47: Most delicate business
I thought long and hard about Frelene Acques last night. Getting her free from the clutches of House Hlaalu seems simple enough. As the Archmage I have enough political pull to be allowed to visit my fellow Breton, and could simply toss her an intervention scroll so she could teleport to freedom...which would of course make me instantly notorious. Even if I could slip it to her somehow, it isn't like a visit from the Archmage shortly before an escape would not raise a question. Killing everyone in the Hlaalu treasury, though perhaps possible, would certainly be extreme. In the dark hour before dawn it seemed as good an idea as any. When the sun rose it was clear that I would need help.
As steward of the Vivec hall Malven doesn't have as much political capital to spend as I have, but being Dunmer herself does help. It was not too hard for her to get a visit scheduled. She also had the advantage of reporting to supervision; any questions she didn't want to answer she could defer until she could speak to me, and she could portray her errand as a minor inconvenience she had been assigned rather than a task of any import or interest. She appeared to be bored, the guard seemed bored, the prisoner was certainly bored; not likely that this exchange would leap to mind when Frelene turns up missing.
"The Archmage is curious about your family, prisoner," Malven said blandly once she had gotten through the clutter of formalities and assorted doors that isolated the cells from the rest of the world.
"Why is that?" was the surly response.
"He is a Breton also. Apparently your surname is shared with a distant branch of his own family."
"Well, big deal. Why isn't he here then?"
I was, actually. After slipping invisibly through the doors on Malven's heels I had taken a shadowed position against a pillar and was listening closely to every word.
"The Archmage is away on business, as is frequently the case. He has given me a list of the better known members of that branch of his family. If you would give me the names of your own relatives I can check to see if there are any in common. If so I will let him know. There doesn't seem to be any rush; you don't appear to be going anywhere."
They had certainly not made friends, and the encounter at the bars passed quickly and fruitlessly. Malven returned to the guild, and the prisoner sat disconsolate on her bunk. It was clear to her, and more importantly to the guard, that no help could be expected from the mage's guild. I let the routine grind on to dull their expectations even further, and waited.
In the afternoon the guard changed. The oncoming guard peered briefly into the two occupied cells, then settled into a chair. The tired guard, with a sigh of relief, pushed the keys across the table and stood to leave. I watched the keys. The distant click of a closing door signaled the completion of the change. The new guard stared at his boots stretched out before him. Again I waited.
I don't think he went to sleep. Ordinators are a little too dedicated for that. But the quiet, stuffy room still took a toll on his alertness. With a wispered command I activated the enchantment in my glove. A trick learned from my adopted father, who called it his 'five fingered glove of discounts', the telekenetic spell allowed me to gently lift the keys, pass them behind the somnolent guard, and drop them into my other hand; all from the safe shadow of the pillar. I quietly opened the furthest cell, slipped inside, and locked the door.
It wasn't too long after that the afternoon meal arrived, and the missing keys were suddenly noted. A search of the floor, incredulous pawing at the table; the boredom disappeared like a mist at mid day. The two prisoners even roused themselves to stare through their respective barred doors. In short order a duplicate key was brought in, and they and their meager belongings had been hauled out and meticulously examined. Before anyone could think that the empty cells should be opened as well, the lost keys were found on the floor, lodged against a chair leg.
After some agitated complaints about false alarms things settled somewhat. The prisoners returned to the idle lounging that is their lot, and the guard returned to the endless battle for alertness that is his. He did, however, have the keys firmly attached to a belt on his armor. Likely no one will ever understand the mystery of the wandering keys, but hopefully they will remember that Frelene Acques and her cell were searched sometime between Malven's visit and the escape.
Frelene will no doubt use the scroll that mysteriously floated into her cell tonight, once all is quiet in the courtyard of the High Fane, the temple here in Vivec. At that point she is on her own. I did my part.