The Prince of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
When Aaron and Tanith got out of bed the next morning there was a message from Master Gilbreth requesting that they come by the hall at their earliest convenience. After breakfast and an impromptu family meeting to finalize the transfer to Malkur, Aaron and Tanith left for the Thieves' Guild.
Aaron waited while Tanith defeated the traps and marveled at her skill, even knowing that part of it was due to her true-sight. Tanith opened the door and bade him enter, which after smiling he did. He noticed a new receptionist in the outer office and identified himself and the reason for his visit. A few moments later Gilbreth opened a door and held it for the two as they entered his office.
"My lord, I have a communique from Aithen, from Master Drexil," he explained and handed over the sealed letter. "It was marked urgent and I sent word to you right away."
Aaron nodded and broke the seal of the letter and opened it. After reading its contents he handed the note to Tanith and waited for her to finish reading it.
"Well?" he asked, looking at her.
"You have no choice, we must go to Aithen," Tanith replied and handed him the letter. "I find it interesting that no voting member on the Guild Council had intended to inform you."
"Thank you, Gilbreth," Aaron stood and folded the note and secured it within his shirt. "I am going to be making some changes to the guild organization and you will be part of those changes. Prepare your things for a transfer to Aithen as guildmaster there. I plan to move the headquarters here and Drexil along with it. He will lead the guild as well as be the master here. Drexil will fill you in on your new territory. I expect you to leave someone here qualified in the guild's activities so there will be a smooth transfer of leadership."
"Yes, my lord," Gilbreth stood and bowed. "I will not let you down."
"I know you will not. I will have Drexil pass on your letters of mastery and appointment."
After Tanith finished congratulating him on his permanent promotion, Gilbreth escorted them out of his office and watched the two leave the hall. He turned and rubbed his hands together at his immense fortune and called for his first-assistant.
Aaron had Tanith transport them to the study at their home in Aithen, where he realized that he was not dressed for the business that needed completed here. Aaron had one of the servants call for a cab and then he and Tanith went upstairs were they changed into clothes more befitting of socializing with nobles, as well as mourning for the loss of his aunt and uncle.
Dressed in similar finery as he had worn for the ball, except this time he wore his special cloak, he waited for Tanith to finish dressing. They looked the part of nobles and left the house were an awaiting cab took them to the upper city and the palace.
The cab was passed through the upper city gates after a brief inspection, something that had started after the assassination, and made their way to the palace gates were a more lengthy inspection took place. Their cab was directed to an area to drop off its occupants and routed out of the palace and back into the upper city. Aaron and Tanith were escorted to the grand room by a court page, where the Guild Council of Aithen normally met. All of Aithen's guildmasters were in attendance as well as all the noble houses, all save Beadle and Blackmoon that is.
"Lord Whiterune, thank you for coming on such short notice," Master Gerard announced in greeting, while shooting daggers at Drexil who shrugged.
"Yes, I thought it important that the last surviving member of the House of Blackmoon should be present when a new royal house is elected," Aaron smiled his trademark feral grin. "May I present my lady, Lady Tanith."
"My lady, your presence honors us," Gerard announced, reaching out and kissing the back of her hand.
Tanith smiled and nodded while retrieving her hand and then followed Aaron who introduced her to several other important people, both guild and noble. He finally made his way to where Master Drexil was standing, watching the various factions trying to garner support from each other.
"Thank you for informing me that this was going on," Aaron greeted Drexil.
"My lord, it was my pleasure," Drexil replied, smiling in Gerard's direction and then bowed to Tanith. "My lady."
"Drexil, no need for formalities, I am, after all, just a mere journeyman in your guild," Tanith corrected him, a warm smile on her face.
"Yes, a mere journeyman," Drexil chuckled. "You honor me, my lady."
"What is the climate here, Drexil?" Aaron asked.
"Too many splintered factions, no clear upper hand," Dexil replied, shrugging. "Although, truth be told, House Greyhawk would be the wise choice. He has discharged the office of Steward flawlessly after the debacle of Calan Beadle, the transition would be smoother if his house was elected."
"I agree, Dorian is the most level headed," Aaron nodded in agreement and then explained to Tanith. "He is the eldest nephew to the late queen, which makes him a cousin. Our two houses have inter-married numerous times in the past and Greyhawk is the strongest noble house left."
"You are correct, my lord but that does not necessarily make them the favorite," Drexil added. "A weaker house would benefit the guilds position. I believe that is why the Merchants champion no cause, they believe either way they win, outside of Greyhawk, that is."
"Well, then we shall need to advance his position," Aaron smiled again, causing a small shudder in Drexil. "Also, I have plans for you and the guild, Master Drexil, plans that will have to wait until a royal house is elected."
"I understand, my lord," Drexil replied, but clearly did not. "No, actually I do not understand."
"Not to worry, Drexil. One thing at a time, let us deal with the kingdom first. Who are the opposition factions."
"There are two, one supported by the Sorcerers' Guild and one by the Crafts' Guild, Houses Ramlock and Wintermourne."
"Who is championing Greyhawk?" Aaron asked as he scanned the room.
"No guild is," Drexil replied, shaking his head. "He has already stated that there would be no favoritism if his house was elected."
"Excellent. But you are wrong, the Thieves and Assassins stand behind him. I need to talk with Darius. We will need another, hmm ... Yes I think I will have a chat with Gerard as well."
Aaron looked around the large hall and spotted Darius leaning against the wall in a far corner. He approached Darius with arms down and palms out, the approved method when two predators meet."
"Aaron, you are looking well."
"Darius, you to. How goes the business?"
"More competitive now that the council has been dissolved," Darius replied with a smirk. "Are you here for the fiasco that will soon begin?"
"No, I am here to advert that. The council has not been dissolved, it has just had a change in leadership," Aaron stated passing over one of the leadership tokens of the old council. "I require the support of the Assassins' Guild, since I intend to support House Greyhawk. Is that a problem?"
"Ahh, no mi'lord," Darius replied, surprise in his voice when he recognized the meaning of the token being passed to him. "No problem at all."
"Thank you Darius. I am moving Drexil to Malkur and having the main hall transferred there. He will be my representative for the Thieves' Guild. I will require you to meet with him and his designated replacement and assist the move. I intend to keep the various assassin guilds autonomous, but I want you to be my representative for the assassins. I will draw up the necessary paperwork and attach the required seals. I will stop by your hall in the next day or so and give you your authority. Congratulations Master Darius."
"Thank you, mi'lord."
Aaron turned and, after spotting Master Gerard talking amongst several other masters and one or two nobles, made his way over to where Gerard was.
"Master Gerard, a moment of your time?" Aaron asked while nodding to the other men assembled.
Gerard nodded and after making his apologizes followed Aaron to an unoccupied corner of the room.
"Lord Aaron?" Gerard asked quizzically.
"I understand the Merchants' Guild is not supporting a particular house," Aaron smiled. "I wish you to change that."
"Who, mi'lord?" Gerard asked, worry showing on his face at the possibilities.
"Mi'lord, it is not in the best interest of the guild to back House Greyhawk," Gerard replied nervously mopping his brow. "His stance on tariffs will cut into guild profits."
"Gerard, it is not in the guild's best interest to go against me," Aaron replied, the grin growing wider. "It is certainly not in yours."
"Y-y-yes, mi'lord," Gerard stuttered, mopping his brow again. "The Merchants' Guild will support House Greyhawk."
"Excellent, see that was not so bad, was it?" Aaron patted Gerard's arm and turned to look for Tanith.
He met up with her and Drexil at the same time as the call to seats was announced. Drexil bid his leave and left to take his seat. Since Aaron, and Tanith as well, were not official members of this gathering there were no assigned seats but many of the nobles and masters had chairs set aside for associates and Drexil waved them over to where he had procured extra seats. They took their seats just as the meeting was called to order.
"Hear ye! Hear ye! I call this conclave to order!" shouted the Master-at-Arms, Master Nico, the famed sword-smith. "Lords and Masters I give you Master Eckart, Chairman of the Guild Council. Master Eckart."
"Thank you, Master Nico. Lords, Masters, and distinguished guests," he began, nodding at Aaron, "this conclave is called to order to elect the next ruling house. Are there any petitions?"
Both the Crafts' and Sorcerers' Guilds put forth their nominations and extolled their many qualifications. There was discussion back and forth as each side attacked the qualifications of the other. This went on for several moments before Aaron had had enough and slowly stood and began drawing power. The arguing continued until a member of the Sorcerers' Guild noticed Aaron standing and murmured in his master's ear. All eyes slowly turned toward Aaron as the noise level died down.
"Lord Aaron?" Master Eckart acknowledged Aaron. "Is there something you wish to add?"
"Yes, this bickering is unfortunate and completely unnecessary," Aaron smiled, spreading his hands out wide. "House Greyhawk presents the best candidate to lead this kingdom forward and stabilize the political climate in Aithen."
"So, you say, Lord Aaron," Master Riley, the Guildmaster of the Crafts' Hall smirked and stood. "We happen to disagree."
"No, it is not only I, Master Riley," Aaron replied, his grin spreading. "The Merchants' Guild says-so, as well as the Neutral Guilds, who are tired of the bickering."
"I want to hear it from Master Gerard himself," Master Riley countered folding his arms in defiance.
"Are you calling me a liar, Master Riley?" Aaron asked, the menacing tone clearing audible for all to hear.
There was an audible gasp in the room as many of the people present were also present the last time Aaron asked that particular question. Master Riley visibly gulped and looked around for support but could get no one to meet his eyes. He eventually shook his head, lowered his eyes, and sat down.
"The Merchants' Guild supports House Greyhawk," Master Gerard announced quickly, standing to draw attention away from the probable altercation and hopefully avert any bloodshed.
"The Fighters' Guild stands behind Lord Aaron and House Greyhawk," SwordMaster Jules, the Fighters' Guildmaster, stated, rising from his chair.
"If the Neutral Guilds have to, they will press their desires," Aaron stated, staring down Master Riley. "Does anyone wish to challenge the Merchants' and Fighter's candidate?"
"Aaron, that is not necessary," Dorian Greyhawk announced, rising from his chair. "I have faithfully discharged the duties of Steward since being called upon to do so. I believe my record stands for itself and I should be judged on that. House Greyhawk has always had the best interest of the kingdom at heart and does now."
"Dorian, I agree with you," Aaron replied and turned to the assembly. "Is there anyone in this room who has a more just claim to the throne? Duke Greyhawk has experience and lineage, coupled with the backing of three guilds, the three most powerful I might add. Master Eckart, I believe it is time to put this to a vote. As the last surviving member of the House of Blackmoon I will also cast a ballot."
Eckart nodded in agreement and passed out slips of paper around the table. The voting members each took a slip of paper and marked their choice before folding the paper and holding it till it could be collected. Two pages walked around the table and collected the slips of paper and returned the baskets to the chairman. The room was quiet while the chairman counted the votes, each side hoping they had presented their case compelling enough to sway the other members. Master Eckert finally finished the counting and stood to address the assembly.
"My Lords and Masters, I accordance with the laws set down in the kingdom's charter a two-thirds majority vote is required to elect a new ruling house, when no surviving heirs exist. In this case Lord Aaron has previously abdicated his claim and is no longer an heir to the crown. I have the distinct honor of informing you that House Greyhawk is the new ruling house of Aithen. Head page, have the standard of the House of Greyhawk flown from the King's flagpole. Long live the King!"
"Long live the King!" The assembly stood and shouted. "May his reign be long and glorious!"
King-elect Dorian Greyhawk stood and acknowledged the well-wishing of the impromptu receiving line, as the assembled nobles and masters made their way from the large council chambers. It seemed that each member of the assembly wanted to have a quiet word with the king-elect and the receiving line slowly dwindled down until finally the room was empty save for Aaron's small party of Darius, Drexil and Tanith. Aaron approached Dorian with a genuine smile on his face.
"I am glad to see that the kingdom will be in good hands," Aaron stated while grasping Dorian's arm in greeting.
"Aaron, it should be you standing here," Dorian replied, slowly shaking his head.
"No, I like the circumstances as they are," Aaron replied. "Let me introduce the Lady Tanith and you already know Masters Drexil and Darius."
"My lady, you honor me with your presence," Dorian reached out and gently taking her hand, kissed the back of it.
"Oh, he will do very well," Tanith chuckled. "Your Majesty."
"Masters Drexil and Darius, I find it interesting that you involved yourselves in this," Dorian said sweeping his hand out. "I thought that your guilds prided themselves on their neutrality."
"Your Majesty," Darius bowed. "Our patron requested it. How could we refuse?"
"Your Majesty," Drexil bowed as well. "We intend to fade back into the shadows now that this business has been successfully concluded."
"Aaron, how did you get the Merchants to back me?" Dorian turned toward Aaron. "The Fighters' Guild I sort of understand since you are a SwordMaster but the Merchants?"
"Master Gerard and I have an understanding," Aaron replied with a shrug. "Dorian, I will probably not be here for your coronation, but my ward, Anastasia Whiterune would love to stand in for me. Please send the invitations in care or House De la Rose, in Malkur."
"I will, and Aaron, thank you. I want you to know that the kingdom will always come first. I intend to send my younger brother to Realto and secure the duchy and border."
"Send a delegation to the castle in the Thangdaemon forest, as well. Tell Prince Velen that you and I are cousins and establish an understanding with him. Be careful, he can be unpredictable, especially around humans, but he could be a staunch ally."
"Thank you for the information. There is a reception if you would like to attend?"
"We can stay for a little while but I must get back to help organize the move to Malkur."
"Before we leave there is something else that you should know," Dorian stated. "The bodies of our aunt and uncle, as well as Chamberlain Walton were never recovered. We feel that Beadle had them disposed of to avert any duplicity on his part. I checked with Realto and the body of your father was never recovered either. I am sorry to have to tell you that but I thought you should know."
"What of Micah," Aaron asked, the pain evident on his face.
"He was buried in the same crypt as your mother. If you want I will have plaques made in honor of Duke Thandar and King Thane and placed there as well."
"I would like that, thank you Dorian. I have had scant time to reflect on that necessity and I appreciate you taking care of it. Perhaps after things have settled down I will have the opportunity to spend time there and mourn their passing. Come, let us put aside this melancholy mood and join the festivities, it is after all your day."
The group filed out of the council chambers and made their way to the reception being held in the main dining hall. Aaron and Tanith mingled with the other guests and finally after paying their respects to Dorian departed the hall. They returned to Malkur and spent the rest of the day with Anastasia.
The hierarchy of the Black Hand was shrouded in as much secrecy within the brotherhood as the organization as a whole was shrouded without. Each camp, or brigade as they were called, had its own leadership. Each brigade operated autonomously unless a major engagement required inter-brigade operations. In that case, a cloaked member of the ruling leadership would step in and coordinate the action. All contractual requests were passed up the chain for approval. A brigade commander did not have the authority to accept a contract, but once it was accepted and assigned the commander had tactical authority to execute it.
The ruling body of the Black Hand was located in Re-An. This particular city-state was not a monarchy, but in fact an oligarchy run by a council of rich nobles. That form of government made it advantageous for the Black Hand to operate within its borders, so its leadership chose Re-An as the base for their operations. The organization had infiltrated the ruling council and used that influence to operate unmolested for years. Not only unmolested, but above retaliation. It was common knowledge that you did not cross the Black Hand if you wanted to continue living. Their reputation was that good. Now the organization had been exposed as vulnerable. In the assassination business reputation was everything. The Black Hand needed to regain its reputation. Its leadership needed to find this group that penetrated their defenses and punish them harshly and, more importantly, publicly.
A meeting was called of the ruling body of the Black Hand. A meeting had not happened in all of the years that the organization had existed. No two members had ever met another and now the ten member body was meeting. The fact was, no member even knew who the head of the Black Hand was, since normal communications were always accomplished by blind-drops and sealed communiqués. But the death of fourteen journeyman instructors and four masters in their sleep, at their main camp, called for extreme measures.
The Gods were interested in this unprecedented meeting. Well, maybe not Gods plural, but a specific God was very interested in who attended. You see, the Black Hand called no God their patron. It was a matter of rule and if you wanted to be a member you renounced whatever faith you had. Your faith was the Black Hand, which did not sit very well with one particular God: the patron of thieves and assassins.
It had taken this God several years to uncover the location of the Black Hand. It took another several years to uncover just one member, which led to another member, and to another. Recent events had forced this meeting and now by following one of his marks he would be led to the location of the meeting, and ultimately the head of the Black Hand. And then it was just a matter of revealing the information to the right parties and then sitting back and letting retribution take its logical course.
The meeting location was not some rundown tavern in the worst section of town. It was in a modest size, tastefully decorated, inn with a private meeting room upstairs. The fact that the inn was owned and operated by the organization did not hurt either. The inn was closed for a private function and the regular staff had been replaced by assassins, Black Hand assassins.
The meeting could be just another group of like-minded individuals of philanthropic pursuits, but was not. This group of like-minded villains did not have a philanthropic bone in their collective body, unless they were the recipient of said pursuits. No, this group of individuals, who filed into the inn one at a time hoods pulled up, were of a different sort all together.
Keeping their faces in the shadows of their hoods, they climbed the stairs and entered the guarded room, taking prearranged positions at a round table. With a round table no one would seem to be at the head and each could be confused as the leader. What the true head did not count on was an eleventh occupant, who would have no trouble identifying said head, once all members were seated.
Lord Azrael followed his mark invisibly into the room and moved over to a location to observe. What he did not expect was that the chairs would be magically cloaked in darkness. That magic should not be able to shield them from Lord Azrael but it did, which was intriguing, highly intriguing. Lord Azrael concluded that he could penetrate the magic, but the cost would be high, so he watched and waited.
The meeting went on for some time. What was said was of little consequence to Lord Azrael. He was not interested in the discussion, which turned heated on several occasions. What he was interested in was the names of the members who he had not previously identified, and so far those identities eluded him. The chairs' magic was frustrating him; there was no magic on Andor that should be able to thwart the powers bestowed upon a God.
"That is the key," Lord Azrael thought. "This is not normal magic, this must be Eldritch, but whose?"
While the magic, nay, Eldritch could shield the identities of the chair's occupants, Lord Azrael now a God, was still an Adept and had the ability to sense other Adepts when using their power. He just needed to be patient and wait for the Adept to make a mistake and reveal themselves. But he was curious; Thangdaemon, Elfen, or Tarran? That was the question. But still, were not all the Thangdaemons accounted for? Were not all the Tarrans banished from Andor? Were not all the Elfen dead or imprisoned? Who, then, was this Adept?