A Murder of Crows

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Scholar Guiscard

The dungeon was cold and damp. It was mostly empty at the moment as well, simply because the people who absolutely had to be there; bandits and enemy spies and such, were often executed fairly quickly.

But at the moment, Jailer Fredrik finally had a guest.

Rosalia stood there, looking at the prisoner calmly for a moment before turning to the jailer to ask, “Was the boiling pitch really necessary?”

“My sentiments exactly,” the prisoner stated, hanging upside down over the pot of boiling pitch.

He was unusually well groomed for a traveller and was exceedingly good looking.

The man seemed far too flamboyant to be a proper spy. Unless it was a ruse.

“And what have I done to deserve the presence of such a beautiful lady such as yourself?” he asked with a smile.

His voice was deep and cultured, speaking like a man who was well educated. Something that was not common in the war-centric lands of Galadier.

But all his words did was irritate Rosalia as she looked at his dark face before turning to Fredrik, “Why did you not gag him?” she asked.

“Do you not enjoy my sultry tones, goddess?” he asked.

“We’re trying to interrogate him, my lady,” Fredrik said, looking at the pokers that were still in the process of heating up, “Otherwise, we would have long cut out his tongue by now.”

The man frowned, spinning round a little in his surprise, “My lady?” he repeated, “You are the lady of the House?”

Rosalia looked at him as he slowly spun.

“Is that an issue?”

“No, of course not,” he said, “I should have expected a woman of your breeding would not be common born. Especially with such noble features. Your hair is as dark as a raven’s wing and your eyes are like onyx stones. I never thought I would see a creature as beautiful as you in these lands.”

Rosalia stared at him for a moment.

“I’m going to kill him.”

“My lady, no- he may not be a spy-“ Raven said at once.

“I don’t care- he’s irritating me.”

Irritating?” the man said, looking offended as he swung back and forth, “Charming, yes. Handsome, very much so. But irritating?” he repeated, “Never!”

Rosalia drew out her sword, “Alright, that’s it.”

“Wait! The man cried at once, swinging backwards to get away from her sword only to swing back precariously close to its tip, “It seems there has been a great deal of misunderstanding here,” he told them.

“Oh?” Rosalia asked with a raised eyebrow. Though she did nothing to sheathe her sword.

The man cleared his throat, trying to stop his swinging so he could speak seriously. Though that was difficult enough to be serious whilst hanging upside down over his potential doom.

“My name is Guiscard,” he introduced, “I am a scholar and thus have been travelling through your lands. I mean no harm. All I seek is knowledge.”

Rosalia looked at him for a moment, “I don’t know what that means,” she said at last, “But it sounds like you’re a spy. Put him in the pitch.”

“No! Wait!” Guiscard said at once, trying to lift himself up to delay sinking into the black boiling pitch.

Fredrik grinned as he slowly and torturously lowered Guiscard into the pot.

“I am not a spy! I am a scholar! An academic! An intellectual! Don’t you have scholars at all in your country!?” he demanded, “We strive to educate and better the world with our understanding of it! We teach others as well-“

“Stop,” Rosalia ordered.

Fredrik looked disappointed as he raised Guiscard.

The man heaved a sigh of relief.

“Better the world?” she asked, suddenly intrigued.

“My lady, I wouldn’t trust him,” Alexis said at once, knowing full well the man had spoken the words that would sway Lady Rosalia.

“Well, your ladyship,” Guiscard said, hoping to get himself out of there, “It is common knowledge that an educated society will fare better. They will be happier and more successful. Of course, unless my lady is a tyrant- in which case you would be better off with an uneducated populace.”

Rosalia’s head tilted to one side as she considered him.

It was probably a bad time to admire just how sweet she suddenly looked.

Yes, a very bad time.

He needed to find a way to talk himself out of this situation.

“Does that mean they won’t need a leader if they’re educated?” the Lady of the House asked.

It was hard to get a read on her to know just what answer she really wanted to hear.

But then she wouldn’t have ask in the first place if she hadn’t been interested in a more educated populace.

He may as well take the risk.

“Not necessarily my lady- they will still need a leader,” he said, “But they will no doubt be more aware of what’s good for them and what’s fair. Surely you will need a talented tutor yourself, your ladyship,” he offered.

Rosalia watched him for a moment, sliding her sword back into its sheathe much to Guiscard’s relief.

She was thinking about it.

“No,” Rosalia said at last, “I can’t risk it. You sound far too dangerous. The idea of education still stands, but only once I have united the lands of Galadier,” she said, her tone cold and unyielding, “You, meanwhile- can die. Put him in the pitch,” she ordered, “I have work to see to.”

Fredrik grinned and started lowering him into the pot again as Rosalia turned a deaf ear to his yells.

Her chest was hurting her again.

She needed to get out of the damp, musty dungeon to breathe.

“Oh gods above- I did not want to resort to this!” Guiscard yelled.

The fire beneath the pot exploded as Raven tackled Rosalia to the ground to protect her and Alexis attempted to shield them both.

“Guards!” Rosalia snapped, summoning them at once.

The fire disappeared and Guiscard stood, untied and unharmed by the pot of pitch, brushing the burnt rope off his singed clothes.

He blinked at the sight of the guards who had entered the dungeon.

“Um- right- I’m afraid you’re quite in the way of my exit.”

“Kill him!” Rosalia ordered.

“Finally,” Alexis said, drawing his sword.

“Your ladyship- please stand back,” Raven said, eyes narrowing, “This man isn’t normal.”

“You could have phrased that a little better,” Guiscard said, looking offended.

Raven ignored him.

The guards descended on Guiscard, swords drawn and ready to either subdue or kill.

They weren’t fussy for either.

“Oh for goodness sake- where on earth is my staff when I need it!?” he demanded, creating a ball of fire in one hand.

He threw the fireball down causing it to explode again.

“Look- I really don’t want to hurt any of you-“

The guards and jailers didn’t really care what he wanted. Rosalia was there.

They were going to protect her with their lives.

Guiscard cursed, throwing more fire.

Without his staff, his abilities were unpredictable, even to himself. An explosion, much larger than he thought it should have been, knocked out the guards in a single hit and he winced.

“I apologise but I really must get going,” he said, turning to flee.

But before he could escape, he saw the flash of silver and attempted to dodge as a blade came swinging down upon him.

Another guard!?

He looked round, ball of fire at the ready.

But it was Rosalia.

Guiscard stared at her.

She stood there, soot on her face and sleeve burnt away, amidst the destruction and fire.

Her sword was drawn and there was nothing short than pure, cold fury on her face as the fire around them reflected in her dark eyes.

Like the Goddess Havva, Guiscard found himself thinking.

No, not the time for admiring.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Rosalia said, with a snarl.

Guiscard tried to dodge her next attack but wasn’t quick enough as the blade cut across his cheek.

“Did you have to aim for my face?” he demanded, looking horrified.

Rosalia said nothing though he could tell by her expression she was going to kill him the moment he gave her the chance.

“How dare you harm my people,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Right,” Guiscard said, “I see two problems here- one, I make it a point not to harm women,” he told her, dodging another attack, “And two- I had no idea you actually knew how to wield that sword.

Rosalia attacked again but the smoke was making it harder to breathe.

Guiscard grabbed a wooden pole to try and defend himself. “You are quite the iron lady, your ladyship, but please, I- oh gods curse it! Where is my staff when I need it!?”

“Stop talking and just die already!”

She cut through the pole in one swift strike, forcing Guiscard to use his magic instead.

He blasted her back with a strong force of wind, slamming her against the stonewall across the room.

Rosalia slid onto the ground, the blow to her head causing the world to spin around her. She wanted to throw up.

Guiscard grimaced and turned to leave but stopped, hesitating.

Rosalia was coughing, struggling to get to her feet.

The fire was extinguished but the pain was still there as she got up again. If that man escaped, he could destroy the city.

She got up and lunged again.

Guiscard grabbed a sword off the ground and clumsily defended himself from her attack.

Steel screeched against steel, the sound cutting through the room. The moment she was close, Guiscard noticed it at once.

“Stop- you’re injured!” he said at once.

“Do not give me orders-“ she snarled.

“No, please- I’m serious,” he said, dodging another attack, “The blow to your head is more serious than you think! Your eyes are out of focus and your hands are barely gripping your sword.”

She didn’t care.

She needed to make sure he did not escape.

Guiscard managed to grab both her wrists, stopping her from attacking.

Her vision was blurring.

“Look,” he said, “I- I’ll get back in a cell if you want. I’ll even go back over that pot of pitch- but please, just stop,” he told her, “You need a healer to see to your injury. It could cause permanent damage if you don’t.”

Before Rosalia could answer scathingly, a crow landed on Guiscard’s shoulder, cawing.

“What on earth?” he said, staring at it in surprised, temporarily distracted by the bird’s presence, “How did you get down here?”

“Pegleg?” Rosalia mumbled.

The crow cawed again, cocking its head this way and that to look at her, puffing itself up again.

Rosalia understood, shutting her eyes.

The crows have spoken.

She had no choice but to comply.

She felt sick as she allowed herself to fall.

Guiscard caught her, unsure what to do.

He wasn’t much of a healer but he tried to check on the injury he had caused her anyway.

He grimaced when he felt the lump at the back of her head.

“Why did you keep fighting?” he muttered, looking at her. There were light burns on one arm and he could see the old scars on her face.

Why would the lady of the House let herself get into this shape for?

Why would she fight?

He looked round and saw her personal guards beginning to stir.

The tall blonde man picked up his sword at once but his partner stopped him, looking at the crow on Guiscard’s shoulder.

“We need to bring her ladyship to Healer Emwik. I’ll return this man to the cells.”

Alexis scowled but obeyed.

“Forgive me, my lady,” he said, taking her in his arms.

Raven scowled at Guiscard and took him to an empty cell.

*

Rosalia muttered an oath as she opened her eyes, wincing. “My head is killing me,” she muttered.

“I’m not entirely surprise, your ladyship,” Healer Emwik said, packing away his kit, “That was quite a blow. You need rest and quiet for a few days. That means no work and no fighting. And when I mean no work- I mean no work, understood, my lady?”

She swore again and tried to nod but it hurt too much.

“Understood,” she said grudgingly, “Alexis- Raven- are you two alright?” she asked at once.

“We’re fine, my lady,” Raven said.

“What about the other guards in the dungeon?” she asked at once as Healer Emwik scowled at her and tried to make her lie back down.

“Minimal injuries, my lady,” Alexis reported, “Just a few burns and a little knocked about.”

“Good.”

Alexis looked at her for a moment before commenting, “You almost had him, my lady. You could have killed him then,” he said, “It isn’t safe, keeping him here in Galadier.”

Rosalia shut her eyes for a moment, “The crows,” she said softly.

“The crows, my lady?”

She opened her eyes again, staring up at the canopy of her bed, “Pegleg stopped me,” she said, “The crows vouch for him.”

The people of Galadier were superstitious. It didn’t matter which warlord they served.

But, Alexis wasn’t as superstitious as most of the populace. So despite the crows ‘vouching’ for the stranger, he was personally going to keep a close eye on the man.

Raven meanwhile went over to Rosalia and drew the blanket over her carefully, “Rest, my lady.”

“I will,” Rosalia replied softly, shutting her eyes to take a short rest. She’d sneak out later to try and finish her work.

Both Raven and Alexis waited until Rosalia’s breathing slowed and her expression appeared a little more neutral- though the crease between her brow remained as always.

“Do you think her ladyship is asleep?” Alexis asked as Raven mopped her brow with a damp cloth.

“It looks that way,” he replied.

“Do you honestly think that the prisoner is safe? He nearly killed us all,” Alexis said.

Raven glanced at him with a smile, “You did a good job protecting us. I didn’t expect you to jump between us and the fire like that.”

Alexis reddened.

“I just wanted to keep both you and her ladyship safe.”

Raven smiled, “The crows vouched for him, so we should just trust their decision,” he said.

Alexis made a strangled noise, “They’re just birds,” he said.

“You forget they are a symbol of the Crawford family and the reason why Lady Rosalia is still alive today,” Raven said reproachfully as he glared at him, “Be grateful to them.”

“They’re just birds!” Alexis repeated in a strangled whisper.

“Hush,” Raven told him quietly, smacking him lightly on the arm, “You will wake her ladyship.”

A crow appeared at the window and cawed.

Alexis looked round impatiently and frowned, “Which crow is this one again?” he asked Raven.

“Um- well, I’m not too sure to be honest,” Raven replied, “Her ladyship and the Crowkeeper are the only ones who can tell each crow apart. The size of this one… it could be… Flutter?”

The crow didn’t reply, preening itself.

“Highwind?

Still no reply.

“Darkclaw?”

The crow looked up at once and cawed in response to its name.

“Darkclaw it is,” Raven said. He put the towel aside and went over to the window, offering his arm for the bird to perch on instead. The crow accepted this new position gladly.

“Her ladyship is supposed to be resting,” Alexis said as Raven placed the bird on the perch next to the bed.

“Yes, and the crows are probably concerned for her,” he replied, “You know how they get whenever her ladyship is ill or injured. Anyway,” he added, “Can I trust you to watch her ladyship on your own for awhile? I want to go down and speak to this prisoner myself.”

“My lady will be fine,” Alexis told him, giving the crow some food to keep it occupied and quiet.

*

Guiscard looked round in the cell he had been placed in with mild distaste. It was damp and grimy and cold and smelt like something terrible.

And when was the last time that chamber pot changed? he wondered in absolute horror.

The one legged crow that had landed on his shoulder earlier was now perched on the chain that held up the bed, preening itself.

“What did she call you again?” he asked the crow, placing his hands on his hips, “Pegleg?”

It cawed in response.

“I saw quite a fair few crows flying over the city when I approached it. It must be quite the pest problem,” he said conversationally.

The crow decided not to grace his comment with a reply and went on preening its wings.

The window on the door slid open and a dark face looked in, “You. Prisoner,” a voice said sharply.

“My name is Guiscard and I would appreciate it if it was put to more frequent use, mistress.”

“That’s sir to you,” Raven retorted.

Guiscard frowned but was quick to correct himself, “Ah yes- my mistake. How may I be of service, Sir Guardsman? Or are you here to inform me of my fate?”

Raven opened the cell door in order to retrieve Pegleg for Lady Rosalia, “You need not worry about your fate,” he said, picking the bird up, “The crows have vouched your innocence and her ladyship obeys their decisions.”

“The crows?” Guiscard repeated looking at Pegleg who was happily riding on Raven’s arm, still busy preening, “Well then- you’re less a pest than I thought your kind were,” he told the crow.

Raven scowled, his eyes narrowing, “I would not call them pests again unless you wish to be hung over the pot of pitch again,” he said, “The crows are a symbol of the Crawford family and are therefore sacred under her ladyship’s rule. Pegelg, in particular, is one of her ladyship’s favourite.”

Guiscard looked surprised, “I apologise,” he said, because it was polite to apologise when you offend your hosts.

Especially if your host had a sword and you did not.

Still, crows were seen as pests from where he was from. Not household pets.

“So, I am to live,” he said, “But when am I allowed to leave?”

Raven tickled Pegleg’s beak, “That is for her ladyship to decide,” he said, “But you should be aware, we do not take kindly to strangers here- especially ones that wield strange powers like you.”

Guiscard frowned, “They are not strange; they are magic. I am a mage,” he told the guard, “As uneducated as the populace are out here, surely you have heard of mages.”

“They are children’s tales. Nothing more,” Raven replied flatly, “I must go.”

“Wait!”

He stopped and looked round, Pegleg looking up from his preening, “What is it?”

“Her ladyship… is she alright?”

“Her healer has checked on her. She will be fine,” he replied.

Guiscard looked relieved as Raven left the cell. He heard the jailer lock it.

Alone, he stood there, thinking.

He looked at the door.

He could quite easily melt the lock off and blast his way out of the castle.

But then again, he gave the lady his word that he would stay there in exchange that she would see a healer.

And he liked to think of himself as a man who kept his word to a lady.

But they could have at least placed him in better accommodations that the one he was currently in at least.

He looked round.

Hm… what was that jailer’s name again?

Ah yes.

He knocked on his side of the door politely, “Master Fredrik?”

The window opened, “Whaddaya want?” Master Fredrik demanded.

Guiscard smiled.

*

Rosalia opened her eyes to see dawn’s light streaming into her room. She grimaced, her head still feeling sore as she propped herself up on her elbows.

Pegleg and Darkclaw were asleep next to her, nestled amongst the blankets with their heads tucked under their black wings.

She had not planned to sleep as long as she did.

She cursed at herself, suppressing a cough.

Her chest was still hurting something fierce, forcing her to lay back again, grimacing as she tried to collect herself.

Steadying her breathing, she looked round and tickled Pegleg’s back, making the bird jump and wake at once, cawing in alarm.

Rosalia smiled as it looked up at her and started scolding her, waking Darkclaw in the process.

The two started fighting at once and Rosalia watched, laughing a little. It didn’t take long for Pegleg, the older crow, to get an upper hand in the fight. He shoved Darkclaw of the bed and hopped back to Rosalia, looking triumphant.

“Ow! Crow!” Alexis yelped as the crow fell on his head. He sat up at once and held Darkclaw in one hand.

Rosalia sat up properly and let Pegleg hop onto her lap. She tried to neaten her hair but winced when her fingers touched the lump at the back of her head, “Good morning,” she greeted.

“Good morning, my lady- did the crows wake you?” Alexis asked.

Usually both he and Raven woke first to prepare for the day.

“No, I woke on my own,” she said, getting out of bed.

Raven was up at once to help her, “Are you feeling better, my lady? Does it still hurt?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” Rosalia said, “Where is the scribe? I need to know what I need to have one today,” she said.

Raven helped her out of bed as Alexis left the room to get himself ready, “My lady needs to be resting but first of all, my lady needs to deal with the prisoner,” he said, using a clean, damp cloth to wash her.

“Oh, right. I forgot about him,” she said, getting up to undress.

Raven finished helping her wash and picked out a shirt and breeches for her as she braided her hair back.

“We could leave him in there for a few more days,” Alexis called from the next room, “Or maybe a week or more.”

Rosalia frowned, pulling on her shirt, “What’s wrong with Alex?” she asked Raven.

“I think he’s just annoyed that there’s someone here who’s better looking than he,” he answered, getting dressed for the day as well.

“No I am not!” Alexis called from the other side of the door.

Raven grinned wiping his face with a cloth before going to knock twice on the door to signal to Alexis and the servants that they could come back in.

Alexis scowled at him.

“It seems we’re a bit early this morning,” Rosalia said cradling Pegleg in one arm as the servants shooed Darkclaw out of the room, “We’ll check on our house guest before breakfast.”

“Yes, my lady.”

Rosalia rubbed the lump on the back of her head, wincing.

He could have killed her.

So why didn’t he?

She certainly had been determined to murder him the moment she had her chance and yet… when she showed weakness he stopped.

He let himself be captured again just so she could see a healer.

Why?

They got down to the dungeon and stopped at the door to Fredrik’s office, frowning.

“Lady Rosalia!” the man cried in surprise, jumping to attention.

Rosalia heaved a sigh, “Why… what is he doing out of his cell?” she asked.

Guiscard was there in the office, seated by the fire with Fredrik and looking very comfortable indeed. The two had been playing a game of cards and sharing a pot of tea.

Fredrik blustered whilst Guiscard smiled, rising to his feet with a bow, “Good morning, your ladyship,” he greeted, “Your men have been incredibly hospitable, and for that, I thank my ladyship profusely.”

Rosalia looked at him for a moment before drawing her sword again. “Crows be damned, I’m going to kill him,” she said.

“No, my lady,” Raven said at once.

Pegleg cawed again making her stop and scowl.

Rosalia kept her temper in control. She rarely lost it over such trivial matters but something about his man rubbed her the wrong way.

She scowled, “As you’re already out of your cell, come with me,” she told him, turning to leave.

“As the lady of the House commands,” he replied, “Thank you for the tea and company, Master Fredrik. I do hope things improve between you and your wife. Remember, you may have children but that doesn’t mean things should change between you and your Agatha.”

Alexis scowled while Fredrik simply bowed as they left.

Guiscard looked round as they walked towards the dining room, “Quite a dour place,” he commented, “I expected a bit more grandeur in a palace. I mean, the architecture is quite something but it could do with a bit more decorations. Maybe some art. New carpets.”

Rosalia glanced at him, annoyed, “We can not afford to waste money on foolish lavishness.”

They arrived in the family’s private dining room. The servants took one look at the extra mouth to feed and said nothing, simply preparing an extra place.

There were a handful of guards stationed around the room, keeping a sharp eye on Guiscard.

Alexis and Raven, who always dined with Rosalia, kept their weapons on their persons as always.

“So, excuse my impertinence, my lady,” Guiscard asked as the tasters tried each dish and the tea that was set down on the table, “But I do not believe we have been formally introduced.”

She looked at him, idly petting the crow that was perched on the armrest of her seat.

Guiscard wondered how it was that she still could hold herself like a regal queen of old whilst scarred and dressed in nothing more than what he would considered to be beggar’s rags.

“I am Lady Rosalia Elfreda of Crawford,” she said, picking a piece of bread and tearing it to feed the crow, “These are my guards and companions- Raven Croft and Alexis Lukeson.”

“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you all,” Guiscard said, “I only wish we had met in more pleasurable circumstances where I was not hanging over my doom.”

The taster stood back to allow them to eat.

“I believe I was told because of the crows, I am now a free man?” Guiscard said, hopefully bringing up the matter in order to know just what was to become of his fate.

“You will not be sentenced to death,” Rosalia corrected, eating the fruits on the platter.

“Ah, yes- vast difference,” Guiscard agreed, “So what does that mean for my foreseeable future exactly? Will I be left in the dungeon? I certainly hope not- the bed doesn’t quite agree with my back and the grime is a murder on my skin.”

Rosalia scowled, “Please stop talking,” she said, annoyed, “The more words come out of your mouth, the more I feel the urge to stab you.”

“As you wish, Iron Lady,” he replied with a smile.

She scowled at him and returned to her meal, thinking things over.

It was dangerous to keep him close but if she kept him at a distance, it would be harder to monitor him.

The best thing to do was to keep him somewhere in the castle.

The crows have vouched for him, meaning he was no danger to her.

As much as she already disliked him, she didn’t have much of a choice.

“You said you were a scholar,” she said at last, “Something about learning and teaching and knowledge.”

“Ah yes, I did,” Guiscard said, sounding as though he regretted mentioning it. He knew what kind of knowledge a leader would want in a war torn country like Galadier.

“I see,” she replied and went on eating, dropping the topic.

Guiscard knew what she was doing.

She was keeping him on tenterhooks on purpose.

The longer he be kept waiting and worried, the easier it would be for her to intimidate him into submission.

But then again- considering the life he had lived all this while- he was more than capable to play the game as well.

So, he simply sat quietly and ate his food.

As well prepared as the meal was, the fare was simple.

He jumped when a crow suddenly landed on the table next to him, followed by a couple more.

One small one in particular, pecked at his plate.

“Inky, stop that,” Rosalia said as the servants present prepared a bowl for the crows instead.

It would seem the crows really were sacred.

The other two went for the food but the little crow, Inky, remained next to Guiscard, pecking at his plate.

“Do stop that, I’ve been in the cell all night and the food was something awful,” he told the crow.

The crow looked at him, its head cocked to the side so it could look at him with one beady black eye, and it proceeded to peck again at the bread on his plate.

“Pegleg, please take Inky to task,” Rosalia ordered.

The one legged crow looked at her before hopping over to Inky and pulling at its tail feathers.

Inky squawked angrily but was pushed off the table by Pegleg who hopped back to Rosalia, looking very pleased with itself.

She smiled at it and fed him a berry.

Inky fluttered back onto the back of Guiscard’s chair and sulked.

After the meal, Rosalia dabbed her lips whilst Guiscard smiled at an attending maid.

“My compliments to the cook; that was excellent.”

When they left the dining room, Guiscard couldn’t help but crack at last, “Forgive me, your ladyship, but as a scholar, I am in the pursuit of knowledge. I am more than willing to remain here as her ladyship wishes, but I would like some things to study in the first place.”

She looked at him.

“Study? As in books?” she asked.

The memories she had of her tutors were that they often read out loud from books.

“Yes, books will do. But honestly, meaning no offence your ladyship, I doubt a place like this would have the kind of books- what are you doing?” he asked when she grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him along behind her.

She ignored him and took him to a building in the northern area of the castle.

“Please stop pulling on my shirt, your ladyship. I’ve already had a great deal of problems with my clothes last night. They’re already in a horrible state from the cell-“

“You need to stop talking,” she told him, stopping outside large, oak doors, decorated with beautiful carvings of a forest and birds.

Crows, Guiscard corrected himself.

“Open the doors,” Rosalia ordered.

The guards standing at hand obeyed, opening the doors and going into the huge room to draw the curtains and open the shutters.

The vast room was large and dusty from neglect.

But as the guards drew the curtains back and light streamed into the room, Guiscard felt his jaw dropped.

“I…” he said, and that was all he could muster.

“He’s speechless,” Raven observed.

“Now if only he’ll remain that way,” Alexis replied.

Guiscard was looking upon a treasure throve that could rival the archives in the palace.

Shelves crammed with books stretched from the floor to the high ceilings and again on the balconies. And they weren’t just any books either…

“How… I-“ he said, stumbling into the room and looking at the titles of the books, “These… these are the tomes of Siria! The archives back at home only had the final four editions, but- these are all eight, completed volumes! And those! Studies from the ancient Yunang Empire! These are dated back to the era of the first Emperor! And these are perfect copies of the works of Scholar Deern!”

“Well, he’s certainly not speechless anymore,” Alexis stated.

Rosalia waited as Guiscard continued to build up his excitement before picking off a piece of dirt from her sleeve, “So, Scholar Guiscard… about your engagement here as a teacher…” she said.

“I’ll take it,” Guiscard said at once, “What is the schedule like?”

“Get me a scribe,” Rosalia told one of her guards.”

“Yes, my lady.”

It took awhile before Guiscard managed to recover from his mad delight. When he did, he looked at Rosalia who was giving an order for Alexis and Raven to clear the air.

“My lady,” he said, You know, I-“

“Please remain over an arm’s length away from me,” Rosalia told him, using her sheathed sword to push him back by his chest.

“Ah yes, forgive me,” he said, dutifully taking a few steps back.

“You were saying?”

“I’m surprised you did not bring up the fact I am a mage,” Guiscard said, “Surely you know a mage when you see one despite not having met one before. And surely as a warlord you would see the advantages of a mage within your army,” he pointed out to her.

Rosalia turned to look at him, her eyes dark and cold, “Let’s make something very clear, Scholar Guiscard- the fact that you are a mage is the main reason I am reluctant to keep you here. What do you think my enemies will do if they knew I was hiding a mage in my lands. They would begin attacking in droves in order to obtain you. For now, the fact you are a mage is going to remain a secret.”

“Obtain?” Guiscard repeated, “I am not an artefact,” he said, sounding offended before thinking it over, “Though I have often been likened to a beautiful work of art or a jewel encrusted crown-

“Goddess give me strength, please stop talking,” Rosalia told him with a scowl.

Guiscard smiled.

But it wasn’t that smile that he had put on so far to be charming.

It was the kind that made the corner of his eyes crinkle.

“Thank you, Lady Rosalia,” he said with a small bow.

“Don’t thank me just yet,” Rosalia replied with her usual scowl, “We will see just how this arrangement goes. Now, excuse me, I have work to see to. I will need to arrange for a guard to attend to you while you are here to make sure you stay out of trouble,” she said.

“That sounds fair, my lady.”

Rosalia nodded, “Alexis. Raven,” she said.

Her two guards returned to her, following her out as she returned to her study to get to work.

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