Vance forced himself to keep walking at an even pace, head held high and arms at his side. The corridors outside of the king’s receiving room were filled with servants, commoners all, and it would not do for them to see him discomfited, no matter who much his thoughts were roiling through him. He had to maintain his dignity.
He kept going until he reached his quarters. Bartholomew had given him this suite in the palace years earlier, the first step toward adopting him as a son. It was the second largest, formerly belonging to Bartholomew’s son, Frederick, the crown prince. It was tastefully decorated, with burgundy and purple tapestries on the walls and plush seats in the salon. Doors led to the suites other rooms, his bedroom, bath chamber, and a well-stocked library.
The moment the door ground shut behind him, he let loose with a roar and kicked over a wooden chair. His hand darted to his side, reaching for a sword that wasn’t there. How he wished he had his blade so he could demolish the chair into splinters. Better yet, he yearned to turn the blade on this Edrys Fanella, this pretender.
Shadows take that woman! How dare she ruin his day? He had been working for years—no, decades—getting the pieces in place for this moment and now it was only so much wreckage. Control of the situation was easily slipping through his fingers. He had to do something. Now.
“I would suggest calming yourself, sir.” The oily voice tickled his ear. “The walls are thick, but the servants may have heard that tantrum just now. We wouldn’t want them to start gossiping.”
Vance stifled the snarl that tugged at his mouth. He should have known that Healey, his personal attendant, had been waiting for him. He turned around and regarded his man. Healey stood two hands shorter than Vance. His face was round and somewhat flabby and he stood with a slight hunch. But there was an angry hunger that danced in the man’s eyes. That was why Vance had taken Healey into his confidence so many years ago. The man understood how to play the games of state and court better than many in the aristocracy.
“Of course.” Vance smoothed out his doublet. “I assume you saw what happened?”
Healey nodded. “I did. Quite the timing, is it not? This supposed heir arriving to disrupt your adoption like that. Boggles the mind.”
“I assume you’ve already started asking around?” Vance asked.
“That is why you retain my services, is it not?”
Vance snorted. He picked up the chair and sat down in it, then motioned for Healey to continue.
Healey tucked his arms behind his back. Perhaps he was trying to mimic the posture of a lecturing scholar, but it didn’t quite suit him. “This Edrys Fanella arrived two days ago. She is presently residing in an inn called the Broken Manse. She travels lightly, with only one servant to speak of. Certainly not what you would expect of a woman of high society.”
“She and this servant arrived alone?”
“From what I’ve gathered, no. They arrived in the company of Velanese merchants.” Healey’s eyebrows rose.
Vance clenched his jaw. The Velanese. He should have known. It wasn’t enough that those traitorous mongrels had rebelled against King Bartholomew all those years ago. He should have known that they would be plotting to stir up trouble in Darkshire Woods. “Are these merchants still here?”
“I believe they are, yes.”
“Take me to them. Now.”
Healey bowed and turned toward the door. Vance stepped over to a weapons rack and retrieved his sword. As they left the room, Vance strapped it into place.
The servants loitering in the corridors quickly scattered as Healey and Vance strode past them. Vance kept his eyes locked forward, once again doing his best to project dignity and control. He would one day rule this kingdom. Reminding the peasants of his eventual position would only benefit him in the long run. Eventually, he and Healey arrived in the stables and mounted their horses. Then, with Healey in the lead, they rode out of the castle and headed for the village below.
As he rode, Vance turned the puzzle of Edrys Fanella over and over in his mind. It surely wasn’t a coincidence that she arrived in the company of Velanese merchants. The king had been unable to smash the Velanese during the wars, but the Velanese hadn’t been able to completely route their overlords either. An uneasy truce had existed between the two kingdoms for the past twenty years. The cowards likely saw this as their opportunity to tip the balance in their favor. It could even be the prelude to a new conflict. Vance smiled tightly. If they wanted a war, he would give them one. As soon as he was named king, he would order Darkshire’s army to the field and finally destroy the Velanese once and for all.
They found the merchants in a tavern on the outskirts of the city. They were easy enough to spot. Whereas the citizens of Darkshire tended to dress in drab outfits that maintained their dignity and modesty, the Velanese wore a riot of color that revealed far too much of their bodies. Disgusting elves. They should have obliterated their filthy race when they had the chance. They all had the same bluish skin and jet black hair, the same blank eyes. One of them, a particularly voluptuous young woman, flashed an eager smile at Vance. He snarled at her. Harlot. As if he would sully himself with her.
“Well, lookee what we have here, boys?” she said. “We gots a Darkshire lord comin’ to see us.”
One of her companions, a portly male with a scraggly beard, quickly hopped out of his chair and bowed in an exaggerated and clearly mocking fashion. “What can we humble folk do for you, yer lordship?”
Vance’s hands tucked into his belt, squeezing the leather tightly. “I understand that a young woman traveled with you. Edrys Fanella. I want to know everything I can about her.”
The merchants guffawed.
“He’s sweet on her already!” the fat merchant crowed.
“You’ve got better chances with me.” The woman sidled up to Vance. “I’m a lot more friendlier than she ever was.”
“Stand-offish, was she?” Healey asked.
“Wouldn’t say that necessarily. After we hooked up with her in Taroton, she just mostly kept to herself. Only really spoke to that servant of hers.” The woman shuddered. “That one gave me the jibblies, no doubt about it.”
Vance bit back a snarl. Taroton was a border town within Darkshire’s territory and was at least a week’s journey away. He’d have to send runners there to investigate the merchant’s story, but if it were true, that meant that she hadn’t come with the Velanese, she had merely traveled with them.
“Did she pay for your protection at all?” Healey asked.
The fat merchant shook his heads, setting his jowls quivering. “Nah, nothin’ like that. Just a bunch of fellow travelers sharing the road together. Though she did give us some keepsakes, didn’ she?”
Another merchant dug in a bag tied to his belt and produced a small statuette. Vance snatched it out of the man’s hands and examined it. While he wasn’t entirely certain, it looked like a Sevielan road goddess statue, a wooden carving of a young woman in a robe. It was a charm to ward off disaster and bandits on a long journey. He growled. It was customary for Sevielans to pass out these trinkets to those they met on the road.
Clearly these elves weren’t going to be of much help. “Thank you for your time.” He turned and stalked away.
“Come back and see me soon, yer lordship!” the woman shouted after him. “We’ll be here for the rest of the week.”
Healey scurried up to his side. “What now, my lord?”
“You said this ‘Edrys’ was staying at the Broken Manse?”
“Then let’s see what we can learn from her room.”
They made their way to the inn. Thankfully, the common room was deserted, save for the elderly proprietor. The man straightened up when he saw Vance enter.
“My lord, what can we do for you?” he asked in a reedy voice.
“I understand that the Lady Edrys Fanella is staying here,” Vance said.
“Aye, she is at that.”
“Excellent. I wish to inspect her room. Now.”
The older man shifted his weight from foot to foot, fidgeting with a dirty rag tucked into his belt. “I…uh, sir. I’m not sure that that’s…well, legal, is it? Is she suspected of a crime?”
Vance pulled himself up to his full height. “Are you arguing with me, peasant?” He spat the last word like it was poisonous.
“No, not at all, sir. It’s just…the king’s law says that we’re guaranteed certain privacy unless we’re suspected of a crime. The same applies to guests within our borders, doesn’t it?”
Vance sighed. Why had Bartholomew, the old fool, made that law? Such an inconvenience.
“Very well. You want to know the basis for my search?”
The older man nodded. Vance did as well, then lashed out and snared the front of the man’s shirt. He slammed him down onto the table and pressed his forearm on the back of the proprietor’s neck.
“This is my authority, you old fool. You would do well to remember that I can still order you flogged for any reason at all. Now give me the key to her room and then begone before I express my displeasure further!”
The proprietor sobbed, but he babbled in agreement. Vance let him up. The older man retrieved a ring of keys and handed them over. Healey snatched them out of his hand.
Vance turned for the stairs and stopped short. Standing at the top of the stairs was an imposing man, a veritable giant. He only wore a pair of leather jerkins and his silvery hair hung loose down to his waist. His skin was bone white and covered with tiny scars, which criss-crossed each other in an intricate hash pattern. The man’s thick arms were crossed and he looked more like a barricade than a person.
Vance took a cautious step forward. “Do you work for the Lady Edrys Fanella?”
The man nodded curtly.
Vance whirled on Healey. “You didn’t tell me that her servant was an Telkoshim!”
Healey’s face had drained of its color so much that he almost resembled the barbarian at the top of the stairs. Vance turned back to face this obstacle. Telkoshim bodyguards were almost legendary. The giants rarely ventured out of their territory and usually only worked for royalty or someone that they deemed worthy of honorable protection. Fiercely loyal, they were almost impossible to kill in battle. Vance had never actually seen one in the flesh.
Well, nothing ventured. Vance started up the stairs. “Stand aside. My name is Lord Vance Smythe and I am going to inspect the quarters of Lady Edrys Fanella for—”
The Telkoshim’s arm snapped out and he placed his immense hand on Vance’s chest. The barbarian tipped his head back and his hair parted like a curtain, revealing prominent ridges along the man’s eyes and cheeks.
Vance bit back a curse. Not only was he Telkoshim, he also appeared to have a bit of ogre in his blood as well. Not a good combination. Better to retreat.
“Lord Vance! This is a surprise.”
Vance turned and found Edrys Fanella standing in the entrance to the inn. She smiled at him, a radiant flash of teeth.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Once again, Vance had to swallow a curse. What could he say, that her brute of a bodyguard had prevented him from searching her room?
“I was…I was…”
“My lord was simply ensuring that you had comfortable accommodations.” Healey sketched a quick bow.
Edrys laughed, a light and airy sound. Infectious, even. “That is very kind, my lord, but you didn’t need to worry yourself. As it turns out, we are being given quarters in the castle. I was just coming back to retrieve my belongings. Villac.”
What did that mean? Then Vance heard the creaking of wood and turned around. The Telkoshim had turned and was lumbering back toward the rooms. That must have been his name.
“I suppose we’ll see you at the castle then, my lord?” Edrys started up the stairs. “I’ve been told I’ll have an audience with the king tomorrow.”
She did, did she? Before Vance could respond, she disappeared up the stairs. Vance snarled and turned for the exit.
“Where to now, my lord?” Healey asked.
“Back to the castle, it seems. We have much to prepare for.”Lord Smythe wants to know who Edrys Fanella is in this chapter of a story written using the #FiascoRPG. Click To Tweet