Brother Mace sighed. He drank in the silence but found it strangely unfulfilling - largely because it wasn't alcoholic. It wasn't even helping him think, taking him no closer to the answer to a most pressing conundrum: how did he mistake a three of hearts for a joker? The monk held it, the playing card he had almost given to a dungeoneer, in his hands and gave it a resigned smile, counting the hearts in Latin to emphasise his folly.
"Unus, duo, tres. The iocus was on me."
Christmas would be here soon. One of the few times of year when Mace gave himself over, if only briefly, to sober reflection. With his ale in short supply, this seemed as good a moment as any. He cast his eye back over the trio of hearts.
"In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti."
Mace blinked. The hearts were glowing. He felt a strange tickling sensation in his fingers, as if an invisible quill were being passed over them. Turning his hand to examine it, he saw that the back of the card was dense with writing. It was only after Mace had read it all that he noticed the strategically placed gaps in the text, making the shape of a letter M.
"...So, the Dungeon needs us." Brother Mace looked for understanding in the two listeners' faces, but it seemed to eluding his gaze. "Questions?"
"Yes," replied the maid. "Why did Merlin choose us for this mission?"
"He requires three - the card did not say why - and believes that we three can succeed."
"Or because he thinks it's not a jolly great loss if we don't!" suggested the sword mistress.
"Have a little faith, Gundrada. Merlin may hide the light of his wisdom under a bushel - or a bushy beard at least - but on this occasion, he knows what he is doing. It is others that he fears would not succeed, and that is why he has gone to the trouble of distracting them with early Christmas celebrations et cetera."
"Well then, he's lucky that I've got nothing better to do," sniffed Gundrada. "But just say that my brawn, your brain and... her smile aren't enough. Is it really so terrible if we fail?"
"According to Merlin's message, his struggle against Mogdred is at a critical point. He must remove them from the Greater Dungeon and make their battlefield elsewhere, lest we all become casualties of war. That removal, as I said earlier, is what we three must enable. He cannot keep the knowledge this plan from Mogdred for much longer, so we must make haste."
"It all sounds very exciting," grinned Mellisandre, trying to convince herself. "And all we've got to do is find the Tower of Time, whatever that is?"
"We must hope it is as simple as that. Since we know that it is not among the towers of the upper levels, it must be somewhere in Level Three. The limpid beauty of the Dunswater awaits. Perhaps the ferryman will offer a group discount."