82. Slow March
Konstans returned to his quarters, but before he could resume giving audience, his brother burst into his study.
“Pardons, milord,” Eolf exclaimed, a few steps behind. “He would not wait.”
Konstans raised a hand in a disarming gesture. “You may leave us,” he told the servant and turned to his brother. “You seem agitated.”
“Men are dead! There was fighting inside the Citadel! Fighting between our Hawks and Order soldiers!” The words came flooding from Valerian and were spoken with incredulity.
“Between one Order knight refusing to obey my lawful authority,” Konstans corrected him pointedly. “The two men doing most of the fighting were not Order soldiers.”
“That hardly makes it better! What gave you the notion this was a good idea?”
“Adalbrand was a threat. That threat has now been removed,” Konstans explained.
“By inciting fighting? Was there no better way to handle this?”
“Nothing has happened that was illegal,” Konstans retorted. “It is my right as dragonlord to arrest someone suspected of high treason. Adalbrand was seized before the landfrid takes effect, and the question of his guilt will be put before the Adalthing. It is the right way to handle this.”
“You gave me no warning!” Valerian struck the table with his fist. “I had to hear this from some common soldier,” he complained.
“I handle many affairs of the realm without informing you,” his brother replied. “I sit in this room from sunrise past sunset each day, governing. Do you think you would have time to handle your precious books or see your son if not for me?”
This gave Valerian pause. “I am not saying you did wrong,” the jarl muttered. “Merely that you should have told me before you started a battle inside the Citadel.”
“I did not know one would erupt,” Konstans argued. “I did not expect he would resist to such a degree. Which only proves his guilt.”
“You are certain he is a traitor, then?”
“Without doubt. He has been proclaiming his victories to win favour with the people. Not to mention, our reeve in Plenmont informed me that a union of marriage between King Adelard and Adalbrand’s sister was being planned. This would have provided Adalbrand with an army to attack us from the south while our forces are engaged to the north,” Konstans explained. “A clever plan that would have succeeded if not for my quick intervention.”
“I suppose,” his brother granted.
“Are we done? I have plenty to see to before the Adalthing convenes.”
“Fine,” Valerian mumbled, leaving.
Konstans waited until his brother was gone before summoning his servant. “Have this brought to Master Guilbert, the emissary from the duke of Belvoir,” he commanded Eolf, who bowed and accepted a document rolled inside a case. Inside lay the treaty signed between the Houses of Vale and Belvoir. Soon after, it was in Guilbert’s possession, and he could return to his master’s lands.
William knocked and awaited a reply before entering Eleanor’s chambers. “They would not let me through. I was unable to ascertain anything with my own eyes.”
“Were you not able to gather any news?” Eleanor asked. She sat, unveiled, pressing her hands together; anytime she stopped, they would begin to shake.
“They claim that the only dead are Hawks. Sir Adalbrand, his sister, and his men are supposedly unharmed.”
“Are they still fighting?”
He shook his head. “Sir Adalbrand was taken to the dungeons, I was given to understand.”
“How come they will not let you through then?”
William took a seat. “Who can say? From what I can tell, this was instigated by the dragonlord. The dungeons are guarded by his mercenaries. I will take this matter up with him,” he declared.
“Do you know why he was arrested?”
“High treason, I was told.”
Eleanor gasped. “That cannot be! He only arrived today. How could Sir Adalbrand ever be involved in such?”
“I am not sure he is,” William spoke darkly, “and it may not matter either.”
Eleanor touched the burn scars on her cheek. “Poor Arndis. She should not be left alone.”
William rose up. “I will try again to demand entry and get her away. I will bring her back here.”
“Always a hero,” Eleanor smiled sadly.
“If only that were enough.”
Theodoric sat in his parlour. Theodwyn’s guests and ladies had been dismissed immediately upon his arrival, leaving him alone with his sister and two servants. “Several dead and many more wounded,” the jarl exclaimed, stroking his forehead. “They attacked him in his own chambers!”
“What do you know of Arndis?” asked Theodwyn concerned.
“She seems unharmed, milady,” Holwyn reassured her.
“What else do you know?”
“Only that Sir Adalbrand was taken to the dungeons. His two guards are wounded, but not severely. The charge against him is high treason, though none seems to know the evidence or any details,” Holwyn rattled off.
“Perhaps we should leave,” Theodoric contemplated. “Withdraw to my house.”
“Leave? Show timidity before this crass act of violence?” Theodwyn sounded appalled.
“I only have half my thanes with me in Middanhal, and most of them have been left at the house because you demand several chambers to yourself,” the jarl reminded her. “We are vulnerable here.”
“If Valerian or Konstans lay a finger on a jarl of the realm, they will find another rebellion on their hands,” Theodwyn claimed loudly. “They would not dare move against you.”
“Adalbrand is dragonborn, yet that did not protect him.”
“The Adalthing is in a few weeks,” Theodwyn pointed out. “If you withdraw to your house, you will be far removed from all the negotiations taking place beforehand.”
Theodoric’s face became wrinkled in thought. “Holebert,” he finally said, “go to my house and fetch four thanes.” He raised a finger when Theodwyn was on the verge to protest. “No arguments.”
“Yes, milord,” Holebert bowed.
“As you wish,” Theodwyn almost sneered. “This is very poor for my health, you know, all this commotion. I intend to move freely and unfettered as always. I will not be cowed!”
“Imagine your health when we are locked in the dungeons,” her brother retorted, turning on his heel and retreating to his chamber.
Moving through Lowtown, Nicholas walked with determined steps towards a specific tavern. With his bow staff, leather jerkin, and confident stride, he gave the impression of a seasoned veteran, and none gave him trouble. His destination was packed with patrons, drinking and eating; the ravages of war seemed contained to northern Adalrik, sparing the capital from shortages. Entering the common room, Nicholas let his eyes search around until he found the tavern owner.
“Master Gilbert,” he called out to no avail due to the noise of the room. He pushed his way forward, moving in and out between tables, until he could grab hold of the corpulent man’s shoulder. “Master Gilbert!”
The tavern keeper turned around, and his expression of confusion was replaced by delight. “Nicholas, my boy! You’re back, and in one piece, it seems!” He ran his eyes over the archer as to confirm his observation.
“Indeed, Master Gilbert.” Leaning forward, Nicholas spoke into the other man’s ear. “I can see you’re busy, but I was wondering –”
“You’re looking for Ellen?”
“If you can spare her.”
Gilbert grinned. “It won’t hurt these misers to wait a while longer for their ale. Come along!” he yelled, gesturing and moving towards the back of the room. Behind the bar stood a young woman, filling mugs and removing others. “Ellen!” Gilbert shouted as he approached. “I’ll take over for you – there’s someone here to see you!”
She looked up and beamed a smile at the sight of Nicholas, walking swiftly around the bar to embrace him. “You’re here! Come, let’s talk elsewhere,” she said, speaking into his ear, and he nodded in agreement. Leading him by the hand, Ellen moved through a door to enter the small courtyard of the tavern. While the sounds of the common room still reached them, they were shielded from all eyes, and Ellen greeted him with a proper kiss.
“That’s better,” Nicholas laughed, placing his arms around her waist. “I’ve missed you.”
“Same, in case that wasn’t obvious,” she replied.
“It was, but a reminder wouldn’t be bad.”
She grinned and reminded him as requested. “Are you back for good? Your last letter didn’t even mention your return.”
“It was a rather sudden decision,” Nicholas explained. “We’re not staying, though. The lieutenant is here along with the captain, asking for support. Reinforcements and the like.”
“I thought you were close to throwing all those savages out,” Ellen said. “Isn’t it strange that your commanders leave rather than finishing the task?”
“They have their reasons,” Nicholas declared with confidence. “Besides, it’s only because Lord Adalbrand went to Middanhal that I get to be here as well.”
“I’m grateful to him for that,” Ellen said smiling. “How long?”
“Who knows how long with these lords and noblemen? Some days, at least, maybe weeks if we’re lucky.”
“We should make the most of it,” she told him with a glint in her eye.
By the door, Quentin cleared his throat. “Sorry to intrude.”
The reunited couple turned their heads towards him, separating a bit. “Quentin? I thought you were staying at the castle.”
“Something’s happened,” he explained with a grave voice. “Lord Adalbrand’s been arrested.”
“Arrested?” exclaimed Ellen.
“What for?” asked Nicholas.
“Nobody seems to know. They don’t seem interested in us, but stay away from the Citadel,” Quentin cautioned him. “In fact, stay here. I’ll tell Geberic we should meet at this place. Sorry,” he added towards Ellen. “I don’t mean to cause trouble, but we’ll need a friendly location to stay low.”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t stay here,” Nicholas considered, “and bring danger to anyone who lives here.”
“Nonsense,” Ellen declared firmly. “If there’s trouble, your friends should stay here, and so should you.”
“Will your father agree?”
“I’ll persuade him.”
“Thanks,” Quentin told her. “I’ll fetch the others.” He disappeared again.
Ellen turned to look back at Nicholas. “What are we going to do?”
He pulled her into an embrace. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “What can we common folk do when the nobleborn are at each other’s throats? I don’t know.”
It was evening when the door to the library was pushed open forcefully and Kate stormed through. “Egil!” it burst from her as soon as she saw him with an embrace to follow.
“Good to you see too,” he coughed once she let go.
She glanced at his and Quill’s face. “You look serious. Is something wrong?”
“My friend, Sir Adalbrand, has been arrested,” Quill told her.
“I’m sorry,” she replied. “What has he done?”
“We don’t know,” Egil interjected. “I have travelled with him for months. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“The matters of high lords are rarely transparent,” the old scribe remarked.
“Are you in trouble?” Kate asked Egil while biting her lip.
“Hardly,” Quill assured her. “This has nothing to do with us.”
“How were your travels?” she asked next. “You must have seen so much.”
“I did,” Egil answered, giving Quill a hesitant look.
“Go ahead. You are both excused tonight,” he told them. “But do not be loud. I have work in the scriptorium.” As Quill left to continue his tasks, Egil had already launched into the first of many tales.
A huge man with a great axe strapped to his back stormed through the royal wing of the Citadel. The kingthanes cast sidelong glances but did not get in the way, as it was their own captain. Berimund burst into the chambers belonging to the princes, making all of them stare at the big warrior with various expressions. Inghard had raised eyebrows, Gerhard seemed perplexed, and Hardmar appeared irritated.
“You move with the grace of a bull and make as much noise,” the crown prince sneered.
Berimund came to a halt. “My apologies, my prince. I have just heard the news and desired to speak with you at once.”
“What news?” asked Inghard. For once he was not holding a book, but playing chess against his brother.
“The arrest of Sir Adalbrand,” Berimund explained.
“It is most excellent,” Gerhard proclaimed before turning his attention back on the game. “Vale has lived up his reputation and removed a threat for us.”
“You agree with Lord Konstans’ actions?” Berimund exclaimed in disbelief.
“Of course,” Hardmar told him curtly, leaning back into his couch. “Adalbrand desires my throne. He had to be stopped.”
Berimund gave a frown. “You know this, my prince?”
“It was obvious,” the young nobleman scoffed. “Gathering followers and support, making alliances.”
“You consider him a traitor?” Incredulity continued to permeate the captain’s voice.
“It is not consideration, it is fact,” Hardmar stated. “Why do you think the Adalthing is being summoned? So we can execute the lot of them.”
“He is your blood,” the kingthane argued a deep furrow in his forehead.
“Only barely,” Hardmar retorted.
“It does not concern you that a dragonborn may be sent to the scaffold?” Berimund clenched his fist by his sides.
“I would send my own brothers to that same place if they betrayed me,” the prince declared casually, making Inghard and Gerhard stop their game.
The kingthane glanced behind him. By the door stood two of his brethren, staring pointedly ahead into empty air. “I see,” the captain mumbled. “I shall not disturb you further, my prince.”