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A Training Session

by Michael "The Roach" Janszen ©2001

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

 

Dusan thumbed through his book again. He had heard from another student that there was to be a test today, and he didn't want to fail. His aim was to be the best student ever; he would accept nothing less. His father was a noble, and it would have been bad style not to be. Yes, the Imperial Secret Service was a special bunch, and not many people would hear about his performance, but that was not the point. It was a case of noblesse oblige, just like his bright red and yellow clothes: the shirt made from silk, the vest from velvet and the britches made of fine Nadyan leather, imported out of Kal-hami. There were too many commoners in the service anyway, he thought. Well, he would make his way through the ranks, and when he was the boss, there would be changes.

The door to his room opened, and a woman came in. Dusan had never seen her before, so he looked her up and down carefully. The rather cheap clothes made it obvious she was another one of these commoners, he decided. Small frame, big black eyes, and hair cropped so short that it was at best some stubble.  Inwardly, he sighed. This was one of the commoners that had no place in the Secret Service, Dusan thought. The low-born physiognomy was an affront...

Startled, he realized that the woman had started to speak. He concentrated.

"...for today. We are going to do some practical work, training shadowing an unsuspecting person. When we leave the building, I will decide upon someone who is just passing by, purely by chance, and you will shadow that person, and then return to report. Oh, I almost forgot, my name is Millefleurs."

"So, you are to administer this test today?"

She frowned. "Why should this be a test? It's a training assignment, nothing more."

Oh, sure, Dusan thought, this is not a test. As if... Out loud, he said, "Oh, well, then let's get going."

"Is there anything you want to do before starting the assignment?"

"I'd rather get the test done with as soon as possible," he replied with barely controlled scorn. Who was she, to tell him that he might need some additional preparation? A commoner might need it, but he was a member of nobility, and therefore stood above such common things.

* * * * *

 

When he stepped out of the door he almost stumbled over a man who was hurrying along the street and didn't pay him any attention. His apologies died under the complete disinterest of the man who seemingly was completely oblivious to his surroundings.

Dusan looked back. Millefleurs smiled and pointed at the retreating back of the man he had almost run into. He looked back at her, his eyebrows raised. But she only nodded.

Sighing, Dusan set out into the street. He had to hurry not to lose the target, and quickly lost track of everything else in his surroundings. Luckily for him, the man was easy to follow, and was heading towards the market square. Dusan gritted his teeth. The market square was a place that was full of people jostling each other, pickpockets, animals, vegetables, lacking only one thing: space to move around in. And that was on quiet days.

Today could not be called a quiet day. It was the day before godsday, and people were busy shopping for the weekly feast. He had trouble following his target, but he could be glad that he would probably disappear in the masses. Well, the assignment proved to be not too hard after all. Millefleurs would be content.

Millefleurs... where was she? He looked around, but couldn't see her. Had she lost him? He smiled grimly. Bad form, if she even was supposed to follow him. But then, how would she know whether he had followed his target, or just made up a story? Well, he didn't want to take any chances.

The man he was following stood on a corner, watching the antics of a toothdrawer. Now that he had a minute or two, he looked him over closely. Nice clothing, rich man, a merchant or such, he guessed. The golden rings on his fingers showed that he was better situated than Dusan, that much was sure.

Suddenly, Dusan gave a start. He had noticed something he had not expected. A golden torc, and that could mean only one thing. No normal person was allowed to have them, but on the other hand, mages usually wore them. There was some rule in the Codex Magii, he remembered now, that made it mandatory for a mage to clearly show his status and to proudly display the seal of the academy or teacher he had learned from. Now, the seal would be engraved into the torc, but it was no use for him to try and sneak a look at it, as he wouldn't know one seal from the other.

The man - the mage, Dusan corrected himself - put a hand up to his cheek. It looked as if he even winced a bit. Was it possible? Yes, the mage reluctantly stepped over to the toothdrawer who had just finished attending his latest victim. And yes, the mage stepped up to the platform to get a bad tooth drawn.

As he waited for the spectacle to unfold, Dusan looked around again. Had Millefleurs caught up? It didn't look like it. No one who looked like her - and her short-cropped hair would have made her stand out like a sore thumb.

Well, there was someone who did look a bit like her, he had to admit. An elderly woman with long gray hair, clad in a drab, off-white long skirt and a woolen knit jacket with long arms. She shuffled around in the street, seemingly lost, a cap in her hand. Why didn't she put it on her head

When a man dropped a coin into the cap, he knew why. Shuddering, he turned his eyes away from her and back at the mage. He didn't want anything to do with beggars, the scum of the streets caused his hackles to rise.

As she made her way along the street, he pushed back into the masses, evading her. Watching the tooth-drawer and the mage with one eye, he looked at the beggar with the other. Yes, he was becoming more and more convinced that she was somehow related to that... commoner teacher that had sent him onto this assignment. She had the same nose, and the same dark eyes. She was much older, her gray hair bore witness to that, so he wondered what their relationship might be. Could easily be that this woman was the mother, he thought.

The mage - he glanced at the proceedings quickly - indicated a tooth to the drawer, and then sat down in the high-backed chair. As the crowd jostled and laughed at the spectacle - the mage's arms were gesticulating wildly, twitching violently - he looked around. Ahh, there was the old hag. Like the rest of the people, she was interested only in the mage's antics - a case of schadenfreude, he thought, a feeling he was way above.

Finally, the tooth-drawer jerked the hand downwards, and then raised it up triumphantly, holding the bad tooth in a set of pincers. While the mage sank back into the chair, nursing his cheek, the tooth-drawer threw the tooth into a bucket that clearly held more teeth - probably not all of them from today's customers, Dusan thought. There simply were too many teeth in there.

Now that the display was over, the people were getting busy with their own shopping, and even the old woman had started begging again. Dusan carefully avoided her and waited for the mage to get to his feet again.

Which didn't take long at all. Shuffling, and obviously still slightly dazed, the mage stepped down from the platform, and back into the market. Dusan followed him, noting the stalls the mage visited for later reference. First, the mage visited a butcher, and bought two meat pies which he had the butcher wrap. From there, he went to a wine merchant, where he sat down, drank a quart of wine, and started eating. Obviously, the ordeal had left him with a healthy appetite, as he finished the two pies and the quart of wine in no time flat.

From there, the mage went to a herbalists' stall. While he looked through the goods, Dusan noticed the old woman again. She, too, seemed interested in the herbs. Dusan frowned. Now, how would a beggar like her afford costly herbs? Whatever... His target bought a few ferns, and then went on.

The mage was almost done; he visited a scribe, where he bought some ink and parchment, and finally a stall where cheese was sold. After looking through the assorted cheeses, he decided upon a disgustingly orange type, Dusan thought, and had it wrapped up. Then, he left the market and went back.

When they passed the head quarters exit he had used earlier, Dusan saw Millefleurs standing in the door. She gestured him to come in, and said, "That's the shadowing. Now there has to be the de-briefing..."

* * * * *

 

Dusan wondered whether he simply had overlooked her in the market, or whether she would just believe everything he told her. While he followed her back to the classroom, he made up his mind not to invent anything. He was sure that he, as the best of his year, would pass this test with flying colours.

"OK, what do you have to report?" Millefleurs smiled at him.

"The subject went to the market, and then back. As I was following him to what I suspect to be his home, you called me in."

"Could you please be less specific?"

"Huh?" Dusan looked at her, startled more by the sharp tone of her voice, than by the irony in her words. "What do you mean?"

"'Subject went to the market and back.' That'd be barely enough for a surveillance report that stretches over several weeks, minimum, but not for a report for an assignment that lasted about two hours."

Two hours? Dusan thought back. Yes, that was about right, he thought. "So, what do you need to know?"

"Let's start at the beginning. When you picked him up - he being Andrax Lawman, by the way, I recognized him after giving you the assignment - where did he go?"

"To the market."

"Did he go straight to the market? Even if he did, there are three possibilities to get there from where you picked him up. Which streets did he take? Did he greet anyone on the way? Did he do anything unusual?"

Dusan sighed. "He went straight to the market, going through Golden Oxcart Street. As far as I saw, he didn't greet anyone, he didn't stop anywhere, and he didn't so much as look into the window of Ole Larten's Curiositie Shoppe."

"Where did he go in the market?"

"There was a tooth-drawer, and he had a tooth drawn. Then, he did some shopping - meat, wine, cheese, some herbs - and then he left again."

Millefleurs closed her eyes for a moment. "There are at least four tooth-drawers on the market today - this is a big city, and they have enough business to last them. Which one did he go to?"

"Four? I saw only that one. It was in the area of the market closest to the King's Quarter. I think that should describe it - he didn't leave that area, and I didn't see any other tooth drawers, so I'd assume that the others are located elsewhere."

"Yes. You would assume. What exactly happened?"

"What exactly? He stepped up to the platform, had a tooth drawn, and left again." Now, what was so hard to understand about that? Oh, wait, now he understood. Some people, when they were teaching things, could get pretty anal about details. Looked like he got saddled up with one of those. Great!

"Did he wait for a moment, before getting up to the platform or get right up there? Did you have any indication that he had a bad tooth before he went up?"

Ha! Now he could prove that he had noticed details. "He waited for about four minutes, because the tooth-drawer was treating someone else. But I noticed him nurse his left cheek right before stepping up, so he must have had a bad tooth."

"Any indication before that?"

"Not that I noticed, but he might have. He had his back to me while walking."

"Ever raise his hand to his face?"

"I didn't pay attention to that."

"Why not?"

He looked at her dumbfounded. "Why not?"

"That's right: why not? Your task was to shadow him and to report on anything he did. And you do not know whether or not he did nurse his cheek earlier."

"What does it matter?"

"When you shadow someone, it is not your task to decide what is and what isn't important. Unimportant information can always be discarded."

Anger rose in him. Who did she think she was? A commoner, treating him like... like... Oh, well, better to let her now, and then pay back when he passed his exams.

"Well, after he had the tooth extracted..."

"Not so fast. The extraction: which tooth was extracted?"

"How should I know? I wasn't on the stage!"

"Do you at least know which area of the mouth it was from?"

He smiled. "Of course, I do. The left." Good thing he had noticed the mage nursing his cheek...

"Upper or lower teeth?"

"Now, isn't that going a bit far?"

"As a matter of fact, it's easier to see whether it's an upper or lower tooth than it is to see whether it's on the left or the right. If you could see it was a left tooth..."

"Hmm..." Desperately, he tried to envision the picture again. "Oh, yes, the tooth-drawer pulled up. So it must have been a lower tooth." He frowned. There was something about the picture that wasn't correct, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

"So, he had a lower left tooth drawn?"

"That's what I said."

"And what happened with the tooth afterwards?"

"It got bucketed with the others."

"The others?"

"The tooth-drawer had a bucket with teeth. It got thrown into the bucket."

"OK. And then Lawman left?"

"Who is...? Oh, yes, he left."

"Who? Lawman? Remember, Andrax Lawman? The man you shadowed?"

"No need to go sarcastic on me."

"Where did he go then?"

"He did some shopping. Wine, herbs, meat, cheese."

"In that order?"

"I think... wait - no. He first bought some meat pies, then ate them with some wine, then..." He floundered. Which had come first? "...then some cheese, and finally some herbs."

"As you didn't notice the name of the tooth-drawer, I take it you also won't know whose stalls these were?"

"No, how would I?"

"There are numerous ways to learn this. You could have asked the owners, or passers-by..."

"And lost the target?"

"And you know, the really sneaky ones ... would have looked at the names on the carts."

"Ermm... I didn't notice any."

"But with the exception of the herbalist - an old woman who has been in that spot for the last forty years, or so I'm told, they all had names on their tarps."

Damn that woman. Had she been watching him, after all? But he was sure he hadn't seen her...

"OK. Did anything strike you as odd, during this visit to the market?"

He thought hard. Maybe he could find anything to shine. Wait - he had it.

"Not on the market. Though I wonder why a mage would not even glance at Larten's."

"A mage, you say?"

"Yes, but you should know that."

"It doesn't matter what I know, unless you are reading my mind - which would surprise me greatly. Why did you think he was a mage?"

"He was wearing that neck ring; the torc, indicating his status."

"And because he wears a torc, you say he is a mage."

"It's illegal for anyone else. So he has to be."

Millefleurs shook her head. "If something is illegal, it doesn't mean it is impossible. Remember how Emperor Sandemo died? He was murdered."

"Yes?"

"Murder is illegal. So, by your reasoning, we still live under Emperor Sandemo."

"Murdered? The man was a murdering bastard himself."

"Even such a person can be most illegally murdered."

"But it was necessary."

"So illegal acts are only done when they are necessary?"

"I didn't say that."

"But you said it was inconceivable that Andrax Lawman was not a mage, because wearing a torc is illegal for non-mages."

He sighed. "Well, the only indication he might - mind you, might not be a mage was that he didn't look at the display of Larten's. Which is hardly any proof at all."

"That isn't any proof, so far you are right."

He stopped. "What do you mean by that?"

"Anything else odd or unusual?"

"Nothing."

Millefleur sat up straight. "Unfortunately, there are other things that are strange and unusual."

"Oh yes?" Dusan sneered. "Such as?"

"One, and here you told me something wrong, while the man was nursing his left cheek, the tooth was drawn from the right part of the mouth."

"Huh?" Suddenly, he stiffened. Yes, that was what had been weird. But he realized it only now.

"Yes. This might be unusual, but in itself isn't that bad. But there's more. Things you should have noticed."

"More?"

"Yes. You know how careful mages are about their bodies. Especially things like hair cut off."

Dusan giggled. "You tell me. They burn every single hair..." His giggling died. "The tooth?"

"Exactly. If the hair is that important, why would he leave a tooth behind?"

"But then that means..."

"It probably wasn't his tooth in the first place. Or, he isn't a mage, But the former sounds very likely."

"Why?"

"Have you had a tooth drawn?"

"Sure."

"What was it like?"

"Like? It hurt like hell. Couldn't bite for almost a day."

"And?"

"What do you mean, 'and'?"

"Remember Lawman? He ate two meat pies, and drank wine, within a few minutes."

For a moment, Dusan sat quite still. Then, "I'll be damned..."

"Yes, that's odd, isn't it?"

"But if it wasn't a tooth, what was it?"

"I don't know, yet. But I'd suspect it was a message, one that he put into his mouth when he was nursing his cheek."

"You mean, he is a secret agent, too?"

"Yes, and in all likelihood not one of ours."

"We have to do something. If that message leaves the city, we might never get it."

Millefleurs looked at him blandly. "That has already been taken care of. "

"Oh? Well..."

"I hope this - though it was a bit more important than originally intended - has shown you how crucial attention to detail is. And how important it is to go over everything in a report."

Damn her smug face. But better to play it low-key. "Yes, I see."

She turned around. "That's it for today. Oh, one minor thing..."

"Yes?"

"Lawmaker went to buy the cheese after going to the herbalist. And after visiting a scribe to buy ink and parchment, which you completely forgot to mention."

His jaw fell open. And, as she turned to leave, he wanted to yell after her, 'How would you know?' Just at that moment, however, his eyes fell on the skirt she was wearing.

When she had sent him on the assignment, it had been short and brown, he remembered quite clearly. Now, it was off-white, and long. And had the very same dirt spots he had noticed on the skirt the 'old woman' had been wearing...

 

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