Chapter 9

"Mysterious Comrade"

Jaeson ran his hand through his hair as he enjoyed the misty sea-breeze. He glanced back at the door to the inn and his twist twisted with slight annoyance. The roads were clear of most traffic, there were some people appearing and disappearing in the fog, and some of the shops nearby had their lights lit. But Jaeson could tell that the town was not quite awake yet. He checked his jacket to see if it was on in the most comfortable manner, and made sure his sword was fitted at his waist correctly; both were to his satisfaction, and he had nothing to do except stare through the thick white curtain of mist.

"I wonder if it's like this every morning..." Jaeson commented to the wind.

"From what I hear: it is." Alain answered as he stepped out from the thick wooden door to the inn. Jaeson shivered as a gust of warm air flowed from inside.

"Alain, are Triss and Ice up yet?" He asked, his tone of annoyance already back.

The Wolf kid brushed down the front of his tunic idly as he smiled up at Jaeson. "They were up a while ago, it just took them this long to get ready."

With that the door opened once more and the two aforementioned persons stepped onto the porch. "Well, are we ready to go yet?" Triss asked with a satisfied voice.

Ice looked around the town, the mist seemed thicker than before, "That's assuming that the people at the castle are even awake yet."

Alain rolled his eyes at her comment. "Just because at your castle everyone sleeps in, doesn't mean that they do so here."

With a nod, Jaeson took the lead, his feet tapped lightly on the stone as he strode forward. "If you all don't keep up, you might get lost!" He called back.

At first their walk through the morning fog was quiet, but it seemed with every passing moment the pulse of the town quickened, it seemed as though the city were waking up from a long hibernation. People began appearing on the streets, voices called out from the windows, stalls, and passers-by, and the doors to the shops seemed to open in a string like dominoes.

"If there were any doubt of the castle being open, it is now gone." Jaeson stated cheerily as he craned his head to the side and sighed when his neck cracked four times.

With a jealous expression, Alain tried the same and sighed unhappily when he had no success. When they reached the center of the market square, Alain stopped in his tracks, and stared wide-eyed at a man leaning idly against a door-frame of a chandler eating a biscuit sandwich. He wore a white tunic with green and silver lining, matching trousers, black knee-high leather boots, and a hand-and-a-half sword. He had slightly long white hair, crystal blue eyes, and perfect, sharp, white teeth set in an ironic smile.

Ice also stared at him, her expression between confusion, interest, and even recognition.

Jaeson didn't really care, he spun on his heel and frowned at Alain. "Why are we stopping?"

Unfortunately, Alain's mouth moved with the shape of words, but without sound. It was Sirice who actually said something first. "I think I know that guy."

Triss laughed, harshly for an elf, though still music to anyone's ears. "I think I would have known if we had run across someone like that Ice."

Ice pouted slightly. "I just have to think of where I saw those eyes before..."

A new voice entered the conversation, it was subtle, amused, and a little lower than a tenor but not quite a baritone in pitch. "I wonder if I might be able to have a moment of your time."

The newcomer was tall, at least he seemed taller up close. His sword had silver filigree on its hilt, and Tirilel designs on the cross-guard, his face was a little thin, and clean shaven, and Alain's eyes bulged, his body became rigid, and he was bolted immovable to the cobblestones.

"This is Lord Sevar of House Sevaim, he is the prince and heir to the throne of the Clan." Alain stumbled slightly on his words. "What are you doing here?"

Sevar smirked, revealing perfectly sharp and white teeth, and patted the little Wolf on the head. "I believe we have already met." He directed his words to Sirice. "So I was hoping you could introduce me to your companions."

Triss' face grew a little red. "Sirice, how do you know this man?"

Ice's face was still contorted in confusion. "I still don't know..."

He sighed. "I'm sorry then, but there still remains one reason I came here to you."

"That is exactly what I want to know." Jaeson rubbed his chin in thought.

"I came to offer my aid." The Wold Lord answered plainly.

"Why do you think we need aid?" Jaeson asked in reply.

Sevar's eyebrows cinched together. "We cannot risk your failure, there is no one else who can stop what is coming."

"But why us?" Triss interjected with concern. "We only came out here to see the world around us."

"Things have changed." Jaeson glared at her.

Sevar nodded. "This land has never had very many people of skill or ability, but I can see at least two here."

"Fine, but we still need to get to the castle and show the Duke the maps and tell him what's going on." Jaeson once again led them in the direction of the castle.

Sevar quietly stepped in line. "You never did introduce yourself."

"I'm Jaeson, nice to meet you." He answered stiffly.

"You know," Sevar's eye's smirked, "The troubles of this port are small, and are even smaller when compared to all that is happening in the land. When you repair the damage here, I think we may need to go to the other cities and see if we can't aid them as well."

"That's a lot to ask on your first day on the job." Jaeson cracked his knuckles. "But I think you're right, I can't just leave this alone, or else my own city might fall prey next."

"Now you understand, I came out because I knew that I couldn't let it go, because it would just get worse." The Wolf Prince coughed softly. "I don't think our grandchildren should be controlled by pirates, brigands, and slavers."

"Nobly said, sir." Alain put on a proud face as he walked beside the other Wolf. "I will do whatever I can to free us."

Sevar smiled pityingly. "I know about what happened to your territory, I investigated the damage myself."

A single spark seemed to brighten the boy's eyes. "Did you find any word of my family?"

"Perhaps, but you will have to tell me what family that is." Their progress was quiet, and seemed even more so as the city woke up even further and life flooded the streets.

"Family Truefang, house Iftae."

"I see," The older one took a slow breath. "I don't know how to say this, but I could not find any evidence of your family; and since there was no blood, I must assume they have been captured."

"I see." Alain repeated what his elder had said with a hint of irony. "Then we just have to go back to the tower and find where the other bandits are."

Sirice, who was behind them, laughed. "Don't make it sound so easy."

Sevar turned to face her, and kept walking in pace with the group. "We have a saying for things like that: 'There is no such thing as an easy, or hard task; they are all perilous, and are all different.'"

"I think you just wanted to say that to keep the mood light." Ice frowned. "But we all know that we aren't preparing a picnic."

"I think I like you princess, I knew that we would get along the moment I met you." Sevar turned around and ended their conversation.

The buildings thinned out, and soon the castle loomed before them again. The same gate groaned open before them without their having to speak, the portcullis clinked as it set into its lock, and the tree-lined causeway opened up before them. Some of the white petals from the trees fluttered across their path, and scented the air with a cool, crisp, minty flavor. One petal was even breathed up Triss' nose, and at once she set about sneezing to be rid of it.

Jaeson ignored the distraction, and nodded as the two guards by the doors to the castle pushed it open without a sound. He was the one to lead their group into the dimly-lit entryway, and he was also the one to take the first steps into the main hall. Dark stone walls and pillars on either side were lined with sconces, planters, and red carpets, and the central carpet led straight into the throne-room where the Duke himself sat in his red-cushioned chair on a dais at the end of the room. Duke Verethil Berran was still flanked by the honor guards in blue cloth and silver armor, who were in turn still flanked by the staircases that led to the upper level.

"Welcome back Sir Jaeson." The Duke inclined his head. "What did you discover?"

"I am not a knight, I am but a guard." Jaeson answered politely. "However, I was able to find maps and plans in the hunters' tower."

"Indeed?" Verethil stood and stepped down the steps of the dais to greet him. He grasped Jaeson's hand and grinned. "Tell me what you found."

"There is a map showing the entire land, more than we have ever mapped, it shows the roads to the other cities, and even shows ocean currents around the land. But what I find to be of the most use were the exact locations of ten small outposts and one city-sized bandit camp." Jae pulled out the map from his tunic and pointed at the locations of the small outposts and the one large one that was at the far northern tip of the continent.

"This is more serious than I thought." Verethil examined the detailed map carefully. "But it interests me to see that they are obviously not native to our land, they must have come from across the northern sea, and their camp there is one out of convenience."

The voice of Sevar, low, serious, and quiet, entered the conversation. "That sounds like a valid conclusion."

The Duke looked at him abruptly. "I see you have two new companions, I was so caught up in the report that I failed to notice you." He brushed his blue formal tunic and held out his hand in greeting. "I am sorry, I am Duke Verethil Berran."

Jaeson nodded toward the two newcomers. "This is Alain, and he is Sevar."

"Nice to..."

"...meet you..." The two said, one the first part, the other the second part.

"What is annoying is that I can't seem to read most of their documents, except for the ones where they were obviously practicing our script." Jaeson sighed. "Unless we can read their documents we cannot find out what they are doing, and who they are."

The honor guard on the right stepped forward and spoke, the same one from last time. "Then we have no choice but to take the tower, capture the inhabitants, and force them to tell us what it says."

Verethil himself answered dryly. "I'm sorry captain, but how could we be sure they wouldn't be making up whatever they say?"

"Let me go this time sir, I want to see them for myself and get more answers..."

"You cannot take on a tower full of bandits on your own Lycia." Verethil pressed.

She didn't budge, even with her face obscured by her hood, all could tell that she was not going to back down without a word.

"You would need a guide, and a strong companion or two at the least." Jaeson glanced at Triss and Sevar before facing the guard. "I am willing to aid you."

Triss and Sevar both nodded. "Only so long as these two don't come." Triss stated. "I would ask that they stay here."

Ice and Alain sighed, knowing that there was no way they would go into danger, especially at their young age.

"It is agreed then." Verethil breathed. "You should leave tonight, or afternoon so you can be there by nightfall, kill those who resist, capture those you can, and finally, all of you come back with answers."

"Alright then," Jaeson motioned for Triss, Sevar, and the guard named 'Lycia' to follow him out. "Let's find someplace to discuss this and get ready."

The guard examined them for a second. "It would be unwise to go unarmed and unarmored." And then she added as an afterthought as she examined Sevar. "It would also be unwise to wear white."

They stepped out of the throne room and through a side door into some stairs that led below the ground. At the bottom they found a large room with a smithy at one corner, and racks and shelves filling half of the large room. The other half was a court lined with benches, dummies, and targets. Lycia pulled back her hood and revealed a young face with short blond hair, long bangs, and dark blue eyes. "In here we have spare armor and weapons enough for a full guard, unfortunately we have not been able to field a full guard because there aren't enough people anymore."

Jaeson smirked. "We have weapons, but I think it would be a good idea to change." He lifted a metal chest plate off a rack from the wall and admired its polished shine. "I think it would be a good idea for us all to where armor."

Sevar rose an eyebrow and accompanied it with an annoyed breath. "So you think it unwise to wear matt white, but perfectly fine to wear a mirroring silver?"

Jaeson grinned. "Good point, I guess we'll just have to paint it black."

At that Lycia stiffened. "You mean to soil the armor of Mistport?" She paced a couple feet before snapping her fingers at coming up with a good response. "Unacceptable!"

Triss shrugged, she had already gathered the armor and under-armor she needed, and placed it in a pile on a table. "Why is it such a big deal, It shouldn't make any difference at all; paint isn't permanent so no harm done."

Lycia sighed, "Fine, you're right, armor is meant to save your life anyway, so painting it black should only aid its purpose."

They all filed out of the armory and found one of the servants who was busy dusting some of the art-pieces that lined the main hall. "Take this armor, recruit whoever you need, and make sure that it is all painted black and dry before tonight." The servant nodded, set down his duster, and ran off to the servants' wing. "You all should go back to your inn and bring back here whatever you need, then at seven o'clock meet here in the main hall." Lycia waved them off and headed back into the throne-room and upstairs.

"This is exciting don't you think?" Triss asked as she watched Lycia leave.

Jaeson shook his head. "I'm wondering if we should be bringing you; you can use your sword, but I can only wonder if you will be able to handle what we are going to face."

She slapped him on the back. "Don't worry, you can protect me."

"That's not it." Sevar interjected. "He's worried what impact fighting will have on you, and so am I."

"You don't even know me!" She snapped.

"Not yet..."