Chapter 33: Many Cards are Dealt to Us
Cryptic words, pictures,
Saying nothing, saying much.
~ Miyara Miwa
The miller was not at the mill, and Dita said he was probably in his room meditating. He was happy to take us to the miller right then, but I said we did not wish to disturb him and we could talk with him later. The others all agreed, and said the kitchen might be the better place to look anyway. It seemed to me that we were just randomly wandering from place to place, with little consideration of where we had already been or what we were really doing. Someone explained to me that it is bread that is the staff of life, not flour, and bread is found in the kitchen. It seemed weak to me, but where else would I look? These clues are difficult for me to understand and I do not know how to interpret them at all.
Accordingly, we searched the kitchen thoroughly, not finding anything of course. The cook came in and yelled at us for being in his kitchen. He seemed to think we were raiding the pantry.
Since the kitchen did not work out, they next went to the smithy. Again. This time we went into the storage room, which used to be Yazeran's workshop. It was filled with old furniture, old flagpoles, replacement ropes for the well. Res Li looked within the monastery's chest, which was next to ours, and said it was filled with what one might expect: coins, a few gems, some table silver, candle holders, and a small statue of a knight kneeling. No cards. The armory also held nothing of interest to us.
Res Li suggested that we climb the tallest flagpole and have a look around. The flagpoles seem to originate from the Flagmaster's room, so we decided to ask his permission first, and have Kyosuke climb it tomorrow so he can also look out upon the orcs.
Dinner was the usual drab meal: rice and sad vegetables. Hosei could certainly show their cook a few things. Curiously, neither the monks nor the guards seemed at all concerned about the large army of orcs marching towards them.
As we gathered again after the evening meal, the White Faerie was struck by a vision. He saw the base of Yazeran's statue, in particular, the west face. We walked to the statue for a closer look. The west face told of Yazeran's death, and the inscription read, "Yazaran departs, leaving a sadder but wiser world. Yorugi inscribed this stav when I took my seven coins and laid him in his grave". That mentioned both a staff and seven coins, just like the present clue.
So perhaps the mason held the next clue, in his tomb. Hosei explained to the Flagmaster that we needed to visit the mason's tomb, and he assented. He looked up something a book, then led us to the level of the tombs and directly to the one that held the mason.
Once there, we studied the plaque while Res Li looked through the wall into the tomb itself. He could say nothing with the Flagmaster standing by us, but he nodded, as if to himself, and we thus understood the card was within. Hosei diplomatically broached the subject of desecrating the mason's burial place. The Flagmaster assented immediately: it was enough for us to tell him we needed to see the body. He told Dita to fetch the armorer to open the tomb, but the White Faerie eagerly stepped forward and volunteered to take care of the matter himself.
I whispered a silent prayer of apology to the mason's spirit while the White Faerie went to work. The entire matter was taken care of quickly and cleanly, and I was certain the mason's spirit, understanding our purpose, did not object. His tomb was was opened, Hosei carefully lifted out a box, opened it, removed the card, handed it to Res Li, replaced the box, and the White Faerie closed the tomb again.
This card pictured two swords crossed over a triangle that had a double loop on its top. Res Li read it aloud: "Atop the mountain comes the dawn".
We asked about the loop figure, and the Flagmaster explained that it represented the unending cycle of the universe. As the line looped across itself, there was no beginning and no end. The others did not understand at all. I am not sure I do: if it is an expression of utmost simplicity describing the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, then it is quite elegant and I cannot see how even these barbarians do not understand. However, it may be only my own interpretation of a strange barbarian religious concept I have no hope of ever figuring out.
Kyosuke remembered that the monks were at our disposal for library research, and he suggested we ask one to look into the symbols in the morning. I relayed his suggestion, and we all agreed that was a very good idea. With that, we retired for the evening.
The night passed quietly, and breakfast was much as usual. Afterwards, Hosei showed our latest card to the armorer, who immediately recognized the two swords depicted on its face as two swords hanging, crossed, on the armory wall. We followed him there, and discovered another card rolled up inside the hilt, quite easy to recover once the pommel was screwed off.
"Flag not the weary will conquer", it said, and it showed two people. One was the rank of the card: knave of coins, they said. The other was a knight kneeling by a chest.
The armorer was interested in the cards we had, and he also had one given to him by the previous armorer. We followed him to his room, although the White Faerie and Res Li, followed by Dita, walked off in another direction. The armorer gave us only half a card with the words "last is not", and a cup pouring water into a well. He said the cards had been made by Yazeran, and the instructions with this one were to hand it down from armorer until armorer until the right time. He said this felt like the right time. His brother, Sigi the tailor, had the other half of the card, and he led us to his room.
I asked Sigi for the card, but he denied having it. No one could get him to admit to owning the half card, and he disappeared back into his room. The armorer said Sigi did not want to get in trouble, because only the armorer is supposed to hold the card. He suggested we leave the matter alone for the time being, and he was sure that we would be able to get the card later. Meanwhile the orcs were marching closer and we needed all these clues to find the crystal of air, which we are to use to defeat them. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that our victory was fore-ordained, and assented. But I was not going to wait long.
In the courtyard, we met back up with the White Faerie and Res Li, who had found another card in the base of the statue Res Li had seen inside the chest yesterday: it matched the one pictured on the knave of coins.
This one read, "The first is always the nearest", and it pictured three staves. As we discussed our situation, Nicolas the potter, who shared the room with Sigi, came up to us. I expected him to hand us the half card we sought, but instead he handed me another, whole card. I gave it to Ravena, who read it: "Birds of a feather flock together". It was the four of cups, with the cups grouped around the sun.
We spent the time until lunch trying to figure out what to do next. As we walked across the courtyard with the monks and guards to the dining hall, the armorer intersected our path and discreetly handed me the half card from his brother. Just as discreetly, I tucked it into my sash and thanked him quietly, then we went on our separate ways. As usual, I dined at the head table, so the card would have to wait until after lunch. At the start of the meal, Scar stood and announced that the army of orcs had arrived, and the guards were on full alert. All nine of them. Including Scar. Neither the guards nor the monks showed any concern at all.
After lunch, we pieced the two halves of the card together, and the whole thing said "The last is not the least". This was not of immediate help, and we asked the Flagmaster to show us the flags.
The flagroom was a separate room, just off his. It was a long thin room, and the flagpoles reached through its roof. One wall was completely covered with cubbyholes that held flags, folded neatly and ready to fly.
Hosei cast a spell to make himself fly, and he flew up through the covered holes in the roof, following the flagpoles into the sky. The Flagmaster brought a ladder, and Kyosuke insisted on climbing the pole. Hosei said he saw plenty of birdnests on the rocks nearby, but he detected no signs of magic aside from himself.
Kyosuke climbed up the tallest pole, all the way to the top. Hosei suggested, since we're searching for the crystal of air, that Kyosuke should feel around the air above his head, in case its hidden within the air itself. Either it was not, or Kyosuke missed it. It did not seem likely to me.