Tornmile: Part 46

Part XLVI: An Unexpected Meeting

“Fools!” Darian said angrily as they made their way down the staircase away from the Chamber of Governance, “Bloody pontificating bloody fools!”

Brielle had never seen Darian angry; he was usually in such control of what he was feeling. Even when he spoke of Ferrer he did it in a low voice, without shouting. He had not even got angry with the scullion who had turned spy in his own household. He had been annoyed by the man’s treachery, but he understood that those less fortunate than himself were always on the lookout for ways of bettering themselves, of finding more coin to keep them warm. He had been annoyed, but he had not been angry.

Now he took the stairs two at a time, the tapestries bearing the lords’ arms rippling in the air currents he made as he shot passed them. His boots thumped on the ancient stone of the staircase, the sound echoing down the passageway. Brielle could not keep up with him, though she followed six steps behind. She was glad that she was wearing her fencing dress or she would not have been able to keep even that close to him.

“Darian, wait…”

He stopped abruptly, one foot a step below the other, and he turned to look back up the stairs at her. His eyes were lit with passion and his hair fell loosely about his face. Even in this much of a rage she found him beautiful. He would probably not like that description, preferring handsome or some other such word, but beautiful was what he was. Her thoughts turned to the white hair-line scars crisscrossing his muscular chest, desire overcoming her anger.

“I’ll do it anyway,” he said, “and damn what the Council thinks. As the Emperor of Heaven sees me, I’ll do it.”

“You will not.”

The words were not spoken loudly, but they carried down the staircase, laden with authority. Darian’s words died in his throat and though he was still angry, he lowered his eyes to the floor. The voice had come from behind Brielle, and she turned to see who it was that could have such an effect on Darian whilst he was in such a rage as this. The golden hawk embroidered on a blue coat would have given him away as Lord Lucian Astur, but she did not need his heraldry to determine who he was. He and Darian were almost exactly alike.

“Father, I-”

No sooner had Darian begun speaking, his father held up at hand. Darian held his tongue, stopping in mid-sentence. Lord Astur moved down the stairs, his eyes fixed on his son. All the sounds of servants moving about the Spire and the mix of voices from the First Hall faded into nothingness. All Brielle could hear was Lord Astur’s determined footfalls as he made his way down. He stopped on the same step as Brielle, and she stepped back to allow him room, dropping a courtesy, which he ignored.

“I will not allow my son to defame our family here in the Tower of Siarl. You know that bringing a retinue into this city without the consent of the Council or the King himself is an act of treason, punishable by attainder and death. Do you care nothing for your family name, for your father’s name, for the health and well-being of your sisters? What will happen to them if, because of your rage and recalcitrance, our honour is cast into the filth and our name blackened beyond hope of recovery?”

Darian shifted slightly from one foot to the other. She wanted to speak up in his defence, to run to him and stand beside him, help him to defy his father and the Council, but she could tell that he did not want that. He wanted Ferrer to pay for what he had done, what he continued to do, but he had not thought before he had spoken. He was not embarrassed by his father’s chastisement, but that he had needed it at all. Brielle watched him and felt like weeping.

She did not have the chance though as Darian’s father turned towards her. His face, which had been commanding and serious, softened as he looked at her and he gave her a small smile.

“Forgive me for my rudeness, Brielle, daughter of Aubin. I am glad to finally meet you in person, though I have heard much about you since the beginning of your stay at my house.”

“I’m honoured to meet you, Lord Astur,” she said, dropping another courtesy, “your son has been very kind to me and I am forever grateful for the hospitality that you have shown me. I am at your service: if there is anything you wish of me, name it and I will see it done.”

“A curious speech, Brielle,” he said, smiling, “a lady’s grace finished with a soldier’s words. What are we to make of you? Your father served in the army, perhaps?”

“My brother, Caiden,” Brielle said, uncertainly, “He was at Lapion when it fell.”

“You and yours will be forever welcome in my houses and estates, Brielle, daughter of Aubin, for the realm has had more service from your family than was fair to demand. There are two things that I would ask from you, however.”

She nodded, unable to express her gratitude for the words he had said. She felt that he genuinely understood the grief she held for Caiden, the grief that thousands of sisters, mothers, fathers and brothers held for the sons and daughters they had lost at Lapion. She was glad that someone in power did understand.

“Name them, my Lord,” she said, “and they will be done.”

“The first is that you excuse us – I have need to talk further with my son in private, where his words may get him into less trouble.”

“Of course, my lord,” she said, glancing at Darian, who had sat down on the steps with his head in his hands, “and the second?”

“The second I will let my son inform you of when we have finished with our talk. Please forgive the mystery, but that is how it should be.”

With that, he nodded to her and walked down the stairs, tapping Darian on the shoulder. He rose and they both descended the stairs together in silence. Darian looked up at Brielle over his shoulder, and she smiled with encouragement, blowing him a kiss. He brightened for an instant and then turned away, walked around the corner of the staircase and was lost from sight.

Not knowing quite what to do with herself, Brielle started to descend the stairs after them, though she walked at a much slower pace, turning over Lord Astur’s words in her mind. What had he meant by the second of his requests? Why would it be better if Darian was the one who told her? She would have to wait, she supposed, to understand, but part of her wanted to know immediately. Sighing at this confusion, she walked on, reached the bottom of the staircase and moved through the nearest archway into the First Hall.

It was busier than it had been when she and Darian had arrived and she had a hard time of negotiating her way through the crowds. She tried to ignore the statue of Siarl as she made her way towards the door, thinking that she would head back to the Astur’s manor and talk things over with her father.

“My lady Brielle!”

She turned towards the source of the call, back the way she had come. In the archway to the left of Siarl’s statue stood the young lord that had frowned at the Council’s worry about Darian’s retinue. He had been disagreeing with them, but he had said nothing in Darian’s defence or to plead his case, but she thought that was because he was the least of the lords and didn’t feel he could contradict those above him.

He saw her looking and gestured for her to come to him. Wondering what he could want, she wove her way back through the crowds in the First Hall, keeping her attention on the young lord and off the statue that dominated the room. There was no way she could count the tiles with this many people in the way. Soon she was back in the archway, standing before the lord. He was young, no older than Darian, though he had wider shoulders and black hair. His chin was covered with a thick black beard, trimmed to keep it from looking wild, and he had green eyes with amber flecks. His coat was red and he wore a silver pin of a winged axe.

“Forgive me for shouting for you, my lady,” he said, “but I did not want you to leave before I could to you. Though I have no disdain for it myself, the other lords frown if one of the Council is seen chasing through the city streets.”

“There is nothing to forgive, my lord,” Brielle said as she courtesied.

“I am Lord Ilyas Perun and I disagree with the Council’s decision not to allow Dunstan Ferrer to be brought to justice. There is someone else who was present who feels the same way and has asked me to bring you to him for a meeting. Will you come with me?”

Brielle nodded her consent and they began to walk back up the long winding staircase that circled the outside of the building. She wondered who else had disagreed with the decision. The only people she had seen that did not agree outright were Lord Perun himself and Darian’s father, and Lord Astur had made it clear that he did agree with the decision, even if he had not spoken at the time. They walked in silence, Lord Perun leading the way, and they climbed past the Chamber of Governance, higher and higher into the Spire.

Eventually, they turned away from the stairs and walked down a wide corridor lit with stand lamps. The tapestries here bore depictions of Siarl doing some of the great deeds of his reign. They seemed to be copies of those pictures in the recesses in the First Hall, though it crossed her mind that the paintings could have been copied from these tapestries. Along with stand lamps and tapestries, there were squads of guards on regular patrol on this floor. They looked at Lord Perun and Brielle warily as they passed. Perun ignored them, striding down the corridor until he came to a doorway guarded by two men with halberds.

When they saw Lord Perun approaching they stepped to either side of the door. He nodded to them, knocked, and went in, with Brielle following behind him, still slightly bemused. Inside was a small sitting room, not unlike the one at Lord Astur’s manor. There were two chairs with gilt work arms in the centre of the room facing a larger and more ornate chair in which sat King Yurian. Brielle immediately bent her legs and inclined her head. Lord Perun rose from his bow and ushered Brielle to a chair and she sat on the edge of it looking at the king. He wore the same clothes as he had in the Chamber of Governance and was still as dishevelled, but his eyes were more focused.

“Your Majesty,” Lord Perun said, talking louder and slower than Brielle thought was necessary, “this is the lady you asked to see: Brielle, daughter of Aubin.”

The king nodded as if he understood and started to speak, the first few words coming out as croaks. He paused and swallowed hard and then continued.

“Thank you, Lord Perun,” he said, his voice raspy, “Now, my lady, Lord Astur’s son said that you are Aubin’s daughter and you ran an inn, is that right?”

“That is correct, Your Majesty,” Brielle said, “We ran the King’s Arms Inn before Dunstan Ferrer’s thugs burned it down.”

“It made me sad to hear such news, I had to check.”

The king coughed heavily, his shoulders rising and falling as his chest convulsed. A servant came forward and offered him water, which he took and drank deeply. A spluttering of coughs followed, but then subsided. He waved to Perun and he continued in the king’s stead.

“King Yurian was always very proud that there was an inn bearing his arms and he often checked with his lords and servants whether it still operated. He was greatly aggrieved to hear today that it had come to calamity at the hands of a known criminal.”

“I thank you for your concern, Your Majesty,” Brielle said, smiling at the king. He nodded, but it was Perun who spoke.

“His Majesty has seen fit to overturn the Council’s decision to deny Sir Darian Astur to bring in a retinue to deal with Dunstan Ferrer. This is the reason he asked me to find you.”

The king whispered to his servant, who nodded and fetched a scroll from the table along with sealing wax. The scroll was not sealed, but the servant dripped wax onto the bottom of the scroll and helped the king press a signet ring into it. When this was done, the servant brought it to Lord Perun.

“In this scroll, the king gives Sir Darian the authority to raise a small retinue and destroy Dunstan Ferrer’s operations. He stipulates that Ferrer is to be arrested and brought to the Spire dungeons alive and that the retinue be disbanded within three days of its formation. He empowers me to ensure that these demands are carried out.”

“I’m sure that Darian, I mean, Sir Darian will be more than happy to fulfil the commands of the king,” Brielle said, “on his behalf and my own, I thank you Lord Perun and you Your Majesty for your generosity.”

“There is one other stipulation,” Lord Perun said, gravely.

“What is it?”

He looked down at the scroll and then to the king, who nodded. For a moment, the air of command that he was reported to have had in his early days as king seemed to shine out from him again and Brielle thought that perhaps his health was returning to him. Lord Perun held the scroll out to Brielle, who took the other end. As her fingers touched the parchment she met Lord Perun’s eyes and the amber there seemed to shine.

“His Majesty makes you one of his chosen knights. You are now Dame Brielle Kingsworn.”

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