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The Sage's Lot - Prologue Pt3

Again Xylin looked about the room, expecting at least one of the local drunkards to have spat out his ale at the spectacle, and yet on they drank, oblivious to a working of sagecraft greater than any Xylin had ever witnessed in all his years walking Rubeyah. This was insanity, yet there it was, and before Xylin could say another word, the stranger was pouring two cups, holding the polished swan-necked kettle high to perfectly aerate the brew. Insanity.

“There you go, friend Xylin. Now we are ready to talk as civilised folk, yes?”

Xylin reeled in his lolling tongue. “I… suppose if it were poisoned, you would not be so kind as to tell me?” That question, despite the miraculous madness that had just been performed, seemed to set the stranger’s face into resolute abhorrence. How Xylin could read the expression was another infuriating mystery, yet there it was, plastered across the stranger’s enigmatic appearance as if Xylin had just flashed his leathery Eastern pecker at the man’s mother. “I mean no offence,” Xylin added, knowing when not to push his luck. “It’s just that you have me at somewhat of a disadvantage, and considering…”

“Considering what you discovered this evening, poison in your tea would be a very simple solution to the troubles that information might entail,” the stranger finished, sour twinge melting from his face as he took the first sip from his cup. “Well, friend Xylin, have no doubt that if I had meant you dead, you would be so. But I do not, and now here we sit. Oh, and be assured, if ever I did mean you ill, I would never, even in the throes of writhing insanity, taint fine tea in doing so.” The stranger lifted his cup in salute before taking another sip. After the impossibility of what the stranger had just done and the casualness with which it was achieved, that answer seemed to be all the convincing Xylin needed, and as infuriatingly predictable as it was, the moment the steaming brew touched his lips it was as if a jasmine laden breeze swept through Xylin’s skull, banishing the wine-fuelled smog entombing his thoughts. Damn, but it was fine tea.

With the ghost of sanity tentatively reasserting itself, Xylin pressed on. “So, might I have the pleasure of your name, sir?”

The stranger tittered once more. “Oh, I doubt it would be a pleasure, but for now you can call me Lord Rarl. The others do.”

Xylin took another sip. “Others?”

“Yes. Those that know the truth, as you do. Those that have some understanding of what comes. The Forewarned.”

Xylin expelled a lengthy sigh, carefully placing down his cup. “So, you would have me believe that what I read in those letters is in fact true? Sir… Lord Rarl, I cannot help but wonder what such knowledge could entail, if in fact this has all been a ploy. If those letters were left there for me to find, for me to escape with, for me to take to those with the power to do something about it?”

The stranger also lowered his cup. “True enough, friend Xylin. True enough. But ask yourself this: do you sit here drinking yourself into a stupor because you fear you have been manipulated, or because you fear you have not? Yes, this information could prove pivotal to your friends back east, but it could also be the spark that ignites the world. Can you honestly tell me that this hasn’t crossed your mind?”

Xylin wanted to argue, to tell this person that it didn’t matter, that the truth must be known… but he could not, else why would he still be sat there, fastened to his seat instead of charging eastwards? The stranger, this ‘Lord Rarl’, was right. Revealing this knowledge could only hasten the horrors to come. But what other choice was there? Xylin was a spy, just a spy. What was the will of one man, sage or not, when pitted against the rage and ignorance of nations?

“And there you have it,” Lord Rarl said after the long, bitter moment, reading Xylin’s face as if he’d not spent decades sculpting it into a hundred different masks. “Even in the right hands, this information could condemn us all. But how about the wrong hands? How about hands not even in the game?”

“And who, pray tell, is not a player in this game?”

Lord Rarl expelled another disconcerting giggle, as if this were all some trifling amusement and not the fates of countless souls. “Well, there are those that pride themselves on standing apart, friend Xylin. Those that, if shown those letters, might find a cork to stopper this sinking ship before ever it leaves port.” Lord Rarl cracked a fiendish grin. “Tell me, have you ever heard the phrase ‘an army marches on its stomach’?”

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