PART II : A job that cannot be refused
Insisted upon by the guard, everyone began to leave in confusion, muttering and making their way nervously. A guard outside was audibly making sure no one lingered on the hill. The Captain waited until the inn was empty, and spoke only then:
“Cadiviir Morei in the flesh, here in Neligraad.” The Captain walked towards the blades with his arms behind his back. Brandishing the Neligraadian Bull on his chest, on his red-brown vest. The Red Bull, he was called. His name was spoken more than the king’s and queen’s, and many would attach the title of a hero to it. “It’s quite the surprise to see you here, right under the nose of our dear King.”
Cadiviir’s hand slithered visibly into the cloth on the table, in which his sword was hidden. Arvin, tense and alert, prepared himself for what was likely to come.
“Stay your blade, oldman.” the Captain said with a smirk on his face, the scar across his lips rendering it sinister. “I do not come for the past. Quite shocking, I realize. I have a job for you.” He sat at a chair facing them.
“You have a job for me?” Cadiviir’s features were strained with rage. His face was red with boiling blood and his eyes wide open.
“Yes. A job, for you. You are a Blade now, are you not?”
“And if I refuse?”
The Captain paused for a few moments, then leaned in closer. “The King would be receiving wonderful news.” He said in almost a whisper.
“He just might receive no news at all.” Arvin threatened, surprised at his sudden impulsivity. It was quite rare to see the old man’s rage on him. And somehow it was seeping into him. The Captain turned to him with the most calm expression. “Yeah, right, and who the hell are you?”
“Who the hell am I?”
“Who the hell is this?”
“A damned crow, seems like.” answered one of the guards.
“A calivernian.” said another, almost at the same time. “At the keep, I saw him before. Couldn’t mistake those weird-colored eyes.”
“Ah,” the Captain’s face lit up with recognition. “It was you who the Castellan hired to kill the monster in the keep, last fall. A Dancing Crow, or so I hear.” Arvin did not like that nickname. Fools and children gave it to him. “I was wondering who the ‘violet-eyed snow-white’ could be as you were described to me.”
“You’re saying that if I refuse, you’d take me to the King, Egmeir?” Cadiviir leaned closer, looking the Captain dead in the eyes. “Or are you saying you’ll take my life here and now?”
The Captain, who seemed then immune to intimidation, made little of Cadiviir’s stare and began to look around him. “Fancy place, this inn.” He started, and even then Arvin could tell where he was going with his words. As the old Blade seemed to, for he straightened in his seat and his jaw loosened slightly. “You’re friends with the innkeeper, the way I hear it. Everec was his name? He kept his lips shut about you earlier.” The Captain shook a finger that he pointed at him. “If someone else was in my position, they would have hung him for conspiring with calivernian spies. I’m kind-hearted by nature, so I’d never do such a thing, would I? To a man protecting his friends.”
“Don’t bring others into this.” Cadiviir said simply, and suddenly a tired look came upon him.
“There was such a lovely lass here, earlier.” the Captain continued, seeing that his words hit home, “A red-headed beauty. Her name was the word for Flame in imperial, what was it. . .? Ah, Vamith. She is flaming, most certainly. I hear she’s like a daughter to you. Would be a shame if the Knight Enforcers were to be notified of her whereabouts, for her. . .hidden talents. You know, we guardsmen have to uphold oaths which our rulers made to the empire. Our honor depends on it. But since it’s me, nothing of the sort would happen to her. I wouldn’t ruin such a lovely lass’s life for honor, would I?”
Cadiviir’s face was so red Arvin thought he was about to swing at the Captain. He prepared himself to draw his sword the moment the old man did. But he did not. His expression gradually relaxed and his features darkened, as if all the years of hardship had caught up with him just then. He released a deep sigh, nodding slightly a couple of times.
“Fine,” he said, taking a long pause before continuing. “What’s the job?”
“Glad we could come to terms.” the Captain smiled with delight. “Our beloved Prince, Cazbn, had run away from the keep. I need you to track him down and bring him back before the King realized his disappearance.”
“Seems like a job your men could handle.” Cadiviir said. “Why me?”
“Because I need a tracker, not a search party.” said the Captain. “My men would go around, spreading the fact. If not by their questions and ruckus, then by their appearances. And as you would guess, many parties out there have uses for a vulnerable prince, and would seek to capture him if they realize such a prince is out there. The crown has many enemies. Not to mention that if I start sending guards away on searches, the King would come to know. You’re the best tracker I know of and it was quite convenient to discover you were here.”
“And you expect us to find this Prince of yours in, what, a day? How long before the King suspects something is amiss? Before the prince is not there at his meals or when summoned?”
“I’ve already handled that. The King is convinced that Cazbn is away on a visit to his uncle. They’re close, and after the argument they had yestermorning, he quickly believed it. He decided to allow the Prince a few days to calm down. A few days, and then the King would send to his brother, and all would be exposed. What say you, Dancing Crow? Can you find the Prince before the next week?”
“Need leads.” said Arvin. “There any?”
“We’ve the Prince’s undergarments, should you want to sniff.”
“I’m a Dancing Crow, remember? Not a hunting dog.”
“You would have been more useful if you were a flying one instead. Mayhaps you would’ve found the Prince by the glistening of his rings. But here, you can find him by this, too.” The Captain produced a small piece of paper. “It was found outside his room window, probably because of the wind. Any idea what that means?” he placed it upon the table. Cadiviir grabbed it and Arvin could see the runes on it. Between the Bull and the Griffin. Under rock and above tree, they spelled.
“It means your Prince’s in love.” said Cadiviir. “Ran away for a woman.”
“I expected as much.” said the Captain, “With all his prior sneaking out at night and coming back before dawn. But there is something of his whereabouts in there, I’m sure. Can you figure it out?”
“He used to sneak out? What makes this time different, then?”
“This very piece of paper, I’m sure you’d agree. And the fact that he has been missing since yestermorning, right after his argument with the King. He never snuck out for more than a night.”
Cadiviir went silent for a minute. The Captain waited patiently, and the only audible sound around them was of him cracking his knuckles, one by one. The air was thick with tension.
“If he has been missing since just yesterday,” Cadiviir finally spoke, “He couldn’t have gotten far. What does he look like?”
“Like a Prince.” said Egmeir. “A foolish Prince. He has blue eyes, a golden head, and a virgin’s almond-colored skin--scar-less and soft-looking. He is well fed, and that would visibly define him among the commons. The guards at the gate said he left in modest garments, but a keen eye would still make out a Prince’s silks regardless of modesty. The royal family was not in the habit of buying from the market.”
“Fine.” said Cadiviir. “I’ll find your Prince for you. Now you can fuck off, Egmeir.”
The Captain smiled. “I’ll find you here in six days. Nice doing business with you, Cadiviir Morei.”
“The feeling’s unmutual.”
The Captain stood up and headed to the exit. “Oh, how forgetful of me.” he turned back at the entrance. “We haven’t discussed the reward.” he chuckled. “Ofcourse I could offer you gold, but you seem to be focused on finding something that is more important to you than that. That is why you, a calivernian, and a dangerous one at that, risked coming here to Neligraad where being discovered meant hanging--or worse, depending on how severely our King is still passionate about you--And that is why you cannot afford to be chased out of the kingdom before you find said thing. Yes, what you seek here is information. Depending on how we meet next time, I might be able to reward you just that.”
The four guardsmen left behind their Captain in clings and thuds, until their sounds disappeared in the distance. The first to go back inside was Vamith. “Cadiviir!” she called, and Everec came in after her, shutting the door behind him. “Is something wrong? What did the Captain of the guard want?”
Cadiviir hurried to Everec and shook him by the shoulders. “You need to get out of Neligraad. Do you have any place you can stay for an extended period of time? Somewhere you can take Vamith with you?”
“Outside the kingdom?!” Everec was visibly taken aback at the sudden urgency of the Blade and the scope of the question. “There. . .are a couple of places, but-”
“My sister lives with her husband in Mistharoda. We can go there, but only if it’s dire.”
“It is.” said Cadiviir. “There’s no telling what might happen to you if you stay. Go, now. keep a hooded head, and your wits about you.”
“What’s going on?!” Vamith asked.
“Go prepare.” was all the reply she received.