‘He had a military bearing and white hair.’
‘Martel,’ Sparhawk said to Sephrenia.
‘We should have guessed almost immediately,’ she replied.
‘Take heart, friends,’ the messy little man told them expansively. ‘You’ve found your way to the finest physician in Borrata.’ He grinned then. ‘My colleagues all fly south with the ducks in the fall going, “Quack, quack, quack.” You couldn’t get a sound medical opinion out of any one of them. The white-haired man said that you’d describe some symptoms. Some lady someplace is very ill, I understand, and your friend – this Martel you mentioned – would prefer that she didn’t recover. Why don’t we disappoint him?’ He drank deeply from his tankard.
‘You’re a credit to your profession, good doctor,’ Sephrenia said.
‘No. I’m a vicious-minded old drunkard. Do you really want to know why I’m willing to help you? It’s because I’ll enjoy the screams of anguish from my colleagues when all that money slips through their fingers.’
‘That’s as good a reason as any, I suppose,’ Sparhawk said.
‘Exactly.’ The slightly tipsy physician peered at Sparhawk’s nose. ‘Why didn’t you have that set when it got broken?’ he asked.
Sparhawk touched his nose. ‘I was busy with other things.’
‘I can fix it for you if you’d like. All I have to do is take a hammer and break it again. Then I can set it for you.’
‘Thanks all the same, but I’m used to it now.’
‘Suit yourself. All right, what are these symptoms you came here to describe?’
Once again Sephrenia ran down the list for him.
He sat scratching at his ear with his eyes narrowed. Then he rummaged through the litter piled high on his desk and pulled out a thick book with a torn leather cover. He leafed through it for several moments, then slammed it shut. ‘Just as I thought,’ he said triumphantly. He belched again.
‘Well?’ Sparhawk said.
‘Your friend was poisoned. Has she died yet?’
A chill caught at Sparhawk’s stomach. ‘No,’ he replied.
‘It’s only a matter of time.’ The physician shrugged. ‘It’s a rare poison from Rendor. It’s invariably fatal.’
Sparhawk clenched his teeth. ‘I’m going to go back to Cimmura and disembowel Annias,’ he grated, ‘with a dull knife.’
The disreputable little physician suddenly looked interested. ‘You do it this way,’ he suggested. ‘Make a lateral incision just below the navel. Then kick him over backwards. Everything ought to fall out at that point.’
‘No charge. If you’re going to do something, do it right. I take it that this Annias person is the one you think was responsible?’
‘Go ahead and kill him then. I despise a poisoner.’
‘Is there an antidote for this poison?’ Sephrenia asked.
‘None that I know of. I’d suggest talking with several physicians I know in Cippria, but your friend will be dead before you could get back.’
‘No,’ Sephrenia disagreed. ‘She’s being sustained.’
‘I’d like to know how you managed that.’
The lady is Styric,’ Sparhawk told him. ‘She has access to certain unusual things.’
‘Magic? Does that really work?’
‘At times, yes.’
‘All right, then. Maybe you do have time.’ The seedy-looking doctor ripped a corner off one of the papers on his desk and dipped a quill into a nearly dry inkpot. ‘The first two names here are those of a couple of fairly adept physicians in Cippria,’ he said as he scrawled on the paper. ‘This last one is the name of the poison.’ He handed the paper to Sparhawk. ‘Good luck,’ he said. ‘Now get out of here so I can continue what I was doing before you kicked in my door.’
‘Because you don’t look like Rendors,’ Sparhawk told them. ‘Foreigners attract a great deal of attention there – usually unfriendly. I can pass for a native in Cippria. So can Kurik. Rendorish women wear veils, so Sephrenia’s appearance won’t be a problem. The rest of you are going to have to stay behind.’
They were gathered in a large room on the upper floor of the inn near the university. The room was bare with only a few benches along the walls and no curtains at the narrow window. Sparhawk had reported what the tipsy physician had said and the fact that Martel had attempted subterfuge this time rather than a physical confrontation.
‘We could put something on our hair to change the colour,’ Kalten protested. ‘Wouldn’t that get us by?’
‘It’s the manner, Kalten,’ Sparhawk explained. ‘I could dye you green, and people would still know that you’re an Elenian. The same’s more or less true of the rest of you. You all have the bearing of knights. It takes years to erase that.’
‘You want us to stay here, then?’ Ulath asked.
‘No. Let’s all go down to Madel,’ Sparhawk decided. ‘If something unexpected comes up in Cippria, I can get word to you there faster.’
‘I think you’re overlooking something, Sparhawk,’ Kalten said. ‘We know that Martel’s moving around down here, and he’s probably got eyes everywhere. If we all ride out of Borrata in full armour, he’ll know about it before we cover half a league.’
‘Pilgrims,’ Ulath grunted cryptically.
‘I don’t quite follow you,’ Kalten said, frowning.
‘If we pack our armour in a cart and dress in sober clothes, we can join a group of pilgrims, and nobody’s going to give us a second glance.’ He looked at Bevier. ‘Do you know very much about Madel?’ he asked.
‘We have a chapterhouse there,’ Bevier replied. ‘I visit it from time to time.’
‘Are there any shrines or holy places there?’
‘Several. But pilgrims seldom travel in winter.’
‘They do if they get paid. We’ll hire some – and a clergyman to sing hymns as we go along.’
‘It’s got possibilities, Sparhawk,’ Kalten said. ‘Martel doesn’t really know which way we’re going when we leave here, so his spies are going to be spread fairly thin.’
‘How will we know this Martel person?’ Bevier asked. ‘Should we encounter him while you’re in Cippria, I mean?’