The March of the Rose
Chapter 12

Copyright© 2015 by R22CoolGuy

Home of Lady Anastasia Whiterune, Marquise De La Rose, city-state of Malkur, Central Plains, Andor.

Anastasia and Rac-Nur had arrived from Aithen the previous day and were just re-settling into their normal routines. Their housekeeper, Kate, had the house open and ready before they arrived and Anastasia was very appreciative. Kate informed Anastasia that her son was going to be visiting in a day or so after completing his study at the Merchant-Marine Academy in Re-An. Kate was asking for time off to spend with her son at a local inn but Anastasia offered the use of the guest quarters. She would still give Kate the time off but that way Kate would not have to spend money on lodging. Kate was very appreciative of the gesture and thanked Anastasia.

With the return to Malkur as the head of House De La Rose and a Marquise, Anastasia's days were full of business and invitations to various dinners and receptions. She was one of the area's most eligible women and it seemed that everyone was trying to arrange a marriage for her, even Lady Laura. Anastasia declined most invitations, but could not really decline Laura's, since they were friends and Lady Laura was the Duchess of Malkur. So it was that Anastasia found herself preparing for a small, intimate (Lady Laura's words) dinner engagement seven days after returning from Aithen and her ennobling ceremony.

Anastasia had scheduled an appointment at a salon as well as a final dress fitting that would consume most of the afternoon and just popped into the office to get a few things done. Rac-Nur had of course accompanied her, although he would not be going to either appointment or the dinner for that matter. Anastasia still had him looking into the ventures of House Relan, or at least their holdings in Malkur, and he had left shortly after their arrival to the office. Anastasia, meanwhile had two important meetings to attend to before leaving; one concerning expanding into Thebes and the other about starting an inn franchise, specifically the 'Golden Pony'.

Anastasia finished up her business for the day and left shortly before the noon hour and headed toward her appointments, hair first and then the final dress fitting.

Rac-Nur had made inquiries into the business dealings of House Relan and the information concerned him, both usages of the word. He was concerned from the standpoint that there seemed to be a move against House De La Rose, one done in the cover of shadows and the movement directly concerned Rac-Nur. Lucien Relan had tried to contract the Thieves' Guild to remove Rac-Nur, but of course the guild would not involve itself in anything that could remotely affect Shoc-Ti or those under his care.

Rac-Nur was unable to find out anything on any new developments or underhanded activities concerning him, Anastasia, or House De la Rose, although he was pretty sure that something was going on. He also learned that Lucien Relan was in Malkur and would also be attending Lady Laura's welcome home dinner in Anastasia's honor. Rac-Nur was unsure if he would see his charge before she left so he had written a short note and had it delivered to the dressmaker's shop. If nothing else he wanted Anastasia on her guard tonight. He faded back into the shadows and continued his investigations.

The 'Temple of the Morning Light', middle of the Great Desert, Andor.

Dunin was surprised and a little apprehensive to hear a voice in his head call out his name. He was used to mentally conversations having had many with Kalaban, but that was just it: He had only had them with Kalaban. He questioned his sword but it was unusually quiet and would not answer his questions. He felt as though the voice originated with the elf lying on the vine bed, but did not really understand how he knew that.

Mara was curious as to what Dunin heard and asked him about it again but he was smart enough to know when to keep his mouth shut so he made up some story about a sound he may or may not have heard. She stopped questioning him and stepped in front of the doorway, striking her staff to the ground. As the noise of the strike subsided a small wooden tripod with a stone on top appeared at her left side. Reaching out and placing her hand, palm down, and cupping the stone she began to chant in an unknown tongue.

Dunin watched Mara perform magic, he supposed, while still trying to process the fact that her niece somehow knew his name and had spoken to him telepathically. Unbeknownst to him his soul latched onto the voice and it filled him with joyous emotions until he began to feel giddy, stupidly giddy. His chuckling caused Mara to stop what she was doing and look back at him.

"What?" Mara asked, irritably.

"Nothing," he replied with a lopsided grin. "I think I can enter. You can stop what you were doing."

She looked at him in surprise as he walked up, stepped around her, and entered the room, right through her protection field. Dunin kept Kalaban's tip up as he moved forward and the sword split apart the Eldritch shield as he passed through the door's threshold. She continued to watch in awe as the vines retreated when he entered and approached the reclining body. The vines in the room shrank back into the floor leaving the room bare, except those holding the elf maiden up and another set encompassing a staff similar to Mara's and a crystal-looking ball of brownish hues.

Dunin stopped at the elf-maiden's side and looked down at her. She was breathtakingly beautiful even in sleep. She was dressed in a brown robe similar in design to Mara's with a platinum belt gathering the material at her hips, her hair was brown, braided and laid over one shoulder. Long delicate fingers, crossed together, lying across her chest. He watched her chest rise and fall as if she were just asleep in her own bed, and he supposed that perhaps she was. Strong emotions of love, devotion, and cherish welled up within him, causing him to take a step back in confusion. After the swell subsided he again approached the reclining elf-maiden.

"What is her name?" Dunin called back to where Mara stood dumbstruck in front of the door's opening.

"Never mind," he added, when the name popped into his head.

Now it was Dunin's turn to stand dumbstruck as he pondered what just happened. He knew her name! He knew her name! How he knew he did not know, but he was as certain as knowing that the sun would rise each day that her name was Beriwen.

"Beriwen?" he called out gently as he gently touched her cheek.

Her eyes fluttered opened and the most amazingly beautiful grey eyes regarded him with momentary confusion followed by joy and contentment.

"Dunin?" she asked, her lips curling into a smile that made her eyes sparkle, and offering up her right hand. "Is it you?"

Dunin was so taken by her beauty he did not trust his voice and slowly nodded that it was, and then slowly reached out and took her offered hand. The warmth of her hand seeped into his and spread throughout his body as he heard her gasp of surprise. Mara also heard the gasp and rushed over toward the bed.

"Lady Mara? What are you doing here?" Beriwen asked, noticing the older woman for the first time.

"I thought you said she was your niece?" Dunin accused, looking back at Mara.

"I am, we do not use familiar titles in front of strangers," Mara explained.

"Dunin, it is all right," Beriwen explained, patting his hand. "She is who she says she is. Help me up please?"

Dunin helped her to a sitting position and and watched in awe as the vines reshaped themselves to accommodate the new position.

"Give me a moment to regain my strength," Beriwen stated and closed her eyes.

A few moments later she opened them and slowly stood, leaning on Dunin's arm for support. She soon had her balance back and slowly walked to where her staff and stone rested within their vine enclosures. She waved her hand and the vines retreated, revealing her precious items and she reached out and grasped her stone and then turned her palm up holding the jewel for all to see. The orb flashed an emerald light and vanished in her hand. She then retreived her staff and stamped it upon the ground and it too vanished before their eyes. She turned back toward Dunin and her aunt.

"How long, Lady Mara?" she asked.

"Over half a millennium, Princess," Mara replied.

"Princess?" Dunin asked incredulously.

"I am, but in truth a princess needs both a people and a kingdom and I have neither," Beriwen replied. "What happened to you and how did you find me?"

"I was imprisoned until a passing traveler afforded me the opportunity of escape," Mara replied vaguely. "Since then I have been searching through old records for some clue as to your resting place."

"Dunin, tell me about yourself," she asked. "How did you come to be here?"

It felt natural to open up to her, so Dunin related his life story; growing up a fisherman, losing his father, that fateful trip where he was shipwrecked, the encounter with the knight, finding Kalaban, going to the Merchant-Marine Academy, his time there...

"You said the knight's name was Randolf?" Beriwen asked, interrupting his story. "Dunin, do you know who you met?"

"Not specifically, but I gathered he was more than a knight," Dunin replied and shrugged. "I mean, how could he have wound up on that isolated island anyway?"

"You met Randolf, the Knight Errant. One of the gods of my age. Collectively they are known as the 'Three that are One'."

Dunin asked if that was important and Mara commented that it was definitely interesting since the 'Three' had withdrawn at the end of the Second Age. Dunin nodded in thought and continued his story, picking up with the trip through the desert with the caravan on his way to visit his mother in Malkur, and finally his adventure of being captured, escaping, and finding Lady Mara. He closed with finding the temple, Lady Mara, a Warrior Brownie, and finally her.

"A Warrior Brownie?" Beriwen asked in clarification.

Dunin reiterated the meeting with the Brownie and then had questions of his own.

"You called out my name before I entered the room, how did you know? How did I know your name? I am certain that we have never met and yet I feel as if I have known you all my life, can you explain that, as well?"

"Beriwen, do you feel it too?" Mara asked, eyeing her intently.

Beriwen did no trust her voice to break so she just nodded in the affirmative, causing Mara to sigh.

"It is called, 'The Quickening'," Mara began. "Our race, and no, Dunin, we are not elves, is one of three great races that lived during the Second Age. We are called Elfen, and in a way, I suppose, are the forebearers of all the races of Fey which came later. We are a cold, intellectual race, and perhaps even a bit dispassionate when it comes to the matters of the heart, except when the Quickening comes upon us. It does not happen with every Elfen, as a matter of fact, it is considered an honor if it does. Most Elfen look for mates in that same cold, analytical way that we look at all things, but a few find their unique other, the one they were meant to be with. It would seem that you and Beriwen were destined to be together, which I find very interesting, since she is Elfen and you are human. You are human, are you not?"

"I believe so," Dunin replied and then looked to Beriwen. "Is that how you feel?"

Again she nodded, still not quite trusting her voice, and leaned in for a kiss, closing her eyes. Dunin responded in kind and when their lips met, sparks went off behind their closed lids and a warmth flooded their senses. Eventually they parted and when Dunin open his eyes the dazzling brightness in the smile he saw on Beriwen's face rivaled the sun. She leaned back in and again he reciprocated and lost himself in the softness of her lips. He felt her hand reach up and cup him behind the neck and he leaned in a little more firmly and grasped her waist. The throat clearing sound from Mara caused them to separate and a blush bloomed all over Beriwen's face and neck.

"Do not worry, she is just jealous," Beriwen teased, finally finding her voice. "I wish to travel with you and meet your mother."

"Beriwen, are there not more pressing matters?" Mara asked, delicately.

"Not to me," Beriwen replied. "Besides, a few more days one way or another will not matter in the great scheme of things, Aunt Mara. Do you not find it odd that Dunin bears Kalaban?"

"Why would that be odd?" Dunin interjected.

"Because her father wielded Kalaban," Mara replied.

"And when you could not be found, it was Kalaban who suggested that it could ward the room so no one could molest me while I slept," Beriwen added.

They spent the remainder of the day catching up, for Beriwen and Mara, and getting to know one another, for Dunin and Beriwen.

City gates of the city-state of Malkur, Central Plains, Andor.

Graydon and Tristan had made good time on their journey from Loudin to Malkur, arriving a full day ahead of Tristan's reckoning. They could see a makeshift open-air market or faire that was setup just outside the city's walls and on both sides of the two large gates. Various merchants hawked their wares and customers weaved in and out of the stalls, while children played all around.

As the two approached the city late in the afternoon a cloaked figure, who had been sitting near one side of the gates, stood and threw back its cloak revealing a young man wearing the surcoat of a 'Paladin of the Light'.

"Hail, and well met, High Paladin. I am Brother William, Monk of the Brotherhood of the Sword of Saint Michael, and ordained 'Paladin of the Light'. I am to be your attendant and I am at your service."

Graydon stopped his horse, swung down, and approached Brother Michael, grasping his offered outstretched arm. Tristan looked on in shock and a little amusement.

"I am Graydon Kimrilson and that is Tristan Balefire," Graydon greeted him, pointing back toward his companion. "How did you know we would be here?"

"A vision told me," Michael replied and continued solemnly. "Four brothers were sent, but I am all that is left. Your adversary slew my brothers, your other attendants."

"There will be justice and retribution, mark my word," Graydon replied, releasing his arm and patting him on the shoulder. "But first there is business here and then we will travel east toward his location. Will you stay with us within the city?"

"No, that is not necessary. I will meet you here on the hour of your leaving," Brother Michael replied, pulling the cloak back over his shoulders and obscuring his features. "Hail, and well met, Graydon Kimrilson, and hail to you too, Tristan Balefire."

Brother Michael turned and walked away from the gates, vanishing within the crowd of people. Graydon shook his head and mounted his horse.

"I am intrigued that he will know the hour of our departure," Tristan remarked drolly. "When even I do not know it."

"Where to?" Graydon asked, urging his horse forward toward the covered opening, and completely disregarding Tristan's quip.

"An inn for the night and a visit to the guildhouse in the morning," Tristan replied, a twinkle in his eye as he studied the fortifications.

The two men guided their horses through the inner covered gateway and passed the inner gates and into the city proper. To the left Graydon could see a bazaar and commented to Tristan about the faire outside with a bazaar inside. Tristan shrugged and remarked that maybe tariffs were higher inside the city and the outside faire may well be a traveling show.

Tristan led them to the local franchise of the 'Pious Satyr', where they booked two rooms for he night and stalls for their horses. After seeing to their mounts needs they entered the inn and found a suitable table, near the rear, and sat down.

Tristan composed a quick note to the guildhouse, letting them know he was in the city and would call on the master at his convenience in the morning. Tristan found a delivery boy at the front of the inn and paid to have the message delivered. The two then settled down for a tankard or two to wash down the dust from the road.

Anastasia had finished at the salon and had just arrived at the dressmaker's shop for her final fitting. The dressmaker handed her a note and left her alone to read it in private. The note's contents were illuminating for Anastasia and verified what she already speculated; House Relan--specifically, Master Lucien--was behind a plot to seize control of her House. The particular reason or reasons were unclear but Rac-Nur was still trying to unearth evidence to substantiate the claim and would be home late. The note also stated that Lucien Relan was in Malkur and that she should be on her guard but give nothing away if she should meet him. She folded the note and stowed it away before turning to the dressmaker and her scheduled fitting.

Anastasia's dress was actually a body shirt with a wrap-around skirt ensemble. When worn it was difficult to tell that it was not a dress and had the added benefit of an easily removable skirt, to limit encumbrance. While Anastasia did not mind wearing a dress, she just did not want anything that could restrict her movements if she found herself in trouble. 'Preparation was the key to success', as Rac-Nur was fond of telling her.

The fitting went well and the dressmaker was happy with his work and Anastasia was as well. While waiting for him to box up her purchase she perused the merchandise in his shop for anything that she might like. Finding nothing of interest, she paid for her purchase and with box in tow left the shop.

Anastasia had not traveled far down the lane before the nagging feeling of being followed wormed its way into her brain. Try as she might she could not shake the feeling crawling up her spine and began to discreetly scan the passersby for threats. Not finding anything, or anyone, of a threatening matter or paying her movements more than just a casual glance she continued on toward the square leading to the upper city gates. As she entered the square she spied the 'Pious Satyr', and darted into the entrance and toward a table with a view of the door and square. She quickly sat down and watched the pedestrians walk by, waiting for something out of the ordinary. Several moments passed before she was finally able to relax after concluding that if she was being followed she must have given them the slip.

"Would you like something to eat or drink?" a server asked, rousing her from her silent musings.

"Ah, no thank you," Anastasia started and then changed her mind. "Wait, yes a glass of Gnomish if you please."

The server nodded and left, giving Anastasia an opportunity to survey the inn's occupants and assess her surroundings. She was in a rather exposed position without the ability to protect her backside while also watching the front and the street front through the large window.

"Did you notice that woman enter the inn?" Graydon asked, discreetly pointing at Anastasia. "Very unusual."

"Yes, I did," Tristan replied, really studying the young woman.

She was certainly beautiful, brown hair in ringlets on the side and cut into a bob in the back. Her eyes were the color of emeralds and seemed to flash when they caught the light of the lanterns in the room. Her skin tone was dusky and she was dressed nicely. An obvious lady of breeding in that she carried herself as such in her walk and mannerisms.

"She seems to be looking for someone or something outside," Graydon continued.

"Perhaps she is hiding from someone?" Tristan countered.

"We should see if she is all right," Graydon stated.

"No, we should not get involved unless it is obvious she is in trouble," Tristan countered. "Look, she is getting up to leave."

Sure enough, the woman stood up, took one more glance around the room and darted out through the inn's front door. From Tristan's perspective it looked like she timed her departure to coincide with several patrons' entrance to slip away unnoticed. He continued to watch as she blended into the throng of people and disappeared.

"I guess she was not in trouble after all," Graydon stated, and then signaled the waitress for another round.

Tristan nodded thoughtfully.

Anastasia finally determined that nothing would be accomplished by staying in the inn and decided to sneak out when other people were entering. Seeing her opportunity she left her table and slipped out the door and moved with the pedestrian traffic and disappeared. She continued to check her backside for a tail as she maneuvered through the traffic toward the upper city gates. Entering the upper city she took a roundabout route to her house and after one more check approached her house and entered, closing the door behind her. Oliver quickly entered the foyer and approached Anastasia.

"My lady, I would have opened the door for you," he explained. "I am sorry I was not there when you rang."

"Do not fret, Oliver," Anastasia replied, pausing at the bottom of the stairs, holding her package. "I walked from the shop. I am going to rest for a while. Please send Angela up in an hour to ready a bath."

"Yes my lady," Oliver replied. "And my lady, do you know about what time you will be home tonight? Kate had mentioned that there was a new play at the theater and I thought I would surprise her by obtaining tickets."

"Do not worry about that, Oliver. I am not sure when I will be back. Go ahead and make your plans. I have a key to the front door and can let myself in if I return before you."

"Very good, my lady, and thank you," Oliver replied and turned for the kitchen to settle the plans with Kate.

Anastasia smiled as she watched Oliver leave and then headed upstairs for a quick rest before the dinner party.

Rac-Nur decided to stay close to Anastasia after leaving the note for her at the dressmaker's shop. He was concerned that perhaps Lucien Relan might do something rash. He watched her enter the shop and waited around from his vantage point to make sure she was not being followed. She should be in the shop for a while, he surmised, and decided to do a quick reconnaissance of the area for threats or perhaps another set of eyes.

He quickly did a sweep of the area, finding nothing, and had just returned to his vantage point when he saw her leave the shop with a dress box under her arm. He waited for her to enter the stream of pedestrian traffic before he left his spot and began following her.

Rac-Nur had to split his attention between making sure that Anastasia did not spot his tail and searching for any other tail, causing him to almost miss the flash of movement from the rooftop of the building across the street to his right. He paused, stopping dead in his tracks, and scanned the roofs looking for the source of the flash. Satisfying himself that he could see nothing or no one Rac-Nur turned his attention back to Anastasia and began following her again.

It was several moments that she abruptly stopped and took a couple of sidelong glances in his direction. Rac-Nur froze as well and then stepped into a covered doorway and continued to watch her. After several moments Anastasia resumed her journey and then darted into the open door of an inn. Rac-Nur smiled at her actions, proud that her developing intuition had served her well, and then frowned when he realized that he had slipped. She almost detected him! He smiled again at the significance of that statement: She was good and would be fine.

Rac-Nur waited in the covered doorway and sure enough Anastasia came back out of the inn and slipped into the throng of traffic. He waited a moment or two longer and then slipped out of the doorway and crossed the street to resume his tail. They had only gone a little farther when Rac-Nur caught a second glimpse of movement from the rooftops. this time on the opposite side of the street, the side that he had just crossed from.

With the second sighting now, Rac-Nur was sure that Anastasia was being followed, more so since the flashes of movement were ahead of him. If he was the target, he reasoned, the tracker would be behind him. Now Rac-Nur needed to find out who was following Anastasia.

Rac-Nur crossed back over to the other side of the street and began looking for a way up to the rooftops as he continued in the same direction as Anastasia and her tail. Finding a likely spot and started his ascent up a drain pipe. Reaching the edge of the roof he cautiously peered over the edge for threats before heaving himself up and onto the rooftop.

Stealthily traversing a rooftop during the day could be an exercise in futility, but Rac-Nur had no other choice, he needed to identify who was tailing Anastasia. He moved from cover to cover trying to gain on his prey without alerting the other to his presence. Dodging from chimney stack, to roof access, to rain barrel, and across alleyways from roof to roof he slowly closed the distance to his quarry.

Rac-Nur had made up considerable ground and slowed his pace, as he could see his quarry just up ahead on the next roof. He could see no discernible features since the tail was wearing a hooded cloak but the cloak itself told him everything he needed to know. It would seem that his whereabouts had been reported to the Clans and now a Shoc-Du had come to fetch him home. No not home, for this was his home now, here with Anastasia and Aaron, and he would fight to keep it that way.

Rac-Nur seriously considered ended the tail's life but he knew that in the long run it would not solve anything, and besides, he was not naive enough to think that there was only one member of the Clans in the city. No, his best bet was to go along peaceably and stand before the Clans and tell them that he had a Dac-Ur, a life-debt, owed to a man that even the Clans held a high regard and perhaps a little fear for, Shoc-Ti, the Shadow Thief.

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