Chapter 10: KYRSTIN'S GROWING CONCERNS
There had been a lot of things to happen in the past twenty-four hours that were concerning, no less of which was Kyrstin’s grandmother, the Ex-Queen, being brutally murdered (or so it seemed) in her cottage in the woods. Then there were the storms that people heard evil spirits in, the pile of bones her brother took outside with him, the people of the Village of Fortis who had the audacity to take a prince hostage, and now Leila the Witch was missing. While it wasn’t very strange for Leila to not be in her dwelling when someone went calling, she often went on long walks for ingredients for her oils which would make even the biggest skeptics believe in her magic, the fact that she hadn’t returned since embarking into the storm last night was peculiar.
She knew her brother Thomas would be most bothered by the witch’s disappearance so she sent Dominic, the soft spoken, soft-eyed guard up to where her brother should be currently at sword lessons with Corson. Meanwhile, Kyrstin wanted to focus on the death of the Queen, but now she was alone in the Great Hall. Even though Brynn told her that the Queen had told them both all there was to know, she still wished the Necromancer had not run off, so she could talk at length, through her, to her grandma. What errands did Brynn have to do? When would she be back? Kyrstin was beginning to fear that every time she took her eyes off someone, they would disappear.
The princess peeked out of the castle, coming in contact with the two guardsman at the doors. These front doors, since the Kingdom of Springborough was such an open city once you got inside the walls, were the only way in and out of the castle (unless you wanted to chance climbing the steep, smooth walls to a window). And being the only entrance or exit to the castle, they were always guarded by at least two men.
One of them, currently, was Rodolfo. A knight who could be relied on to volunteer for anything.
“Rodolfo,” Kyrstin said, liking the fact she knew one of the men. The other man, a brunette with a wide smile, took the princess in before genuflecting gentlemanly.
“Yes, your highness,” Rodolfo said, standing upright, thrusting his sword by his side.
“You were at my grandmother’s cottage yesterday, were you not?”
“I was, your highness. Not for very long, because the storm came, and one of ours was struck by lightening.”
“I’m trying to determine what happened to her-“
“Was she not eaten by your brother’s bear?” Rodolfo stammered out, not realizing he was talking out loud, for he covered his mouth. “I’m sorry for cutting you off, for talking out of turn.”
“Quite all right, but no- the bear had only eaten the Ex-Queen’s fingers that were covered in blueberries. The rest of her body is no longer there, as you know, and for all my researching, and investigating, I can’t seem to figure out any more than that. Who is the greatest mind of the King’s guard?”
The two guards looked at each other, suppressing the urge and the pride to immediately raise their hands and call themselves the most intelligent, the most insightful, of the guards that patrolled Springborough. Who wouldn’t want to be considered that? The problem, after the fact, was one might be asked to prove it.
“I would assume it to be Corson, your highness,” the brunette one said.
“Aidan, my princess,” the man said, no older than twenty, and very skinny. Kyrstin tried to commit his name and face to memory.
“Corson is a good pick,” Kyrstin told him, but turned to them both. “But, being the best warrior doesn’t mean you are the best at seeing full pictures. The Ex-Queen was murdered in the woods, that cottage was full of blood but no body was found, so I could be wrong- but-...” Kyrstin had to stop herself from saying anything about Brynn talking to her grandmother’s ghost. The kingdom had all ready started to whisper about how the royal children, ages fourteen, twelve, and nine, were ruling over everyone for the foreseeable future. Kyrstin thought it wouldn’t help everyone if it got out that the children were fantasizing about spirits and other things that seemed to be a product of childhood imaginations. “But, something attacked her. Something in the woods, and it is time we figured out what exactly. I would hope it wasn’t anybody from Springborough.”
“You think it could have been a villager of Fortis? They did take Prince Thomas hostage,” Rodolfo said. He had not been a part of the search party for Thomas, he had rather opted to escort the dead knight home who had been struck by lightening. It was then he also ran into Prince Patrick who had just wrestled the bear, and the rest is history.
“I would assume it was a villager of Fortis. How many people live there?”
“Gosh, I would say well over three hundred.”
“Got to be about five hundred now, I’d say,” Aidan said.
“Three quarters of that being guys,” Rodolfo kept going.
“They have a problem keeping ladies in the woods,” Aidan added. “They prefer the cleaner conditions of Springborough.”
“And how many people do we have? Guards, specifically,” Kyrstin asked.
“Guards? We got about a hundred knights. Thirty or so recruits. Guys that aren’t fit to wear the armor, yet, but they’ll get there,” Rodolfo began to look at Aidan as he talked, making sure the other guard agreed with his guesstimates.
“Takes a couple months to train a lad into a knight.”
“Even then, he’s not battle ready.”
“Nobody is ever battle ready.”
Kyrstin looked out at the town of Springborough, every once and awhile catching the reflection of the sun off the shined armor of a knight patrolling the grounds. She did the math in her head that if she sent a search party for the killer to Fortis, she’d be sending a good chunk of the guards. And if someone did attack her grandmother, it was probably for the best that they keep as many knights as they could around them. She knew that Brynn and Jage were going to get restless, and want to get back to that little hut on the cliffs, but Kyrstin would have to figure out some way to keep them under her protection as well. She knew a dead knight named Jimmy was currently watching over Brynn, but what good would a weightless spirit do should trouble arise? If the killer was going to attack the Queen for whatever reason, they would surely attack two kids who the Princess had grown fond of.
“What are you thinking, your highness?” Aidan asked, rather boldly.
“I do believe Fortis to hold some unsavory characters, but I can’t imagine, if the killer is among them, that they would even know who it is, let alone what he’s done. But, it’s not just a villager that we can suspect, is it? Why there was always the legend of the man who walked in the forest, talking to the trees. Have you heard of it?”
Both of the guards shook their heads.
“My grandmother, Queen Grace, would tell me of this man, in a cloak; could barely see his face, and he’d walk about the forest, memorizing the trees, and talking with the leaves on their branches. Apparently, this man was very friendly, very old, and very slow. But, he held a great power. Not so much as great as the fabled warlock, who I assume you have heard about? Don’t we all know of the warlock in the woods?”
“Warlock is just the male form of a witch, is it not, your highness?” Aidan asked.
“It is,” Kyrstin replied. “So, maybe that is where the witch ran off to. To visit the male counterpart to her magic. Do we know where the warlock stays? Does anyone?”
Both the guards shook their heads.
But, Aidan then let out a breath, not really saying anything, but thinking. Finally, “I’ve heard where he lives, nothing lives.”
He didn’t offer anything else, but what he had said was enough for the three of them to chew on.
“I wish to find the witch, as will my brother. If the witch leads us to the warlock? All the better.”
But, really, Kyrstin knew who would know where the warlock was. It had to be someone dead. And to talk to that person, she would need Brynn.
Who was, like others, nowhere to be found.