Tornmile: Part 40

Tornmile
Part XL: Honour & Duty

Brielle followed Darian up the next flight of stairs and was disappointed to see that the tapestries bearing coats of arms had stopped, replaced with similar pictures to those in the recesses in the First Hall and other events from the reigns of the kings. The stairs continued up and she wondered how high they were now, but there were no windows here for her to see out of. It was a shame, she had always liked looking over the roofs of the city and the opportunity to do so from the Spire was one she might never get again.

Soon they arrived at another landing and Darian turned off the stairs into a circular corridor, much like the one that held the Chamber of Governance, except this one had a number of doors leading of it. They passed a tapestry with a hunting scene and came to a halt just before a small bust on a plinth. Darian knocked on a door on which had been painted the black shield with the winged horse and three stars. Crossed behind the shield were two broadswords and above the shield the Sun Crown. As soon as he had knocked, he opened the door, allowing Brielle to enter ahead of him.

Beyond the door was a small antechamber, with another door off to the right, and where a clerk was sat behind a desk, sifting through letters and lists and making notes on a separate piece of parchment. There were black ink stains on his hands and a few on the front of his brown tunic, which bore the livery of Siarl on the left hand side of the chest, above the wearer’s heart. There were no broadswords behind the shield on this man’s tunic and no Sun Crown above it, the final proof on top of his look that this was not the man they had come to see. He was bent low over the work and Brielle could see where his hair was thinning. He looked up as their boots sounded on the flagstones and nearly jumped from his seat.

“Barnaby,” Brielle said, instantly recognising the man she had served every day for more years than she cared to count, “it’s me, Brielle, from the King’s Arms?”

Barnaby shifted the chair backwards, the colour draining from his face. He threw down the quill he was holding as if might suddenly come to life and attack him.

“What…what do you want with me?” he stammered.

“We’re here to see Captain Severin,” Darian said, entering and crossing over to the desk, “We have an appointment; my name is Darian Astur.”

Barnaby looked from Darian to Brielle and seemed to relax a little, opening a leather bound ledger and tracing his finger along a list of appointments. Even whilst he did that he looked up at Brielle for a moment as if checking she was still there. Finally, he nodded to himself.

“You can go straight in,” he said, talking to Darian but unable to keep his eye from Brielle, “you’re expected.”

“Thank you,” Darian said and shaking his head a little he crossed to the door.

Brielle made a move to follow him, but a small gurgling noise from Barnaby made her stop and turn.

“Are you alright?”

“I…I thought you were a spirit. I went to the inn, same as I usually did, but it was nothing but ashes. Your father said that you’d been in it at the time and that you were…”

“Dead?”

He nodded vigorously and Brielle laughed a little to reassure him that she wasn’t offended.

“No, I managed to get out unharmed.”

“What happened, if you don’t mind me prying?”

“Dunstan Ferrer happened – that’s why we’re here.”

His face clouded and he muttered something under his breath, which sounded like one of the old curses. Brielle had not heard one of those since she was a child. Dunstan Ferrer had that sort of effect on people though. When his curse was done, Barnaby looked back to her.

“Will you rebuild the King’s Arms?”

“I…,” Brielle said, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe.”

“I hope you do,” he said, “Since it’s been gone, I’ve been having my one cup a day in The Pride. It’s not the same. Too many soldiers for my liking and everyone wants to talk to you.”

“If I do reopen the King’s Arms, Barnaby, you’ll be the first to know, I promise you.”

He nodded and sat back down in his chair, content with her answer. She was not sure she was. Since the inn had been burned she hadn’t given it a great deal of thought – her mind had been turned towards paying Ferrer back for what he’d done. She didn’t have a lot of money, not really, so rebuilding the inn wouldn’t be easy, but the Guilds might lend her the money if she wanted it. The inn had been hers, and with her father off the drink it might be a worthwhile venture. It bore thinking about, but Ferrer had to be got rid of before she could think about starting again. You have to sheath a sword before you draw another. That’s what Caiden would say.

Acquaintance renewed, she joined Darian by the door. Once again, he knocked and allowed her to go in first before following on behind. They entered a large office, which was not furnished as lavishly as Brielle had expected. The room held only one tapestry, depicting a charge of Tornmilian knights, the Captain of the Guards in the lead, clearly identifiable by his shield marked with the crossed swords and Sun Crown. It hung behind a desk made of plain wood, but solid and with metal feet attached to it. These were shaped like lion’s claws, but they were unpolished. The desk was functional rather than decorative, as were the chairs that went with it. The furnishings looked more like they belonged in a campaign tent on a battlefield rather than in the Spire.

The same could be said for the man behind the desk. He was younger than Brielle had expected, perhaps only a few years older than Darian, though he looked a seasoned warrior. His hair was cut lose to his head and was slightly ruffled, as though he had just that moment removed his helm. His eyes were dark and slightly sunken, giving him a tired look, though he sat bolt upright in the chair and stood without hesitation when they entered. There was a knife on his right hip, worn on a simple belt around his trousers, and was the only weapon he was carrying, though a sword leaned against the wall behind his chair, with the sword belt wrapped around the hilt. His coat was black, with the white winged horse and stars just above the left breast and a pair of crossed swords in silver at the cuff.

“You must be Darian Astur, son of Lord Lucian,” the man said, “but I am afraid I haven’t had the honour of meeting this lady before.”

Darian looked at him confused for a moment, and then recovered himself.

“I have the honour to present Brielle, daughter of Aubin,” Darian said, standing upright in a way that Brielle had never seen before; she was not used to him so formal.

“A pleasure to meet you,” the man said, taking Brielle’s hand and kissing it lightly. His hands were rough to the touch. Soldier’s hands. He withdrew his hand and smiled at Brielle congenially, and then turned so that he could see them both. “I am Lieutenant Royer.”

“I was expecting to see Captain Severin…?” Darian said, trailing off with a hint of disappointment.

“I’m afraid that Captain Severin was called away to deal with an incident on the West Road. He asked me to take the meeting in his stead.”

Brielle wondered what kind of incident could have happened on the West Road that would necessitate the presence of the commanding officer of the City Guards. She looked at Darian, who seemed to be thinking the same thing, though he was more annoyed by it than she was. She understood: the matter they were bringing was an important one, and he had expected to be able to discuss it with the Captain of the Guards rather than an appointed second.

“Please, take seats,” Royer continued, gesturing to the chairs in front of the desk, “will you take wine?”

“Thank you,” Darian responded, courteously, “that would be welcome.”

Royer nodded and moved across to a small table under the tapestry where a number of flasks stood. He opened one and poured a rich red wine into silver cups, handing one each to Darian and Brielle, before taking one for himself. Brielle smelled the wine and took a brief sip and gasped in recognition. Darian turned towards her, cup halfway to his mouth, and gave her a quizzical look.

“Lapion Tower,” she said, looking into her cup, “I didn’t know you could still get this since…since the fall.”

“You have an excellent palate, my lady,” Royer said, toasting her with his cup before seating himself again, “I was fortunate enough to buy a few casks shortly before the city fell. This is the last of it.”

Brielle could think of no response as her thoughts turned to Caiden; had he been drinking Lapion Tower wine when the bells had sounded calling him to duty? Had the faint strawberry taste it left still been on his tongue as he fell? Tears began to form in her eyes and she forced the cup to her lips so that the others would not see. Darian placed the cup down on the arm of his chair, the drink inside untouched.

“Now, what can I do for you in the Captain’s stead?” Royer asked, setting his cup on the desk in front of him, “He did not leave instruction as to what brings you to see him.”

“Dunstan Ferrer,” Darian said. His fingers brushed lightly against the cup on the chair arm, but he did not pick it up.

“Ah,” Royer said, “what about him?”

“His men visited the King’s Arms Inn belonging to Brielle’s father and asked them to pay money for protection. When they were refused they went away peaceably, only to return that night and attempt to kidnap Brielle and burn the inn to the ground, causing, I am led to believe, damage to homes of others in the area. I have taken the lady and her father into my home and protection, but there must be some recourse in law for the actions of these men,” Darian paused to allow the first to settle in, and then continued, “Furthermore, one of my own men, in attempting to identify those responsible for the burning of the King’s Arms was taken prisoner by men in Ferrer’s employ and subjected to various tortures.”

“I see,” Royer said, his brows drawn together, “and I sympathise with your troubles, my lady, but I don’t understand quite what this has to do with the Captain of the Guard directly. Surely these are matters that could be brought to the justiciars, who would then issue warrants for our guardsmen to act upon?”

“Ordinarily you would be perfectly correct, Lieutenant,” Darian said, “but these are merely two recent examples of the work that Ferrer’s thugs do. They are the sharp point of a much larger and more dangerous sword; a sword that hangs above us all.”

“Then what do you suggest the Guard does about this sword?”

“I suggest that the Guard marches in force on his compound and arrests him to answer for the crimes he has ordered: extortion, theft, arson, breach of the peace, brawling, and murder. He also owns a number of properties in the city, which he has turned into bolt holes for fellow criminals to use to hide from justice.”

If Royer was perturbed by this list of activities, he did not show it. More than anything, it seemed to Brielle that he was bored, running through the motions of the meeting, rather than listening to what was being said. She felt her frustration rise, but tried to keep it under control. Though she did not want to taste the wine and hear her mind run over the questions about her brother, she raised the cup to her lips for something to do, sipping politely.

“I understand your concern,” Royer said, “and the problems you mention are serious ones, but I cannot issue an order to march on Ferrer’s compound.”

“Why not?” Darian asked, as if the man were a little deranged, “The man is a notorious criminal who sits in that lair and laughs at the law and its guardians who do nothing to stop him.”

“He is and he does, and while that is the case we know who controls the thugs and cutpurses, and where to find him and them. We can arrest individual members of his gang and we can hang the ones that deserve it and put the others in the dungeons, but if we arrest Ferrer we will be making things better not worse. All the scum that make up his organisation will vie for control of the man’s empire if he is removed. The citizenry of the Tanneries and even further into the city will be subject to more violence and more brutality than is currently the case as those men fight a war on our streets for power. Ferrer is a stabilising force: he keeps things in check. At the moment, hard though it is, he is better for public order in power than in prison.”

“You can’t be serious!” Brielle said, slamming the cup down on the desk in front of her, “isn’t it the job of the Guard to arrest criminals?”

“It is also our job to protect the citizens, madam.”

Royer’s tone was sharp and he turned quickly towards her, dark eyes boring into her. She refused to look away and folded her arms across her chest. It was Darian that spoke, drawing Royer’s eyes away from her first.

“What about the citizens that have suffered at the hands of Ferrer already? Where were you when they needed your protection? Where will you be the next time Ferrer’s thugs try to teach someone a lesson?”

“I will be where I always am – standing between the people and scum like Ferrer, but I will be doing so in accordance with greatest good for the greatest number.”

“And what about my inn?” Brielle asked, “Should I rebuild it only to have it burned down again? Should I have paid Ferrer more than my earnings to stop him burning it in the first place? If I was in your seat I would do my duty and spit him with my sword by the end of the day.”

“I am doing my bloody duty!” Royer yelled, slapping his hand on the table, flecks of spittle flying from his mouth, “My duty is to keep order, not to unleash a group of thugs and killers on an unsuspecting populace! My duty is to keep my men alive, not to send them to die to change nothing and to satisfy your petty vengeance!”

Silence settled over the room like a shroud. Brielle didn’t move, too shocked to respond. Royer wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand, his shoulders rising and falling with his breath. His eyes seemed even darker than before, like grey clouds turned black during a thunderstorm. Darian was looking down at his boots, his hair hanging over the side of his face, obscuring his expression from view. The muscles in his arms were tensed, making the hair width fencing scars stand out like lines on a map. His knuckles were white where they gripped the chair arm.

“Apologise.”

It was a whisper, but it broke the silence with the force of a war hammer. Royer looked at Darian, who raised his head a little so that he was staring directly at the Lieutenant. Royer opened his mouth and then closed it again. A moment passed in silence.

“Apologise!”

Darian was on his feet, shaking with fury, his command roared out and echoing off the stone walls. The silver cup that had been sat on his chair arm clattered to the floor, rolling away, and leaving a trail of red wine across the tiles. To Brielle, they looked like splatters of blood.

“I will not,” Royer breathed, his voice tense but slightly more controlled than before, “and I will not authorise an attack against Dunstan Ferrer or issue a warrant for his arrest. That is my final word. Take it and be gone.”

“Then I will petition the Council to bring in my own retinue to do the job instead,” Darian said, towering over Royer, “and when Dunstan Ferrer hangs from the North Gate in a gibbet with crows pecking at his eyes, I will meet you in the duelling circle and I will spill your guts into the dust for the insult you have offered my lady today.”

He pulled a leather glove from behind his belt and slammed it down on the table in front of Royer.

“Darian –” Brielle began, unsure of what she was going to say to him, but he waved a hand to stop her intervening anyway. She fell silent.

“Pick it up,” Darian said to Royer, “Pick it up or I swear I will open your throat right here.”

Royer picked Darian’s glove from the table and Darian made a growling noise in the back of his throat that meant approval of the act, before stalking from the room, boots clipping loudly on the floor, and slamming the door shut behind him. Brielle rose as gracefully as she could, adjusted the sword at her belt, smoothed her skirt, and then made for the door. When she reached it she turned back to Royer and offered him a cynical smile.

“If he doesn’t gut you,” she said, as pleasantly as she could manage, “be sure that I will. Thank you for the wine.”

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