“Sergeant, sergeant!” a female voice echoed down the corridors of the catacombs beneath Dargon Keep.
Aimee, looking around the maze she was in, turned and bolted. Did someone see her? What happened? She ran into the first dark doorway she saw and hid in the corner of the room.
“Sergeant!” The female guard ran past Aimee’s room without slowing down.
Aimee made herself as small as she could, hoping the woman would not come back and find her. Long moments passed with Aimee not moving from her hiding place, not even daring to breathe, then she heard more footsteps as people ran back down the corridor.
“Are you sure?” she heard the Sergeant’s voice.
“Sure seemed like he was. And just like Elizabeth said, too,” Altura answered. “I didn’t wait around to see. Arellano is still there in case something happens.”
“You best go get the physician, then,” the sergeant answered.
Through the doorway to the room she was hiding in, Aimee saw the female guard hurry towards the stairs leading out of the dungeon. The sergeant’s heavy footsteps could be heard heading in the other direction. As soon as all was quiet, Aimee snuck up to the open doorway and looked into the corridor. She desperately wanted to leave the dungeon, thinking Altura would leave open the door into the castle hallways, but instead, impulsively, turned the other way, heading in the wrong direction, wanting to see what had happened that Elizabeth had to be called.
Keeping as quiet as she could, Aimee carefully snuck down the corridor after Sergeant Guralnik, towards the room where Captain Koren’s body lay resting.
Dyann Taishent angrily slung a handful of mud into a clay jar on the table before him. The vessel shifted away from him, making the cooks in the kitchen turn and look.
“Careful, careful,” Corambis tutted. “You know what will happen if Madam Sepagary sees you treat her dishes that way.”
“I’ll seal her mouth shut with clay if she so much as thinks of opening it!” Dyann snapped.
Thuna, watching the two men work and helping them when they needed something, let out a laugh.
“What is it, girl?” Corambis asked. His assistant had been unusually quiet all morning, after the failure the night before.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I can just imagine Madam Sepagary serving the Duke with her mouth full of clay.”
Corambis and Dyann both chuckled at that, but the mage’s laugh quickly disappeared, replaced by a grim expression.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find her,” Corambis assured him. “This has never failed before.”
“Last time we did this, it blew the top off old Sweeny’s tower!”
“That was his own fault,” Corambis said. “Anyone who keeps so much dung around and plays with fire is asking for it to happen.”
A laugh escaped Dyann’s lips. “Oh, that expression on his face!”
Corambis also laughed. “But then the other spell never failed either,” he added thoughtfully.
“I’ve been thinking about that,” the mage admitted.
“And are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Corambis asked.
Dyann nodded. “That would explain the mutt’s new habits…let’s take a look before we start blowing doors off hinges.”
“Well, at least one door,” Corambis said. “Thuna, repack the ash and the spirits of hart’s horn. We’ll be back soon.”
Long before Aimee could get her courage up to enter the room where the guards were, she heard hurried footsteps in the corridor behind her and darted into the room across from the one she was looking in. From across the corridor, she could still hear the guards talking quietly in the second room, now overshadowed by the approaching footsteps and female voices.
“…Lieutenant Taishent both know, but I want to be sure first,” the physician said.
“He didn’t say anything,” Altura answered, “but we really didn’t wait. Sergeant Guralnik bid me to find you immediately.”
Aimee watched the two women enter the room and disappear inside. She waited for a while, then not seeing anyone exit, snuck into the room to see what was happening.
“…healed over pretty well,” the physician commented, “but I don’t want you going anywhere. A few more days of rest will have you solidly on your feet.”
Aimee carefully snuck up to the doorway and peeked in. The guards were once again gathered around the Captain’s bed.
“There will be a scar,” the physician went on, “but I can give you some salve to clear that up. It won’t disappear, though. That was a pretty big gash.”
“A soldier isn’t a soldier without scars, doctor,” Sergeant Guralnik said.
“Well, I don’t know about you or the Captain here,” Elizabeth said, “but I know most women prefer men whole.” She looked down again. “It’s really up to you. I’m just offering you what I think to be a good solution.”
Who was she talking to? Aimee edged forward a little more, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“Why am I in the catacombs?” a weak, but deep voice sounded. It was the voice of Captain Adrunian Koren!
Aimee gasped, realizing as she did so that she had given her presence away. The four guards and the physician turned towards her and between them she spotted Captain Koren’s face, eyes open, looking at her.
Aimee took a step back, tripping over something at her feet and falling over backwards. A loud yip sounded as she fell to the floor.
“I tell you that door has been closed for over a year!” the keep castellan declared, hands on his hips. “The Duke ordered it locked ever since that thief broke into the vault!”
“Open that door now, you tub of lard, or I’ll give you a hex free of charge!” Dyann demanded of the large man.
“`Tub o’ lard’? You old windbag! I’ll show you a tub of lard!” The castellan stepped forward, pushing the old mage back with his huge stomach.
“Castellan,” Corambis pushed the two arguing men apart. “Castellan, if you don’t open this door for us, we’ll take it by force and then instead of replacing the key on your belt, you’ll be replacing the door on its hinges. Do what will be right for all of us.”
The castellan grumbled.
“Please,” Corambis insisted. “We just need to look around. We’ll be quick.”
Karl darted out of the way with a yelp as Aimee fell over him and quickly scrambled up to her feet.
The six people in the other room stared at the girl with astonishment. None of them expected her to be here and for a moment, no one knew what to do. The girl quickly scrambled up and disappeared from sight.
“After her!” Guralnik was the first to recover and the three younger guards charged out of the room, after the girl they knew to be lost. Her seeing Captain Koren mattered in that no one was to know he was alive and she could ruin the entire plan of eliminating crime from Dargon.
“What is going on?” Koren groaned, trying to sit up.
“Don’t exert yourself, Captain,” Elizabeth forced him to lay back down.
“Sir, there’s been a lot that happened in the last month…”
“The war? How’s the war?”
“Dargon is safe, Sir. We ran them all off! The Duke even chased them.”
For a moment Koren smiled. “And the Southern Marches? The eastern boarder?”
“Captain, you need to rest!” Elizabeth cut in, stopping Guralnik from revealing the bad news.
“Perhaps it would be better if one of your own men briefed you, or perhaps Lieutenant Taishent,” the sergeant caught on.
Koren nodded. “Did Darklen make it?”
“And Azin? Shevlin? Milnor?”
“Lieutenant Milnor is all right, Sir,” Guralnik said, “Lieutenant Azin is with the Duke’s forces…Lieutenant Shevlin…” He glanced at the physician, but went on. “Lieutenant Shevlin held the West Gate to the last man. I’m sorry, Sir. He didn’t live to see us drive the enemy away.”
Koren nodded with a sigh, his expression grim. “And Lansing Bartol?”
“Have Kalen come see me if you refuse to let me get up,” Koren told Elizabeth.
“I’ll pass on the message,” the physician said, not having the intention of saying anything to the lieutenant for at least a few days. “Send for me if you need anything.”
“Before you go,” Koren added, preventing Elizabeth from leaving, “tell me why that girl was being chased.”
The castellan fumbled with his keys until finding the right one and inserted it in the lock. “Just to show you no one ever goes here,” he complained, twisting the key in the door. “Why, even I haven’t set foot in here since winter and the only other key’s in the Duke’s study. Look!”
The door swung open to reveal a corridor lit with torches, alternating on the opposing walls. The dust was disturbed with a well defined trail.
“No one, eh?” Dyann snapped. “I knew that mutt kept coming here for a reason!”
The castellan angrily removed a torch from its sconce and hurried down the corridor. “We’ll just see who’s been here!”
Aimee ran down the lit corridor as quickly as she could manage, with Karl right on her heels, jumping and barking loudly. Behind them Aimee could hear the running feet of the guards. She did not even think to run into one of the dark rooms or side tunnels. Not only could she get lost there, but Karl’s insistent barking would only help the guards find her faster. She did not know what she would do upon reaching the heavy oak door, or if it would even be open, but she could always kick and scream and maybe someone on the other side would hear her and tell her father.
Aimee breathlessly scrambled up the stairs, almost tripping over Karl. She could hear the guards not far behind her. She darted out of the corridor, now running after the puppy, looking for a place to hide. As she turned the corner, she spotted three men, her grandfather, one of his friends and the castle castellan. All three stood astonished, looking at her.
“Grandfather!” she wheezed, breathless from her run and dashed to hide behind him. Right on her heels the three guards turned the corner.
The old mage held his granddaughter behind him and took a confident step forward. “What do you want from my granddaughter?” His words boomed in the corridor.
“You know,” Ilona said to Captain Koren, “you and Kalen are equally pig headed! Like you came from the same mold!” Their wait for the others to arrive was taking longer than either of the two expected and Ilona decided to use this as an opportunity to take care of some unfinished business.
The guard captain laughed. “How so, Lieutenant?”
“Kalen was injured in the war,” she told him, “and now he doesn’t want to take the time to let that damn wound heal!”
Koren laughed. “I remember just over ten years ago bandits set up camp four or five leagues south of town and were exerting a road toll from caravans and travellers. Kalen was just a rookie then. Captain Tamar Armstrong was the head of the guard — it was a few years before he went to serve as a general in the King’s army — and he sent me and some men, including Kalen, to break that band up…”
The Captain fell silent as Elizabeth walked into the room, followed by Kalen and Jerid. “Didn’t I tell you to stay in bed?” she demanded.
“I’ve stayed in that bed for a month!” Koren snapped. “Wounds heal better when they know they need to heal.”
“I’ll have a sleeping potion mixed in with your food next time you eat,” the physician threatened.
“Kalen,” Koren ignored the physician, “have you ever told Ilona of your first great adventure?”
“When I was two?” Kalen looked a bit shocked that the Captain would remember a story told at a party where everyone had a little too much to drink. He fought back a slight flush that covered his face.
“No, in the guard!”
“I haven’t, Sir,” he wiped his brow with his sleeve.
“Well, do and get those wounds tended to.”
“Wounds?” Elizabeth turned to Kalen.
“Don’t you touch me,” he warned her.
“Did you two get everything straightened out?” Koren asked Jerid.
“We did, Sir,” he said. “Aimee found the door open, wandered in and got locked in here. I should have thought to check the catacombs. That is just like her.”
Koren chuckled. “I can understand her fright when she saw me not moving. I’d have run, too, if I were her age.”
“All’s well that ends well,” Jerid said. “Next time, I hope, she’ll be smarter than going where she shouldn’t be. That scare was so bad for her, I won’t even punish her for being irresponsible…even though I should.”
“Good,” Koren approved. “Now, about Liriss.”
Everyone pulled up a chair and sat down around the Captain, ready to plan.
“Jerid, I want you to extend your patrols to the docks. I don’t want a single ship to leave before we’re finished.”
“You can be sure of that, Sir,” the castle Lieutenant answered.
“You, Ilona,” Koren went on, “I want you to secure the market place when Kalen takes Liriss’ hold. That way we’ll cut off the best way out of town.”
“Sir, if I may, I’d rather be there as it happens. With your permission, I’d like to have Caisy do that job.”
Koren thoughtfully twisted his mustache. “Let’s get back to that in a moment. Kalen, I want that building surrounded and broken into. Use all the force you can. This is an excuse to kill criminals without having to answer for it. Anyone who doesn’t yield when told doesn’t get a second chance, clear?”
“And since Kesrin is willing to turn evidence, try to take him alive, but if that doesn’t happen, I won’t be too concerned.
“Elizabeth, I’ll need to rely on you to doctor my people. We simply don’t have the manpower to do everything. I’ll need my medics in the raid itself. I want you and what physicians and healers you can scrounge up to be ready and close by. Stay with the patrols and they’ll bring you in when it’s time.”
Kalen looked at Elizabeth, expecting her to protest the plan, but she did not say a word. In a way, Kalen hoped that he could avoid a mass slaughter and he knew that in an ideal situation, his captain would have wanted the same, but he also realized how understaffed they were and how important it was to end the criminal reign over the city. Perhaps Elizabeth knew it as well and held her tongue for that reason alone.
“Now,” Koren turned back to Ilona, who waited for his decision. He had no doubts that she was among the best officers he ever had, but he needed to hear her reasons and push her a little, to see if she was willing to push back. “Ilona, any reasons?”
Ilona did not answer for a few moments, putting her thoughts together. “Captain, I’m a Dargon town guard,” she said. “I want to be there because that’s my job. That’s what I signed on to do. I’m here to protect, not be protected. Isn’t it enough you barred me from fighting in the war?”
“Your efforts were important where they were applied,” he said. “Elizabeth tells me you were invaluable.”
“But you put me in the keep so that I wouldn’t be hurt in the fighting!”
Koren smiled. “Yes, I did. It was both for you and Kalen. One of you worried was enough. I couldn’t afford to have both of your performances affected.”
“Then overlook that I’m a woman this time,” Ilona asked.
Koren shifted in his bed. “I understand you’re on the take with Liriss?”
“Of course,” the Lieutenant smiled back. “He’s been sending me jewelry.” A few of the gathered laughed.
“Kalen, how injured are you?” the Captain asked his second in command, ignoring the laughter.
“I’m fine, Sir.”
“Fine like me?”
Kalen did not answer.
“I want you to take charge of the market square,” Koren decided. “Ilona will lead the raid. And after you’re done, I want you to see Elizabeth. I may be as stubborn as a mule when it comes to my own health, but I’m smart enough not to risk my best people needlessly.”
Ilona waited patiently until all of the twenty people in the raiding party gathered in the alley. They had surprised two brigands here and took them prisoner with minimal resistance. Now they lay on the ground, tied, waiting until the raid was completed, to be transported to the guard house. It would be a great success if the rest of the raid went as smoothly.
Looking around in the darkening alley, Ilona wondered if she should wait until it was completely dark, but not wanting to waste too much time. Each minute she and the guards were here was a risk that they would be noticed from inside the building. The sergeants slowly gathered around her, waiting for instructions.
“Caisy,” Ilona turned to the man next to her, “first floor, straight through. Hold the rear stairs and the exits. Tess,” she turned to the tall red-headed sergeant that could put fear into most men she fought. “Second floor. No risks. As soon as you’re done, back Caisy.”
“Garay, Streed and DaVrice, you’re with me. Go easy on Kesrin, but bring everyone in. The third floor is the only place I prefer prisoners to bodies. Everyone clear?”
All the guards nodded.
Ilona signaled for Caisy to begin and two of the Sergeant’s men quickly broke down the door. Caisy led his small group in, followed by Tess’ larger unit.
“Go,” Ilona nodded to the three guards remaining with her. They went in and, drawing her sword, Ilona followed.
The building was dark inside, not yet lit to accommodate the the setting of the sun. The first floor corridor was mostly empty, although sounds of a fight could be heard from further down, where it took a turn. Caisy and his men secured a good half of the building’s first floor and were now working at the other end of the corridor.
Ahead of Ilona, her team’s heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs. Not wanting to let opportunity slip by, Ilona quickly followed them up the stairs. As she passed the murky second floor, she heard someone yell “archer”, but there were already plenty of people on this floor to take care of the problem and she had a job to do one floor up.
Hoping that the alarm would be taken care of by the men assigned to the floor, Ilona continued up the stairs.
The instant the outside door cracked and swung open, Caisy followed his men into the building. They both paused to fight the two brigand guards at the door and he ran past them, towards the stairs. The flood of men that followed through the doorway carried the fight after him and the two brigands were quickly overpowered and thrown behind the stairs.
Caisy himself ran deeper into the building, looking for other inhabitants. At the stairs he found another man, wearing studded leather decorated with metal, a sailor’s cap and a wild glean in his eyes. “Yield!” Caisy ordered. Wearing the dark blue tunic of the town guard he did not feel the need to declare himself.
Instead of surrendering, the brigand drew his sword and leapt over the banister. Caisy backed up, blocking the first strike with his sword. The man’s attack was so determined that he quickly found himself on the defensive. Two more blocks and a parry later had him five yards further down the hallway.
“Damn you!” he swung his blade across the corridor, making the man pause his advance to avoid getting hit. Behind him Caisy could hear a battle cry and someone’s rushing feet. He decided to risk facing the new opponent, hoping that his own men, now moving up the corridor, would take care of the crazed brigand from the stairs.
He turned, bending down, swinging his sword at knee level. It impacted with the new opponent, changing the war cry to a yell of pain. Instead of attacking, the brigand simply collapsed over Caisy.
“The door!” Caisy indicated to the other alley doorway to the two guards that caught up to him.
Another armed man rushed at them from the back stairs. The corridor was not wide enough for the three men to fight together.
Tess followed her men up the stairs, knowing full well that at least three or four of her people were still in the entry corridor, helping Caisy’s men. This was a large reduction in strength, but it was a necessary loss. No part of the building they had been in could be left unsecured.
She made it to the top of the stairs to find her men already engaged in combat. With a quick and precise thrust of her sword, Tess cut deep in the side of one of Liriss’ henchmen and proceeded on without stopping. The second floor corridor was clear, but there were plenty of rooms to worry about.
Tess opened the first door she came to and stepped inside. She ducked under the fist of the man who met her and quickly pulled the door shut, catching the thug in between it and the frame. As he screamed, she hit him with the flat of her blade and shoved him back in to the room.
Two other men rushed at her, but only one at a time could fight successfully through the doorway. Tess met the first one with her sword as her own men rushed down the corridor behind her. She blocked the first swing of the sword with hers, then followed through and cut deep into his shoulder.
He did. His companion also tossed his sword down, having seen what had happened to his friends.
“Get out here,” Tess ordered, stepping back.
The three men came out into the corridor.
“Face down, on the floor!”
A yell made everyone look up as a half dozen men charged down the corridor, holding a bench sideways, knocking everyone over, sweeping them backwards off their feet. The bench slammed into the three men Tess challenged, then into her. She lost her sword as she slammed into the wall and the next thing she knew, she had a set of hands around her throat and a heavy body on top of hers.
“You son of a bitch!” she yelled at the man and grabbing hold of his shoulders, slammed him sideways into the wall. The man’s head impacted the fine grain wall with a crack. It took three full thrusts to get him to let go of her neck and by that time she was covered with his blood, dripping down on her from the injuries to his skull. Tess shoved the unconscious body off her and got up, only to see the man she wounded earlier holding her sword.
“Poetic, isn’t it?” he turned the blade, wet with blood.
“Not for you,” Tess drew her long dagger, preparing for an unbalanced fight.
“Archer!” someone further down the corridor yelled and as if on cue, the brigand with her sword fell over, an arrow shaft in his back.
Tess also dropped down, hoping it was only one archer and that he did not have many arrows. She could see pretty far down the corridor, but not far enough to distinguish what was going on at the other end. As she looked, she again heard a rush of running feet and rolled out of the way, towards the wall, as the men with the bench charged in the other direction. There were only four of them now and with her dagger, Tess managed to put a deep cut in the leg of the man on her side. He stumbled, ham strung, and fell forward, pulling the bench down with him. The bench end ground against the wall and the whole column of men went tumbling down.
Tess quickly grabbed her sword off the floor and got up, only to have another arrow whiz by her ear. That made her back up, carefully looking down the corridor where her men were fighting in small groups. Three of the men that carried the bench got up off the floor, two of them drawing their swords and the third bent down to get his off the floor. As she prepared for fighting two men, one of them staggered forward and fell, with an arrow in his back. His companion spun around to see what was happening, giving Tess a perfect opportunity for a strike. She did not let it go to waste.
Having heard someone yell “archer”, Caisy rushed up the back stairs, leaving his men to secure the first floor. Two of them were wounded, one unable to continue to fight, but the battle there was almost over.
On the landing, Caisy stopped just short of being hit by a sword. He was at a great disadvantage, having to fight a man towering half his height over him, but that was the luck of the draw and the disadvantage of being lower down on the stairs.
Yells of combat could be heard both above and below as he blocked the vicious swings of the blade of the man on the landing. One hard blow forced Caisy to fall back three steps, but as his attacker followed him down, Caisy lunged at his feet, making the man lose his balance and tumble down over him.
The way was clear and deciding to let the five guards downstairs deal with the swordsman, Caisy rushed up to the landing and up the second flight of stairs. In the growing darkness of the second floor, Caisy could see men fighting down the corridor and an archer in the foreground, letting an arrow lose from his long bow.
The man was dressed in a light tunic reaching down to his knees and had no sword.
“Put it down!” Caisy ordered as the archer drew another arrow, but instead of complying, the man tried to catch the arrow’s notch on the string of the bow.
Caisy swung his sword, not wanting to become the archer’s new target, but the man was barely at the tip of the sword’s reach. The weapon hit the bow, shearing through the narrowest part of the weapon and breaking the string, making the shattered bow snap out with a loud crack. The archer screamed in pain as the broken string cut through the flesh of his unprotected forearm and the bow twisted in his hand like a writhing snake. The arrow, barely caught on the torn string, jumped off the bow and stuck in the wall not far away from Caisy.
Ilona made her way up the stairs on the heels of Sergeant Streed. An unconscious guard already lay at the top of the landing. The first set of doors on each side of the corridor was open. Sounds of crashing furniture could be heard from the door on the left side.
“Help him,” Ilona pointed Streed to the room, not sure if Garay or DaVrice was in there.
As Streed disappeared in the room, Ilona made her way down the corridor to the end of the building overlooking the market place. The central room on the far wall was suspected of being Liriss’ headquarters and pausing only long enough to ready her sword, Ilona burst in through the door. The first room was empty. It was richly decorated with rugs and pieces of art. On one wall stood a luxurious sofa with soft pillows scattered at its base. Across from it stood a large cabinet displaying bottles of liquor and spirits.
Not wanting to waste the time exploring the room, Ilona rushed to the next door and burst through into an office with a large window showing the last of the setting sun’s light over the town wall a half league away. At the desk in the center of the room sat Liriss, facing Ilona, full of surprise. It took Ilona a moment to notice the young woman who had brought her Liriss’ message a few days prior, standing in the shadows at the wall to her left.
“What is this?” Liriss asked, surprise evident in his voice.
“It’s a raid, rat.”
“You can’t do this!” he got up, then calming himself, added, “you have to believe what I told you three days ago. I’m not responsible for Koren’s death!”
“What about two kidnappings?”
“Do you know what the sad thing is?” Ilona asked. “I actually believe that for the first time in your miserable life you’re telling the truth. You usually gloat over your victories, but ever since the war started, you’ve been running like a scared rat. You’re free to go, assuming you can get out of this building. If not, that’s your luck.”
Ilona paused, thinking about the young woman. Should she be arrested or let go? “You…” It would make more sense to let her go. That way there would be no witnesses to her releasing Liriss, to make a bargain to be set free.
“You have to let her go!” Liriss hurried to say. “I’ll turn myself in if I must, but you have to let her go!”
“Who is she?” Ilona asked.
Ilona knew that she had little time herself. “Go, both of you, but next time you won’t get off this easily!”
Without waiting for Liriss to respond, Ilona rushed out of the room, knowing full well that her people would be looking for her. In the long hallway she found Garay guarding two men and a woman.
“Lieutenant, are you all right?” he hurried to ask.
“Fine. What’s happening?”
“The first floor is secured and the second is being cleaned up. Sergeant Caisy sent three men to give us a hand here.”
One of the doors slammed open and one of the guardsmen shoved a beat up man out. Ilona hurried to finish the sweep of the floor.
Captain Adrunian Koren sat in bed in his second floor castle room, twisting his mustache, watching Kalen pace before him. The news from yesterday’s raid was both good and bad. Four guards dead, a dozen wounded, three of them badly enough that they would be off duty for as long as a month, but that was nothing to compare to what had happened to Liriss’ men.
“The whole corridor,” Kalen repeated himself. “It wasn’t like this even in the invasion… Wall to wall blood. The men said that before I got there, you couldn’t put a foot down without being ankle deep in blood…”
“How many?” Koren asked, his voice a mere whisper.
“It’s hard to say. You had to see it… We took thirty-three alive, about half were whores who refused to fight. Half a dozen were barely children.
“The men pretty much fought with all they had. I understand some went after our people with furniture or whatever they could lift. One man attacked Caisy swinging part of a dead body…”
Koren shook his head. “How sad we’ve come to this…”
“I’d guess there were two or three dozen dead total,” Kalen went on. “We took them by complete surprise. There was no way they could mass an organized defense.”
“I wish I could give everyone some time off to get over this,” Koren said, “but getting over our own losses will be hard enough. I can’t afford to let anyone take time off now.”
“I’m sorry, Sir. It was my fault. We could have arrested him for trying to bribe me.”
“Kesrin, not Liriss,” Koren reminded the Lieutenant. “He protected himself well.”
“Either way,” Kalen answered. “I should have arrested him for what has been happening.”
“You told me you didn’t think he was responsible,” Koren said thoughtfully.
“Not after his meetings with Ilona, but he’s still guilty of a lot that happened before this.”
“But that’s the…” there was a knock on the door “…thing. Come in,” Koren shifted in bed. “If we could prove it without overstepping our bounds, this wouldn’t be a problem.”
The door opened and Ilona Milnor came in.
“I just feel guilty that he would charge on that horse right past me and I couldn’t lift a finger. Wouldn’t.” Kalen glanced at Ilona. “I should’ve been smart enough to have a few men with horses.”
Ilona looked down, avoiding his eyes.
“What’s done is done,” Koren said. “He’s not our only problem. Kesrin’s with him because we made a deal and one’s as good as the other. Hopefully this will put them out of business for a few months at least.”
“Do you really believe that?” Kalen asked.
“No,” the Captain sighed. “If not them, someone else will come. It never stops.”
“Kesrin gave us a statement before we let him go at noon,” Ilona injected. “What he claims happened was Ovink found out about Liriss’ attempts to bribe Kalen and ordered your death, Sir. He wanted to start a war between us and Liriss and lay low until we won. Then he would set up his own shop…”
“His one error was that he underestimated Kesrin,” Koren said, “but that’s the way things go in a nest of wasps. I don’t suppose it will take Liriss and Kesrin too long to rebuild.”
“Especially considering the number of men that escaped,” Ilona added. “Tess said they were jumping out of windows, afraid they’d get killed whether they surrendered or not.”
“They’ll need time to get over the scare,” Koren said confidently, “and to lick their wounds. And we need time to take care of ours. But we’ll be ready next time and you’ll have horses, right Kalen?”
Lieutenant Kalen Darklen smiled. “Yes, Sir, I will.”
“Well, then,” Koren turned to Ilona. “What did you come here for?”
“To ask you how you were and if you needed anything.”
“I feel like a tired old bull that needs to get back on his feet!” Koren’s voice boomed. “Keep that guard house in shape! I’ll be coming home soon.”
“And Tara, Sir?”
“Better than I understand she was. I saw her this morning. She’s been through quite a scare.”
“If you don’t mind, Sir, I’ll ask her to stay with me until Elizabeth lets you go.”
“That will be fine, Lieutenant. And thank you.”
“My pleasure, Sir. One more thing..?”
“What is it?”
“About replacements for Lieutenants Shevlin and Azin. I was wondering if I could give you a recommendation.” Ilona glanced cautiously at Kalen as she said that and he nodded his approval.
“Who did you have in mind?” the Captain asked.
“Sergeant Caisy. He did a fine job handling the extra shift over the last month. And Tess, if Azin decides to stay with the Duke. If anyone, it was she who made last night a success.”
“Tess? The Lederian? She studied with Lord Morion, didn’t she?”
“Yes, Sir. The whole town knows that by now.”
“Get me their service records and we’ll take a look,” Koren agreed.
“I best go, Sir,” Kalen said. “My shift starts soon.”
“Go, nothing. You need to see Elizabeth,” Koren ordered. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten. Have Tess do your job today. We’ll see how she does.”
“Yes, Sir,” Kalen sighed.
“And you make sure he gets there,” Koren told Ilona. “Dismissed.”
“You let him escape, didn’t you?” Kalen asked Ilona once they left the Captain’s room.
“You mean Liriss?” she asked.
“Yes. Are you angry?”
Kalen put his arm around Ilona. “No. I don’t think he was guilty either, but he still needs to be punished for his past.”
“We’ll get him,” Ilona said confidently.
“We will,” Kalen agreed.
“You know that woman I told you about, the one who delivered the message to me in the guard house?”
“I saw her again in Liriss’ office when I let him go,” Ilona said. “While I contemplated whether or not to let her go, he offered himself for her!”
“Liriss?” Kalen asked in disbelief.
“I wonder who she is…”
“So do I,” Ilona said. “You didn’t see her in the market square, did you? She wore a light colored skirt and a green tunic.”
“I may have…I wasn’t really watching for unarmed women at the time.”
Ilona sighed. “I hope we find out some day. It struck me that she was very important to him.”
They soon reached the physician’s quarters and Kalen hesitantly knocked on the door.
“Don’t look so intense,” Ilona mocked him. “It won’t hurt a bit.”
The market square was once again busy, oblivious to the raid that took place there the night before. Shoppers rushed about from booth to booth, haggling for the best deals. Shop keepers waved their arms and yelled, expressing the quality of the products and the unbeatable price they had to offer.
“And you can let this lay around for months,” the merchant explained to Dyann as he paid out the money. “It will be good at least through Deber.”
“I’m not buying it to let it lie around,” the mage said. “When I buy food, it’s to eat it.”
“After you buy it, do with it what you will,” the merchant snapped and turned to the next customer, no longer having to worry about making the sale. The mage sighed and walked across the crowded street to Corambis’ booth where Madam Labin was still telling him how appreciative she was of his services.
“And thank you again, Sage,” she said yet again. Dyann heard that exact phrase before he left to buy the pickled sweet meats he was not supposed to eat.
“My pleasure,” Cormabis answered with what appeared to be an exasperated smile and a forced pleasant voice.
“And don’t forget that I need to see you again in a few days. No later than the end of the month, so you be sure to have your assistant stop by my house and remind me.”
“Of course, Madam,” Corambis’ smile did not fade as he spoke.
“Well, actually you’d better have her drop by tomorrow,” the woman went on. “My maid made this wonderful new cake that I’d like you to see. It tastes just heavenly, but it’s…” she looked around “…a Beinison recipe and I’m just not sure if that’s good or bad.” She crossed herself. “I’m sorry Cephas. So you must tell me before I try it again, with the war on and everything.”
“I’ll have Thuna stop by tomorrow,” Corambis promised.
“Thank you again, Sage,” Madam Labin repeated.
“I’m always glad to help out,” he released a deep breath.
“And I also want you do a reading for my sister. She will be going to Asbridge early next month and you must help her plan for the weather. I hear the rains are due to be stronger this year than last and I want her to be ready. She just doesn’t believe me when I tell her!”
“Of course. Just have her stop by and I’ll be more than happy to help.”
“That’s just so kind of you,” Madam Labin went on. “You know, I was told that…”
“Excuse me,” Dyann rushed up to them. “We need to talk. Would you please excuse us, Madam?”
“Well, if you need…” Madam Labin began, but Dyann had already pulled Corambis aside. “Well, how rude!” she exclaimed.
“I’ll kill that woman,” Corambis confined in his friend. “I swear, she’ll not last long if she continues to visit me.”
Dyann laughed. “That’s why I don’t sell my advice.”
“Did you hear about the raid?” Corambis asked.
“Every word of it, from Jerid. Just look at that empty building now. I hope they tear it down!”
Corambis looked north to the old three story structure. “If they don’t, we can. Get Sweeny and Arbogast and some others…”
“We’re all in our sixties,” Dyann reminded Corambis.
“Well, yes, but…”
“I wanted to talk to you about Adrunian Koren,” Dyann said.
“Yes,” Corambis’ eyes lit up. “I told you that casting didn’t lie!”
“Which still leaves us with a problem,” Dyann pointed out. “If the casting was right, what’s going to happen to Lord Dargon?”
Corambis scratched his head. “I wish I knew what that damn casting meant…”