Authors: Sam Ferguson
Jaleal scratched his head and then folded his arms. “Oh, what I wouldn’t give for the trees back home right about now.”
Kelden pushed the door open quietly. He could hear Yeoj whispering something. Then, another voice giggled. He looked inside to see Sebina sitting on the bed near Yeoj, holding his left hand in her lap. The man on the bed whispered something into Sebina’s ear and she laughed again, pulling away playfully. Yeoj pulled her back gently.
Kelden pushed the door the rest of the way open and walked inside. “I see you are gaining some of your strength back,” he commented through a forced smile.
Sebina looked up at Kelden and immediately her smile vanished. “I will get you some more tea,” she told Yeoj. Yeoj smiled and patted her rump once as she left. She jumped and shot him a scolding look before turning to leave. Kelden watched her go and then turned back to Yeoj.
“Seems you two are growing close,” he said dryly.
Yeoj smiled and cocked his head to the side. “She’s a cutie,” he said noncommittally. “You have been gone a while,” he said, changing the subject.
Kelden nodded. “It’s done,” Kelden said. “The men who ran the smuggling ring are no more.”
Yeoj struggled to push himself up. He winced and nearly collapsed back on the bed once, but he managed to maneuver himself upright. “You didn’t arrest them?” Yeoj asked. The twinkle in his eye was gone, replaced with a solemn gaze. “That doesn’t sound like the Kelden I know.”
Kelden fished a ring out from his pocket and tossed it to Yeoj. “I took that from the leader’s finger, after I took his head from his neck.”
Yeoj turned the ring over in his hand and nodded. “You sure it was the last of them?”
“Yes,” Kelden said. “Three Kuscan brothers lead the whole thing. I am sure there are likely some lower level goons that escaped somewhere, but we killed everyone in Blundfish.”
?” Yeoj asked.
“I had a bit of help. Perhaps if you behave yourself, I will introduce you to the new members of the group.”
At that moment Sebina returned with a steaming cup of tea. She placed it down on the bedside table and then offered a weak smile to Kelden before exiting the room again.
“I don’t think she likes you,” Yeoj teased.
Kelden exhaled slowly, not quite forceful enough to be a sigh, yet it carried a certain sadness with it. “Well,” he began, “I can tell she likes you.”
“You’re jealous!” Yeoj sniggered. “Why? You only saw her for a little while on the street. You don’t know anything about her.”
Kelden patted the air. “Don’t trouble yourself over it,” he replied quickly. “I have matters to tend to, and you will likely be staying here for a while longer. I won’t get in your way.”
Yeoj reached out for his tea. “Or is it that you know you just wouldn’t stack up compared to me?” He winked and then took a sip of his tea. “I’m not afraid of competition if you want to make a play.”
Kelden shook his head. “You should watch what you say. She might be just outside the door.”
Yeoj started to shrug, but stopped short and winced. He clumsily set his tea cup down, clattering on the wood as his hand shook. Kelden moved in to help, but Yeoj waved him off. “I’m well enough off,” he said.
“Heal quickly,” Kelden said. “I will look for you again once your wounds are gone.” Kelden turned to leave.
“That’s it?” Yeoj grumbled. “I roast myself finishing your job and all you have to say is you will look for me when I am better. How about thanks for saving your lieutenant, and for dropping the—”
Kelden spun around and shook his head with a great frown pulling his features down. “Don’t do that. You know better. I am not expelling you from the group, nor did I leave the work unfinished. You and I both know I was sent away at the queen’s request. When I got back, I finished what you could not. Keep that ring as a reminder, if you must, that I never leave my allies alone.”
Yeoj quickly regained his composure and smiled that sly grin of his. “Well, I still got the girl,” he taunted.
Kelden waved his hand and turned around. “You’re impossible.” Kelden walked down the hall and then descended the stairs. He saw Pendonov standing next to Jenedina, talking and smiling. Agnes was sitting in a chair next to them and Sebina was trying to retrieve a jar from the top shelf. Her fingers only barely touched the glass, spinning it around more than pulling it toward her.
Kelden went to her and reached in from behind, stretching his arm over her shoulder. “Allow me,” he offered.
Sebina took a step to her right and offered a softly spoken, “Thank you.” Then she turned to place the jar on the counter. She set her left hand around the glass and tried to twist the top with her right, but it wouldn’t move. Kelden watched her for a moment, admiring her beauty. He didn’t realize he was staring until the woman stopped trying to open the jar and held it out for him. “If you would be so kind?”
Kelden almost asked what she wanted, and then he noticed the proffered jar and quickly took it in his hands and opened the lid. “Sorry, I…” He wasn’t sure what to say. Rather than risk sounding like a fool, he switched into his official tone. “I just wanted to stop by and let you know that you are both safe now. All of the men have been dealt with.”
Sebina blinked a couple of times and nodded once. She took the open jar and set it on the desk next to her and went to work scooping out the blue powder from within to add it into a mortar on the desk. She turned her back to Kelden and went to another shelf to fetch more ingredients. Kelden followed her and spoke softly.
“Also, you should know I met your brother,” he said.
Sebina turned around with a questioning look in her eyes.
Kelden smiled. “He’s a good man, and he is safe. In time, I think I can get the charges against him dropped as well.”
“Where is he?” Sebina asked.
Kelden shook his head. “I can’t tell you that yet, but I will when I can.” Kelden motioned to the shelves behind her. “For now, go about your lives as you please. You are safe.”
“Thank you,” Jenedina called out. Kelden turned to see the other woman’s hand clasped between Pendonov’s.
Kelden smiled and nodded his head. “Pendonov, take a few moments if you like, then come and meet me.” He then left the shop and closed the door behind him. He walked slowly back toward the merchant guard hall, thinking all the while about Sebina sitting on the bed with Yeoj. He knew he shouldn’t feel bitter toward Yeoj, but he did. He couldn’t help but hear her laugh again in his head and see her holding his hand in her lap. It bothered him more than it should, he knew, and his mind wondered what might have happened if he had been allowed to stay.
He heard the gulls calling from the east. A light breeze came in, stirring up a small dust devil and carrying the salty air into the city. He breathed in deeply. The merchant guard hall now was only a block away, and he could see part of its walls and the flag that flew over the entrance. Then he turned his eyes toward the east as the gulls called out to him again. Perhaps duty could wait a short while longer. Instead of brooding over Sebina, he could at least find comfort along the peaceful shore. He turned to change directions but then he heard his name shouted from farther down the street.
“Captain Ferryl!” a man yelled as he sprinted down the street from the now open front door of the merchant guard hall.
Kelden’s hand instinctively went for his sword. He didn’t recognize the man right off. It wasn’t a merchant guard, and it wasn’t anyone he knew. Yet, the man seemed to know him, and was running straight for him. As he drew nearer, Kelden’s grip on his sword loosened. He did recognize the man. It was a guard from Rasselin that he had met only a short while ago.
“Captain Ferryl, I need your help!” he panted as he slowed to a stop just a few yards in front of Kelden.
Kelden knit his brow and crossed his arms. “What is it?” he asked.
“The others told me I would find you here,” Murdok said.
“The others?” Kelden asked.
Murdok nodded as he panted heavily and bent over, trying to catch his breath. “The dwarves, you know, the lively pair that you escorted to Rasselin the day we met. I saw them outside the merchant guard hall and asked if they had seen you.”
“What is it?” Kelden pressed.
Murdok shook his head. “Rasselin has been captured,” he said. The man straightened up and wiped the sweat and grime from his forehead. “General Tehrigg betrayed us all, and he let the Shausmatians into the city.”
“Why would he do that?” Kelden asked. He arched a brow and was about to speak, but Murdok grabbed onto his shoulders.
“You must believe me, you
,” Murdok cried. “I only barely escaped during the night after the city was subdued.”
Murdok shook his head. “No time for that now, you have to help me get to the queen.”
“She won’t see you?” Kelden asked.
Murdok shook his head. “I tried to request an audience, but the guards won’t let me in the palace, and the one councilor they summoned to speak with me turned me away. They thought me mad.”
Kelden nodded and thought for a moment. “How many men did Tehrigg have?”
Murdok shrugged. “Thousands. He left for Hart’s Bridge with most of his troops. Then, a couple days later he returned with the enemy wearing our colors. He left a few soldiers in the towers and gate house to ensure he could gain access. They slaughtered anyone who tried to stand against them. I did what I could to raise the city guard, but we were no match for them.”
“What of the Rangers?” Kelden asked.
Murdok turned and twisted his belt around to display Diggs’ sword. “There are none left anymore.”
Kelden looked down at the sword and his breath caught in his throat for a moment. He knew that no Ranger would allow his sword to be carried by anyone unless he had been slain first. “And Councilor Bahn?”
“He was drawn and quartered in the square,” Murdok said softly. “His remains were posted upon pikes for all to see, as a warning of what would befall any who dared to defy Tehrigg. His soldiers rooted out most of the guard too, and they were also put to death.” Murdok’s eyes welled with tears and his gaze went distant. “They dragged their bodies behind horses. Their blood painted our streets.”
Murdok’s knees weakened and his shoulders slumped.
Kelden bent down and forced the man’s chin up to look at him. “Do you have any proof beyond your word?”
Murdok shook his head. “I almost ran home, to Shinder, when I escaped, but I had to try and reach the queen. When her guards wouldn’t let me in, then I knew I had to find you. You would listen to me.”
Kelden looked up and noticed Redbeard and Pinhead standing in the doorway of the merchant guard hall then and nodded to them. He looked back to Murdok and pulled the man back to his feet. “You will go back to the merchant guard hall. There you may rest. I will speak with the queen.”
“I can’t rest until I know she has heard my message,” Murdok said.
Kelden thought for a moment and then nodded. “Very well.”
Nearly a week after finding Murdok in the street, Kelden walked down the long corridor to the dining hall of the palace. Murdok walked slightly behind him, as he had the day before when they had approached the queen together. Some of the guards still scrutinized Murdok as he walked through the palace halls, but they knew better than to question Kelden’s judgment. They moved quickly, wanting to meet with Queen Dalynn before her councilors would arrive at the court and bog things down with their incessant indecisiveness, as they had yesterday.
When the two arrived at the gilded double doors, a young porter pushed the portal open and motioned for them to follow him.
“She has been expecting you,” the porter said in his astoundingly nasal voice. “She has been pacing the room for over an hour.”
Kelden paid the lad no heed and walked in. He saw the queen, hands clasped behind her back and her hair neatly braided along her spine. She turned her head and smiled softly when the two met each other’s gaze. “Apologies,” Kelden offered. “I understood you wanted us to come at first light. I did not realize we kept you waiting.”
The queen turned and motioned for the porter to exit the chamber. The doors closed with a resounding echo bouncing off the stone walls and marble columns. Queen Dalynn stepped toward the duo, her shoes making the faintest
as she walked. “You understood correctly, but I was unable to sleep. So I came early to think.”
“You could have sent for us,” Kelden said.
The queen nodded and looked to Murdok. “Have you decided?” she asked.
Murdok nodded. “Kelden spoke with me at length last night. I would be honored to join the group.”
“Very well,” Dalynn said with a brief nod. “As my councilors begged, I sent messages to Rasselin by carrier pigeon.” Her smile vanished and her brow drew in close together. “I received an answer in the early hours of the morning, delivered by a frightened rabbit of a man who looked as though he had been beaten within an inch of his life.” She pulled a yellow envelope from her pocket and offered it to Kelden.
Kelden took the oddly shaped envelope, noting that it was heavy in one end, with something bulky inside. He opened it to see a severed ear. The body part was leathery and dry, but otherwise well preserved. It felt tough and stiff in Kelden’s hand as he picked it up between his thumb and forefinger. “Councilor Bahn?” he guessed.