"Silence is a danger, depriving of knowledge.
Silence is a stranger, whom one must acknowledge."
Adage of the Eissan Vagrant
What's that noise?
Piri stopped in mid-step and turned around. There, behind him in the treetops, was an archer hanging upside down. His legs held him up, bent between two branches. They bore trousers of gold-threaded leather with steel studs.
Piri gaped, and slowly moved one hand towards the bronze shuriken that was camouflaged amidst his hairpiece.
The stranger's cloak hung down, over his face. Like a thick veil, it hid their face from view. The fabric was a faded blue. And below it, arms stretched out, holding a bow with an arrow already notched.
"Lay your weapon on the grass," came a muffled voice, "where I can see them."
Williard the Marksman? Piri wondered. How can he see me with the cloak in the way? He obliged, unsheathed his blade, withdrew a hidden dagger and retrieved two of his three poisoned darts from within his armoured garb.
Through the canopy of leaves above, fading sunlight glinted a shade of copper upon Piri's head.
"Are you the only survivor?" The voice was scratchy. Where the cloak had fallen up, revealed a bare chest. It was well-muscled, yet incredibly scarred.
"I was the only one they sent," Piri answered.
The man in the tree growled in frustration, "I paid them to send seven men. It is remarkable that you escaped with your life. Tell your brethren that the Order of Seldys will deal with them no longer."
"Sir," Piri began as the man began to climb the tree, "I have been shunned from my guildsmen." Close enough to the truth.
"Very well," said the man as he seated himself comfortably upon a high branch. He was now properly dressed, right side up, in his faded dark blue cloak. However, it was hooded and thus the man's face remained obscured by shadow.
It seemed to Piri to be a trick of the light, for one's face to be so shadowed so early in the evening.
"How would you like to join our employ? After all, you did escape the Argent Temple with your life."
"And I slew the toddler," Piri added with a note of pride. "The one whose forehead was kissed by the bard."
"Hmm... I am impressed. And, this means that one of them can kiss another prospective Silver Magi. Now, did you bring me his head, is that the lump in your bag?"
"No sir, that is my coinage. I had no time to behead him."
"Then we do not know if the boy was a real one!"
"What do you mean?" Piri asked, confused.
"There have been fakes in the past. The silver clay of Arean."
Piri paused for a moment to think things over, "Well, wouldn't Mother Mishiri, the bitch of Argent Temple herself, know the difference?"
"Perhaps," mused the marksman, as he scribbled away with an ink and quill he'd produced from his bag, "and perhaps not."
Piri looked up at the man ponderously. The wind stirred the forest around them, and for a long moment he was left in the ambience of nature.
Then, the man dropped a tied scroll from the treetops.
"What is this?" the assassin asked.
"Your enlistment. It is to be opened by none other than Sir Guste d'Arean of the Order of Seldys. If he is found dead, you are to track down the man known as Kernew de Seballe, a foreign agent who has been called into this region on an ancient oath. However, I'd prefer if Guste taught you the ways of the Order, since Kernew is surely, err... preoccupied."
Piri frowned, "And how am I to pay for this gallant adventure?"
With a dropping blur of brown and a clink of coins, the man in the tree dropped a bag of money beside the scroll, just as Piri was picking it up.
"One last thing," Piri said, as he watched the stranger climb higher into the treetops with great alacrity, "who are you?"
A mischievious tone entered the man's voice, "I don't know."
And with that, the archer leaped higher into the trees, bow and quiver on his back, bags bound tightly.
Piri was left alone, at last, with nothing to guide him but his ancient map of the Eissan Kingdom, out of date by three centuries; the stars above that didn't quite match home, and the lumpy old lodestone his father had given him. He picked up his discarded equipment, and went on his way.