Chapter Thirty: The Whale

‟My queen! Knight-Commander! This is Second Guard Harold, reporting in!" The guardsman entered loudly, greeting with gusto.

Art stared at him, blinking twice in shock. Gwen was holding back a chuckle. The bustle of the war room barely slowed down for the eager guard as attendants and information analysts moved markers and parchments over the map of Wendereight that laid over a large round table, the centre of which was barely reachable with a long stretch.

Almost softly out of embarrassment, Art replied to the guard, ‟Ah, yes. Have your report scribed," she pointed to the scribe in the corner of the war room. ‟The analysts will attend to it once done."

The guard saluted. ‟Yes, my lae!"

Art winced again.

Gwen spoke to her knight, ‟Having trouble with the formalities?"

‟Everyone has been putting on airs around me. It's difficult to maintain my composure like this," she admitted while analysing the map. ‟Why are they even acting so stiff?" she asked, knowing the answer.

‟It's only been a day, and it's not often that we call an all hands situation. They're eager to impress."

‟Bootlickers." Art almost spat under her breath.

‟Language, old friend." Gwen held onto a practised smile. ‟We're with company."

Though the queen said that, the aura of two of the country's most powerful women standing together pushed any nearby away. The pair practically had the corner of the room all to themselves.

‟Focus on the work," Gwen advised. ‟Run me through the plan again."

Art raised a questioning brow. ‟Were you not listening when I was briefing everyone earlier?"

‟I'm the queen. I have things to do. Besides..." Gwen dragged on. ‟I got bored."

‟My queen...!"

‟Let's move on. We're in company, remember?" Gwen mocked. ‟Now, remind me your plan."

Unable to openly dismiss Gwen in public, Art simply sighed and did as she was told. ‟I'm sending out everyone available to knock on doors. Those who open, we ask questions. Have they seen any shadows? Have they heard any whispers? Especially during the day of the attack." She looked to a parchment on her left and moved a red pin onto the location of a house on the map. ‟Those that don't open themselves, we mark."

‟And we're looking into every single unanswered home? That will be thousands."

‟No, we'll lower that probability." Art pointed out to two rings drawn out around the keep and Loyard's hideout - where she had been attacked. ‟The attack against me and the vanishing of Coun Taliesin happened at the same time. There's only so far they could have escaped before the city came on guard."

‟There's a chance they would have managed."

‟We only have two days left. We'll work on the assumption they didn't."

‟Lae Pendragon?" One of the analyst came up to her side. ‟Excuse me, I need to reach this edge of the map."

‟Of course," Art replied, stepping away.

The analyst put down two markers, four blues and one green.

Gwen asked, ‟And those?"

‟Blue are of people who noticed something off in the recent days. Green are those that percept a miss on the night of the incident itself," Art explained. On the maps there were a dozen blue markers and three green markers, still spread out relatively randomly. ‟The first day is coming to a close, so I expect the guards and soldiers to report in in-flux now. As we gather more information, we should be able to corner our target."

‟You sound like you're at war."

‟I am a warrior, my queen. This is just battlefield tactics." Art leaned over the table after the analyst was done, looking over the new pins on her map with a glint in her eyes. ‟These markers are my soldiers."

Gwen nodded, this time understandingly. ‟It seems you have things settled. I'll leave you to it then?"

Art questioned, ‟And what will you do?"

The queen looked playfully insulted. ‟I am the queen, believe it or not. I do have duties."

The knight breathed in awkwardly and nodded. ‟Right. Safe day, my queen."

Before Gwen could leave, the door opened, and a soldier came in and saluted loudly. ‟My queen! Knight-Commander! This is Knight-in Ungin, reporting in!"

Without meaning to, Art's hand came up to her face and rubbed over in annoyance. Gwen laughed aloud and approached the scribe.

The queen said to her subject, ‟Why don't you shift your work outside? I think our knight-commander might end up losing a few troops if they were to keep barging in."

Though visibly nervous at being spoken to by the queen, the scribe agreed, and along with two analysts, carried her table out of the war room to set-up in the corridor, leading the knight-in-training away at the same time.

Art mouthed a thanks to Gwen, who returned the gratitude with a playful wink before exiting the room. Art heard the guards outside greeting their monarch as the door closed behind her.

‟All right, everyone," Art raised her voice in her practised boom, the same tone she would use with her troops before a battle. ‟The day is coming to a close. Expect a flurry of reports, if we're lucky, we'll finish by dawn. Even without swords or shields, you are warriors tonight. What you do here in the dark will decide how bright the future of our country be come sunrise. Take heart. Give it your all. Good luck."

The room resounded, ‟Yes! Knight-commander!"

Information flowed into the room like a river, and the analysts, with the guidance of Art, set everything in motion.

Pieces came onto the board. At first, it was a sea of blue pins with specks of blood red. A few blades of green melted into the water, almost invisibly like blades of seaweeds. Then, a pool of green appeared to the south of her attack as the units sent to survey there returned. After more information and discussions, Art decided that was just a rumour mill, a neighbourhood that loved to gossip, as there were no lines of either blue or green that clearly led that wound. She had seen information spread like this before on the maps of war, and they were never neatly bunched without lies.

Every few hours, Gwen would come in to check on the progress, asking questions as to new discoveries, before disappearing again.

Information grew. Like roots or veins, the green pins began trailing from the keep and Loyard's hideout on the map, slowly catching up to each other in the middle at the edge of each circle of search radius, but never in a straight line. A strange sighting here. A long bang heard a distant away. But slowly, a second vein protruded out from the hideout, headed north.

When Gwen came back at dawn, the board was pretty much complete. Four patrols had not yet reported back on their second round, but it did not matter. Most of that necessary data was in.

Over a thousand coloured pin marked the board, mostly blue, with random dots of red and outliers of green pins haphazardly littered. But a single green trail spread from the keep to a junction in the middle of the city - in a neighbourhood of 4 red houses that did not respond to the summons at their door. ‟Hoster Crossing". The trail then took a turn, then continued further to Loyard's hideout. There was also a scattered and barely visible trail from the keep straight to the hideout, which Art can only assume was people who sighted her flight that night. Nevertheless, the map showed a path of information clear as day. But what surprised Art more was that the green trail of sightings continued to snake upwards from the hideout, ending at the centre of the less desirable parts of the city labelled ‟Tumbler Yard", filled with red houses that did not answer their doors.

Gwen whistled at the map. ‟That's impressive. I'm guessing we know where we're going today?" Art was quietly looking at the table, in thought until the Queen spoke up again. ‟What are you thinking?"

‟I'm thinking that the trail to Tumbler Yard are our Aleynonlian delegates. I'm thinking that the trail to Hoster Crossing were by our attackers and whoever disappeared Coun Taliesin. I'm now thinking why aren't they the same trail from the hideout? If the Aleynonlians really attacked us, why split up?"

Gwen frowned. ‟There's a third player."

‟I hate this," Art voiced her disgust at espionage bluntly. ‟Someone's playing games with us and I don't like it."

‟What's our move?"

Art grabbed her cape off her chair and walked for the door. ‟We play".


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