‘Absolutely not!’ He backed away from her.
‘Kalten,’ she said quite firmly, ‘sit down.’ She pointed at a chair and reached for a rouge pot.
‘Do I have to?’
‘Yes. Now sit.’
Kalten looked at Sparhawk. ‘If you laugh, we’re going to fight, so don’t even think about it.’
Since the chapterhouse was watched at all times by the agents of the Primate Annias, Vanion came up with a suggestion that was part subterfuge and part utilitarian. ‘I need to transfer some things to the inn anyway,’ he explained. ‘Annias knows that the inn belongs to us, so we’re not giving anything away We’ll hide Kalten in the wagon bed and turn this good, honest fellow into a teamster.’ He looked pointedly at the patch-eyed, bearded Sparhawk. ‘Where on earth did you find so close a match to his real hair?’ he asked Sephrenia curiously
She smiled. ‘The next time you go into the stables, don’t look too closely at your horse’s tail.’
‘He was the only black horse in the stable, Vanion, and I didn’t take all that much, really’
‘My horse?’ he repeated, looking injured.
‘We must all make sacrifices now and then,’ she told him. ‘It’s a part of the Pandion oath, remember?’
The wagon was rickety, and the horse was spavined. Sparhawk slouched on the wagon seat with the reins held negligently in one hand and apparently paying very little attention to the people in the street around him.
The wheels wobbled and creaked as the wagon jolted over a rutted place in the stone-paved street. ‘Sparhawk, do you have to hit every single bump?’ Kalten’s muffled voice came from under the boxes and bales loosely piled around him in the back of the wagon.
‘Keep quiet,’ Sparhawk muttered. Two church soldiers are coming this way.’
Kalten grumbled a few choice oaths, then fell silent.
The church soldiers wore red livery and disdainful expressions. As they walked through the crowded streets, the workmen and blue-clad merchants stepped aside for them. Sparhawk reined in his nag, stopping the wagon in the exact centre of the street so that the soldiers would be forced to go around him. ‘Morning, neighbours, ’ he greeted them.
They glared at him, then walked on around the wagon.
‘Have a pleasant day,’ he called after them.
They ignored him.
‘What was that all about?’ Kalten demanded in a low voice from the wagon bed.
‘Just checking my disguise,’ Sparhawk replied, shaking the reins.
‘Does it work?’
‘They didn’t give me a second glance.’
‘How much farther to the inn? I’m suffocating under all this.’
‘Not too much farther.’
‘Give me a big surprise, Sparhawk. Miss a bump or two – just for the sake of variety.’ The wagon creaked on.
At the barred gate of the inn, Sparhawk climbed down from the wagon and pounded the rhythmic signal on its stout timbers. After a moment the knight porter opened the gate. He looked at Sparhawk carefully. ‘Sorry, friend,’ he said. ‘The inn’s all full.’
‘We won’t be staying, Sir Knight,’ Sparhawk told him. ‘We just brought a load of supplies from the chapterhouse. ’
The porter’s eyes widened and he peered more closely at the big man. ‘Is that you, Sir Sparhawk?’ he asked incredulously ‘I didn’t even recognize you.’
‘That was sort of the idea. You aren’t supposed to.’
The knight pushed the gate open, and Sparhawk led the weary horse into the courtyard. ‘You can get out now,’ he said to Kalten as the porter closed the gate.
‘Help get all this off me.’
Sparhawk moved a few of the boxes, and Kalten came squirming out.
The knight porter gave the big blond man an amused look.
‘Go ahead and say it,’ Kalten said in a belligerent tone.
‘I wouldn’t dream of it, Sir Knight.’
Sparhawk took a long, rectangular box out of the wagon bed and hoisted it up onto his shoulder. ‘Get somebody to help you with these supplies,’ he told the porter. ‘Preceptor Vanion sent them. And take care of the horse. He’s tired.’
‘Tired? Dead would be closer.’ The porter eyed the disconsolate-looking nag.
‘He’s old, that’s all. It happens to all of us sooner or later. Is the back door to the tavern open?’ He looked across the courtyard at a deeply inset doorway.
‘It’s always open, Sir Sparhawk.’
Sparhawk nodded and he and Kalten crossed the courtyard.
‘What have you got in the box?’ Kalten asked. ‘Our swords.’
‘That’s clever, but won’t they be a little hard to draw?’
‘Not after I throw the box down on the cobblestones, they won’t.’ He opened the inset door. ‘After you, my Lord,’ he said, bowing.
They passed through a cluttered storeroom and came out into a shabby-looking tavern. A century or so of dust clouded the single window, and the straw on the floor was mouldy The room smelled of stale beer and spilled wine and vomit. The low ceiling was draped with cobwebs, and the rough tables and benches were battered and tired-looking. There were only three people in the place, a sour-looking tavern keeper, a drunken man with his head cradled in his arms on a table by the door, and a blowsy-looking whore in a red dress dozing in the corner.
Kalten went to the door and looked out into the street. ‘It’s still a little underpopulated out there,’ he grunted. ‘Let’s have a tankard or two while we wait for the neighbourhood to wake up.’
‘Why not have some breakfast instead?’
‘That’s what I said.’
They sat at one of the tables, and the tavern keeper came over, giving no hint that he recognized them as Pandions. He made an ineffective swipe at a puddle of spilled beer on the table with a filthy rag. ‘What would you like?’ His voice had a sullen, unfriendly tone.
‘Beer,’ Kalten replied.
‘Bring us a little bread and cheese, too,’ Sparhawk added.
The tavern keeper grunted and left them.
‘Where was Krager when you saw him?’ Kalten asked quietly
‘In that square near the west gate.’
‘That’s a shabby part of town.’
‘Krager’s a shabby sort of person.’