The sun began to slowly descend casting long shadows over the valley. The Dark Lord’s castle stood ominously alone in its vigil of the valley. There was little activity throughout the day until the evening sky began to darken. In accordance with nocturnal hours kept by the castle’s Lady and that of its previous Master, the servants arose to begin the night’s work in the evening, even in her absence.
Eileen took her seat in the small council chamber adjacent to the throne room with a small stack of parchments and letters. Things were progressing decently though there was room for improvement, the restoration of the castle was on schedule, the collection of tax was going as well as could be expected, and the responses from the local nobility in support of Lady Gwenyth were varied. Brutus’s efforts to secure his family and their allies as supporters were beginning to bear fruit according to some of her reports.
With a stern look Eileen glanced up at the servant who stood in the doorway.
“Enter,” she stated.
The man gave a bow and kept his eyes on the floor, “a messenger arrived from her Ladyship.”
Eileen took the letter and read its contents with a frown before discarding it.
“Send for the necromancer.”
The servant bowed and left hurriedly from the room. While she waited for Timothy to make his appearance, Eileen busied herself with looking over the new financial report and roughly making an estimate of where to distribute the funds for the upcoming week. Lady Gwenyth was not the kind of ruler that could sit down and handle much of the day to day affairs of rulership such as the direct handling of taxes or the holding of court for delivering justice, which suited Eileen just fine. As it were Eileen enjoyed the work of managing the affairs of rulership without having to be that actual Lady at the top.
When Timothy arrived he slumped into one of the available chairs with little or no decorum. Eileen scowled but said nothing as the bearded man promptly placed a couple of scrolls on the table while reading a third. After a few minutes she coughed loudly to gain his attention.
“Mr. Timothy, put your scroll down.”
“Very well, but understand I have been very busy of late, not that you would care to comprehend that.”
Eileen’s scowl deepened as she considered the man before her. She greatly questioned why Lady Gwenyth continued to tolerate him, surely they could recruit another mage willing to cooperate with them, someone with actual credentials. Privately she made a mental note to herself to begin looking into the matter when she had more time later.
“Lady Gwenyth has requested your presence as well as a reinforcement of troops to join her.”
Timothy visibly balked at the idea, “Surely she doesn’t require my physical presson. If she needs advisement I could send a letter.”
“She specifically requested you come,” Eileen glanced back over the letter, “They have engaged the enemy in several small skirmishes and confirmed that they are summoning the undead to assist them. You, as our resident necromancer, are to deal with the issue.”
With an annoyed grimace Timothy sulked.
“Excellent,” continued Eileen, “I doubt it will be long before you can return to studies. The Lady reports that they have managed to locate their stronghold and are working on their plans to lay siege to it.”
“Very well,” Timothy huffed with blaintant annoyance as he stood up, “Is there anything else I should be aware of?”
Once Timothy had left Eileen settled back into her nightly routine. She compared the financial report for this week’s with last ones and readjusted the budget as needed. Then she evaluated the stocks and provisions reports before drafting up the purchase itinerary for next week.
By the time the sun had finished setting below the horizon she finished most of the paperwork that had been sitting on her desk since she had sat down. A servant informed her the evening meal was ready and Eileen happily took a break in one of the main halls to eat a bowl of soup of mostly boiled potatoes, carrots, and onions with a small bit of tough hard meat.
Usually about this time when Lady Gwenyth was still present, Eileen would have either delivered her summary report of the day’s activities to her or summoned the rest of the unofficial small council together to advise her Ladyship of the matters pertaining to her rulership. In absence of the Lady, Eileen elected to write a detailed summary for the night’s major events, before inspecting the castle to ensure the renovation work was still continuing.
All things considered the castle was well on its way to being presentable. While the dungeon still needed to be cleared of water, and the large windows that dominated the throne room and chapel need to be replaced the rest of the major projects were nearing completion. The first floor was cleaned and polished, with the dining hall neatly refurbished and chapel looking ready to receive a new sermon for its nonexistent flock.
Eileen frowned as she looked over the rebuilt pews that faced the raised dias. She never considered herself a devout worshipper but a chapel without its religious icons seemed hollow. Unfortunately it was a necessity considering the curse the Dark Lord had imparted upon Gwenyth. Still she considered how they might utilize the room in the future, perhaps moving the throne here and using it as the main courtroom. The idea had some merit, and she might as well file it for later.
The thought occupied her as she ascended the stairs to the next landing. This floor was mainly focused around the throne room with an adjacent council chamber, and a collection of archives and servant storage rooms. Eileen had personally taken one of the disused storage rooms and utilized it as her personal quarters and office space for organizing her work when she was not otherwise engaged in the council chamber. She briefly took a moment to scornfully reprimand a servant for loafing around before continuing up to the next floor that contained the master suite.
This was her major focus of the week in regards to the restoration of the castle. Eileen wanted there to be a proper suite for her Lady upon her return to the castle. The master study was already in good repair when she had first arrived, and the master bedroom only took a small bit of work, the private dining room and bathroom however still required more attention.
“Madam Eileen,” the head servant greeted with a gracious bow. A couple of the craftsmen who were working on repairing the tub stood and offered quick bows as well.
“You may continue,” she ordered after she bowed her own head in acknowledgement. The craftsmen returned to work as she approached the head servant.
“Anything new to report, Harold?” she asked.
“Yes, actually,” he glanced cautiously at the craftsmen then beckoned Eileen to follow. Curious, Eileen followed him into the master study, he approached the main fire place.
For a moment Eileen paused at the threshold to look up at the portrait that hung over the fire. There was something captivating about the woman it depicted. She was pale with dark raven hair and enticing eyes of impossible icy blue. Shaking herself from studying the portrait, Eileen focused on the head servant as he took a claw-hooked poker from next to the fireplace and reached it up into the chimney. After fiddling with it a bit, there was a loud clunk as he pulled on something out of sight. When he stepped back, Eileen could see the back wall of the fireplace slide out of the way.
“Intriguing,” mused Eileen.
“Certainly,” agreed the head servant, “One of the maids discovered it early this morning after you had retired. I wanted to inform you before we began to clear out the passageway.”
“I appreciate the sentiment. Gather a few of the trusted servants and guards to explore this nook tomorrow.”
“As you command, madam.”
The head servant closed off the hidden passageway and Eileen continued her inspection of the castle to ensure everything was in order, before she returned to the small council chamber to sort through the various letters from the many noble houses neighboring the valley. Nothing much more of note occurred during the rest of the night. When she finally retired to her private quarters Eileen was satisfied with night’s accomplishments.
Timothy’s escort departed in the late afternoon of the next day. Eileen woke up early to see him and the group of riders off before once more turning her attention to the night’s task list.
She had barely sat down when a servant barged in.
“My apologies madam for my intrusion,” he bowed deeply.
“Speak,” she commanded, her annoyance evident in her tone.
“An entourage of Holy Knights is requesting an audience once more with her Ladyship.”
Eileen pursed her lips as she raised a hand to her temple in frustration, then stood up from her chair.
“Have them brought into one of the adjoining chambers off the entry hall. Serve them refreshments of anything decent, and place a contingent of guards close by.”
“Most of the available armsmen have been sent away to aid Lady Gwenyth in her expedition.”
“Then bring whoever we have available,” snapped Eileen.
The servant retreated from Eileen as she stormed from the small council chamber. She stopped by her private chambers to adjust her dress then made her way to the stairs to the lower main floor.
As soon as she arrived in the chamber that housed the unexpected guests, Eileen had managed to school her expression into neutrality. She didn’t not want to instill hostility because of her displeasure but neither did she want to display a false sense of hospitality. A stern neutral expression would suit best.
“Good sirs,” she greeted.
There were two knights in the room. Both stood as she entered and nodded their heads in brief greeting.
“We seek another audience with her Ladyship,” grumbled the oldest of the two.
“I am afraid I will have to decline on her behalf,” replied Eileen, “Last time we played host to your order, you broke the rules of hospitality.”
There was a shattering of glass as the younger of the two knights threw his wine to the floor and made to draw his sword.
“How dare you-!”
“Brother Dorne,” rebuked the older one, he eyed the man till he returned to his seat.
“My apologies, Madam,” he said as he turned back to face Eileen, “Tempers have been high strung amongst our order as we deliberated on the matter concerning your Lady.”
“I see,” said Eileen simply as she continued to eye the two men.
“We have elected to remain steadfast in our conviction that her Ladyship, Gwenyth of the Valley is unfit to rule this valley, as she has rejected the way of light and of the Goddess in favor for the path of darkness. As sworn protectors of Realm, the Church and its people, we insist her Ladyship stand down to receive judgement by our hand.”
“And if we refuse?” pressed Eileen her eyes narrowing.
“If we do not receive an answer that is inline with the will of the Goddess by midnight tonight then we will lay siege to the castle to put her and her allies to the sword.”
Eileen tried to maintain a facade of calm neutrality, “Her Ladyship is currently unable to respond as she is currently conducting business elsewhere in the realm.”
The two knights glanced at each other in surprise.
“We were unaware of her departure,” responded the elder of the two, “tell me what business has drawn her out from the castle?”
“Her business does not concern you.”
“It does if she is seeking to draw the powers of darkness to cement her power.”
The frown Eileen wore deepened, “I can assure you that is not the case. If you must insist then I will tell you she is working to rout out the last vestige of the Dark Lord’s former supporters. Now I believe you have already pushed boundaries on our hospitality, and now I must ask you to leave.”
“Very well, but I will warn you, you and everyone who dwells here should leave this place. Abandon the castle and no one will come to harm.”
“I will remain loyal to my Lady, as she is the rightful heir to the valley.”
Grimly the elder of the two placed a hand on his sword, "I do not want the innocent people who may have been coerced into serving darkness to come to undue harm."
"No one has been coerced as far as I am aware of to serve her Ladyship, and as her loyal servant I will do my utmost to protect her interest."
"Even if you insist on dying for this dark witch?" said the younger of the two incredulously.
Both of the knights bowed their heads solemnly before they departed from the room. Eileen followed them out and as soon as the large heavy doors of the castle entrance had closed shut behind them, she let out the breath she barely realized she had been holding in. When she looked around she could see several of the servants and guards close by awaiting her response.
“Return to work,” she snapped.
The servants scurried off and the small contingency of guards turned to quickly leave as well. As they all disappeared, Eileen had an ominous premonition settle uncomfortably in the pit of her stomach. Suddenly the castle didn't seem as safe and secure as it did last night, and there was also the cold unsettling sense of dread that was not unlike the feeling that the unwanted kiss of death was soon coming.