The escort of guards broke away as they moved through the courtyard, leaving only the leader to guide them through the halls of the palace. The guardsman took them at a swift pace on a direct route to Lord Ellengar’s chambers with no stops to admire the architecture that rivaled the grand buildings of Port Na’brath and even Crydon.
Though, Vhindr did have the opportunity to acknowledge the beautiful tapestries hanging on the wall along with the detailed portraits of past Barons and noteworthy heroes as he walked by them.
“Here we are,” the guard leader announced as they came to a large iron bound door, “He’s expecting you, so go on in.”
Vhindr gave a curt nod to the guard and pushed through the door into a cozy sitting room with a large fire burning in the corner. A large window stood opposite the door where the room opened out onto a stone balcony overlooking the city. Another door was opposite the fire and at the center of the room sat several comfortable looking chairs encircling a small table. It was in one of the chairs Roht Ellengar sat quietly reading, but he put down his book and rose to greet Vhindr and his companions.
“Vhindr Varrintine. Welcome, please sit,” the thin man smiled at them and motioned for them to join him. “I do not believe I know the third in your company?”
“My sister Valianna,” Vhindr replied courteously as he sat done.
“It is a pleasure to meet you young lady,” Roht said politely as he moved to embrace Rhalin with an affectionate hug. “And Rhalin, it is good to see you well. I was worried you had run into trouble.”
“I have told you countless times I can look after myself, Uncle,” Rhalin sighed heavily, but smiled.
“Uncle?” Valianna exclaimed in surprise.
“She never told you?” Roht turned a curious eye to Rhalin as they both sat down.
“No, but perhaps you could enlighten us?” Vhindr asked as he shot Rhalin a playful glance.
“We don’t really have the time,” Rhalin begun.
“Nonsense.” Roht interjected. “It will take but a few moments. I am not sure if you know this Vhindr, but your father, my brother Eikle, Jent Barrgarah, and Rhalin’s father Tolfur, all attended the Magi Guild in The Port when they were young. They were friends since. It was one sad day many years after their Guild days, they all came to Gaianaus to go on a hunting trip in the pine forests north of Honrberg. Being the brother of the newly crowned Baron I knew of this private trip but it was only four of them who went. I have no idea what happened out there, but Rhalin’s father was killed. As a result Rhalin and her mother, Lofelin, were thrown out of their home and lived on the streets for several years before my brother and I could find them. Eikle made it his mission in life to make sure Rhalin and Lofelin had everything they wanted, but sadly Lofelin died shortly after.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Vhindr remarked sincerely and glanced to Rhalin who did not seem sad to relive her tragic history.
“It was a long time ago,” Rhalin replied. “A past I have since come to terms with.”
“When was this hunting trip?” Vhindr asked curiously.
“Well let me think,” Roht said before he took a sip of his tea. “A little over twenty years ago I would think. Rhalin?”
“Twenty-two years,” clarified Rhalin as she poured herself a cup of tea from the pot on the table.
“Well that explains the change in accent when you get angry Rhalin,” Vhindr remarked offhandedly.
“She still does that?” Roht asked with a laugh and Rhalin blushed.
“Can we get back on topic, please?” Rhalin said stiffly.
“Of course,” Roht chuckled, “So tell me what you have learnt of the assassin?”
“The investigation is still ongoing, Lord Ellengar,” Vhindr was quick to say, “I do not discuss details until it is closed and the assassin caught.”
Roht smiled disarmingly and looked to Rhalin, “You will say nothing?”
“We are on the assassin’s tail,” Rhalin said hesitantly and looked to Vhindr before quickly looking away. “We have followed her to Issia.”
“She is in the city somewhere?” Roht asked seriously.
“We do not know yet,” Rhalin replied, purposely keeping her eyes from Vhindr’s stare.
“Do you have any leads?” inquired Roht, leaning forward in his seat.
“Some.” Vhindr cut in before Rhalin could reply.
“Which you are not going to share,” Roht smiled slightly, “I ask because I want to help. If you have forgotten the victim was my older brother, I want the assassin killed as much as you do.”
“And that is the reason why you should not be involved,” Vhindr was quick to reply, “You are too close to this case. Personal emotions will cloud judgement.”
“What of Rhalin?” Roht asked back.
“Well, I would tell her the same,” Vhindr said and looked to his companion with a subtle smile, “But I can’t seem to get rid of her.”
Roht narrowed his eyes and took a deep breath as he poured himself another cup of tea.
“We will share our investigations with you, but that is all,” Vhindr said and Roht studied him seriously.
“I guess I will have to accept that,” Roht finally said and let out a deep breath. “But I still want to help, so I will provide rooms for you each here in the castle and if you ever need anything you will just need to ask.”
“Thank you,” Vhindr replied, “But is Baron Barrgarah in agreement with this? I am from Sesserrech remember, and the son of the Ruling Lord. What will the other lords of Gaianaus think if they hear that a Varrintine is staying in the castle?”
“Jent and the other lords are too busy posturing with their forces on the borders of Gaianaus and Sesserrech,” Roht dismissed the issue.
“The Baron is not in Issia?” Rhalin asked.
“Yes he is,” Roht was quick to clarify, “Just too busy to notice a few guests of mine.”
Just then the side door of the room swung inwards and a woman Vhindr recognised as Captain Idunn moved hurriedly into the chamber.
“Captain?” Roht exclaimed as he stood up in surprise, “I am in the middle of something here.”
“I am sorry it couldn’t wait,” Idunn replied seriously, “Hazeldin has left with the gold.”
“What?” Roht brow furled in anger and confusion, “When? Did no one see anything?”
“I don’t know,” Idunn stammered, “I came to you as soon as I saw the room a mess and empty.”
“What do you mean by a mess?” Roht asked.
“I don’t know, I said I came to you right away,” Idunn replied and Roht ran a hand over his face irritably.
“Alright, I will be with you in a moment.” Roht decided before turning an apologetic expression to Vhindr and his companions, “I am afraid our conversation will have to end here.”
“I will come along too,” Rhalin said as she stood up.
“I find myself curious also,” Vhindr added as he too got to his feet, “If you have no objections?”
“No, please do,” Roht replied and motioned for them to follow, “I will welcome another set of eyes.”
“Wait for me,” Valianna complained as she was quick to follow Vhindr from the room.
Idunn led the way quickly through the castle corridors and to Hazeldin’s rooms where they slowly moved into the lavish suite.
“Regional Commander.” Roht said in surprise as he entered, “I was not expecting to see you here.”
Luiden stood up from the place he was inspecting, a slightly irritated expression on his face.
“I had come to speak with Hazeldin,” Liuden replied with a shrug, “Yet I have only found this.”
Liuden spread his arms out to indicate the cluttered and confused room. Furniture was toppled over, clothes lay about the ground along with decorative ornaments, the bed sheets were ruffled and the doors to the balcony were wide open, letting in the chilled air.
“Have you noticed anything interesting?” Vhindr asked as he moved through the room.
Luiden shrugged slightly and shook his head, “I only just arrived,” he replied, “But likely Hazeldin lowered the chests of gold out the window and to a waiting carriage. Below this room is a secluded alley that leads into the main courtyard right by the gate. It would have been simple to slip away unnoticed.”
“Sound logic,” Vhindr said as he looked out at the balcony.
“Damn him to the Abyss,” Roht spat angrily and kicked a vase on the ground causing it to shatter against the wall.
“Look at this,” Rhalin spoke up as she inspected the mirror.
“What?” Vhindr walked over to Rhalin.
“Smudges that form words,” Rhalin replied and breath onto the glass, her hot breath fogging up the surface a reveal a message.
“’They made me’.” Vhindr read aloud and turned a perplexed look to the others in the room. “Who is he speaking of?”
“The mercenaries he hired to guard the convoy from Chillbreeze,” Idunn said, “It has to be, they betrayed us once before.”
“Yet Hazeldin fled that fight,” Luiden reminded the Captain, “And I doubt the bandit’s reach would extend here to the city. He was protected here, so why leave?”
“Because there is no one making him do anything,” Vhindr stated as if it were obvious, “It is simple misdirection.”
“You can’t know that,” Roht spoke up seriously.
“It is obvious,” Vhindr said and looked to the others.
Roht was scratching his head and looking irritable, both Luiden and Idunn exchanged a shrug and Valianna was staring out the widow with a perplexed expression. The only one who seemed to be following his train of thought was Rhalin who was examining the writing on the mirror more closely.
“Would you care to share you findings?” Idunn spoke up.
“Luiden said it: Hazeldin was safe from the bandits here,” Vhindr explained, “Unless there was a threat within the castle. The money was Roht and Bargarrah’s, so maybe one betrayed the other. But I do not believe that.”
“Well that is encouraging,” Roht quipped sarcastically.
“Hazeldin was safe here,” Vhindr stated again, “The reason why he left is all around us. The disorganised room and the mirror Rhalin is looking at are the most glaring evidence. Why make the mess? There was no hurry. And why is the writing on the mirror so neat? Why did he do it on the mirror instead of quill and parchment? And why, if he was in such a hurry as the disorganised room would suggest, did he bother writing the message at all? The only reasonable conclusion being: he planned this from the beginning, no one is making him steal the gold, he is taking it out of his own greed and making it seem as if he is under duress.”
“I follow what you are saying Vhindr,” Rhalin said with a nod.
“You were coming to the same conclusion, I could tell,” Vhindr replied with a slight smile.
“Alright, so Hazeldin betrayed us, twice,” Idunn stated, “He has taken the gold, so now what?”
“That is up to you lot,” Vhindr replied with shrug, “Go after him, and get your coin back. Or sit here and do nothing, I honestly do not care.”
“Vhindr,” Roht spoke up, “Help Luiden and Idunn track down the mercenaries and Hazeldin, I will pay you, and then they can help you find the assassin.”
Vhindr nearly laughed aloud, “I do not mean to be rude, but no. Hazeldin and the gold is your concern, and although the Regional Commander and Captain Idunn are no doubt valuable assets we can locate the assassin on our own.”
“Fine,” Roht begrudgingly agreed, “Luiden and Idunn will manage on their own I am sure.”
“I don’t believe I work for you Lord Ellengar,” Liuden spoke up with annoyance, “And I would appreciate you not making demands of me, or Captain Idunn for that matter for she works for the Regional Command. But I will help you, for I have a score to settle with Hazeldin and his mercenaries. As for the Captain, she can make her own choice.”
Roht’s lips went tight and he did not reply to Liuden’s prideful statement.
“I also have a score to settle with that man,” Idunn stated seriously.
“Good luck to the two of you,” Vhindr said as he moved for the exit, “And farewell to you both and to you Lord Ellengar.”
“If you wait in the entrance hall I shall send someone to show you to your rooms,” Roht called after Vhindr as he left the suite with his sister close behind.
“Why did you not want to help them?” Valianna asked curiously as they move down through the castle, leaving Rhalin behind.
“It is not my problem,” Vhindr replied, “If I waste my time with helping them the lead on the assassin will grow cold.”
“I guess I understand,” Valianna remarked.
“You cannot help everyone Valianna,” Vhindr explained, “Priorities need to be made. Though I think I would have enjoyed a hunt for some gold.”
Valianna laughed slightly, “True, that would have been exciting. But tell me what is your plan for finding the assassin?”
“First we must talk to this Dun Wolven,” Vhindr replied and gave his sister a sly smile.
“And interrogate him?” Valianna stated more than asked and Vhindr nodded. “And then what, arrest him?”
“No,” Vhindr replied casually, “I will offer a contract to the assassin.”
“You think to lure her out.” Valianna stated and smiled.
“Indeed,” Vhindr smiled back, “I am not sure why father always said you were the slowest of his children. You can be quite bright.”
“What?” Valianna exclaimed and punched her brother in the arm, “Father never said that.”
“Your right. He said thickest.” Vhindr laughed and received another punch from his sister.
They did not have to wait long in the entrance hall among people who had come to see the Baron or one of the lords who frequented the court of Issia, which was quite a few these days with the tension of war hanging heavy in the air. A young serving maid singled Vhindr and his sister out as they talked between themselves and bade them to follow her. Conveniently Vhindr and his sister had been granted the use of modest rooms alongside each other, and after a brief tour of the rooms the maid departed.
“Before you go,” Vhindr called to the red-haired girl before she left his room, “Would you be able to take a message to Rhalin Ragnarr for me?”
“I can see that the message is passed on m’Lord,” the girl nodded.
“Please notify her to meet me at the tavern Undvarr as soon as she may,” Vhindr asked nicely.
“I’ll see what I can do,” the girl replied.
“Thank you, what was your name?”
“Thank you Anaid,” Vhindr smiled.
The girl smiled and curtsied before she left the room and closed the door softly behind her. But she need not have bothered for with a brief glance about the room Vhindr left as well and moved to his sister’s door.
“Valianna?” Vhindr called and knocked loudly, “You coming? Valianna?”
The was the sound of movement in the room before his sister opened the door looking irritable and half out of her traveling gear.
“What?” huffed Valianna, “I was about to have a bath.”
“So you do not want to come with me to the tavern?” Vhindr asked coyly.
“You are going now?” Valianna exclaimed and rushed back into her room, leaving the door open.
“You do not have to come,” Vhindr stated as he followed her inside, “I suspect the assassin is in the city somewhere.”
“No, I am coming,” Valianna replied quickly as she pulled on her boots. “Let’s go.”
Vhindr smiled to himself and led the way from the room and back through the castle. Before they left the courtyard to head into the city Vhindr stopped by the guard at the gate to ask directions to Undvarr. The guard was happy to oblige and pointed him in the right direction.
“I am surprised you do not know where it is,” Valianna remarked as they walked the streets.
“I do not know everything,” Vhindr replied flatly.
“That is obvious,” Valianna smirked and Vhindr narrowed his eyes at his sister.
“What do you mean?” Vhindr pressed curiously.
“What do you mean, what do I mean?” Valianna asked back sweetly.
“Why is it obvious that I do not know everything?” Vhindr inquired, “What are you referring to that I have missed?”
“My dear brother,” Valianna said condescendingly, “You are hopeless with women.”
Vhindr laughed, “I assure you I am not.”
“Maybe not with wooing them,” Valianna explained, “But you do not have a clue when a woman actually fancies you. Remember Lady Farrendish?”
Vhindr smiled, “I do indeed. But what are you talking about? I went to several balls with her and we were quite intimate.”
“Gross, I don’t want to know details,” Valianna was quick to say. “But did you know she had plans to marry you?”
“Don’t talk nonsense.” Vhindr said. “We had a fling, nothing more.”
“Like I said, you know little of woman’s feelings,” Valianna stated confidently.
Vhindr scoffed, “I doubt any man knows the intricacies of a woman’s feelings.”
“You clearly have not listened to the ballads of Rikna Le’sen,” Valianna replied and a dreamy look came to her features.
“I am not about to take advice on woman from a half-bit troubadour,” Vhindr replied seriously.
“He is the greatest poet in Essinendeür,” Valianna exclaimed, “His songs of love are more pure than … than …”
“Than baby puppy’s tears?” Vhindr offered sarcastically and Valianna scowled at him.
“His popularity is greater than I can give credit to in words,” Valianna said and Vhindr scoffed. “I saw him perform at the Marques Gardens in The Port, and he is as handsome as he is talented.”
“Good to know,” Vhindr said his disinterest obvious.
They continued to talk as Vhindr led the way into Gildrof Square in Midtown and they continued by the market stalls to a road on the other side of the plaza. No stalls lined the street here, but it was no less busy and Vhindr spotted the large gold painted sign of Undvarr hanging above an open door.
“It seems Rhalin has beaten us here,” Vhindr remarked as he saw the woman casually leaning against the wall outside the tavern.
“Sightseeing?” Rhalin asked with a smile.
“Decided to join us I see.” Vhindr ignored the jape.
“Can’t get rid of me that easily,” Rhalin replied and motioned for them to follow her into the tavern.
“Do you know who we are looking for?” Vhindr asked as they moved to the long bar opposite the entrance.
“No,” replied Rhalin and shook her head.
Even for this time of day the Undvarr was busy and many patrons were already quite inebriated. A solo performer played a rousing jig on the stage by the fire while a few people danced before the stage and sang along.
“Don’t these people have jobs?” Valianna wondered aloud as the three of them scanned the large room.
Vhindr smirked and turned to the barman who was passing by.
“What’ll it be sir?” the man asked with a jolly tone.
“I am looking for an elf, goes by the name Dun Wolven,” Vhindr inquired and the man raised an eyebrow.
“I’m sure I don’t know who you mean,” the barman scratched his balding head.
“Know someone who might?” Rhalin asked pleasantly.
“Illendr, might help ya,” the man said thoughtfully, “That’s him in the corner. Be careful though, they’re part of The Jester’s crew.”
The barman pointed to a group of snow elves sitting in a booth at the back of the tavern.
“Who’s The Jester?” Valianna asked curiously and the man gave her a look of surprise.
“Why he’s only one of the three Bosses who run these streets,” the barman replied seriously, “A snow elf he is too, has all them Elder Races in the city workin’ for him.”
“Thank you,” Vhindr said to the man and handed him a few gold coins.
Leading the way Vhindr moved through the tables and to the booth where several snow elves laughed and drank.
“What do you want Scōrd?” Illendr asked as Vhindr stopped before their table, causing the other elves to laugh.
“That is not very polite,” Vhindr replied evenly, stopping the laughs, “I am looking for Dun Wolven. I heard you could help me.”
“What would someone like you want with The Wolf?” one of the female elves asked suspiciously.
“Same reason anyone else would.” Replied Vhindr and dropped a bag of coins on the table. “Which one of you is Dun Wolven?”
The elves all glanced to each other cautiously as Illendr regarded Vhindr very closely.
“Dun Wolven is not here,” Illendr said and grabbed the coins, “If you wished to see him you have to meet outside the city.”
“Where and when?” Vhindr was quick to ask, and a sly smile came to Illendr’s face.
“Eager aren’t you scōrd,” Illendr said and brushed a strand of blue-white hair from his face.
“Call me scum one more time and I will take back me coin and force you to take me to The Wolf,” Vhindr said seriously as he lent forward on the table.
“You are very brave, and foolish, to be making threats,” growled another of the elves.
“But he also shows his intelligence,” Illendr smiled and eased the other elf, “Meet me at the back of the White Goose distillery before you get to Feord, out the southeast gate this evening. And come alone.”
Vhindr narrowed his eyes at the elf as he and his party moved from the booth and headed out of the tavern.
“That went fairly well,” Rhalin remarked as Vhindr back from the table.
“I didn’t like him,” Valianna added, “So rude calling you scōrd.”
“Remnants of the Dun Kār indeed,” Vhindr remarked thoughtfully, “Come on let us head to this distillery. Do you know of it Rhalin?”
“Of course,” she replied, “They produce the best vodka in all Essinendeür, though it is owned by The Grandfather, who is the head of the three Bosses of Issia. Do you really mean to meet him by yourself?”
“Of course,” Vhindr said with a sly smile and led the way out of the tavern.