6. Taking the Oath

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Kadav watched with weary satisfaction as the first platform went up against the northern god tree. Though others had done the menial work of chopping, carrying and hoisting, he had done the hardest work of all: recruiting, organizing and marshaling the laborers into action. He had been uncertain whether there remained much of a labor force to be raised, but the townsfolk hadn't run for the hills after all. He didn't chalk this up to any special bravery or fortitude of character; most folks in these parts simply had nowhere else to run off to. But with the priest determined to thwart him at every step, winning them over to his plan had been far from easy.

As the priest's supporters consisted mainly of the aged, indigent and womenfolk (those with a greater vested interest in the afterlife), he didn't have much use for them as workers. Yet the womenfolk in particular could stir up a cauldron of trouble if left to their own devices. Recognizing this, he embarked on a preemptive rumor offensive, allowing choice conversations to be overhead in the presence of a known gossip. With the flair of a poet, he painted a picture of a prosperous future where perfume ran like wine, gems were common as river rocks, and irrigation channels carried water right to one's back door for washing and cooking. As expected, the rumors propagated like wildfire.

With the able-bodied men he needed something more binding. It was one thing to convince a man to cast a vote for mayor but quite another to compel him to labor and sweat for a cause, even if that cause was saving his own hide. The town was mainly divided into two camps: those determined to ignore the dragon-threat and get on with their daily routines, and those ready to run and hide at the first sign of trouble. The priest preyed upon these tendencies, leading many astray. But Kadav would be damned if he was going to let a holy man stand in the way of his god-given destiny.

The plan he devised was beautifully simple. Kadav acquired a copy of the Akulmoor from Dinkoll, one of only three in town, the other two being in the possession of the priest himself. Dinkoll would never have voluntarily parted with it, but once Kadav got himself invited in for tea, the rest was child's play. He waited for Dinkoll to have one of his nodding spells then exchanged the holy writ for a weathered scroll of poultice recipes.

In the hours that followed Kadav put the scroll to far better use than the priest ever had. Every time, by guile or wile, he won someone over to his cause, he compelled them to swear a binding oath upon it. Against such a tactic the priest had no recourse. Breaking an oath was considered dire, but breaking an oath sworn on the Akulmoor carried the penalty of eternal damnation. The priest had been thoroughly out-maneuvered this time. Kadav almost pitied him.

All this conniving had been hard work. At the moment, Kadav wanted nothing more than to slump against a tree and drape a cool rag over his head. But rest would have to wait. As their leader, it wouldn't do to give the appearance of being idle.

He made a show of inspecting some notched logs that were waiting to be deployed as mainstays for a second platform against the southern god tree. This activity caught the eye of Hrassor, the carpenter, who broke free from a gang of workers to come over.

"Anything I can do for you, mayor?" Hrassor asked, wearing an anxious expression.

"When will the second scaffold be ready?"

The carpenter rubbed the large wart on his chin. "Another three—"

Kadav grimaced.

"Two and a half days," he amended. After a nervous pause, he asked, "What do you think of the workmanship on these here logs?"

"Oh, that. Yes, well, I did happen to notice..." He tapped one with the toe of his boot. "That some of the grooves are cut a bit crooked."

Hrassor squatted and inserted two fingers into a groove as if checking for a pulse. "These smaller ones, you mean?" He looked visibly relieved. "They're supposed to be angled. Here, I'll show you." He raised up one end of the log and swung a leg over, as if he were mounting it. "The pressure of the crossbeams pushing down—that's me, see—causes the end of the cross-brace—this log here—to wedge in real snug into its groove so that..."

"That's all very interesting," Kadav cut in. "But other duties beckon, I'm afraid..." The carpenter was still lecturing log-back as Kadav strode from the worksite into the cathedral silence of the forest. He peeked behind trees as he went, hoping to catch one of the priest's spies slinking about.

"If you like having two legs, I'd watch your step there, mayor," came a voice from behind him.

Recognizing it as thetrapper's, Kadav thought it wise to stay put.

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