Chapter 6-The Best-laid Plans
I was awoken from a fitful sleep by a soft blue light and an urgent humming. Drat these summons-stones.
I pulled myself up from the cot, and realized by the candle at the other end of the tent that even though it was nearly second red-change I had barely slept at all. I grabbed the summons-stone impatiently tapping it.
Nessaren's face appeared in the eerie blue light. "Sir I delivered the letter to the Countess as you bid me to-" she stopped unsure of what to say next, very unlike her.
"And?" I prompted
"Well to put it plainly sir, she's shut herself in the room and won't come out. We hear her muttering things and well she's been weeping for hours Sir, and I don't know what to do. Whatever was in that letter really upset her."
My stomach flopped and hands began to shake as I tried to control my response.
"Have you asked her what she wants to do?"
"I think it might just be best to take her back to the palace sir, mayhap her brother can calm her." Nessaren said logically. There was shouting behind her and Nessaren turned around briefly then looked back at me, "My Lord I must go, the Countess has escaped us." Then the stone went out.
I cursed violently, and kicked the nearest piece of furniture, a large chest with thick iron braces, all I succeeded in doing was hurting my foot and bringing in my nervous equerry,
"My Lord?" he asked puzzled
"Just go!" I hissed, and he scampered out. I threw on my britches and blackweave boots and stormed into the next tent. I was greeted with a rather groggy Captain Thaddeus, my old swordmaster from boyhood in Rensalaeus and my second-in-command. His equerry was stumbling into the tent with a lantern. "I have been called out on urgent business up north, I trust you can handle the interviews and mercenaries? I shall send for the Duke to assist." I continued, and the greybeard nodded solemnly. I whirled on the equerry, "Get my horse ready, and then get you to palace and drag my cousin the Duke of Savona out here to run things." I hissed.
Why Meliara? The countryside is not safe. She had once again destroyed my plans.
Within minutes I had assembled my necessities and mounted Captain Thaddeus's horse, he placed a hand on his horses's neck to stop me, "Sir whatever your errand remember the only areas we definitively control are this camp and the palace with your parents. Be careful!" then he turned away.
I galloped off towards Orbanith as the sky turned pink trying to formulate yet another plan to counter the headstrong countess while we tore across the countryside at breakneck speed.
By the last green Thaddeus's horse was done and I stopped at an inn for some food and to try to contact Nessaren.
My rider captain had nothing definitive to say except that Meliara hd evaded their riders but seemed to be headed towards Tlanth from descriptions of people along the way. However, a small anonymous rider is hard to distinguish from another, and as Nessaren aptly put it, it was quite as possible that she had gone straight to the palace as well.
I told her to head south towards Remalna-City and that I would send another riding closer to Tlanth to intercept her if she was indeed headed that way. I did not kid myself though, she had run to Tlanth once before and she would do it again. So, despite Meliara having had well over a day's headstart I continued through the pelting rain chasing her trail again. Funny how history seems to love to repeat itself over and over again.
I ran that horse and another into the ground before my military training began to waiver and my fatigue threatened to take over. Still I pressed on, praying that my lower path would be smoother than her northerly one and allow me to eventually catch her.
Two more days dragged by before my faithful horse cantered up the hastily-lowered drawbridge of Vesingrui, I stumbled as I dismounted, but out of pure shock not a single guard approached me. Whether their shock derived from my obvious fatigue or my presence I do not know. I leaned against a wall to support myself as the fort's Lieutenant of the Guard came rushing over, he saluted quickly and in a rush of breath asked, "What may I do for you Sir?"
My vision was swimming, nearly three and a half days in the saddle with little food and no rest, I ran four horses ragged. I summoned up what little strength I had left as I panted, "I need water and a new horse…" I closed my eyes and I saw stars, before forcing them open again, I vaguely registered the dark sky, it might snow this far north at this time of year, "Have you see any lone riders? Small riders?" I nearly choked out.
I saw a healer in a brown robe hurrying towards me.
The Lieutenant responded, "Sir, our scouts reported the Countess of Tlanth rode through the woods early this morning, but since she was not on the restricted travel list we let her through. Did I do something amiss?" he blanched
"No," I said grasping the water glass proffered to me by the healer. Mistress Kylar then turned to the Lieutenant, "Do not upset the Marquis, he is tired and ill," she hissed.
"I must get to Erkian-Astair." I murmured draining the glass.
Mistress Kylar protested rather loudly as a young stablehand brought a new steed. "My Lord! You cannot ride out before a storm!" The buzzing in my ears agreed with her, but my willpower did not. I thanked every god I knew existed that my parents sent me to Marloven, I would not have been able to support this physical exertion otherwise.
Even so I swayed in the saddle, Mistress Kylar was clearly agitated, "My lord if you must go, at least eat something first!" she thrust traveler's bread wrapped in listerblossom leaves to me. This was a double-boon, traveler's bread was more filling than most, and the listerblossom leaves would help stave off the fever I felt coming on from my relentless travel.
I nodded thanks in her direction and kicked my horse and off we flew into the mountains. Thankfully the castle was not more than a long day's ride from here, I would get there by late evening.
At what should have been one of the later green hours the wind picked up to a ferocious level and the snow followed an hour later. I cursed Meliara's thin cape. Thankfully even in the storm, which was shaping up to be a pretty good one, the horse knew where to go even if I was having trouble seeing.
For the life of me I could not tell you if it was due to exhaustion or the snow gusts that I couldn't see straight, and at that point it was all I could do to stay on the horse, the effects of the listerblossom leaves had long since worn off.
I think I finally fell asleep despite the whirling winds, and then I heard some faint shouts in the distance, something looked like a light in the distance.
My horse carried me on up the winding path. At this point I could distinguish the loud drawbridge coming down. Astonished shouts from the guards preceded me. I couldn't make out what they were saying though. My head was swimming and I was frozen in my saddle.
The horse plodded across and into the castle, the hooves sounded too loud on my ears. Then he stopped. There was a rustling on the stairs and feet hammered down the stone steps. I concentrated on putting one leg over the horse's head slowly to dismount. I came so close to falling off, my hands were not reacting as quickly as I wanted them too It was a great force of will I unclamped them from the reins and finally dismounted.
The buzzing like a swarm of hornets intensified as someone caught me and prevented me from falling unceremoniously on the cobblestones.
My weight forced them backwards though, and I heard a voice I never thought I'd hear again, "Life Shevraeth! You are near dead, what brought you here?"
I smiled barely able to focus on her face, "My riders seemed to have misplaced you." I murmured.
Then the black consumed me.
A/N: Sorry about lack of updates work has been a beast, but being home with the flu does have some benefits :)