The Thief of the Rose - Cover

The Thief of the Rose

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

Chapter 15b

By the time that Aaron reached the Thieves' Guild, Drexil had already been cleaning house for several hours. Aaron gave him his new charter and charged him with living up to Aaron's faith in him. He also reminded Drexil that he would have to see the council soon to update them on the Guild's progress back to prosperity. Drexil commented that he wished he could spend the whole year without an audience, which caused a chuckle from Aaron, who understood completely.

Aaron told him not to worry about the Guild Council appointment since the current leadership was about to be upset. Aaron figured that it would take time to settle the Council down and fill the vacancies. Aaron left Drexil reassured that his place was secure within the Guild.

Aaron had a few more stops to make before seeing the King. He stopped at the Sorcerers' Guild and purchased a single dose of the invisibility potion to replace the one he used. He then returned to the inn and stowed his whisky, cleaned up and left for the palace. On the way to the palace he stopped at the Temple of Light to pay homage to Lady Rannath, spending several moments in prayer and silent supplication. Asking and receiving her blessings, he dropped several gold pieces in the offering box and left for the palace.

The palace of Aithen was situated at the center of the third level of the city. Aaron liked to walk to the palace, preferring to leave Thorn in the lower level and closer to the city gates if a quick escape was needed.

Aaron was stopped at the palace gates, which was odd and asked to wait for an escort, which was odder still. He sighed in relief when Chamberlain Walton showed up as his escort.

"Chamberlain Walton, what is going on?" Aaron asked, clearly exasperated.

"Not now and not here," Walton replied. "We can talk in my office, if you please, Lord Aaron?"

Aaron kept his silence and followed Walton toward his office when he noticed Lord Beadle coming from the opposite direction down the hallway straight towards the both of them.

"Chamberlain Walton, Lord Aaron, good day," Beadle smiled. "On your way to see the King?"

"Why, yes, Lord Beadle," Aaron replied with that feral grin. "Why do you not accompany us? I am sure the King will want to talk to you after my report. Why not save everyone the trouble of finding you after, and just tag along?"

"Lord Aaron, this is a private matter between you and the King," Walton interrupted.

"No, no, Chamberlain Walton," Aaron replied. "I am sure Lord Beadle is well aware of what the discussion entails. No reason he should not be there from the outset. What do you say, Lord Beadle?"

"I am sure I have no idea what you are talking about," Lord Beadle replied. "I am aware of certain alleged activity that I brought to His Majesty's attention, but that was to stop any idle chatter. Really Lord Aaron, the discussion should be between you and the King."

"No, Lord Beadle," Aaron smiled wider, placing his hand on the pommel of Black Rose. "I must insist."

"Are you sure about this, Lord Aaron?" Walton asked. "He is holding full court right now, perhaps we should wait for a more private audience?"

"No, Lord Chamberlain," Aaron replied firmly, with that same feral grin causing Walton an involuntary shudder. "Now is the time and the full court should be the place, lead on."

Walton just shook his head and continued down the hall. Lord Beadle knew when he was outmaneuvered, so he followed along behind them.

At this time of the day the King was holding court in the main throne room, and that was where Walton led them. As they approached the closed doors the guards on either side came to attention.

Opening the doors, Chamberlain Walton announced, "His Royal Highness, Prince Aaron Blackmoon, Swordmaster and Lord Inquisitor of the Guild Council."

Pausing for a moment, Walton continued. "His Grace, Duke Colin Beadle, Grandmaster of the Merchants' Guild and Chairman of the Guild Council."

The courtiers parted, as both men approached the throne and bowed to the King. Chamberlain Walton took a side route and stepped to the side of the throne.

The main throne room of Aithen was long and wide. There were three aisles segregated by ivory columns spaced evenly apart on both sides of the main aisle. The throne sat on a platform four steps higher than the main floor. Several alcoves spaced between columns marked the side walls. Men-at-Arms holding halberds stood at attention to the sides of each alcove.

"Prince Aaron, welcome home!" The King smiled. "Was your trip successful?"

"If it pleases Your Majesty, Lord Aaron will do," Aaron explained cautiously. "I have spoken with my father, the Duke of Realto, and have decided to abdicate my position as heir to the throne of Aithen in favor of my brother, Prince Micah."

"As you wish, Lord Aaron," the King proclaimed. "Let the records show that Prince Aaron has abdicated in favor of Prince Micah. Now, Lord Aaron, have you finished your investigation?"

"I have, Your Majesty," Aaron replied. "It seems that all of the events, from the thefts from the merchant trains, to the untimely death of Master Wheatstone, to the poisoning of Duke Thandar, to the attempts on my life are all interrelated. The ambitions of Lord Beadle are lofty, Your Majesty. They include the throne you currently occupy."

"Lies, lies," Lord Beadle proclaimed. "I have always been, and am now, a loyal subject to the crown of Aithen. These allegations are nothing more than a simple ruse to shift attention from the heinous acts committed by Lord Aaron. What proof, Lord Aaron, what proof do you have that I masterminded any of this?"

"Lord Beadle, you are mixed up in some serious court intrigue," Aaron replied. "You have had two separate plans moving along toward a common result, the throne of Aithen and control of three of the most powerful guilds."

Lord Beadle just stood there as courtiers began to move back, not wanting to be associated with him.

"First, you moved into the chairmanship," Aaron begun, "thus removing yourself from the day to day operation of the Merchant's Guild. Then you had Lomac, the Merchant second assistant, provide specific details from different trains that you then passed to Reynaldo, the Thief first assistant who then had an underling steal from said trains."

"The plan was to discredit Master Gerard and have Lomac replace him as head of the Merchants' Guild," Aaron continued. "But you did not count on Wheatstone finding out that Lomac was the source of the information. He came to you and then you placed a contract out on him, through Elton the Assassin first assistant, who you promised the Assassins' Guild to in exchange for his help and loyalty to you."

"Here are the supporting documents," he passed them to the Chamberlain, who handed them to the King.

Lord Beadle continued to stare at Aaron as the courtiers moved back again.

"The second plan was to place Prince Micah on the throne with you as Regent," Aaron continued. "You enlisted your nephew, Nigel Weaver, the Village Master of Dria, and he in turn brought in Lady Thalia, the Duke's second wife."

"The plan was to poison the Duke and do away with me, thereby putting Micah next in line," Aaron continued. "The King would then have an untimely death, putting Micah on the throne."

"What Thalia did not know was that you intended to be Micah's Regent, not her," Aaron continued. "You had Weaver introduce a thief named Arnod, recommended to you by Reynaldo, to Lady Thalia."

"Arnod's job was to poison the Duke and leave enough evidence to implicate Lady Thalia," Aaron continued. "He was also the link to the tampered tribute."

"Here are the supporting documents," Aaron again handed rolled parchments to the Chamberlain, who in turn passed them to the King.

Lord Beadle looked over at the King and gently shook his head as the courtiers give them more room.

"My involvement concerned you," Aaron smiled. "You hoped that the contractor for Wheatstone might get me as well, but he did not. You hoped your agent at Realto would, but he did not. You had Elton put out a bounty on me, hoping it would be collected, but as you see, it has not."

"Then you heard from Remo, a thief who was on Reynaldo's payroll, that I wanted Master Darius, the Assassins' Guildmaster followed to find out who put the contract out on Wheatstone," Aaron continued. "Using that information, you had Remo give me false information concerning Master Darius' involvement, not realizing that I knew that Master Darius would never be in league with you. That your patrons were diametrically opposed."

"Your hope was that Darius or I would kill the other, and Elton would clean up after, but that did not happen either," Aaron smiled his trademark feral grin. "Then you would have the Crown and the three guilds; Merchants, Thieves, and Assassins."

"How does that sound?" Aaron asked. "And before you try to denounce it, I have written, signed declarations from the other parties involved. An amazing plot, only four people knew you were the mastermind behind it. Each of those four ran the others."

"Are you finished with this fabrication?" Beadle asked. "These statements you have, how were they obtained? Were they given freely or extracted by force or promise of death?"

"Your Majesty," Lord Beadle began. "Clearly these statements were obtained under duress. Any person in their position, would say anything to delay the inevitable of Lord Aaron's wrath. Therefore, I contend that they are therefore suspect, at best."

"Your Majesty, Lords and Ladies of Aithen," Lord Beadle turned to face the court. "I am and have always been your humble servant. My needs have always come second to the throne. It is shameful and untrue to disparage my character in this way. I am sure Lord Aaron in his investigation was caught up in the moment, uncovering information that took him down a false trail."

"He is an imposing figure," Beadle smiled, turning toward Aaron. A murmur rose in the court. "I think even I might say anything to deflect his wrath, and the tip of his sword. I am sure that when you investigate these documents, you will find that not one person who made a statement is still among the living. That alone should tell you all you need to know."

"What about the fact that you are the head of a secret society?" Aaron interrupted.

"That is a boldfaced lie," Lord Beadle replied, raising his voice. "My loyalties lie with the Crown of Aithen."

"The Crown you wish to wear, Lord Beadle," Aaron remarked. "I saw you leading a secret meeting at the Temple of the Hand. A meeting of like-minded individuals bent on the overthrow of Aithen."

"Hearsay, Your Majesty," Beadle addressed the Throne. "I have done nothing to warrant this slander by Lord Aaron."

"Lord Beadle, did you just call me a liar?" Aaron asked menacingly.

"Your word against mine, Lord Aaron," Lord Beadle smirked. "I have no reason to lie."

A gasp arose amongst the couriers as Aaron stepped in front of Lord Beadle and removed the right-hand glove tucked in his sword belt. The courtiers had fled the center aisle completely and were now huddled in small groups, their combined whispers a noisy droning sound in the background.

"That was a mistake and your downfall, Lord Beadle," Aaron grinned. "As a SwordMaster, I may be called upon to adjudicate disagreements or displays of swordsmanship, and as such my word is my bond and is above reproach. Even in this instance, since I speak as Lord Inquisitor for the Crown and Guild Council, my word is binding as you should know."

Throwing the glove down at Lord Beadle's feet, Aaron declared, "Either retract your statement or pick up the glove. I care not, either way."

Lord Beadle knew he had been outmaneuvered by Lord Aaron. If he retracted his statement he would be admitting treason. If he picked up the glove he would be challenging Lord Aaron to honor combat to the death. Either way he was finished. Lord Beadle did the only thing he could.

Falling to his knees, he looked up clasped his hands together and screamed, "My Lord Malachi, your servant is in peril and requires your assistance."

"And I will gladly give it," a booming voice filled the court, as Lord Malachi, the God of Thieves materialized into view.

The God Thief was short of stature but displayed all of the other attributes of his brethren. Glowing in ethereal light, with two gleaming shortswords in his hands. He appeared at the end of the throne room close to the double doors.

Aaron spun to face him drawing both swords, blades ablaze with blue flames, runes glowing white in his hands.

Lord Beadle leaped to his feet and tried to get away but he was brought up short by the tip of Reg's blade. "Not yet, Your Grace. Stay right where you are."

Malachi vanished and reappeared behind Aaron slicing Aaron across his thighs with both swords and vanished again, reappearing in the same place he started from.

"First blood goes to me," Malachi laughed.

Aaron staggered forward from the assault to the back of his legs as Malachi leaped forward and attacked again. Aaron was able to parry the initial onslaught of blows, before a slice from Malachi penetrated Aaron's defense and scored across his left arm drawing blood. Malachi leaped back to his starting position as Aaron tried to catch his breath.

"You are slow," Malachi laughed, "you need to be faster to keep up."

Aaron took a moment to inspect his wounds. None were life threatening in of themselves, but they were delivered with the intent to slowly leak his strength and stamina away. More reflection had to wait as Malachi chose that time to strike again.

Aaron fared much better during this attack. Attack, block, slash, parry, advance, retreat. Aaron was holding his ground much better even scoring inside Malachi's defenses on several occasions. In mid-block Malachi vanished, only to reappear behind and to the left of Aaron, and got in three clean hits before Aaron spun and pushed him back.

Malachi again vanished, only to reappear once again out of Aaron's reach at the end of the aisle.

"Looks like your life forces are leaking down your legs," Malachi mocked. "Did you actually believe you could best me, A GOD?"

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