Ettorio, Vesper and Carenza share their findings with one another and with Opilio. Although the details weren’t easy to come by (for obvious reasons), it seems that the mercenary captain Fortera Caribaldi, of the Manticore Company, has his eye on the seat of the Prince of Calvera. Further information is sparse, but there’s three days of festival during which tongues may loosen somewhat.
The first day of the Highsun festival features racing, both on foot and by horse. During the morning, Carenza begins asking around for the Manticore Company, though has little luck in making contact with them. Ettorio finds the foot races interesting only in an academic sense — until the grand cross-city race, one that contestants run over rooftops and through aggressive crowds. With a purse of 100 gold reganti and a lovely girl at the finish line, Ettorio decides that it’s well worth entering. He chooses a path through the wealthier side of town, over roofs and balconies. Though he begins slowly (being somewhat startled by the explosive that a festival entertainer uses to signal the start), he quickly outpaces a Tuderi rival in his path over the good part of town, and comes well ahead after a spot of trickery and an excellent display of agility. Noting more Tuderi in the crowd who may be setting an “obstacle,” he uses a quick bluff (“Look! He threw money!”) and a quick route along the shoulders and heads of the crowd to cross the finish line with panache and claim his prize.
The horse racing turns out to have its own interest as well: Captain Caribaldi is participating, and many of his men have turned out to cheer him on. Carenza insinuates herself among their number and asks about possible jobs, and is told to go look up Fesizzi, the quartermaster, at the Olive Plaza later on. Caribaldi himself seems to be a charismatic man, and is well-cheered during the race. Vesper, choosing to look over the Dysian arena as she selects a place to watch the race, has a prime location to see something suspicious: as the racers draw near, another festival entertainer drops an explosive from his sleeve, seemingly accidentally. The explosion startles the Barcamir horse in the lead, allowing Caribaldi to draw ahead. The mercenary captain completes the circuit as the winner.
Vesper follows the entertainer, suspecting deliberate cheating. The fellow takes on the gait of a blade partway back into the city, and although it seems innocent enough when he pauses to give a rose to a courtesan holding court in a plaza, Opilio notices otherwise. The courtesan, one Lyria “Redstockings”, takes a small piece of paper from the rose’s stem and conceals it deftly.
Comparing notes again over dinner, the group decides that while Carenza goes to speak with the quartermaster Fesizzi, Ettorio might be best dispatched to charm Lyria and gather what information he can from her. At Olive Plaza, Carenza meets Fesizzi (a fellow who is rather less drunk than he pretends), and after some convincing conversation, is able to get a small “discreet job” offer from him. For his part, Ettorio finds the courtesan Lyria engaged in conversation with would-be suitors, among them his Tuderi rival (Tirobol) from the race. Ettorio dispatches Tirobol with a barrage of insults, seemingly impressing Lyria, but she proves a very adept conversationalist. He has difficulty gathering any impression of her — save that at one point in their conversation, she begins to watch him intently after he attempts to project an image of vexation with the Prince — but he does receive permission to attend her another evening. Once the group has shared the most recent information, they decide to celebrate for the rest of the evening. Tragically, neither Ettorio nor Opilio has quite the power to drink Carenza under the table, and Ettorio in particular has a hard time of it the next morning (Carpa’s hangover cure, involving “cheese squeezings”, providing a mixed amount of relief).
Carenza takes the job from Fesizzi the next morning, accompanied by Opilio. The two are given a package to take to Lampblack Alley, to the headquarters of the Head-Takers gang. The leader “Skullface” takes the package from them and marks Carenza’s breastplate with a skull ring as a “signature.” After that, Opilio enters a few of the competitions of strength, but unfortunately doesn’t have quite the prowess it takes. Ettorio encourages him to test himself against living targets instead.
Opilio does so, entering the wrestling competition in the afternoon. He does quite well for himself after the preliminaries, first beating a surprised rustic, then putting down one of Vestiri’s well=oiled favorites, and then barely winning a struggle against a half-orc grappler. Before he knows it, he’s facing the Prince’s attendant Crucerio, an eight-time champion, in front of a roaring crowd. Much to his surprise, he’s able to defeat Crucerio after a hard-fought struggle, and although the Prince’s attendant seems to take his overtures of friendship poorly, Ettorio smooths things over. Opilio walks away with the laurel of victory, a 300-reganti purse, a series of people purchasing him drinks, and the personal congratulations of (among others) Fortesar Caribaldi. The captain invites Opilio to cheer him on in the battle the next day, and the bemused peasant agrees even as Vesper and Carenza analyze the captain’s performance and decide they don’t like what they see.