The Shadow of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
The ladies had a restless night, both were worried about what tomorrow would bring. Lady Laura was also grieving over the loss of her bodyguards and Lady Colleen, more friends than employees. Rac-Nur spent the night listening at the secret door for any type of movement on the other side. Several times he heard noises coming from the other side of the wall and kept the ladies quiet so as not to betray their concealment. Finally Rac-Nur determined that it must be daylight and this hiding place could become a mausoleum if they stayed there much longer. He discussed with the ladies their next move. He thought about going to the palace, but something about that nagged him. Why hadn't the King sent guardsman to find them after the attempt on their lives? If his liege was alive, why hadn't he come either? Rac-Nur had many questions and few answers. He asked Lady Laura if there was anything at the palace she absolutely needed. Most of her things, she told him, the important ones at least, had been brought down the previous night. There wasn't anything at the palace she couldn't replace.
After listening at the wall for any sound, Rac-Nur finally decided to open the access and hope for the best. He cautioned the women to stay and to close the door behind him. He would scout the house and if everything was clear would use a rhythmic knock to let them know the coast was clear.
Quietly and cautiously, Rac-Nur crept through the upstairs and after finding no one, went downstairs and checked there as well. The assailants from the previous night had been removed, as well as all evidence of the fight cleaned or removed. He did find Stefan dead in his bed chamber, and closed the door and returned to Anastasia's bed chamber. Letting the women know the coast was clear he had them pack essentials and non-replaceable keepsakes, and then hid everything else of value in the secret room. He had them dress in riding clothes with hooded cloaks -- nothing fancy, and certainly nothing that would cause them to stand out in a crowd.
Rac-Nur explained to Lady Laura that his master had charged him with the protection of Lady Anastasia and that was his primary responsibility. However, his master had agreed to protect Lady Laura and in his absence Rac-Nur would assume that responsibility as well. He wanted to know what Lady Laura wanted to do. Did she want to try and get home to Malkur? Rac-Nur cautioned that it was a journey of at least a fortnight, and he wasn't familiar with the road or the land west of Aithen. He also cautioned that they had no idea what the current climate was in Malkur. Someone, or some ones, wanted Lady Laura, and the road to Malkur could provide ample opportunities for that. Rac-Nur told them that his master had a home east of Aithen in Realto, and although it was a week's journey, Rac-Nur knew the lay of the land and that his master's father would protect them.
The ladies concurred that their best option seemed to be to head for Realto. Although it was farther away from Malkur, Lady Laura realized that the trip would probably be safer. Rac-Nur decided to leave at dusk and head to the inn his master told him about. If this was a major conspiracy then he was afraid they might not be allowed to leave Aithen. He really wanted to get a look at the palace and determine what was going on, but he didn't want to leave the ladies here alone, yet bringing them might not be smart either. Finally coming to a decision, he armed the ladies with daggers, told them where to go in the lower city if they got separated, and decided to try to get into the upper city and the palace.
Tanith had hovered over Aaron with concern, and yes, even fear, since returning to her lair the previous night. He was unconscious and even unresponsive through the bond. The fact that she could still feel him through it provided some comfort.
She had stripped him of his possessions and clothes after returning to her lair the previous evening, all except the glowing signet ring on his left hand and the black, shimmering ring on his right. She had correctly deduced that it was a ring of protection or something similar, a very powerful ring of protection. The other thing she realized was just exactly who her WitchLord was: the heir to the Rose Throne, which made that ring the royal ring of Tarra. She left the ring on his finger, but all else she removed. When she tried to remove the black, shimmering ring on his right index finger sparks emanated from it. Try as she might she was unable to remove it and decided that it could do him no harm and left it alone.
She inspected the entry wounds and after determining that it was safe to do so, she healed the wound sites with Eldritch dripped like liquid from her fingertips. The wounds sizzled and smoked, but healed over. There would remain however, a prominent reminder of the attack. Next she inspected the left arm and the angry looking scar at his bicep. It interested her that the arm gave off a hue of goodness, which contradicted his chosen lifestyle. The glove, Thangdaemon made and enchanted, explained much. Again she dripped Eldritch from her fingertips around the scar causing the skin to fade from angry red to a pale pink. That was about the extent of the repair, so she left it alone. Every so often she would feed him Eldritch through their link to help his body fight off the effects of the poison, but other than that there was little she could do. He had enough poison in him to kill ten men, she just had to wait and see.
The night was long and difficult for Micah, who slept very little. Finally at false dawn, he threw off his coverings and got up and went over to the fire. Guardsmen noticed his movements and went back to watching the forest, in protection of the young Duke and heir to the kingdom. Micah looked over to where Isabelle tossed and turned, having her own difficulties. A cup of steaming brew was passed to him by one of the Rangers as Caleb sat down next to him with a sigh.
"We have had scouts out all night, Your Grace," Caleb began.
Micah looked up with an arched brow and look of irritation at the use of the formal title.
"Since when have I become 'Your Grace'?" he asked his brother's mentor and friend. "I thought our relationship was closer than that."
"It is, Your Grace," Caleb actually let the beginning of a smile form, before dismissing it. "Things change, circumstances change. No longer are you the young man growing up around your father's guards. Now you are the Duke of Realto, and Prince of Aithen. It is time you realized that."
"I know what my responsibilities are, Master Caleb," Micah replied brusquely. "I only ask that in less formal settings you are less formal."
"I can do that, Master Micah," Caleb smiled. "As I was saying, we have had scouts out all night. There are armed men out looking for you. The word is being spread that you had your father killed to assume his title."
"What!" Micah screamed, alerting the whole camp.
His outburst roused the already restless Isabelle, who sat up rubbing the sleep from her eyes, "Micah?"
Setting his cup down, he got up and went over to her and kneeled at her side, "I am here, Isabelle. Everything will be alright."
"Why did you scream out?" she asked, fully awake.
"I had just received some disturbing news and did not have control of my emotions," he smiled, moving a stray hair away from her eyes. "I am fine now; would you like something to drink?"
She answered in the affirmative, and Micah got up and fetched her a cup of the strong brew. She smiled at him and took the cup. Micah went back over to the fire and Master Caleb.
"Sorry about the outburst," he smiled sheepishly. "That caught me by surprise. Any other surprises?"
"Well, the manor is housing a full company of guardsmen from House Beadle," Caleb replied. "Apparently, Duke Calan Beadle has declared martial law in the city to keep order, and has men out looking for you."
"How did a contingent of his men just happen to be in Realto?" Micah asked. "Father never said anything about hosting another House's guardsmen."
"Yes, it is convenient that they happened to be in Realto on the morning after an assassination attempt on the duchy's ruling family," Caleb replied. "Very convenient."
"Any news from Aithen?" Micah asked. "Have we been in contact with the King?"
"No news coming from the palace," Caleb replied. "Anything from Master Aaron?"
"No, and that has me worried," Micah shook his head. "He was pretty specific about his token, and how it was to be used in emergencies. I rather expected to find him here when I awoke. I fear something may have happened to him as well as my uncle."
"I agree," Caleb nodded. "We need good information out of Aithen. Could Isabelle contact her guild there?"
"Normally I would say yes," Micah replied. "However, if there is trouble in Aithen, and the Sorcerers' Guild is involved, she would be giving away her location, as well as ours. No, we need another way, and I may just have one. Do you have a trusted messenger, really trustworthy?"
Caleb said he did and then called a young guardsman over. Micah quickly scribbled a note on parchment, folded it, and grabbed a punk out of the fire. He heated some wax, and sealed the note with the ducal ring he wore around his neck. Handing the guardsman the note and the non-enchanted coin with Aaron's marks, he tasked the guardsman with its delivery. The guardsman saluted his liege and left the camp.
"Now we wait," Micah said. "I want scouts in the city. I want to know guard strength, and also I want to know who is still loyal to the House of Blackmoon. That is my home they are enjoying, and I want it back!"
Caleb saluted his liege with a huge smile on his face and went about on the Duke's business. He talked with Master Landon for several hours and they developed a plan to contact certain forces loyal to House Blackmoon to rally support. The plan to re-take Realto had begun.
Lord Gnola was feeling on top of the world this morning. With the removal of several thorns in his side, his life's ambition was close to being fulfilled. A few more tasks for his master and he would have cleared away all of the obstacles in his way. His musings were interrupted by a presence forming in his bed chambers. His master required him. By the time the cloaked entity had manifested itself in the room Lord Gnola was already genuflecting.
"Well done, Lord Gnola! Well done!" the entity praised. "We are close, just one or two things more and you will have everything you deserve."
"Thank you, My Master," Lord Gnola gushed. It was almost sickening to see a gnome gush. "I live to serve you."
"Yes, yes you do," the entity replied chuckling. "What of Whiterune?"
"We are checking, My Master," Lord Gnola groveled. It was worse than gushing! "We have not found a body, but no one could have survived that attack."
"Then he lives, and you have failed me," the entity stretched forth his hand as red lightning struck the screaming huddled shape on the floor.
"Pray that this is the last time you do so. Find him and kill him," the entity faded, and with it the lightning. Gnola continued to thrash around on the floor.
Master Drexil was on his way to the Central Quarter after receiving a summons from the 'council'. It was in fact his first official summons after assuming the master position for the entire Thieves' Guild of the kingdom of Aithen. Arriving at the 'Deathmark' taproom, Drexil presented his token to the bartender who placed it in a depression behind the bar, which caused a section of the back wall to open up revealing a secret room. Entering the room, Drexil waited for the opening to close before knocking three times.
Upon hearing "enter, Master Drexil", he opened the door and entered the council chambers and genuflected.
"Arise, Master Drexil," Lord Gnola commanded. "I will get right to the point. The 'council' wants to know where your loyalties lie."
"My loyalties, my lords?" Drexil asked, rising to stand before the assembled masters, and noticed a slight tick in Lord Gnola's face.
"Yes, Master Drexil. A simple question," Lord Elwes replied. "To whom do your loyalties lie?"
"To my guild, my house, and the 'council', my lords," Drexil replied firmly. "Are they in question, my lords?"
"No, not specifically, Master Drexil," Lord Remy replied. "If you had information that would benefit this 'council' at the detriment to a personal relationship, would you withhold it?"
"No, my lords," Drexil replied, "and I have not, nor ever would. Why?"
"Again, nothing specific, Master Drexil. Be at ease," Lord Qatar replied.
"We have reason to believe Lord Whiterune has conspired against us," Lord Qatar entered the discussion. "We know he championed your promotion and we want to know if that colors your responsibility to the three things you stated you hold dear."
"No, not at all," Lord Drexil shook his head. "If Lord Whiterune has conspired against us, then he should be found and reckoned with. I will put my watchers on it right away."
"Yes, do that, but do not act without authorization from us," Lord Elwes stated. "He is dangerous, and caution should rule the day."
"Yes, my lords," Drexil replied, genuflecting. "It will be as you direct."
"Arise, Master Drexil. You have business to attend to," Lord Gnola commanded.
Drexil stood and bowed, backing out of the room. The door closed and he turned around in time to walk out through the secret access which slid open. The section of wall closed as Drexil returned to the bar and collected his token. Putting it away, he walked out of the taproom without looking back and made his way out of the Central Quarter.
"Lord Aaron, what have you gotten yourself into," he thought, shaking his head. "I hope you are alright. Damn, I hope I am alright."
The young guardsman, Kent was his name, snuck into the city and headed toward the upper city gates. Melding into the flow of traffic into the upper city, he approached the manned gates and was stopped briefly, but then passed through when the guards' attention was drawn to other travelers. Heading toward the guild halls, he stopped in front of the Thieves' Guild and after looking around knocked on the door. When no one acknowledged, he knocked again. After the fourth such attempt the door finally cracked open and a elderly woman stuck her head out.
"I wish to speak to the Guildmaster on an urgent matter," Kent passed the gold coin to the woman.
"Come inside," she replied, taking the coin and flipping it over.
He followed her into a waiting area and stopped where she directed him. She went over to a door, knocked and opened it, sticking her head in and spoke. Lifting her head back she held open the door and bid Kent enter, handing him back the coin. Kent entered the door which closed behind him and walked up to the desk where a man was standing.
"Are you the Guildmaster for the Thieves' Guild?" he asked.
"Yes, my name is Nathan York," Master Nathan replied. "What can I do for you?"
"My liege needs to get this message to Master Drexil," Kent replied, holding the sealed note. "He was told that in dire straits you could be counted on."
"For a bearer of that coin, I would move mountains," Nathan replied. "I will get this message out right away. If it is as important as that coin suggests, you might want to stay close and check back later. If nothing else, there may be a reply to the letter being received."
Kent agreed with the master, thanked him for his time, and handed over the message. He left the guildhall and headed for a tavern to wait.
Nathan looked at the seal on the message and whistled. The Thieves' Guild had the best communication system in the five realms, better than the Sorcerers' or Merchants' Guild. It was rumored to be better than the King's, which in fact it was. It had been in place for so long even the Guild did not know how it worked, only that it did. Its use was religiously guarded by the masters and only a master could, or even had the necessary knowledge to, use it.
After locking his door, Nathan moved to the wall behind his desk and pushed on a specific spot. Hearing the click, Nathan moved to another spot and pushed, swinging a section of the wall in, and entered a secret room. In the corner was a box, made of an unidentified blonde colored wood. There were runes delicately carved all over the box and the hinged lid. Nathan opened the lid and set the letter inside, closing the lid again. Placing his hand on the top he pictured the box, and then the one exactly like it in the Guildmaster's office in Aithen. Opening the box again to ensure it was empty, Nathan left the room and went over to his door and unlocked it. Nathan poured himself a drink from his sidebar and sat back in his seat with a sigh.