Fireheart: Part Seven
Episode Seven- Final Piece of the Puzzle
The job of finding leads on this ‘Cordelia Cromwell’ went to whoever was the least tied up with chores and duties, meaning that it was up to Po and Kedmiel. I wished Gwen, Alex, Pippa, or I was one of the people searching, seeing as we could ask questions without being bashed by a broom, which would happen to Kedmiel and Po.
The afternoon following the ‘midnight run,’ as Alex declared it, Kedmiel and Po were sent out to collect information. They were both excited about it and Kedmiel said that this was serious spy work. I only snorted at him and told him to be careful.
Later that evening, after everyone had arrived to my room, which was ‘base camp,’ Po came hurtling through my open window with Kedmiel in his claws. They both looked extremely happy with themselves.
Without delay, Kedmiel plopped on the bed, with Po landing next to him, and launched into their day’s adventures. “So after we left the castle, we went around to the shops. We went through some of the store records and found exactly six stores that had Cordelia Cromwell’s name in its records. Po, please tell them the shops,” Kedmiel announced, before looking expectantly at Po.
“Well,” he said clearing his throat, “there was the jeweler’s, the tool store--if that’s what it’s called--the armory, the medicine cart, the seamstress, and the potter’s.”
“Six leads. Four plots. But the really interesting thing is that at the potter’s, this lady’s order is to be filled tomorrow night,” Kedmiel said in a hushed tone, looking very mysterious.
“If we’re right, then each of those places should have sold her something that she used in her plots. We need to go tomorrow and find out for ourselves,” Alex said, knowing what the rest of us were thinking.
“The amulet from the jeweler’s, the screw from the tool store, the bow and arrow from the armory, the Ladies’ Bane from the medicine cart, the dresses from the seamstress, and the next item in her newest scheme is from the potter,” Pippa mumbled.
“Right, but I can’t believe she’s buying up all this stuff right under our noses,” Gwen pointed out.
“That means it has to be someone in the Castle who can’t afford to buy from far away for fear of being noticed if they disappear,” I said leaning back against my bed frame.
“So it is someone in court?” Alex said, looking over at me in surprise.
“But all the women in court were sick from the Bane,” Pippa said shaking her head in disbelief.
“That’s assuming she’s actually a woman,” Gwen said, looking at all of us.
The next day found Gwen, Alex, and Kedmiel heading off to the jeweler’s, the armory, and the seamstress, while Pippa, Po, and I went to the tool store, medicine cart, and the potter’s.
It was a bit of a fight to get to the potter’s, seeing that we all knew there would be information there that could lead to the identity of this Cordelia Cromwell, but I ended up persuading everyone I should be one of the people to go, seeing that I could tell when someone was lying.
So we headed to the tool store first; it didn’t sound like much fun. Pippa entered the shop with me following close behind. Po perched hazardously on my head, which wasn’t exactly comfortable. The shop keeper was a nervous Techo whose comb-over kept flapping up and over, exposing his bald yellow head.
“Excuse me, sir,” said Pippa politely. We had decided before we came in that she should do the talking, since Pippa was less intimidating then I was.
The Techo’s forehead began to shine with sweat. I narrowed my eyes; this man was very suspicious. “What can I do for you?” he sputtered.
“Sir, we wanted to know if you’ve ever had a customer whose name happened to be Cordelia Cromwell,” Pippa said gently, as if talking to a child.
“Yes. Yes. I think I did. She bought a chandelier screw,” the Techo said, mopping his forehead. Pippa smiled at him happily, and he eyed her, looking more nervous than ever.
“Thank you, kind sir. That’s all we needed to know,” she said before walking gracefully out of the store. I waited until she passed, glaring at him, hoping he could read the message that I was trying to project, which was, ‘You’d better not be lying or you’ll get it.’ I knew he wasn’t lying, of course, but best just to remind him.
When I turned to go, I whipped around so fast, Po nearly fell off. When we exited the shop, Pippa was standing outside, waiting for us. “He wasn’t lying, was he?”
“No, he wasn’t,” I confirmed before heading to the medicine cart.
The little old Shoyru who ran the medicine cart happily stopped and greeted us as we approached. “Good morning, dears,” she said.
“Good morning to you, grandmother,” Pippa replied cheerfully. The Shoyru wasn’t Pippa’s grandmother; I would later explain to Po, it was just a respectful term to use for an old woman. It certainly seemed to have its desired effect, because the Shoyru smiled at her.
“What are you looking for, my dear?” she asked Pippa, ignoring me, which I really didn’t mind. Let Pippa do what Pippa did best, butter people up.
“Well, actually, grandmother, we’re looking for information. Did one Cordelia Cromwell come buy something recently?” the Zafara asked the old shop, or cart, keeper.
“Hmm...,” the old woman said, shuffling over to a book propped up next to the money box and opening the book. “Let’s see. Yes! Here she is! She bought a huge amount of Ladies Bane. It took awhile to fill that order. Also some Bumble Weed, the last of my stock, too.”
Pippa and I glanced at each other. She cleared her throat and smiled. “Thank you. Could I also get some lavender? I love the smell.” The old woman nodded and produced the purple flower and exchanged it for Pippa’s coins.
“Thank you so much, grandmother, you’ve been a big help,” Pippa said, smiling, before turning and leaving. I followed close behind.
“If we’ve been right so far, then I hate to find out what mischief she’s up to at the potter’s,” I said, trying to keep up with Pippa’s brisk walk.
Pippa side glanced over at me. “This might be the final piece of the puzzle, and we might just catch her.” I nodded, making Po complain about motion sickness.
We reached the tiny little wooden shop; it was empty except for a tiny Draik hunched over a mound of brown clay. “Excuse me, sir,” Pippa said after clearing her throat. The Draik jumped from his stool and landed on the floor with a ‘thump.’
“Oh dear,” she mumbled and we rushed over and helped prop the potter back on his feet. “Edwin?” she said peering down at the Draik.
“Pippa!” he said merrily, smiling at her with a big grin.
“Enna, this is Edwin, my cousin,” Pippa introduced us.
“Hello,” I mumbled in greeting. Pippa nudged her cousin and he squeaked a ‘hi’ of his own, though he looked embarrassed about it.
Pippa seemed to remember why we were here, and turned back to her cousin. “Edwin, did a Cordelia Cromwell come in and order something?”
He looked up and nodded vigorously. Pippa sighed. “What did she order?”
“Umm. I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you,” he muttered almost as nervously as the Techo shop keeper, looking down at his feet.
“Edwin, look at me,” Pippa said, putting her paw under his chin and lifting his head. “That lady is behind all the mischief at court.” Then she glanced over at me and then pointed to me, “And see her? She’s the sorceress who has been stopping all of that mischief, but you need to tell us what she ordered so we can stop her, okay?”
The little Draik nodded, looking wide eyed at me in terror. “You can’t tell anyone about me, you got that?” I said, glaring at him before scowling at Pippa for telling him.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, saluting me. “She ordered a goblet made up of this special clay,” he said, holding up the lump of clay he was working on.
“What is so special about this clay?” Pippa asked, peering closely at it.
“It’s really expensive. I’m surprised I am the one to have worked on it. But my master is out of town. I’m his apprentice, you know,” Edwin said proudly.
“When is she picking up this goblet?” I asked as Pippa handed me the lump of clay.
“Tonight. I’ve already made it; that’s extra that you’re handling,” Edwin told me, swiping the clay from my hand and squishing it down on the pottery wheel. Just then the door swung open and Alex came in with Gwen following, carrying Kedmiel in her arms.
“I knew we’d find you in here,” Alex said, looking pleased with himself. Gwen glanced over at him with a smile while I rolled my eyes at them.
After a quick round of introductions and explaining to each other what we had found out, Gwen and Alex both confirmed that the shopkeepers sold the items we expected. Alex looked around the shop. “We’ll have to go outside.” We all looked over at him is surprise.
“What are you talking about?” I said, wondering if all those bashings in the head from the practice field finally got to him.
“The stakeout tonight. It’s too small to hide in here. If we’re going to catch this slippery villain, tonight is our chance,” Alex said pounding his fist on his open palm, like a commanding general.
He was right; this was the last piece of the puzzle, and tonight was the night to put it all together.
That night, under the cover of the shadows, we met next in the bushes that lined the potter’s store. It was hard to stay awake, with the night so comfortably warm; maybe I should have taken a nap that afternoon.
Gwen had dozed off and was leaning against Alex’s shoulder, while Pippa had Po in her arms and was beginning to nod off. Kedmiel sat next to me, looking like he expected the mysterious person to appear any second. Maybe I should have accepted Edwin’s offer to help. We could have used his young energy, but he was needed in the shop.
Around midnight, I began to wonder if tonight really was the night, but then a black silhouette appeared around the corner, heading from the Palace. I couldn’t make out the cloaked figure’s face, but the person was definitely a woman. I could tell from the way she carried herself.
She stopped outside the door of the potter’s, and looked around to make sure no one was around before slipping through door. I tapped everyone wake, putting a finger to my lips to tell them to stay quiet. “Wait for my signal,” I whispered to them.
I could hear from inside the woman talking to Edwin and his scrambling to get the goblet. I heard a bag full of coins hit the counter and the muffled clicks of Cordelia’s shoes against the wooden floor.
As I peered around the corner of the wall, she exited the store and headed back to the Palace. “Go!” I shouted, leading the charge after the woman. We barreled out from behind the store and after the cloaked woman who glanced back at us and took off, realizing she was being chased.
She ran to the Palace, over the draw bridge, and burst through the entrance doors. The guards on watch slumped against the wall, knocked out cold. I knew she would get away if we let her out of the Great Hall; the Palace was overrun with secret passages.
I quickly shouted an enchantment, sending an energy wall up in front of the cloaked woman. She wheeled around with a green Wizard’s Fire in her palm. She held the fire out and it shot at me. I brought up another energy wall to block the burst of energy. The impact shattered the wall, sending little shards of green and red energy everywhere, causing a great gust of wind in both my and her direction.
I raised my arms, bracing myself from the wind, hoping the others would follow my lead. The entrance doors slammed shut behind us. When I lowered my arms, and spun my own flame of Wizard’s Fire, I glared up at my opponent, sending the flame before really looking at her.
Her cloak hood had fallen off from the wind and her red curls swirled around her. She sent out her own green fire to meet mine, causing a flash of violent light. I couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t be her; it didn’t add up.
“Surprised?” she said, an evil smirk spreading across her face.
To be continued...