(This was my word count for this morning. Enjoy!)
The words the king of Ellos had just said hit Tam like a ton of bricks. She took half a step back, her leather armor rustling as she moved. Her violet eyes widened in to an expression of shock from behind her short brown hair. "I," she hesitated. Her throat and mouth had gone dry. She put her left hand down and gripped the sword attached to her belt as though it would give her the answer to what she had just heard. "I don't understand, sire. He can't be," her voice trailed off. She couldn't say it.
She couldn't say that her father was dead. It might make it real.
The King stood up from his throne, a lofty chair with a lute propped against it. He was dressed regally and moved like a king, but some of the clothes still looked like that of a traveling bard. He came down the steps of the dais, extending a hand to her to rest it on her shoulder. "Knight Selhana, it pains me to have to tell you this. The messenger from Westwind arrived just a little while ago. I'm sorry, but your father is dead." He gave her a look of sorrow. She was one of his best knights. A truly gifted soldier, and dedicated to king and country. She had defended him and the country of Lamduel with her own life many times over the years, and showed promise of being promoted to the ranks of General before too many more years had passed. The King's blue eyes looked in to her own as he sighed. The crown, gold with a few jewels set at the front and with only a minimal amount of decoration, shifted a bit on his brow. "You are to go back to Westwind, Knight Selhana, and see to things there. I will not be sending you alone, however."
He turned to the side of the room, which was a long, straight stone crafted hall with a low, squat ceiling. Tapestries hung on the walls, depicting various legends of Draco-Terramada and of the God Wars. Wall sconces were lit on the walls between the cloth decorations, providing the only illumination in the throne room. From the raised platform at the Eastern end to the doors at the Western end was a long, deeply piled royal blue carpet with an elaborate knotwork design along the borders. The only windows were tiny holes near the ceiling that were more to let the smoke from the sconces out than to let light in. Still, the brilliant white stone that the castle had been crafted from centuries before prevented the room from being dark and oppressive. And the elaborately carved King's and Queen's thrones were surrounded by long flowing drapes of velvet and silk that pooled on the dais and spilled down the steps to the sides of the semi-circular platform. Tam knew that behind the curtains of luxurious fabric was a door that led to the King and Queen's entrance to the room.
Tam's eyes focused from the king to the dais as two women came out from behind the drapes. The first was a dark-skinned woman who just might have reached Tam's chin in terms of height, and Tam was not considered to be overly tall when it came to woman. Perhaps averagely so. Her hair was dark as the sky at midnight, and her eyes the color of rich, deep leather. She wore a sheathed sword at her hip and a simple leather breastplate over pants and a linen shirt. There was something about the way that she walked and moved though that made Tam want to bow her head to the woman. She exhuded an air of nobility that rivaled even that of the King of Ellos. The dark-skinned woman gave Tam a small smile as she came down the stairs toward her, adjusting the leather pack on her back as she walked.
The second woman was really barely a girl, now that Tam looked at her properly. She couldn't have been even a woman yet, and she walked with her hands clasped together in front of her. Her dress was simple dyed cotton in a muted blue hue. She had her golden hair loose over her shoulders, spilling in soft waves to frame her face. She was not a great beauty, but she was not homely either. Simple, Tam decided after a moment. Her economy of movement and the way she kept her head slightly down and her blue eyes to the floor gave away all too well that she was a servant, though Tam had not seen her before.
"This is the Lady Karen and her servant Anya. I'm sending them to be your escort to Westwind, Knight Selhana." The King put his hand on Lady Karen's back as she walked up to Tam, a smile across her face that was warm and inviting.
"Pleased to meet you, Knight Selhana. I look forward to seeing your home town. I hear it's beautiful," said Lady Karen as she held a hand out.
Tam took her hand and gave it a squeeze. Lady Karen noted immediately that her grip was strong. Rightfully so, too, because the woman looked every bit the soldier that she was. The leather armor did little to hide the powerful muscles beneath it as they moved. Plus the way that her violet eyes studied everything from under her short, rough cut brown hair gave away her skill as well. She looked at everything like a master tactician, and not a single movement that she made was wasted.
"I'm honored to be traveling with you, My Lady Karen," said Tam as the King turned to walk back up the steps to his throne.
"You will set out as soon as you are ready, Knight Selhana," the King said, turning to sit back down. "And please, be safe. Know that the King and Queen send their hearts out with you for the loss of your father."
Lady Karen and Anya turned as the King spoke, and bowed with Tam, inclining their heads. "Thank you, Your Majesty," said Tam, "I will set out at once."
The King dismissed them, and Lady Karen and Anya walked with Tam from the room and back through the castle. "We are ready to travel, Knight Selhana, as soon as you are. We can wait while you gather your things."
Tam looked at Anya and nodded. "I'll only be a few minutes. My horse is at the stables." She turned and headed off to the soldier's quarters while Lady Karen and the servant went to gather the horses. The Knight of Lamduel walked through the halls of the castle, not paying attention to the white stone or the elaborate and beautiful carvings in this part of the building. Priceless paintings, works of art, and fine furnishings were a blur as she walked through, her leather armor the only noise aside from the occasional sounds of a servant going about their duties. Tam headed out across the side yard, still in a daze as she entered the building that housed the soldiers. She was glad to find her quarters empty at the moment. Tam shut the door behind her and then leaned against it as she let the weight of the news she had just learned crash down over her.
"Father," she whispered, her voice cracking as her expression turned to one of sadness. She slid her back down the door, crumpling to sit with her knees to her chest and her arms wrapped around them. She put her head to her knees and sobbed as grief kicked in over stunned surprise. It just couldn't be true. Her father couldn't be dead.
In the small town of Westwind, the overall mood was tense. The residents had taken to gossiping in low whispers about current events and giving angry glares at the Constable's building. Graham Selhana, the richest and most powerful man in town, had been murdered, and the Constable had caught the killer. Or so it was said. Rumors also ranged from her being caught in the act of murdering him to murdering him with a powerful spell that melted his flesh from his bones. Rumors had a way of growing in a town that sat along the main road of Lamduel, despite that it was a small farming town in most respects.
The temple of Lilithin, goddess of Light, began to toll the hour as the sun made its way to the horizon. From the barred cell in the Constable's office, a woman with shoulder length black hair scowled at the steeple of the temple. She turned away from the tiny barred window and moved to the door of cell again, hooking her arms around the bars and leaning against them. Her green eyes focused on the Constable's desk, where he was working dilligently over a scroll of parchment.
"Hey," said the woman as a look of worry spread across her face, "you can't really keep me locked up in here, can you? I mean, I didn't do anything! I may be a little on the wrong side of the law, but I'm no murderer!" She'd have given anything to have her gear right then, but they had taken her leather breastplate and all her things when they had tossed her in here. Now all she had was her light purple cotton tunic, her black canvas traveling pants, and her brown leather boots. Her lock picking gear was in her pack, which she could see from here but had no way of reaching even if she had a chance to.
"You're being held on suspicion of the murder of Graham Selhana, for the last time. I won't be letting you out unless I find irrefutable proof that you didn't commit this crime."
The green eyed woman stuck her lower lip out in a pout. "Meanie," she muttered, sounding like a spoiled child.
Just then the door to the building opened. Xia looked up, unconsciously raising one hand to her hair to adjust it over her slightly pointed ears. She watched with interest as a man came in, a crossbow in his hands. He was wearing what the half-elf had come to know as the guard uniform around here. Though Westwind was a small town, they still got a lot of visitors, and visitors meant the possibility of crime.
The woman in the jail cell hoped that they didn't treat all of their visitors this way, though. She sighed as she backed away from the bars, turning to look out the small window again. The only thing she could see was the steeple of the temple, rising up toward the sky with the symbol of Lillithin at the top in gilded gold, and part of one tree. Getting the bars out of the window was impossible, at least not without a very powerful alchemical device, spell, or a tool aside from one's fingers. So, rather than entertain the thought of escaping through the window that was too small for the short, slim woman to fit through anyway, she focused on the holy symbol at the top of the temple and tried to figure out how much she could get for it if she had it in her hands to sell.
She was so focused on her dreams of having the holy symbol in her hands, in fact, that she didn't hear the discussion between the Constable and the guard who had entered. At least, not until it got heated and the Constable let out a shout. There was a crash from behind her, and the half-elf turned to see what was going on. As she turned, a crossbow bolt whizzed past her ear so closely that she felt the wind of it as it passed. She heard the thunk as the bolt hit stone next to her pointed ear, and her eyes went wide as she froze.
The guard was struggling with the Constable. Both men were fairly evenly matched as far as size and strength, and the guard was at least 20 years younger than the other man. Still though, the Constable showed that experience can make up for youth. He grabbed the crossbow and jerked it out of the man's hands, tossing it to the floor before whipping the younger man's arms back and spinning him around so that his back was facing away from the cell. The Constable shouted for the guards as he pushed the one who had fired his weapon at the prisoner down to his knees on the floor.
"We all know she did it! Let's just execute her and get it over with!" The guard shouted. He frothed with anger as he tried to get out of the Constable's grip, which held firm. "She killed Graham! She killed him!"
The door burst open and two guards came in. They immediately moved to take the other one from the Constable. "Take him somewhere to cool off," he ordered as they grabbed his arms and hauled him to his feet. They dragged the struggling guard out as he shouted back that the prisoner should be killed, but the threats were cut off as soon as the door slammed shut.
The woman was still standing where she had frozen, her green eyes wide with fear and shock. The Constable looked at her before he bent to pick up the crossbow. "Do you still wish to go? I can let you out, but you wouldn't make it down the street." He set the crossbow on the desk and walked toward the bars of the cell, stopping half a step from them. "Graham Selhana was loved by this entire town. If you weren't in here, there'd be a mob hanging you right now. I wouldn't suggest any elaborate escape attempts." With that the Constable turned away and went back to his paperwork.
Xia Redmoon turned her head just slightly to look at the crossbow bolt that was embedded in the stone next to her head. She gulped, her mind racing with thoughts of how to get out of this. She'd been at the wrong place at the wrong time this time, that much was certain. But there was no way she wanted to get killed here. Her hand went up to her chest, clutching at the necklace she wore under her shirt. Her fingers closed around the pendant hidden beneath the lavender cotton and she forced herself to breathe. Yes, she couldn't die now. Not before she found him and made him pay.
She turned and stepped to the hard pallet on the wall, sitting down on it and putting her back to the wall. Once they realized that she was innocent, she was going to run out of this town as fast as she could. But for now she was stuck. It wouldn't make any logical sense to try to escape, even though her first thought was that the tip of the crossbow bolt could be made in to a lockpick if she could get it from the stone without any damage. Anyone else would have used it as a weapon, but not her. She wasn't really the violent type, not unless she had to be. She preferred trickery and sneaking when it came to dealing with problems.
Xia drew her legs up on the pallet and crossed them, crossing her arms over her chest. She'd wait. Eventually someone would come along that she could convince to help her, and then she'd be out of here and off to the next major city before anyone knew what was going on.
Four and a half days later, Tam Selhana, Lady Karen, and Anya rode in to the town of Westwind. People were hurrying to and fro as they went about their daily tasks. Booths were set up in the market, selling artisans' wares and farmers' fresh crops. Music floated out of the local tavern, disipating on the wind as it went through town.
The three travelers stopped their horses outside of the Constable's building and dismounted. Anya took Lady Karen's reigns and started patting the two chestnut steeds' necks, making soft crooning noises to them. Lady Karen walked over to Tam. "So, this is Westwind? Very nice, I like it," she said, trying to make friendly conversation. She'd been trying to make friendly conversation with the knight for the entire trip, if only to get to know her better and to try to get her to talk a bit. Though Lady Karen had never experienced the pain of losing a parent, she knew that Tam must need to talk about things. She was finding the soldier to be rather resistant to making friends with her though. That didn't stop her from trying, however. Had their positions been reversed, she would have wanted to know that someone was trying to take care of her as well.
Tam sighed as she looked around. On one hand, she hadn't seen home in a long time. On the other, she wished she'd come back under better circumstances. Her father had been her only family for as long as she could remember, and to have him gone left a hole in her heart that a dragon could fly through. She didn't want to have to face the truth of this, and kept hoping that she'd wake to find it all a dream. So far though, her prayers had been unanswered by the Gods. "Yes, I suppose it is nice," she said after she realized that Lady Karen was staring at her expectantly. Tam then headed for the building as Anya took her horse's reigns.
Tam walked up the small steps and across the narrow porch, opening the door and entering with Lady Karen behind her. There was a small entry room with a guard, and beyond him a heavy door with iron bars set in to it that lead back to where the prisoners were kept. Tam checked in and the guard stood, saying that he would go get the Constable. The two women waited for a moment before a man came out of another door to the side. He hurried up to Tam and took her up in a tight hug.
"I am so sorry, Tam," he said to her. "I hope you know just how much the town's thoughts are with you. This messy business has been hard on us all." He pulled away at arm's length from her and looked her over, smiling softly.
Tam looked down for a moment, her short brown hair falling in her eyes. "I thank you," she said before looking up. "Do you know who did this? Who could have killed my father?"
He gave her a long look, then sighed and put his arm around her shoulders. "Come, I'll fill you in on what's happened," he lead her and Lady Karen to his office. It was a room no larger than 15 feet square, with a simple wooden desk and chairs. Scroll cases lined the walls and were filled with scrolls of parchment that were neatly labeled in the common language. A few locked chests sat behind the well used desk. The Constable motioned for the women to take seats as he went around the desk and sat, the keys on his belt jingling. He put his elbows on the desk and leaned forward to look at the two.
"Last week," he began, "Graham was found dead at his desk in the study. The window was open and there was a dart in his neck. We found nothing else out of the ordinary, except for a thief sneaking around while we were investigating. She's been kept in lock up since, though if the town had their way she would have found her neck in a rope by now. Had one assassination attempt on her already, and probably would have had more if I hadn't tightened security. Town's not real happy about Graham being dead, especially not if this thief did it.”
(This was my word count for this morning. Enjoy!)