“This is not how I wanted to spend my evening,” muttered Soletus at the darken sky.
He let out a sigh and admired the way the silhouette of the tree limbs contrasted with the sky above him. It was something nice to stare at while he stretched his hearing and focused on the sounds of the woods. It was mid-spring. The amount of night bugs singing was limited, so hearing sharp sounds of someone moving through the woods wouldn’t get buried.
He felt a nudge. “Do you hear anything, Lad,” asked Captain Gyrfalcon.
Soletus shook his head and continued to listen.
“I was hoping they would come back to camp sooner than this,” said Princess Arlwin from the other side of the captain.
“As was I, your Highness,” grumbled the captain.
There was a soft shift in the leaves beside him on his right. “Papa, what is it?”
“Nothing. I’m trying to get Lykkon to stay focus,” he told him.
“Why isn’t he?”
“Too long of a day,” he answered.
Soletus knew that he had talked to the Queen about what it was like being a cur at some point during the day. He would get out of sorts when his past was dredged up. He likely spent more time than he liked talking to strangers about something he wasn’t fond of talking about. Leaving him alone was the usual treatment.
“You could’ve said no to coming,” said the captain. “Though, it’s better you get into trouble when I see you.”
The older monk chuckled. “You act as if I breed it.”
Briar spoke. “Well, you kind of do. Soletus is nearly the same.”
Arlwin then sighed. “How are all of you focused if you’re chattering?”
“My apologies, your Highness,” said Oeric. “Lykkon hasn’t caught scent of anything. Truth be told, this individual is probably waiting for there to be less activity around the estate. It might be close to twilight, but they want the cover of darkness and no prying eyes as well.”
“So we must wait even longer,” she said, impatients heavy in her voice.
Briar muttered, sinking down. “I hate waiting.”
Soletus then said. “You didn’t have to come.”
She let out a humph and said, “And be bored with dinner, no thanks.”
It would’ve been nice if they had dinner. Soletus had a meager lunch and a meager snack to tide him over so they could capture a single assassin.
His father settled into the incline they rested on. “You’ll discover there is a lot of waiting involved trying to catch someone,” he said.
“True,” stated the Princess. “I just wish this wasn’t one of those times. Maybe we should take this time to get more. I don’t want this person to get away.”
The Captain chuckled. “We enough. First Warden Oeric is worth three men and if his son’s skill matches his looks, he might be worth the same.”
Even with the shadows settling on the princess’s face, Soletus could see her doubt.
“Don’t worry. We have all we need,” he assured.
Soletus knew they didn’t need anymore people. Then again, none of them knew what to expect. He never like operations that occurred during the night. The limited visibility worried him. If there was anyone who would be much more useful was Mien. He could sense a drass beast and it would be bad if one snuck up on them. Tension formed in his chest from his unease. It never lasted long if he stopped focusing on what made him nervous. He felt his father nudge him. He didn’t speak, but gave him gave him a reassuring pat on the arm. Soletus took a deep breathe and concentrated on the sounds of around him.
While he was under Hickory’s wing, he helped him come to terms with being chanter gifted. It wasn’t as if Soletus hated his abilities and doubted his ability to learn. He really just didn’t want to be anymore different. Ignoring what he could do, seemed like the best way to achieve that. However, his abilities needed to be honed. The priest discovered two things. He was very good at forcing his voice uncontrollable and he was able to project his emotions. The former was a problem that needed to be fixed. The latter was a curiosity. Mien and Vlory seemed to be in-tuned with his mood. Mien especially. Hickory suspected that why he was so clear sounding to the young chanter. He trained mostly to control him and and like Mien suggested, Brother Hickory was teaching him how to soft-speak. He rarely got a chance to put it into use as he didn’t know the best application from it.
He heard his father stop breathing. The man became very still and whispered. “Lykkon scented someone.” The small group became very still with each of them paused their breathing and listened. “They’re coming in from the road.”
Soletus heard the leaves rustle. They weren’t trying to disguise his steps. The young monk turned around slowly to face the camp. He didn’t see a body so much as he saw the soft glow of a lantern. Whoever it was didn’t appear to be making a camp or anything. Instead, he headed straight to where the vials had been hidden. Before they had settled in, they replaced the poison vials with glass jars of the same weight and sound. It was Captain Gryfalcon who rose up first. He slid the sword out of its sheath when Oeric had Lykkon step into the light as the man pulled out the sack from it’s hiding spot. The wolf announced his presence with a long deep growl from his chest. The man spun around and froze. It gave time for the captain to ease forward with the elf in front of them paying more attention to Lykkon than him.
The captain crept forward and when he was just a few feet away, he went. “Oy, I wouldn’t run if I were you.”
At that point, the elf carrying the lantern spun round whipping out a knife. The captain raised his sword in response.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” he said. “Put the lantern down and get on your belly with your hands above you head.”
The elf tossed the lantern in his direction and bolted.
“He chose the hard way,” he shouted, with Oeric all ready to his feet.
Briar and Arlwin jumped up to action. Soletus was right on the heel of his father. He was the fastest and was already in pursuit of the man. Lykkon met him half way and the two of them merged in a blur and he charged on. Soletus wished he could shapeshift as he was slapped in the face by a branch and scraped across his chin. Being tall had it’s disadvantages. He tried to slow himself as well as keep his speed until he came crashing out to the road. He couldn’t see much, but he could hear their boots crunching away from him. He was running away from the estate. However, there was a form behind him. Soletus sprinted off after them. It was dark with the only light being the moon and glow from the lamps burning by the road indicating a driveway to the estate house. He thought he saw the elf drop and there was a gruntled cry. His father was standing on his back growling in the elf’s ears. The young monk joined him and took hold of a flailing arm and twisted it around the elf’s back.
“Stop before you hurt yourself because I will and I don’t want to do that,” he said, pushing his voice on him. “We want to have a word with you.”
Soletus didn’t expect it to work, but the elf stopped struggling and kicking.
Light started bathing the area and Captain Gryfalcon strolled towards them with the lantern that was dropped in hand. “Why do they make these things harder. Every single time,” he muttered. Briar trailed him and the Princess charged forward past them.
“Progress,” she said. “We finally have a face to put to this terror.”
The captain then held up the lantern to his face and revealed a young man with the left side of his face covered in a palm tattoo.
Once Soletus have a good hold on him, pulled the man to his knees. Arlwin unsheathed her sword and rested the tip right at the base of their neck. She said in a sweet voice that lacked gentleness or kindness one would associate with it. “What do we have here. Male, young. and a Dyne elf full of a lot of dumb ideas.”
“That’s not a Dyne elf,” rumbled Oeric beside her.
The princess had enough control not to drop her sword but her eyes became very wide.
Soletus then felt the elf struggled in his grip. “Stop, he’s not going to do anything to you.”
She blinked at him with her jaw working. That’s…you’re a wolf…“ she managed to say and then her face lit up. ”That’s amazing! Look how large you are! You almost look like a wolf except your ears. They’re elf looking.“
Oeric’s ears went askew.
Soletus chuckled. “You know most people usually react to him in fear like this fellow.”
“Oh, right,” she said firming up her voice. “Why he isn’t Dyne?”
“His ears for one and the markings on his face,” said Oeric. “Certainly my wife may know more. As far as my knowledge goes, they are all based Diva and her demigods. None of them or even her are represented by an elven palm print.”
“Can we have your wife to look at him to make sure,” suggested the captain. The First Warden nodded. The captain handed Briar the lantern and took out a pair of manacles from a pouch on his side. “Let me secure this individual and we can be on our way.”
The man gave them no fight and Soletus let Briar’s uncle take him. He took the time to examine the man’s feet. He then squatted down looking at the footprint he left on the ground. Briar placed her hands on his shoulder so she could lean over him and look.
“What are you doing,” she asked.
“Lieutenant,” Soletus called. “Look at this.”
“It’s a food print,” she said.
“Yes, his. It doesn’t match the one we saw earlier today. It’s too big. The other one was small. Like Briar’s tiny mouse feet.”
Briar pounded his shoulder once with her fist. “Better than giant feet like yours.”
“Indeed, it was smaller,” said Arlwin. “Then we should question him and see what he says about co-conspirator.”
The man allowed himself to be led like a horse without a fight or any smart-talk of any kind. Soletus wonder if he was deaf, however, he could hear as he followed direction. The Captain took him to one of the few places where it wouldn’t be easy to escape and that was the kitchen cellar. Oeric changed back and settled down at the door looking imposing. Soletus sat on a barrel beside him. Briar went to get Cordea. While Arlwin paced in front of him with her sword drawn. Captain Gryfalcon was the closest to him with his sword out as well. The door to the cellar opened once again and Cordea trailed Briar. She stopped to take in Prince Arlwin and gave both husband and son a quizzed look before focusing on the man they captured. Her expression turned opaque.
“I’m sorry to bother you Madame Sheldmartin,” said the Captain. “But this individual was found in the wood and we need to know if he’s Dyne or not.”
She shook her head. “He’s not. His tattoos are too messy. It looks like someone stuck their hand in ink and pressed it on his face. In fact, it’s likely temporary and it will wash off. True Dyne tattoos are painted with care as they honor Diva or one of her demigods. That would be an insult. If I had to guess, he is one of the Palm.”
“The Palm,” Arlwin asked.
The door to the cellar opened and the Patriarch come down the stairs.
“They are an an anti-Seat organization. They have many assassins,” spoke Oeric.
“Exactly, your Highness,” said the Captain. “Before my grandmother passes away she told me to always stay away from elves with palm marks.”
Arlwin frowned. “Why haven’t I heard about them?”
“They aren’t exactly an organization that makes a lot of noise,” said the Captain. “They aren’t your typical shadow organization. They strike and slink back in the shadows just to remind you they’re still there.”
“You should look in his mouth, Liamus,” suggested Lord Kharis and stood beside him.
The Captain became grave. “You, open your mouth.”
The elf smirked at him and lifted his jaw wide. Where they should have been a tongue was scar tissue and a stump that used to be a tongue.
Oeric growled softly and then spoke. “I bet if we look on the road, we would find a pouch of poison that he would take to kill himself. Otherwise by now he would be dead.”
“What have you done to warrant assassins,” asked Arlwin.
“The Reformation War is why,” said the Patriarch then strolling forward looking at the assassin. “That’s what you’re here for?”
“That’s a bit of history long ago,” she returned.
“It was House Gyrfalcon that held the Seat then. It was a great grandfather of some count who was king and squashed the half-elf rebellion. The rebellion was led by the Open Palm. At the time, they were peaceful. However, that didn’t stop him from killing as many as he could during a protest. None of them were armed. The streets ran with blood that day.”
“That’s nothing to do with us,” stated the Captain and he scoffed. “This nonsense is getting old.”
The Patriarch expression became soft and regretful. It contrasted the Captain’s hard and unforgiving one. “It’s a sin on our family as a whole, and thus the Palm targets us. We are the ruling family since our uncles line is mostly dead. They did the same thing when Mother became matriarch.”
“They sent threats not brazen attacks with royalty around,” argued the Captain.
“Perhaps that is the point, to make us look foolish. But you caught one and that’s good,” he said, looking tired. He then told Briar. “You were missed at dinner.”
Briar crossed her arms. “I’ll miss it again if I could.”
It was then Arlwin put her arm around Briar. “I wanted her her with me. We have so much in common, Lord Kharis,” she said.
“Your royal sister also missed you, your Highness,” he added.
Arlwin shoulders sagged a little. “I suppose I should speak with her. Send someone to get a Red Guard in here to watch him.”
“I will send messages to my fort. They’ll take him and question him. He may not be able to talk, but he certainly can write,” said the Captain. “Come, niece, brother. I think we should bother the staff for a little snack.”
Soletus wanted to know if he could bother the staff too and slid off the barrel to join them, however, Arlwin then stepped beside him.
“This ends our investigation today. We got more information and not something I expected. About every ruling house had a hand in the Reformation War. Though I can understand why they would specifically target House Gyrfalcon but….”
“It doesn’t feel right, you would think it would be grander,” she said.
“They were going to poison the well.”
“But why target staff? They are a number of half-elves working here.”
“They could consider them traitors,” he offered.
“But they are their own people,” she said. “Half-elves generally stick up for each other.”
“True, but I think this is something that might be unforgivable. Like a Dyne elf who starts to worship Dias as the one and only god. His fellow Dyne elves don’t like it.”
The Princess tilted her head. “Are you serious?”
“He is, your Highness,” answered Cordea. “Fenndish Dyne are looked down on. In fact, you forfeit the right own land as it’s considered apart a of Diva and own . Which is the land itself. Most in the Northlands are nomads. My grandmother was one of them before she took her family to moved here.”
The Princess looked a bit in awe. “Is that right? The Midlord of the Northlands, never mentioned that when talking about his people.”
“The Midlord is a diplomate, he wouldn’t mention something like that I suspect,” she said. “The Fen are supposed to be the worse of all the elves, not them.”
“I see, you learn something new every day,” she said. “Anyway, I should get back. Care to escort me, Junior Warden?”
Soletus felt his mother’s eyes on him. “Of course,” he told her.
The two of them exited the cellar and cut through the dinning hall to get towards the living quarters side of the estate.
“She is very beautiful,” said Arlwin.
“Your mother,” she said. “My sister is a little jealous of her.”
“Why,” asked Soletus.
“She wants to be fair headed like mother and she likes that the flaxen and dark eyes look of Dyne elves.”
“I suppose brown is unusual in terms of hair color,” he said keeping his eyes in front of him. He didn’t think there was trouble inside of the house, but one never knows.
“I don’t mind it, but she does. She has to deal with jealous young women from other houses saying all sorts of things about House Heron. We all have brown hair. They thought I managed to break the cycle. I was born blonde, obviously that didn’t hold,” she paused and asked very abruptly. “May I ask you something?”
“Certainly,” he said wondering what she was curious about now.
She stopped walking when they got to the foot of the stairs. “Do you wish to continue onward with our arrangement,” she asked. “I’m afraid that anymore investigating on my part is going to be halted given we’ve assassins involved. I know you have your own duties to perform.”
“My duties will be protecting this place,” he said, indicating around him. “That does include you if that is what you need me to do.”
“So, you don’t have any objections,” she said.
“No,” he answered.
“Why,” she asked.
“Why are you asking,” he returned.
She became mystified at his answer. “Well I’m keeping you from your duty at this point. Continual service to me doesn’t grant you anything. There is no monetary gain or prestige for you to gain. What keeps you willing?”
Soletus started to shrug. He didn’t know but, he felt unsettled. “Nothings finished here,” he told her. “It’s convenient don’t you think that we found a mute man?”
“It is,” she said, staring at him again, as if she wanted to say more.
He then asked. “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to continue our working together?”
“No. I’m just curious.”
“Then there is something wrong,” he said. “You keep looking at me as if you want to tell me something.”
“It’s nothing. I’ve a lot on my mind. I think I can make it back to my room from here, Lord Monk,” she said, forcing cheer in her voice. She also gave him a familiar looking sad smile. He had seen it on Mien’s face. However, more recently, he often smiled like that.