Jasson stood to introduce them and helped Elena stand. "This is my Godsfather, Baron George Cooper of Pirate's Swoop."
"A pleasure to meet you," Elena murmured, her hands automatically reaching for the skirt she was not wearing so she could curtsy. Blushing slightly in embarrassment, she gave a small bow instead and met the tall man's amused hazel eyes.
"No need for any of that, darlin'," he said with a wink and a moment later his face turned more serious. "We need to have a chat about some things, if you feel up it of course?"
She shot Jasson a nervous look. Why was a noble interested in her? She nodded reluctantly and let the Baron lead her away from her companion.
"There's no need to be nervous," he told her kindly as they walked down a high ceilinged corridor together. The walls were smooth and constructed of a pale stone with simple flowing designs carved into the masonry.
Elena nodded, reassured slightly. "I'm sorry; you're the first noble I've met."
Baron George looked at her strangely for a moment before smothering a smile. "I see." He turned his head and coughed, leaving Elena with the distinct feeling he was trying not to laugh. "Well I'm common-born," he informed her, grinning at her surprised expression. "Ah here we are," he opened a door and ushered her inside.
The room was cramped but cosy, scrolls and maps littered every surface and a fire burned warmly in a sooty hearth.
"This is Raoul an' Alanna, Elena."
Seated amongst the sheaves of papers were a man and a woman. Even though she was sitting, Elena could tell the red-haired woman was rather short. Her amethyst eyes glittered in the firelight. On the woman's right sat a man with hair as dark as Jasson's, but his eyes were black. A giant of a man, he stood as they entered the room. His large, callused hand encased hers and he shook it firmly.
Intimidated by the giant, Elena drew back and moved to shake hands with the woman, finding, to her surprise, her hands were also callused.
"Please, sit," the woman, Alanna, said brusquely.
Elena perched unsurely on a stool provided by the baron. "What's going on?" she asked nervously.
"We just want to ask you a few questions," the giant man said reassuringly as he sat back down.
"All right," agreed Elena. "Though I'm not sure if I'll know the answers..." Her hands clenched into fists in annoyance at the vital piece missing from her.
"Do the best you can," the hazel-eyed baron said with a smile.
"Where are you from?" The giant named Raoul asked. From the corner of her eye she could see Alanna shifting impatiently.
Elena sighed in frustration. "I've been told my accent is Gallan, so Galla I think."
"How did you get your injuries?" Alanna asked, moving on.
"I don't know," she frowned. "Injuries - plural? I was told I knocked my head."
"You had a wound in your side as well," Alanna disclosed. "You truly remember nothing?"
Elena shook her head. "No," she said miserably. She saw the baron nod to the others out of the corner of her eye and some tension Elena had not previously noticed left the room.
The violet-eyed woman drew something blue from a canvas sack by her feet. From what Elena could tell the fabric was very finely made. "Do you recognise this?" she asked.
Elena shook her head, gasping when Alanna let it unfold. What had once been a fine gown was ruined by a dark stain of dried blood and for a moment the room blurred and disappeared.
She didn't see the dress anymore, but a thick smothering darkness and she felt a hot, searing pain in her side and heard the screams of men, women and children.
"Elena!" said a gruff voice, shaking her out of the horrible place. She blinked and found dark eyes staring into her face worriedly. Suddenly, Raoul seemed a lot less frightening.
She heard an impatient noise and saw Alanna had tucked the dress away again. "Stop coddling her, Raoul," she said irritably, turning her intense violet gaze on Elena fully. "You've remembered something, what?"
Still desperate to shy away from the memory she murmured, "People screaming."
"Who?" Alanna pressed.
Elena glanced around the room in appeal; she didn't want to know who was screaming. The brief glimpse of memory she had experienced had left her trembling. Pressing her palms to her eyes, she pretended to try to remember for a long moment, before faking a sigh of frustration and looking up at her three questioners. "I don't know."
There was another nod from Baron George and they seemed to accept her word, though she could see Alanna already had several more questions lined up. The hazel-eyed man put a hand on the redhead's shoulder and gave her a look Elena could not quite make out.
Turning back to her, he said, "Here's what we know about you, Elena: your name from your locket, and also a rough age for you. An examination of your saddle showed a stamp from the small Gallan fief of Drustva, so we're guessin' that's where you hail from. Your horse is a fine mount so one would believe you stole it…"
Elena's hands tightened into fists at the accusation.
"But," he added hastily, "our Wildmage says it isn't the case, which makes sense with your clothing, when you were found. I reckon you were part of the lord's family."
Elena blinked, she could be a noble? That surprised her. She tried to process all the new information about her life, reaching into the void where she knew her memories lingered just out of her reach. Drustva. It seemed familiar, like a heavy weight in her chest, but she couldn't remember why. "So I could ride to Drustva? My family is there?"
It was Raoul who spoke next, shaking his head. "Drustva, along with many other fiefs its size, were abandoned by the nobility when the King's cousin began ruling in all but name and started executing them."
"Why was he executing them?" asked Elena, bewildered.
Baron George shook his head. "All traitors plottin' to kill the King and his children, or so he said."
Alanna shrugged and chipped in. "There's madness in that family. The King was found holding a full council with a clearing of trees once."
Something pricked Elena's memory, but the images still eluded her. Confusion was her overriding emotion of the moment.
Raoul seemed to take pity on her. "We can send out quiet enquiries to find the Lord of Drustva, but it's unlikely we'll find them in all this confusion, I'm afraid. Your family could have fled anywhere. You weren't far from the border of Maren when you were found."
"I understand," Elena said numbly, wondering if she would ever see her family again. For a brief moment she saw a flash of a little boy with wispy brown hair staring up at her solemnly before the memory was washed away by the emptiness she knew held the rest of her memories captive.
George stood and walked over to the window. "Well, I think it's time for bed. I'm sure you need your sleep, Elena."
She sighed in reply. "I think I've done enough sleeping to last me a while."
Alanna smiled at her for the first time. "You need some proper sleep in you still, healer's orders," she said firmly.
Accepting Raoul's arm, Elena let him escort her back to the healing ward, her first impressions of him being a terrifying giant completely gone.
At the door closed Alanna turned to her husband, "Well, what do you think?"
George leaned against the wall with his arms crossed thoughtfully. "I'm almost certain she's not a spy, but she was holding something back. I could see that even without my Sight."
The Lioness nodded, agreeing with his assessment. "I think she remembered more than she wanted to speak about when she saw that dress."
The spymaster rubbed his face wearily. "I was hoping to get something from her. My birdie in the palace has been most quiet of late."
Alanna stood and stretched tiredly. "I've been hunting hurroks for the past two weeks. I could do with some sleep on a bed for once."
George wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a kiss. "Mayhap I could distract you from that for a while," he replied huskily, lifting his eyebrow suggestively.
Alanna smiled and allowed herself to be dragged from the room.