Authors: Peter Kenson
He could count eight guardsmen standing around behind the gates, pikes now racked up neatly against the guardhouse wall and he had previously seen four bowmen making their way up to the battlements above the gates. That meant there were another six men inside the guardhouse. He made a discrete hand signal and a cart loaded with
and pulled by two filthy looking men, emerged from a side alley and headed towards the gates. At the same time, two men dressed in the uniforms of the two unfortunate guardsmen who had been left down on the wharves, came round one of the opposite corners and began to stroll towards their comrades.
When he saw the cart of nightsoil heading towards the gates, the sergeant stepped forward and raised his hand.
“You can’t come through ‘ere with that. Gate’s closed. High Warden’s’ orders.”
we supposed to do with this lot then? Can’t leave it ‘ere. ‘Av folks complaining up an’ down the street.”
to use another gate. Can’t use this one.”
“’Av an ‘eart sarge. That’s right ‘cross town. We can’t take this lot through the centre of town. They’d string us up.”
“Well you can’t… ugh”, the sergeant crumpled to the ground as a well-placed blow from one of the ‘guardsmen’ caught him behind the ear.
The regular guardsmen stared in astonishment for a second before looking towards their pikes, only to find another ‘guardsman’ standing in front of them with drawn sword. The two men with the handcart, retrieved weapons from the false bottom of the cart and the loungers on the street corners rushed in, producing swords and clubs concealed beneath cloaks or pulling more from the bottom of the cart.
It was all over in seconds. A surprised guardsman appeared at the guardhouse door and immediately raised his hands at the sight of two swords, one pointing at his throat and the other at his navel. Two of Feynor’s men raced up the stairs on either side of the gate to secure the archers on the battlements and two others unbarred and opened the postern gate. Jorgen had already dismounted his men outside and rushed through the opening. At the sight of the red cloaks inside the walls, the remaining guardsmen threw down their weapons and raised their hands.
“Take their weapons and secure them in the guardhouse,” Feynor ordered. “And get the main gates open.”
In the distance, Ash saw the red cloaks disappearing through the postern and urged the leading wagons into motion before the gates had even begun to open. Bern led the way with the remaining men from the company and reported to Feynor and Jorgen inside the gates.
“Move straight on to the palace,” Feynor ordered. “That’s where the majority of the opposition will be. Take Jorgen and his men with you and find Lord Jeren and Lady Falaise. I’ll secure the gates here and follow on behind.”
David and Baltur followed Captain Walbend through the palace gates and into the compound. The palace was set about fifty paces back from the street and was one of the few stone built buildings in the city. It was two stories high and constructed from a reddish brown stone with a sloping tiled roof of a lighter yellowish brown. There were three low steps leading up to
pair of wooden doors at the entrance. The other buildings inside the compound were wooden, single story huts and appeared to be mainly administrative, judging by the clerks scurrying around with sheaves of papers.
There were two guards at the main gate who stood to attention as the procession came through and David could see two more on the steps leading into the palace itself. The barracks housing the remaining guardsmen were not immediately obvious amongst the jumble of wooden huts in front of the palace and David judged that they must be hidden away at the side or the rear of the compound.
The captain led them right up to the steps where they all dismounted and grooms appeared from round the side of the building to take charge of the horses. The coach turned sideways on to allow the occupants to descend directly at the foot of the steps and conveniently blocked the view of the doorway from the street. Baltur opened the door to the coach and Jeren stepped lightly down before offering his hand to Falaise to help her descend.
If David and Baltur were richly dressed, Falaise and Jeren were spectacular. Falaise wore a dress with a tight bodice made of a shiny silver material that clung to her curves and was decorated with a myriad of tiny gemstones that glittered in the sunlight. Her skirt was full and made of a pale green velvet, trimmed with ermine and slashed to reveal a blood red underskirt as she walked. Around her neck she wore a chain of heavy gold, decorated with small rubies and with a large pendant ruby the size of a pigeon’s egg at its centre.
Jeren wore a tunic of sky blue silk over trousers of soft cream kid that matched those of David. Over this he wore a golden
that reached to his knees, richly embroidered with hunting scenes, the details of which were picked out with gemstones of every different hue. Around his neck he wore a series of interlinked gold chains, the weight of which would have paid for the entire palace before him.
Even David had been impressed by the accumulated wealth on display as they had prepared for the visit that morning.
“That’s quite a display,” he had told them. “I had no idea you had all this hidden away in the wagons.”
“Neither did we,” Falaise admitted. “We found most of this hidden in Gaelan’s wagons and we haven’t finished going through them yet. I suspect there may be more to find. But you said we had to impress the High Warden, so here we are.”
And a very impressive sight they made as the honour guard stood to attention on the steps to either side of them and they made their way into the palace. Inside the doors there was a short corridor which opened into a spacious antechamber where small knots of merchants, river captains and officials were standing around, obviously waiting for audience. All heads turned to look at them as they entered the room. There were a number of doors leading off the antechamber but at the left hand end of the room there was another set of double doors with two more guardsmen outside them.
Captain Walbend led the way across the room to where a large table, just to the right of the double doors, was already half covered with a collection of swords and daggers of every description.
“Prince Jeren, I must ask you and your party to surrender your weapons at this point. No weapons are allowed in the audience chamber but you may rest assured that they will be looked after here until you collect them again when you leave.”
Jeren looked quickly at David who nodded and unhooked the katana from his belt.
“Take good care of that,” he remarked casually to the servant in charge of the table. “It’s unique in these parts.”
Jeren and Baltur unhooked their swords and belt knives as a small man dressed in the black of a court official came hurrying over and spoke quietly to the captain.
“The High Warden will receive you next,” Walbend announced. “As soon as his current audience is over.”
No sooner had he finished speaking than the double doors opened and a merchant came hurrying through accompanied by one of the ubiquitous court officials. The small black man beckoned them over and they formed up outside the doors. The two guards swung the doors open and the captain led the way inside.
The audience chamber was about twenty paces square with a highly polished wooden floor and wood panelled walls all covered with a selection of expensive looking rugs and carpets. Aside from that, the room was quite sparsely furnished with only the one chair, set on a raised dais on the far side of the room opposite the doors. The captain was walking steadily across the room but David and Baltur stopped three paces in, as they had rehearsed.
“His Royal Highness, Prince Jeren of Marmoros and Lady Falaise, the Queen Regent of the Lyenar people,” David announced before he and Baltur stepped to the side and bowed as Jeren and Falaise entered the room. Captain Walbend stopped in surprise and looked around to find himself on his own in the centre of the room. Flushing furiously, he hastily stood aside and bowed himself.
The High Warden was not alone in the room. He sat, or rather slouched, on the ‘throne’ with a man dressed in the fine robes of a wealthy merchant, standing behind his right shoulder and two more of the black officials on his left. Jeren and Falaise walked slowly across the room and stopped about three paces before the dais. Jeren made a bow of an appropriate level of deference and Falaise made a graceful, if not entirely full, curtsey.
“Prince Jeren is it? You don’t look old enough,” Maxten observed.
“I inherited the title on the untimely death of my father, Lord Gereld Brantyen,” Jeren replied smoothly.
“Ah yes. Sorry about that but these things happen, don’t they? Sorry for your loss too, Lady Falaise. You must miss having a man around,” he added, fixing his eyes firmly on her bodice.
“I have a fine son, my lord. He is the man in my life now.”
“Not quite the same though, is it? Not like having a real man around.”
“I do miss my husband,” Falaise admitted. “But I live now for my son and I can assure you that my life is complete.”
pity,” Maxten said, keeping his eyes fixed on her bodice. “Still what is it you want here? You know I’m not going to open the gates to your people.”
“First things first, my lord,” Jeren said. “We have brought you a gift.”
He waved a gloved hand lazily in the air and David and Baltur crossed the floor to make their own obeisance. Baltur produced a small velvet pouch and was about to step forward when one of the black officials darted down the step and nearly snatched it out of his hand. He turned and presented the pouch to Maxten who was forced to drag his eyes away from Falaise.
Maxten hefted the pouch in one hand to feel the weight and then tipped the contents into his other hand. It was a large ruby, the twin of the one that Falaise was wearing around her neck. Maxten’s eyebrows rose as he studied the gem and his eyes flicked back to the other one nestling comfortably on Falaise’s bosom.
“A pretty bauble,” he remarked eventually. “What say you, Benson?”
Benson leant forward to get a better look at the ruby. “It is indeed a fine stone, my lord, and a fitting gift to your lordship.”
“A fine stone, yes. But not as fine, I’ll warrant, as the one around my lady’s neck.”
“I’m sorry the gift does not please you, my lord. If you would like, I would be happy to exchange it for this one,” Falaise said reaching behind her to find the clasp of the chain.
“Allow me to help you, my dear,” Maxten said, half rising from his seat and then subsiding again with a look of fury on his face as David smoothly unfastened the clasp. The same official darted forward again to take the necklace from Falaise and present it to Maxten.
The High Warden examined it for a moment before passing it to Benson and returning his glance to where the necklace had previously resided.
“So what is it you want from me?”
“We want, we need your mercy, my lord,” Jeren said. “Duke Henry is pursuing us and is threatening to kill every man and every woman of our people and take the children into slavery.”
“I cannot help you. I cannot open the gates to your people. You will have to make your own peace with Duke Henry.”
“But consider, my lord. If you were to show us the mercy we ask for, we would be prepared to be exceptionally generous.”
Maxten dragged his eyes back to Jeren and sat there for a minute in considering thought.
“We are a race of merchants, my lord. We have amassed much wealth over the years and there are many resources that we can call upon. If your lordship would care to name a price….”
Maxten’s eyes flicked back to Falaise and he licked his lips as he continued to mentally undress her. “There may be something…” he started to say as sounds of a commotion in the antechamber, filtered through the closed doors.
“Go and see what the devil is going on out there,” he ordered one of the officials. The man scurried across the floor and opened the double doors where two of Jorgen’s red cloaks picked him up, one under each arm, and marched him backwards into the audience chamber.
“What the devil is going on?” Maxten shouted. “Who are these men?”
His gaze fell on the unfortunate Captain Walbend who was staring in horror at the sight of even more red cloaks rounding up the people in the antechamber. “Captain, do your duty.”
The captain reached for his sword but just as his hand touched the hilt, he found David by his side with a small sleeve dagger at his throat.
“Don’t be a fool, captain,” David said quietly. “We have control of the palace. Don’t throw your life away to no purpose.”
The captain’s grip tightened momentarily on the hilt but then relaxed and he moved his hand away.
“Thank you, captain. Now if you will give me your sword and your word, then I promise that no harm will come to you.”
“What about my men?” Walbend said as he unbuckled his sword.
“My men have strict orders not to kill unless necessary. Their sole objective is to open a way through the city. I will keep you informed if there are any unfortunate casualties.”
Meanwhile more of Jorgen’s red cloaks had entered the room and Maxten was cowering in the back of his overlarge chair.
“You won’t get away with this,” he spluttered. “This is an outrage. All of the Dukes will hear of this. And the High King. This is a violation of the treaty.”
“Oh do shut up, Maxten,” Jeren said. “Baltur, please be so good as to fetch our weapons from the table outside.
“Now, my lord High Warden. Unfortunately the negotiations were taking too long and were taking a path that I definitely did not like. So we have pre-empted your agreement to our passage through your city.”
“I never gave my agreement. I would not…”
“You would not
. I know my frightened rabbit. However, Duke Henry does not know that. When his men get here they will see no signs of resistance, no signs of a battle and the Lyenar people safely in Keldis. What will he think?”