Part twelve in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.
As the bakers fired the ovens to begin baking their loaves, chimneys creaking as the hot air forced them to expand, Merph crept to a trap door that led to the rafters above the great hall. It was one of four hiding places that Merph had found. He moved into the spot hidden from the floor and pulled his cloak tight around him. Until the servants started the hearth, the room would not warm. Merph curled into a ball to sleep.
He woke in the afternoon, his joints stiff. At least, his leg seemed to have finally healed although it hurt him before the rains came and if he tried to hike too far, as it had the time he'd hiked to the market to get more supplies for the powders. He wore four separate pig bladders around his neck, each filled with a different powder: bat, ash, gelid, and moon powders. He caressed the moon powder necklace, proud to have deciphered the proper ingredients and technique to create the whitish powder.
Merph shook his head, he had spent so much time alone the past couple of weeks that he found himself falling into daydreams. He didn't have time for that. He unknotted the bladder holding the bat powder and sprinkled some over himself. Sound overwhelmed him and he concentrated on a voice.
"Come on Starmount, don't prance around. It's your fault that I pull your hair when you move around like that."
Merph grimaced. Sometimes, he spent hours before eavesdropping on someone useful. He released the focus searching for another voice.
"That's not how the runes work."
Merph concentrated and leaned back on the rags he'd collected for a bed, trying to place the voice. It wasn't Tvinnrun, but someone who was speaking with confidence.
"It doesn't make me better at swordplay. It's just a tool, like your sword, or your father's name."
Of course, Merph had forgotten about Mortok. He didn't dare approach Tvinnrun regarding the abduction of Kluvenstrom, but the apprentice might prove to be easier. Merph rubbed his fingers together as he let the plans gel in his mind. He ignored the sounds inundating him from every side.
Pans crashed as the cook yanked the soup pot from the fire and broth splashed over the edge to hiss. Merph poured a handful of saffron into an empty bowl on the counter and then sauntered to the bench where Katja sat. The cooks stared at Merph and the kitchen became quiet except for the pop of the fire. Merph slid into the bench next to Katja and raised a finger to his lips and looked at the head cook.
The cook glared at him but moved to the bowl and sniffed it first and then pinched a stigma and ground it to a powder between his finger and thumb sniffing the result and nodding at Merph. "Get to work," he grumbled to his assistants.
"You're causing a lot of trouble," said Katja.
Merph grabbed Katia's wrist and turned her hand over and dropped a small knotted tube into her hands. "You're hard to find."
She yanked her hand away from his, but didn't release the powder he'd given her. "What's this? A new way to get me in trouble?"
"Moon powder." Merph grabbed a fried pie from Katja's plate.
"Is that what left the glowing marks outside of Mortok's rooms?"
"Yes. It glows in the darkness."
Katja said, "I'm not feeding this to anyone."
"I don't need you to do that," said Merph. He pushed a piece of paper across the table. "I need you to sprinkle it in this pattern on the floor of his room."
"Why?" Katja slid a strand of hair behind her ear.
"I need to make people think Mortok trapped Kluvenstrom. I think that's the way to get the healer free."
Katja shook her head. "You're sure about this?"
"I'm out of other ideas."