The Thief of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
The Duchy of Realto was located on the eastern edge of the kingdom, a weeks journey on horseback from the capital. Realto sat on the southwestern edge of the Thangdaemon forest, and was the local seat of power. Three main villages, Dria to the northeast, Rana to the south and Mela to the northwest, provided the manpower and resources (agriculture and forestry) of the Duchy. The Old Kings' Highway, travelled easterly toward Realto and through Dria, and then entered the forest with smaller roads connecting Mela, and Rana. The roads were maintained by the Duchy within its borders, and the capital everywhere else.
Aaron's travel from Aithen to Realto was mostly uneventful: he stayed in inns when he could, or made camps off the highway. The third evening out found Aaron sitting in a back corner table of a roadside inn, where he had just finished dinner and was enjoying a pipe, while watching the comings and goings in the busy tavern.
He watched the newest entry to the inn scan the room for a table, but being the dinner hour there were no empty tables. He briefly made eye contact with Aaron, swept his gaze around the room again and started toward Aaron's table. Aaron adopted a slightly drunken demeanor and studied the newcomer. Taller than Aaron, he wore his longsword on his right hip and carried something in a leather pack, strapped across his back, a harp maybe or some other musical instrument.
The man approached Aaron, and asked, "Do you mind sharing a table? The room is full and it has been a long day."
"Sure, no problem," Aaron replied a little drunkenly. "Where are you heading?"
"Oh, here and there, just making my way east looking for work, but really I go where my lady sends me," he replied, doing his own study of his table mate. "I am Reginald by the way, Reg for short, now where is that barmaid, I'm hungry and thirsty as well."
"Nice to meet you," Aaron replied. "My name is Aaron. I am a guardsman on my way to Aithen, also looking for work."
The barmaid arrived with dinner and ale for Reg, and refilled Aaron's wine glass.
"Guardsman, you say?" Reg looked intently at Aaron. "I would have guessed otherwise, and I am a pretty good judge. You do not have the look of a guardsman. I am a Harpist, you probably noticed Belle, my harp."
"You named your harp?" Aaron laughed. "I do not know many bards, but I have never heard of one naming their instrument before."
"Well, it was a gift from my lady," Reg replied.
"If you keep laughing I may have to defend her honor," he smiled to show he was joking.
"Are you any good?" Aaron asked.
"Now I am truly insulted," Reg huffed, pulling the harp out of the case and began to play.
The noise level in the Inn faded as the patrons all turned and looked at Aaron's table, where Reg strummed the opening notes of a ballad. He was a truly gifted harpist with a voice to match. The patron's enthusiastic applause at the end confirmed Aaron's observation.
The innkeeper hurried over and after negotiating payment, convinced Reg to play the room for the evening. After thanking Aaron for sharing the table, wishing him good travel, and success at finding a job, Reg left to entertain the crowd. Aaron listened for a while and finely decided to retire for the evening. He was up very early and left before light, wanting to put some distance between him and the inn, since he told the harpist he was going in the opposite direction.
The weather was mild and rain free the entire trip. He made the outer borders of the Duchy after five days, and would arrive in Realto on the afternoon of the following day. He spied a small inn, called "The Border Inn" in the late afternoon and decided to stop there for the evening. After securing a room for himself and stable space for Thorn, he settled down in the main room for a mug of ale and his pipe.
The main room while fairly empty when he sat down, began to fill up during the evening meal hour. After ordering his food; ham, potatoes and greens, he watched the comings and goings of travelers and locals alike. The food was good, the mead better and the pipe just started when he noticed four soldiers in an unknown livery enter the main hall.
They approached his table and the leader addressed him, "State your business in Realto."
"Who is asking my business?" Aaron countered. "Since when are lawful citizens of Aithen accosted as they travel?"
"By the authority of the Duchess of Realto," the guardsman announced. "We check all unknown travelers in the duchy."
"The Duchess of Realto died some 16 years ago," Aaron leaned back in his chair, raising his left hand up to scratch the back of his neck. "Wait, you are not referring to that chambermaid that shares the Duke's bed are you?"
"Milords please," the innkeeper rushed, over wringing his hands.
"The other travelers," the innkeeper swept his arms. "Please take you business outside."
"Step aside, Girardy," the guardsman turned to the Innkeeper," or I will cite you for interfering."
Turning back to Aaron, "the Duchess of Realto is no chambermaid! I could have you arrested, and jailed for those remarks."
The guardsman stepped forward grasping the hilt of his sword, "You will come with us. I intend to bring you before the magistrate."
"You could try and have me arrested and brought before the magistrate," Aaron smiled, as his left hand gripped the hilt of the dagger hidden behind his collar, and his right hand crossed over to his scabbard.
"It would be better if you just backed up and left, before you interrupt everyone's dinner. I have no intentions of leaving with you.
"I will be arriving in Realto tomorrow, where I will secure lodgings and then visit the local Merchant's Guild. If my business requires, I may then visit the manor house and call upon the Duke. Now you have caused my pipe to go out, do not trouble me anymore, good evening."
Perhaps the corporal of the guard, for that's who the leader was; realized that the situation had turned decidedly deadly, and he, as well as his men might be on the short side of the equation, or maybe he understood that Aaron had given the corporal an out by providing his itinerary. Either way, the corporal was smart enough not to push the situation.
"Good enough then, have a pleasant evening," the corporal gave him a salute, all four did an about face and left the Inn.
Aaron picked up and relit his pipe and blew a smoke ring at the innkeeper, "yes?"
"Nothing milord," the innkeeper replied, and fled the area.
"Hmm," Aaron blew another ring. "Tomorrow should be interesting."
The town of Realto was located on a peninsula in the fork of the River Realto. The town spread out in a triangle, from the fork down to two bridges connecting the highway, one on each tine of the fork of the river. There was no wall, or main gate to the town, accessed from many small streets connected to the highway. This was a farming community with many farms spreading out from the town. The upper section of the town was walled, housing the manor house of the Duke and the different guild halls and larger merchant houses and homes of the more wealthy townspeople. The populous of the town lived in the lower section closer to the highway and farms, sprinkled with several travelers Inns and other small enterprises that made up the lower city.