Tam returned from the woods a few minutes later with an assortment of dry twigs and wood, and proceeded to assemble and small, efficient looking fire. He rose to collect his tinder box from Bess. ‘Wait, let me,’ I suggested. The kindling was dry and responded quickly to my touch of sympathy, smoke curled and then whisped into flame. The familiar chills ran up my arms and I shivered briefly despite the warmth of the afternoon. ‘What’s the point of being an Arcanist if you can’t show off a little,’ I said in response to Tam shocked expression. I’d become unaccustomed to the nonchalance with which the people of Imre viewed sympathy, clearly the influence of the University didn’t extend this far north.
Within a few minutes Tam had his camp pot boiling merrily and had tossed in some tea leaves to stew. While he ministered to the fire I rose and crossed to Bess. I had some thoughts about how to weaken the connection between the talon and the finder and wanted to try a small experiment. I carefully unhitched the pannier and brought it across to the fire. With a mug of tea now cooling gently beside me I decided to broach the topic, ‘Master Tam, we have a small problem, and I’m not sure how best to proceed.’
‘This about the finder right? It still points ta the talon. Ye dinna ken where ta go next?’ It wasn’t quite a question.
‘No, but I have a few ideas. The simplest would be to take the talon a long way from here, but that is no solution at all; the very next piece we found would cause the same problem. Better would be to break the connection between the piece and the finder, but I’d be worried about preventing the finder from working at all and would have to repeat the procedure for each bit we found. Neither of these is likely to work for us.
‘The best way that I can see is to shield the talon from the finder with a barrier. I believe I know how, but as this is all experimental I can’t tell how successful it will be. I’d like to test my idea but will need to vandalise your pannier,’ I raised the bag briefly for emphasis.
Tam considered briefly, nodding his consent with a single ‘Aye.’
What I had in mind was a fancy bit of sygaldry. To make the finder in the first place I had constructed a bridge linking the finder needle to the sample chamber. The sygaldry involved both strengthened the connection between the needle and sample, but also enhanced the sympathetic link between the sample and object being sought.
By a corruption of the idea, I believed I could strengthen the nature of the pannier bag, or rather its’ leather, while at the same time dampening the signal of the objects within. In principal this should conceal the talon, or anything else for that matter, from the unwelcome attention of the finder. With the fire to draw on as a source I should have no problems branding the tough leather with the runes I needed.
I gathered my thoughts, ‘Tam, this is going to take me a while, perhaps an hour. I’ll need you to keep the fire going while I’m occupied. It’ll try to go out but you need to keep feeding it. And don’t talk to me. This will be delicate work and tricky without my tools.’
‘Fair enough, anything else you want before you start?’
‘Thanks, but I think I have what I need. Just keep that fire fed.’
I settled myself comfortably in front of the fire with the bag over my knees. My first job would be to bond the various pieces of oiled leather together by branding the rune uld over each seam. I began cautiously on the front drawing heat from the fire and focussing it to a tight moving point on the surface of the bag. A thin wisp of smoke curled from the leather and the acrid smell caught my throat. To an observer it would have looked like the intensity of my stare was burning it, much like a lens charring parchment under the heat of the sun. In a few quick motions the three lines of uld were seared into the leather and I moved my focus a few inches along the seam and repeated the process. It took nearly an hour before I was satisfied and lifted my attention again from the pannier. To a casual inspection the once glowing oiled leather looked ruined, however the runes I’d used had strengthened it significantly.
Next I began on the tricky issue of shielding the contents of the bag. Only two runes were needed but their application was fraught. jol and eth were fairly safe when used separately but when drawn together emanated a discomforting sense of dizziness and disorientation. Prolonged exposure to them in this state could lead to fainting and eventually death. A third rune, hebog, would make the bag safe again, but I would be forced to draw it while under the influence of the other two. I checked the fire, which was still burning nicely, and drew more heat to the leather. I worked swiftly, anxious to finish before the effects became too distracting, and was pleased with the final result.
Tam sensed I’d finished and moved closer. He looked a little pale and showed a light sweat; clearly the unfinished sygaldry had affected him. In fact, I was feeling more than a little shaky myself, both from the sygaldry itself and from breathing the leather smokes for so long. ‘It’s done,’ I said, letting a little of the tension I’d been carrying ease from my voice.
‘About time to. Tha’ was a bit edgy at the end,’ Tam squatted nearby clearly keen to get a closer look.
I passed the bag over to him and watched as he turned the bag back and forth admiringly. ‘Not my prettiest work,’ I admitted, ‘but it should do the trick. Shall we test it?’ I fished the finder out of my coat and checked the needle; still dead steady on the talon. ‘Ok, put the talon in the sack and fasten it shut.’ Tam moved quickly to do so while I watched the needle. As he brought the talon close by the needle wavered, then spun to a new direction he slipped it in the bag.
‘It works?’ asked Tam in response to my sudden broad grin.
‘Aye, see for yourself.’ I passed the finder over for him to hold. He passed it back and forth around the pannier, then unfastened it and withdrew the talon again to see the needle respond. ‘It actually worked far better than I had hoped. I’d expected there to be some residual signal but it actually seems perfect.’
‘In tha’ case shall we press on? We’ve maybe three hours til dusk.’
‘Yes, just give me a few minutes to get a bite. That much sygaldry is hungry work.’ Tam circled our impromptu rest spot gathering up odds and ends, while I pulled a piece of hard cheese and an apple from my own bags.
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