The Fruits of Treachery
The first day after Isarn’s uprising, every inhabitant of the castle could feel the tension soaking every room and space. Only one topic was discussed – Isarn’s revolt and the impending siege. Included in this was a particular story, constantly being traded back and forth. Many had been on the walls and watched the knight marshal be executed by the jarl’s forces when Captain Theobald would not surrender the Citadel; the rest of the residents, those who had not witnessed the event themselves, soon heard it retold plenty of times.
Those patrolling the walls or finding a moment to walk up on them could witness the efforts of the Isarn soldiers. To some extent, the Citadel had been readied for a situation such as this; the Arnsweg leading up to the southern gate was wide with a broad, open stretch of land between the Citadel walls and the nearest buildings. This gave the sentinels good visibility as they watched men in red and black surcoats erect barricades and other defences as close to the fortress as they dared approach. The barricades served as shelter for the Isarn soldiers, keeping the same vigilance as their counterparts in the Order upon the walls; it also meant that any sortie out of the Citadel would have to contend with these defences and be easy for Isarn’s men to repel.
The northern and north-eastern sections of the Citadel were more complicated. The northern city gate lay close by as did the general city fortifications; in fact, walled passageways had been constructed that led almost directly from the gate of the Citadel to the outer walls of the city. Not that it gave direct access to the fortress; that would have been a serious vulnerability should an enemy attack the city from the north and be able to gain a foothold on the walls. The series of fortifications did provide cover in various places, however, breaking line of sight for the defenders. Hence, most of the soldiers guarding the Citadel were stationed here.
As the first day waned, the inhabitants of the keep went to bed without finding much rest. Fear of another nightly assault was prevalent; as for the garrison itself, only half of them were in their cots at any given time. The rest were keeping the watch throughout the night; the Citadel’s many defences required extensive patrols. The hundred or so kingthanes did their part to assist the Order soldiers, but even then, they were spread thin.
The night came and went without incident, however. On the second day of the siege, Theobald gathered the people of the Citadel in the southern courtyard, high and low. There were few of the former; most had been at Isarn’s feast or in their own houses during the night of the assault. Those with the good fortune of having escaped Isarn’s clutches stood huddled together on the cobbled stones in between the crowds of servants. Regardless of birth and rank, however, everybody obeyed Theobald’s command. As the captain of the Citadel under siege, his word was undisputed law.
In the centre of the courtyard, a few barrels had been pushed together to serve as an improvised podium. Limping across the yard, Theobald made his way towards it. A small footstool, normally serving as an aide to allow ladies to mount their horses, gave him access to ascend atop the barrels. Despite his weak leg, he easily stepped up and took his place, visible to all. “Bring out the prisoner!” Theobald roared. Two soldiers entered the yard; between them, they pushed and pulled a bound and gagged man. The captive was wearing a tattered surcoat of indistinguishable colours.
“This man opened the gates for the rebels to attack us,” Theobald declared loudly. “A despicable act for which there is only one reward.” Having said this, the captain nodded towards the soldiers. The prisoner was pushed to his knees and bent forward so that his neck was exposed. One fetched the footstool that the captain had used as a stepladder, and the prisoner’s head was forced down upon it to keep him steady despite his attempts to wring himself free.
Another soldier, wielding a gruesome axe, stepped forward and placed the steel ready at the neck. The man protested fiercely, but the gag muffled all sounds, and the soldiers did not allow him to move one inch. Another nod from the captain, and the axe fell. “Same reward for any other who would aid this treacherous scum at our gates,” Theobald yelled. Then he leapt down from his podium, seemingly ignoring any discomfort to his bad leg as he landed; he spent a moment adjusting his footing before he walked haltingly across the yard.
“A hideous spectacle,” Isabel said. “But fitting, I suppose.” The lady, once married to one prince of Adalrik and mother to another, was one of the few nobleborn still in the Citadel. By her side stood one more of those few, the former dragonlord and still current landgrave of Elis.
“If he was the one to open the gate,” Elis remarked casually.
“Why would he not be?” Isabel wondered with a frown.
“How could they know it was him specifically?” Elis asked in turn. “If somebody saw this man opening the gate, would they not have stopped him? Or raised the alarm? Maybe it is my tendency to think the worst of others,” Elis admitted, “but I find it most likely that our brave captain simply chose a scapegoat among his prisoners and had his head removed to serve as an example.”
“You think he would carry out such a deception?” Isabel asked.
“I think there was a reason the prisoner was gagged,” Elis pointed out. “Let us go inside, the smell is unpleasant here.”
Despite her loss of status as mother to the future king of the realm, Isabel had retained her chambers in the royal quarters. Escorting her back, Elis had to endure ill looks from the kingthanes they passed; they were aware that had Elis remained dragonlord, he would have sacked Berimund as captain of the kingthanes and instated another from outside their ranks. The lord and lady met only few, though, since many of the thanes were on guard duty. As they reached Isabel’s chamber, Elis dismissed her handmaiden. “We need to speak privately,” he said with a hushed voice.
“Elis? What are you planning,” Isabel frowned.
“We have a unique opportunity to position ourselves in this brewing civil war,” Elis told her. “Isarn has gained the upper hand, especially as long as he can hold Middanhal, and the city will be most costly for Vale to assault. By acting swiftly, Athelstan may bring this war to an end before Vale can retaliate. However, should the war drag on, I predict Vale will prove the stronger. He has more men and resources at his disposal.”
“Vale is responsible for my son’s death,” Isabel hissed. “If you intend to side with him, consider our agreement at an end.”
“Not at all,” Elis said, raising his hands in a disarming gesture. “We should align ourselves with Isarn. If Athelstan proves the commander he is rumoured to be, we may find ourselves counted among the winners in a few months.”
“How do you intend to show your allegiance to Isarn?”
“I will make contact with them,” Elis said and lowered his voice to a whisper, “and open the gate from the inside, allowing them to take the Citadel.”
“The captain’s display did not impress you, I see,” Isabel said dryly. “How will you get a message to them?”
“I watched their patrols on the walls last night. There are gaps. With caution, one could tie a message to an arrow and shoot it unseen into the Isarn camp outside the Citadel. Same method the other way. An arrow sent across the western wall and into the orchard should go undetected.”
“And if it is detected?” Isabel asked sharply. “Or your message is never read by Isarn’s men?”
“I will mention no names,” Elis said calmly. “My involvement will remain hidden.”
“Then how will Isarn know you are on his side?” Isabel asked pointedly.
“He will know when I open the gate for his men,” Elis replied. “Until then, none will suspect a thing or suspect me for that matter.”
“It seems like a risk,” Isabel said doubtingly. “Too easy for arrows to fly astray.”
“If I keep my wits about me, the risk will be minimal,” Elis said patiently. “This is the perfect opportunity to gain Isarn’s trust.”
“Regain it, you mean, after you lost at the Adalthing,” Isabel said with a touch of disdain.
“Delivering the Citadel into the hands of the jarl is the perfect way of securing his good graces,” Elis continued, undaunted by Isabel’s interjection.
“There is one thing you have not considered,” Isabel argued. “What if the war does become protracted? If Vale takes victory and we are found on the losing side?”
“If Vale can defeat Athelstan,” Elis smiled, “he will eventually seek to besiege Middanhal. However, the mountains will prevent him from encircling the northern gate. Isarn can bring in supplies and reinforcements endlessly. Therefore, Vale will have to storm the city with heavy casualties to follow. Unless, of course, he has a new friend on the inside…”
“To open yet another gate,” Isabel finished. “So you repeat your ploy and give Vale what you gave Isarn.”
“Always follow the strongest wind,” Elis remarked in a relaxed manner, “and your ship will sail the fastest. Regardless of who wins, we will be their allies.”
“Except I have no interest in seeing victory awarded to Vale,” Isabel sneered. “What of my cousin? He has a claim as well. If he intervenes, all our support should belong to him,” Isabel declared.
“We may yet follow that course,” Elis nodded. “By surrendering the Citadel to Isarn, we strengthen his ability to fight Vale. The more they exhaust each other’s forces, the stronger your cousin’s army will be in comparison. If the war lasts long enough, in the end, King Adelard can simply stroll up to Middanhal and seize the city from Isarn or Vale, regardless of its master. Especially,” Elis smiled, “if someone on the inside is willing to open the gates for him.”
“I see the merit of your plan,” Isabel said slowly. “Though you are counting on Isarn to reward you for your aid. He does not seem a generous man.”
“Perhaps not,” Elis admitted, “but at least this may stay his hand from enacting revenge upon me. The Citadel will fall sooner or later. Best we profit from it.”
“And my role?” Isabel questioned. “I appreciate being kept informed, but I suspect there is more to it.”
“You are impartial, being neither among the northern or the southern nobles,” Elis explained. “And you were once wedded to the House of Adal. Your support lends credence to my negotiating position, whether it be with Isarn, Vale, or Korndale.”
“Very well,” Isabel acquiesced. “When will you do this?”
“I need another night at least to ensure I know the guards’ routines,” Elis pondered. “The nights will be moonless in a few days. I shall do it then.”
“Do not be discovered,” Isabel warned him. “Nothing can save you should that happen.”
“Fear not for me, my lady,” Elis said smiling before he bowed and left Isabel’s chambers.
In the evening with her kitchen work done, Kate was in the library tower as always. She was reading a written record of the song ‘Arn of Old’, slowly mumbling the words as her eyes glanced over them. Her voice stumbled, and she yawned before she continued.
“I always thought the story of Arn was exciting,” Quill muttered from his desk. “Especially his return from the highlands to claim his throne. Never heard any yawn so much through that part,” he said dryly.
“Forgive me, master,” Kate said apologetically. “It is a very interesting story. I am just a bit tired.”
“You are not obliged to stay here every night,” Quill told her. “If you are weary, go to your bed and sleep.”
“I don’t think I can,” Kate admitted. “That’s the problem. Doesn’t matter how tired I am, I can’t fall asleep. Or if I do, I wake up shortly after.”
Quill finally looked up, and he closed his book. Standing up, he moved over to sit on the bench next to Kate. “Are you afraid, child?”
“Yes,” Kate admitted breathlessly. “Who knows when they will return? Any night, they might suddenly burst through.”
“Such thoughts will not do you any good,” Quill shook his head, “but perhaps we can remedy the situation.”
“How?” she wondered.
“If I can show you that your fears are unfounded, maybe that will give your mind some rest.”
“But they are just outside the walls,” Kate objected. “They’ve got in once already.”
“And they will not again,” Quill assured her. “None expected it the first time. Now, the captain has guards everywhere. We will not be taken by surprise again.”
“If you say so,” Kate said haltingly. “But if they can’t surprise us, won’t they just attack outright? There are so few soldiers left here, and no knights.”
“That is what the walls are for,” Quill told her. “They even the odds.”
“But we can’t stay like this forever,” Kate argued. “Sooner or later, we run out of food. We can’t hold them off.”
“There will be no need,” Quill said assertively. “The Order still has thousands of soldiers in the other realms. They will gather and put an end to these rebels sooner or later.”
“Are you sure?” the girl questioned.
“The Order never loses a war,” Quill said firmly. “It is only a matter of time before we are liberated.”
“Thank you, master,” Kate said slowly.
“You do not sound convinced?” Quill said tentatively.
“I know you are right, you always are. It’s just hard to believe even if I know it,” Kate explained haltingly.
“The mind and the heart do not always agree,” Quill nodded. “If it would make you feel better, you may sleep in Egil’s room for the time being. He has no need for it, after all.”
“That’s kind of you, master,” Kate wavered. “But I should stay with the other girls. If something does happen, they need someone to take them here like last time.”
“As you wish, child,” Quill said with a faint smile. “I will leave you to your reading,” he added, getting up, “but if you feel tired, you should go to bed.”
Another night passed in the Citadel without events. As the day dawned, it brought its new routines that the inhabitants were slowly adjusting to. They would eventually run out of wine and ale to drink, but thanks to the channels dug between the Mihtea flowing through the city and the cisterns in the Citadel, water was not an issue. Food was being carefully measured in exact portions. Cook was stricter than ever if anybody was found taking so much as a pea for themselves, slapping cheeks and twisting ears all day long to keep the kitchen servants in line.
In the northern section of the castle, the soldiers were either patrolling the walls or sleeping in their quarters after having patrolled during the night. Only one person moved through the corridors, dressed in inconspicuous brown pants and tunic as well as a cap covering all hair. A slender and small figure, Holwine moved cautiously but met nobody. The great hall was deserted; the corridors lay silent.
Exploring, the servant to the jarl of Theodstan went through the various hallways and up into some of the towers that gave a view of the city. Sometimes, the towers had guards stationed; whenever Holwine discovered this, the servant moved with feline grace to make a silent retreat and avoid alerting anybody. Other times, these lookout posts had been abandoned; the garrison was too lacking in numbers to man them all. Upon finding these, Holwine took the time to gaze in every direction and take note of everything in view, most notably the guards on the walls and parapets below making their rounds.
Holwine was thorough; this scouting expedition continued most of the day, getting a complete understanding of the northern defences of the Citadel as well as how the garrison manned them. As first evening bell rang, nightfall was a few hours away. With a glance towards the southern part of the Citadel, Holwine stood wavering for a moment but eventually reached a decision; it led towards the otherwise empty chambers made available to the jarl of Theodstan. Their only occupant, Holwine removed some clothes and the cap keeping back long, flowing hair, lay down on one of the beds, and quickly fell asleep.
A while after the first evening bell had rung and work was done for the day, Kate was to be found in the library tower as usual. She still yawned from time to time but managed to make progress in her reading. At last, she reached the final strophes, mouthing the words as she read.
“Finished,” she said, looking up with a smile at Quill.
“Very good,” he nodded. “Any questions?”
“Don’t suppose I have,” Kate considered, standing up and returning the thin book to its place on the shelves. “Been some years since I heard it sung, though, I couldn’t remember a lot of it.”
“I thought this would be a good companion to the song,” Quill said, moving over to one of the shelves and choosing a book. “More difficult to read, but it details the War of the Dragon, as they call it. Arn’s subjugation of the other realms.”
He walked over to place the book on Kate’s desk while the girl silently formed each syllable of the word ‘subjugation’ with her lips. “What did he do?” she asked puzzled.
“He made the other kings his vassals. His subjects,” Quill explained. “Have you never wondered why the king of Adalrik is known as the high king?”
“Can’t say I have,” Kate admitted with shifting eyes.
“Read this and you will understand,” Quill informed her.
“I will,” Kate promised, which allowed a yawn to escape her.
“Still not sleeping well?” Quill asked with a frown.
“Little better, I suppose,” Kate said with a shrug.
“I thought we might turn that to our favour,” Quill suggested. “It is new moon, meaning the stars will be easily visible. Ideal to teach you some basic astronomy.” Looking at Kate, he continued. “Astronomy is knowledge of the stars. Their movements and positions.”
“Stars move?” Kate asked, a little incredulous.
“Certainly. Too slowly to see with a glance. But if you observe them carefully, night after night, you will see the same stars moving in patterns. Patterns that can be recorded, predicted. Consider summer solstice, the longest day of the year. How do you know which particular day is the longest of the year, and that it is not the day before or after, almost equal in length?”
Kate stood silent for a moment. “The priests tell us?” she ventured hesitantly.
“Ah, but how do they know?” Quill swiftly followed up.
“I thought they just knew. Seemed like it’s part of their duties to know such things.”
“The priests, specifically the whiterobes, need a way to know. And while it is rare knowledge, it is not secret. It is simply the discipline of astronomy.”
“But how?” Kate asked with a lack of understanding. “How do the stars determine what day it is? It’s the sun that makes it day or night. The sooner it sets, the shorter the day.”
“The stars do not determine it either,” Quill began to explain. “Think of the stars like the great water clock in the dining hall. Just like it measures the hours of the day, the stars move in the same patterns. When they have moved a certain length, we know how much time has passed.”
“But they all look the same,” Kate objected.
“Except if you observe them carefully,” Quill told her. “Now, the library tower may not rival the observatory that the whiterobes have at Cairn Donn, but for our simple purposes it will suffice.”
“It does sound interesting,” Kate acknowledged. “I never knew there was so much I didn’t know,” she remarked, which made Quill laugh faintly.
“Since we will be up until midnight at least, I should tell your Cook first. I doubt she would approve if I kept you here past last bell without advance warning,” Quill considered. “See if you can rest tonight. Tomorrow, we teach you about the heavens,” he smiled.
“Yes, master,” Kate said, also smiling as she left the library.
When the last bell had rung and all good folk were indoors, only the guards keeping watch were still awake inside the Citadel; although as night fell completely, another figure cautiously moved through the empty hallways. Having lost the office of dragonlord, Elis had been relegated to more humble chambers fitting for a landgrave. With a slightly awkward gait, he walked from his new chambers towards the south-western part of the Citadel. The doors leading to the courtyard were locked for the night, but there was free access from the inside of the complex onto the walls and towers of the outer fortifications; such was necessary for the soldiers to walk their rounds.
Remaining vigilant, Elis kept out of sight when necessary and avoided the soldiers on watch. The gaps in their patrols allowed him to slip onto the walls and enter one of the towers undetected. Walking up the staircase inside, he reached the hatch that let him step onto the top of the tower. From there, he had a view of what lay west and southwest of the Citadel. The area close to the walls was cleared, of course, to allow free visibility in case anybody approached the fortress. Westwards there was a thin stretch of buildings between the Citadel and the Weolcan Mountains; most of them were forges and shops owned by craftsmen. Nearly all of the city’s small Dwarven population lived here.
Valmark, the western mountain peak, continued to dominate his vision as Elis glanced further south, but more of the city came into view. The craftsmen’s quarters were replaced by neighbourhoods with more variety, such as taverns and inns, more shops and merchants’ homes. Moving to the edge of the tower, Elis gazed directly below the tower in the south-western direction. There was the perennial open tract of land between the outer walls and the closest buildings; beyond that, where the rest of the city began, the barricade erected by the Isarn soldiers could be found.
It blocked the larger road between the Citadel and the western part of the city and acted like a small watch post, allowing them to keep an eye on the beleaguered fortress from this side as well. The barricade itself was almost invisible in the darkness with no moon in the sky. The only thing that Elis could spot with certainty was the fire behind it with the tallest flames flickering behind the barricade, made up of wooden planks, slabs of stone, a cart wheeled into place, and other miscellaneous objects.
Elis reached into his sleeve and pulled out an arrow; a note was tied around its shaft. The reason for his awkward gait was revealed as he pulled a small bow staff out of one of the legs of his pants. Finally, he retrieved a bowstring from a pocket. Bending the bow staff, he strung it and assembled a shortbow. It had limited range and force, but it was sufficient for the task. Notching the arrow, Elis took aim after the watch fire and lowered slightly. He released the arrow and heard it whistle through the air. The sound ended; the arrow had struck its target. Elis strained his eyes but nothing could be seen in the darkness. With his errand fulfilled regardless, Elis took the bow apart and hid it in the same manner as before. Leaning over the side of the tower, he looked inwards towards the walls of the Citadel. He waited until satisfied with the guards’ progression along their patrol patterns and left the tower.
When morning came, the defenders were relieved to have found it eventless; the tightly wound atmosphere permeating the castle softened slightly. Daily routines created a semblance of normality for those who had such to perform. Holwine, who was left without master, mistress, or brother, passed time in the same fashion as earlier days and continued exploring the Citadel’s defences. With the northern parts fully scouted, Holwine continued with the southern parts. As before, this meant watching the guards on their patrols, slipping into towers and making use of the view to take note of everything worthy of such.
Starting from the eastern side, Holwine systematically moved towards the west until full knowledge of the fortifications had been obtained. Only one tower was not occupied by any sentinels, the same tower from which Elis had shot his arrow the previous night. Most of the angles that it overlooked could be viewed from the tower by the southern gate or one of those lying on the northern part, which was why it had been deemed unnecessary to man. Furthermore, being taller than the nearby towers, one was more or less undetectable while standing here. Frowning, Holwine glanced around, spying out onto the city and seeing the same barricades as Elis had done before retreating with a yawn back to the jarl of Theodstan’s quarters.
Sometime past noon, Elis entered the royal wing. Its corridors were more or less empty; the kingthanes were either sleeping or on guard. Unobstructed, Elis knocked on the chamber door to Isabel’s quarters and was given admittance. He waited until she had dismissed her handmaiden before he spoke. “I made contact last night,” Elis said softly, keeping his voice low. “Now it is only to wait for their reply.”
“Are you certain your message was received?” Isabel asked with doubt.
“It may have gone undetected through the night, but after dawn, someone is bound to have noticed an arrow with a message tied to it,” Elis said unconcerned.
“What if they do not reply? Or if someone else finds it before you do?”
“The orchard is empty at night, I consider that unlikely. But in either case, I have not mentioned my name anywhere. Nobody knows of my involvement but you. Should nothing come of this, I will simply abandon the plan and wait until other opportunities arise,” Elis explained.
“A dangerous game,” Isabel said, her voice teeming with uncertainty. “Do not expect my aid if something goes awry.”
“If I end up in a position where I am in need of your help, my lady, I will not be deserving of it,” Elis said with nonchalance and took his leave.
Between first and last evening bell, Kate went to the library tower and resumed reading the account of the War of the Dragon. In some places, it skirted over events or professed ignorance of what had happened. The volume had been written by one of the King’s Quills many centuries after the war had actually been fought; it was based on what that Quill had been able to ascertain from different sources, not all of them equally useful.
A few hours passed in customary silence, only broken by pages turning, quills being inked and scrabbling on parchment, and so forth. When the last bell rang, Kate was momentarily disturbed; she had never stayed past this hour in the tower before. Quill, without looking up, raised one hand to gesture her towards remaining stationary. “It will be a few hours before it is dark enough for our purpose,” he told her, and she continued reading.
The siege of Herbergja had been lifted when Quill finally told Kate to put her book away. Approaching her desk with a map, he unfolded it and had her hold one end down. “This chart shows the position of the stars and the constellations they form. I thought it would be easier for you to see them in this way now before we attempt to locate them in their real positions,” Quill explained. “There are many constellations and objects in the heavens, and only the whiterobes have mapped them all. But a few are commonly known and prove very useful.”
“Which ones?” Kate asked interested as she leaned forward.
“See this line of stars? Think of it as a blade,” Quill said as his fingers ran over the map. “It is quite easy to find. This row forms the arm that holds the blade,” he continued, moving his finger, “and here we have the rest. This constellation is called the Swordsman, and legend says that the Alfather placed the stars thus to remind us of Rihimil’s watchful gaze, always protecting us.”
“I never knew,” Kate said, biting her lip. “What others are there?”
“This constellation with its many points is called the Crown, said to belong to Austre so that we do not forget that she remains queen of the heavens even as the sun is gone,” Quill continued. “This is the Ox, a remembrance of Egnil and his bounty at each harvest. I think we will start with those tonight,” he declared.
Rolling up the chart, Quill led Kate to a small spiralling staircase in the far corner of the library hall. At its top was a hatch, which Quill opened; continuing onwards, they found themselves standing on top of the library tower. Situated in the western part of the castle, it was taller than the other towers nearby and gave unobstructed view of the night sky.
“Look up,” Quill said. “Tell me when you see something.”
Kate did as instructed, biting her lip again. “There! The blade,” she exclaimed. “So that must be the Swordsman.”
“Indeed,” Quill nodded. “What of the other two?”
Kate continued to let her eyes search the sky. “I don’t see them,” she admitted after a little while.
“It takes a little practice,” Quill nodded. He bent down slightly to be on the same level as Kate and raised his finger to point upwards. “See there? The stars that form a circle as the head of the Ox, and there are its horns.”
“Not really,” Kate said, straining her eyes. “Oh wait, I see the circle, yes.”
“Good,” Quill told her. “Now imagine the horns of the Ox forming lines. Follow those lines all across the sky until they converge,” he said, letting his finger point the way. “There we find…” his voice trailed off.
“The Crown,” she said happily in recognition.
“Very good,” Quill told her. “Now return to the Swordsman. Can you find his blade?”
“Yes,” Kate answered.
“Again, trace a line between them. Move along that line towards the Crown, but stop at the first bright star you see. Somewhere right between those two constellations. Can you see it?”
“I see it.”
“A star of many names, though most simply call it the Wayfarer,” Quill told her. “It has two unique properties. The first is that it can always be found between the Swordsman and the Crown. You find those constellations the way I showed you, and you will always find the Wayfarer.”
“Understood,” Kate nodded.
“Secondly, the star always points north. No matter where you are, what hour of the night, what day of the year, you can always find north by finding that star. Thus its name, since travellers uses it to find their way.”
“But I thought you said the stars all move,” Kate objected.
“They do,” Quill nodded, “but this is the exception. How or why I cannot say. Maybe the whiterobes know, but they have not revealed it. Hraban the Mad said that it was the throne of the Alfather, but as his epithet reveals, we should be careful about trusting his opinion.”
“Who was he?” Kate asked curious.
“Another time,” Quill told her. “Even now, centuries later, he is not a topic for light discussion. It must be midnight,” he added, shuddering slightly. “There is a chill in the air. I think that is enough astronomy for one night. Let us go back inside,” he said to his companion, and they descended the hatch.
Saying goodnight to Quill and leaving the tower, Kate moved towards the kitchen area. It lay central in the Citadel since it had to supply both the dining hall for the court in the southern part and its equivalent for the Order in the northern part. The library was placed by the royal wing in the west, so Kate descended to the ground floor and walked east. Yet as she passed a door leading outside, she stopped. Glancing around, she stood indecisively for a moment and finally hurried through the door.
It led to the orchard, full of fruit trees in bloom. While all the food in the kitchen was accounted for and under strict control, such was not the case with the orchard. With a final glance behind her, Kate ran forward and climbed up the nearest tree.
It proved to be a pear tree. Grabbing the nearest fruit, Kate devoured it with the appetite of a wolf. It did not take her long to eat every part that was edible, and when she was done, she grabbed another. With her initial temptation somewhat sated, she slowed her pace; getting a more comfortable seat on the branch, leaning against the tree trunk, she took a few bites of the fruit while gazing up at what stars could be spotted between the foliage.
Kate was interrupted by faint creaking of a door, followed by the soft, yet unmistakable sound of footsteps. Freezing in place, she remained completely still as she heard someone approach. The footsteps grew slightly louder until the person was just below her tree; as Kate waited without breathing, the person continued moving deeper into the orchard.
Time passed slowly as Kate remained in place, hiding in her tree. Without a clock or the passage of the sun to tell time, it was impossible to say how long she waited; she carefully shifted her legs as her seating grew uncomfortable, but while the other person remained inside the orchard, she was confined to her position.
At length a sound broke the silence; something whistled through the air. The foliage did not allow Kate to spy much, and it would require a lot of movement and noise to move to a better vantage point. Nonetheless, she heard the liberating sound of movement; the person to whom she was an unwitting companion was walking somewhere. As the figure followed the same path back towards the door, Kate could hear the approach; holding her breath again, she quickly glanced down as her coincidental captor walked past. The moonless night showed little, but the distance was close enough that it was possible to recognise the landgrave of Elis.
As he left the orchard, Kate exhaled deeply. In her one hand, she still clutched a half-eaten pear. Her fingers were so stiff, she could hardly release the fruit from her grip. She spent a few moments rubbing her hands to regain some flexibility before she grabbed the branches for support and climbed down. She hastened inside, escaping the orchard, yet not before Holwine, situated atop an otherwise empty tower, saw her flight.