Port City of Norshelm
Mills woke with a startle, grabbing his service revolver from under his pillow as he sat up straight and scanned his unfamiliar surroundings while breathing heavily. The room was dark, with the only light coming in from the opened window where the breeze from the lake blew in.
He rubbed the sweat off his forehead and pulled his sweat soaked tee off and decocked the hammer of his revolver. Sitting on the edge of the goose feather packed bed, he rubbed his face tired and glanced at the time from his watch and sighed.
It was only 3:13 am local time. Mills shoved his weapon back under his pillow and stood up, using the light coming from the window to navigate in the dark carpeted room. He found the jar of water and poured himself a drink before he took a new shirt to wear and slipped on his boots.
Exiting the guest room, he found the Marine sentries on alert at the end of the corridor and he waved them at ease before he walked towards the double glass doors leading out to the veranda of the mansion where he was awarded an entire view of the city harbor.
Twinkling lights from glowing torches and lamps dotted the entire harbor and the surrounding ships as they laid tied up to the wharves, creating an orange cast that highlighted the sleeping city. The Rothschild's mansion was sited on a small hill, that gave it the grandest view of the city and the harbor while surrounded by a blue forest and lush green fields.
Mills could see pairs of armored guards patrolling the grounds while the private wing of the mansion remained dark. He took in a deep breath of air and sighed, wondering what was that sense of intense unease that woke him up suddenly from his dreams.
He and his men had settled into the Rothschild's Mansion just the day before. Commandeering the entire guest wing of the Mansion, Mills had his men ensured that their temporary quarters were well defended and the watchtower at the end of the guest wing was even converted into a radio shack for their comms equipment.
In the small enclosed courtyard within the guests' quarters sat two Magic Resistant Ambush Protected all terrain 6 X 6 vehicles or what the Marines referred to as the 'Em Rap'. Two more up armored Jeeps and another pair of open topped trucks were parked together in the ad hoc motor pool with a small mountain of supplies.
The narrow entrance into the garden courtyard proved no test for the skillful drivers but the garden was all but destroyed by the vehicles. Now a makeshift barrier blocked the way into the courtyard and manned by Marine guards.
Mills looked at his watch again and let out another sigh, as barely in an hour it will be the changing of the guard and there wasn't any point in getting more sleep since he has to be up anyway. Maybe he should take a cold shower and wash all the sweat away but thinking about the primitive facilities here, Mills rubbed his head and moaned.
"I wanna go back to Haven!!!"
Titanna Rothschild awoke to the familiar sounds of the maids scurrying around her bedchamber. As she sat up, the maids bowed and greeted her before laying out a set of clothes for her and preparing warm water for her to wash up.
She sighed in bliss as her maids brushed her hair and buttoned her formal dress with her needing to move a muscle. Once they were done with their preparations, the maids stepped back and bowed low, while Titanna checked herself in the silver mirror.
Satisfied, she left her private chambers and headed down towards the dining room where a luxurious spread was laid out. As she was breaking her fast, Knight Captain Judis appeared, wearing his half plate and carrying his helmet.
"You are early," Titanna gestured him to join her for the meal. "How are the situation?"
Judis placed his helm down and waved away the maid and instead took a pitcher of watered down wine, pouring himself a goblet before finishing it in one go. "The situation is not to our favor."
"Your two brothers..." Judis poured another goblet of wine. "They have joined hands with House Delfin and House Taron!"
"What?" Titanna paused in her meal and set her fork down, her appetite gone. "Why... how could they?"
"House Delfin and House Taron are practically our nemeses!" Titanna pushed back her chair and started paced at the head of the table. "How could they have joined up with them! What benefits were exchanged?"
"I do not know yet," Judis took a red fruit from the fruit bowl and bit into it. "Rumors were that they promised to give two Houses a stake in the harbor once this is over."
"A stake with the City Harbor?" Titanna felt a massive headache growing. "That is our main lifeline of the Rothschilds! Are they... stupid?"
"It would appear that they felt very threatened by your position here," Judis gave a shrug as he spat the pit of the fruit out. "I heard that they are recruiting men and buying supplies secretly too!"
Titanna slumped back on her chair and covered her eyes. "I want your best men to keep tabs on their every move! Report to me once you have certain information about what deal they both promised with the two Houses."
"Your wish is my command!" Judis winked and took another fruit before he left with donning his helm. "My Lady, you watch your back too!"
Titanna rested her head against her hand as she sat on the chair with the remains of her meal on the table and thought hard about Knight Captain Judis's warning before calling out, "Steward!"
"Yes, my lady?" A distinguishing looking old man appeared in a formal dark red uniform from the side.
"I want you to send out invitations to all the major Houses for a dinner party this coming weekend," Titanna tapped the table. "No... send out invitations also to all the Houses both major and minor and even the Guilds as well!"
"Invitations to all the Houses and Guilds of the city," The steward bowed. "It will be done, my lady."
"Any important notes for today?" Titanna asked next.
"You have an invitation to a tea party hosted by the Young Mistress of House Iris today," The steward reported. "And these letters are for you, my lady."
A silver platter filled with over a dozen perfumed scrolls tied with fancy ribbons and covered with important looking seals and letters were placed before Titanna. She picked one of the scrolls up and ripped the ribbon away, breaking the seal before scanning the contents and tossing the scroll back on the table.
"Are these all the same?" Titanna sighed as she gestured the platter of scrolls. "All proposals?"
"I will assume so, my lady," The steward replied with a small bow. "All of these scrolls arrived accompanied by many gifts. Also, I have a few of the men down at the grand foyer waiting for your reply."
"Help me pen back a reply to thank them for their attention and return their gifts back," Titanna replied. "Reject everyone coming to proposal a marriage with me."
"If anyone is here to talk business, then I'm free," Titanna stated. "And my guests?"
"They have settled down at the east guest wing," The steward gave a sniff of indignant. "The whole wing has been occupied by them like they owned the place!"
"Bear with me for a while, my dear old Alfred!" Titanna smiled at the old steward who gave a curt nod. "I need their help for the time being!"
"They killed the Old Master and now they are treating your house like their own!" The steward sighed. "These are dark times indeed! Dark times!"
"Yes, Alfred, these are dark times," Titanna lowered her head. "But they are allies now. And we are surrounded by the enemy at all sides now!"
"Stay strong, my lady!" The steward Alfred said, "This old servant and the rest will always support you!"
"Thank you!" Titanna smiled gratefully. "So my guests are doing fine?"
"Yes, my lady," Alfred replied. "They do not allow any of the servants or maids into the guest wing. Saying something about a security procedure."
A maid entered the dining room and gave a curtsy before Titanna and reported, "My Lady, one of the... guests asked to speak with you. He is waiting outside now."
"Let him in," Titanna answered and gestured to Alfred to his work. The double doors swung open and Mills dressed in a set of pressed uniform entered. "Good morning."
"Morning," Mills gave a causal reply, earning the glare of the old steward and maid as they exited the dining room. "Am I... disturbing you or something?"
"No, join me if you haven't eaten," Titanna replied. "How was your rest?"
"Okay, I guess?" Mills took a seat directly next to Titanna and he heard a sharp intake of breath from the servants and maids in the room. "Erm... did I do something... wrong?"
Titanna giggled and waved to the servants to set a place for Mills. "Ignore them, just sit where you like."
"Eh... okay, if you say so!" Mills gave a shrug and settled down on the chair, giving the maid a wide smile as she placed cutlery down before him. "Thanks, pretty!"
The maid blushed and quickly set the place before scurrying away, afraid she might get eaten by him. Mills unaware of the local customs just ignored the maids' stares and whispers and started putting food on his plate, trying out each dish on the table.
"Have your men settled down properly too?" Titanna leaned against one hand and watched Mills gorge himself.
"Oh, yes, pretty well," Mills grinned with a mouthful of food. "Well, something woke me up last night so I didn't really sleep much actually."
"But thanks for providing us with a place to stay and store our gear," Mills spoke and ate at the same time. "My, this ham is good!"
"Have more," Titanna watched with a small smile, ignoring his manners. "Think you can entertain yourselves and keep out of sight for the time being?"
"Of course," Mills nodded. "Oh ya, the 'El Tee' wishes to speak with you later in the afternoon when you're free."
"I understand," Titanna nodded. "It's about the Embassy?"
"Yup," Mills took a swill of the watered down wine and grimaced. "Damn, you people drink this... bitter watery stuff?"
"Hehe," Titanna don't know why, but watching Mills eat had lessened the stress in her mind. "Yes, we do drink this. Do you want anything else?"
"Yeah!" Mills pushed the goblet away and turned to one of the maids waiting by at the wall, "Any chance of a juice or... even milk?"
"Mi- milk?" Titanna laughed. "Aren't you a bit old to be drinking milk?"
"Hey!" Mills turned back and gave an injured look to Titanna. "Milk is good for you! You are never too old to drink milk!"
"Hehe," Titanna giggled and waved to the maid. "Give him what he wants."
"So, are you alright?" Mills asked suddenly when the maid left.
"Am I alright?" Titanna blinked at the question. "Yes... I am alright."
"What I mean is how are you feeling now?" Mills turned serious. "Emotionally, with your father gone and now you need to protect your home..."
"Oh," Titanna took a deep breath as the realization hit her. "I... I am fine!"
"Well, if you need someone to talk to..." Mills awkwardly said while scratching his head. "You know, about stuff... you can always find me to talk to!"
"I will!" Titanna gave a sweet smile at the careful thoughts of Mills. "Thank you for caring."
"No problem!" Mills gave a cheerful smile back. "Always a pleasure to help you!"