The Shadow of the Rose
Chapter 17

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

Aaron was up bright and early and had already practiced and eaten before the rest of the house had even begun to stir. He had one day to wrap up issues before returning to Castle Daemongurd and he had several decisions to make. Should they make the move to Malkur and secure a residence there before he returned to the castle? Did Lord Devlin know where they currently were and should they then move to a more secure location? Would they be safer in Malkur? Would Laura want to return to her home as soon as they arrived? Should he try to deal with Creton before letting Laura return to Malkur? Could he even deal with Creton in one day? A lot of questions, but few answers.

Aaron finally determined that he was spending too much time on things out of his control and decided to do something he did have control over. He would leave for Creton and inform the Black Hand of his displeasure in their involvement in the deaths of his family and attempts on his and Tanith's life. But first, he wanted to talk to Darius and learn everything he knew about the Black Hand, however vague or supposed.

Master Rük Telemar had been in Aithen for several days discreetly looking for Lady Laura. His search for the missing abduction crew had led nowhere. His investigation led him to believe that they had aborted the attempt for some reason and were on their way back to Creton. His search of the warehouse that was used as a base of operation had led nowhere as well. The building had been sanitized and no clues were left.

Since the halls of the Thieves' Guild in different cities operated more or less autonomously from each other, in a loose confederation, there were certain practical rules when operating in a different hall's territory. As a general rule of thumb a Master Thief arriving in a new city or town would normally check-in with the local guildhall. Guildmasters did not appreciate unsanctioned operations within their territories. Rük had not stopped by the guildhall as courtesy dictated, which was a serious breach of etiquette and could be viewed as a deliberate act, punishable by immediate termination. Since he was conducting a covert abduction plot that had geopolitical ramifications, he did not want any evidence of his liege's involvement.

Master Telemar had tried to find their mole within the palace, but the recent events had driven said mole to ground and Rük could not locate him. He knew about Lady Laura's obsession with shopping so he had also staked out the shop district, but again luck and Lady Laura eluded him.

Master Telemar was not even sure that Lady Laura was still in the city, perhaps she was already on the road to Malkur. Perhaps his men were not on their way home, but were trailing Lady Laura in preparation for taking her on the road from Aithen to Malkur. Still, he needed to satisfy himself as well as his liege that she had indeed left Aithen, so he continued to search for her in both the upper and middle cities of Aithen.

Having had zero luck locating her in the upper and middle cities Rük decided to drop down into the lower city and see if perhaps she was down there for some reason. His luck was about to change, unfortunately for him, not for the better.

Aaron was just about to leave the house for the lower city and the Guild Quarter when Laura stopped and asked to join him. She wanted to stop by the Merchants' Guild and send her father a letter. She was sure that the news of the death of the King had reached Malkur and she did not want her father to fret. She just wanted to send a letter to reassure him. Aaron explained that it was dangerous right now but Laura countered that everyone had told her that Aaron was the best, that she was safe with him. She needed to get a letter to her father through the guild and Aaron could protect her. He acquiesced to her request and they left for the lower city.

Aaron brought Laura to the Assassin's Guild and after leaving her in the outer office entered the Guildmaster's office and discussed the Black Hand with Master Darius. Darius told him everything he knew which unfortunately was not much. In a guild normally shrouded in secrecy, the Black Hand was hidden even farther in the shadows. But that was alright, Aaron was the Lord of the Shadows!

While the different halls of the Thieves' Guilds might work together in a large operation, or even routinely exchange information for the benefit of all, the various Assassins' Guildhalls rarely if ever did. Assassins rarely knew who else was in their own guild, and Master Assassins kept their identities a closely guarded secret. Even the guildhall was constructed for secrecy. The outer door would not open if another assassin was inside with the Guildmaster and the exit was different from the entrance. Aaron thanked Darius for the information and, after collecting Laura, left by another door into a different alleyway.

Entering the main thoroughfare they were on their way to the Merchants' Guild when Aaron stopped in his tracks and swept his arm back pushing Laura behind him. Aaron was already holding power, but he added to it, in preparation for a fight. Several pedestrians stopped and turned to watch.

Rük was moving through the crowd in the lower city when he spied his quarry. What he did not expect was to see his one time partner, Aaron Blackmoon.

"Gods," Rük thought to himself. "What is Aaron doing here? More importantly, what is he doing with Lady Laura and how am I going to get her away from him."

"Just play it loose, Rük," he said to himself. "Just feel the situation out and above all, do not show your hand."

"Red Rose, ward her and protect her," Aaron commanded, momentarily placing his hand on his sword's hilt.

"Yes, My Lord," Red Rose replied, its scabbard briefly glowing red.

"Rük, what a surprise," Aaron placed his hand on Black Rose's hilt. "What are you doing in Aithen?"

"Aaron, I did not know you lived in Aithen," Rük Telemar eyed his one time associate. "I would have stopped by to say hello."

"Rük, does Master Drexil know that you are in his city?" Aaron asked. "I am pretty sure he would have mentioned it to me if someone of your talents was in his city."

"I was just on my way to see him," Rük smiled, and then stared at his quarry. "Are you not going to introduce me to your friend?"

"Where are you calling home now?" Aaron asked, completely avoiding the question.

"Creton. Come now Aaron, it is not polite to ignore the niceties," Rük tilted his head to the side and addressed Laura. "Apparently my friend is being antisocial, my name is Rük Telemar, what is yours?"

When Aaron stopped and pushed her behind him, Laura was going to protest. Then she noticed a man studying them intently, far too intently. She let Aaron shield her and then felt a tingle go up and down her spine. Listening to the conversation she realized two things: Aaron knew this person and Aaron did not trust him at all. When he mentioned he was from Creton, it was all she could do to not audibly gasp. Could this man be looking for her? She kept her mouth shut and listened to the conversation all the while looking for an escape route if the need should arise.

"Black Rose, teleport Laura to the study," Aaron commanded his sword.

"Yes, My Lord," Black Rose replied. "It is done, My Lord."

Laura felt the tingle and vanished, only to reappear in the study of Anastasia's home. She quickly ran and opened the door and entered the hallway shouting.

"Tanith! Tanith, Aaron is in trouble!" Laura called out, running for the stairs. "He met some man on the street and sent me here!"

Several people gasped as Laura disappeared and moved off out of the way. Rük saw Lady Laura disappear and then turned back to Aaron. "How did you do that?"

"She is under my protection, Rük," Aaron grinned his trademark feral grin. "We have a problem, you and I. We are apparently on opposite sides of this situation. That is an extremely bad place for you to be."

Rük was about to reply when a beautiful woman appeared next to Aaron. She was small, slight of build and not very tall, but strength and power flowed out from her, and her appearance was breathtaking. Sapphire crystal blue eyes swirled in an ever changing hypnotic pattern, while a single teardrop pearl hung from a platinum circlet around her forehead, and her skin was so pale that the blue of veins shown through. She was dressed in a platinum sequined bustier that flared at the hips and had off the shoulder silk sleeves, and black leather pants bloused in black boots. Her silver hair, entwined in twin braids banded together in several places, hung like a tail to the small of her back. When she appeared her rapier flashed out, tip held steady under Rük's chin.

The normally busy street was empty, travelers giving the obvious upcoming altercation a wide berth. Several ran toward a small squad of guardsmen entering the thoroughfare.

"Hi, love," Tanith smiled at Aaron. "Who is your friend?"

"His name is Rük, Tanith," Aaron chuckled. "He is a thief, and interestingly enough, he is from Creton."

"A thief you say, and from Creton?" her voiced hardened as she turned back toward Rük. "I do not like him already."

"Aaron, whoa, it is not what you think," Rük knew he was in trouble, just not how much.

"No, Rük, It is exactly what I think," Aaron replied, and then saw the guardsmen approaching them with hands on the hilts of their swords. "Tanith, how about your place for a nice quiet chat?"

"Yes, love. I was thinking the very same thing," Tanith nodded, seeing the guardsmen as well, and then shifted them to the central room of her lair.

Arriving at the lair, Aaron bound Rük in bonds of Eldritch and then removed his weapons. He asked Tanith to let everyone know that they were alright and then turned his focus to his one time associate.

"Rük, what were you doing in Aithen?" Aaron asked intently. "And do not lie to me."

"Aaron, I was just passing through on my way to Re-An," Rük replied. "I was on my way to the guildhall to check in when I saw you."

Aaron turned to Tanith, who gently shook her head no. Aaron turned back to Rük and frowned.

"Rük, there are two ways this can go," Aaron said. "I can ask you questions and you can answer me truthfully, or I can ask you questions and then cause you a great deal of pain and still get my answers."

"Before we begin you should know," Aaron turned toward Tanith, "she will know when you are lying. I also want to give you an incentive to cooperate."

Aaron reached out and touched Rük's right arm by the bicep with his index finger. He concentrated as a tiny spark of Eldritch lanced out and penetrated the flesh of the arm into the nerve pathways and then travelled down Rük's arm over-exciting the nerve endings responsible for pain. Rük screamed as his arm began to burn and throb with a sharp, red-hot pain. Aaron removed his finger and Rük began to hyperventilate from the intensity of the pain.

"Now, let us try this again," Aaron smiled. "What were you doing in Aithen?"

"My liege lost some men and wanted me to check on their status," Rük replied through clenched teeth, trying to get control of the white-hot lancing pain in his arm.

"Alright, what were the men doing in Aithen?" Aaron asked. "I am not in the mood for twenty questions, Rük. I want all the details or your arm will be the least of your worries."

Rük saw no choice and not relishing another incentive from Aaron, told them everything concerning his liege and his desire to wed Laura. The man Aaron had killed in the warehouse had been the point-man for the operation and Rük was supposed to find him and/or complete the operation. Aaron was happy to learn that he was correct; there had been two completely separate operations that he had stumbled across. He felt more confident that he had uncovered all the layers of both plots. He now knew that Creton was completely separate from the 'council', and just a fluke of a coincidence tied them together. Rük had told them that his liege had been after Laura since Re-An and that his goblin wizard had contracted the orc raiding party that ambushed them on the road to Aithen. He did not know the whereabouts of the abduction team, and as far as he knew there was no connection with the Black Hand.

Aaron conferred with Tanith who confirmed that he was telling the truth or at least the truth as he understood it. The truth was a tricky thing; if a person was lied to and repeated the lie to another as the truth, then in reality the second person has spoken the truth, as far as he knows.

"I have told you everything I know," Rük stated. "Will you let me go, for old time's sake?"

"I would ask for your word that you would leave Lady Laura alone," Aaron sighed, "but what is the word of a thief? And if you did, how could you return to Creton and Duke Farhewer? Hmm, that is what we will do; we will visit your liege and explain my displeasure."

Although, Aaron had been to Creton several times, he had never been in the presence of the young Duke. He would need better knowledge of the ducal palace before apportating inside of it. He explained his dilemma to Tanith, who had a ready solution. Tanith showed Aaron how to retrieve apportation information from another person and Aaron retrieved several locations from Rük's memories.

"Are you planning on tying up this loose end while at Creton?" Tanith asked, pointing at Rük.

"I will gain no pleasure from it," Aaron sighed, "but, yes, that is my intention."

"It will have to be done," Tanith replied, a small smile on her face. "He will always be a nagging threat."

"You are right, which reminds me," Aaron turned and held her hands. "I am a fool. Will you come with me when I confront Devlin?"

"You are not a fool, and you know I would, without ever having to ask," Tanith chuckled. "We make a good team, love, a very good team."

"I am going to pay a call on Duke Farhewer," Aaron explained. "I also want to stop by the hall of the Black Hand. Will you wait for me at Anastasia's? I would like you to figure out a way to keep them safe while we attend to Lord Devlin tomorrow."

"Will you not need me in Creton?" Tanith asked.

"No, this I can attend to myself," Aaron replied smiling, already planning the incursion, while also trying to shield Tanith from the other skill set he commanded.

Tanith grabbed the sword she intended to give to Anastasia and gave Aaron another kiss and left for Aithen and Anastasia's home. She already knew how she would protect Rac-Nur and the two women while she and Aaron were away.

"Well, Rük, it is time to visit your liege," Aaron announced and had Black Rose apportate them to the audience hall of the manor house in Creton.

Duke Gunter Farhewer II was in his audience chamber in a trade meeting with a delegation of half-elves from the city-state of Loudin, which was on the eastern edge of the Western Realm. It was a semi-private meeting with the three member delegation, Duke Farhewer, and Daburt Stonefang, the Duke's goblin Chamberlain. The meeting had just started when Aaron and Rük appeared in the middle of the chamber. Aaron was holding Red Rose in his left hand.

"Red Rose, ward the room, no one leaves or enters," Aaron commanded his sword, as he put up a barrier with Eldritch, to prevent the goblin from accessing his power.

"Yes, My Lord," Red Rose replied as the doors glowed with a silvery light and sealed shut.

"We have an issue to discuss, Duke Farhewer," Aaron declared and then addressed the half-elven delegation. "Do not interfere."

Chamberlain Daburt tried and failed to pull power from the stone and rocks in preparation for casting a spell. He still had his staff so he prepared to cast a spell using the power stored within it when it went flying from his hand.

"I will take that," Aaron chuckled as the staff flew through the air and into his outstretched hand.

Aaron concentrated and the hand holding the staff glowed with a bright silver hue as silvery flames flickered up and down its length. Aaron pointed it at the wizard.

"Et," Aaron commanded, pronouncing the rune of binding.

A beam of silver energy encircled Daburt, causing him to freeze, as his hands dropped to his side. The three half-elves stepped away from Duke Farhewer and kept their hands in plain view.

"Duke Farhewer, Lady Laura is under my protection," Aaron smiled as he dropped the staff to the floor and sheathed Red Rose. "I will look unfavorably on anyone that causes her harm. You do not want me to look unfavorably on you."

"I am normally not in the habit of giving warnings," Aaron continued. "Do not force me to revisit this discussion."

"It was a foolish move, I know that," Duke Farhewer hung his head. "I was just trying to get her attention."

"By kidnapping her?" Aaron asked incredulously. "Duke Farhewer, you really need better counselors. Why did you not just approach her father?"

"He does not think much of me," Duke Farhewer replied. "Could you call me Gunter, my uncle was Duke Farhewer and I am still not used to the title."

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