Echoes of Midnight

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Eleven

“A pigeon post?”

The question knocked High Lord Stefan from where he stood. Tiny wings hovered above his head as he whirled to Greta and apprehended her. Tourist clothes were long gone. A cream tunic and pointed leather shoes clad her instead.

“These birds are messengers. They carry our letters to different villages and even to your land, the Old World. Are you certain that there are no pigeons from where you came from?” Stefan inquired. His face remained stoic while a pigeon perched on his shoulder. It cooed in response as if shoulders were comfortable nests.

“You're not calling my bluff, right? We don’t use birds to call for help,” Greta quipped as she emphasized the latter. “At home, we own things called telephones to communicate with someone from the other side of the continent.”

Endless possibilities ran through Stefan’s mind. His suspicions have grown over time with Greta’s sudden appearance in the village.

“If I have the authority to say on the matter, you and your automobile are in serious trouble, unless…”

A loud sound rang from the Atrium. Known as the central square for festivities where villagers and outsiders alike reveled on season after season. It troubled Stefan, turning his voice to a whisper.

“We better make haste. Something’s happening in the Atrium,” the High Lord said in a hurry as he and Greta emerged from the secluded pigeon post.

The alley beyond opened to a wide thoroughfare - packed with the villagers who craned their heads for paper lanterns and dances. Others wore glittering masks and headdresses adorned with colorful feathers.

“Right, I’m off to a festival while someone’s plotting my death,” Greta mumbled to herself.

Stefan didn’t spare her any glance. He waded through the sea of people with his billowing cloak and a belted tunic that spoke of nobility.

The villagers were all familiar with the sight. If a man wore clothes with that of Stefan, commoners would likely honor him with a nod, or a bow, for the pious devotees of the High Lords.

Each castle had one. Some were dukes born from a family of dukes. Others were princes from distant lands who conquered the former possessor of the castle through a swordfight or marriage.

No one knew of the man who lived in Mudwick. The villagers only remembered the warlock who died upon inheriting the castle from the witch queen, Morrigan.

An ante that carried Stefan along with the regal air around him.

He and Greta both went through the cobblestoned streets mainly unnoticed. No one paid the least attention when he led her to a tavern. Its wooden sign carved to a shape of an owl and a cauldron. A familiar sight from his occasional jaunts.

“How could we possibly ask for help in a tavern?” asked Greta with an eyebrow raised in confusion.

“We shall not dwell outside. The Owl's Cauldron is fond of women but not like you, Greta,” Stefan murmured before stepping inside the tavern.

Golden lanterns hung precariously along its brick walls. Barrels of wine served as seats for the patrons while maids sprung from pillar to post - hands filled with platters and tankards.

“I've seen this before. Seems too old for a documentary,” Greta wondered, her head swiveling from left to right.

“What is a documentary?” Stefan inquired as he led them both to a soggy seat in a corner.

“See? That’s what I’m talking about. You’re pretending to be ignorant of these ‘urban’ words to keep our conversation going.”

“I am not acquainted with what you are on about, Greta. Forgive me but I need to speak to someone first. Do not leave this corner until I return,” commanded Stefan, his blue eyes turning into yellow orbs.

He walked away with the same dexterity earlier and slowly approached the bar. Gamblers paid him no heed except for the only man whom he trusted the most in the tavern. His generosity left him awed, even after the war between the witches and mortals.

“Haven’t ye heard, mate? A warlock paid a visit here last night,” declared the man, a corner of his lip quirking in amusement.

He was not frail nor old, but strong and built. Dust of hair littered his jaw as he wiped a tankard with a cloth. Stefan regarded him with a nod and beamed at his jest in return.

“Enough with this nonsense, Percival. I’m here for something else.”

Percival went silent as he crouched down. Glasses clinked and a splash of liquid perked Stefan from his seat.

The Owl’s Cauldron never disappointed him once with its trout and pints of whiskey. For a few occasions would he only sought the help of a fellow who knew every last bit about him except for one. The possession – spun out of dark magick which Stefan would not want Percival to get acquainted with.

“What purpose could ye be, my lord? I hear that ye’re in a woman’s arms before you come at my tavern.”

Stefan never wasted time in introductions or petty explanations. His former comrade knew he was oftentimes straightforward and firm.

“A female mortal got lost in Mudwick.”

“For a thousandth time? That is odd, indeed. Villagers are getting beleaguered. My runner spotted a warlock and three ladies here last night. In the morrow, I reprimanded the boy and said to him, ‘how dare they to ruin the tavern?’ and he said that everyone was magicked. Drunkards were dragged to the bushes and gamblers left without questions.”

With the mention of the warlock, Stefan already knew what was going on. Daemeon did something irrevocable and the fates were his acquaintances. A betrayal which no longer surprise him. He was alone in this quest. For Gwydion and the moon. Certainly, Daemeon had the same sights as him.

“I will help you with this,” Stefan offered. “…which leads me to consider your help in the matter.”

“Anything for the High Lord,” Percival jeered as he handed Stefan a tankard.

The latter clutched it with a tight grip, his body swaying in anxious thoughts. He debated whether to tell him about the truth of the possession and Greta and managed to speak of another instead.

“I need passage through the Warp. If you could bargain some coins with a ship captain, or perhaps, a High Lord who went through it after the war,” Stefan inquired before taking a sip of ale from his tankard.

“How-? I thought it was only a legend. The Warp is not real, Ektor. No villager believes it anymore.”

Stefan flinched at the name. It was a forgotten one, a lost past he never wanted to go back to. “I talked to this mortal and she was speaking strange. Definitely not from any village I’ve known around Nouveau.”

“A mortal speaking an odd language?” asked Percival, pausing for a moment from his duties.

“I believe she went through the Warp,” Stefan admitted in a quiet voice. No villager had seen the mythical thing before. They believed it to be woven from the deceptive mouths of witches and immortals who worshipped them.

“You never concern yourself with a lost foreigner, let alone a female. They went to Mudwick and the only man they saw was Erik and no one else.”

“I know, Percival. And I wanted to help her in return for something.”

“A bed to warm yourself with?”

“No, bastard. I wanted to help her from someone. He intends to harm her.”

“Then, consider it a quest, my lord. I would never disappoint you. How about the wife you’ve been seeking for from the other villages?”

Stefan kept some truths even from Percival - a comrade to him way before he became a High Lord. It was an arrow to his chest which left him with no other choice. He had drawn make-believes and shared to the fellow that he and his wife were separated from the war.

Gwydion as his wife? That would be a fool's dream. She was dead and no bargain could bring her to life.

“I haven’t heard from the messenger I sent. Better for us to turn our sights to the mortal at the present.”

“Pray tell, what is the matter with the mortal and the warlock the night before? Do you think it-?” Percival slowly went still as Stefan turned his head towards the commotion.

The tavern erupted to chaos and Greta was in the middle of it all.
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