An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

An Unexpected Visitor Tiberius

By the time Tiberius returned to his chambers, it was well past the hour of his regular evening meal. As he collapsed into the chair that an attending servant had pulled out for him, his stomach rumbled loudly in irritated hunger. The smells of peppered salmon and potatoes, which had been laid out before him, temporarily chased the weariness from his bones. He quickly began to consume the meal. It had long since gone cold, but he did not care in the slightest. It was delicious, and he had to admit that there were some distinct benefits to being the Prince’s tutor and living in the palace. This was one of them. The Queen spared no expense in finding and hiring the most talented chefs in the Realm.

As the food returned some of the energy to his both his body and mind, he began to think over all that had happened throughout the past day. After his return from the Stilt District, he had told Nathaneal and Finnius everything he had learned about the woman from Ronnex and what she claimed to have witnessed. Together, they had come to the consensus that her story bore an undeniable ring of truth, and was probably the best lead they could hope to find here in Relen’ayar. It would need to be followed up.

Exactly how they were going to do that, however, had been a heated debate. Eventually, they had settled on plan that would see Tiberius and Finnius travel to Ronnex, where they would investigate the matter further. At first, Nathanael had not been happy about the idea, but he had eventually seen the logic in having Tiberus—who knew Jayslen better than any of them—make the journey. From there it was simply a matter of common practicality for Finnius to accompany him. Nathanael had an able body and a keen mind, but there were certain limitations to having two blind men working together.

Now both his son and chief aide were off making preparations for the journey, preparations that would not be completed until late the next morning. Even by air, they would need several days to make the journey, so provisions would be necessary. They would also need to find a wind carriage—preferably one of the Queen’s own—and a pilot to fly it, which would be no small task on such short notice.

For his part, Tiberius also wanted at least three reliable footmen to accompany them. He would speak to Sir Avendor about that. The new Captain of the Winged Guard had impressed him on their ride back to the palace. Unlike many of his predecessors, he appeared to be more than just another iron-encased fool. He even seemed capable of thinking with his mind instead of his sword. The Nine knew there were few enough narrow-minded men in the Winged Guard. Perhaps Avendor could find a few more exceptions to accompany them to Ronnex.

Before he could arrange that—or report their intentions to the Queen for that matter—there was still the matter of the Whisper Glass. Tiberius had not told Nathanael and Finnius everything about his journey to and from the Stilt District. The encounter with the young boy would seem insignificant except for the small sphere that had been pressed into his hand, and he was not about to tell anyone about that.

At least not yet.

As far as Tiberius could tell, Finnius knew nothing about the Society. Of course, he would have no reason to. For his part, Nathanael had always known about his father’s strange contacts outside of the palace—and even outside of Relen’ayar itself—but he had never questioned it. Tiberius preferred it that way. He had always accepted the necessity of the Society’s existence. They provided an important, if generally unseen, counterbalance to the political influence of the Flameborn. Still, he had never truly been comfortable with the extent of their secrecy and would have preferred to keep Nathanael mercifully uninvolved.

He supposed it was just the nature of fatherhood. Though his son was no longer a boy—and had not been for many years—Tiberius still felt the overwhelming drive to protect him. Still, he was not sure how much longer he could keep Nathanael at arm’s length. I’m getting old, he thought. I feel it in my bones every day. When I pass, the burden of stewardship will fall squarely on his shoulders. Is he ready for it?

Tiberius was not sure. His son was intelligent and had been diligent in his studies. He understood all but the deepest and darkest secrets of the Auratorch, which were reserved for the Steward alone. It time, however, those secrets would be passed to Nathanael. With so much of his late mother’s natural innocence and honesty, Tiberius worried that they would be too much for him.

But that was a thought for another time. There were far more pressing concerns at the moment. He politely thanked the servant for his meal, asking that his compliments be passed on to the chef. Once the servant had departed, Tiberius quickly locked the door then crossed the room and latched the shutters on his window. For good measure, he also closed the heavy drapes. Normally, he did not touch them at all—the light of the sun was a of little concern to his unseeing eyes—but the thick cloth would help muffle sound. He did not want anyone to overhear what he planned to do next.

Sitting down at his bureau, he opened one of its many drawers and found the small pestle he occasionally used to for grinding powders and other substances. He then reached into his pocket and carefully withdrew the Whisper Glass. No larger than an acorn, it felt perfectly smooth and rounded in his palm. He was always amazed at the quality of the craftsmanship of the stones.

It seemed such a shame to destroy them.

There was no help for it, however. He placed the glass ball squarely on the flat surface of his bureau, holding it firm as he raised the pestle just a few short inches, and prepared to strike. Then he paused. He thought heard something—a faint rustle, like the movement of fabric. The drapes? No he had shut the window firmly enough and would surely have heard if anyone had tried to open it. The only other fabric in the room was on the bed.

“Who’s there?” said Tiberius, setting down the pestle. There was more rustling as he heard someone small emerge from from their concealment. He suddenly wished that the servant and not cleared away all the dishes. The knife, at least, would have been a weapon.

“I’d heard that you have good ears,” responded a child’s voice. Tiberius knew it instantly. It was the same boy who had crashed into him earlier. Although the accent was somewhat different—it seemed more refined somehow—it quite obviously belonged to the same child who had first pressed the Whisper Glass into his hand.

“We meet again,” said Tiberius, feeling somewhat relieved. It seemed highly unlikely that the boy would pass him the stone and then be sent to kill him.

“You recognize me.”

“Your voice.”

“A useful trick, that.”

“It’s nothing really,” shrugged Tiberius. “Most people remember faces. I remember voices. But though I know you’re voice, I do not know your name.”

“They call me Fleet Paws.” Although he did not recognize it, Tiberius knew immediately that it was a Society name. Every member took—or was given—such a moniker. It helped them protect their anonymity, both in exchanged messages and during these rare personal encounters. Sometimes a name would have significance to its bearer, but most often they were entirely random. His own was Baby Blue Bird.

“What brings you here Fleet Paws? Is this about the stone?”

“No. But I sense the stone is not what you think. Our earlier encounter in the streets had nothing to do with the book in the chapel. But my presence here does. You called for a messenger. Here I am.”

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