Rens had not managed to get any answers. The bandits had all killed themselves rather than be taken alive, and poor Jom was dead.
Which meant that he would have to return to the camp and find out things there. Like why Krendor had left the camp when he had ordered him to stay.
For some reason he had the feeling that it would be better to address this issue while on the ride back, but they were both busy at the time.
And then at the camp, again neither of them was together at the same time, except at meals when he didn’t want to discuss it. A suspicion was forming, halfway there, worming its way into his head. He wasn’t sure where it would lead him, but for now he knew that it was time to keep it under wraps.
It was not until the next day, on their way to Relland, that he had time to pull Krendor aside without being obvious about it.
“Krendor. I’ve a question for you”
Krendor nodded, and the two plodded on in silence for a time. Krendor knew Rens well enough by now to know not to interrupt the captain while he was thinking.
Finally Rens spoke as the town came into view.
“Krendor, why did you come along yesterday?”
“What do you mean?”
“In the fight. Why were you with us, and not back at camp”
“…Did you not tell me to?”
“No. I didn’t. Try and think back. Think about it. Hold the detail in your mind. Think back, or else you’ll be violating your duty, endangering the life of the Prince”
His second sat bolt upright at that and a look of intense concentration settled onto his face.
Again, silence descended for quite some time, until they were almost there. Natasi tried to approach them during that time, but Rems waved her off, much to her obvious annoyance.
“I…I can’t remember. I can remember everything else about the day, but not that. Whenever I think of it, really try to, I just end up with the same memory. It just gray, there is no image to go along with it, but you’re saying ‘Krendor, bring along the third group as well. The fourth group can guard Natasi just fine’. And then there is a feeling that if I don’t go with you you’ll be killed, a fear that this time you won’t be able to handle things”
He looks over at the captain and frowns.
“I don’t know. I don’t know why I can’t remember more, but there is nothing else there. I’m sorry”
“Its ok Krendor. Thats all that I wanted to know”
So someone was altering memories, thoughts, feelings. Although this time it had worked in Rens’ favour; without the third group and Krendor they likely would have been defeated by the bandits. It was good that luck was, for once, favouring him.
But who could it be? It was obvious that they were Sketching to do it, but who had a Sigil that could control emotions, plant false memories? He had never heard of something like that, ever. He would have to ask the next scholar he ran into. For some reason he didn’t want to ask Natasi. Although it was likely that she might know, being a Sketcher herself, he had a feeling that she was not trustworthy.
“There’s something there…something that isn’t right. There is a, a hole, a problem with something I just thought. Its right there, its on the tip of my tongue but…
“No. Its gone”
“If you remember anything sir, or figure out what is going on, tell me. And I’ll double check my orders with you from now on”
“Good idea. Now then, go organize the troops, and hold them here. I’m going into town”
Krendor saluted as Rens kicked his horse into a trot.
He reached the bottom of the hill at the same time as Natasi and a few men from the fourth group. Waving a few men from the first group forwards he fell in beside her.
It was odd that she always had the fourth group with her, but hadn’t he assigned them to her in the first place?
Why was nothing making sense right now? Why did every thought echo in his head three times over before fading away entirely?
And the amulet was never from his chest now, day or night, he kept it on. If he left it there much longer it might get stuck to his skin permanently.
Natasi’s smile is sickly and obviously fake. She gestures towards the village.
“If you’re quite done with your little conference then perhaps we can enter?”
Natasi scowled at Rens as he rode ahead, dismounting at the inn and wandering in with his soldiers.
The Sigil of Clairvoyance had served her well this time. She had heard most of the conversation between the captain and his second.
So, he suspected something did he?
Well, that made it all the more important to finish him, and soon.
But, she could not afford to delay any longer either. She needed to find Robert, before the assassins had Hiros launch the bandits against the Free Lords.
And, by all accounts, the war still had not started.
Well, when the bandits landed with a Destrian Border tower, wearing Destrian tabards, the Free Lords would assume that the worst had happened.
War would begin as the bandits on Destria, wearing carefully gathered uniforms of individual Free Lord guards, attacked as one.
With Hiros installed as the Blood Red King she could coordinate the actions of the bandits like never before. And with the assassins as his guards he would be untouchable. It would be simplicity itself to keep the war going.
And of course, Lomwar and the other habitual enemies of Destria would not take long to join the fighting.
At that point she would have the bandits retreat, go back into hiding until the time was right for Robert to return at the head of a conquering army.
Of course, the army would be nothing more than bandits, but it would still be good enough to look impressive.
He could then transfer to take command of the entire war effort, and he could start bringing peace back to the islands.
And, by that point Hiros would be unneeded. The assassins would leave to kill his parents, and Hiros would be set upon by the dozens of pirates who want the title of the Blood Red King.
Smiling Natasi stepped into the general store. Rens may have wanted to search the inn, but she figured that the owner of the general store would have a better memory of those who passed through looking to buy a horse, lots of food, and the like.
“Hello there! Ah, ma’am, could you leave your guards outside? Too many weapons in the store makes me nervous”
Natasi turned to stare down at a small man. He smiled at her for a moment before beginning to wilt under her unrelenting stare.
“Its uh, just a question. Thats all. If you really insist you don’t need to”
“Have you seen this man recently?”
She described Robert as the man cowered back from the three soldiers with her.
“Perhaps? I don’t quite…what would he have been buying?”
“Supplies for a long journey”
“Ah, I don’t…Ah yes! Soldier!” The storekeeper snaps his fingers and begins to talk “There was a man, called himself Soldier. He asked for lots of food, and for a map. I ended up giving him directions to Brell, little port on the Desser. He was going to be…”
The storekeeper slowed, then stared at the guards, the weapons, and Natasi suspiciously.
“Why are you asking?”
“He ran away from home. I’m hoping to marry him, and so I set out after him. The captain of his house guard is also here, he’s just in the inn down the street”
“Well, I’m sorry. I, just can’t remember the route he was going to take”
The man was obviously lying. He either did not trust her, or he could tell that something was off.
She smiled a predatory smile as she reached over and grabbed him by the neck, nails digging in.
“No, I think you do remember. Gentlemen, guard the door, and hold him down. I’ll let you figure out the particulars”
“No, no, wait, please, I really don’t!”
“Of course you don’t”
The soldiers sneered as they grabbed the man and held him in place. She had chosen these three because they were so far gone they wouldn’t even become suspicious if they saw her Sketching. They were hers to the core now.
A quick Sketch later, just enough of one to make him trust her, and she had the soldiers ‘help him up’ from the ground.
“Oh, are you ok?”
She plastered a look of fake concern over her face as she brushed some dust off of his shirt front.
“I can’t believe you fell down. Just as you were going to get a map to show me the path Soldier was going to take”
“Ah, yes, so I was”
The little man scurried back behind the counter and pulled out a sheet of paper.
Soon he had marked the route he had suggested to Robert.
And that was all that Natasi needed.
“My thanks sir. Here is payment for the map”
She dropped a gold mark on the counter. It was likely enough to buy everything in this shop, but she didn’t have time to make make change.
She had a prince to catch.
Rocking back and forth.
That was the first thing he was aware of.
Rocking back and forth, and eyelids that were too heavy.
The man tried to open those eyes.
He succeeded for long enough to see shadows above him, moving back and forth, people. Above them was a brown sky.
And then the rocking pulled his eyes closed again as he began to slip back into the darkness that was his new home.
“Keep him alive longer. He’s important. Weave the Shadows deep, you hear? I want him to be able to survive all the way there. And then he needs to be able to walk the maze on his own”
A harsh voice, one used to having its orders followed, one that was a voice of command. Like his father’s.
His father? Who was his father?
And then another voice chased all thoughts away. Sibilant, low, dangerous, filled with a promise of pain.
“Of course. I have no intention of letting our prize die on us”
A line of ice carved its way across the man’s chest, and then he fell back into the darkness.