Gabriel entered his Emperor’s library with a formal salute. Marus looked up at the soldier from the pages of a fascinating book. It purported to be the chronicled tales of a woman who was also a cat. If he read between the lines a bit it also raised all sorts of questions about his sister, who knew how to wolf howl. Once the door was closed and they were secure, Marus set the book aside, marking his place. “What news from Castellan?”
“Lady Dauris still has not declared herself. She seems content to allow the world to believe that you have placed her in seclusion. Following the unpleasantness at the Fall Festival she has spent more of her time in the Palace. She has demonstrated exceptional weapons skill in training alongside the trainees and squires of the Order. There is even quiet talk of knighting her.”
Marus smiled. “I never did let her join Illian in further training with our guard. Are we in a position to influence those whispers?”
“Not at the moment. Something of importance has emerged. Lady Dauris was attacked this morning.”
Marus sat up, his face bloodless white. “What happened?”
“Information is sketchy. I am getting it second and third hand because we do not have an agent directly in the Order. I believe that the events played out like this. The Castellan man who came to Pallantia seeking information on the last day that your sister was seen,” Marus nodded, remember the situation, “returned to Castellan and went to the Palace, seeking my brother. He did not return to Castellan alone. Accompanying him was a Pirate, as best as I can ascertain it was the same one who flew off with Doctor Revier’s prize vessel the night Lady Dauris departed. I believe that Lady Dauris was with my brother when his contact returned to him, the Pirate in tow. I know for certain that shortly after they went into the Palace, your sister and the Pirate reappeared on the street and went directly to the shop of the dwarf, Kodran. I am told that she looked nervous going to the shop and even more nervous coming out of it, and that she carried an unusual walking stick.”
Marus blinked. “Hmm, it is entirely possible that she was going to tell your brother that she is his Princess.”
Gabriel nodded. “That is what I surmise as well, Excellency. This is where matters become complicated. As near as my contacts can inform me at almost the time your sister left Kodran’s shop and started back to the Palace, my brother and Prince Kian ran from the Palace grounds towards her. She was almost halfway back to the Palace when she came under attack from a group of squires of the Order and a gang of footpads they had recruited.”
Marus clenched a fist so tightly that his hand shook. “They were informed of the intended attack, weren’t they?” He met Gabriel’s gaze. “Your brother and my cousin ran to her rescue before she even needed them.”
Gabriel nodded. “That is my belief. My brother and the Prince arrived at her side quickly, but not before your sister and her Pirate guard were overcome by the squires and footpads. I have not been able to get a good description of what took place in that alleyway, but I know for certain that there were bodies taken away, including that of the ringleader, and that your sister is credited with the kills.”
Marus covered his face with his hands. “So she has killed in defense of herself and this Pirate. Find out what happened, if you can. I must know everything. What of the ones who survived?”
“They have been taken into custody by the guards, down to the last man. The dwarf, Kodran, personally assisted in the search as did the least streetling child once the news traveled that their mother-adoptive had been attacked. More walking-sticks like the one Lady Dauris was carrying have begun to appear on the street, in streetling hands, though none of them seem to be as unusual as hers.”
“I am uncertain, Excellency, I am still seeking that information. Lady Dauris was kept for a time in the bower of your cousin, Lady Keara, and then she remained under the guard of my brother while her attackers were gathered up. She has not left the Palace since then.”
“So my sister is a guest of the Palace now?”
“Yes, my Emperor, in the hall with the other members of the Order. She has a private chamber.”
Marus sat up at that, his face pale again. “They’re leaving her alone? After what happened? After the shock she has taken? After she has killed? They’re leaving her in a room by herself?”
“My Emperor?” Gabriel was confused.
Marus stood and began to pace. “They wouldn’t know, and my little sister is too proud to tell them… They should not leave her alone right now.” He turned to Gabriel, a pained expression on his face. “I hope for all our sakes that your brother is exactly the man you have described. She will need him very much.”
Gabriel sighed. “There is more, my Emperor, and I am uncertain how to tell you.” He paused slightly. “There are indications that she was attacked at the request of Lukan, and that he aided the attack on the condition that your sister would subsequently be turned over to him.”
Marus became completely still in overriding fury. “Find out. Now.”
Gabriel nodded and excused himself from the library, leaving Marus to his thoughts and fears and anger.
— — —
Bastion arrived back in his rooms to find that he had a visitor waiting for him. A dark-haired woman wearing a soft lounging robe sat in a chair beside the table, and she had a bottle of wine with a pair of glasses with her. “Guenna,” he said, trying to smile, “it’s been quite a while.”
Guenna nodded. She was also a captain in the Order and she had been on an extended mission in another land for several months. In point of fact, she had left on her mission shortly after Riva had arrived in Castellan. “I know,” she said, standing and bringing him a glass of wine, “Is this a bad time? I heard about the excitement lately.”
He took the glass gratefully. “I could use the distraction.”
She lifted an eyebrow in curiosity. “So I am a distraction, now?”
He sighed. He didn’t want a fight with anyone right now, least of all Guenna. “You are now and have always been a dear friend, and you know it. How was Reis-Bohnen?”
It was her turn to sigh. “Nervous. The attack on the Imperial Princess,” Bastion felt his heart leap at her words, remembering the earlier events, and then settled as he realized that she spoke of the Emperor’s proclamation, “has the anti-Imperial groups in an uproar. Some are claiming sympathy for the attackers. Others are denouncing assassination in favor of kidnapping Lady Dauris because of the Empress’ Castellan dreams.”
“How bad is it?”
Guenna shrugged. “Bad enough. The priests are starting to speak out… against Emperor Marus.” She watched his expression carefully. “But no one in Reis-Bohnen has many kind things to say about the Empire since the old Emperor’s invasion. Even the king said that he believed Lady Dauris was not in Pallantia or her brother would have produced her by now and that if he found her hiding in his lands that he would shelter her in his own household.”
Bastion groaned. “He’s going to provoke Emperor Marus into attacking him and it will pull Castellan down with him.” The two nations were long-time allies since before the time of Lord Gryphon and Lady Zaira. No few alliance marriages over the centuries meant that the occasional Castellan dreamer appeared in the Reis-Bohnen royal line. It was even possible that some royal cousin in Reis-Bohnen had dreamed the truth.
Guenna took the empty glass of wine away from Bastion and set it aside. “Enough politics, my friend. It has been a long time and we are both in need of some relief.”
For a bare moment Bastion struggled with his conscience. He loved Riva, or at least thought he could, but she was promised to another and he had no right to her. Guenna was an old friend and they had often comforted each other. Guenna was here now. He sighed in surrender and reached out to Guenna. She needed him as much as he needed her, or she would not have been waiting for him.
— — —
Annie was worried. It was the time of darkness, the time when her momma should be sleeping. But her momma did not sleep. She burrowed properly, Annie had to give her credit for that much, but she did not curl and sleep. She trembled and shivered, and watched the room with wide eyes that did not close. This was not good. Annie knew that much.
She nudged her hand with a concerned whine. Her skin was cool, and her hand trembled as she tried to pet her. She cooed at her, but her voice wavered. Annie had had enough. Her momma needed help, and if anyone was going to bring it, then she would have to fetch help herself. Annie wormed her way out from the burrow after a parting nuzzle to her momma. She would return, she silently promised, she would fetch help.
She made her way to the hallway. The closed door was something she had gotten past before. Once outside the room, Annie sniffed the air and then the floor, looking for one scent in particular. She found it and followed it carefully to the source. This way, this way, turn here, this way, turn there, fetch help, fetch help.
Bastion was pulled from a very pleasant dream by the sensation of a long, wet tongue running across his face accompanied by a cold, wet nose and a whining sound in his ear. He blinked his eyes open and found himself eyes to worried eyes with a whimpering Annie. He blinked several more times to be certain that he wasn’t still dreaming. “Annie? What are you doing here?” He glanced at the door, which was still closed and locked. How in Heaven’s name had the dog gotten into his room?
His movement woke Guenna where she had fallen asleep beside him. “Bastion? What’s going on?”
“It’s Annie, Riva’s pet dog. She warned me that she tended to ignore locks, but she’s never proven the ability before.”
Annie whined louder at the mention of Riva’s name and pawed at the blankets, seeming to try to dig through them to get to him. Bastion sighed and sat up. At the movement the dog started walking across the bed, towards the door and then back to her, and then back towards the door where he paused and looked back at Bastion.
Bastion sighed in defeat. “I think she wants me to follow her, Guenna. Something must be going on with Riva.” He reached for his breeches.
Guenna sat up and began to reach for her clothing as well. “Who is Riva and why would her dog be coming to you for help?”
Bastion wondered how to explain the situation and decided for simplicity. “Do you remember all the excitement earlier?” Guenna nodded. “Riva’s the streetling girl who was attacked. She’s… she’s a friend of mine.”
Guenna looked curious again. “A friend? Like me?”
“Yes, a friend, and no, not like you. The King is going to see to her being inducted into the Order.” He looked at Guenna, who stood beside him and finished getting dressed quickly. “Are you going back to your rooms?”
Guenna shook her head. “No, I thought I would go with you, so that there was no misunderstanding your showing up at an underage girl’s room in the dead of night.”
Bastion didn’t know how to tell her that the only one whose opinion mattered to him would understand very well what he was doing and why. The King would only be upset if he didn’t go to Riva if she needed him. “I appreciate it, Guenna.”
She smiled. “You’re welcome.”
He turned to the dog and opened the door. “Lead on, Annie.”