and none of them answered either. By that time, he was very annoyed.

Since there was no one from the estate to speak up, he asked if anyone else would like to make a statement.

And here, our good deed in helping the Sangioveses bore fruit. Benito stood up right away, and he spoke glowingly and eloquently on our behalf. The town had a great deal of respect for him, and the muttering was silenced.

Then Brunhilda (one of Bastiens' murderers) reminded everyone what an awful man Sir Theodosius had been. She said he had never done anything good for the town, she and listed many bad things about him.

By that time, the villagers had been completely swayed in our favor and were ready to Do Something.

Joseph Gherig, the owner of the big house at west end of town stood to speak. I knew he remembered some of us from our previous visit, and was certain he would try to sway the villagers against us again. He was an unpleasant man and he hadn't been pleased with the outcome of the matter with the pudding girl. Sure enough, he talked about crime and how they couldn't let strangers and foreigners come in and kill people. He rambled a bit, and it took a while for the villagers to realize he was speaking against us. When he started calling us outlaws and renegades, they started to heckle and boo him, in our defense, much to my surprise.

The dorfrichter, seeing that things were getting out of hand, slammed his gavel a few times and told everyone to sit down. He said he would consider all the evidence and announce his decision later that day. In the meantime, he told everyone to go home and cool off.

To set a good example (and get away from the over-excited villagers), most of the group returned to the inn. On our way, we received a show of support from villagers we passed near. Those who had expressed opposition to us left quickly and quietly, wisely I think.

Jason, Carmella, and I stayed behind to talk with the dorfrichter about the springwort in the barrel. He didn't know what he could do about it, besides hire guards to watch the water supply. I didn't think that would accomplish anything. He seemed a little overwhelmed with the events that were overtaking his village.

Ravenna, A Monk of the Biancan Order

Part the First:
Blood and Mud

Part the Second:
Murder and Mayhem

Part the Third:
Puzzles and Crystals

Part the Fourth:
Dwarves and Rocks

Part the Fifth:
Diplomacy and Daggers

Part the Sixth:
Crystal and Chaos

Part the Seventh:
Sheer Insanity

~ The End ~