Thursday, February 25, 2016

Chapter 40

She stood there, staring at the empty room, muttering a string of curses.
They'd been too late.
Marianna was gone.
She closed the door and put the padlock back on and made her way over to the stairs, blowing out her lantern and plunging the room into darkness.
She waited, listening for sounds of people above her. All was silent.
She slowly walked up the stairs and opened the trapdoor slightly, enough to see out of.
She could see Cayle still speaking with Harriet, now with a meal in front of him that looked as though it had already been eaten.
A waitress walked passed Harriet into the backroom and Deanna dropped the trapdoor, silently slipping back down the stairs and back into her hiding place.
The door opened and she held her breath as the waitresses descended.
She looked around, as confused look on her face and Deanna thought she had been spotted before her expression cleared and she walked over to a box that housed wine, rifled through it for a minute, before pulling out a bottle and returning upstairs.
Deanna released her breath and leaned back against the wall. That had been close.
                                                                       * * *
Hurry up, Deanna. Cayle thought as he ate his meal, a concoction of ingredients that's origins he did not want to ponder, listening to a story Harriet was telling him, occasionally interjecting a witty comment, making her laugh. I can only be charming for so long.
He saw the trapdoor start to open and was just about to feel relieved when he caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye: one of the waitresses had walked passed him, heading for the cellar.
He caught his breath as the cellar door slammed shut just as the waitress got close. She didn't appear to have seen the movement, as she opened the door and descended in the cellars depths, emerging a short time later with a bottle of what appeared to be wine, closing the door behind her.
He breathed a silent sigh of relief that she didn't appear to have spotted Deanna when she was below, and turned his focus back to Harriet when he realized she had asked him a question.
"I'm sorry, what?" He asked, smiling.
She returned the smile. "I asked if you had a place to stay tonight. We have plenty of rooms available if you'd like to stay here."
"I'm sorry, but unfortunately, I am only passing through." He said, his smile turning to one of sadness.
Her smile faded. "Alright then, perhaps another time." She said.
"Perhaps." He said, still smiling at her.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of blonde hair beneath a hood walk passed him and a frown threatened to tug at his lips, and he knew that it was time to leave.
He straightened up. "I think I had better get going now,"
"Very well then." Harriet replied, also standing straighter. He left a few coins on the counter and turned to leave, but her voice stopped him. "It occurs to me that you have remained nameless throughout our exchange."
He turns to face her again and waited for her to continue.
"Might you leave me your name?" She asked.
"A little mystery is good for the soul." He replied, dipping his head in a small bow. "Thank you for the meal, milady."
She smiled at the title. "You're welcome, milord."
                                                                      * * *
He met Deanna at the clearing where they had left their horses.
She was standing near her horse, Krennan, absently patting his neck while he ate an apple.
"Well?" He asked, nearing her.
She looked up at him as he approached, but didn't reply.
"What happened?" He prompted. "Where is Marianna?"
"She's gone." Deanna said simply, her tone distracted.
"Gone?" He repeated. "What kind of gone."
"Missing, vanished, moved." Deanna replied sharply. "She wasn't in the cellar."
"They moved her already?" He asked, frowning, and when she nodded, he continued. "Why do you think they did that?"
"I'm not sure." She said. "They could have just left for the meeting with the Duke, or they could have caught wind that we were coming."
"Harriet didn't seem as though she'd been alerted." He mused.
She looked at him with a strange look in her eyes. "Really? I wouldn't have thought you'd notice anything beyond all the flirting you two were doing."
He didn't say anything. Was that jealousy he heard in her tone?
"Besides," Deanna continued, walking to the center of the clearing. "She's a good liar."

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Chapter 39

"So why are you after Herndon?" Cayle asked after they had been traveling for a while.
"It's complicated." Deanna replied in a terse voice that said that she did not want to discuss it. But Cayle was bored and feeling stubborn.
"I like complicated stories." He said.
"Too bad." She said, urging Krennan a little ahead of Cayle.
"Oh come on," He said, smiling. "You can't even give me a hint?"
"Nope." She threw back over her shoulder. "And if you were smart, you'd be focusing on how we're going to get Marianna."
He fell silent. She had a point, a very good point.
"Any idea where this Harriet might be keeping her?" He asked, urging his own horse forward.
"No," Deanna said with a frown. "I suspect a basement, as I didn't see a barn nearby."
"What do we do when we get there?" He asked. "Storm the place, swords twirling?"
"I was thinking a more subtle approach." She replied.
"Oh?" He prompted.
"Well, she hasn't met you yet, and if she saw me again she might get suspicious." She said. "I was thinking that if I could get passed her, I could investigate the backroom."
"So I'm the diversion?" He said.
"Pretty much." She said.
"Well, at least I have a purpose." He said.
                                                                       * * *
When Cayle opened the door, he was hit by a variety of smells: ale, sweat, and smoke, both from pipes and the fireplace he could see as he walked towards the bar.
He stood at the bar, looking around the room, trying to surreptitiously spot Deanna, but there were several cloaked patrons, making spotting her difficult.
He saw someone seated in a corner, and thought he caught a flash of blonde hair when someone coughed at the bar, dragging his attention away from the crowd.
"Hello." A young woman said. She was pretty, with shoulder-length chestnut hair and sparkling gray eyes. She didn't look like a manipulative killer.
"Hi," He said, smiling his best smile.
"What can I get you?" She said, returning the smile.
"You're name, for starters." He said, his grin turning slightly impish.
She laughed. "My name is Harriet."
"A pretty name for a pretty girl." He said, earning himself another laugh.
"Well, aren't you smooth." She said.
"I'll have an ale, if you please."
"Coming right up." She said, turning to the massive shelves on her right, filled to the brim with alcohol.
Cayle sensed someone walk passed him, but dare not look, for fear that the slight movement of his head would draw Harriet's attention.
She turned back to him with a glass of ale. "Will there be anything else?"
"Depends," He said, sipping the ale. It was bitter and tasted like it's expiration date had come and went, but he didn't let his disgust show. "What do you recommend?"
She smiled. "Well, we have several specials available, would you like me to get you a menu?"
She turned to go to the backroom.
"No." He said sharply, making her turn back, a frown now creasing her face. "I would prefer if you could tell me."
"Why?" She asked, sounding suspicious now.
"Well, if I were to request a menu, then you would have to go and get it, depriving me of your presence." He said, smiling again. Internally, he was kicking himself for being so obvious, hoping that she would believe him.
She smiled in return again as she leaned on the bar. "Well, that's a bit unusual, but you're cute, so, just this once."
He only half-listened to what she listed, his thoughts distracted, hoping that Deanna would be able to find Marianna. 
                                                                      * * *
Deanna sat in the corner, her hood pulled up as far as it could go, watching as Cayle approached the bar and began speaking with Harriet.
She heard Harriet laugh at something Cayle had said. Flirting with Harriet, she corrected.
When Harriet turned to get him something to drink, she took her chance and quickly walked over to the bar, passing Cayle, and keeping a close eye on Harriet, lest she turn around and recognize her, even though she had her hood pulled up.
She made it into the backroom with no trouble, all the waitresses were on the floor, running orders and refilling drinks.
She looked around the small backroom, her eyes falling on a trapdoor.
She walked over and grabbed the handle, opening it as quietly as she could, casting anxious glances over her shoulder, hoping a waitress, or Harriet, didn't come back to get something or to investigate the noise.
The trapdoor revealed a short set of stairs, which she walked down, closing the door as she climbed down.
It was dark in the cellar and she felt around for something and found an oil lamp.
She felt in her pocket for her flint and lit the small wicker in the lamp, holding it in front of her as she took in her surroundings: she was in a food cellar.
She looked around, but there was no sign of Marianna.
She did a thorough inspection, but aside from some evidence of mice, there was no sign of the princess.
She was about to leave when she noticed a door that had been more or less camouflaged so as to go unnoticed.
She hurried over and noticed a padlock that had been purposely allowed to rust, so that it didn't reflect light anymore.
She pulled out her lock picking tools from her pocket, glad she had decided to bring them instead of leaving them in her saddlebag, and got to work.
She heard footsteps and froze.
She heard the cellar door open and she ducked down behind some wooden boxes, using her cloak to shield the light of the oil-lamp from view.
A waitress walked over to a water-tight box, taking a key out of her pocket, she unlocked it and pulled out something that looked like cheese, before quickly closing the lid and re-locking it, returning upstairs.
Deanna let out the breath she had been holding as the cellar went dark.
She walked back over to the door and set to work again. She was rewarded by a faint 'click' as the padlock unlocked.
She pulled the lock off and pushed the door open.
Inside was a small room, with a wooden pole set up in the middle.
She stared at the pole and started cursing.
The room was empty.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Chapter 38

Deanna ran to Krennan, her mind flashing back to the Inn Keepers daughter. Had she been manipulating everything from the start?
"Deanna, wait!" Cayle shouted, chasing after her, grabbing her hand just before she could mount Krennan. "What's wrong?"
"I know this girl." She explained, retrieving her hand.
"No, Harriet." She said. "I stayed at that Inn."
She silently cursed herself as she mounted Krennan and took off at a run. Why couldn't she see what Harriet really was?
Cayle cursed then ran to one of the mounted guards. "I need to barrow your horse."
"What?" The guard asked.
"Sorry about this." Before the guard could react, Cayle reached up and yanked the guard from the horse, then climbed on. "Cadman!"
"Yeah?" Cadman asked, wondering where his friends' wits had gone.
"Hold down the fort here and watch Finn." Cayle yelled before he took off after Deanna.
"What am I? Two?" Finn asked.
"Don't sulk, Finn, it's unbecoming." Cadman said.
                                                                    *   *   *
He managed to catch up to Deanna. "Wait up!" He yelled as she pulled ahead,
"Quit following me!" She yelled back. "I am sick of you following me!"
"I'm trying to help." He said.
"Don't!" She said. "I can do this on my own."
"Why can't you accept my help?" She pulled up short, and Cayle didn't notice immediately.
He turned the horse around and trotted back to where she was staring at him.
"Why on EARTH would I accept help from a guy sent to kill me?" She demanded. "Answer me that."
"I wasn't sent to kill you." He said.
"Just kidnap me?"
He started to speak, but stopped. She was right.
He was sent to abduct her.
"You're right." He said. "I was sent here to retrieve you, but you killed a man."
"Not this again." She said, rolling her eyes. "I didn't kill anyone!"
He looked at her.
"Oh come on, killing people trying to kill me doesn't count." She said. "That's self-defense."
"So you didn't kill Gregory Hamel?" He asked, skeptical.
"No, I didn't."
"Then who did?"
She hesitated.
"Deanna?" Cayle said. "Do you know who killed him?"
She didn't answer for a long minute, before finally, she nodded.
"Then who?" He said, and when she didn't respond, he sighed irritably. "Deanna, if you know who did it, tell me, we can bring in the real culprit and the price on your head goes away."
"It's not that simple."
"Why not?"
"Because the man who killed Hamel is too powerful for that to work." She said. "He would just find some way to get out of it, and then I would be found hanging."
"Who is this guy, Deanna?" Cayle asked. "Why are you scared of him?"
"I am not scared of him."
"Then why won't you tell me his name?" He countered.
"It wouldn't make any difference." She said, attempting to push Krennan forward, but Cayle blocked her path.
"Then tell me." He said. "Deanna, you have to trust me; I can help you."
She looked at him for a long moment, before sighing. "His name is Herndon."
Cayle stared at her in shock. "Herndon? As in the 'Advisor to the King' Herndon?"
She nodded.
Cayle whistled. "When you pick trouble, you don't mess around."
                                                                 *   *   *
"You're doing well." The man said, making Harriet jump and almost drop the cup she had been cleaning.
She spun around to face him. "Don't do that to me!"
"I would have thought you'd have been made of tougher stuff." He said teasingly. "I've been sent to inspect the merchandise."
"I assure you the package is intact." She said.
"I have my orders." He said.
She shrugged and led him to the storeroom, unlocking the door and stepping aside.
"Wakey wakey, Princess." She said. "You have a visitor."
Marianna looked up from where she was bound and flinched at the sudden brightness of the still open storeroom door.
"Hello, Princess." The man said, crouching beside her and removing the gag from her mouth. "My name is Cameron."
"What do you want?" She asked.
"I am simply here to make sure you are relatively unharmed." He said. "I have to check for loss of limbs, organs, stuff like that."
He stood and walked behind her, making sure she had both arms and hands, and all ten fingers, then he made sure she still had her legs and feet, with all her toes.
Then he crouched in front of her again. "Have you been operated on at any point?"
She shook her head.
"Have you been well fed?" She shook her head again.
He glanced briefly at Harriet, who shrugged innocently; he turned back to Marianna and asked a few more questions about what had happened since she had been captured.
Aside from a minor beating to subdue her when she was captured and a bit of malnutrition, she seemed in fine health.  
He stood and walked behind Marianna again and undid her bonds, he doubted the poor girl had been given time to let the blood flow back to her limbs.
"What are you doing?" Harriet demanded, stepping forward. "She'll try to escape!"
"I doubt it," Cameron said. "And even if she tried, judging by how she's rubbing her arms and legs, she wouldn't be able to get far anyway."
He met Harriet's eyes.
"Did you let her limbs breathe?" He asked, and when she didn't reply, he sighed. "You idiot." He raised his hand to halt her retort. "You have to undo her bonds every so often so that her limbs don't die."
She looked at him for a moment before responding. "I didn't want to risk her escaping."
"You'd better hope that she's a fast healer, otherwise you'll have to deal with the Duke and his temper."
He walked passed her to leave, but paused and turned back. "And feed the poor girl. She's no use to us dead."
Harriet didn't reply as she closed and locked the storeroom door.
He gave her a look.
"What?" She said. "I can't risk her running away whilst I am preparing her food, now can I?"
He leaned against one of the shelves of food to make sure she did indeed feed the girl.
He watched as Harriet prepared a meal of ham, cheese, and bread and take it to the girl, along with some water to wash it down with.
"You expect her to eat in the dark?" He asked, looking pointedly at a candle.
She sighed, barely containing her irritation and opened the storeroom again, bringing the candle inside and lighting it before coming out and looking at him expectantly.
"Any more orders?"
"No, you can close the door now." And she did.
He waited until they were in the empty dining room before speaking again.
"You should retie her bonds once she's finished eating." He said.
"No? Really?" Harriet said sarcastically.
"Says the girl who didn't know you were supposed to loosen them every few hours." He countered.
He could see the denial in her eyes before she even began to speak.
"Don't give me that 'I did know' crap," He said. "What part of 'she is not to be harmed' did you not get?"
"She is not harmed!" Harriet snapped.
"Oh really? And what do you call not being fed and almost losing her arms because you didn't want to deal with it?" She glared at him. "You're a moron, Harriet, I just didn't realize how dumb you were."
"That's harsh." She said.
"No, it's not, that's being polite." He said. "You were clever enough to kill your father and get your mother to cover for you, but that was as far as your cleverness goes, apparently. If I hadn't come when I did, she would probably have lost all of her limbs, thanks to you, plus the malnutrition, both of which are harmful, by the way."
She rolled her eyes. "Fine, I got the message."
"Good," He said, picking up his pack from the table. "Because if she is harmed in any way, we'll both get skinned."
She paled visibly as he walked out the door.