Finish, wahah! Finally!
Hope you had fun! ;-)
Marcus went out to check on Her Majesty, as soon as he dismounted and left his horse to the servants. Kestral looked at him from the stables door frame when he was leaving. She turned around and looked at the other Knight. Hakim was taking care of his horse himself. The former bandit observed him quietly. Now he turned to her, stopping to do his thing for a moment. Their eyes met. For that brief second Kestral could again read what was the Southerner really thinking. And oddly enough, she saw concern. Or maybe she was just exhausted?
Hakim sighed and called in the servants, ordering them to finish taking care of his mount.
"You should get some sleep, Kestral" he said, approaching her.
She just shrugged.
"After that, I don't think I'll be able to sleep" she murmured.
"That is no surprise" the Southerner replied. "What will you do then?"
"I don't know. I really don't. But I'm not going to sleep."
"Wine?" he looked at her.
"It just might work" Kestral frowned.
She started heading for the kitchen, but Hakim stopped her.
"The best wine is not in the kitchen" he smiled faintly.
"Thief" she murmured also smiling.
"Hypocrite" he returned the doubtful compliment.
"I wonder if Her Majesty knows, that all her Knights steal wine from the kitchen and store it in different places."
"The Queen knows frankly everything about this castle" he said and headed for his apartments.
She has never been to his rooms before – now she had a moment to look around. Neat and economic, that would be the words to describe what she saw. No piece of furniture was unnecessary. There were hardly no decorations – except maybe for a Southern Land map hanging on the wall. It was not a normal one – Kestral couldn't exactly make it out, but something told her, that it showed the history of that land. Hakim's study consisted of a table with two chairs and a shelf with books, scrolls, maps and different measuring instruments. The young woman couldn't see his bedroom, but she figured out, it would look almost the same.
Hakim came back with a bottle of wine and two cups. He filled both of them, and gave one to her.
"To the Knights of Vestholm" he raised his cup.
"To the Knights of Vestholm" she repeated, and drunk the wine.
She put her cup back on the table, probably not noticing that Hakim didn't drink anything out of his. Maybe she was just too tired.
The female Knight took out the two lockets she claimed today.
"You should not try to figure them out now, Kestral" the Southerner warned.
"No, it's not that" she replied. "Hakim... I want you to have one of those. I know it sounds ridiculous, but in case of anything..." Kestral lifted one of the medallions and put it on the Knight's open hand. He clutched it.
"I will keep it safe" he said. "Promise."
Kestral felt her head tilting. From that point everything was blurry.
She didn't remember falling asleep.
The sun rays she felt on her skin woke her up.
Kestral slowly opened her eyes, just to find out that she is back in her own bedroom. The sun was shining right through the open window, covering all the evidence of yesterday's storm.
Suddenly, a thought came across her head. What was she doing in her own bed?
The memories from the previous night came to her slowly, getting into the right order. The ball. The Raiders.
Kestral cursed bluntly. He slipped her a sleeping powder or something. On purpose.
She cursed again and stood up. She realised, that she was not in the clothes she remembered.
The female Knight rushed of her rooms to the kitchen. She burst the door open with so much passion, that Marcus – who was sitting by the table – jumped on his chair.
"WHERE IS HE?" she shouted.
Marcus shook his head with resignation.
"Where do you think?" he replied quietly.
The Vestholm City harbour was quiet that morning, and quiet was what Hakim needed most. He took one of the military ships earlier and commanded the full preparation for setting off.
Kassandra and Iulius had already been escorted to the ship. Everything was ready.
Hakim paced out of the harbour main storehouse, walked around the corner and turned to the vessel.
"Tell me" he heard the voice from behind. "Do you always leave without saying goodbye?"
He turned slowly, just to see Hawker's biggest smile.
"I am sorry, Kestral" Marcus murmured. "He's not exactly the person I would argue with."
"I WOULD ARGUE! HE... HE GAVE ME A SLEEPING POWDER!" the woman screamed.
"Yeah, he told me" the young Knight replied.
"You met him before you left?" Kestral took a deep breath and sat down.
"Hakim left early in the morning to escort both Kassandra and Iulius to the prison back in the South."
"Why didn't he even tell me?" the female Knight's anger changed into a kind of frustration.
"He didn't tell anyone, except me. Thordal doesn't know yet. And I don't know how to tell the Queen" Marcus replied.
"Great" Kestral punched her own hand. "Way to go, Wise Boy! First he makes me sleep, the he just leaves without a word..."
"Kestral" the Knight interrupted her. "Hakim hardly ever says goodbye. At least that was my first time to hear it" he shrugged.
The former bandit looked at him.
"And I don't think he gave you that powder just so the could leave before you wake up" he added. "Did it ever cross your mind, that he might have been worried?"
Hakim did not bother to ask where did Hawker came from. It was pointless for some reason.
"The less people know I am leaving, the better" he said. "And what concerns me most, how did you know about my early departure?"
"I know a lot of things" the bandit replied. "So. Did you give my sister that mystic sleeping dust?"
The Knight nodded.
"I imagine she will scold me for that, when she sees me."
Hawker smiled wider.
"Ah, what a noble man you are, you probably didn't bother to mention that it was my idea?"
"No" this time Hakim shook his head.
"Then you've granted yourself the honour of being yelled at, mate. And there I thought I could share the pleasure with you" Milo replied cheerfully. "Anyway, why leave so early? You certainly didn't run away from my sister's anger, and if you did, then you're just misinformed or stupid. She does not forget easily."
"She does not. And I am aware of that."
"Good" Hawker smiled once again. "So why take an oversea trip so early?"
The Bandit's gaze met the Southerner's brown eyes. Like his sister, Hawker could read emotions from them.
"Ah. So you are running away from my sister after all."
"No. It is not like that" Hakim turned his eyes to the ship quickly. "These prisoners have to be escorted far away from here, the sooner the better. And I have to check if there is no Southern Flu pandemic in Janub. It is killing two birds with one stone."
Hawker's face was showing clearly that he was not even close to convinced. He knew better, that the Knight said to be lacking any emotion right now just couldn't handle them.
"Well, whatever" he said. "Maybe it's better that you take your time at this matter, you know. Because if you hurt her, I'm here in a blink of an eye" the Bandit's expression became serious. "Though you don't look like that kind of person, one can never be sure."
"I know about that as well" Hakim replied, but his thoughts were far away.
"All right, so we are clear about that. And Hakim-"
The Knight again looked at the Assassin.
"-there are my people among the crew. Just to make sure everything goes according to the schedule."
The Southerner frowned.
"And there I thought you would accompany me yourself."
"No" the Bandit shook his head. "I still have someone to catch on this side of the sea. But in any case, if something goes wrong, I'll be the first one to know" Hawker smiled, climbing on this horse.
"I know" the Knight replied. "I was counting on that."
The Bandit chuckled and pushed the horse into gallop.
Kestral looked at the cup full of tea, that some servant put in front of her.
"Great. Just great. He couldn't just tell me to go and get some sleep."
"Like you would listen?"
She eyed him with a bit of irony on her face.
"Correct again, dear. What is with you and being right today?"
He just shrugged in reply.
"I'm trying to be reasonable."
"Good job. At least you are" she paused for a moment. "Marcus...?"
He looked at her with a question written on his face.
"Thanks" she said slowly. "For everything. I know the plan looked ridiculous, and even Hakim doubted that it was gonna work, and there were a lot of blank spaces and... I know that sometimes I'm just hard to get, for obvious moral reasons. But the hell, I want you to know, that I would never put you or anybody else around here in any danger. No matter how unconvincing this sounds."
"Kes, I know you wouldn't. And I'm totally sorry that it took me so long to understand" Marcus replied. "You sometimes do the wrong things for the right reasons, but it proves effective, unlike some of my methods."
The female Knight smiled in return.
The door opened letting Thordal inside. He waved his hand dismissively when Marcus wanted to say something.
"I know, he's gone! The whole Castle is gossiping about it. Morning Kestie, how are you feeling?
"Way better than yesterday, I can tell you that" she said, standing up. "I'll be in my room if anyone needs me."
She headed to her rooms. Opening the door she saw something odd on her bedroom floor.
I must have omitted it when I was leaving she thought.
A parcel with a big blue ribbon was there, right in front of her. There was a letter attached to it.
Quickly, she broke the seal and started reading. From the very beginning she recognised that neat, ordered handwriting.
I imagine you are still upset about what I did yesterday, but you have to understand that my intentions were right. You would not go to bed yourself, so I took it as duty to make sure that you did.
Duty or not, I am not fond of that, and so I sincerely apologise. And it was not the reason I left so early."
Cold and dry, as always, Kestral thought.
But that was not the end.
"The parcel is a small gift for you. For all the pain you had to experience because of politics and diplomacy. And – however inappropriate and ridiculous it may sound to you – I hope you will soon forget all the things I have taught you. It was not the Kestral I know.
I hope you will like what is inside that box. You said you wanted to do this."
There was no signature, but Kestral did not need it.
She pulled the ribbons, opened the box and almost choked from laughing.
Inside, put in the silken coating lied a pair of high heels. And right next to it, a hammer.
Not being able to stop laughing, she took one shoe, put it on the floor, and raised the tool.