It had been four days since the attack on the little village that had housed the Nameless. Four days since the women and children had been rounded up. Four days of travel, of listening to the cries and complains and pointless chatter of the unnamed prisoners. Jaylin wished that it had been shorter, as all that had grated on her nerves and made her snappish and edgy. But with three wagons and all the men on foot, save for herself and a few select others on horseback, the trip to the city of Shyfel had been lengthy, and the time had been necessary.
But now that they had arrived, Jaylin felt quite a bit better. She had separated from the main group upon entering the city, letting those of lower rank deal with the prisoners, while she went to see that her horse was well cared for. The sudden release from the annoying sounds of the Nameless had been a relief, one she was still relishing in as she sat on a stool, gently running a comb through her horse's mane while it ate. There were stable boys to do this kind of work, but Jaylin preferred tending to her horse herself. It was soothing, and she didn't trust anyone else to do it correctly, despite any training they may have received.
The woman of thirty-one hadn't yet bothered to change into more comfortable clothing, and instead wore her captain's uniform. The majority of it was metal, and at the very least, she had set aside the helm and removed the gauntlets and breast plate, which bore the image of a red hawk, its wings spread in flight – the symbol of the royal family. She still had the lower part of her armor on, and it was dull with grass stains and dirt. Jaylin knew she would need to clean it soon, as the trip from the Nameless village had taken its toll on her uniform. The shirt she wore was dull orange, the second color of the royal family. Dull orange and rust red – it was an interesting combination. A sword rested against the wall of the stall, its scabbard worn yet the hilt shining slightly in the light.
Jaylin was just standing to set aside the comb and grab a hoof pick when she heard someone enter the stable. Their footsteps were too hard, too firm and sure, to be one of the stable boys. And very few other people visited the inside of the stables, preferring to wait outside and allow others to do the work of saddling and bridling their animals. So, her attention grabbed, Jaylin turned to look in the direction of the large double doors that led into the wooden structure, quickly taking in the newcomer.
It was a man, younger than Jaylin by a couple of years. He wore the same uniform that she did, only in its entirety. His helm was tucked under his arm, which sported three orange stripes across his armor, announcing him to be a lieutenant. With the helmet off, his thick brown hair was visible, plastered to his head and his rather boyish face was set in a serious expression. The man, named Haden, stopped in front of the stall where Jaylin was attending to her horse, banging his fist into his chest in a salute.
"Captain Tarvel," he said stiffly and formally, and Jaylin had to resist the urge to roll her eyes. She didn't see why all the men thought it necessary to speak this way and not like they usually did. But she couldn't exactly change it. "The king would like to speak to you." Taking in the fact that Jaylin had shed her upper armor, Haden added less formally and a little uncertainly, "Would you like some help with your armor, Captain?"
Jaylin didn't answer immediately, busying herself with replacing her horse's things and gathering her sword and armor. She stepped out, closing the door of the stall behind her, each step making her boots clank slightly. "If you wouldn't mind, Lieutenant Wilcox," she said, handing off the armor to the younger man. He nodded and helped her into the armor, which also had four orange stripes across the arm to denote her rank.
It took a few minutes, but eventually Jaylin was fully clad in her uniform once more, her sword belted to her side and her helmet under her arm. Wilcox gestured for her to follow him, but Jaylin shook her head, her hand resting lightly atop the hilt of her sword. "I can get there myself, lieutenant," she said, causing the man to look back at her for a moment before giving a brief nod.
Saying a quick good-bye to the horse that she had yet to finish grooming, Jaylin walked briskly out of the stables, her every movement creating a slight clanking noise, as the metal of her armor hit against itself. The sound alerted others to her presence, and most people moved out of the way of the knight captain respectfully. Due to that, it didn't take her exceptionally long to reach the palace, located in the exact middle of the town.
A wall surrounded the palace, high enough that no one could easily climb it without being spotted in the amount of time it would be necessary to scale it, but low enough that the towers and turrets of the palace behind could still be seen easily. Rust red flags flew from each of the towers, small pieces of fabric that moved gently in the breeze. The red hawk was emblazoned above the gateway set into the wall, as well as on the dull orange flags that flew upon the top of the wall itself. It made it difficult to mistake the building as anything other than where the king himself resided.
Jaylin stopped at the gate, where a pair of guards stood, their own armor completely the dull orange color of the stripes on her arm. Each held a pike in one hand, the other arm wielding a shield, which held the crest. This was only to be expected from the royal guard. More hawks adorned their armor – on the breast plate where Jaylin's sat, and on each of their shoulders. There was no question as to where the loyalties of these two men lie.
"I'm here to see King Carius," Jaylin said, looking between the two men. They nodded and opened the gates, no questions asked. She hadn't expected any sort of interrogation, however, like most people received. Due to her high ranking, she was well known, and no one was stupid enough to even attempt to impersonate her. Not that she thought they'd do a very good job even if they wanted to.
The second the gate had swung open, Jaylin marched through the archway and onto the palace grounds. Most of it was made of stone, at least here at the main entrance, though there were a few patches of green amongst the grey. The few trees were neatly trimmed and groomed, despite their looming height, and the flowers looked as if they had been drawn into place, as opposed to have been grown naturally. The plant-life seemed to be in sharp contrast with the dull grey stone that surrounded it, and Jaylin always thought that statues or something else made of stone would have taken the place of the greenery better. But it wasn't her decision to make.
In front of her, the great double doors of the palace stood open, welcoming. Another pair of royal guards stood here, armed in much the same way as the two Jaylin had just encountered, though they also had swords at their hips. As if the sharp pikes weren't enough to detract intruders. They didn't even glance as Jaylin as she swept past them, their eyes focused forward, somehow giving the impression that they were both daydreaming and concentrating on their work at the same time.
The hall itself was vast, large enough for a large wagon to roll down comfortably, with enough room to spare for anyone who wished to go past it. The building was made entirely of stone, though of various kinds – the walls and ceiling were of the same stone that the outside was constructed from, though the floors were made of black marble. A red carpet, edged in orange, lined the hall, not quite reaching the edges of the walkway. Doors were spaced regularly, all made of rather unobtrusive wood. Alcoves were set between the doors, two or three between each room, and each held some form of artwork, whether it be sculptures, paintings, or various intricate knick-knacks on pedestals.
Jaylin walked quickly along the carpeting, turning a corner when the hall branched off, her steps sure and steady. There had been many instances where the king had called upon her, and so she knew exactly where she was headed. No doubt he was waiting in the throne room, the only room she had ever really visited, considering Carius disliked meeting anywhere else. She thought it was because being there and seated on his throne gave him quite a bit of height over anyone who entered, something that made him seem more powerful. It would make sense if that was the reason for his insistence as to the meeting room.
Again, the doors to the room were guarded by a pair of royal guards. These two had no visible weapons, however, and their armor was lighter, yet durable. Though Jaylin knew that the men had weapons concealed within easy reach; light, ranged weapons that could be thrown down the length of hall toward anyone who warranted enough suspicion. When she approached, one of them stepped forward and sideways from his post, standing between her and the door.
"Knight Captain Tarvel. How can we help you?" he asked with the same stiff formality that Wilcox had possessed. Jaylin overlooked the tone, shifting her helmet underneath her arm and into a more comfortable position.
"I'm here to see King Carius. He should be expecting me," she said, lifting her chin. She would have drawn herself up taller, to be more impressive, yet she was already standing perfectly straight, so the movement wouldn't have done a lick of good.
The guard nodded and turned, approaching the doors. Raising one gloved hand, he rapped on the door twice before pulling one open with a slight grunt of effort. He didn't open it far before stepping inside half-way, so that the right side of his body was still out in the hall. "Knight Captain Tarvel to see you, milord," he said. There must have been some answering gesture, as Jaylin didn't hear anything, but the royal guardsman stepped out, opening the door wider. His companion pulled open the other door a little quicker, in order to catch up to the first man's, so that the movement was synchronized. Once there was a gap wide enough for the captain, she strode forward and into the throne room.
The room itself was about twice the width of the hallway, and four times that amount in length. Pillars lay in even intervals in four rows through the hall. Two of the rows flanked the stripe of red and orange carpet that led from the doors up to a raised platform at the end of the hall. There, a pair of thrones sat, one empty and one occupied. Jaylin continued forward until she was in front of the platform, at which point she got down on one knee, set down her helmet, and bowed her head silently to the man seated above her.
The man looked to be of average height, though it was difficult to tell with him sitting down, and his ramrod straight posture made him look taller than he really was. Dark hair, nearly black in color, lay nicely on his head in a well-groomed manner. He was dressed in finery, as befitting a king, with a cloak of red wrapped around his shoulders. A simple crown, unadorned by jewels or designs, rested upon his head, set up perfectly straight. The king was young, no more than twenty-five at most. His green eyes were focused on the woman in front of him intently, though he waited a moment, giving a sufficiently-lengthened pause, before speaking.
"Rise, Knight Captain," King Carius commanded, and Jaylin lifted her head, getting to her feet, grabbing her helmet as she went. She once more put it beneath her arm, resting her other hand upon her sword in a comfortable position. The king noticed, his eyes darting down to the weapon, though he appeared rather calm about it. He didn't expect her to suddenly lash out. "I hear you have taken prisoners from the camp. Was their leader amongst the captured?"
Jaylin shook her head, not even giving the question a moment's thought. "No, Your Majesty. The eldest male we captured is no more than thirteen, if that," she reported, and the king frowned, shifting so that his hands were clasped together, his elbows still resting on the arms of his throne.
"Was he killed, then?" he asked, and the frown was even evident in his voice. This time, Jaylin thought about it before she once more shook her head. Carius relaxed slightly, which made sense, as the knights' orders had been to leave the killing of the Nameless leader to the king, who wanted to do it personally.
"No, sire. A few of my knights reported having fought a man of your description, yet none ever mentioned killing him," she said, and the king nodded, leaning back slightly in his seat. There was silence for a good minute, during which Jaylin started to grow a little restless. She still needed to finish grooming her horse, and then check on their new prisoners. Though she didn't let her anxiousness for the end of the conversation show, still standing perfectly still before the king. Finally, he broke the silence, unclasping his hands and laying them upon the arms of his throne.
"If he was not killed or captured, then he must still be out there, alive and unchecked," Carius said, pulling himself up so that he was leaning forward, closer to the Knight Captain. "I want him here, Captain Tarvel. Alive, preferably. I'd like you and a handful of your men to return to their camp and find him. Take a tracker with you. I want him brought back here as quickly as possible. He'll no doubt come on his own once he knows that we have his people, yet I'd like it if he doesn't get the chance to even get close to them. Understood?"
Jaylin dipped her head again in a small bow, keeping the motion of gritting her teeth small and hidden from Carius's view. It would admittedly be quicker without the wagons and prisoners, yet she was looking at at least another two days in the saddle in order to reach the Nameless camp again. And so soon after she got back. Though Jaylin thought it prudent not to argue, keeping her complaints to herself, and simply said, "Understood, sire." Carius nodded and waved his hand toward the doors in a clear dismissal. Dipping her head in a bow once more, Jaylin turned on her heel and walked quickly from the throne room, her sword hitting against her leg gently with each step.
She just had to hope that this hunt for the Nameless leader would be over with quickly, as she did not want to spend too much time chasing after one single man. Especially as she wasn't entirely sure what was so important about him. Jaylin knew that Carius wanted to publicly kill the man, set an example for the Nameless, yet it seemed as if there was a more personal reason behind it, as well. But it wasn't her place to ask, so she would probably never know.
Oh, well. No matter the reason, let the hunt begin.