I watched as Drew left early in the morning. As always, he looked excited, almost as if everything was new to him and he couldn’t wait to experience whatever was next.
I couldn’t help but wonder where he was from, common knowledge always seemed to surprise him and he had this... innocence, that couldn’t have been matched by the smallest of children.
I turned my thoughts away from Drew as he left the inn. There was work to be done and the other freemen expected me to make sure that it was done.
Anna walked up to me as I got dressed, something obviously weighing on her mind. “Sir Saron.” She gave a small bow to me, almost a nod of her head. “I am a little worried about this food merchant. He contacted me saying that he wanted to ‘renegotiate’ our deal. If you wouldn’t mind accompanying me and giving him a bit of a scare, I would appreciate it.”
I nodded my head, as I walked towards the bunks of Leon and Timon. “Leon. Timon. We need you.” As I said their names, I kicked their beds. They both woke up with a start.
“We will be right there Sir Saron.” Timon said with a yawn, rolling out of bed.
Once I was sure that they were awake and getting up, I moved over to Shay and gently shook her.
She woke up wide eyed, before I could react, there was a dagger at my throat.
I held up my hands in a calming gesture “Peace, Shay. It’s me.”
The dagger stayed at my throat for a moment longer, before the last vestiges of sleep left Shay’s eyes, she lowered the dagger gently. “I am sorry Sir Saron. It’s just the dreams… I can’t help but remember.”
I placed my hand on her head and patted her gently. “I understand. But now is not the time to discuss it. Anna has requested our help with an unruly merchant.”
Shay nodded, as she slipped out of her cot fully clothed. “I will be ready in a moment.”
This was the second time this week that one of the merchants had tried to change the structure of our agreements. It’s good to know that merchants are the same in all parts of the world.
Anna waited patiently as we got ourselves ready, equipping our leather armor and weaponry. Again, I couldn’t help but wonder why this city let its citizenry carry weapons so openly. It seemed like it could easily backfire, especially if the city is entering a dictatorship as Drew seemed to believe.
We were heading out the door within a few seconds. Nothing interesting happened as Anna lead us to a small building in the housing district.
We entered the building to find a thin waspish merchant waiting for us.
He looked surprised to see the three warriors following Anna into the room, but covered it well. I couldn’t tell if he noticed Shay slip into the room after us, but I doubted that he could see through her shroud.
I frowned as I noticed at least five warriors waiting in the room with the merchant. It seemed as if Anna’s plan to frighten the merchant wouldn’t work as well as she had planned.
“Welcome! I am terribly sorry to call you here on such short notice. But it appears as if some complications arose as we tried to ship your order here.” The merchant greeted us with a smile and motioned for us to sit. His smile looked genuine, but I had never known merchants to be an honest bunch. Excepting Anna of course, but even then, I had seen her use some less... savory methods to get things accomplished.
Anna gave him a smile in return as she sat down, leaning back in the chair that had been provided for her. “I see. I see. but if I am to understand our agreement correctly, and please, correct me if I am wrong, you are responsible for any ‘complications’ that might arise while getting us the goods you promised.” Anna turned her head in a questioning manner. “And there is no need to tell us about these complications if they are your responsibility. Right?”
I watched as the merchants started battling over whose smile was the most genuine. If this conversation wasn’t so important, I would be tempted to laugh.
But the honest truth was that we are almost out of money and we can’t afford to give this merchant anymore. That raid on the prison cost us.
The waspish merchant broke the silence after a few moments. “Of course, that was the deal we made. However…” A helpless expression covered his face. “I’m afraid that I don’t have the funds get the supplies here on the agreed upon time.” He grew thoughtful, “Maybe, if you could give me some extra funds, I could make sure that those supplies got here on time.”
Anna threw back her head and laughed, before she looked at the merchant with a truly mirthful expression.
The merchant looked at her with crossed eyebrows, obviously confused.
Anna spoke, her voice dripping with poison. “Maybe I haven’t made myself clear Mr.Desmond.” She leaned forward in her seat. “You will give us our supplies, at the time you promised. And if you don’t, you won’t live to regret it.”
The merchant stared at her, as anger contorted his face, “You dare to threaten me in my own home!?” The merchant’s five guards drew their swords.
We moved to do the same, but Anna waved us down, saying “Shay, if you would please remove your cloak so that the lovely men can see you?”
Darkness seemed to solidify as Shay appeared behind the merchant, pointing a dagger at his throat. She poked the dagger into his throat, drawing a drop of blood.
Anna leaned back into her chair, crossing her legs. “I think it is best if you tell your guards to stand down. Shay isn’t the only assassin we have in this room. If you tried to attack me, you would all be dead before you could land a single strike.” she told the lie with a straight face, uncrossing her legs. “I am not someone you want to mess with Mr. Desmond.”
Anna stood up and turned away from the merchant. “Come along Shay, there is no need to re-shroud yourself. I think that lovely Mr.Desmond here gets the point.” After saying that she walked out of the building, all of us a few feet behind her.
Once we are a few feet away, Anna whispered to Shay. “Make sure he doesn’t have anyone following us.”
Shay nodded as she shrouded herself again, disappearing from sight.
“Gods and goddesses, that felt good.” Anna said to me, a real smile dancing on her face.
“I’m glad you’re on our side.” Timon muttered. Leon nodding in agreement.
“We’re all glad to have you with us Anna.” I said, giving her the smile that had been so rare for me just a few weeks ago.
Anna blushed a little at the compliment.
“There he goes again, charmin’ all the ladies” Timon mock whispered to Leon.
My face heated in response, causing everyone in the group to start laughing.
Shay rematerialized then, a bruise beginning to form on her cheek. “Two men were following us, I managed to surprise one of them, but the other managed to land a hit to my face before I took him out.
My good humor died down as I couldn’t help but wonder if Shay let the man hit her. I had seen it before, a traumatized warrior wonders if anything can hurt them after what they have gone through. Or they just want that rush, they need that pain in order to tell them that they are still alive.
Shay raised her hand to her cheek, blocking my view of it. “Don’t worry Saron. I can barely feel it.”
“We should still have Drew take a look at it when he gets back.” I said solemnly, turning my gaze back to the road.
“Speaking of our new sworn leader. Where is he?” Anna asked, a hint of worry in her voice.
“Baron Luthor’s daughter invited him to their manor. I don’t know what they are talking about.” I responded with an interesting amount of bitterness. I wasn’t used to being left out of important conversations. Ever since I was knighted, people would never dare exclude me.
“I don’t know much about nobles around here, but if they are anything like the nobles I know. Well... our prayers best be with Drew. He will need them.” Timon said with seriousness.
Almost everyone in our group nodded at his words.
I recognized the voice that had spoken to me just moments ago from behind me. There was only one person with that musical tone. I had come to this manor specifically to meet her and her father.
I turned around to find Lady Charlotte waiting for me. She was dressed in an obviously expensive red dress and wore two sapphire earrings.
“It is a lovely view, Lady Charlotte.” I responded to her comment.
She smiled at me, showing off her perfectly white teeth. Before motioning for me to sit at a chair across from her. She waited for me, before she sat down. “It is so good to see that at least one Priest Of Maria isn’t afraid of the Church Of Dios. I was afraid that they had chased every last one of you out of the city.”
I took a moment to really wonder why I was here. There was some piece of the puzzle that I still didn’t understand. No matter how highly I think of myself, I wasn’t worthy of this attire that Lady Charlotte was wearing. Something was going on that I didn’t understand and that bothered me. “It isn’t so much a lack of fear. I just have things to do that can only be accomplished in the city.” I cleared my throat, buying time to think about what I wanted to say, “Tell me, Lady Charlotte, why am I here?”
Her smile disappeared to be replaced with a thoughtful expression, “I had hoped to have some polite discussion before we got down to business, but I can’t always have what I want.” She leaned forward in her chair, making it clear that what she was about to say was important, “I need your help. My father is currently indisposed, and the only people that I know aren’t spies for the Blackwells are Captain Jacob and you.” She sighed in irritation, “In little more than an hour, a meeting of lords and ladies will be hosted here, at this manor. I need someone I can trust to not backstab me, because I suspect that today is the day that they plan to kill me.” She showed a surprising amount of vulnerability as she leaned back in her chair and put her hands to her eyes.
I studied her as she spoke, almost wishing that Maria would give me some sign about what I should do. I have read enough books to understand that nobles are always playing games of some sort. But that was all the preparation I’d had for this kind of situation, books. Can I trust her? Or is she playing me?
She removed her hands from her eyes and stared at me pleadingly, “Please help me Drew.”
I leaned back in my chair, closing my eyes as I thought about my options. After a moment, I simply decided to tell the truth. “I don’t know whether to trust you Lady Charlotte. But I do believe that your plight is real and that you have reason to fear assassination. So I will agree to help you, for now and for this meeting. After that, we shall see.”
Lady Charlotte breathed a sigh of relief “I understand. Thank you for your help.”
I sighed as well, irritated at my cynicism. Maybe she had been completely honest and wasn’t using me somehow. But I knew from experience how bad willful ignorance could be. I had to be suspicious, at least for now.
“You said that in little more than an hour, the other noblemen will be here. What will I be doing while you entertain your guests?” I ask running a hand through my hair in an old habit.
“I want you to be by my side at all times today.” Her gaze turned fiery as she spoke “I know you have some skills with healing and I hope that that sword at your waist is for more than show. I need you to be ready to heal or cure me at any time tonight. Whether it is poison, or a knife in the back, I need you to be ready. My life may depend on it.”
“Lady Charlotte.” A man spoke up from behind her. I recognized him as Captain Jacob, the man who had stopped me on the road in order to heal her. “All of the preparations are in place and the guests should be arriving soon. Please come with me to the ballroom, so that we may greet them.”
She stood up out of her chair. I follow suit a moment later. “Your clothing isn’t the best for a party such as this, but... at least it is clean. Please, escort me Drew.” She offered her hand to me as she spoke.
I gently grabbed her hand and put it into the nook of my elbow. Silently, I thanked my mother for making sure I knew the etiquette for a situation like this.
Holding my sword with my other hand, I followed Captain Jacob into a beautiful ballroom. He motioned towards a regal looking chair, which I lead Lady Charlotte to. She sat down gracefully, maneuvering her dress for the least amount of resistance.
A man dressed like the butler I had met earlier entered the room. He waved to the couple behind him as he announced in a loud voice, “Presenting Sir Kelman and his companion, the lovely Miss Everstone.”
The couple walked in gracefully, a middle aged man dressed in leather armor led a young woman up to the throne-like chair which Lady Charlotte sat in.
Lady Charlotte offered Sir Kelman a hand, which he professionally bowed over, throwing his cloak out behind him as he kissed her hand. After that, he surprised me by giving me a nod in greeting as his companion greeted Lady Charlotte.
“I see that we are the first ones to arrive, how unfortunate.” Sir Kelman spoke, his deep voice pronouncing every word, almost as if it were Shakespeare.
“It is to be expected Sir Kelman. It seems to be the latest fad. Being late that is.” Lady Charlotte spoke with poise.
Miss Everstone spoke up demurely from beside Sir Kelman. “I told you that we should have waited a while before we came.”
Sir Kelman chuckled, “No, we came early to show our support for Baron Luthor and his daughter and to gain a chance to have a discussion with the two.”
Lady Charlotte smiled, “Thank you Sir Kelman. We always appreciate the support of an esteemed Knight such as yourself. Unfortunately, we won’t have a chance to discuss anything until later in the night, our other guests are arriving.”
I looked towards the door as the Harold announced yet another couple.
The day progressed as more and more noblemen entered the manor. Each of them immediately walked up to Lady Charlotte, greeting her with a kiss on the hand. Most of them gave a polite nod in my direction, likely gathering that I was someone important from my position behind Lady Charlotte’s shoulder.
Most of their names were forgotten as what must have been a hundred noblemen were announced. I had never been too good with names anyway.
Lord Tamen, Lady Charlotte’s riding partner, arrived soon after Sir Kelman. He didn’t even send a glance my way.
Eventually, Lady Charlotte’s voice grew exhausted, she asked for a cup of water from one of the servants. He ran off as she continued to entertain various guests.
A serving boy walked up to her with a cup of water.
My eyes narrowed as I realized that the serving boy wasn’t the same servant she had sent to grab her water.
She grabbed the water, lifting it to her mouth.
I leaned down to her ear and whispered, “Lady Charlotte, don’t drink that. Let me take a look at it first.”
She immediately stopped her hand and handed the water over to me. The other noble’s grew quiet as she handed the water over, obviously curious as to what was going on.
I ignored them, deciding that it didn’t matter. “[Cleanse]” the water swirled as a purple mist was pulled out of it.
The nobles gasped as they saw the poison condense itself into a little ball and destroy itself. Lady Charlotte sent a grateful glance my way as I handed her the cup back.