The Sign of the Bronze Hammer
Part Six – The Master’s Visitors
On the far side of the park, where the street opened out broadest, the tight packed houses gave way to grander buildings, the estates of the important men of the ward, with grounds enclosed by tall walls. All sign of what lay inside was hidden from view behind the walls.
Peregrine needed no further directions to find the place she sought, for the gateway into the compound was made of bronze, and into it were worked the symbols of hammers. She led the way across to it.
As they neared, a dark haired man appeared through the gates, clad in the grey tunic of a slave. “My Master is receiving no visitors,” he told them, speaking in a peculiar flat tone, one that sounded devoid of any life, emotion or hope.
“Do we look like visitors?” Peregrine bristled at him. “We have a package to deliver and then we are on our way.”
“My Master is receiving no visitors,” the man repeated, unchanged in expression or tone, simply staring ahead with a blank, motionless face. Up close, Blade could see that even his eyes were dull, almost lifeless.
“Did you not hear me?” Peregrine snarled.
“My Master is receiving no visitors.” The words came a third time, as if repeated by rote.
“Let me handle this,” Blade told Peregrine. “Something decidedly odd is at work here.”
Carefully they set the package down near the gate. Blade stood himself before the slave. The eyes of the slave stared straight ahead, never blinking, nor even focusing on Blade. He had the feeling they were looking right though him, at a point beyond.
“We are expected,” he told the slave.
“The Master is receiving no visitors.”
Peregrine gripped tight at the hilt of the sword sheathed at her side. “If he says that but one more time, I shall smite him.”
“That would not be wise, I fear,” Blade told her without turning aside from looking at the slave. “This, I think, is but a test of some kind.”
“A test? That surprises me not at all if the Wise Mother is involved.”
Blade stood still for some time, pondering the means and reasons of the dilemma. Once he would have delved into the Mysteries to solve it, but that he had forsworn and so other means were required. He did not doubt he could simply open the gate, yet without an invitation that would undoubtedly provoke a swift response.
“The Master says that these visitors are expected and they are to be admitted,” he said after some delay.
“The Master’s visitors have arrived,” the slaved agreed and turned about. He walked to the gates and opened them for the pair. “The Master bids you welcome.”
Peregrine looked over to Blade and the Akuvian could feel the uneasy tension about her. “Did you ensorcell him?” she demanded.
“No such thing,” Blade responded. “The man, if he is even a man at all, responds to the orders of the Master. I simply gave him an order that had come from the Master and he complied.”
Peregrine grunted uneasily and began to pick the package back up again. “Who would do such a thing to a man, or would allow it done to them? They must be weak of mind and of spirit to allow it so.”
“Not all is as straightforward as it seems,” Blade told her, settling the package into position. They started towards the opened gates. “The mind of man is easily led astray.”
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