"Probably, yes."

"And neither Alcevan or your big sister would know that you're listening, would they?"

"Aracia might sense my presence, but I think I could conceal it from her."

Rabbit shook his head. "Bad idea, I think. If you're busy eavesdropping who's going to look out for Lillabeth?"

Veltan's expression became a bit sheepish. "I seem to have overlooked that," he admitted. "Why don't I have a talk with Zelana instead? She can either protect Lillabeth, or do our eavesdropping for us."

"That's probably the best idea right there," Rabbit agreed. Then he remembered something from the previous summer. "I think I know of a way to stop those novice priests from coming here," he said.


"I'll need a lot of spiderwebs that are quite a bit thicker than the ones the local spiders have been spinning in the hallways here in your sister's temple. You do remember what happened to Jalkan and that churchman from the Trogite Empire, don't you?"

Veltan shuddered. "I don't think I'll ever forget that."

"If I gather those beginner priests together and warn them that there are spiders in those hallways that are almost as big as horses and then describe what happened to Jalkan and the Trogite priest down in your territory, Alcevan's going to have a lot of trouble hiring killers, I think." Then Rabbit squinted at Zelana's younger brother. "You can make just about anything you want to, can't you, Veltan?" he asked.

"What exactly do you think you'll need?"

"Bones, mostly—but not just random bones scattered around. I think complete skeletons would be best. That way anybody who comes across one of them 'will know that he's looking at a dead person rather than a fox or a cow, and it might be useful if the skeleton has a few rags attached as well—rags that look like they used to be those robes all of Aracia's priests wear."

"And maybe a brief image of a very large spider—or ten—scampering around in those corridors?" Veltan suggested.

"You can do that, can't you?" Rabbit said. "I'd forgotten about that. If we have a few sightings of spiders that are ten feet across, human skeletons wearing bits and pieces of priest robes, and spiderwebs as thick as anchor ropes, nobody with his head on straight will go anywhere near those corridors."

"I like it!" Veltan declared with a wicked grin. "Go back to the south side of the temple and start telling stories, Rabbit. I'll make sure that anybody who ventures into one of those corridors sees things so terrible that he'll never go back again."

"I think we just sank Alcevan's boat," Rabbit said with a broad grin.

"I'm fairly sure that she'll never be able to give those halfwit young priests what she's promising," Rabbit told the two Maags, Gimpy and Squint-Eye, "but around here, a promotion is worth more than gold. I'm going to need some verification, though. If it's not too much trouble, put on long, worried faces and talk about some of your sailors who went along one of those corridors and never came back."

"You're a nasty little fellow, Rabbit," Captain Squint-Eye said. Then he assumed the facial expression that had given him his name. "Maybe if we had one of those imitation skeletons you were telling us about dressed in Maag clothes and armed with Maag weapons, the limp-brained priests will get your point."

"And maybe put up some danger signs at this end of those hallways," Captain Gimpy added. "You know, a red sign with a big picture of a spider painted on it. If we pile up enough awfuls for those halfwits to see, not one of them will even consider going back to the main temple, no matter what the little lady priest offers them. It's a lot like that old Maag saying that has to do with gold, wouldn't you say? 'You've got to be alive to spend it' gets right to the point, doesn't it?"

"And Gimpy and I'll announce that we want all those priests to come to an 'emergency conference,' and then you can dump awful-awful all over them," Captain Squint-Eye added. Then he laughed. "You know, something like this is even more fun than a war."

"Of course," Rabbit agreed. "Deception is always more fun than war, and, if you do it right, you don't even have to bleed."

Chapter Two

"No, Rabbit," Captain Hook-Beak said. "I think you'd better do it. You and Torl and several others have been passing on stories about your encounters with imaginary bug-people ever since we first got here. I'll back you up, of course, but the lazy priests would believe you a lot sooner than they'd ever believe me." He paused, staring out across the berm his men had built out to the front of the west wall. "Don't go too far, though. When you get right down to it, all you're really going to do down by the south wall is set things up for the appearance of those imitation skeletons wearing priest robes that Veltan's going to conjure up. Keep your description of what the spider-bugs have been doing to the local priests those imitation skeletons are going to represent pretty much accurate. Don't get too creative. The real thing down in Veltan's Domain was awful enough, so you won't have to take it much farther."

"That's the way we'll do 'er, Cap'n," Rabbit agreed. "I'll start out by telling them that the spider-bugs slipped past us before we even started building walls and that they're hiding in most of those hallways. Then I'll move on into a description of what happened to Jalkan and Adnari Estarg. That should set things up for Cap'n Gimpy to uncover those imitation skeletons."

"You're very good at this sort of thing, Rabbit," Sorgan said admiringly.

"I've had lots of practice, Cap'n," Rabbit replied. "All I had to do to keep Ox and Ham-Hand from putting me to doing real work was to stand there tapping on my anvil with a hammer. I'm a natural-born expert when it comes to deception."

"Except that Longbow saw right through you the first time he ever met you," Sorgan added.

"Longbow don't count, Cap'n," Rabbit replied. "He sees through everything."

Rabbit was almost certain that Takal Bersla would not be present during Captain Squint-Eye's "emergency conference." He was too well-known, for one thing, and, since he'd gained his position in the temple by making speeches, he probably wouldn't care to listen to speeches delivered by someone else. The priestess Alcevan would almost certainly want to be present, though, since the term "emergency" strongly suggested that something had come up that would make her hired assassins very reluctant to do what she wanted them to do. Rabbit was very well acquainted with all the tricks a small person could use to watch and listen without being seen, so he ran his eyes carefully over the gathered crowd of priests to see if he could locate her.