CHAPTER THREE

Charlie was beyond feeling flustered and worried at this point. The note she had just quickly scrawled to May and shoved into her hands simply read, "You have to leave now." The ex-knight paced backwards and forwards in a panic and then quickly ran to their room to start packing some of May's belongings.

May stood completely still as she watched Charlie scurry about frantically.

Re-reading the note, she wondered what was actually going on and she began to follow after the woman. "Lovely, what are you doing..? What's going on...? You're not that sick of me, are you..?" Though she tried to keep her tone light-hearted, Charlie's frantic rushing around their bedroom was beginning to worry her deeply, and she wavered ever so slightly. When Charlie didn't even slow her movements May rushed forward, finally snapping and grabbed her by the shoulders, turning Charlie to face her and shaking her a little. "What is going on?!"

Charlie winced and then pulled May into a tight and suffocating embrace. So many things were wrong right now. She had to get May out of this house and out of Tithiel as quickly as possible. She quickly released the girl and then stalked over to a section of wall, her pencil in hand. In wide, deliberate, frantic strokes she wrote the name 'Callias' on the wall and then forced herself to take a deep breath. She circled around and looked May in the eyes and then mouthed the word again through tight lips. 'Cal.'

May's knees felt weak - this was very, very bad. Cal had been hunting her for years, ever since she left her family and the place they had sent her in exile. She had somehow managed to evade the clever spymaster so far (she suspected it was mostly blind luck and good friends) but if Cal was in Tithiel, she had probably heard rumours about May and Charlie. Suddenly, for the first time in as long as she could remember, she felt despair. She loved living with Charlie, in the beautiful house in the huge garden that she had tidied and pruned into health - and now she was left no option but to run. It had not really mattered so much before, she had always treated it like a big game, but this time she desperately wanted to stay.

Collapsing onto the ground, her legs folded under her, May breathed hard and stared at the floor. She didn't want to go. But she had to. "I'm so sorry, Lovely." she said softly to Charlie, not even knowing if she was close enough to hear it.

Charlie flooded back into the room and fell to her knees beside May. In one hand she had tied a pouch full of coins and in the other she had a letter, some maps and instructions. Balancing all that she was holding, she grabbed Mays' hand and pulled her to her feet, kissing both of her cheeks in a flurry and then dragging her outside towards their tiny stable. She quickly tacked Sir Oliver despite his indignation at the rough treatment and then turned around to face May with reddened, miserable eyes.

May held her packed clothes and looked close to tears. Charlie forced herself to stay in control of the situation, handing the note to May and attaching the coins to the saddle. She hoped that the letter would help her explain herself. When Callias left to return for Ayleth, May would come home and they would resume living happily together.

Watching Charlie finish tacking the small steed she had come to love, May wrapped her arms around the taller woman's waist, holding her tightly and burying her face in Charlie's back. "I'll miss you Lovely. I'm so sorry." At this, her voice cracked, but she managed to stifle the sobs that were threatening to wrack her body if she lost concentration for a single moment.

She knew she had to leave. For both of them. "Please, please take care of yourself. Deny you know anything about me. Flee if she comes looking for you, please." She paused while Charlie pushed her up into the saddle, though she barely even noticed she was moving her limbs at all. "I couldn't stand it if I got you hurt."

Grabbing Charlie's collar as hard as she could with both hands, May pulled the ex-knight's face to hers and held her in a long kiss, broken only by small sobs every now and then. By the time she pulled away, her face was red and she was half-pulled out of the saddle. Straightening herself and pulling her hood up to cover her distinctive features, she tried to make her face stony. She knew she would only hurt Charlie more if she cried and begged as she made her leave.

Charlie smiled stubbornly and whispered the words 'come back soon.' before spanking the geldings' flank and silently praying that he would take good care of the small blond woman and keep her safe. Hopefully Callias wouldn't be in Tithiel for long.

May didn't even look over her shoulder until she was a good distance away from the house, out on the dusty road between towns. She knew if she'd done it earlier, she would have seen Charlie standing there, watching her go - she couldn't have done it. Clenching her teeth, she tried to harden herself and think like she used to.

"This is all a game - cat and mouse - I'm running from her because she likes chasing me and I enjoy the flight. It'll all be fine." She whispered to herself and pulled her short scarf over her mouth and nose to protect them from the dust ahead. She knew what she'd said wasn't true anymore - but for now, it had to be. Leaning lower into Sir Oliver's neck, she pushed him on towards the border. She had to be okay now for Charlie.


Callias sat in the huge, unruly garden - sitting on one bench with her feet on another directly across from her. She had been there for at least 10 minutes now, and yet the occupant of the house had not even noticed her - especially annoying seeing as she had chosen her place for the exact purpose of being visible from the windows that stretched in a thin line all along the residence.

She knew she was close to May now, she could feel it somehow in her bones and part of her felt that she should take her time, while the other struggled to even sit still - this part was almost jumping out of her skin with its eagerness to get on the young woman's trail. She had been after her so long already, it would be a relief - no, a personal triumph - to find her at last. Tilting her head right back and staring at the sky, she slowly began to whistle - a drawn out old sailor's tune that she had heard in all the taverns and brothels as a child. The sound grew and echoed around the large space, filling it with the eerie song.

Charlie shivered when she heard the whistling notes serenading her ears from somewhere outside. The ex-knight had been by herself for a grand total of two days now but the time did little to alleviate her worry over May. Startled at the possible prospects that an unexpected visitor indicated, she made her way to a window that overlooked the garden and frowned in anticipation. She hoped this wasn't some lawful figure coming to demand her arrest for aiding May. She tied her short sword to her hip and slowly exited her late mother's home with great caution and a stiff posture.

When she drew nearer to the redhead outside, she watched her patiently, hoping that despite being here for a reason unbeknownst to her, it wasn't to apprehend her. Awkwardly, she inclined her head in a quiet greeting and thanked whichever deity watching them that May was already two days away.

Cal's whistling halted abruptly and a small smirk played across her lips, though she kept her head tilted all the way back. After a long moment of regarding the ex-knight from the corner of her eye, Callias finally straightened herself and turned to the woman, a smirk growing across her face. "Charlotte, I presume." She spoke harshly, her voice rough and designed to be intimidating. She looked away from Charlotte and brushed some imaginary dust off the knees of her trousers as she spoke.

Charlie felt the weight of the situation bore into her skin and she nodded faintly.

"Any idea why I'm here?" Cal scowled slightly, shuffling on the bench so that her body was facing Charlotte more before she spoke again. Charlie shook her head to indicate that she had no idea. For both of their sakes she would deny ever knowing May if she had to, and from the looks of things this lazy woman was definitely here about the blond.

Cal raised an eyebrow lazily and twitched the corner of her lips down in a quick frown at the tall woman. "Shy, are you? Well, maybe you'd be more comfortable discussing this inside?" At this, Callias rose from her bench in the garden and smirked mischievously at Charlie as she slumped past her towards the house.

Charlie bit her lip and followed the red-haired woman inside. They entered into the open planned sitting room and the ex-knight felt panic well up inside of her when she spotted one of May's beautiful purple gowns hung over the back of a chair, draped innocently in plain sight. Cursing her lack of detail to attention, and not hiding the heart-achingly familiar dress away sooner, Charlie walked forward to grab it and then smiled apologetically at her 'guest' before turning to leave the room so she could put it away out of sight.

Cal sat in one of the wide chairs in the sitting room, slumping down in it so that her feet could reach the low table and waited for Charlie to return. She had seen the purple dress - and the ex-knight didn't seem like the dress type at all, not that Cal needed more evidence that May had been there. She had heard the rumours, talked to the locals, walked the road - she felt the blonde woman in the house even more than she had in the garden and the stables. All she had to do was find out where she had headed now, and it was so obvious that Charlie new. A fairly large part of her was itching to threaten the woman directly, to take a blade to her throat and whisper in her ear all the ways she would kill the ex-knight if she didn't tell her where May was heading, but when she saw the tall woman return, and the stubborn look in her eyes, she new she had to play the game or she would regret it later.

Charlie forced herself to remain calm and exude pleasantness. She took a seat across from the redhead and waited patiently, hoping that whatever was going to happen to her would just happen now. She knew that this was why her guest was stretching the ordeal out for as long as she could. Charlie had the very real thought that she was being played with, and felt a pang of sympathy for May who had evaded such authorities for years.

Cal picked at her fingernails with a small throwing knife she'd dug out of a pocket on her belt and didn't look at Charlie at all. "Do you know who I am?" After a few moments of silence, Cal again peered up at Charlie, and noticed something she hadn't seen before. Perhaps it had been covered? She couldn't remember, and it made her frown deeply, one eye twitching as she stared up from her lashes at the thick pink scar across the ex-knight's neck. When she had asked about her, all she'd gotten from the neighbours was that her name was Charlotte, or Charlie, and that she was training to be a knight, but quit. They said nothing about her nearly being beheaded.

"You can't talk, can you?" She sneered, and dug in a pocket, eventually removing a small notepad and flipping past page after page of notes, maps and scribbles to a blank sheet and chucking it and a chewed pencil at Charlie. "Interesting."

Charlie scowled slightly; part of her offended by her guests' morbid curiosity, and picked up the notebook and pencil to scribble down her question. 'Who are you and why are you here?' it read. She passed the notebook back across to the redhead and frowned as she awaited her reply. She already suspected that she wasn't going to like the answer.

Cal mockingly raised an eyebrow and looked right into Charlie's eyes. "Oh? You don't know?" She paused for a second to gloat. "I'm Callias, I'm looking for a mutual friend of ours." Charlie gasped in shock, although admittedly the exhale of air was far less impressive without any sound to back it up. She stood up and shook her head dismissively at Callias. What this situation called for were pleasantries. That was the only thing she could do right now to combat the game that Callias, Ayleth's spymaster, was trying to engage her in. She made her way to the kitchen and retrieved a jug of water and two glasses before returning to offer one to Callias with a feigned smile. "An honour to meet you." She mouthed wordlessly, already knowing that the Spymaster would be able to read lips.

Cal followed her intensely with her eyes now, every move was analysed and anything important was made note of, from the way Cal could see ideas clicking over in her head, but not what they were, or what she was feeling, or how she tried to distract the both of them with her pleasantries. After Charlie was seated again, Cal ignored her compliment and moved forward on her chair, leaning in to stare at her, a glint of enjoyment in her eye. "When did she leave, Charlie?"

Mouthing simple questions to a Spymaster who could read lips felt like a reprieve somehow, and part of her cherished the simple act, even if she feared where it all was going. Charlie composed herself quickly and shook her head in disagreement. 'Who'? she questioned silently and then fidgeted with her thumbs as she made a mental note to keep her eyes on Callias's dagger. She was entering into dangerous territory now, and she had no idea what could push the Spymaster into living up to her reputation.

Callias was renowned for enjoying the act of inflicting torture on others.

Callias saw Charlie's eyes on her small throwing knife and flicked it between her fingers playfully, dextrous fingers spinning the blade between themselves and avoiding the sharp edge. Hey eyes stayed locked on Charlie's. "You know exactly who." Her voice was getting sinister now, she felt it - the playful tone was starting to evaporate.

Something in Charlie recognised the threat and she couldn't keep the glare from entering her eyes. She stared at the Spymaster with obvious agitation and moved one of her hands to rest on the sheath of her short-sword. If she had to face a throwing knife at this distance she already knew she was going to lose but holding her weapon gave her the delusion of control and allowed her to collect her thoughts more easily. It was something that had been drilled into her as a knight. Again, she shook her head to disagree.

Cal slipped the blade back into its pocket at her hip in one smooth movement and smirked at Charlie once again before leaning right back into the chair. "I like you, Charlie." She said, amusement plain her voice. "But I'm not sure why. However, if, hypothetically, you had hidden -May- here, where would she have fled to when you heard I was coming?"

Charlie relaxed a little, intrigued that Callias was trying to change tactics. She mouthed the word 'anywhere.' and shrugged her shoulders, reaching for her glass and taking a small sip to swallow her amusement.

"Anywhere -except-...?" Cal grinned thinly and narrowed her eyes; Charlie was certainly amusing, and strangely cocky as well. In Cal's experience, the people of Tithiel were very scared of her, even more so than in Ayleth, where she could actually take action as much as she liked. Here, in the allied nation, she was limited, yet they seemed to have heard worse stories about her. Charlie obviously paid them little mind, that, or she was hiding her fear extremely well.

Charlie shrugged and then picked up the notepad to scribble down a more lengthy response. Mouthing questions only worked if they were simple and succinct. 'Do you plan to arrest me? I didn't think you had that kind of jurisdiction here without pulling some strings to get it.' She handed the notebook to Callias and raised her eyes to lock onto hers curiously.

Cal was smiling, but the rest of her face was hard and cold. "Had I intended to arrest you, it would not have been me showing up here. And you are right, I have limits here, however, that isn't to say of course, that I will not defend myself should I be attacked." She threw the notepad back and eyed Charlie to see if she understood what was implicit in her words - she would kill her of she wanted to and claim Charlie had provoked it. The tone in her voice revealed nothing but seriousness as she stared at Charlie intently. "All I want to do is find our dear friend May."

Charlie scowled and finally gave up on the pretence of denying that she didn't know who May was, and this time simply mouthed the word 'No.' as she stood up and crossed the room to Callias. She decided to work with the element of surprise on her side and just do something that the Spymaster wouldn't believe she'd ever be foolish enough to. She stood infront of Callias sternly, and then as smoothly as her neck injury would allow, snatched away the throwing knife from Callias's hip and drew her short sword at same time before backing away from her until she was out of reaching distance. She didn't point the sword at Cal, but let it hang loosely at her side. If Callias killed her, which she suspected she wouldn't do just yet, then she'd lose her source of information.

Cal watched with amusement as Charlie stood across the room from her, the intensity in her eyes captivating somehow. For a long moment, the Spymaster just stared at the Ex-knight, without even moving from her previous position, and then she burst into laughter. The high, fast laugh slowly faded into a low-pitched chuckle as Cal stood from her chair, but only moved to sit on the low table. "What now, Charlie?" Her voice was venomous, but the laugh remained in it, even if it was in such a low tone that it rumbled from her chest as she leant forward, her elbows on her knees and hands cradling her chin. "What are you going to do now?" Without moving a single muscle that wasn't necessary, Cal swiftly drew another throwing knife and hurled it at Charlie in one fluid movement, grinning manically as the blade left her fingers, whisked through the air and straight past Charlie's ear. "What now?" She repeated once more, as slow as she could stand.

Charlie blinked her eyes dumbly and then released a whispery laugh as she looked over her shoulder to see the throwing knife embedded in the wall behind her. She almost felt giddy for a moment as she retrieved it easily from the dense wood and then turned to throw it back at Callias, this time landing it beside her hip on the low table. Cal didn't even flinch as the knife landed in wood beside her with a soft twang as the blade vibrated quickly. "Okay, are we done measuring our manhood's now..? I just wanted to talk, Charlie." She put on a playfully innocent tone and smiled mischievously at the tall woman. "But I do like you. You're very stubborn.. I might have another topic of conversation that you may be interested in." The spymaster twitched an eyebrow at Charlie, still not moving from her perch on the table.

Charlie shifted her eyes awkwardly and, feeling that she had made her point, handed Cal's remaining knife back to her and then re-took her seat adjacent from the redhead. She wasn't sure if it was a bad move on her part to surrender the weapon but at the moment she felt relatively sure that Callias wouldn't kill her. She furthered her resolve and was once again grateful that May was so far away. 'What next?' she mouthed and rested her short sword in her lap.

"I was thinking of offering you a job." Cal spoke plainly in a tone of disinterest and moved from the table back into her seat. "I like you, Charlie." She sat once more leaning right forward, resting her face in her hands, elbows on knees. "Even if you won't tell me what I want to know, I'll find her sooner or later with or without your help... So you may as well be of use to me in another way."

Charlie looked at her disbelievingly and raised her eyebrows. She wasn't sure she'd heard the Spymaster correctly and decided that the best answer was none at all. She stared at Callias and waited. Cal stared back at her and then raised an eyebrow sharply. "I'm sick of my people going behind my back and helping their friends get ahead in my city. Everyone there has vested interests. You, however, will not. Come and work for me." Cal leaned back again, looking at Charlie with smug disinterest, but inside, very eager to see her reaction, no matter how small.

Charlie smiled in feigned apology and declined the offer with a shake of her head. She leaned across Callias, noting curiously that her lazy posture remained unfazed despite their close proximity, and retrieved the notepad and pencil. 'I'm not going to tell you anything about May, why offer me a job?' she scribbled and then handed it back.

"I know you're not going to say anything. It would have made my life easier, but I'll find her anyway. I still need someone to fill the slot. I like you, and you won't tell me anything. You seem like a good match to me." The smug grin on Cal's face stayed in place firmly. "This isn't some half-masked trick to get information out of you, I swear."

Charlie nodded reluctantly. For a Spymaster, Callias was almost painfully direct at times. She reached for the notepad and quickly scribbled down a reply that she almost regretted handing over, mostly because she was uncertain how Cal would react. 'I can't serve under the woman who is hunting down my friend. Any suggestions?'

Cal grinned a little, tilting her head to the side as a roguish smile captured her lips. "Oh, what friend is that?" She asked softly before shaking her head to dismiss the joke and chuckling slightly as she began again, "Well, it seems we have reached an impasse. I have to work out who I want more - you, or May."

Charlie shrugged, unsure as to why Callias would even classify this as a decision at all. There were other people who could fulfil that same role she wanted to task Charlie with which made the ex-knight even more uncertain why Callias was determined it be her. She reclaimed her writing instruments and informed Callias in a scribbled note to take her time and come back tomorrow. Hopefully by then, Charlie could have saddled Chastity up and fled Tithiel for a while.

Cal chuckled and stared at Charlie with narrowed eyes. "Oh I think not, my clever ex-knight. I am going to sit here and make up my mind, and you are going to stay right there." She gestured to Charlie's seat and grinned stupidly. "Would you accept it if I stopped hunting her? What if I only let my people do it for me..?"

Charlie laughed breathily, and shook her head in disagreement. 'Not good enough.'

Cal sighed and looked Charlie in the eyes. "Damn, I thought that might work..." She paused for a long moment, keeping both eyes on Charlie and pondering the woman. It was obvious that she cared for May, though how she had come to be hiding her, Cal had no idea. She did understand that it was going to be difficult to get her way in this, though. She would have to choose one or the other.

She wasn't sure what it was, but her instincts were telling her that Charlie was the better choice - she had usefulness, Cal could see her being a professional and generally skilled underling. Finding May was fulfilling a personal vendetta - logically, there was little benefit, except to her ego.

Perhaps, she thought, she might be able to lay low on the May-hunt for a while, accept Charlie and then 'stumble' upon May later. If the blonde woman was handed in with no involvement from Cal, how could it be her fault? Surely she could work it out.

Cal turned back to Charlie, her lips tightening into a stiff smile and eyes narrowing. "Alright." She breathed and resettled herself on the chair as if settling the idea in her head. "I will stop looking for May, if you come and work for me."