In the Land of Stories Old
By unspoken agreement, after leaving the Black Castle George and Kedge went directly to the magister’s office. “Lance, I want Guildmaster Follet under watch this entire evening—as subtly as possible,” George immediately informed the guard who had been manning the gaol for him. “If a single whisper comes from him regarding Prince Consort Merlin’s part in today’s events save to say that he cleared a patch of taint from Calabrun’s harbor, healed two children of the shadow sickness and found a way to mercifully save a third from suffering a terrible death, you’re to bring him directly to the gaol and put him in it until morning, when we will deliver him to the queen by her order.” He dropped into his chair and motioned for Kedge to take the one opposite. “Her Majesty has apparently grown weary of Follet’s disrespect and obvious scheming, so my tolerating it is at an end as well. He’ll behave himself from this point onward or answer directly to her.”
The guard’s expression darkened. “Might we know what he did to get things to this point?”
George snorted. “He tried to accuse her husband of killing a child, Lance. And if Guildmaster Kedge had let him get his mouth open for it, he’d have been protesting the provision of a ship and crew to the Fearless Seven so they might go save the rest of the Fairy Isles from the shadows.”
Michel, who had been silent and merely listening up until this point, took a deep breath. “So just to be clear, sir, we’re watching for him to commit treason?”
“You’re waiting for him to do it,” George corrected. “He was cowed when she grew angry with him, but I don’t see it lasting—and I don’t like that he felt free to challenge Prince Merlin to his face in her presence and in front of the rest of the Fearless Seven and the two of us besides. If he doesn’t slip tonight, he’s likely to do it tomorrow when Kedge and I are up at the castle again working on plans for a watchtower to protect both harbor and cove.”
“He was quite unhappy to be excluded from that meeting,” Kedge agreed. “Do you think similar rumors may find their way over from Calabrun?”
“I certainly hope not, but we’ll be ready if they do.” George nodded to the guards. “Send anyone who has…concerns to speak to myself or Guildmaster Kedge, as we both know what actually happened and why.” Both guards nodded. “Dismissed.” He waited until they were gone, then got out a bottle and two cups. “Tomoy may be a pompous idiot, but I believe he’s smart enough to know how far he can take that. He won’t court trouble with the Black Castle.”
“He hates Prince Arthur,” Kedge reminded him, catching the cup that was slid over to him and pouring some of the bottle’s contents into it. “And I’d be surprised if they hadn’t had some sort of trouble with his guards while the four of them were over there. We all know what sort Tomoy’s men are, and he turns a blind eye so long as they mostly follow his orders. Makes me wonder how our prince and his friends stopped them burning out that house.”
George tossed back the amber liquid in his own cup and poured himself some more. “A combination of threats and magic, I’m sure. They wouldn’t have left Calabrun if they’d thought those orders might be acted on successfully later.”
“True.” The other man topped off his cup again and then put the cork back in the bottle. They neither one were young men, and they had a meeting with the queen the next morning. “I’d offer to send one of mine over to Calabrun tonight to check the gossip, but if Tomoy and his bully-boys are smarting from a put-down at the hands of half the Fearless Seven it wouldn’t be safe.”
“No, it may not be safe for a few days.” George shook his head. “Maybe set a watch on the road, though, just in case trouble or news of it comes from that direction tonight.”
The next morning dawned with a drizzle of rain from low-slung clouds that promised wetter weather to come, making it a fine sort of day to spend planning inside a stone castle but not so fine of one for making the long walk up to that castle on a steep and twisting road. And especially not when you were dragging along a prisoner who was complaining mightily about being wet and being tied and being taken at all. Needless to say, Lance and Michel were delighted when the castle gates finally came into view and even moreso when Jonas immediately let them in. “Magister George told me to keep an eye out for you,” he explained, re-sealing the gates. “Birk will escort you to the throne room.”
Birk appeared and made a short bow at the mention of his name. He was slightly on the tallish side for an elf, wrinkled with age but straight-backed and quite stern-looking. His uniform was somewhere between formal livery and what Jonas was wearing, and not a button or thread was out of place. “Follow Birk, please,” he said in a high yet somewhat gravelly voice, then turned smartly on his heel and led them to an antechamber where two younger-appearing elves were waiting, one male and one female. “Guards bring traitor for Her Majesty’s pleasure.”
“Her Majesty is ready to receive them,” the female elf said, and with a snap of her fingers their dripping cloaks stopped dripping. She and the other elf opened the throne room doors. “You may enter.”
Lance and Michel followed Birk into the throne room, stopping when he stopped. “Guards Lance and Michel brings the traitor, Yous Majesty.”
“Thank you, Birk,” Queen Snow acknowledged with a nod. She was seated on her throne with the Prince Consort standing just behind it to her right and Magister George just off the dais on her left. Guildmaster Kedge and the rest of the Fearless Seven were ranged out on both sides in rank order, and even if they hadn’t all been absolutely radiating fury it would have made an imposing tableaux. “Guards, report.”
That had been an order, and Lance swallowed. “Your Majesty, Magister George gave orders last night for us to keep a watch on Guildmaster Follet, as it was suspected that he might attempt to commit an act of treason. He did nothing last night, but this morning he was seen to be watching for the magister and Guildmaster Kedge to start up the King’s Road, and as soon as they were fairly on their way and out of sight he made his way through the town to the shop of Cyrus Jorst, which is a place where some men gather each morning. This morning they appeared to be looking for him to arrive, based on the way they greeted him.”
“I had circled around and so was close enough to hear what was being said,” Michel picked up from there. “Guildmaster Follet at first was simply complaining about the magister and Guildmaster Kedge, but then he began to relate a version of the previous day’s events which we knew from the magister was not only incorrect but treasonous. I at once moved to take him into custody, and Lance brought the rest of them along to the gaol to be questioned. We placed Guildmaster Follet in a cell and then made a report of what I had heard along with statements from the other men involved, and we informed those men of our orders and the reason for them and directed them to inquire of Magister George, Guildmaster Kedge, or Yourself directly if they had questions. As soon as we had our report written out,” he took a roll of paper from the holder on his belt and handed it to George, who glanced at it and then handed it to Snow, “we brought Guildmaster Follet to you, Your Majesty, as ordered.”
“You did well,” Snow told them. “The men he was speaking with?”
“Blustered at first, and then fell all over themselves to assure us they did not in any way intend to commit treason, Your Majesty,” Lance told her.
“Did you believe them?”
He hesitated a bare second, glancing at George, who nodded. “Not entirely, Your Majesty. Most just gather at the shop to gossip before the day fairly begins, but it would be my opinion that this morning at least some of them knew what they were there to hear, and that they had been hoping to hear it yesterday.”
Follet, who had been getting redder and redder, finally exploded. “Lies! Queen Snow, I was threatened and then this morning assaulted by these men at the order of Magister George! I demand…”
“You aren’t in a position to demand anything,” Snow snapped at him. “I warned you just yesterday what would happen if you kept on the way you have been, and yet not a full day later here you are! So tell me, Silas Follet, what were you thinking?!”
The man seemed to gather himself. “You are being misled, Your Majesty,” he said stiffly. “My position in this kingdom is one which commands respect. I have tried to offer my counsel on numerous occasions, to offer you the benefit of my age and experience when it comes to keeping the Black Isle prosperous, and have been met only with platitudes and vague threats. When your father was in charge he left me alone to run things as I saw fit, and you should have heeded his example instead of listening to pretty lies from your lovers!”
This outburst was followed by shocked silence which was broken by a series of startlingly loud pops heralding the arrival of the other six elves, all of whom placed themselves between Follet and the throne. “Traitor-man disrespects Queen Snow,” Rose snarled from her place directly in front of the throne. “Elves ignore him before, because he pompous and stupid and it amuse queen and prince consort to play with him. No more! You not speak in queen’s presence again unless she say you can!”
Follet might have responded to that, and in fact he did try, but no sound came out of his mouth. Snow sighed and stood up. “Thank you, Rose. And for your information, Mister Follet, the only reason you’re not bleeding to death on the floor right now is because I ordered every man in this room to leave their weapons behind when they came in. Because I knew you were exactly this stupid. Prince Consort, please accompany Magister George to the dungeons and see the traitor placed in the cell which has been prepared for him.”
“Of course, My Queen,” Merlin said, and at once descended from the dais, Birk stepping into place beside him along with George. “This way, men—we’ll want you to bring him along, and bear witness to the fact that he was treated fairly and not abused by anyone.”
“Of course, Your Highness.” Lance adjusted his grip on Follet, who was still trying to shout his way past whatever the old elf had done to silence him, and they left the throne room.
It took less time than might have been expected for them to navigate the old stone corridors of the castle to deliver their prisoner to his cell, which was small and windowless but clean and contained only a cot with a blanket, a small table holding a basin and pitcher, a pump set above a metal grate in the floor, and a covered bucket. On the other side of the corridor was a hook from which depended the lantern which lit this space, well out of reach of the barred door. Follet of course fought being put into the cell, and raged silently through the bars as he was informed that the elves would bring him food twice a day and that he would be given writing materials if he requested them. “You’ll be here until Her Majesty decides you shouldn’t be any longer,” Merlin told him in response to a mouthed question. “I’d advise you to be very polite to our servants while you’re here, by the way—they are empowered to punish you if they feel your behavior warrants it.” And with that he turned on his heel and strode out of the corridor, George and the two guards following him.
The elf called Birk, however, stayed behind, standing beneath the lantern and scowling at Follet until he stopped trying to shout after them.
In the Land of Stories Old