Chapter Five: At the Castle

Dak looked up from yet another report on something that really didn't matter. He hated how much time and energy it took him to make it through these reports. Words just did not make any sense to him.

He narrowed his eyes at the next line. It was something about the upcoming Market Day or so he thought. Why he was reading about Market Day now was beyond him? They had Yule to get through first.

"Captain Morninghelm."

Dak looked up as one of his men entered his office.

"The king requests your presence in the throne room, sir."

Dak slowly turned the page over. "Did he say what for?"

The man shook his head. Judging by the amount of stubble and baby fat on his face, he was much more a boy than a man. "He just told me to come get you and I didn't think to ask for a reason." His voice shook ever so softly as the words came out of his mouth.

Dak stood up, pulling his on his uniform jacket and buttoning it up. "You will come to understand that the king and I have a very complicated relationship. You will have to forgive me for seeming sharp."

The guard nodded. "Yes, sir."

Dak strolled past him. Now, he normally did not get called to the throne room. His men could handle the petty detail of guarding the royal family within the castle. In fact, Dak could go weeks without even seeing his family.

He walked through the open throne room doors without even bothering to have himself announced, like everyone else was required to.

"Dak," his mother, Queen Ariana, said with a smile. "It's good to see you." She gave her son a once over. "You're way too thin. You have been working way too much."

"You know how it is. I can't help it."

She rested her hand on his cheek. "I know."

Dak peered over her shoulder. "Where is he?"

"He's by the windows with Vicar and Alse."
Dak turned to go to the great windows that lined the front of the throne room, which overlooked the gardens.

"Dak," Ariana whispered. "Please try to be civil with each other, for me."

"I will if he does."

King Teodric Morninghelm stood in front of the windows with the two children, who in his mind, were the most worthy of the family name. Alse was the crown jewel of the family as her suitors were usually men of even greater nations that Xandria. On the other hand, Vicar was also highly valued as he was to become the next ruler of Xandria.

Dak cleared his throat. "You wished to see me."

Teodric turned around, smiling at his son, but the warmth did not reach his eyes. "I have a job for you."

Dak looked over at Vicar, who peered lazily at him. "Okay."

Teodric shook his head. "It is that tone that will cost you your head one of these days, boy." He paused. "I have sent a message to Queen Amberfall of the Nature Fairies requesting an audience with her. In the event that she says yes, I will need your finest men."

Dak put his hands behind his back as he stared out the window. A group of ladies were making their way across the garden, whispering to each other. "How many men?"

"A few dozen," Teodric answered. "Don't send me those buffoons that you sent last time either. I swear they were drunk on the job."

Dak just slowly nodded. His father said that about every man that he sent. "Anything else?"

"Mess this up, boy, and it will cost you more than just your job. You need to realize how high the stakes are. If we fail with Amberfall, we will never get another chance." Teodric's eyes darted over to his other two children, who were listening very closely. "You are going to have to step up to the plate. I will not let you fail this, like you have failed in the past."

Dak's eyes narrowed. He felt his fists ball up behind him. "I am not a failure," he hissed. "Just remember that you put me in this job."

Teodric snorted. "The only reason you have this job is because your mother begged me to give it to you. She couldn't stand the idea of you being tossed on the streets, which is where I would have put you."

Dak's fists drew tighter. He really could kill his father with just a simple punch to the throat. After all, the king had hit him more times than he cared to count.

Alse cleared her throat. "Father, Dak really is trying. It's not his fault that his mind doesn't work. None of us asked for this."

With these words, the king seemed to relax, just a little bit. "You are dismissed. Now, get out of my sight."

Dak turned and exited the throne room. He knew Alse meant well, but those words were just not the best to use. There was nothing wrong with his mind; every Healer in the land had told his family that. There was nothing wrong with his intelligence; with the right tutor he would have been able to read a lot better than he did. He really had thought that at least his mother would have done so, but she ended up taking him to the Assassin's Guild. Dak really hadn't been able to figure out how his mother had pulled that one off.

He rounded the corner, mentally groaning as a female voice filled his ears. " Lady Lina Lowfallow," he said, bowing.

Lina smiled at him. "You really don't have to bow to me. It is a pleasure for me to be in your company."

Dak moved around her. "I really do have to get back to work. It was lovely to see you."

Lina placed her hands neatly in front of her. "You know that I really could help you. Don't let my gender cause you to doubt me."

Dak turned. "It really has nothing to do with that. Now, I really must be leaving."

He stomped back into his office, only to be interrupted again the moment he lowered himself back down into his chair.

"Captain, you had better come!" Juel Firedew ran into the office, loaded down with guns and other weapons. "There's been a murder down at Srilurk Landing!"
Dak looked lazily up at him. "How is that different than any other day?"

"Because it's Lord Lowis Goldspire!"

Dak jumped to his feet, grabbing all the weapons he could. "Juel, get me a dozen men."

Juel turned and rushed out with Dak right behind him.

Murders were common enough in Srilurk Landing, but a highborn being murdered there was almost unheard of. The fact that killer was also lurking there made it seem even more like a paid job. Dak shook his head. He just hoped that the killer was someone he didn't know.

In the late morning hours, Srilurk Landing looked just like any normal harbour. Boats and sailors were about their business of unloading treasures from all over the world. Normally, the guard would have stopped and chatted with the sailors, but today both parties just acted like the other did not exist.

The pubs that lined the harbour looked like nothing more than ghost towns. Their old signs blew in the gentle ocean wind, creating a constant banging that made Dak want to tear the signs off their rusty nails.

Juel nodded to a pub, the one they had been fooling around in front of last night. "He's in here. We really didn't get much out of the owner. It seems like he's involved in some activities that go against the crown."

Dak waved a hand at Juel. "He will talk, they always do."

Juel shifted his weight from foot to foot. "If you say so. He did say that the lord had been gutted and was complaining about how hard it would be to get the stains out of the floor. Apparently, the lord also had an issue with staying loyal to his wife."

"Wonder how Lady Alexia will take this," Dak mused.

Juel and Dak stepped into the pub. Its floor was so well worn that Dak guessed that it must be a popular night life scene. Sure, he came down here with his men, but he never dared entered this particular pub. The rumour was that they did not clean their goblets and were so dirty that you could no longer see their markings.

The pub owner stood behind the bar, ringing a filthy rag out in his hands. "I promise you, sirs, I sent for you as soon as I could. You can have access to my cameras if you need to, just keep in mind that I have some pretty rough costumers."

Dak held his hand up to shut the owner up. "We all know that your cameras don't tell the truth, so you might as well save your breath. Second off, we all know that your costumers will rat you out for any amount of money." He moved closer to the bar. "So, I strongly suggest that you shut up and start telling us what we want to hear."

The pub owner gulped. "Look, I didn't realize he was a lord. I knew he was from the castle, but I know how you people work. You always come down here to do your dirty work, which is how we get the bad name. He liked to come down here and see the ladies. He kept a room here all the time so he and his latest lady friend could have a private place." He chanced a glance at Dak, who gave him a stern look. "He went up there with one last night and didn't come down, which is normal. Anyway, one of my cleaning ladies went up there this morning and found him. There was no sign of the girl."

"What did the girl look like?" Juel snapped.

"Average height and build, not pale, but not really all that dark, dark hair that was in a braid," the pub owner said, shrugging. "I don't know... She looked like any other girl who comes through here."

"But she got the lord's attention?" Dak pressed. At least it wasn't Masse, who did stand out. He never had been so thankful for Ryanon's knack for blending in.

The pub owner nodded. "Yes, she did and he seemed quite please with himself. Maybe he thought she was this simple country girl looking for a good time."

"But no one knows where she went?" Juel snapped. "What about anyone else here last night? Did they ever say anything about seeing her? She could have seen the killer!"

"There was a ton of people here last night. You should just consider yourself lucky to get that out of me."

Dak glanced up the old wooden stairs. "Is the body still up there?"

"Aye." The pub owner moved out from behind the bar. "I can show it to you now, sirs, if you would like." He glanced around at the rest of the men. "I do ask that your men stay down here." He pointed to Dak. "You can come."

Dak shook his head. "No, one more comes or I will have you arrested for running an illegal brothel."

The pub owner gulped. "As you wish, sirs." He bowed as Dak and Juel, followed by another guard member made their way past him.

The stairs creaked so loudly that Dak winced with each step. This was far worse than anything he had seen at the guild. Female laughter filled his ears, followed by the gentle rumble of male voices. He shook his head. Could people really be that desperate for a bit of company?
At the top of the steps, the pub owner brushed past them. "It's the one at the end of the hall. He had to have my nicest room."

They made their way to the end of the hall.

Dak tried the door, but it was locked. "Keys?"

The owner handed him a large ring filled with what must have been over fifty keys. Dak had to give him a long look before he took back the keys and fished out the right one. "Sorry, sir."

Dak jiggled the key into the hole and the door opened with a click. The pub owner started through the door. "Ah, doesn't work this way," Dak said as he entered the room first with Juel and the other guard right behind him. Both men had their hands on their swords.

Lord Lowis Goldspire laid in the middle of the bed, surrounded by his own blood. In his chest was the knife that killed him. Dak knelt down next to the bed, staring into the dead duke's eyes. "Now, why would someone want to kill you? Did your wife find out about your extracurricular activities?"

Juel stood behind Dak. "You really don't think that Lady Alexia would have it in her heart to order this?"

Dak got his feet. "What can I say? Some women are killers." He looked up at the pub owner. "I'll send someone along for the body." He looked around the room. "Lock this room up tight, but I really don't think we are going to find anything."