Patrick leans back into his chair, smiling widely. He seems in a great mood, and so does Buton. That’s good for me, they’re still confident. I need to reinforce my promise of support on Telnur’s behalf because it would be odd if I didn’t try to secure ties.
“It is quite amusing that in a few days, I’ve gathered enough political influence to impose myself as the Heir to the Thrin family whether my father agrees or not, Lady Elizabeth.” Patrick says laughing.
“It should never have been in doubt.” I reply politely.
“Yet, it occurs soon after I lose my interest in the title. How amusingly ironic.” He notes with a small smile.
“Indeed, my Lord.” Buton laughs loudly.
“Your destiny always laid beyond the title of Count, Lord Patrick, it simply took time to reveal itself, as such things do.” I bullshit.
“Truth itself.” Patrick laughs exuberantly.
“Telnur is glad to have such a reliable ally, Lord Patrick. Would you agree to meet with us in a couple of days?” I ask directly.
Patrick raises an eyebrow, bringing his hand up to his chin. Making a show of thinking it through.
“Maybe next week.” He shakes his head. “We have plans in motion that require my full attention.”
He doesn’t intend to work with my fake faction at all. I lean forward in my chair, acting like his answer is dissatisfying.
“Lord Patrick, you should be able to find the time to meet us. If only to ensure that our movements do not go at cross purpose.” I say with a tense voice. “Perhaps Lord Buton can represent your interests.”
“I apologize, Lady Elizabeth, but my duty is to remain at my Lord’s side.” Buton declines.
“There is no need to rush things along.” Patrick says with a calm tone.
I get off my chair, slowly standing up and placing my hands flat on the desk. I look down at the Lordling, playing my part as a brute trying to pressure him.
“Lord Patrick, we are invested in this endeavor. It would disappoint us greatly if a misunderstanding sapped both of our positions.” I utter coldly.
“Perhaps I can speak to Baron Kruger tonight, he has my trust.” He replies casually. “Would that be enough, Lady Elizabeth?”
“That suffice to establish a first contact.” I relent, sitting back down.
“Then that’s settled.” Patrick takes a small bell out of a drawer to ring it lightly.
A few tens of seconds later, Sacit enters the room with a silver platter in her hands. The black butler outfit she’s wearing lacks even a single out of place crease, she must’ve taken care to look perfect before walking in. She steps carefully, setting one foot in front of the other, the flat soles of her shoes clattering against the floorboards at a calculated pace.
The two Lords watch silently as she slowly sets three porcelain saucers and cups on the desk, she lastly deposits three small spoons. Sacit then takes hold of the fuming pot and starts pouring tea.
Her movements are precise but rigid and somewhat unnatural looking. She is paying too much attention to the details, her gestures don’t appear fluid at all.
“Are you feeling alright, Miss Sacit?” Button asks, his eyebrows close together. “You seem a little sick.”
Her hands shake. Shit. She pulls the pot back but not in time to avoid an accident as a drop of tea falls on the desk. I discreetly move my hand on my armrest, bringing it closer to my hammer.
“I feel fine, Lord Baton. I mean Lord Buton.” Sacit stutters, her face is pale and even her hands are turning white.
“Get it together, Sacit.” Patrick snaps sharply.
She bows again and quickly wipes the spill with a handkerchief. She resumes pouring, trembling but still managing. The Lordling is observing her closely, his eyes narrowing. His right hand is opening and closing, nervously.
He suspects something. Patrick suddenly stands up. His hand flashing forth to seize Sacit’s chin, forcefully turning her head to make her look up to him, making her spill tea all over the cup and saucer.
“I am rising in the world, in importance. I cannot have an incompetent butler dragging me down in front of my guests.” He utters in a venomous tone.
“I apologize, Lord Patrick. I’ll do better.” She replies fearfully.
“Lord Patrick, it was a simple mistake. She must be unwell.” Buton intervenes, touching his tunic’s collar and loosening it slightly. “A light punishment should be sufficient, if you allow me…”
I grit my teeth, barely managing to stop myself from seizing my hammer. I can’t kill them both now. I need at least one of them alive and unaware to gather the rebels. Don’t force my hand.
“We have a busy day ahead and no time to deal with a servant, Lord Buton.” Patrick sighs. “Stand aside for now, Sacit.” He adds magnanimously, casually waving her away.
She bows a third time, moving to a corner of the office. She is standing straight but on unsteady legs. Patrick sits back down in his chair, throwing a disgusted glance at the now useless platter and cups.
“My mood is ruined.” He says, annoyed. “We shall speak at length over tea in a few days, Lady Elizabeth. Baron Kruger will join us and I assure you that my butler will have learned from her mistake.”
“The day after tomorrow, in the morning if that suits you, Lord Patrick.” I suggest. It doesn’t matter, this ends tonight. “I may bring someone of import with me so if you could prepare lunch for four.”
“That will do.” He nods and turns to Buton. “You have your tasks for this afternoon. I will join you later this evening.”
“I won’t fail you, my Lord.” He replies.
“See our guests out, Sacit.” Patrick orders.
I stand up, bowing along with Buton before taking hold of my hammer and following the butler out of the office. She closes the door behind us and guides us towards the front of the mansion. The Baron makes a turn ahead of us, bowing slightly as he parts ways.
I walk behind Sacit, pondering my next move. I could follow him, find out where they’re meeting, or take Patrick out now. The problem is that the rebellious Nobles may scatter if the Lordling doesn’t show.
“Where did the Baron go?” I ask.
“His carriage driver is relaxing in the antechamber, Lady Elizabeth.” She replies, her voice is still tinted by fear.
“I shouldn’t have dragged you into this, I’m sorry.” I whisper just loud enough for her ears.
“You’ve almost certainly saved my life by warning me.” She shakes her head. “Thank you.”
“Do you think you can slip out without making him suspicious?” I ask.
“No. He will likely study for a few hours and expect me to respond when he rings.” Sacit replies. I don’t think she’s up for this, I can’t leave her alone with this maniac even if it costs me a few hours.
“Then I’ll stick around for a few hours until he leaves.” I tell her. “Do you have somewhere I can hide near his office, within hearing range if you need me?”
“I’ll be fine, Lady Elizabeth, he only asks for water and sometimes fruit. Your chain-mail is too loud, if I dare say.” Sacit makes a small smile.
“Oh, I guess I’m used to it. Are you certain?” I ask.
“I am, Lady Elizabeth.” She nods. “I am in better shape so if something happens, I can run away.”
“Alright.” We arrive at the front door, I open it myself and lay my hand on her shoulder to stop her from bowing. “I’ll trust you, but make sure you don’t get caught.”
“I’ve hidden many things over the years. Lord Patrick doesn’t think of me as relevant as long as I make no mistakes. I will be fine, Lady Elizabeth, I’ll drop him off in his carriage and ask the driver to leave me at the castle.” She reassures me, smiling.
I hear Buton and his driver approaching from our left. I’m out of time. I can either believe her or stick around and risk giving the Lordling an early warning.
Ass-face wouldn’t have tolerated gossip from his butler if he knew she spoke behind his back so she does have some ability to bluff. Reassured, I step out into the street, walking past the carriage.
“Have a good trip, Lord Baron Buton.” Sacit says.
“Be well, Miss Sacit.” He replies in a deep voice.
His tone makes me shiver a little. I engage on the sidewalk, heading south towards the castle, counting on catching what direction his carriage takes to follow and find the general location of the meeting place he’s preparing for the Lordling.
Walking on the sidewalk, I hear the carriage door close behind me. Soon after, the driver snaps a whip in the air and the horses depart, slowly at first but quickly picking up in speed.
They pass me by in no time, reaching the turn at the end of the street and taking a left. I speed up to the corner just in time to see the driver turn right. I accelerate again, ignoring the curious looks that a patrol of soldiers throw my way.
The carriage is headed in the castle’s direction alright, that’s good. I follow the distant sounds as long as I can until they lose me. That’s fine, I know what it looks like and it isn’t that large of an area to search.
As expected, it takes me a bit of time to look through the few blocks of buildings near the castle, where he could have been headed. But I do find Buton’s carriage in the end, parked in front of a large mansion painted blue with several granite balconies that have marble railings.
The front porch is large enough to allow drivers to park their vehicles under it when it rains. Precious Nobles, can’t handle a drop of rain. I scoff a little, looking through windows to find a deserted one that I can use to observe from.
The furniture in a small wooden manor is covered by white drapes, I slow down and wait for a patrol of soldiers to turn at a crossroad before making my way along the side of the structure.
The garden behind it is unkempt, there are shrubberies growing wildly along the fence separating it from the neighboring mansion. That one must be abandoned too or the shrubs would be trimmed at least on that side.
They’re kicking people out of their houses when there are empty ones here. I close my right fist, controlling my anger. Patience. I slip between two bushes and hop over the fence, making my way to that buildings oak backdoor.
I press my left hand against the handle and start pushing against the lock. The wood creaks under the pressure but doesn’t seem to be breaking. I take a step back to settle my feet and add my leg’s strength. Might need a construct after all. Crack. Or not.
The whole area around the handle is splintered, I try to push the door open but it seems stuck. I remove a few wooden shards that seem to be blocking it and apply more pressure until the panel swings open.
I walk inside, finding a completely empty building, not even a single piece of furniture or even a painting on the walls. There is a well polished, if dusty, flight of stairs. I start climbing it, it leads me past the second floor and up to the dark attic.
I assemble a fire construct and activate it, leaving it hovering over my hand. I use it for light and to burn large spider webs while I look for a hatch that I find in the middle of the inclined ceiling. I unlock the hook and push it open to climb on the roof.
I sit down, using the ridge to hide myself from the street. I set my hammer down on the tiles and assemble an enhancing construct for my hearing, bracing myself for a long wait.
It took me a good hour to find Buton’s carriage so Patrick should get here within one or two more hours. I feel a twinge of guilt at having left the scared butler by herself. If I don’t see her, I’ll have to think of something and hope it isn’t too late.
After a few boring minutes, I start training my lion strike assembling speed to get into the habit of extending the timer segment.
“Once more.” I mutter.
A half hour passes until I hear the sound of a carriage’s wheels rolling down the street. I crawl over to the roof’s ridge and wait until it stops before throwing a quick look over.
A servant opens the carriage’s door and a Lord wielding a sword with a red jewel in the pommel steps out. He is wearing a blue tunic with a gray tower embroidered in the front, his crest.
I hide again, going back to my training. Another few minutes pass before another carriage rolls down the street. I grab my hammer and move closer to the stone chimney poking out on the edge of the roof, using it as cover to observe a Lady in a wide black dress step out.
As the next hour goes by, I observe many Nobles enter the large blue mansion. None of the servants are allowed inside, I suppose it’s a matter of trust and security as they aren’t bringing bodyguards either.
From behind the chimney, I hear a squad of soldiers marching along the street. That’s the first one I notice since the one that turned the corner, that’s odd.
I follow them with my ears, throwing a quick glance over the roof’s ridge when they stop. There are a dozen of them standing in formation around Baron Kruger. Not a patrol, a personal retinue. The door opens and he is allowed inside while his soldiers take positions outside under the porch.
I quickly hunker down, having seen all I need. They probably paid a few officers to look the other way for the day. It would be typical of the Lordling to allow those with a title to bring soldiers while the rest are forbidden even a single bodyguard.
So far, they’ve all arrived wearing ceremonial clothing, likely what they would wear in court. Another of Patrick’s commands, I have no doubt.
During the time it takes for the sun to reach half-way down the horizon from its zenith, a dozen more Nobles show up. The first eight are of no interest to me. The last four, however, I hear coming from afar because of the large number of soldiers escorting them.
I wait until they pass by the manor I’m hiding on to throw a glance over the ridge. There are at least fifty soldiers in a column, lead by three Ladies and a Lord. They’re wearing brightly colored clothes, cyan, teal, green, and blue, with a fortune in jewelry on top of the expensive cloth.
The soldiers start spreading out around the large blue mansion while their charges step inside. As I am about to hide once more, a carriage engages on the street at a trotting pace. I don’t recognize the driver but the curtains covering the door’s window are of a golden color. That has to be the Lordling.
It stops in front of the mansion. The one that steps out first is Sacit in her black and white butler outfit. I sigh in relief at the sight of her, unharmed and looking well.
She extends her arm out. A hand, with only a thumb and an index, emerges from inside, taking hold of her forearm. Patrick exits the carriage with arrogance, making use of Sacit’s help to step out.
He is wearing the same red outfit with golden embroidery as before but with an added red ruby necklace, golden cape with a silver hem, and a dazzling purple scarf. My eyes widen at the sight of it. Even I know that purple dyes are worth a lot more than their weight in gold.
I watch him walk up to the mansion, wondering what he’s up to when he pauses in the middle of the path. The soldiers, however, pick up quickly and bow deeply. The Lordling’s face turns smug for a brief second before he regains control of his expression.
The soldiers open the door for him but he takes his time. I imagine that he’s savoring his glorious approach. I scoff and sit back down behind the chimney. I hear the carriage depart. Sacit should be on her way to the castle.
I settle down. It should take a few hours for her to find Lance and for them to gather soldiers, possibly Templars for this kind of treason. A minute later, I hear a carriage heading down the street from the other side.
I throw a glance over the roof’s ridge, finding Patrick’s carriage coming back. It passes by the large blue mansion without stopping. What is she doing? The driver takes a turn at the crossroad, headed north. The castle is the other way! Can I really not trust anyone to do their part?
“Should I go find my Lady? But it’s getting late and I can’t ask for her at the castle. By the time I find her, it will be too late to catch them in the act.” I mutter to myself. “Besides, she‘s let me down too many times before.”
I start heading towards the hatch, hunkered down. I’ll have to find a way.
“I can’t let this maniac secure enough power to actually be a threat, there is a time limit on this.” I groan, annoyed.
As I say that, I catch a glance of two people as they jump from one roof to another. My Lady and Edusa, headed my way. She is still wearing her heard leather armor, laminated with steel.
She raises her hand, waving at me with a smile. How did she find me? Was she led here by the mercenaries? Unlikely. I keep moving towards the hatch to grab my weapon, that I left there earlier.
I stand up, I’m low enough on the side of the roof that I won’t be visible from the large blue mansion. They leap onto the neighboring manor and slow down, walking up to the edge.
“How did you find me?” I ask, nervously touching my helmet to make sure that it’s still there, despite the fact that it slightly obstructing my field of vision at all times.
“I wasn’t born last night. Once I knew there was a rebel faction, it wasn’t too hard to find out more.” She rolls her beautiful light gray eyes and takes a teasing tone. “Lady Edusa was right, you do like lurking on roofs.”
“What about the mercenaries?” I ask, ignoring the comment. “We agreed on a course of action.”
“I’m sorry, but I wasn’t going to let you deal with this by yourself. It’s too dangerous.” My Lady replies apologetically.
I still can‘t trust her. This time at least, she thought of me.
“What are you going to do?” I ask.
“Me? Not a thing. I’m here to see you.” She replies with a wide smile.
The void in my heart roars in delight, I bring my hand up and tap my chest to tell it to calm down. My heartbeat accelerates instead.
“Then what ab…” I start but she cuts me off.
“The Duke has convened with Master Amand. The matter is out of our hands now, Elizabeth.” She shakes her head. “Can I jump over?” My Lady asks with a shy smile.
“You, alone.” I answer, staring at Edusa with cold eyes.