80. Seal and Sign
Seal and Sign
This particular evening was busy in the library tower. It was Laugday, meaning all the servants had enjoyed their weekly bath; on this eve, Quill opened his library for the kitchen girls, knowing their hands had been scrubbed clean. For an hour, the library turned into a lore house, teaching them to read and letting them have access to a select part of the book collection. Kate supervised, ensuring every page was turned with care, books returned to their rightful place, and that the library did not suffer in any way from showing this courtesy to the servant girls.
Quill meanwhile was free to continue his work. He sat in the scriptorium, writing letter after letter. “Master Quill? What are you doing?” Kate asked curiously.
“The Adalthing is being convened outside its regular day,” he explained, pausing his work. “Summons must be sent to the members that they can make their way to Middanhal in time.”
He continued writing, and she stared with awe at the tip of his feather pen as ink flowed to mark elegant letters. “It looks so easy in your hand.”
“Want to try?”
“I couldn’t!” She seemed almost horrified at the suggestion.
“It is just a letter,” Quill smiled. “The recipient will probably know its contents merely from having my seal upon it. I doubt you could do much damage.”
“But Master Quill, I can’t make it nearly as fine as you.”
“As long as it is readable,” he told her. “Here, this letter is finished. Copy the writing exactly as you see it.” He made room for her at one of the writing desks, preparing quill and ink, blank paper, and placing the original letter next to it for her to see.
Hesitantly, Kate took a seat. Her fingers almost trembled as she took hold of the feather pen, dipping it in ink. With cautious movements, she made one line and immediately paused to examine her work. “It’s not exactly straight.”
“Keep working,” Quill commanded, starting a new copy himself.
It took Kate nearly half an hour to write what Quill had done twice as fast. When she told him she was done, he walked over and examined it with a solemn look. “Not bad. With some practice, you might become quite decent.” A twinkle appeared in his eye.
“It’s good enough?” Relief flowed from Kate’s voice.
“I think it is. In fact, let us use this version to send to Sir Adalbrand in Hæthiod. Perhaps Egil will read it, and you can tell him when he returns home.”
“Egil is coming home?”
“He is travelling with Brand, that is, Sir Adalbrand, so I assume so. If the good knight returns, so should Egil.”
“I can’t wait!” As an example of the impatience expressed in her words, Kate stood up, moving around the room.
“You will have to,” Quill told her. “Also, it is late. Tell the girls to pack their things away. Come see me afterwards.” While Kate did as instructed, Quill folded the letter together and tied string around it. He melted some wax upon the string knot before marking it with the insignia of the King’s Quill.
“The girls are leaving now, Master Quill,” Kate said as she returned to the scriptorium.
“One final task for you tonight. Deliver this to the Hall of Records. Tell the scribes it is to be sent to Sir Adalbrand at the Order camp.” He handed her the sealed letter.
“My first letter.” It was with a grin that she left the library to carry out her assignment.
Hours later, when night had fallen upon the castle, something stirred in Egil’s empty room. A shape pushed itself out from under the bed, stretching arms and legs once out of the uncomfortable hiding place. Leaving the small chamber on silent footsteps, the intruder entered the library hall. Moonlight fell through the window to reveal it was Jerome, the Red Hawk, though he wore dark clothing instead of his green surcoat with its conspicuous red symbol.
His gaze fell upon the long table and benches where the kitchen girls had been reading. “Of all the days…” he mumbled to himself, rubbing his back and neck; the girls’ appearance had forced him to hide and lie immovable for hours.
He glanced towards Quill’s bedroom; it was quiet. Moving swiftly, he entered the scriptorium, closed the door behind him, and quietly searched through desks and drawers until he found his target and could pull out Quill’s seal, conveniently placed with a stick of red wax next to it.
Jerome took out a small candle and fire tools. After a few tries, a small flame sprouted and ignited the candle. Retrieving a letter from a pocket, he did just Quill had done hours earlier, melting wax onto the string and marking it with the seal of the King’s Quill.
Suddenly the mercenary stiffened and quickly blew out the candle, returning the room to darkness. With barely a sound, he moved to stand near the door so that if it should open, he would be concealed by it.
After waiting with bated breath, nothing happened. He gave a smile in the dark and relaxed, exhaling. After a few more moments of waiting, he dared to open the door into the library hall. It was as he had left it. A look towards Quill’s door revealed it remained closed.
Jerome quickly crossed the hall and turned the key sitting in the door leading outside. It creaked terribly, sending a start through the intruder. Forgoing caution in favour of speed, he opened the door as soon as it was unlocked and moved through; after closing it, he hurried down the spiral staircase. Behind him, Quill continued to sleep without interruptions.
Walking through the castle, Jerome met with no hindrance other than the occasional Red Hawk, who recognised him and greeted him in passing. With a smile, he threw a few remarks back and went on his way, reaching the Hall of Records. It was not locked; it contained nothing of value in coins, only books, ledgers, and the like concerning the organisation of the Order, and whatever post was to be sent from Middanhal to any of its garrisons or camps.
Jerome aimed for the bowl containing the latter. He dug through a few dispatches and missives until he found his target; removing the letter that Kate had written and Quill had sealed, he replaced it with his own. Also bearing the seal of the King’s Quill, it would appear genuine to anyone else.
With a faint whistle, Jerome passed through the corridors of the Citadel, returning to his barracks. It was not hard to find a fire burning somewhere in winter, and the flames greedily ate the letter he had stolen from the Hall of Records. Satisfied that the paper had been consumed entirely, Jerome went to bed.
The following morning, the envoy from the duke of Belvoir presented himself to the dragonlord of Adalrik. “You wished to see me, my lord?” he questioned after his usual gestures of courtesy.
“I did. You may tell your master he has my tacit approval to act,” Konstans declared.
“He will be pleased!” Guilbert’s smile widened, as much as such a thing was possible. “However, the duke should like certain reassurances.”
“I just gave them to you,” Konstans informed him dryly.
“More than that,” Guilbert retorted. He pulled out a document, unfolding and smoothening it. “This is a formal declaration of an alliance between the House of Vale and my master, the duke of Belvoir.”
Konstans raised an eyebrow as he accepted the parchment, glancing over its contents. “Why is this necessary? Is my word not enough?”
“With deepest respect, my lord, you are not the head of your house. The duke has already signed this, as you can see. It needs only the signature of Jarl Vale.”
Konstans dropped the document onto his desk. “I said that we will accept the duke’s intervention in Fontaine. I have no intentions of writing anything down.”
“Ah, my lord, this paper merely formalises the alliance between your house and the duke’s. There is nothing criminal about a pledge of friendship and mutual assistance.”
“I suppose not, but why does the duke require that we write it down?”
“An alliance with the lord protector and jarl of Vale will ease the minds of the other lords of Ealond,” Guilbert explained. “There is nothing odious about it. It will give my master the confidence he needs to take action in Ealond, and in return, it is proof that he will march against your enemies afterwards.”
“All our enemies,” Konstans specified. “Whether northern or southern, whether in Ealond, Adalrik – or Korndale.”
“All your enemies will be his,” Guilbert promised.
“Very well. Leave it with me. I will have my brother sign and seal it, and it shall be delivered to you soon.”
“Most splendid, my lord,” Guilbert beamed. He took his leave. Konstans sat staring at the document for a moment before he grabbed his quill and signed it as Valerian, jarl of Vale.
“Arndis! Arndis, are you in here?” Eleanor came almost flying into the chambers belonging to the only member of House Arnling still in Middanhal.
“Right here,” Arndis replied amused, stepping out of her room and into the parlour. “What is happening?”
“I just heard a rumour,” Eleanor said, sitting down. She removed her veil, letting her breathe a little easier.
“I am not Theodwyn,” Arndis told her in amused chastisement. “You need not exert yourself on my account.”
“But this pertains to you,” her friend explained.
“A rumour about me? How curious.”
“They say that the Quill has been ordered to convene the Adalthing soon,” Eleanor revealed.
“What does that have to do with me?”
“Your brother is a member, is he not?”
“He is. Oh!”
“That must mean Sir Adalbrand is coming home,” Eleanor said excited.
“Really, just call him Brand,” Arndis corrected her. “But you are right. Or maybe he cannot? He is on campaign, he might not be able to just leave camp.”
“The way the campaign seems to be going, the war might already be over and we just have not heard the news yet,” Eleanor suggested merrily.
“Hardly,” Arndis smiled. “Though I hope you are right.”
“You are lucky. There is no reason for Sir William to return to Middanhal.” Eleanor gave a small sigh.
“If the campaign is over as soon as you seem to think, nothing would hold him back either,” Arndis spoke with a teasing voice. “I wonder why the Adalthing is being assembled outside of time,” she continued contemplatively.
“Most seem to think it is to have the traitors in the dungeons officially declared just that, traitors,” Eleanor told her in a casual voice. “I guess the lord protector is eager to have them executed.”
The colour vanished from Arndis’ face. “I forgot about them.”
“Are you well? You seem pale,” Eleanor pointed out concerned.
“I – I did not sleep well,” Arndis claimed. “In fact, I should like to lie down a little. If you would excuse me.”
“Of course!” Eleanor quickly agreed. “I will see you at the meal, or I can have something brought to you if you are not well enough to appear.”
“I just need rest,” Arndis told her with a feeble smile. Once her friend had left, she returned to her room and took out a king piece from a chessboard, staring at it.