Sir Ryan Trawl handed his gloves and helmet to the servant without so much as a glance. His eyes were roaming the enormous front hall of the Delryn Estate, taking in with a note of appreciation the general feeling of wealth that surrounded him without crossing that delicate line that borders on the garish. It was comfortable, well-kept, and elegant.
That certainly was not Lord Cor’s contribution to the decor. The man had loved money and affluence at the exclusion of all else, and had found every chance he could to show the extent of his success. Perhaps that was why he had been so angry when young Anomen had wanted to join the Order. A life of service and sacrifice was something that the old man had not understood, much less supported. He wanted an heir unto himself, someone who would appreciate what he had created, and who would strive to make his small empire greater still.
Sir Ryan smiled to himself. Instead Lord Cor had been given Anomen and Moira. A lovely, if somewhat headstrong, daughter, and a son that held within himself the potential for a greatness that Lord Cor could never have understood. It was on more than one occasion that Sir Ryan had wished that Anomen had been born his own son, instead of having to serve only as the older knight’s squire.
The thought of the young priest brought the paladin suddenly back to his purpose, and he looked around for the servant that had taken his things, sighing in frustration as he realized that he had been left quite alone, with only the gentle song of the fountain to keep him company.
He was about to call out when he noticed from the corner of his eye a figure descending the staircase to his left. He turned and bowed slightly as Kaelis stepped down the last few stairs, then straightened and watched in silence as she easily crossed the distance between them, her boots making hardly any sound on the polished stone floor.
"Good evening, Sir Ryan."
"My Lady Kaelis."
She did not speak for several moments, only watched him with an unreadable expression in her penetrating green eyes. Her long cinnamon hair had been pulled back into a loose braid, but several stubborn waves had escaped their confinement, and fell around her smooth ivory face in shining curls. She was tall, nearly as tall as he, and he met her gaze easily, though he admitted with some reluctance that he felt a bit uneasy under the scrutiny of those haunting and beautiful eyes. At last she spoke, a slight smile touching the corners of her mouth.
"I was just coming to see you."
He nodded faintly, returning her smile. "I thought you might."
Kaelis arched a delicate eyebrow, waiting for him to continue. With a quiet sigh, Sir Ryan looked away. "The truth of the matter is, My Lady, that…"
His eyes met hers again, and he saw there both amusement and embarrassment, though which he thought more charming, he could never say. He smiled and bowed with a bit of an exaggerated chivalry. "You will forgive me, my Lady, but I must insist."
She groaned softly and shook her head, the smile still playing on her lips. "Do you know, Sir Ryan, that even to this day Anomen insists upon such formalities. I have tried to tell him…." She dropped her eyes as the smile faded and her voice trailed into silence.
Sir Ryan waited for a polite moment, then cleared his throat, speaking gently. "It is of Sir Anomen that I wished to speak to you, my Lady."
Her gaze rose to his quickly, and he continued before she could voice the question in her eyes. "We have still not heard from him, nor from any in the regiment he commands. It has been nearly three months since their last report, and concern now overshadows any reservations we may have had in…."
Kaelis’ voice was decidedly cool. "Only now?"
He continued quickly, choosing to pass over her interruption. "Concern now overshadows any reservations we may have had in asking the help of those outside the Order in locating and aiding our armies in the North."
There was a long pause. "You’re asking for my help, Sir Ryan."
"Yes, my Lady."
"And your superiors?"
He hesitated only briefly. "Are sending reinforcements to the North in the hope that they will locate and support their brethren."
"But you don’t think that will be enough."
Sir Ryan took a deep breath and folded his arms over his chest, looking briefly at the ground before answering. "Lady Kaelis… The first scouts that traveled to Duruth’Usk equaled forty men. A few fighters, clerics, mages. When the first reports came in, and we realized for the first time the extent of the trouble, we sent another group of scouts. Adept solders with experience fighting the creatures that had been described to us in the preliminary reports…."
Kaelis nodded and waited for him to go on. He seemed to be choosing his next words carefully, and that only made her unease grow. "It was only after their reports stopped coming that we approached Sir Anomen with the offer of one hundred men under his command. He was, I must admit, my Lady, at first reluctant. For obvious reasons." He smiled inwardly at the faint blush that touched Kaelis’ cheeks, but his face remained impassive. "It was only after much… discussion that he accepted the charge, and left soon for the Northern Lands. As I said, and as I am sure you are aware, there has been absolutely no contact with them for some months."
He paused again for a moment, and when he spoke again, his voice was low and earnest. "Sir Anomen is a valiant knight, my Lady, and has proved himself a great leader. I find it difficult to believe that a mere raiding party of Ice Trolls could have caused him, and the others, as well, so much trouble."
"And what exactly is it that you want from me, Sir Ryan?" Kaelis’ voice was calm, determined, even, but in her eyes Sir Ryan could see the pain she was trying to hide.
"I ride in the morning to Duruth’Usk with reinforcements. One hundred fifty men. If we ride hard, we can reach the village of Kenfael in a tenday. That is where the trouble began, and near the camp where we last heard from Sir Anomen’s patrols." He paused, then said more quietly, "Ride with us, Lady Kaelis. Yourself, and any others you feel would be helpful."
He locked his eyes upon hers. "Help me find Anomen. Please."
She met his gaze for several moments in silence, then nodded with a smile. "We are prepared already. In fact, I fear, Sir Ryan, that had you not asked us to accompany you on this… excursion, you would have found yourself with several shadows very difficult to shake."
He bowed with a gentle laugh. "We ride in the hour before dawn."
She nodded slightly in response to his bow. "And we shall be at the gates of the city an hour before that, waiting."
"Thank you, my Lady."
"Until then, Sir Ryan. And…" she hesitated only a moment. "May Helm guide us on our path."
Sir Ryan smiled broadly and bowed again. "Well spoken, Lady Kaelis. We will speak again at dawn." He turned then, seeing the well-trained servant already at the door with his gloves and helm, and in a moment had retrieved them, pausing only briefly in the doorway to look back at Kaelis, who yet stood in the hall where he had left her, beautiful and strong.
Well done, Anomen. Well done.
With that, he turned and disappeared into the darkness.
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