‘Kalten knows him,’ Sparhawk replied, ‘and Talen has seen him once.’ Then he remembered something. He looked over at the boy, who was making a cat’s cradle to entertain Flute. Talen,’ he said, ‘could you draw pictures of Martel and Krager?’
‘And we can conjure up the image of Adus as well,’ Sephrenia added.
‘Adus is easy,’ Kalten said. ‘Just put armour on a gorilla and you’ve got him.’
‘All right, we’ll do it that way, then,’ Sparhawk said. ‘Berit.’
‘Yes, Lord Sparhawk?’
‘Go and find a church somewhere – a poor one. Talk with the vicar. Tell him that we’ll finance a pilgrimage to the shrines in Madel. Ask him to pick a dozen or so of his neediest parishioners and to bring them here tomorrow morning. We’ll want him to come with us as well – to be the caretaker of our souls. And tell him that we’ll make a sizeable contribution to his church if he agrees.’
‘Won’t he ask about our motives, my Lord?’
Tell him that we’ve committed a dreadful sin and want to atone for it,’ Kalten shrugged. ‘Just don’t be too specific about the sin.’
‘Sir Kalten!’ Bevier gasped. ‘You would lie to a churchman?’
‘It’s not exactly a lie, Bevier. We’ve all committed sins. I’ve sinned at least a half-dozen times this week already. Besides, the vicar of a poor church isn’t going to ask too many questions when there’s a contribution involved.’
Sparhawk took a leather pouch from inside his tunic. He shook it a few times, and a distinctive jingling sound came from it. ‘All right, gentlemen,’ he said, untying the top of the pouch, ‘we’ve reached the part of this service you all enjoy the most – the offertory. God appreciates a generous giver, so don’t be shy. The vicar will need cash to hire pilgrims.’ He passed the pouch around.
‘Do you think God might accept a promissory note?’ Kalten asked.
‘God might. I won’t. Put something in the pouch, Kalten.’
The group that gathered in the innyard the following morning was uniformly shabby – widows in patched mourning, out-of-work artisans and several hungry beggars. They were all mounted on weary nags or sleepy-looking mules. Sparhawk looked at them from the window. Tell the innkeeper to feed them,’ he said to Kalten.
There’s quite a number of them, Sparhawk.’
‘I don’t want them fainting from hunger a mile out of town. You take care of that while I go and talk with the vicar.’
‘Anything you say.’ Kalten shrugged. ‘Should I bathe them, too? Some of them look a bit unwashed.’
‘That won’t be necessary. Feed their horses and mules as well.’
‘Aren’t we being a little overgenerous?’
‘You get to carry any horse that collapses.’
‘Oh. I’ll see to it right away, then.’
The vicar of the poor church was a thin, anxious-looking man in his sixties. His silvery hair was curly and his face was drawn and deeply lined with care. ‘My Lord,’ he said, bowing deeply to Sparhawk.
‘Please, good vicar,’ Sparhawk said to him, ‘just “pilgrim” is adequate We are all equal in the service of God. My companions and I wish simply to join with your good, pious folk and to journey to Madel that we may worship at the holy shrines there for the solace of our souls and in the certain knowledge of the infinite mercy of God.’
‘Well said – uh pilgrim.’
‘Would you join us at table, good vicar?’ Sparhawk asked him. ‘We will go many miles before we sleep tonight.’
The vicar’s eyes grew suddenly bright. ‘I would be delighted, my Lord – uh, pilgrim, that is.’
The feeding of the Cammorian pilgrims and their mounts took quite some time and stretched the capacity of the kitchen and the stable grain bins to a considerable degree.
‘I’ve never seen people eat so much,’ Kalten grumbled. Clad in a sturdy, unmarked cloak, he swung up into his saddle just outside the inn.
They were hungry,’ Sparhawk told him. ‘At least we can see to it that they get a few good meals before they have to return to Borrata.’
‘Charity, Sir Sparhawk?’ Bevier asked. ‘Isn’t that a bit out of character? The grim-faced Pandions are not noted for their tender sensibilities.’
‘How little you know them, Sir Bevier,’ Sephrenia murmured. She mounted her white palfrey, then held out her hands to Flute, but the little girl shook her head, walked over to Faran and reached out her tiny hand. The big roan lowered his head, and she caressed his velvety nose. Sparhawk felt an odd quiver run through his mount’s body. Then Flute insistently raised her hands to the big Pandion. Gravely, Sparhawk leaned over and lifted her into her accustomed place in front of the saddle and enfolded her in his cloak. She nestled against him, took out her pipes, and began to play that same minor melody she had been playing when they had first found her.
The vicar at the head of their column intoned a brief prayer, invoking the protection of the God of the Elenes during their journey, an invocation punctuated by questioning – even sceptical – trills from Flute’s pipes.
‘Behave yourself,’ Sparhawk whispered to her. ‘He’s a good man and he’s doing what he thinks is right.’
She rolled her eyes roguishly. Then she yawned, snuggling closer to him, and promptly went to sleep.
They rode south out of Borrata under a clear morning sky with Kurik and the two-wheeled cart containing their armour and equipment clattering along behind them. The breeze was gusty and it tugged at the ragged clothing of the pilgrims patiently plodding along behind their vicar. A line of low mountains lay to the west, touched with snow on their peaks, and the sunlight glistened on those white fields. Their pace as they rode seemed to Sparhawk leisurely – even lackadaisical – though the panting and wheezing of the poor mounts of the pilgrims was a fair indication that the beasts were being pressed as hard as was possible.
It was about noon when Kalten rode forward from his station at the rear of the column. There are riders coming up behind us,’ he reported quietly to avoid alarming nearby pilgrims. They’re pushing hard.’
‘Any idea of who they are?’
They’re wearing red.’
‘Church soldiers, then.’
‘Notice how quick he is?’ Kalten observed to the others.