Audience with His Grace
The audience hall in Wrightwood Manor was large and stately. White marble with red veins covered the floor and a narrow red carpet ran down the middle of the chamber from the large double doors at the back, to the dais at the front.
The doors opened and Father Evan Pierce, a priest of the Order of St. Michael and a demon hunter, strode into the room followed by one hundred Michaeline knights. Each knight wore a breastplate of polished metal emblazoned with a silver sword. The group clanked and clanged across the hall until they reached the end of the carpet.
At the foot of the dais, Evan knelt on one knee and bowed his head. The knights behind him did the same.
“Your Grace,” said Evan.
Seated atop the dais in an elegantly carved chair of bone and ivory, His Grace, Duke Wrightwood looked at the others in the hall dispassionately. He gestured with one hand. “Arise and report. How fared you in the Mirean ruins?”
Evan stood and smiled. “Very well, Your Grace. We captured two necromancers and killed two others. The pentagram they were preparing was cleansed and destroyed, thereby thwarting any plans they had for using it.”
His Grace pursed his lips. “And what of their leader, Jormundan? Captured or killed?”
Evan sighed and frowned. “Neither, I’m afraid. He escaped, vanishing like a ghost at the end of a difficult battle that almost killed Sir Ahlan and me.”
Duke Wrightwood’s jaw tensed a little at this news and his blue eyes flashed with a fire Evan knew well. “Then we have no clues as to his plans for stealing magic jewelry of great power.”
“Not exactly, Your Grace. Because we forced him to flee, he left behind his horse. Inside one of the saddlebags, we found a message to him.” Evan drew out a scroll from behind his belt and handed the parchment to a nearby page, who presented it to Duke Wrightwood. His Grace snatched up the document. He unrolled the scroll and read the message.
I believe I have found what we have been seeking these many months. If the stories I’ve heard are true, the prize is in the port town of C. I am sailing there now and should arrive in a few days to confirm. I will rendezvous with you at the standard location outside the town of S.
Duke Wrightwood lowered the parchment and looked blankly at Evan. “This would seem to confirm the intelligence I’ve already received. Jormundan is in league with thieves.”
“Yes, and they plan to steal something soon,” noted Evan.
“We just don’t know what,” observed His Grace. “Based on earlier reports, it could be magic jewelry or a magic gem.”
“We don’t know where the theft will occur either,” said Evan.
His Grace raised an eyebrow. “Does it matter? I can think of several towns of C and they are all too far away and not within the Duchy. So even if you could arrive in time to stop the theft, you’d have no jurisdiction.”
“What about Clearbrook?” Evan asked. “I know it’s unlikely, but it is worth investigating.”
His Grace sighed. “All right. It is worth being certain. Take your men and head out immediately.”
Evan paused and Duke Wrightwood sensed the priest had something else on his mind. “Is there something more?”
“Only a small indulgence, Your Grace.”
“The people of Clearbrook are gentle folk. Marching into town with one hundred men will cause quite a commotion, possibly to the point of dissuading the thief from acting. Since our only hope of finding Jormundan now is to capture the thief, I suggest I go to Clearbrook myself, under the presumption that I’m there to rest.”
His Grace briefly considered this idea and then shook his head. “No. You’ll need the support of a few knights — Sir Ahlan, Sir Ambrose, and Sir Geoffrey at the very least.”
“While they are all fine knights, I’m certain I can get the support I need from the town guard. A lieutenant in the guard there is an old friend of mine. I can also travel faster alone.”
His Grace rubbed his chin, considering Evan’s words. “You’ll be taking a big risk. But, as you say, it is doubtful they would go to such a sleepy and quiet town. Very well. Go to Clearbrook alone and investigate any unusual activities there. If the thief does show up, apprehend him and keep him from stealing the magic item he wants.”
Evan bowed. “Thank you, Your Grace. I’ll leave at once.”