The Shadow of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
When Aaron appeared in the study Anastasia jumped into his arms crying. Aaron held her and looked over to Lady Laura.
"Are you alright?" Aaron asked.
Aaron got a nod from Lady Laura and Colleen. Rac-Nur approached Aaron, dropped to his knees, bowed his head, and pulled the hair away from the back of his neck.
"I have failed you, Shoc-Ti," Rac-Nur stated. "End my life, for I am nothing."
"You did not fail me, Rac-Nur," Aaron let go of Anastasia and reached down for Rac-Nur. "I failed all of you. I forgot one of my fundamental tenets. The relative of an enemy of mine tried to strike at me through all of you. I should have prevented that long before it could come to fruition. I will not make that mistake again."
"Rac-Nur, get up," Aaron commanded. "I still need you to protect Anastasia. I am not done with you yet."
Rac-Nur stood and bowed low to Aaron and then Anastasia. Aaron walked to the door and opened it and announced to Stefan that there would be seven for dinner. He directed Anastasia to escort the women upstairs to get cleaned up and had Stefan show Rac-Nur where he could clean up as well.
Aaron was left alone in his study and sat in the desk chair and relaxed. He had serious decisions to make. What to do about Calan Beadle? What to do about the entire house? Clearly they desired revenge, to what extent and how far through the family did it run? Aaron's musings were interrupted by Stefan, who brought him a note from Master Drexil. Stefan also had a tray with a bottle and glasses. Setting the tray down, he presented Aaron with the sealed letter.
Aaron opened and read the note. Apparently Drexil had a prospect that he wanted Aaron to meet. Aaron wrote a response and gave it to Stefan to have it delivered. Reaching into his cloak he removed his pipe and weed. Filling and lighting his pipe and then pouring a glass of Gnomish, he leaned back, putting his feet up on the desk, and smoked his pipe and sipped his whisky. His silent contemplations were interrupted again by a knock on the door. Aaron swung his legs down and bid whoever enter.
Rac-Nur entered and Aaron bid him sit down. Rac-Nur went over the events of the day, from the shopping, to the abduction, and eventual imprisonment. They went back over it again with Aaron asking pointed questions. When it was over, Aaron concluded that nothing Rac-Nur could have done would have prevented the abduction. They would have to be more diligent in the future. Less assumptions and more investigating should combat any further attempts. Aaron had some ideas as well.
Stefan announced dinner and the ladies met them in the dining room. The table was set for eight and Marcus joined them for dinner. Initially Lady Laura's bodyguards refused to sit at the same table as their lady, but Aaron quashed that and basically ordered them to sit and enjoy dinner. After dinner Aaron invited everyone back into his study, where he explained his plans for the remainder of their stay in Aithen.
With Lady Laura's permission he would send a sealed note to the palace, informing the King and Chamberlain that Lady Laura and entourage would be staying as guests of Miss Anastasia de Ponce. They would return to the palace for the ball, but would stay with Miss De Ponce afterward and would leave with her for Malkur the following day. He would ask the Chamberlain to have Lady Laura's things packed and delivered to the home of the Miss De Ponce. Aaron felt that keeping everyone together was better for their overall security. He had some additional plans, which he kept to himself, that would further ensure their continued safety. Lady Laura was happy to spend the evening with Anastasia and attend the ball together. Aaron wrote and had Stefan send the letter.
The next order of business was the funeral of Anastasia's father. Aaron suggested to Anastasia that there be a small ceremony on the morning they were to leave for Malkur. He would send instructions to the undertaker and have it arranged. Anastasia agreed with Aaron's idea and just wanted it over and to get on with her life.
Lady Laura's things were delivered about an hour later by Chamberlain Walton himself. Worried about the informant mentioned in Aaron's letter, Walton took on the packing and delivering himself. Lady Laura was most pleased with the Chamberlain, with whom she routinely failed to see eye to eye. She thanked him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before leaving the study to see about the unpacking. Walton just looked at Aaron and shook his head, remarking about Aaron's ability to tame even the most ill-tempered beasts. Aaron laughed and offered him some Gnomish whisky, which Walton accepted, sitting down to relax.
Stefan took care of the sleeping arrangements. The house had four bedrooms plus the master's, so there were enough rooms to go around. Aaron suggested Lady Laura move into the master with her bodyguards and Rac-Nur chose the room closest to Anastasia, while Lady Colleen took the one closest to the master. Aaron pressed upon Marcus the necessity of silence concerning the house guests and Marcus retired to his room in the servants quarters. Aaron stayed in the study and began planning the trip to Malkur as well as the appointments he had for tomorrow. He wanted everything ready to leave first thing in the morning the day after tomorrow. He also decided to check about any merchant caravans going west. After mentally going over everything left to do, Aaron turned in for the night.
Aaron was up at first light, and began his morning routine of exercise and sword practice. The house had a nice interior courtyard, just perfect for training. Aaron had been at it for about a half an hour when Rac-Nur joined him. Pretty soon Rene and Michele joined him too. After an hour of intense sword practice, Aaron called a halt for himself and stepped to the side where Anastasia was waiting with a towel and a pitcher of water. Aaron dumped the water over his head and dried off as Anastasia waited with a large glass of water with which to quench his thirst. She complemented him on his skill with swords and asked if he would teach her after their move to Malkur. Aaron said he would and decided that an interior courtyard should be part of any property he purchased.
After bidding everyone good day and a reminder to please remain indoors, Aaron left the house. His first order of business was the Fighters' Guild and his prospective mounted army. The interviews went well and Aaron transferred funds to the guild for the company's use. He ended up hiring a captain, two lieutenants, and several sergeants. He established a quartermaster from one of the senior sergeants and explained what he wanted. The company could be ready to leave in two days if necessary, but the support staff and the families would take longer, probably two weeks. Aaron decided to have the captain take one platoon as soon as possible, and let the senior lieutenant follow up with the rest of the company when everything else was ready.
He gave the captain letters of introduction for Realto and his father, and also gave him a scroll he made under Red Rose's instruction, to remove the warding on the castle main doors. He explained to the captain that the keep was closed and warded and to have the men stay clear. The captain had no further questions and thought that they would make the castle in ten days to a fortnight after leaving Aithen. That was acceptable to Aaron and he bid the captain good day and left the guild satisfied that the castle would be adequately defended.
He had several hours to kill before his meeting with Drexil and whomever it was that Drexil wanted him to meet so he wandered over to the Central Quarter and found a tavern that suit his needs. He entered the tavern and found a table in the back, ordered mead and pulled out his pipe and lit it.
Lord Calan Beadle, the younger brother of His Grace, Duke Colin Beadle, may he rest in peace, was an early riser, and as such was in his office at sunrise. He believed in the adage that the early bird gets the worm, and there was a bug juicy worm just waiting to be plucked. He had continued the plans of his brother and they were close, so very close to achieving their ultimate goal: control of Aithen, and all trade in the five realms. While his brother had underestimated his adversary, Lord Calan had no intention of repeating that folly. He was just waiting for the report from Creton, when a shape began to materialize in his office. Looking up he audibly gasped before rising from his desk and genuflecting before his Lord.
The shape manifested into a cloaked man, 'godly' aura all around him.
"My Master, how can your servant be of service?" Lord Calan asked.
"Arise, my good and faithful servant," the entity commanded. "Your master is displeased. Did he not tell you to be careful when dealing with Whiterune, or his companions?"
"Yes, My Master, you did," Lord Calan hung his head. "I thought to distract him with the kidnapping, and perhaps to gain an advantage with the goblins."
"Fool! He has already rescued them, and now knows of your involvement," the entity spat. "Do not underestimate him again, or you will wind up next to your brother!"
"Yes, My Master." Lord Calan was groveling before his master.
"Is your timeline on schedule?" the entity asked.
"Yes, My Master," Lord Calan replied, more confident that he was going to escape his master's wrath.
"Very good, see that you keep to it," the entity commanded and then extended his hand as red lightning shot out, engulfing the screaming shape huddled on the floor before him.
"It pains me to have to discipline you like this," the entity chided him gently. "You must be more cautious. See that you learn your lesson."
The entity vanished and the lightning subsided leaving Lord Calan moaning on the floor in the fetal position.
Tanith was up early and stretched and exercised before leaving her room and entering the dining room for breakfast. She had just begun her meal when Brian, the son of the innkeeper came to her table with a sealed note.
"This was just dropped off in the front for you, milady," Brian smiled his biggest smile, and handed her the note.