The White Pawn XVI
One week wasn't much time for William but he made a deal, and from what both the commander and Derren were telling him, this Baron, (self-named lord of crime) would need to be stopped soon. But he had a fading trail to follow first, after he took care of these killers in the shadows; then he would deal with the man trying to burn the world.
Of course, none of this is what he told Loren when he arrived at the castle to seek Reynard, the captain of the royal guards. "I'm sorry William," Loren said while they walked around the castle grounds. "But captain Reynard is not here."
"Then where is he?"
"You already know that the movement of the royal guards is not something I am permitted to speak about to commoners."
William grabbed Loren's arm, forcing him to stop and face him. "Damnit man this is for a very important case!"
Loren said nothing, only glared at William with fierce blue eyes. William let go of his arm, and took a step back, only then did Loren relax a little. William knew had it not been for their minor friendship Loren would have cracked his skull for that stunt, and he'd be well within his right.
"I'm sorry William I am, I hear how bad things are going down there in the streets. And that makes all the nobles at court very nervous, so that means more work for us to make them feel safe. Like faster patrols around the castle grounds." He turned back and continued his walk, William taking longer strides to keep up with him now.
"They barely permitted me to come inside the castle ground," William commented.
"I told you, they're all spooked here. A couple noblewomen killed over at the banquet few nights ago. The sages say it was poison, they still haven't found the killer, but the chef and his people been thrown in the dungeons under suspicion."
"Wait, three nights ago?" William asked thinking about it.
"That's what I said."
"Katrina and Meradith were there!" He gasped.
"Katrina, beautiful young woman, likes green?"
"Yes, and her aunt who's in the city. They're making the wedding plans together."
"That girl is a beauty fit for a prince." Loren grinned and gave a light moan of pleasure. "She's wasted on the likes of you."
William snarled at him, it was all he could do. If he thought he had a chance, he would have slugged Loren for that comment. Instead, he seethed quietly to himself, though full well knowing Loren was right. What Katrina saw in him always eluded him, but then his eyes were not always on her.
"I can't believe she didn't tell me about this."
"Like you would listen," Loren chuckled. "Maybe she did but none of it got through that thick skull of yours. Listening to others has always been a problem for you, long as I known you at least."
Another time he would have reminisced with Loren about better days, but the clock was ticking. He would have to go another route, perhaps it was time to take the bait that letter put out on the hook for him, and find out more about the rebellion in the city.
"Where might I find the king's Hand then? I'd have some words with him if possible."
Loren scoffed, "Going way up the ladder to get around me huh?"
William rolled his eyes, "This is about something else, I'll still need to speak with your captain sooner than later."
Loren stopped; he turned to face William so their eyes met. "You see William this is why you don't have any friends. You push people, and act like they owe you something when they don't. Well let me ask you something, when's the last time you came to me as a friend? Not as my former captain, or needing something from me, but genuinely as my friend to share a drink or two like we all did when we was wearing the same colors?"
The question had completely caught him off guard. "I don't..." he began.”I've been busy," he said defensively.
"So have the others, Jaruin, Rodder, Mykolas, and Yorden. Yet they all had time to come see me now and again, share a drink and keep me up on life outside the castle. All 'cept you, my captain whom I thought the best of them all. So you come around here asking these things that could get me in trouble, at times when all some nobleman needs is a bit of suspicion to get my ass kicked out of the guards, I got nothing for you.
"You want to do something for me for once? You don't come around here seeking me again. Whatever it is your looking into it's got nothing to do with me, and I don't want that kind of attention. I got a wife who's due for my first child any day now, I can't afford the troubles you bring with you. Bye, William."
Loren turned back and walked away from him. William didn't follow.
William had to relinquish his sword belt to the guards out front before being permitted to enter the castle itself. He did so with great annoyance and proceeded to enter through the great bronze doors that were half closed. He walked through the first hall seeing the numerous guards on watch, staring at him. Not all of them were the royal guards, in fact, most wore the separate colors of great and noble houses alike, with the sigil of the houses they served embroidered onto their jerkins.
There were men with seahorses, dark blue rain drops, and a trident on their jerkins, men of River lords, William thought. He passed by them without a word, feeling a sense of hostility from them.
The throne room was full of lords and ladies, dressed in fine silk and leather. At the far end the king, a handsome man in his mid-twenties with blonde hair and blue eyes, sat on the throne listening to a young woman plead her case to him. The entire king’s guard was present, forming a line, or rather wall, between the nobles and the king; with ser Erquin in the middle.
Next to the throne itself was a beautifully furnished, and pillowed, chair where sat the queen. She was a woman of age closer to William, yet very pretty all the same, with dark flowing hair. She listened more intently to the woman pleading her case, something about the recent banquet from what he could gather, than her husband.
And sitting in a dark burnished chair to the right of the king was Duncan Whitetree, the king's own Hand. William sighed, it could be a while before he could speak with Duncan. But he had no other leads to follow so he stuck around, waiting.
Eventually, after a few good hours and several nobles arguing about random politics, none of which William cared for or paid any heed, the king rose and said, "I have heard your complaints, and right now we are all a little famished so I think now is a good time for everyone to take a rest. I have entirely new chefs preparing all of us a meal, and the kitchens are being supervised by my men. And I know some of you have traveled a long way just to speak with me, so I will address your problems when we return."
Everyone, William included, gave a light bow as the king took his leave, his wife and the kings guard following behind him. There was a flood of movement all heading east to the banquet hall, William was at the far back and not swept up in it but lost complete sight of the kings hand.
He followed behind everyone but was immediately stopped by the royal guards before entering the hall. "Members of the courts and lords and ladies only," one of the guards said. "You'll have to wait out in the throne room, or entrance hall with the others."
William didn't argue, he had no grounds to and if he did he might be kicked out of the castle for causing trouble. Reluctantly he turned around and began walking out. He made it half way through the throne room when a familiar voice called out, "I had a strange feeling I'd be seeing you today, captain."
He turned around to see ser Erquin approaching him with a friendly smile; almost happy to see him there.
He cleared his throat, "Ahem, well met ser. But how did you know I was here? I mean with all the people about."
"I wouldn't be very vigil if I didn't notice people entering the throne room from where I have a direct view." He studied William, his face growing a little sterner. "Truth be told, I was concerned about you."
"Me?" William asked, confused.
"I've heard some troubling reports from the king's Hand about the situation down there. And news of how you were, suspended from your duties. Glad to see it wasn't anything too serious."
"It was, actually, umm quite serious."
"Well, perhaps another time we can discuss it. For now, though I have a banquet to attend to, how about I walk you out. You can tell me what brought you here while we go."
William was about to pass on the offer, and let the knight get to his duties, but he realized he might inquire ser Erquin about the rebellion. So he accepted the offer and the two walked at a slower pace than normal.
"Well, my investigation has led me to wonder about the rebellion, the one from twenty-five years ago," William said.
"Hmmm, what do you know about it?"
He shrugged, "Nothing really. Only that it was some Highlanders who firmly believed in the old ways and thought if they killed the king and queen and their children that they could topple the crown and the system of hierarchy. Perhaps even gain back the Highlanders independence. But they failed obviously."
"They didn't fail," Erquin said solemnly, "Not entirely at least."
"I'm sorry," William apologized. He'd forgotten Ser Erquin was a king’s guard back then, the youngest ever.
They were silent for a time, leaving the throne room and walking through the hall before it, where the guards were waiting before, but now had moved. After getting his weapon back, William finally asked, "So what did happen that night?"
"I was off duty, that's why I'm alive today. By a matter not of skill but the odd luck of having a different work schedule." He sighed wistfully. "The rebels had two men in the royal guards already, those two aided the others inside the castle grounds. From there they quietly killed off the other guards on patrol and changed into their outfits in the dead of night. Way, I hear it from there they overpowered the kings guard and burst into the king and queen's chamber and then moved onto their children.
"They were eventually stopped by the remaining royal guard. Sure they failed, but not before slaughtering the king, his wife, and most of their beloved children; alongside their servants and the kings guard. The prince, or king as he's grown into now, was the only survivor."
Ser Erquin was shaking with rage, and had to take a moment to calm himself before continuing. "By a fluke of luck, the young prince was out of his quarters and instead being walked by his nurse to quiet him down. He was crying a storm that night, as if he knew what horrible tragedy was befalling his kin that very night. The king's hand was so grateful for her, ingenuity, that she was granted beautiful lands by a lake in the highlands and married off to a nobleman to live a life of comfort.
"Often I wonder had I been there, would I have been able to stop them before they got so far?"
"There was nothing you could do, you weren't there to protect them," William said fully empathizing with him.
Erquin must have sensed his woes as he looked at him and asked, "Your father?"
"Yes," William admitted. "I'm still chasing his killer, I think that's why I'm so hell-bent at finding Albert's killer. I believe they are one and the same."
Erquin stopped and William with him; they were at the front gates to the castle grounds now. "I wish I could help you more, the crown has so many enemies I still believe that one of them may have been behind the rebellion that night. Who knows, though, perhaps it's just the ramblings of an older guard trying to make excuses for himself, conjuring enemies to fight from the shadows of the nobles." He offered out his hand, wrapped in a steel gauntlet painted with strands of red.
William took it and Erquin pulled him in abruptly and whispered haste-fully in his ear, patting his back with the other hand. "And maybe your keen senses led you to seek out the Golden Sage Ordon. A man such as that ought to have records and possibly, even more, intimate knowledge of the entire city as a whole during those times."
He hardly had the chance to blink before Erquin finished and briskly walked back to the crown keep. He was obviously insinuating something about the sage but what? As he walked, he wondered what a godly man such as sage Ordon had to do with any of this, sages were pacifists; almost as if by nature.
No, William thought. That isn't true, even sages are capable of violence, both great and small.
Whatever Sage Ordon's involvement in all this, it must be rather important for Ser Erquin to go to such unusual lengths to even suggest the sage's involvement in this great riddle. And though instinctively he didn't trust him, the knight was a man of great honor. He would cut anyone down if it were necessary to his duties, but he would never stab them in the back.
Someone else waited in the shadows with that knife. Even in broad daylight, on the public streets, he could feel that target on his back. He was getting close.