The Thief of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
Lady Rannath slowly awoke to the feel of Aaron's slow breathing in her hair and his arm draped over her side, his hand gently holding her right breast.
"Umm," She thought to herself, "I could get used to this."
The warmth of her lover by her side, no other cares in the world.
"Could I really spend my life right here? Give up my current obligations and commitments, to live the life I desired in my past?"
"No, that dream is gone," She sighed. "It is time that I put those desires away, and take up the requirements of today."
Gently sliding out from under Aaron's arm, causing him to roll over, Lady Rannath quietly got out of bed. Looking around for her clothes she quickly dressed. She kissed the fingertips of her left hand and placed them on Aaron's forehead, turning to leave before he woke up.
She felt an odd sensation in her stomach. Stopping and placing her hands on her abdomen, she looked down and smiled as a single tear ran down her cheek, "Oh Lords this is going to be a complication."
Turning back to make sure that he still slept, Lady Rannath, Goddess of Light, pregnant with the child of her beloved's descendent faded from view.
When Aaron awoke at first light, Rannath was already gone, having left his bed several hours earlier.
Aaron rolled over feeling the empty spot in the bed and sighed. In the cold reality of morning, he realized that no matter how special the previous night was, it could never be permanent. How do you have a long term relationship with a Goddess? It's not like she's going to keep a house or do the cooking, Aaron smiled picturing that scene.
"Enough melancholy for one day," he chastised himself. "Get up and get going."
Aaron washed up, dressed in traveling clothes and packed his things. After checking that he had everything, he carried his gear to breakfast finding everyone already at the table. Breakfast was unusually subdued, everyone lost in his or her thoughts. Finally the meal was over and it was time to leave.
"Father, I promise to stay in touch better," Aaron grasped Duke Thandar's forearm, "even if the messages have to come through the King."
"And I as well," the Duke responded, "You are always welcome here, this is still your home. Come as often as you can or like, and Reg do not be a stranger, if nothing else, I would love to hear you play."
"Yes, Your Highness," Reg replied. "Although I may be traveling with your son for some time, I think."
"Micah," Aaron hugged his little brother. "Listen to your masters, but ultimately you must decide your own course. I have every faith that you will grow up to be a fine man, and King some day."
"Here, I want you to have this," handing Micah a gold piece. "This gold coin is enchanted, so if ever you are in need, simply hold this coin and think of me. No matter where I am, I will know you need my help, and I will drop everything and be on my way."
"Isabelle, Father was not kidding," Aaron hugged her. "Stay as long as you like, the people here love you already." And he gave her a kiss on her cheek.
"Well, we must be leaving, Aithen is a week away and the King is waiting." With that Aaron and Reg made their way to the stables where their horses were already saddled. As they walked their horses toward the practice arena Master Caleb approached.
"I would not have left before saying goodbye," Aaron smiled while grasping his forearm.
"Oh, I know that," Caleb laughed. "I figured to meet you half way. You be careful and mind your lessons. Basic sword forms have saved many a Master. I will keep an eye on the Duke and Micah, and Isabelle too, I think."
"Thank you, Master Caleb," Aaron replied. "Keep your own self safe too. I do not want to be dropping everything to pull your arse out of some fire."
"Do not worry none about me," Caleb laughed. "I am too old and too broken down for anyone to take notice of."
"I meant what I said the other day," Aaron continued, "You are important to me, your well being is important to me, stay safe."
Reg bid Master Caleb goodbye and he and Aaron led their horses toward the gate, mounted and rode toward the highway. At the highway they turned west toward Aithen and a week's journey.
About midday they passed the roadside inn where Aaron stayed the evening before arriving in Realto, continuing on until dusk where they made a small camp just off the road and ate a cold dinner. Since they were west of the duchy's border they decided not to have a fire and announce their presence, taking turns at sleep and watch.
The next day was more of the same as the journeyed westward toward the capital. Aaron discussed plans with Reg and concluded that their best course of action was for Aaron to slip in to Aithen and meet up with his informant before they "arrived", since there was no way of knowing if the King was going to have Aaron arrested.
Aaron definitely wanted more intel before confronting Lord Beadle, more for the King's sake than anything else, since Aaron would just as soon kill Lord Beadle.
They figured one more day of easy travel before they needed to worry about any action instigated by Lord Beadle, so they rode at a leisurely pace.
Another cold camp and watches greeted them when they stopped for the night. There was a small clearing to the south of the road, equipped with a lean-to and fire ring, although their meal would be cold at least the evenings were cool and dry so far.
After setting up camp Aaron scouted the area while Reg set out bread and cheese and a skin of wine. Finding nothing unusual, Aaron returned to camp and dinner. Aaron cleaned up after dinner while Reg removed his harp, inspecting it after the days travel.
"You know," Aaron began, "while not having a fire makes sense for the night, if you want to play, I do not see why it would make any difference. I scouted the area pretty good, we should be undisturbed."
"I was thinking along the same lines," Reg nodded. "I feel inspired to play and I think Belle feels left out, since I have not played since we left. If it brings unwelcomed company, then we will deal with it. I am at the point were the lack of a fire is grating on my comfort nerves as well."
With that Reg began to play a mournful tune, starting softly and increasing in volume and intensity. At the end of the tune Reg launched into a more upbeat traveling tune. Aaron looked around as small lights began to cluster around the camp bobbing up and down and moving left and right in time with the music. Reg was so caught up in what he was playing he failed to notice the lights until the song was over and he looked up in time to see them stop and then scatter.
"Well, that was interesting," Aaron exclaimed. "That is the first time I've seen that many of Will-o'-wisps in one place before."
"No, that happens all the time when I play Belle," Reg smiled. "Actually now that they know we are here, they will provide pretty good protection. We should have no other visitors tonight."
"Maybe you should play every night," Aaron laughed. "I would not have to scout around then."
For the next two days that is what they did. Reg would play in the evening, bringing out the Will-o'-wisps and they would sleep undisturbed.
"We cross Aithen's borders the day after tomorrow," Aaron remarked as they settled in for the night. "If there is an ambush and I am not saying there is, it would be tomorrow or tomorrow night. After that, there is too much risk involved with patrols of Guardsman, for any ambusher."
The city of Aithen had its own local government to deal with the day-to-day operations within the city outside of the palace. As such the city had borders and was responsible for the area within those borders. The city had its own guardsmen that maintained the law within the gates as well as within the borders. The palace guards maintained the law within the palace as well as all areas both inside and outside of city and town borders. Obviously the area within a city's borders had more guardsmen patrols than the outlying areas, which depended solely on royal guardsmen patrols.
"I am thinking tomorrow night we set up a fake camp and hide out waiting for an attack," Aaron continued. "It may not be very comfortable and probably little sleep, but at least we will be awake if something happens and I like those odds a lot better."
"I agree," Reg replied putting Belle away. "Tonight however, I am going to enjoy the protection of the Will-o'-wisps and get a good night sleep." With that he stretched out on his bedroll and closed his eyes.
"Entirely too trusting," Aaron thought to himself. Looking around, he also stretched out placing Red Rose across his chest and dozed lightly.
True to his word they slept undisturbed all night. Aaron and Reg broke camp the next morning and continued their journey. They decided not to stop for lunch and press on to try and reach the borders of Aithen. They were unsuccessful as dusk fell with them still several hours from Aithen's borders and a day from the city's gates.
The road thus far had been through gently rolling hills dotted with farms and ranches, now the landscape changed to bush and tree, slowly thickening to woods. Not to the extent of the large forbidding forests to the east and southwest, but dense enough to hide highwaymen and bushwhackers. Both Aaron and Reg sat a little straighter senses more alert, looking for the attack that was sure to come.
When they stopped for the evening there was still no attack, so they ate a cold dinner, arranged the camp and faded into the brush and waited. Dusk turned to night and no attack, night faded to false dawn and still no attack. Finally at dawn after a sleepless night they broke camp, mounted and continued their journey. Maybe they would make it to Aithen unscathed.
They crossed Aithen's border several hours later. The landscape began to thin out as farms sprung up here and there. Road traffic increased, travelers on their way either to the city or to one of the adjacent farms and ranches. It was just past the midday meal, which was eaten from horseback, when Aaron spied a rider coming their way. As in each case, their hands drifted down to their weapons as they scanned the area looking for ambushers. As the rider drew closer Aaron recognized Drexil the Thieves' Guildmaster from Realto.