The Captain’s Gamble Avendor
Over the course of just a few, passing moments, Avendor watched as Colyn Lanarton’s expression shifted from hesitant apprehension to fiery rage. His face flushed to a deep shade of crimson, while the muscles along the line of his jaw drew so taut that they appeared ready to snap like a rope that had been stretched beyond its limits. At first, the Captain was certain that he had made a mistake, that Colyn would be overtaken by an all-consuming fury at the words he was reading.
Avendor had penned those words himself and knew exactly what they were telling the young guardsman. They outlined how Prince Jayslen’s Flame had been extinguished in the Deep Hearth, and how the Queen was convinced that her son had been murdered. The page also explained that—for reasons Avendor himself still did not fully understand—the sage, Tiberius, had been selected to lead the initial search for both the Prince’s remains and his killer.
“Is it true?” Colyn asked quietly. There was a dangerous edge to his voice, an iron-like quality that hinted at a deep yearning for bloody vengeance.
“Every word of it,” replied the Captain. “I think it goes without saying that this has not been made public yet. Your discretion will be of the utmost importance.”
“I understand, sir. What do we know about the…”
“Stay your tongue,” warned Avendor. “And choose your words carefully. Say nothing that would reveal any of what you’ve read.”
“But there’s no one around.”
“No one that you can see at any rate. Not that it would even matter. I’d wager there are at least three sets of eyes on us right now, at least one of which is proficient in reading lips.”
“Spying?” said Colyn. “On the Captain of the Winged Guard? That’s insufferable!”
Ashes and Embers! How can he be so bloody naive? “It’s common practice. The higher your rank, the more people there are watching you. The Queen herself is followed by no less than twenty spies virtually anywhere she goes, other than her private apartments. We do keep those very tightly guarded.”
“How can you allow such things to happen?”
“We find its easier this way. If we tried to ferret out and arrest every spy in Relen’ayar, they would just have to find more elaborate and evasive ways of doing their business, making it even more difficult for us to find them. Instead, we have spies watching the spies, and the Master of Whispers no doubt has other spies watching them. It’s a complex and disgusting web of intrigue, I admit, but for the most part it is fairly efficient at governing itself, especially with Navarius pulling the strands. Still, we don’t want to make it too easy for them by revealing sensitive information through thoughtless comments, now do we?”
“No,” responded the guardsman.
“Excellent. Then I will trust in your most diligent discretion. If you wouldn’t mind returning that page, I will do my best to answer what questions I assume you will have.” When Colyn handed the document back, Avendor promptly tore it into dozens of pieces, stuffing the fragments in various pockets. As far as he was aware, no one had even attempted to pick his pocket in years—an effect of both his station and his reputation, no doubt—but this was hardly the time to trust his luck and notoriety.
“First,” said the Captain. “Everything I know for certain was contained in what you just read. I have no more direct information for you. Second, I believe that that sage’s journey is directly related. I don’t know how or why, but the more I’ve thought on it, the more convinced I’ve become that the two are connected. Which means you’ll need to keep your eyes and ears open.
“We don’t know what other parties might be involved in this. There is a very real possibility that the sage’s life could be in danger, especially if he discovers something that he was not meant to find. Protect him well. Understood?”
“With my life.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that. You should begin making preparations for your departure. Also, I did ask if you had eaten, didn’t I? On your way back to the barracks, stop in at the Fairfield Inn. They’ll have a fine meal prepared for you.”
“Thank you sir,” Colyn said, saluting respectfully before turning away. As Avendor watched him go, he found himself praying that he had made the right decision. There was no doubt that sending Colyn out of the city for the duration of the Queen’s Council was in the best interest of everyone, but telling him about Jaylen’s death was an entirely different matter. Avendor had no shortage of doubt there. He knew that fierce loyalty would drive Colyn to undertake any task he felt would serve to avenge the fallen prince. The troubling question was just how far would that loyalty take him?
And how would it reverberate through the rest of the Realm?
Ever since the aide, Finnius, had come to his office seeking an escort, Avendor had not been able to shake a sense of unease that crept over him whenever he thought about the sage’s journey. It seemed uncomplicated enough. Tiberius, Finnius and Colyn were to travel by wind carriage to the town of Ronnex, seeking whatever information the sage thought he might find there. When they had finished they would return. It’s simple and straightforward, he kept telling himself. The greatest danger they’ll face is the possibility of something going awry with the carriage itself. Even that was highly unlikely, but he made a metal note to have someone triple check all the rigging. Just to be sure.
He had hoped that such mental reassurances would help drive away the troubling sense of uneasiness, but they only served to amplify it. The feeling continued to shimmer in his mind, like a single black diamond set against a clear morning sky, indistinct but impossible to ignore. He knew he could not simply dismiss it. Over the years, Avendor had learned to trust his instincts. They had saved him a dozen times or more. It would be foolish to dismiss them now.
Weighing the problem carefully in his mind, he had just turned to make the trek back to his office—and the mountain of paperwork that was surely awaiting him—when the shadow fell out of the tree beside him.