Bastien watched as another knight escorted Lammert, Efua, and Mikaere to rooms within the castle. His father was no fool. Though Lammert could not be arrested, his father ordered a guard placed. He’d be watched at all times and if he did try anything, he’d quickly find himself in a cell. Maela and Rachel exchanged worried glances. Aurel turned toward them. “Ladies, I can arrange rooms or an escort to take you wherever…” he trailed off uncertainly.
“Master Rien told us to stay with Bast.” Rachel shifted her weight from foot to foot before turning her eyes to him. “Bast?”
“It’s alright, Rachel. You’ll be safe here…” He trailed off when he saw the scared look on Maela’s face. Bastien swallowed. The last time she’d been in a castle… “Father, could we arrange them a room near mine?”
“Bastien?” Aurel blinked before giving the women an uncertain look.
“They are under my protection.”
“Of course.” Aurel nodded. “Yes. It will be arranged, and I will have one of the servants fetch them, er…” His father blushed a little. “Proper attire.” He shifted a little. “Come. Let’s get those collars off all of you.”
“But…” Rachel’s eyes went wide. “Bast, what if someone thinks we…”
“It’s alright, Rachel.” Bastien held up a hand. “It’s alright. We’ll get…” He exhaled. “Trust me.”
Rachel gave him another fearful look, but Maela put a hand on her shoulder. “Sister, it’s Bast. You know he won’t let anyone hurt us.” Maela smiled.
“Alright.” Rachel slowly nodded. “If Bast thinks it is best, then…” She nodded again. “Alright.”
The ‘cell’ looked like a bedroom at first glance. Until one noted it contained nothing but the bed and there were bars even on the small windows. A child couldn’t have squeezed through. The door was a metal grate, ensuring his guards could observe him. Blood and ashes, he’d actually started to trust Lammert. Rien exhaled.
Ordering Bast to free him would mean setting him on his own people. He’d promised his knight that was an order he’d never give. And these weren’t just Bast’s countrymen, this place had been his home. The guards wore the Kohler hound. If Lammert were in range, he’d break the man’s jaw. A neat trap and he’d walked right into it.
Except he’d led. Rien frowned. They hadn’t been following Lammert. Rien himself had chosen their path. How the hell then could Lammert have… He’d have had to send that message before being arrested by Rutger, because he certainly hadn’t had the chance to send it after. Rien sat down on the bed. Lammert’s spy network was apparently far better than he’d let on, if that were true.
If that were true why hadn’t Lammert just eliminated Rutger? Especially since he had clearly no intention of remaining in the Wildlands. He’d burned that bridge thoroughly. Efua clearly knew her poisons, and Lammert had proved willing to use such things. Perhaps blood did tell after all.
Or perhaps he was just an idiot who had no fucking idea what was going on around him. Rien sighed. And now he was a prisoner. Wonderful.
He rubbed at his wrists, then reached a hand up to touch where the collar had been. After months of wearing it, it felt strange to be free of its weight. Yet it was never the collar that had bound him.
Bastien saw the twins settled into a room. The girls were drawing stares, and it was somewhat galling to realized they weren’t entirely wrong to be frightened. Had they been on their own, it was possible some of the men might have tried to take advantage. Several of them had been murmuring about Manisar and bed-slaves. He really hoped he wasn’t going to have to kill anyone.
From the sitting room, he could keep an eye on their door. He was staring out the window when his father found him there only a few minutes later. A smile came to his face when he saw the girl following Aurel. “Sir Bastien!” Nadja flung herself at him.
“Lady Nadja.” He returned her hug. “You got taller.”
“You got stolen!” Nadja glared up at him. “Your Papa and I thought you were dead and…” Her voice trembled a little. “I thought you died saving me.”
Slowly, he knelt, so they were face to face. “Nothing was your fault, Nadja.”
She nodded. “Um, I…” She shifted her weight from foot to foot. Then she leaned forward. “Your Papa gave me your horse before we knew you were alive.”
“Gods above.” He shook his head. “You’ve probably spoiled him completely rotten by now.” He exhaled loudly. “Guess you’re stuck with him.”
Nadja grinned before hugging him again. “I’m glad you’re not dead.”
“I was worried about you too.” He smiled.
Aurel waited until Nadja had finished telling Bastien about her time in the palace before sending her back to her governess. Then he took a deep breath. “Talk to me, Bastien, because…” Aurel sighed. “I am more than a little confused about what is going on here.”
“I am confused about parts of it myself.” Bastien folded his arms before turning to look out the window again. “Father, I…” He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. “I owe Rien — Marinus Draak – my fealty.”
“What?” Aurel’s voice betrayed his shock.
“That’s…” He turned back toward his father. “How I convinced him to let me send the warning.”
“Then he was the one who led the attack against —”
“No.” Bastien let his arms fall. “It’s more complicated than that, he…” Bastien rubbed the back of his neck. “He was there, and he was the one that took me prisoner, but he wasn’t leading the attack. He was pretending to be a mercenary and just…” He rubbed at his wrists again. “When Phillip and Rutger learned he’d been there, they ran with the story to hide Rutger’s involvement. Phillip murdered Rien’s eldest brother, Jurgen.”
“He…” Aurel inhaled. “You’re saying Marinus Draak, the River Dragon, raided this castle…” He frowned and gave a small shake of his head. “By accident?”
“Spend a week in his company and you won’t find that so unbelievable.” Bastien smiled, but it faded quickly. There were things he dared not tell his father, not without risking Aurel having Rien executed bargain or no bargain. And that would cause even more problems. “Father, I’m obligated to —”
“Defend him.” Aurel nodded. “Against me, if I decide not to keep my end of the bargain. I have to defend him, to defend you.” He sighed and looked at the floor.
“I had no idea Lammert had involved you.” Bastien clenched his fists. “I’m giving serious consideration to breaking every bone in that man’s body.”
“He’s under guard now and no going anywhere until I get answers.” Aurel squared his shoulders. “The king will be here in three days and…” Aurel looked away. “Duke Harald was…”
“I know.” Bastien swallowed. “What complicated things even more is…” He looked down at his hands. “Rien left the Wildlands to protect me.”
“Yeah, you…” Bastien shrugged. “You might want to sit down for this and uh…” He waved at a chair. “Maybe send for drinks.”
He paced the room, looking every now and then toward his son. If the story Bastien was telling was correct, then… “If not for you, Phillip would have taken Solsthriem with mercenaries and trolls. With a Wilder army behind him…” Aurel took a deep breath. “And this prophecy?”
“As far as I know, Phillip fits it as well as Rien does.” Bastien leaned back in the chair. “It won’t gain him support in Solsthriem, but in places like Ipruci or Manisar?” He shook his head. “Or even Thatela, if they thought they could exert any control over him.”
“Thatela backs him already, hoping he’ll create enough trouble here that they’ll be able to come in and ‘reclaim their lost province’.” Aurel waved a hand. “There is already trouble along the border. That’s one reason the king is taking a personal interest in this whole affair.” And when the king found out just who he had in his cell, the situation was going to grow even more complicated. King Wendel was a reasonable man. If he was lucky, he’d be able to convince the King to just leave Marinus Draak in a cell for the rest of his life. That would fulfill his agreement to ‘protect’ him and not endanger Bastien in the process.
“Right now, no one but those who came with us and you know I was the one that killed the dragon. The sword…” Bastien rested his arms on his knees. “It glows in my hand, and not Rien’s. I have no idea what other powers it might hold, but that’s going to be a giveaway to anyone who actually knows about the sword.”
“You’re here though, not in the Wildlands.”
“Because Rien took me and ran, Father. He left because he knew what would happen to me if he stayed.” Bastien raised his head.
As much as he wanted to pretend it didn’t, that mattered. He just didn’t know what to do with the information. It mattered, but it changed little. “These young ladies, where do they come into the picture?”
“They belong to Rien.” Bastien glanced at the door. He didn’t miss the small smile on his son’s face. “And they are my friends. Fought the dragon alongside us, and were the only reason we managed to get through the tomb in the first place.” He looked up at his father. “I didn’t need Rien to tell me to protect them.”
“No…” He’d seen the way Bastien had looked at one of the twins, and the way she’d looked at him in return. As if matters weren’t complicated enough. “I am sure you didn’t. They will be my guests for as long as they choose to remain here.” He frowned. “And the other one. Lammert?”
“I…” Bastien shook his head. “He offered to free me. He saved my life and kept me from ending up crippled. He manipulated the situation so Rien could get to the dragon. Pretty sure he’s saved Rien several times. He’s the one that got us out of Darodelf. And…” Bastien put his hands on his legs and pushed himself to standing. “And I’m not sure what game he’s playing, but I’m starting to think we’re the pieces.”
The room was exactly six paces wide, but if he stretched his legs he could do it in four. He couldn’t leap all the way across unless he started from an elevated position. Here and there metal had been set into the stone, where chains could be attached. One of the guard had pointed them out after Rien had tried dragging the bed over to test that theory.
In the other direction, the room was four paces wide. That he could leap. There was the bed, a hard cot with one blanket. No chair. No table. No books. Just a bucket in the corner, thankfully empty. All his weapons and his belt pouch and everything but his pants and vest had been taken. They’d even made him remove his boots.
He’d had three pebbles, but he’d dropped one while juggling and it had bounced out of the door. The guard had refused to give it back. Rien suspected they were holding a grudge. A former occupant had carved something into one of the walls, but it was in a script he couldn’t read. He’d tried carving his own message, but the stone of the wall had proved stronger one of his pebbles and it had crumbled. He tossed the remaining pebble in the air and caught it again.
If he connected the various lighter bits of the stone, maybe he could make… Nope, not enough to draw a bird. He thought the room sloped slightly toward the door, but his pebble wasn’t round enough to check. The bars on the window to the left, if he stood at the door and faced inside the cell, were off from center almost a finger width. They also looked newer than the ones on the other window.
Definitely a slope to the roof. The wall on the left was 7 stones tall, and the one on the right was only six and three quarters or so. If he raised his hands above his head, his fingers just barely brushed the ceiling there. None of the guards would tell him their names, and they’d refused his suggestion of a friendly card game. Actually, since they’d pointed out the anchors, they hadn’t spoken at all.
Rien exhaled, and fell back onto the bed. It was not quite long enough to accommodate his height, but that complaint, like all his others, had fallen on deaf ears. The blanket smelled like wet dog. There was no pillow. He stood up again. The room wasn’t aligned properly, because from one corner to the other was eight paces while the other way was almost nine. And there was a crack in one of the floor stones. Come to think of it, the floor stones on this side of the room were a slightly different color than the ones on the other side… nope, that was just because of the shadows.
Oh, hey, there was another pebble under the bed. Now he just needed to find a third one again.
Aurel led Bastien to the cell where he’d ordered the prisoner taken. The four knights he’d assigned as guards all bowed when he entered. “Any —”
“Bast.” Marinus Draak leaned on the inside of the door. “Look, I can only find two pebbles, so I’m going to need you to bring me one of Lammert’s lungs.”
“What…” Aurel blinked before turning to his son.
“He juggles, its…” Bastien rubbed his forehead. “Nevermind.”
“Alright…” Aurel shook his head before turning to look at the man in the cell. “We have some questions.”
“Oh good.” Marinus nodded. “Me too. If you bring my brother down here, I’ll happily beat the answers out of him.”
“Rien…” Bastien sighed.
“I’m going crazy in here.” Marinus shook his head.
Bastien narrowed his eyes. “You’ve been in there for five hours.”
“I…” Marinus blinked. “Really?”
“Are you sure, cause…” Marinus frowned. “Blood and ashes, you aren’t really going to leave me in here are you? This is torture.”
“Seriously?” Bastien stared at him.
“Just tell him whatever the hell he wants to know and find me a book or…” He shrugged. “Can Rachel visit?”
“Gods above.” Aurel closed his eyes and gave a shake of his head before turning towards Bastien. “This is the man you think should be heir to the Wildlands?”
“Phillip killed the one everyone thought should take the job.” Bastien shrugged. “The other one is working with Phillip.” He sighed. “I hate to say it, but it’s probably in everyone’s best interest if Rien ends up with the job. He…” Bastien shrugged.
“I’m a fucking idiot.” Marinus banged his head on the door. “And I’ll just sit on the throne and make farting noises while my steward…” He banged his head on the door again. “Runs everything.”
“That uh…” Bastien nodded. “Would be the best-case scenario, yes. And Rien has no personal grudges against anybody but Phillip and doesn’t actually want to conquer anything.”
“Rien, stop helping.”
“Right. Shutting up.”
It took a few minutes, but eventually Bastien managed to convince his father to talk to Rien. Then he had to convince Rien to be cooperative, which was far harder than it should have been. The guards manacled Rien’s hands behind his back before letting him out of the cell, and they went down a level to a small sitting room. Aurel was telling one of the servants to fetch drinks when a small voice spoke up. “That’s the bad man.”
“Nadja.” Bastien turned to see her standing in the corner, glowering at Rien.
“That’s the bad man.” Nadja narrowed her eyes. “The one that killed my parents and stole you.”
“That’s…” Aurel’s face darkened before he turned to Rien. “Did you kill the duke?”
“I killed four men while I was here. All of them armed and armored.” Rien shook his head.
“My men.” Nadja raised her voice. “I want his head cut off.”
“I…” Aurel started to take a deep breath.
“Nadja…” Bastien knelt to look at her. “If someone tries to cut off Rien’s head, I have to try to stop them.”
“You…” Nadja stared at him. Her lip started to tremble. “But you’re my knight.” A tear fell from her eye. “You’re my knight.”
He swallowed. “Nadja, please don’t…” He shook his head. “Please don’t make me hurt anyone.”
She walked toward him. “He stole you.”
“I know.” Bastien nodded to her.
The girl turned toward Rien. “You helped Phillip kill my…” Her voice caught on a sob.
Rien looked away. “I…” He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Nadja looked from Bastien to Aurel and back again. Then she sighed. “You don’t have to cut off his head.”
“Thank —” Aurel started to relax.
Then Nadja took a step forward. With every bit of strength and fury she could muster, she kicked Rien squarely between the legs.