An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

In The House of Twilight Avendor

Avendor could tell that Tiberius was thinking, and by the way he pursed his lips, it was clear the sage was not at all pleased with the direction of his thoughts. The Captain wondered what those thoughts might be, and had the troubling sense that they were directed at him. Despite his blindness, the old man was unnervingly perceptive. Avendor had always made a point of stepping carefully around Tiberius. Still, he did not believe that the sage’s thoughts would pose any immediate threat.

They walked on in silence for sometime, Avendor supporting the old man, while struggling to ignore the burning lacerations across his arm and back. Thankfully, the bleeding had slowed, but both wounds needed attention soon. The pain was not the issue; he head learned to deal with pain. He was far more concerned with the risk of infection. From the little that he knew of herb lore and the healing arts, stumbling through the city with open wounds was probably not the best decision.

Fortunately, Tiberius seemed to be recovering. Whatever he had done to start the fire, it had clearly sapped a great deal of his strength, but with a good meal and a bit of rest, Avendor was certain the sage would recover. Nix will know of a healer, he thought. The gandjai lived a dangerous sort of life. They were bound to require a healer’s touch from time to time—or so he told himself.

In truth, he could never be quite certain about anything when it came to the mysterious brotherhood. Still, Avendor was determined to enlist their help. If he had to put off seeing a healer for a little while longer in order to see that happen, he would find a way to endure the pain. When he had set out from home earlier that night, he had been planning to ask Nix for a single favour.

Now he was going to ask for two.

He was still hopeful that the small man would help him by keeping an eye on Tiberius—or perhaps even accompany the sage on the journey to Ronnex. If he was honest with himself, Avendor’s first instinct would have been to persuade the sage not to make the journey at all, but he understood the importance of the man’s task. They needed information on exactly what had happened to Prince Jayslen, and they needed it done quietly and covertly. Up until tonight, he had wondered why the Queen had placed such a burden on Tiberius shoulders.

After seeing the fire the old man had started, he was beginning to understand.

Still, given the events of the past hour, he would feel much better if he could send both Colyn and Nix to protect the sage. He was all but certain that their personalities would clash, but he was also confident that their combined skillsets would balance each other well, and work to keep Tiberius and his aide safe.

That would allow Avendor to turn his attention to the larger task of keeping the Queen’s Council from falling into chaos. With all the Lords gathered in one place, the political scheming and age old feuds would make keeping the peace a challenge in and of itself But that was a challenge that he had planned for. The knowledge that assassins like the Burnt Man were loose in the city only made matters more complicated. He simply did not have enough many power to watch out for the machinations of both Lords and assassins.

The gandjai, he reasoned, would be ideally suited to help with that particular problem. Like the Winged Guard, they were sworn to the service of the Queen—even if that service often looked quite different—but their particular skills set them apart. The majority of people throughout the Realm thought of the gandjai as assassins. They did serve that capacity from time to time, but more often they performed other tasks. They were spies and informants and saboteurs. They could navigate city, and the Realm, in ways that other men could not.

All of which made them the perfect counterbalance against enemies like the Burnt Man.

It was several minutes later when they finally arrived at the Cooper Way. It was located some distance from the Stilt District, in the portion of the city where many tradesmen and artisans maintained their workshops. Dozens of different sized barrels lined the street, set out in front of shops, taverns, residences and the cooper guildhouse. Earlier that day, Avendor had asked a few pointed questions to determine the exact location of the Three Cauldrons. He had little trouble finding it, and the small, stone house several buildings further down the street. He glance up and found the sign of the Stranger hanging above the red door, just as Nix had described.

This looks like the place. He approached and rapped at the door with three firm knocks.

Within moments, he heard someone approaching from within, followed by the sound of a latch being undone. Silently, the door swung open and a blast of warm air struck Avendor in the face. It smelled faintly of cinnamon, and strongly of incense. A small woman appeared before them. She was little taller than a child, but her face was worn with the marks of experience and wisdom. Her hair, which appeared to have once been as black as midnight, was streaked with grey and tied back in a tight braid. She wore a simple brown dress, along with a frayed and threadbare apron, yellowed by time and use.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“My name is Avendor,” the Captain replied cordially. “I apologize for the hour of my visit, but I am here to meet a man named Nix. I believe he is expecting me.”

“Of course,” replied the woman. “Please come in.” She stepped back, pulling back the door even further to allow Avendor and Tiberius to enter. When they were through, she promptly closed the door and refastened the latch. “Please be welcome in the House of Twilight. May your feet always find their way. I’m sure that brother Nix will be right with you.” The woman placed her hands together, palm over palm, and offered a slight incline of her head. Then she turned and disappeared up a narrow staircase.

Avendor spotted a simple chair, and helped Tiberius hobble over to it. The sage sighed in relief as he sank down onto its soft cushion.

“We’re not at a healer’s are we?” he asked.

“Not exactly,” Avendor admitted, looking around the house. It was constructed in much the same fashion as many of the other buildings in the area—and throughout much of Relen’ayar. Thick slats of solid, reliable fir likely formed its frame, while the exterior walls were built from hewn granite and hard, white mortar. The interior walls appeared to be simple maple panelling. The floor upon which they stood was tiled with polished stone, though Avendor expected that the upper levels would use wooden slats instead. Other than Tiberius’ chair, there was very little in the way of furniture, and the only decorative item was a tapestry hanging on one wall, depicting a mysterious woman with the sun over her left shoulder and the moon over her right. Altogether, there was nothing particularly unusual or striking about the house. And yet, Avendor could not help feeling as though something was not quite right.

“This friend of yours,” Tiberius continued after a moment. “Nix you said—that’s an uncommon name.”

“And one you’ve heard before, I’m sure.”

“Yes. So, tell me Captain, why are we visiting the gandjai?”

“Why indeed?” asked another voice. Avendor turned to find Nix standing several feet away. It was unnerving how silently the man could approach. “Welcome Captain. You are late, Virsha.”

“My apologies. We were—delayed.”

“You are bleeding.”

Avendor shrugged. “It was a violent sort of delay. I don’t suppose I could trouble you to call for a healer?”

“No trouble at all. I will see to it immediately.” Nix turned to Tiberius. “And welcome to you, Wise One.”

“Thank you,” the sage replied.

“I do not believe you have ever graced us with your presence. What brings you to us tonight?”

“He’s with me,” said Avendor. “I was helping him visit a friend and—well things went wrong. He’s exhausted. Do you have someplace he could rest while we converse?”

“Again, this is no trouble. Above all, this is a house of rest. If you would care to follow me, we will see to your needs straight away.”

With a simple wave of his hand, the gandjai motioned toward a narrow corridor. Then he turned and began walking toward it. Avendor helped Tiberius to his feet and then the two of them followed Nix. It was only then that Avendor realized what had been bothering him. He could not see any discernible light source. Yet somehow, the entire house was awash with a soft, warm glow.

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