The March of the Rose
Copyright© 2015 by R22CoolGuy
The Pious Satyr, Malkur, Central Plains.
Anastasia had a restless night, tossing and turning, until she finally got out of bed just before first light. The events of the previous evening still weighed heavy on her mind, and more importantly, her soul. For all of the training and lectures she had received, nothing had prepared her for the aftermath of taking someone's life. No discussion with Rac-Nur, or with Master Drexil had touched on the subject and it had never come up in conversation during drills with Aaron. She assumed they had to have had killed someone but no one ever talked about the ramifications. By the Gods, she had ended someone's life! Two someones! She needed to talk to someone about it and figured Master Drexil was the only one available to her. She also needed to show him the token and to see what needed to be done about it.
Tristan was up early as well, something unusual for him except when on the trail. His thoughts wandered back to the previous evening and the sight of Anastasia, dressed all in black, dropping cat-like onto her balcony from the roof and quickly moving inside. Obviously there was considerably more to the Merchant Master and young woman than meets the eye. There was also her connection to Master Drexil to consider as well. Was she also a thief? And if so, what was her standing and who was her master? He did not think it was Master Drexil, because normally the Guildmaster did not take on apprentices.
She certainly did not reveal the fact that she might be a thief during their revelation meeting the previous evening, but then, neither did he. It might be a good thing to have her talents around, providing she was of journeyman, --or should that be journey woman?--status. Maybe he could pull Master Drexil aside and inquire about her. That might be the best course of action.
Anastasia shook off her melancholy mood and checked her wound. She was happy to see that it was already healing over, a result, she was sure, of the ring on her finger. Stripping down, she began her sword forms as a way to retreat from her emotions. It was strange, she was sure, but she felt more at peace practicing her forms in the nude. It was more natural and she felt more free and alive.
Anastasia felt better after finishing her forms and then cleaned up and packed all of her things in preparation for traveling. She wondered, after finishing packing, if Drexil was in his office this early or if she should just wait and talk to him after the funeral. She finally decided to speak to him after the funeral and left her room with her belongings in search of mead to settle her stomach.
Anastasia had already nursed a mug of mead and was trying some porridge when the rest of the group made their way downstairs and joined her for breakfast. They all took seats, ordered breakfast, and soon were enjoying the fine meal. Tristan looked reflectively at Anastasia and noticed she was particularly quiet and nudged Graydon and nodded his head toward her. Graydon nodded back and tipped his head to where Dunin sat contemplating his bowl.
"Anastasia, Dunin? I know what it is like to lose someone dear to you," Graydon explained. "You cannot let it eat at you. You must bury your grief when we bury Catherine and Oliver. A level head is needed for what we plan."
"My Paladin, you have the ability to bestow peace," Lightbringer telepathically explained. "It will ease their troubled hearts."
Graydon nodded, stood and moved over to where Dunin was sitting and placed his hand on Dunin's shoulder. Graydon could feel the power flow through him and into Dunin who sighed. He then moved over to where Anastasia was sitting and reached for her shoulder as well. She brought a hand up and stopped him after seeing what he had done for Dunin. She had no intentions of letting her emotions be manipulated that way.
"I thank you but if it is all the same to you I will deal with it my own way," she said, a small smile on her lips.
Graydon nodded, a small frown on his lips and then retook his seat and they finished the meal in silence. When the meal was complete, Anastasia, as the elected bursar, settled their bill with the innkeeper. They moved all of their baggage to the stables where the men distributed the supplies and packed the mules while the two women saddled the horses and tied up the saddle bags and bed rolls. The men would each lead a pack animal, leaving the women free to ride scout in front and rear. Initially Graydon balked at the idea, wanting the women in the center of the group, but both Anastasia and Beriwen vetoed that idea. Then Beriwen went on to explain that not having a pack animal would allow the two women to move more easily, a requirement for scouting the trail when necessary. Tristan finally placed his hand on Graydon's arm and shook his head.
"There will come a time when you realize the futility in arguing with a female," Tristan explained, to the glare of both Anastasia and Beriwen. "You might as well come to that conclusion now and save yourself a lot of anguish later."
"Is that how you feel, Dunin?" Beriwen asked, dangerously.
"What? Ah, no, not at all," Dunin replied, and then shot daggers from his eyes at Tristan. "If an idea has merit it does not matter who comes up with it."
Beriwen turned to her horse with a huff and Tristan just laughed as he tied off his mule to the saddle of his horse. He started off and then stopped sweeping his hand to indicate that Anastasia should take the lead. She led her horse in front of Tristan and bumped him in the process. The rest of the party fell in line, Dunin behind Tristan and then Graydon, with Beriwen bringing up the rear.
Anastasia led the way through the tunnel of the main gates and then out onto the road and turned right where a small road went through the traveling faire and toward the cemetery, which was just east of the city on a small rise. Graydon called out to halt and looked around for Brother William, who was just stepping out from the tents of the faire, leading his horse.
"Hail and well met, High Paladin," Brother William called out in greeting.
Graydon took the time to introduce William to everyone in the party and then asked if the monk could refrain from using titles. Graydon wished to be known only as Graydon. The monk, horrified at referring to the High Paladin by his given name, sputtered a rebuttal and it finally took Beriwen's intercession to get the party moving.
"How about calling him Sir Graydon?" she offered.
"Graydon, would that be all right with you?" Tristan asked, trying to help defuse the situation.
In the end, they both agreed and Brother William took up position behind Sir Graydon and in front of Beriwen. Anastasia shook her head and started forward again toward the cemetery. She was surprised when she saw the number of people waiting by the two grave sites.
It had been decided that they would bury Catherine and Oliver side by side in a small fenced plot that Anastasia had purchased. Dunin really had no long term place to live and since his Aunt lived in Malkur he decided that the cemetery was the best place. Anastasia knew that Oliver had no family and had adopted him, so to speak, as her uncle.
Master's Drexil and Bartholomew were there, as we all as, Dunin's aunt and several people from Anastasia's house that had dealings with the two. Anastasia's first-assistant, Morgan was there and several other high ranking staff members where standing next to him. It seemed as if everyone that she thought would be there was and had already assembled in rows in front of the graves. She nodded to the undertaker and his assistants, who were waiting beside a hearse, as she tied the reins of her horse at the hitching post and entered the cemetery with the rest of the party in tow. A cleric, dressed in white robes, with silver sash and trim, was waiting at the head of the graves.
When Anastasia had made the funeral arrangements with the undertaker, he had asked who she wanted to perform the ceremony. With no clear idea she grasped at the only deity she was familiar with, Lady Rannath, Goddess of Light, the patron of her guardian, Aaron. The undertaker informed her that the clerics of the Temple of Light had withdrawn and no one knew where they were. Anastasia told him that she had no preference then and to just use a 'Good' aligned cleric.
Anastasia led the procession to where the cleric stood and nodded to him before taking her place at the front of the guests, next to Dunin's aunt and her children. Dunin and Beriwen took their places next to Anastasia, and Graydon, Tristan, and Brother William took positions in the row behind. The cleric nodded to the undertaker who directed his assistants to carry the wooden coffins, one at a time, to a place next to each grave.
The cleric began the ceremony as Anastasia stared off into space. This would mark the first time that someone she cared about had been killed and she had hope but knew in her heart that it would not be the last. Not since that frightful flight with Lady Laura and Rac-Nur after the assassination attempt on Aaron had she pondered her own mortality. The cleric continued the ceremony and Anastasia only perked up when she heard her name mentioned and concentrated on what he was saying. The cleric extolled the virtues of Catherine and Anastasia could hear the quiet sobs of Catherine's sister beside her.
All of a sudden Anastasia felt a calming reassurance settle over her and then heard Catherine's sister's sobs quiet down. She turned in her seat and stared daggers at Graydon, who only smiled in return. She turned back around and vowed to herself that she would have to have a talk with Sir Graydon about using his powers without asking first. She wanted to keep her anger and use it, not have her feelings artificially regulated by magic. She looked up and gave the cleric her full attention.
The cleric concluded the service and the assembly solemnly watched first one and then the other coffin being lowered into the ground by the pallbearers. Anastasia briefly looked to left and saw Dunin consoling his aunt as the cleric approached and stopped before her.
"I am Brother Damion," he announced in greeting. "Cleric to Lady Adele, Goddess of the Argent Moon."
Anastasia thanked him for the service and agreeing to it on such short notice. Brother Damion thanked her again and moved down the line to talk with Dunin and his aunt. Anastasia looked around, spotting Master Drexil and excused herself and went to where he was standing.
"Thank you for coming," Anastasia greeted her friend, master, and guild master.
"I told you I would be here," he replied. "Both for you and Lord Aaron. I see you are packed and ready, and have added another member to your troop."
She explained who Brother William was and then asked him if he and any new news, to which he replied that he did not. She then got to the heart of the matter.
"I have dealt with Lucien Relan," she stated, matter-of-factly. "In the process I came across someone posed as a butler but was much more."
"Can you tell me who he was?" she asked, passing over the token.
"Not a thief, if that was what you were thinking," he replied and handed the token back after examining both sides. "It has the markings of Cat Harbor, far to the east but it is not the token of a thief. You need to stop and see a Master Darius Greystone in Aithen. Tell him who you are and show him that token. I am pretty sure you killed an assassin, Master Darius will know what to do."
"Is there going to be problems?" Anastasia asked, stowing the token away.
"I am not quite sure, Anna," Drexil replied and shrugged. "The Assassins' Guild takes the death of one of their members very seriously. However, since Aa ... I mean recently the guilds have been more autonomous than they were so it may not be an issue. I will check with the local Guildmaster and see if he was aware that an assassin from Cat Harbor was in the city. If this assassin was in the city on guild sanctioned business there may be repercussions. If not then the guild may disavow him and would do nothing in retaliation. I will forward the information to Master Gilbreth in Aithen."
"How do I find him?" Anastasia asked. "Master Darius, I mean."
"See Master Gilbreth first," Drexil replied. "I will have letters of introduction forwarded for you to him, along with whatever I uncover here. He will put you in touch with Master Darius."
She thanked him one more time and have him a hug before turning away to thank the other guests for coming. She noted out of the corner of her eye that Tristan had been watching her and went over to Drexil after she left.
"I was surprised to see you here," Tristan stated, greeting Master Drexil.
"I am friends with the family and have watched over Anastasia as she has grown up," Drexil replied and shrugged. "Not that I need to answer to you."
"That is not what I meant, Master Drexil," Tristan replied, verbally backpedaling. "I was just curious about your relationship."
"It is unhealthy to be curious about a master, Journeyman Tristan," Drexil replied harshly, and then gathered himself. "It is not my story to tell."
"My apologies, Master Drexil," Tristan replied. "I meant no disrespect."
"Watch over her, Tristan," Drexil commanded, and patted his shoulder. "Watch yourself as well. There is more going on here but I do not know what it is."
The two men parted company and Tristan wandered over to where Graydon was studying the sky to the north.
"We had better unpack the slickers," he announced, pointing to the darkening sky. "It looks like a storm out of the north."
"Should we delay?" Tristan asked, looking to Anastasia, who had just approached with Beriwen. Dunin was still consoling his aunt.
"We cannot delay," Anastasia replied. "They all ready have a significant head start."
"Do you think they travel by horse or foot?" Tristan asked.
"I think they travel by wyvern," Anastasia replied. "We have no hope of catching them before they return to their lair. My hope is that we arrive before whatever will happen happens."
"What do you think will happen?" Dunin asked, stepping up beside Beriwen.
"I think they will bring him before their council for living amongst Ter-Mar," Anastasia replied. "I hope to get there before the trial. I have information critical to his defense."
"Will they even listen to us?" Graydon asked. "Dark Elves are normally not very accommodating."
"I believe that they will listen to me," Anastasia replied cryptically. "But we need to get on the road and I have to spend at least a half-day in Aithen."
"I have been wondering about that," Beriwen replied. "Why not just shift to Aithen?"
"By the Gods, I never even thought of that!" Anastasia snorted.
"Shift?" Graydon asked.
"Yes, your sword or Dunin's for that matter can teleport us to Aithen, or the road near there," Anastasia replied. "I am familiar with Runeswords. Beriwen, it is my understanding that you could as well."
"Yes, but it would be a bad idea," Beriwen replied. "Dunin, ask Kalaban if its use of Eldritch is detectable."
"Kalaban says no," Dunin replied after asking the Runesword. "Well, relatively no, that is."
"Relatively no?" Anastasia asked. "That is pretty vague."
"For the sake of this discussion, Kalaban says no," Dunin replied.
"Any Adept would be able to feel my use of Eldritch at the level necessary to move everyone here plus the animals," Beriwen explained. "I could not hide it. A Runesword on the other hand does not leave any trace."
"Lightbringer says I am the likely candidate because I am more closely attuned to the flow than Dunin would be," Graydon interjected. "There would be no cost for me."
"Kalaban agrees and says that since I am mortal and not attuned to the flow that my body would react to that much Eldritch passing through it to my sword," Dunin added. "Apparently it would age me, cause me to be more easily fatigued, weaken me over repeated uses."
"Lightbringer will need an accurate picture of where we are going," Beriwen added. "The more detail the more accurate the shift and less prone to mishaps."
"Mishaps?" Anastasia asked, in clarification.
"Appearing within a rock, the ground, a building, or some distance in the air, for example," Beriwen replied.
"Ouch!" Tristan exclaimed. "I want none of that!"
"I have lived in Aithen and am familiar with the countryside surrounding the city," Anastasia explained. "How do we do this?"
"Lightbringer says to hold a picture of where we want to go in your mind, and if you are willing Lightbringer can read it from there," Graydon explained.
"Ah, that is a little intrusive," Anastasia replied. "Is there no other way?"
"Unfortunately Lightbringer says no," Graydon replied. "Lightbringer says not to worry, that it will only latch on to the one memory."
Anastasia finally acceded to the request and did what Lightbringer had asked. When she finally had the picture sharply in her mind she nodded and then felt just the slightest pressure and then it was gone.
"Lightbringer says it has the information needed," Graydon announced. "And thanks you, Anastasia for trusting it to retrieve only that memory."
"Now what?" Tristan asked.
"We gather around the horses and pack animals and Lightbringer shifts us to the location it gleaned from Anastasia's memory," Graydon explained.
"Before we go I need a moment of Master Drexil's time," Anastasia announced suddenly and left the group.
Tristan watch her leave and then approached Drexil, who was talking to one of his assistants and waited for him to recognize her. Drexil turned to her and she approached, while the assistant departed.
"I will need you to move quickly on that communique to Aithen," she stated. "Circumstances have changed and we will be there sooner than I thought."
"How soon?" Drexil asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Without giving too much away, let me just say, very, very soon," Anastasia replied cryptically. "How soon can you be in your office?"
"Oh, well I will leave now and get right on it," Drexil replied and chuckled. "Safe travels."
She wished him farewell again, turned, and left to rejoin the others. When she got back Anastasia explained that they would need to spend the day in Aithen and would not be able to leave until the next morning. She also said that she was familiar with the lay if the land around Realto and would provide a detailed picture to Lightbringer. Graydon said that he would need the day of rest before attempting another shift. He explained that Lightbringer thought that the shift would tire Graydon but would not do any lasting damage. He told everyone to mount their horses and rein their pack animals in close. Graydon then had Lightbringer shift them to Aithen.
Old Kings' Highway, half a league to the west of Aithen, Eastern Realm.
The party appeared exactly where Anastasia had pictured; just of the highway on a knoll in the grasslands that surrounded Aithen. They immediately broke out slickers since it was raining a cold drizzly rain that could, if left unchecked, seep into the clothing and chill a person to the bone. Where they had left Malkur early morning, here in Aithen it was just noon and it looked like it had been raining for several hours. Everyone was happy that they did not have to travel in this weather for the week it would normally take from Malkur to Aithen.
Anastasia suggested the Pious Satyr inn and led the way toward the gates of the once High-City of Aithen. Beriwen asked many questions since during her time this entire realm, well, in truth, four out of the five realms were once a great kingdom whose seat was Aithen. It was here that the Kings of Tarra lived and ruled and for that reason she had never been through the gates.
They finally reached the main gates, which were opened at this time of day, and Brother William called a halt and told them that he would be staying outside of the city and would meet up again when it was time to leave. He bid them good day and turned his horse to the east and to begin looking for a likely spot to camp. Tristan, again, remarked that he wondered how the monk would know when they were leaving, but nobody responded. They approached the gates and were passed through unchecked, and unmolested. As soon as they were through the checkpoint Anastasia drew up the hood of her cloak. Although it was unlikely, she did not want to run the chance of being recognized. It would be too difficult to explain why she was in the city so soon after leaving for Malkur, too soon for that matter. It was also the reason she chose the Pious Satyr instead of the Golden Pony. Anastasia led the way toward the Merchant Quarter and the Pious Satyr, scanning the crowds for any familiar faces to avoid.
They arrived at the inn and turned their mounts and pack animals over to a groom stationed in front of the inn. Anastasia finally dropped her hood as they entered the establishment and stopped at the front desk to procure rooms for the day. After putting their things away in their respective rooms they met up in the dining room. Anastasia explained that she had an errand to run, but other than that would be spending the day in the inn.
Tristan watched her retreating form for a moment and then let Graydon know that he had an errand as well. He bid the rest good day and left the inn. Graydon excused himself to lie down and rest, while Dunin and Beriwen went into the great hall to sit and talk.