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Gambits - The White Pawn II

The White Pawn II

Lord Street: where the cobblestone ends and the marble walkway begins. To be sure there were always guards patrolling here. Did they see anything last night? William wondered.

No, they were paid too well to notice anything outside this street. If a lady cried for help outside this district not a one of these guards would help. But if a poor looking man, or woman, walked through here half the patrolmen would surround them to make sure they didn't even look at a highborn or wealthy commoner. Indeed, they couldn't block their way, it was, after all, a free city, but they could make them feel so unwelcome they would do everything in their power to avoid the district.

William was sure to tell them off from time to time even when he wasn't a captain; that only bought him vitriolic stares from the guards of this affluent street. If he had been their captain, he would have put them in their place or replace them at the snap of his fingers. But he wasn't their captain nor the Lord Commander, and every day the city fell further from grace and honor.

Still for all the animosity he held for the guards on this street, at least, they were not passed out drunk in the barracks like all the others. They were patrolling around routinely as they always did, garbed in the smoky-blue uniform of the Sky Cloaks. Their uniform allowed them to move more quickly around the streets should they be called on for help or have to chase a criminal.

But Lord Street and its entire ward seldom had criminal activity. The very streets of the ward were paved with smooth white-grey marble stone, and even half the shops and homes there were made in parts with marble. It gave the entire area a clean glimmer when the sun was in the right place in the sky.

Some of the guards placed a cautious hand on the hilt of their short swords at the sight of William briskly walking down the street in a sort of huff. The others tightened the grip on their spears. It seems some of them didn't recognize William so well without his uniform on.

The sweet smell of cherry tarts and fresh bread filled his nostrils as he made his way down Bakers Avenue. The Avenue was filled with all sorts of baking shops, hence the name. They stood side by side with wooden frames and little chimneys puffing out white smoke from their ovens. Half the windows were opened with a sample of their finer goods placed on the sill to let the wind carry its unique scent and show off.

William liked this avenue the most on Lord Street because not a one of the bakery shops was made with marble, it was all a cozy brick and wood foundation. It made them look more inviting in their own way. And when the bakers children or apprentice was punished they weren't flogged in the street, they were taken out behind the shops to be taught a lesson.

He turned right, near the end of Bakers Avenue down through Merchants Avenue. The final stretch through Lord Street that was also the only direct path to the road leading to the castle. The entire length of the street had every sort of shop one would ever need, only in the most regal sense, though.

From toy makers to tailors, wine cellars, and herbals stores, the shops lined either side of the winding street, each unique in its way. The different shops crafted in a unique style of building or pallet of color on their brick, marble, or wooden construction to get a customer’s attention. And each of them selling goods for ten times their values because of where they set up shop.

Castle Bourgh stood at the top of a large hill with a gray stone wall extending out from the rear sides and encircling the inner grounds and edges of the hill top. The heavy wooden gate was just opening up to the castle grounds as William strode up the hill. The guards stared at him as he made his way past the gate. They believed him to be a peasant or some lesser man, he should have at least picked up his uniform on the way here.

Inside the grounds, far in the back, was a massive structure of stone which took up half of the castle ground itself: the Crown Keep. The Crown Keep was formed like a heptagon with most of the paramount rooms built into it. Rooms such as the Throne room, where William was heading for now.

The guards crossed their spears before the throne room doors, the entry point of the Crown Keep. They wore doublets of golden and crimson with a crown embroidered in the center, Royal Guards. They gave him a stern look but said nothing. He addressed them both, "My name is William Royce, captain, and second commander, of the Sky Cloaks. I am here on urgent business and must meet with the king immediately."

They held their spears in position. "By order of the Kings Hand, we're not to permit anyone inside the Crown Keep." The guard to his left said, a dark-skinned man with a thin beard and short fuzzy hair.

He knew this guard, he was a member of the Sky Cloaks for a time before being elevated to the position of Royal guard. "Loren, you know me well enough, you must let me in this business is extremely important, and urgent."

"Orders are orders, sorry captain," Loren said.

If he thought he could get past them without grievous injury on either side, he would have done so right then. But he knew Loren well enough, the man was a great fighter. He'd beaten William in spars before, with and without weapons. And no doubt the other man was a great fighter as well, it is after all the prerequisite to be a royal guard, or have a good family name and moderate fighting skills.

William was about to give up until a voice spoke from behind him, "I'll escort the captain."

He turned around to see ser Erquin Sais, armored in full plate armor of crimson-ash color, with a golden crown embellished onto the chest. He stood half a foot taller than William with tanned skin, chiseled chin, shaved head, and a dark trim goatee. Ser Erquin’s fierce gray eyes passed from William to the royal guards.

Loren and the other guard exchanged a glance and with a bit of reluctance pulled their spears back to their side and let William pass through. Sir Erquin followed right behind him and they strode side by side through the throne room. At the far end of the room, the throne sat empty. The throne itself was a gilded chair of blue and lilac hue's with an ornate sapphire rose, carved from birch wood, attached to the back rising above all the kings and queens who sat there.

"Tell me, Captain Royce, what is this urgent business you have to discuss with the king?" Erquin asked him.

The man had vouched for him to get him inside and with his position he would hear it soon anyways. "Lord Commander Albert Hathen is dead," William said solemnly. "He was murdered sometime last night, just outside the City Watch barracks.

"That is most grievous news indeed," he sounded more passive than shocked. "Your father, the lord commander before, was murdered too."

William ground his teeth in anger at the mention of his father's death at this time.

"Forgive my rudeness. Ser Adam was a great man. I'd known few better than himself, he deserved a warriors death. Not a coward’s dagger in the shadows."

"I wasn't aware you knew him so well ser."

"Aye, I did, better than most. He was almost like a brother to me, I swore I'd find his killer one day, but the King's personal guard doesn't get much time to themselves or to explore."

They stopped before the steps ascending to the throne. William intended to wait there for the king's arrival until Erquin said, "The king will not be seeing visitors for a while at this time. You best take this matter up with the Hand, he should be in the council quarters on the right there." He pointed east to the hall leading out of the throne room, then took his leave.

William didn't wait long before going down the hall on the right. The long corridor ahead had many passages leading off but the council quarters was a straight walk ahead. Fortunately, William had been there before otherwise he wouldn't have known that and may have wandered the Keep for a while. As he came closer to the council quarters the sounds of arguing leaked out from the cracked doors.

He couldn't fully understand what they were saying and didn't feel like sitting outside eavesdropping either. He pushed the council doors wide open. The councilors arguing were the king's Hand Duncan White Tree, Gerald Ironwroth, and Mira Coldpeak, who all stopped to turn their blue eyes over to William. Duncan was the only one of them not glaring at him, the well-aged man instead offered a humble smile and said, "Captain Royce."

William gave a low bow in response, "My lords I come with grim news I'm afraid."

"Albert Hathen is dead," Lady Mira said bluntly.

William was baffled and didn't know how to respond. Duncan seeing the bewilderment on his face informed him, "We received a raven from the barracks before your arrival here, telling us of this dark news."

Of course the second floor of the Barracks! He was so upset he didn't even bother to check up there to see how many men were up there that might not have been passed out drunk. Maybe they can help him figure out what happened, maybe one of them sent the raven. He'd never know who though and what's done is done.

He fiddled around with the bronze Rook in his hand, not sure what to say next. He stood there in quiet for a couple of minutes until Gerald said, "If that's all captain then you may take your leave."

William lingered there a moment in hesitation. He knew that to most everyone else, the highborn especially, that this wasn't of paramount importance. But he had to try appealing to the king, or his council, hoping, this time, things would be different than they were with his father: they weren't.

He turned on the balls of his feet to leave when on a whim he turned back and placed the bronze Rook down on the council table with a thud. The tension in the air grew as the present council became apprehensive. They know what this is, William thought as he looked over their faces. All of them were staring at that Rook piece as if it had come to life and spoke to them about the news he brought.

He had their attention now and found his words to make his case, in an attempt to make this killing of greater importance to them. "That was found in the pool of Albert's blood. Placed there presumably after death. Mean anything to you?"

William waited for a response as they moved their eyes from the bronze Rook to him. But they said nothing, so he continued, "There's more, though. When I stumbled upon his body it was nearing dawn, yet all of the lanterns were out, and the streets were disturbingly barren and quiet. Even for that time, and all, well most, of the guards were passed out drunk. This was a highly professional attack, probably an assassin."

"What makes you so sure this wasn't some random attack?" Gerald asked.

"Because on top of everything else I told you, Commander Albert had been dead for several hours before I stumbled upon him. Murdered in the middle of what should have been the most well-guarded street in the entire city. I've seen a lot of things before as a guard to this city, but this is the first I saw of a city guard being killed, while in armor, without signs of a struggle and then left to rot in the middle of the street with no one to discover him for hours.

"My lords, my lady, I want to induct a thorough investigation into this. I would like extra funds and a handful of men from the royal guard. This killing wasn't random, and it wasn't an accident or chance that all the guards on duty happen to be drunk inside the barracks before Albert's death. I know it may sound like a lot for the investigation of a common-born man, but I don't think this was just about the Commander, I think something bigger is going on here; I just don't know what."

"Tell us how did you know he'd been dead for so long?" Mira asked bluntly, ignoring his request entirely.

"Rigor mortis," William responded with a touch of annoyance in his voice. "You can tell a lot from a dead body, not just how they died but clues their killer left them, such as their height and-"

"And how exactly do you know all this, who taught you?"

My father, he wanted to say. "I learned from a White Sage," A lie, it was my father who learned from the White Sages and who then taught me. "There was a time I wanted to be like them but, well I followed the steps of my father."

"He was a good man," Duncan said humbly

"A great man." William cast his eyes down.

The council exchanged a few glances before Duncan kindly said, "Captain it seems like it's been a very long night for you, why don't you go home get something to eat or get some rest. We'll send a summons for you later when we're ready to discuss what should be done next."

"That's a kind request and all my lord, but I haven't much need for rest right now. And time is very precious for finding his killer."

"Captain you mistake me," Duncan's voice was firmer now, "it wasn't a request. Go home get some food, get some rest, whatever you need to clear your mind. We'll summon you later today when we need you."

He had no other choice. He gave a light bow then snatched the bronze Rook off the table before leaving. They wouldn't be taking it from him, it was the only clue he had to this deepening mystery.

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Copyright © © Jake Pendragon all rights reserved 2015

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