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Gambits - The White Pawn III

The White Pawn III

The Sky Cloaks were back to their routine duties when William returned to Bulwark Street. It was good to see them active, even if it was in such a groggy state as theirs. Whatever the hell compelled them to drink so much? He wondered.

Back at the barracks, William found the avenue was open to all, Albert's body was gone, and the blood was being washed and scrubbed out from the cobblestone. He approached Captain Derren, who just looked at him with remorse as if he was powerless to stop whoever moved the commander's body.

"Derren where is the commander's body?" William demanded of him. "You had explicit instructions."

Derren just shook his head, "I'm sorry ser, it was out of my hands. I was ordered to stand aside, my men and me."

"Ordered? By who?"

As if on cue Captain Percil came out of the barracks, his fat cheeks parted ways for a massive grin and his ornate ear jewelry gleamed in the sun. "Captain William you returned at last," Percil said, with a sound of joyous mockery in his voice.

William didn't like that, he detested Captain Percil, and the feeling was shared by the brown-curly-haired bulbous man. Percil was in charge of the guards around Lord Street. It was from his own decadence that the men under his command became as hedonistic as himself.

There was never a man as self-serving as Percil Luent. He was like a living embodiment of the state of decay the city had fallen into, far as William saw him. And worse still he seemed to corrupt the men working under him to the same avarice and lavished lifestyles. He was everything William was not, maybe part of him was jealous of Percil, the man had the wealth of a noble with the title of a captain.

"What happened to the commander’s body?" William asked curtly.

Percil smirked at him in mockery then took a drink from his wine flagon. The sweet red liquid overflowed from his mouth and spilled down onto his white uniform where pink splotches were already there; staining it. He wiped the wine from his lips off his sleeve where even more wine stains had been set in from carelessness. He let out a belch, testing Williams patience, before finally saying, "Orders, he was moved."

"Who's orders?"

Percil spits at William's feet in answer to his question. That was the last straw for him. He pivoted to his side, leaning forward, and throwing his fist at Percil. He intended to knock the grin off that fat face of his, but Derren was quick and caught the blow with his open hand.

William gritted his teeth but took a step back. Before Percil could curse at him or threaten him, though, Derren held out a small rolled up parchment. "This came down from the castle before your arrival ser," Derren said, handing the letter to William. "By order of the King's Hand, we were to hand over the commander's body to the acolytes and clean up his blood. He also named Captain Percil acting lord commander until further notice. Lastly, ser, lastly you're dismissed from your duties for the day and are ordered to return home and await the councils summons."

William read over the parchment while Derren spoke, it was all there, and had not only Duncan's signature, but the other councilor's present when he went to see them. They must have sent it out the moment he left the castle.

"You seen it all right there, I'm in charge now," Percil said. "That means get yer ass home like a good dog and stay there with your bitch you mutt."

William would have tried to hit him again had Derren not taken a step forward in warning. He had no choice but to drop it for now, but he'd remember this. He also noticed Percil's hooked nose was crooked, that made him smile, it was probably broken.

William took his leave but went east to Raven Street. The Westcher on Berret Avenue was the only place the acolytes would have taken the commanders body to be prepared for burial. This wasn't so bad, he needed them to take a look at the commander’s body sooner or later to tell him more. But what had ever compelled them to give the temporary command to Percil of all people?

The Westcher was a lone and dismal building made from grey bricks. Inside was colder than outside, the cold helped preserve the bodies, so there was no hearth in the Westcher. He found the acolytes in the back room, where the ceiling was made from clear glass to allow the sunlight in.

And a younger grey sage with thin hair and a cowhide apron who was cleaning out his tools at the end of the room. In the center of the room, on the table, was a sheet of white linen draped over a figure. "Is Commander Albert Hathen under here?" William asked approaching the table.

The grey sage turned to see him grabbing the sheet, ready to pull it off. "You don't want to look under there," he warned him.

William pulled it up anyways and immediately regretted it. Albert's corpse was dissected right away, and all that was left below his neck line was viscera. William turned away and gathered himself. How these guys did this sort of job was well beyond him.

"You wasted no time on this," William said.

Pulling the sheet back over the remains of Albert's corpse the sage said, "Someone wants this done fast. I just finished before you arrived. And I'm gathering from your tone you want it over with too?"

William nodded his head; when he had pulled up the sheet, the rotted smell was let out into the air.

The sage removed his bloodied apron and dropped it on the floor then turned to the young acolytes and said, "You two finish cleaning up my tools then wash the apron. I'll return to prepare the body soon enough."

William was led to a small room which evidently served as the sage's office. The wall was lined with shelves filled with medical books, and on his desk was some parchment, ink, and a quill waiting for him. The sage removed his gloves, revealing thin bony hands, and started writing on the parchment. "So what is it you came by for exactly?"

"The commander, I wanted the results of your examination of him."

"The results of my examination?" The sage asked keeping his focus on his writing.

"Yes, specifically how'd he die?"

"Right! Sorry ser, most people comes here want only to know if the body is ready to be viewed."

"I'm no Ser."

"The commander died from multiple puncture wounds throughout his whole body and bled to death. I can't tell how many assailants there was, but I found something quite peculiar. Every one of his wounds managed to miss his vital organs, and only a few severed the arteries, whoever did this wanted him to suffer. Far as I can tell he didn't actually bleed out until several minutes later.

"Tell me where was his body found again? I heard from my acolytes they picked him up in the middle of the street while he was in a pool of his own blood."

"Yes, that's correct."

"Odd."

"What is it?"

"Well, I found vicious bruise marks on his ankles, like he was tied to something."

"Maybe he was bound by the feet, captive, and escaped before being stabbed?" That might make more sense, he wasn't waiting by the barracks but rather running to them.

"No, those bruises were made shortly before the violent assault on him. It was like his attackers bound him first then stabbed him. That's why I was asking about where his body was discovered."

"Could they have killed him elsewhere then moved his body?"

"Possible, but it seems like a lot of work. And whoever did would have been sure to be caught by the guards on patrol."

William took his leave after that. He left with more questions than he had before, it was time to go home.

Katrina, William’s betrothed, was distressed when he returned home at long last. Her light-brown eyes were red from crying, and her small lips were quivering. She had heard the news of a dead guard in a white uniform and was terrified it was him. She was a delicate woman, and he hadn't been home since earlier in the evening before; of course she was upset.

After kissing her gently, William sat her down at the table and held her small hands, "I'm so sorry my love, I meant to return home so much sooner."

"You were gone all night, I was up waiting for you and when you didn't return I went looking for you. And then I hear the news about the guard in a captain’s uniform." She wiped a stray tear from her eye.

"I told you I didn't expect to be home until much later, possibly the next day, but on my way home." He shook his head. "It's been a long day, for us both. And the day is barely begun, let's retire to our room, and get some rest."

Katrina smiled lightly and said, "You haven't eaten all day, you get some rest, and I'll wake you when your food is prepared."

He wasn't feeling tired but crawled into bed after shedding his clothes and somehow fell asleep. What felt like an instant later Katrina was by his side gently nudging him awake. "William you have a summons request, from the king's Hand," She said.

He'd forgotten all about that and soon enough got out of bed and dressed in his uniform. It was the time he was back in it, he was too unrecognizable without it. After fastening his sword belt, he said, "I may be gone for all day today, so this time, don't wait up and don't worry."

She quickly moved to the door to block his way, "You're not leaving until you eat, I cooked your favorite breakfast, sausage and eggs."

His stomach started growling at the prospect of food. He ignored it. "The kings hand summoned me I can’t' make him wait."

"The summons was set for your 'earliest convenience,'" she argued. "You haven't eaten for a while, and you need your strength. Besides, they sent a horse so you can get to the castle much faster."

He needed a horse, all the captains had one. But he enjoyed walking around and didn't much care for the extra costs the steed came with. Captains got a large discount for stabling their horses in the Bulwark Street stable; all the same, he didn't want one.

The breakfast smelled very fresh, he gave in to his hunger and sat to eat. Katrina was happy as she joined him. "I also have some good news to share with you," she said delightedly.

"What’s that?" He asked stabbing his fork into a well-cooked sausage.

"My father's health is looking much better. The white sages say he's finally out of bed. It's only been a couple of hours a day but hopefully in a couple, maybe a few months, he will be well enough to make the trip here. And then we can have our wedding at long last."

"We'd been waiting a while now. I feared we might have to go ahead without your family coming by, least some of them. I'm looking forward to it. In fact, we should start making plans for it soon, now that your father's health is improving."

Katrina blushed, and they finished their breakfast. Afterwards, William set out for the castle, there was a brown pony awaiting him outside his house, he hopped on it, heading for the castle.

"I don't understand," William said baffled.

"We're offering you the seat of the Lord Commander," Duncan repeated himself.

"Beggen your pardon I mean why?"

"You've shown exemplary duty over your short time in the city guard, your father was the lord commander before, we can think of no one better to fit the role."

Lord Commander, that's what his dream was, that's why he joined the Sky Cloaks because he wanted to be like his father. But the lord commander was a busy job, he wouldn't find the time to investigate Albert's death and would have to set the task to someone else. But who could he trust to find anything out when even he didn't know what he was looking for?

What would my father do? He thought.

"You can't trust any of the noble families, William," Ser Adam Royce told him when they settled into the city once again. "All of them are schemers who attack from the shadows or offer you a cup of poisoned wine."

"Captain, the City Watch, needs a lord commander," Gerald said impatiently. "So just accept this honor so we can all move on, as you know we are very busy people."

He sighed, knowing what the position at this time would mean for him. "I'm afraid my Lords that I must decline your generous offer. I cannot accept the duties of Lord Commander presently; if it could wait for just-"

"It cannot." lady Mira cut him off. "If you pass this up now you may never rise higher than a captain of the City Watch, do you understand?"

"I do my lady, I'm afraid the answer is still the same."

Mira rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath, "Disappointing."

"I can recommend a couple of very well suited captains that could take the title in my absence though my lords."

"That won't be necessary, you're dismissed now Captain," Gerald said curtly.

William bowed his head and took his leave.

"What do you mean you didn't take the position they offered?" Katrina asked, perplexed by the news. "William do you understand what this means? I mean denying a Lord's request like that."

He couldn’t understand why she was so upset by this news. It should make her happy he didn't take the job, it would give him more time to be with her in the future. "I told you I'm just not ready for the title, and with Albert's death being the way it is."

"What’s what this is truly about isn't it? It's not just because of the lord commander’s death, it's your father’s death that you can't let go. You're still chasing his killer even now, even when you promised me you had let it go."

She was right of course this was about more than just Albert Hathen's death it was about his fathers too, that’s why he was so determined to find the truth. Even if it meant costing him his dream of following his father’s footsteps, and growing out of his shadow.

His silence answered for him, and she quickly became enraged. He'd never seen her like this before so decided it was best to take his leave now. He had left for Niels tavern before he continued his investigation into Albert’s death. If ever he needed a drink or two it was now.

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Copyright © © Jake Pendragon all rights reserved 2015

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