56: A glimmer of hope
"This one greets you, spymaster," hissed the Argonian as he passed. His voice mixed with the wind, ensuring that no one but me would hear. I continued onward, but did not enter the guild hall. Instead I found an out of the way street and activated my amulet of shadows, then slipped into Gildan's house near the temple. Not surprisingly, the Argonian was waiting for me. Gildan, the local operative of the Blades, bid me welcome and discreetly left the room.
"We bring a message from the hunter," the Argonian said once we were alone. We exchanged a brief flurry of codes, designed to provide authenticity. Agents of the Blades operate very independently, and even though I had taken over the senior position in Vvardenfell from Caius I had certainly never met most of the agents...including this one. Once that was settled he continued. "The hunter would meet you in the plaza of Saint Olms Canton. If he is not there, another will be; one of the people of the root, with red skin, bright green around the eyes." I continued on my way with a lighter step.
As it turns out, Nine-Toes had begun his search for Dram Bero by following me. It amazes me how the Argonian has translated the hunting methods of the marsh into the world of espionage. As he puts it, the best time to find prey is when another predator is striking. While I was inside Yngling manor he was out in the plaza watching; watching to see who else might be watching.
"A well dressed woman, Archmage; Dunmer, look of a noble, but slippery."
"Slippery. Like you. Or like this one. She was hard to track. But she went in there."
"You're sure she was watching me?" I asked.
"No. She was watching your prey. She was not upset by his demise, but she gathered the details in your wake very delicately and then slipped away before the Ordinators arrived."
"So who lives there?"
"No one. The mansion is reputed to be haunted. That was the decisive clue."
At that point there was an interruption. Nine-Toes hissed an apology and slipped away. He returned moments later. "The woman has appeared at the High Fane," he said. "She is being followed."
I considered. The woman obviously was reporting to someone, and Dram Bero would certainly be someone who would have an interest in the demise of the Nord. A haunted mansion in the heart of Vivec City would be a good place for the renegade councilman to hide. I left Nine-Toes at the center of his survaillence web and went to the guild headquarters to wait. I spent the day distractedly reviewing reports.
Late in the day there was a disturbance in the guild hall. Nothing serious, but enough that I came out of my office to see what the noise was about. A red Argonian with bright green scales around his eyes was arguing with Malven. She was clearly exasperated, but continued to calmly explain that the guild guides could not transport him to Black Marsh. When I emerged from my office the Argonian gave a subtle nod, then seemed to accept the limitations of the service and left with a profuse apology. I returned to Saint Olms Canton.
"The woman has a network to rival my own," Nine-Toes reported. "There are agents watching all of the Hlaalu council. She checked in with all of them."
"Where is she now?" I asked.
"Back in there," he said, indicating the haunted manor.
"We don't know that she reports to Dram Bero though. She could be a Telvanni agent. Or Redoran, or some other faction." I turned over possibilities.
"The key information comes from what she is not doing," Nine-Toes said. I must give credit, he had left me behind and it no doubt showed on my face. "She has agents watching Velanda Omani, Crassius Curio, and Nevana Oles. She was watching Yngling Half-Troll. She would have Dram Bero under observation also, or she would have a team searching for him."
I got the point. "But she doesn't, because she works for him."
"Yes. He may not be in there, that may be her headquarters, but she should know where he is."
We worked out a plan. Nine-Toes will contact the woman, who we believe is Dram Bero's agent. Orvas Dren was his enemy. It should be possible to convince him that Demeter Boyle would be a friend.