Chapter 2: A Plot

The next day my lady decided to go out for a ride with her ladies. Her father wasn't particularly happy about letting her go, but he couldn't find any reason not to let her. Of course he sent several guards with her. She was his only child and he would never risk her life.
Having no use for music on a ride, I remained at the castle, in my chambers. I was trying to write a ballad but never could find any subject that I was truly passionate enough about to pen a song for.
I was still staring hopelessly at the scrap of blank parchment, a quill with now dry ink on its tip in my hand, when Yistel came in through my window. That is quite a feat as my room is near the very top of the Lady's tower.
I jumped up, quite surprised by the sudden appearance of my friend. "Yis," I asked, "What are you doing here?"
Yistel looked at me, his eyes wide and frantic. "Mesi where is your lady?"
"My lady went out for a ride with her attendants. Why?"
"Alert the guards and get her back inside immediately! There's been a bunch of strangers in town and I just found out they've been hired to kidnap Lady Asiphole. If you don't hurry it might be too late. I'll go on ahead and try and warn their group!" With that my friend slipped back out of my window and was gone.
I wasted no time and ran immediately to the Lord and Lady's rooms. I didn't even bother to knock but instead burst into their chambers, something I was horrified at later but at the time I was too concerned with my lady's safety.
I found myself at the sharp end of Rasterlin's sword, the bodyguard taking my swift entrance for an attempt on the nobles' lives.
"Lord, Lady," I said hurriedly, "A friend of mine has discovered a plot to kidnap Lady Asiphole! We must take guards and escort her back immediately!"
The Lord was on his feet in an instant and barking orders to Rasterlin as he swiftly pulled on his armour and sword. It was a measure of their trust in me that they didn't once question my loyalty to them and their daughter.
I ran back to my room and buckled on my own sword, something I rarely used but was still skilled with. Not on par with Rasterlin or Lord Wivlock, but still able enough to defend myself and others as the occasion arose. Having no more armour then a leather vest I was ready in an instant and down in the stables helping the servants saddle as many horses as quickly as possible.
I saddled my own Songheart, a good-natured mare of rather stocky lines, in but a matter of minutes. I mounted her once the other guards and Lord Wivlock ran out.
Rasterlin gave me an amused glance before mounting his own Typhoon, an immense warhorse that was his master's equal in a fight.
As soon as the lord was in the saddle, we were off, riding as fast as we possibly could towards the forest trails my lady had planned to take. In but a quarter of an hour we found what we'd most feared.
Yistel stood in the midst of a scene of slaughter. The bodies of the five guards Lord Wivlock had sent to protect Lady Asiphole were hacked to pieces. Blood had seeped into the ground dying it red, while in other places it had formed pools. I only kept my breakfast down by a supreme force of will.
Rasterlin had already dismounted and now had his blade against Yistel's throat. "You die now, dog!" he hissed.
"Wait!" I cried, jumping off of Song. "That's my friend Yistel! He came here to warn the lady. He told me about the plot."
Rasterlin turned around to glare at me, not moving his sword an inch. "And how precisely did he come by that knowledge unless he's with the kidnappers?"
"Then why would he remain behind?" I asked desperately, afraid my best friend would be cut up before me.
"To throw us off." The bodyguard said.
"Rasterlin, if Promesi speaks for him, I see no reason why you should continue to threaten him."
"Of course, my lord." Rasterlin finally sheathed his sword but didn't move away from Yistel.
"Still," the lord continued, "I'm interested in how you came by this information."
Yistel turned and bowed to Wivlock. "There have been suspicious strangers around town lately. Foreigners. Weren't merchants or any of the usual sorts, so I started following them around. I wanted to find out what they were up to. I only found out last night, unfortunately as I discovered them, they discovered me and I was drugged. I came to and immediately went to the castle to warn Promesi."
"That's a rare amount of work for someone to do just because they were suspicious of some strangers in town. Did you think they meant harm?" The lord replied.
Yistel sighed slightly. "I didn't. They looked like competition to me so I went to check them out."
"Competition? What, pray tell, do you do?"
"I'm a thief." My friend said without a moment's hesitation.
"A thief? Impossible! Thieves are without honour and no thief would warn of an impending attack." Rasterlin barked.
Yistel glared at the bodyguard. "There are many kinds of thieves. I may steal items but you steal lives, so who is the worse thief?"
Rasterlin turned red with suppressed fury as the hand he used to grip his sword turned white with the force of the pressure he exerted on it.
"Please stop, both of you." I said, worried they were going to come to blows. "This argument is doing nothing but giving the kidnappers more time to escape with. We must rescue Lady Asiphole."
"Promesi's right. They're heading south and from their accents I'm guessing they're from Toshio'tok. From around the capital by the regional accent." Yistel said, pointing.
"And how do you know that, you damn thief?" Rasterlin sneered.
Yistel gave the bodyguards a haughty look. "It's precisely because I'm a thief that I know this. I was trained by the best and have been taught how to recognize where someone came from by their accent. It's how I know you come from the eastern region of Crishtrey, probably somewhere in or around Zintlo."
From the look on Rasterlin's face it was easy to tell that my friend had been right. "Now that that's out of the way, should we not go and rescue the lady?"
Lord Wivlock shook himself out of the stupor he'd been in while watching the thief and bodyguard argue. "He's right. Let's ride!"
Rasterlin vaulted onto Typhoon's back while Yistel did the same with his own horse, one Moondark. Together we all rode off, following the tracks. It didn't take us more then a half an hour to realize that it was hopeless. The kidnappers had laid several false trails as well as going through the river and doubling back upon themselves. We weren't going to catch them without weeks of tracking.
Our party returned to the castle where the lord broke the news to his lady. Both were at a loss of what to do. Their only child had been snatched right off of their very property and was now being carried off to gods' knows where.
I myself felt a measure of hopelessness. What could we do? It would take weeks to track the kidnappers, not to mention how conspicuous a large party of guards would be. Then it hit me, why did we need a large party of guards?
"Lord, Lady," I said waiting until I had their full attention before beginning. "If you will permit me, I would like to go and attempt to rescue Lady Asiphole myself."
The two of them looked at me stunned. "But you're a minstrel, not a guard." Lord Wivlock replied.
"Which is why I believe it would be easier for me. I can wander without question being asked. And who would think a minstrel capable of rescuing anyone? I would be seen and dismissed."
The Lord and Lady began to look more hopeful. "Aye, you have our permission but you cannot go alone." The Lord said.
"If Promesi's going, I'm going with him. After all, who better to steal something back then a thief?" Yistel said. I flashed a smile at my best friend, I was glad we weren't going to be separated again.
"I will accompany them." Treena added. "What if they have magical protections? Besides, you may very well be in need of a healer."
"I'll go." Rasterlin rumbled. "I don't trust little light-fingers there to not betray the others."
Yistel was about to reply with some scathing reply when Lord Wivlock spoke. "Well then, you had best prepare. Take whatever you like. Oh, and thank you. It means a lot to us."
I bowed and the other three swiftly followed suit. We left to go gather our clothes and packs. I packed my favourite lute along with a small wood pipe, a lap-harp and a set of wooden drums. Maybe I could teach the others how to play so that we could continue with the pretence of being travelling minstrels. I knew that Yistel at least could play the pipe. Well, he had been able when we were younger. We both had.
I packed my travelling clothes, ink and parchment, my money, and the small statue of a griffin that my lady had given me. It was of sandstone and fir neatly into the palm of my hand. I brought it with me so if we had need, we could show it to her to prove her we meant no harm. Not that I expected to need to, but I liked to be prepared. You never know.
After I was finished in my chambers, I headed down to the kitchens to get some provisions. Yistel and Treena were already down there. Rasterlin was busy hiding weapons in not only his packs, but ours as well. I sighed. I really didn't know how to use any weapon other then a bow and my sword. Though I figured I would be able to use a knife should the need arise.
We got two weeks of rations from the cooks who sent two of their underlings out to help us pack up our horses. Typhoon carried a great deal of the heavier stuff, as he was, by far, the largest. Next was Treena's Vanity, then my Songheart and finally Yistel's Moondark, who was a small nimble pony, much akin to his master.
All mounted we looked less like a strong group of rescuers and more like a rag-tag group of charlatans. The grey Typhoon mounted by his huge blond master, the bay Vanity mounted by the black-haired Treena, the black Moondark mounted by the overall brown Yistel and finally the red-haired me, mounted on a white horse. Not exactly the most reassuring picture. The Lord and Lady's smiles were fixed in place and they seemed to be having second thought as well. I would have decided against going right then and there had it not been for the thought of my beautiful mistress being beaten or raped while I sat and did nothing. So against my better judgment, I turned and led the way east, towards Toshio'tok and its capital Nagawak.