I know you are Jordan, the Prophet. Deliver your message and leave - you are in danger for as long as you stay here. Once you’ve read this, say the word “ashes” and that is all you shall hold in your hand. In ten minutes Lord Ormand will be drawn into conversation by a beautiful but rather frustratingly talkative Lady, and that is when you must go up to the King’s study. Then leave the city and go someplace safe. -M.
“Ashes,” he whispered, and the paper instantly disintegrated, leaving
behind a number of tiny grey flakes that were instantly carried away by
imperceptible breeze. Already on guard after reading the letter, seeing
spell at work like that only served to add to his worry. Instinctively,
started walking around to lose himself in the relative safety of the
as he thought. Who is this M? he wondered, and how does he know who I
But that last bit didn’t feel quite right and there was something
he was missing...
Ten minutes later he was no closer to an answer, but there were Ormand and the red-haired Lady - wait, what was her name? No time! he told himself, and he rushed off to risk his life (and others) once again and on yet another hunch. He took a dim hallway to a secret set of stairs that the Duke had happened to mention in conversation once, all the while his mind following two entirely different trains of thought.
The Prophet went through his instructions and the maps he’d memorized at Simon’s, watching out for landmarks even as all of his senses strained for signs of danger. Jordan, on the other hand, was analyzing the mystery of M and mentally yelling at himself for trusting a person who obviously knew more about the Prophet than was safe. Still, my hunches have a way of working out. Isn’t that why the Duke wanted me for this job in the first place? It wasn’t long, though, before the small corner of his brain that was separate from his work fell silent, and all his attention was focused on delivering the thin sheet of parchment in the envelope that even he could not open; it would take a powerful mage indeed to bypass the spells placed into the leather, and the Duke had even seen to it that, once sealed, only he, Jordan, and the King could hold it without feeling a slight stinging in their hands, which would start gradually becoming stronger if it were held for longer than half a minute or so.
Eventually, he turned a corner and found himself in the King’s Study. It was a simple thing to leave the envelope among the open books and maps on one of the tables. Now, to get back out again... He started to go back the way he’d come, but suddenly he heard voices coming from around the corner, and one of them belonged to Ormand!
Cursing under his breath, Jordan looked around for the nearest window. He was on the second or third floor of the Palace, and he had no cloak to protect him from the snow that had begun to fall sometime during the party, but there were some climbing vines that looked strong enough to take his weight. The window opened easily and silently, and he climbed out quickly, closing it as best he could once he was outside. Now came the hard part, and he knew he’d have to move quickly before his hands became so cold that they would no longer open and close.
Thanking whoever had decreed that he wouldn’t be afraid of heights, Jordan looked down at his feet, trying to help them find footholds on the thin, slippery strands of green. It was slow going, and the snow had a tendency to blow up against the wall and into his face, but eventually he’d reached the halfway point. He was just beginning to feel relieved at having made it when the window above was shoved open and someone stuck his head out of the window. “There! A man, climbing down the ivy! A reward to the man that captures him!”