Ashling – Chapter 26

Chapter Twenty-Six

Lill left his post several hours before the sun rose, and the other man reappeared, probably losing interest in standing around, especially after a sudden downpour. Elspeth rushed to the warehouse to tell Brydda what had happened. When they emerged the rain had stopped, and Gahltha had arrived, coming from his own hiding spot. He took them to where the rebels were waiting, in an abandoned house. Brydda sent them to scout the area to try and find the carriage. He was sure that they must have taken the carriage indoors, and somewhere where it was tainted. Elspeth also scouted the area, riding Gahltha, trying to find Matthew, until torrential rain fell and essentially left her mindbound. There was nothing left for them to do, but go to the safehouse and inform them what had happened, as the rebels continued to search.

They were all now around a fire, trying to figure out what had happened to Matthew, to lose contact. Kella suggests that he might be asleep, and that is why he cannot be found. But Matthew would not have been able to sleep after recognising the captain. As long as he didn’t do anything to show his surprise, and didn’t attack the man. Which would have been disastrous. Kella corrects her statement, saying he could have been drugged. But Elspeth thinks that would have only left her unable to communicate with him, and not prevent her sensing him. And why would they drug the slaves twice?

Brydda suggests that she lost track of time, and they were taken over the Suggredoon, blocking Elspeth’s attempts at finding him. For all they know he could be on a boat. Reuvan disagreed, as no boat could have wharved, as it was low tide. Things haven’t gone all too well for the group, Idris has died, Dragon is in a coma, and now Matthew is lost. Elspeth had searched all around where she last had contact with him, but there was no sense of him. Then Elspeth thinks a horrible thought, maybe he has died. That’s why she can’t find him, because he isn’t alive. It is an extreme thought, why would he be killed? Did the captain recognise him, even if he did, why would he kill him?

Elspeth has the outlandish thought, from nowhere, that maybe, just maybe, that soldierguard captain, actually IS Salamander. Domick arrives, and Brydda fills him in. They think that Matthew must be nearby the last location known, because Salamander wouldn’t want the carriage to be stopped and searched. Unless the soldierguards are involved? Who knows? Even if Salamander is the captain, it doesn’t help them save Matthew. Brydda figures that Salamander will wait to make sure nothing is amiss, and then take the slaves to Morganna, where the slave ships depart, which means they will be taken over the Suggredoon at some point. They now have to decide what Salamander would do with his slaves. Would he take them across the ferry, or go inland, or by some other means? The ferry would be risky with 5 drugged men, but Domick tells them that there are drugs that would allow the slaves to walk, and follow instructions. These drugs are from Sador, a by product of their spices.

The drugs make you normal in all respects, expect you are completely docile and suggestible. So you will obey all instructions. The Council have been using them on their own prisoners, so the captain would be aware of them.  That would explain why Elspeth was not able to detect Matthew, but why drug them twice? But the captain would have had no idea they were drugged, they were bound and gagged after all, and the other man didn’t hang around for a chat. Elspeth still thinks she would have sensed him, but someone (not actually sure who) says that the drug distorts the mind signature, making it impossible for Elspeth to pick out Matthew, as any probe attuned to him, would not find anything.

Now Elspeth returns to her wild theory that the captain is Salamander, and she thinks it makes sense, for him to be popping up keeping an eye on the proceedings. But it would be risky for him. Maybe the wagon was stopped so he could inspect the slaves. Now they are starting to decide on what could have happened. It is likely that that carriage was not used to take the slaves to their final destination, maybe the captain was killed in the process. It even sounds like this captain may have killed or paid off the original driver. But they still haven’t figured out how Salamander would get the slaves to Morganna.

Elspeth hope she will be able to farseek Matthew once the drug has worn off, but that would be several hours. And Domick suggests that the slavers might not let the drug wear off, or even if they did, how could Elspeth be possibly be farseeking at the right time, and in the right location? She cannot farseek forever. But there is no harm in trying. It is possible the drug has warn off by now, but there are many variables controlling how long the drug would last, the person’s weight, height, metabolism, how much they ate, how much drug they were given. So there is no way of knowing for sure. Brydda believes that if the captain has recognised him, he will surely want to question Matthew, so he will let the drug wear off.

So it is decided, Elspeth will farseek for as long and as often as possible. Every hour, with Kella draining off some of her fatigue to keep her fresh. But Kella finds it preposterous for her to be able to do this for so long, but Elspeth tells her she is not searching all of Sutrium and it will only last a few minutes at a time. Kella will only be able to drain her fatigue once (remember, she too has limited power) and Elspeth is not really rested. But Elspeth convinces her to drain her of her fatigue then and there.

Elspeth felt as if she had a good night’s sleep, and sent out a probe, but it did not find him. Elspeth decided to send out a general ‘seeker’ probe in the area she last contacted Matthew, and went out in a circle pattern, checking each mind she encountered. She was looking for a group of minds that were oddly distorted, and then they could check it out and see if it was Matthew. She went for a little while, but started to feel her energy draining, so stopped. It is only their first try, and the drug may not have worn off yet. They shall start to check some of the areas of taint, which Elspeth cannot penetrate.

Domick must return to the Councilcourt, even though he was just there. Brydda enquires as to why he must work yet again, is there something big happening? But the Council are randomly shifting them around, and creating inconveniences to see who resists the changes, and who accepts them. It is a thing they do from time to time, as a security measure. In fact he believes he may be under investigation, so wants to stay in an inn to be safe. This was the first time Kella had heard of this, and she was visibly upset and surprised. Reuvan also leaves at the same time as we are left wondering whether we will ever see Matthew again?

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