DargonZine 4, Issue 4

Pact Part 2

Yuli 12, 1014 - Yuli 13, 1014


This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Pact

“You did what?” Kalen demanded, shocked. Without waiting for a more complete explanation, he jumped out of bed and started dressing. He had had a bad feeling brewing in his stomach ever since his meeting with Kesrin. When Ilona told him the news of her evening trip, those fears came to life.

 

Ilona stared at him from the bed, full of surprise. Where was the execution? Kalen had never reacted this way to her personal investigations before, but something was wrong now and there was genuine fear in his eyes.

 

“What’s wrong?” Ilona asked.

 

Kalen looked at Ilona, jamming his tunic in his pants. Obviously his intentions did not include neatness. “Damn.”

 

But he did not look angry. He never really looked angry and Ilona could not recall any rumors to that effect. None the less, something was absolutely wrong.

 

“Get dressed and go to the guard house,” Kalen told her. “I want two men watching Koren at all times.”

 

“What? What does he have to do with this?”

 

Kalen pulled Ilona out of bed and held her by her shoulders. His voice was low and a bit excited. “I didn’t agree to work for Liriss because a part of the deal was to have me replace the Captain. The only way for me to achieve the position is to kill him. Liriss agreed to your proposal just because you’re so close to me. If he puts me in charge now, the effect will be the same. Now get dressed!” His voice rose only at the end.

 

Ilona started dressing, too concerned about what could happen to think about what she had done. Kalen strapped on his belt and grabbed his sword. “Where are you going?”

 

“The castle. I need to be sure nothing’s happened yet.” He kissed her quickly, missing her lips, but not making a second try in his rush to leave.

 

Ilona was dressed and ready only moments after Kalen had left. She grabbed her scabbard and made for the door, strapping the weapon on as she hurried out. Only now did she realize the consequences of the decision she had made, but now she was committed, as was everyone else. It was not the decision she would have made if Kalen had told her everything, but what was done was done. Hopefully they could turn this seeming mistake to their advantage. If they could dismantle just a small part of the underground, it would be worth the risk.

 

Under normal circumstances if the Captain was killed or even hurt due to her actions, she would have resigned and faced any legal charges that would have been levied, but in this case she did not have the luxury of giving up. That made her even more determined to see everything through and to make the people responsible pay.

 

***

 

Jerid Taishent tensely paced the office of Duke Clifton Dargon’s leading general, Captain Lansing Bartol. The Duke was off leading King Haralan’s fleet against the Beinison flotilla that, just a month before, had attacked the town of Dargon, hoping to secure the Coldwell as an access point deep into Baranurian lands, where it could easily resupply the army moving up the Laraka towards Gateway. Captain Bartol himself was currently off in the southern portion of the duchy raising troops for the King’s army, now struggling against the invading forces on the Laraka.

 

With Captain Bartol gone, and all the other Ducal lieutenants out in various parts of the Duchy helping with the recruiting, Jerid was in charge of the castle and all the troops that were within his reach. The office was one of the luxuries of carrying such a responsibility.

 

There were certainly better things to do in the middle of the night than pace an office, but something had happened. A page woke him up not long ago, saying that a man was caught committing a crime in the keep itself. There was more, but Jerid was not in a condition to listen to long sentences and the boy did not look awake enough to be making them. All that was made clear was that the crime was serious and Jerid’s presence was required.

 

Now Jerid waited for the man to be brought to him to be questioned, and Jerid did not know what questions to ask.

 

A knock sounded on the door and a second later three guards entered. It took Jerid a moment to realize that the hands of the one in the middle were tied. “Guralnik,” he said to the only man he recognized. With the war on, the staff was mixed right and left and these days it was perfectly normal for him to not recognize a good half of the men.

 

Guralnik stepped forward, his scabbard clanking against the metal greaves on his outer leg. “Sir, we caught this man trying to break into Captain Koren’s room. He put up a fight when we first stopped him. And he had these on him,” Guralnik offered Jerid items he confiscated from the prisoner.

 

“Is he a member of the Guard?” Jerid asked. The last thing he needed now was a break in. Worse yet, all he needed was one of his own men trying to kill the town’s war hero.

 

“He was hired last week,” Guralnik said, casting his eyes down. The man was a new recruit.

 

Jerid accepted the lockpick and the vial filled with green liquid from Guralnik and examined them closely. “Thank you, Sergeant. When she wakes up, have Elizabeth examine the potion. Have her come see me…and send a message to Lieutenant Darklen or whoever is on duty.”

 

“Yes, Sir,” Guralnik barked.

 

“Have him sit down,” Jerid motioned to the tied man. The two guards brought him to a chair and forced him into it. Jerid took the time to place the vial on the desk and returned to the prisoner. “What were you after?” he asked.

 

The man did not respond, blankly staring at the wall.

 

Jerid stepped between the man and the crack he was focusing on. “I asked you what you were doing.”

 

Again there was no answer.

 

“Lock him up,” Jerid ordered. He was not about to torture anybody, particularly with as little information as he had. He was not much for torture anyhow and the Duke had a set policy on dealing with prisoners anyway.

 

Watching the guards lead the man out, Jerid retreated to the corner of the room and considered looking the man’s name up in the file, but he neither had the name, nor any idea of where the file would be. Keeping files up to date was the least of his concerns these days and men and their records were hardly ever in the same place at the same time.

 

There was another knock at the door.

 

“Enter.”

 

It opened and Kalen Darklen walked in, a guard on his heels.

 

“Am I to assume my man covered a league both ways in under ten minutes?” Jerid asked. He knew the answer.

 

“Can we talk alone?” Kalen asked.

 

“Leave us,” Jerid told the guard.

 

“Is the room secured?” Kalen asked when the man left. Whatever brought him here must have weighted heavily on his mind. Ordinarily this question was left for war councils and strategic planning sessions.

 

“Better than the Duke’s personal quarters,” Jerid said. “All the spiders report in at midnight.”

 

Kalen’s expression remained grim. “I just spoke with Sergeant Guralnik. He told me what happened. I don’t want the prisoner to have contact with anybody. I’ll have him picked up in the morning and interrogated by my men.”

 

“Hey, hey! Slow down. I’ve got him locked up. He’s got the whole cell block to himself. Why are you here in the middle of the night?”

 

Kalen paced nervously for a moment, than sat down in a chair. “Yesterday…night before last, I received a proposition from Liriss to join the underworld. In exchange for my loyalty Captain Koren would be killed and I would get his position. Shevlin…” Kalen stopped, wondering if Jerid Taishent was on the take. Anyone, anywhere… “…Shevlin was working for them before he was killed.” He was not going to say a word about Ilona’s involvement just yet, in order to keep it safe. At least this way she would not be killed for telling him what she had done if Jerid was bringing in extra pay from Liriss. “I had a bad feeling they might try to give me some incentive to accept anyway.”

 

Jerid nodded and picked up the vial he placed on the table. “The man had this with him. I’ll have the healer test it as soon as she’s up.”

 

“What about security?”

 

“The door’s locked. There are guards making rounds in the corridors and there are bars on the window,” Jerid did his best to relieve Kalen’s fears. There really was no reason to be worried. No one was going to get to Captain Koren, particularly the man who already tried it once.

 

“Who has the keys?”

 

“I do, the castellan has one and Elizabeth has a spare.”

 

“Do you object if I put my own guards here?”

 

“I’ll be surprised if you can spare them, but I don’t object,” Jerid answered.

 

“So be it. Can you hold that man in isolation until morning?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’ll be back then.”

 

Jerid watched Kalen leave, then closed the drawer with the files, never having found the right one. He picked up the confiscated vial and left the office, locking the door after himself. He could understand Kalen’s fears. The mob was not something to be trifled with. Liriss was a criminal with little respect for law and life and could cover his tracks well.

 

Having left the vial for the Duke’s personal physician to examine, Jerid returned to his quarters, checking up on Aimee along the way — she was no longer staying with his father — and went back to bed.

 

***

 

Ilona walked into the guard house and directly up to the guard at the desk. The station was almost deserted, the way it had been for some time. The casualties taken during the Beinison invasion reduced the available force by half and the recruiting efforts of a backward town out on the frontier were no match to what the Baranurian army was offering.

 

“Yes, Ma’am?” the guard asked, surprised to see her at such a late — or was it early — hour.

 

“I need two guards.”

 

The guard sputtered. “Everyone’s on patrol, Lieutenant.”

 

Ilona looked around in disbelief. She knew they were short on staff, but not having anyone available at all… For an emergency, no less. This emergency in particular.

 

The door to a back office opened and Sergeant Cepero came out, talking to a young woman in a guard uniform. “You!” Ilona pointed to the woman, “and you,” to the guard at the desk. “You’re going with me.”

 

Sergeant Cepero opened his mouth, apparently trying to say something and not managing. “Isn’t it a little late?” he finally said. “What are you doing?”

 

“Lieutenant Darklen needs two people immediately. He’ll explain when he gets here,” Ilona said. She realized that she was pulling the last of the staff when regulations required that a minimum of four people be on duty at the guard house at all times. But that regulation was made for desperate situations just like this and when it came down to worrying about other emergencies and the Captain’s life, it was obvious which would take precedence.

 

Both the young woman — Ilona guessed that she was not much older than eighteen — and the other guard watched her in confusion, torn between which of their superiors to follow: the one trying to obey regulations or the one with the rank to ignore them.

 

Cepero challenged Ilona. “This is highly unusual. Coming here in the middle of the night, pulling guards, and neither you, nor Darklen on duty.”

 

Ilona took a piece of parchment off the table the guard sat at and scribbled on it. It was some document, but she did not care. “Here. The highest priority I can authorize,” she handed the paper to Cepero. He could not disobey. He whispered something to the young woman, too quiet for Ilona to hear and she announced she was ready to go.

 

“My sister’s youngest,” Cepero explained. “Don’t get her into any trouble.”

 

“Let’s go,” Ilona said and the two guards followed her out from under the Sergeant’s reluctant stare.

 

***

 

Kalen met Ilona and the two guards at the castle gate and gave them their orders. He realized they were young and inexperienced, but they were all that was currently available and due to their age, more than likely not associated with Liriss. He would select additional people he could trust during the night and have them posted by morning.

 

On the way home neither Kalen, nor Ilona said anything, each thinking their own thoughts, planning out what they were to do next.

 

The die had been cast and it was obvious to Kalen that he was committed to seeing this business through. He wanted, desperately, to do something about Kesrin’s offer when it was first made, but the threat to Captain Koren’s life held him back. He was glad that someone made the difficult decision for him, permitting him to challenge the crime that was running rampant in the city. He wished it had not been Ilona who forced his hand, but in a way it was his own fault; he had not told her all that happened, so she acted on what little she knew, just as he would have. His task now was to keep the Captain alive and with a shortage of manpower it would perhaps be the hardest of all jobs.

 

Ilona, next to him, could not help but feel a little worried over what she had done. It was her duty to find out what was going on, not to act on information impulsively. She had not thought about the consequences. None the less, it was done and she felt she had only herself to blame. She considered returning to Liriss and telling him to forget it, but that was bound to do little more than aggravate him and perhaps make matters worse. She glanced at Kalen, but he was oblivious to the world, a thoughtful expression spread on his face. This was not the time to bother him with questions.

 

“It’s still dark,” Kalen said suddenly.

 

“Yes,” Ilona agreed.

 

“It’s just been a few hours…”

 

“Kalen, are you all right?” she grabbed hold of his arm, but then remembering his wound, released him. He did not react to what she knew was painful.

 

“Get Taishent. Bring him to Captain Koren’s room. I have an idea.”

 

Ilona watched him run off, back towards the castle, then shook her head and followed him in.

 

***

 

Kalen was almost out of breath by the time he made it to the room where his Captain was recovering from his wounds. There were four guards present; the two members of the town guard that Ilona brought with her and two castle guards. They stopped talking and turned to face him, his own subordinates at attention, the other two, in the middle of their rounds, simply watching.

 

“You,” he called the young woman wearing the insignia of the town guard, “find the physician and bring her here. Wake her up if you have to. The rest of you, bring the assassin and make sure no one knows that you’re doing so.”

 

They all rushed off.

 

Kalen felt his shoulder, realizing that the wound had once again come open and started bleeding. He held his hand over it for a moment, thankful that there was no pain yet and then took out his dagger and a long thin metal bar. Using the two he bent at the door and attempted to pick the lock. It required some doing in the darkened corridor, but he finally succeeded.

 

It took Kalen some determination to push the door open, but when he did, he had made up his mind to go through with his plan, no matter how dangerous. He hoped that the things he would now do could be justified by a satisfactory resolution in the days to come.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” he heard Jerid’s voice behind him. “Can’t I even get some sleep around here without trouble cropping up?”

 

“Step inside,” Kalen said and let Jerid and Ilona walk past him. His behavior was strange, but not as strange as it was going to get.

 

Captain Adrunian Koren lay in the large bed, faintly illuminated by the dim torch light coming in from the corridor. His chest moved rhythmically up and down, but there was no sign of him being awake. In fact, Kalen did not expect him to be alert for at least a few more days, as the healer’s treatment required the use of some drugs that would concentrate all his bodily energies on regenerating his health.

 

Kalen lit a candle and closed the door. “I’m going to give Liriss exactly what he wants,” he said, placing the candle into a tray on the table.

 

“What? You can’t be serious!”

 

Kalen had come to the decision to trust Jerid. Jerid, the son of the mage Dyann Taishent, had to be trustworthy based on the fact who his father was. There was simply no way that affiliation with Dargon’s crime lord would go unnoticed by the mage and knowing Dyann as well as he did, Kalen had no doubt that Jerid could be trusted. There was no way he could be involved.

 

“Liriss wants to kill Captain Koren to put me in charge,” Kalen said. “Then he can use Ilona to manipulate me. He extended her the same offer he did to me and I thought it might be worth while to have her play along. I had the guards get the assassin. When they bring him in here, play along with what I do and let me do all the talking. I’m going to try to convince him we already work for Liriss.”

 

“He’ll never fall for it,” Ilona protested.

 

“We’ll see. We’re not losing anything for trying.”

 

Kalen started pacing back and forth. “Jerid, you’ll have to make me the Acting Captain of the Guard because both the Duke and Captain Bartol are out. Ilona will have to play along with Liriss and maybe we’ll get him this time. Him and all his men.”

 

“You’re already the Acting Captain,” Jerid protested.

 

“Yes, but that’s in light of the real Captain’s pending recovery. I need…”

 

Footsteps in the corridor made Kalen stop speaking. There was a knock at the door. Jerid, closest to it, opened it, letting two castle guards bring the assassin in.

 

“Leave us,” Jerid said and the two men left the room.

 

“That was stupid of you,” Kalen walked up to the assassin. “Look at him,” he gestured to the Captain lying on the bed. “He’s as good as dead. I have the city and Taishent commands the Ducal lands. What the hell are you people doing?” Kalen emphasized his words by giving the man a push with his good arm.

 

The assassin’s eyes grew wide with surprise.

 

“Where the hell did you get the idea that you needed to kill him?” Kalen continued. “If he dies now, and by poison, no less, that’ll point the finger of blame right at me. You’re compromising the whole deal, not to mention my life!”

 

“I…”

 

“Who told you to do this?”

 

“Uh…”

 

Kalen grabbed the man by the neck and slammed him into the nearest wall. “Who?! Kesrin? Ovink? Cissell?”

 

“Lord Liriss. He ordered the death!”

 

“Liriss? That rat told me not to kill Koren until he’s well and can be had by a mugger!”

 

“It was him, I swear!”

 

With lightning speed Kalen pulled his dagger and thrust it into the assassin’s chest. Jerid grabbed Kalen’s arm and spun him around as the assassin collapsed to the floor.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” His own dagger was out, flat of the blade against Kalen’s cheek.

 

Ilona, who had bent down to check if the man was still alive, stood up, unsure whose side to take.

 

“If he lives, they’ll know he failed and I need him to succeed,” Kalen let out a sigh. His shoulder wound started to throb and he knew he could not fight Jerid. “This way we can say he was successful and was himself killed by the guards.”

 

“He’s dead,” Ilona announced. “No need to discuss what we do if he’s alive.”

 

“But Captain Koren is alive,” Jerid argued. “Word will get out.”

 

“There are catacombs under the castle, aren’t there?”

 

Jerid replaced his dagger and stepped away from Kalen. “Of course, but they’re sealed off. A few months ago that crazy mage Cefn and that guard that used to work for you broke in there…”

 

“I remember her,” Ilona said. “Je’lanthra’en. She came up from Magnus, trained with Sir Morion before joining the guard.”

 

“And then she and the mage disappeared after starting that big fire on the wharf,” Jerid added.

 

Kalen nodded grimly.

 

“Of course!” Jerid exclaimed. “We can hide the Captain in the catacombs.”

 

“And there are only four guards who know the truth, so we can put them on duty there,” Kalen added. “I’ve sent for Elizabeth. She’ll also need to know.”

 

“I don’t know about pulling that many guards,” Jerid protested.

 

“We’ll need the guards now that the Guild is after the Captain and these four already know the situation, or at least part of it.”

 

“For now,” Jerid agreed reluctantly.

 

“And have the Captain moved before sunrise, so no one knows.”

 

“What are you going to do?”

 

Kalen paused. Everything would have to be done to appear normal. “Ilona and I will spend the night together, just like we intended to in the first place.”

 

***

 

Kalen and Ilona left the castle soon after leaving the final instructions for the physician. The trap was set, now waiting to see its prey.

 

“Should I contact Liriss again?” Ilona asked.

 

“No need. He’ll come to you. Just don’t be surprised that the Captain was killed and agree to provide information in exchange for information from them.” Kalen slid his arm around her waist. “And above all, be careful and no heroics. We’re not losing anything by trying this. Let’s keep it that way.”

 

“I’ll check with you before all my heroics,” Ilona smiled.

 

“You do that. If we do this wrong, it could get worse than the war. In this one we won’t know who’s on which side.”

 

“It’ll be all right,” Ilona assured him.

 

“I know,” he agreed, but to himself he wondered how crazy his idea was and how many people would get killed if he went wrong. But at the same time he felt it was a risk that needed to be taken. Liriss had long been getting out of hand. Just before the war started, the mob became restless. The upper class started taking a beating from the criminals; known brigands and street thieves were found dead in groups; at least one body was fished out of the sea each morning; two or three shops burned every month. It was as if there was a territorial conflict and it was spilling out all over the city. If nothing else, Kalen was sure of one thing, this had to stop, or there would not be much of a city for the Duke to return to.

 

Kalen again squeezed Ilona’s waist tightly with his good arm. “Just be careful.”

 

“You already said that,” she looked at him.

 

“I meant it. You’re the closest thing I have to a family.”

 

“And you still don’t want to get married?”

 

“If we get married, people will expect children and I’m not ready for that. Not during a war, of all times.”

 

***

 

The knocking at the door grew more insistent as Kalen hurriedly pulled his pants on. Ilona sat up in bed, arms folded, watching him stumble about, a faint smile on her face.

 

Kalen grabbed her clothes off the chair and tossed them at her. “Get moving.” He rushed to the front room, tunic in hands, and pulled open the door. “Yes?”

 

It was still night outside and a town guard, breathing heavily and sweating hard from a long run, stood at the door.

 

“Sir, Captain Koren has been killed!”

 

“What?” The shocked reaction was easy. For just one horrible instant Kalen believed that he had made a mistake and another killer succeeded where the first had failed. He pulled himself together as the guard repeated the report.

 

“Captain Koren was killed in his sleep by an assassin. Lieutenant Taishent sent word just minutes ago.”

 

Kalen started pulling the tunic he had in his hands over his head, careful of his shoulder wound. “Who did it?”

 

“I don’t know, Sir. The messenger didn’t say.”

 

“Does Sergeant Cepero know?”

 

“No, Sir. He’s out on patrol at the south gate.”

 

Ilona appeared behind Kalen. “What’s happened?” She did not need to pretend to be sleepy, tired as she was.

 

“Something’s happened to the Captain,” Kalen said. “I have to go to the castle. You get to the guard house and keep everything quiet until we know for sure.”

 

Concern was all over Ilona’s face.

 

“Just do it,” Kalen stepped around her. He picked up his belt and sword off the table. “Stay there until I come or send word.”

 

He paused long enough to sloppily kiss her on the cheek and rushed off.

 

Ilona looked at the guard waiting for her and sighed. “I’ll get my blade.”

 

***

 

Kalen took the castle stairs three and four at a time, rushing to Captain Bartol’s office, which was currently being used by Jerid Taishent. He burst in, almost without knocking, practically running down the Duke’s new physician.

 

Elizabeth of the Pass was a tall blond woman in her late thirties. She folded her arms and glared at Kalen, not moving out of his way.

 

“If you get hurt tonight, Lieutenant,” she said in an icy tone, “it may just be by my hand.” Obviously she did not approve of what he and Jerid were doing.

 

Kalen side-stepped her, only to come face to face with Rish Vogel, who hurried out of his way. The old chronicler was a problem Kalen never considered, but now, if played right, Rish could become the only, and the most credible, witness he would ever need.

 

“What’s happened?” Kalen demanded, finally getting to see his castle counterpart.

 

Jerid was calm. “A few hours ago an assassin made his way into Captain Koren’s room and killed him. A passing guard caught the assassin and killed him in a struggle.”

 

“Wasn’t the door locked? Where was the door guard?” Kalen demanded, hoping Jerid was ready for an improvised interrogation. Everything had to look and sound right.

 

“The lock was picked and there was no guard. Just the one man assigned to the floor.”

 

“One man?” Kalen bellowed. “Adrunian Koren is the highest law we have in town and you put one man on the floor?!”

 

“I know!” Jerid shouted back. “I know and I’ll have to explain all of this to the Duke when he gets back. We’re stretched so thin now that I couldn’t even afford that one man.” His voice dropped off as he finished.

 

Kalen scowled.

 

“Look, it happened! We just have to deal with it now, no matter how we feel about it. I’m ready to take the blame, but we have to solve this first.”

 

Something clanked and both men looked over at Rish who sat at the desk, busily scribbling away on a sheet of parchment, a tipped over bottle of ink by his hand, spilling dark liquid on the surface of the table and staining his arm and sleeve.

 

Jerid took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “You’re already the acting guard captain. We’ll hold a ceremony to reaffirmed it this afternoon. Clifton will have to make a final ruling when he returns.”

 

Kalen sank down into a chair, rubbing his face as if trying to convince himself this was not a dream. He looked up at Elizabeth. “Is he…?”

 

The physician was not much of an actress, but she nodded grimly. “He was poisoned. I couldn’t save him. The assassin died from a stab wound to the chest.”

 

“I want to know who that man was working for,” Kalen warned Jerid.

 

“I already have men working on it,” Jerid answered.

 

***

 

Kalen sat in what officially used to be Captain Koren’s office, studying the roster of guards and what what they admitted about their pasts. He was hoping to find some tell-tale event or slip-up that would indicate shady character, but half way through the stack he still had not found any real evidence of false documentation. Everything available was consistent and true, as far as he could determine.

 

Tossing the latest file to be examined on the floor, Kalen leaned back in his chair. He had been at it all day, trying to find any problem people under his command, like the one that attempted to kill the Captain. Instead he was rewarded with eight hours of lost time and a splitting headache.

 

Shortly after noon he was reaffirmed as the Captain of the Town Guard, in view of Captain Koren’s untimely demise and pending Clifton Dargon’s final appointment of him to the post. It was a small, semi-official gathering, since he was already the Acting Captain of the Town Guard due to his superior’s war injuries. A few minor nobles and bureaucrats were invited to be witnesses. A priest helped Jerid, the highest ranking representative of the Duke’s personal guard, to conduct the ceremony. By the time Kalen returned to the guard house, the city was buzzing with the news of Captain Koren’s death.

 

The plan was slowly coming together, but the trap was yet to be set off. For now he only hoped the secret could be kept and Ilona would not run into too much danger.

 

***

 

Rish Vogel fumbled with the large key ring he had stolen from the castellan who had fallen asleep in a large chair in the great hall right after dinner. It was a simple matter to slip it off his belt. There were literally dozens of different keys on the ring and Rish hurried to open the door before the guard would pass this way again. It took a dozen or so attempts, but Rish was finally rewarded with the sound of the turning tumblers and the screech of the opening bolt.

 

Pocketing the keys, Rish stepped into the room where just a day ago the now dead Captain of the Town Guard slept. He never knew the man personally, but had met once or twice in official capacity, with the large, powerfully built soldier with silver-grey hair and a bushy walrus mustache that made it seem as if he was always smiling, even in times of crisis.

 

Adrunian Koren had been with the town guard for almost twenty-five years, in which time he progressed from a rookie guardsman to the Captain of the town militia and one of the closest aides to Lord Clifton Dargon. His death was a strong blow to the city, especially after his successful defense against the Beinison fleet. This was as large an event as the deaths of Fionn and Roisart Connall just a year ago and very bad for morale during the war.

 

The chronicaller pushed the door shut behind himself and studied the room from where he was. It was large and bright from beams of the setting sun. The bed remained unmade, a chair lay overturned on the floor and in a corner was a pool of dried blood.

 

Rish pretended he was the assassin. He walked from the door to the bed, poured the vial of poison into the sleeping man’s mouth and made him swallow. The physician Elizabeth said it would require a few minutes to take effect. Would the assassin stay?

 

Rish decided he would.

 

So the assassin stayed. Rish took a few deep breaths to time himself, all the while looking around. The chair and the blood stain were at opposite ends of the room. Was there a struggle?

 

Satisfied that his victim was dead, Rish walked to where the overturned chair lay by the window. Was this a way out? Had the assassin thought to use the window to leave unnoticed and tripped over the chair? The window opened to the courtyard. Not a way to escape during day or night, with guards and keep residents passing in and out. And there was no trace of a struggle. All other furniture and decorations seemed to be in their proper places. A ceramic vase stood peacefully on the window table right next to the chair. So why was the chair overturned? The old chronicler got down on the floor to look for drops of blood. None. Just the big puddle in the opposite corner.

 

Rish scratched his head. Something was missing. He lit a candle to compensate for the settling darkness, although he knew Jerid ordered nothing to be disturbed, and pulling out his quill and a roll of parchment, sat down at the table in the room to record his findings.

***

Ilona Milnor stood on the second floor balcony of the guard house, looking into the darkness of the street below. The night was cloudy and dark, dark enough that she could not see the ground below the balcony. The air was calm and heavy, just like before a violent summer thunderstorm.

 

She pulled her cloak tightly around herself, trying to ward the chilly night air away. The night before she visited Liriss to make the deal and now had her doubts about it. Liriss acted promptly on his plans to put Kalen in charge and now her heart was heavy with even more doubts than before. Would the next attempt be made on Kalen?

 

She saw a young boy walk down the street and was about to yell to him about violating the curfew, but seeing him head for the guard house door did not. She watched him until he disappeared below the balcony and then seeing the light from the opened door decided to go down. She met a guard half way down the stairs, on the landing between floors.

 

“This was just delivered for you, Lieutenant,” he offered her a fist sized box of plain wood.

 

“By whom?” She took it.

“A young boy.”

 

Ilona pushed past the guard down the stairs and ran to the door. The boy was gone and the street was empty in both directions. She waited until a flash of lightning illuminated the street, then walked back to the door, where the guardsman waited.

 

“I can go look for him,” the man offered.

 

“Don’t bother,” she sighed. “The intent was obviously for him not to meet me. I’ll be upstairs.”

 

Ilona did not open the box until she was in Captain Koren’s office with the door firmly closed behind her. Only after sitting down did she permit herself to lift the case’s lid. In it, settled in a velvet lined cradle, lay a sparkling gem, clear even in the dim candle light. As she took it out, a note fell to the floor.

 

It read: ‘You’re well on your way. Liriss.’

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