An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

Captain of the Winged Guard Avendor

“You’re travelling where?” the Captain of the Winged Guard asked of the man called Finnius. The sage’s aide was small and wiry, with wispy brown hair and a thin moustache that followed the shape of his upper lip. For some reason that Avendor had never been able to pin down, the man always reminded him of a ferret.

“Ronnex,” Finnius said again. “It’s a small village to the north west. We have important business there.”

“And you want me to send three of my men with you?”

“We would feel much more secure if were accompanied.”

“By the Nine, man! The Relen’sik is to hold council in three days. The Lords and their delegates have already started arriving. It’s going to take every man I have to patrol the Upper City and keep them from killing each other.”

“Has the Council of Lords come again so soon?” asked the aide.

Avendor wanted to scream. The entire palace had been swarming with activity for the past several weeks, all in preparation for the Queen’s council. How could the aide be so out of touch that he either did not notice or could not identify its source?

“The Queen has called the council herself, for reasons that do not concern us.” Strictly speaking, that was not entirely accurate. The Queen had called the council, and political tradition mandated that all matters of that council were to remain carefully guarded secrets until it was decided to make them public. Still, Avendor’s position made him privy to some of that information, and the matters slated for discussion could ultimately concern every man, woman and child throughout the entire realm.

“Yes,” the aide replied. “Of course. So you can spare no men? We are doing the Queen’s business.”

Avendor grunted. “Everyone within these walls is doing the Queen’s business. And no, I cannot spare three men. But I might be able to spare one. Let me give it some thought and I’ll get back to you in the morning.”

“Thank you, Captain. We look forward to your reply.” The aide offered a respectful bow before taking his leave, closing the door softly behind him.

The truth of the matter was that Avendor did not have to think about the request at all. He would be sending one of his men—and he already knew exactly who that man would be.

“Sherryl!” he called. A moment latter, his short, middle-aged secretary appeared. Her silvering hair was tied, somewhat chaotically, behind her head and her fingers were stained with fresh blotches of spilled ink. She was clearly out of sorts. Avendor had been named Captain less than a month past, but he had already come to rely heavily upon Sherryl’s fastidious and hyper-detailed nature. To see her so disheveled told him that she was being pushed to her limits.

“Sir?”

“I need you to draw up some assignment papers.”

“Of course. For who?”

“Colyn Lanarton”

“And the assignment?”

“He will be accompanying the sage, Tiberius, and his aide on a journey to the town of Ronnex—wherever that may be.”

“Are you sure we can spare him, sir? I mean with the Council and all?”

“I don’t think we can afford not to spare him.” Colyn was a good enough man— dedicated in his work, diligent in his duties and more than proficient with his sword. He was also bold and brash and fiercely political. Avendor had been fretting for weeks about what to do with the man. One wrong word or unguarded comment, and he could have had the entire Upper City in arms, with all the blame falling back on the Captain himself. If Avendor was to survive any longer than his predecessor, he could not allow Colyn to tie the noose around his neck so quickly.

“Yes, Captain,” replied Sherryl. “I think I understand.”

“Of course you understand,” laughed Avendor. “Just like you already knew who I would be assigning. You know this job better than I do. See to the papers, but do it in the morning. You’re exhausted. Go home to your family.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you. There’s just one more thing. It’s Lord Carwell—or more precisely, his delegates. They arrived approximately a quarter hour ago and should already be settling into the villa by now.”

“Thank you, Sherryl. Now get going. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night, Captain. Say hello to Vivian for me.”

“Of course.”

It took Avendor another ten minutes to make his way from his office in the barracks, through the corridors of the palace itself and down into the Upper City, where the villas of the major and minor houses had been carefully arranged in what only appeared to be a haphazard manner. None of the major houses—of which Carwell was one—were situated anywhere close to each other, and the minor houses had been purposefully arranged to spread the balance of power and influence as evenly as possible.

Fortunately, until recent years, House Carwell had been a strong supporter of the Winged Throne, and their villa was relatively close to the palace. That suited Avendor just fine. The night was hot and still thick with humid air coming in off the Kharnine. He would not have wanted to make the long trek down to the villas of houses Blackcroft or Keydar, especially not in the suffocating heat of his mandatory breastplate.

As he approached the villa, he announced himself to the sentries stationed outside the gates. A young servant boy was sent running and when he returned, several moments later, Avendor was promptly and wordlessly escorted into the villa, to a smallish meeting room situated just inside the main entryway.

A meal of spiced poultry, bread, sweet rice and bright red strawberries had been freshly laid on the table, and was being attended to by a single, middle-aged man. He was clad in an elaborate silver doublet, trimmed with the maroon of House Carwell, and had a face like a stone. It was not that his demeanour was cold or unwelcoming—he smiled pleasantly as Avendor entered the room. His deeply lined skin and prominently arched nose merely gave the impression of hardness.

It was not the face of Lord Aurin Carwell.

“You’re not Seamus,” said the man, though not unkindly.

“And you are not Lord Carwell, though I would mark you as his kin.”

“Belmor Carewll, the Lord’s cousin. And you?”

“Avendor Tarcoth, Captain of the Winged Guard. I am here to greet you in the name of Her Majesty, the Queen.”

“I see. Well you’re not who I was expecting and I’m not who you were expecting, so let’s say we cut the formalities and you tell me what happened to old Seamus?”

“He retired last year.”

“And you’re his replacement, then?”

“No, my Lord. That would have been Sir Edimus. But he was forced to resign just this past month.”

“I think I remember him. Too much stress, was it?”

“Too much wine. He made the unfortunate mistake of appearing before her Majesty drunk. He denied it of course, but we could all smell it on his breath. The next morning, he was decorating the gallows.”

Belmor shook his head. “A hard woman. Regardless, my cousin asked that convey his sincerest apologies for his absence.” Avendor doubted that sincerity. Relations between Carwell and the Winged Throne had been strained since the late King’s death. “There have been some disturbances along the Stonewall. Rumours of strange demons. It’s all common nonsense and superstition, I’m sure— and likely nothing more than a rabid rockcat—but Aurin deemed it important enough to ride out and investigate the matter himself. I’ve been sent as his delegate. I do have all the official papers, of course.”

“Have them sent to the Chief Magistrate,” said Avendor. “He’ll be the one to ensure everything is in order. I just came by to introduce myself and inform you that the Winged Guard will be patrolling the Upper City for the duration of the Council. We expect no trouble from House Carwell, of course.”

“Ha!” When Belmor laughed his broad chest heaved like a great barrel. “Thorough and a diplomat. Very good! I think I like you, Captain. Care for a drink?”

“Thank you, my Lord,” Avendor replied politely, “but no. It’s getting late, and I’ll have many more meetings tomorrow, I’m sure.”

“Some other time, then.”

When Avendor left the villa, he went with slice of warm bread in his hand— at Belmor’s insistence—and the promise to visit again, when time permitted. The Captain chewed thoughtlessly, keeping his diligent eye on the quiet Upper City as he trudged slowly toward to his modest house. Despite his earlier comments, however, he was in no particular rush to make it home. Nothing waited there for him but a childless marriage and his cold, silent bed.

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