By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 41 - Back to Business
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, early in the morning
A single knock sounds, and Rohr’s voice once more enters the room, “Milady Dariel to see you saer.“ Immerine puts her hands to her temples suddenly and her knees almost buckle. Before she knows it she is sitting on the side of the bed.
Opening the door, the servant gestures lady Dariel to enter. She steps into a large bedroom. Near the windows a large bed dominates the room. A hearth is burning to her left and to her right is a large closet and a night table. Upon the bed are two people. A raven-haired woman and a man who must be Matteo Ashgale. Straightening from the pale, physically battered woman lying in the bed by his side Matteo turns slowly, almost gingerly, to regard the woman now before him. Inclining his head briefly but without a trace of deference he greets her in common, “Welcome, My Lady. What can I do for you this morning?“
The woman standing in the door is young and of medium height. She wears a loose white shirt and tight, form-fitting black trousers. Well-polished riding boots rise to mid-calf and a black half-cloak drapes across one of her shoulders. A greatsword is strapped across her back, the hilt poking above her left shoulder. Kayla ignores Matteo for a moment smiling and inclining her head to the servant, her short wavy red hair falls forward and she tosses it back with a quick shake. Then her deep green eyes pierce the room as she searches for hidden adversaries before falling on the woman in bed with Lord Ashgale. She raises a single coppery eyebrow, but her tanned, freckled visage remains neutral when she sees the state of Lord Ashgale. “I would speak with you on a matter of some urgency, Saer Ashgale. The issue is such that it must be conducted in private. It will take but a moment of your time and then you can return to your other…“ Her eyes glance back to the woman, “Duties.“
Immerine’s emerald eyes glimmer in anger at the reference and dismissal by the red-haired stranger. She sits straighter in the bed and clenches a fist beneath the sheet. She turns her head to Matteo. “It seems you have private business, Lord Ashgale. Will you leave with the woman or shall I wait outside?“ Immerine holds to the sheet tightly. He gets the feeling that if Immerine leaves, the sheet goes with her.
Flicking his gaze back to Immerine he replies in a flat tone, “You stay right there. You’re in no condition to go anywhere just at the moment.“ His hands grab a tight hold of the sheets about his waist. Turning his attention back to the young red-headed woman his brow quirks at the sight of her large sword. “What you can do.“ He says, a faint drawl marking his speech, “Is fetch my clothes if Rohr has brought them up yet. They should be just outside the door.“
Her eyes narrow at the command, but stays where she is for the time being. “You are hardly in any better condition. It is easier for me to move about than it is for you.“ A faint almost imperceptible turning up of her lips grows on Kayla’s face as she watches the two lovers in bed. When Lord Ashgale requests his clothes, she opens the door and retrieves them from outside the door. Coming back in she lays Matteo’s on the nightstand and Immerine’s on the bed within reach. “As the Lady says, it seems it would be easier for her to leave the room than you, Your Lordship. And, as my news does not require two pairs of ears, I will wait until she dresses and shuts the door behind her.“ Kayla crosses midway across the room and stands at an easy attention.
There is a faint tightening around his eyes as Matteo regards Kayla, his face otherwise expressionless. Pulling the sheets around him he is stopped Immerine’s death-grip upon them and instead reaches for the green gown that lies sprawled over the tail end of the bed. Covering himself as best as he can with the gown he inches towards the edge of the bed. Using both hands he reaches down to grasp his injured leg and gingerly lifts it out of the bed so that the heel rests upon the ground, clutching at the silken gown as it threatens to slip from his lap. His leg is covered in hardened bandages from toe to up above the knee. Raising a single dark eyebrow in Kayla’s direction, he asks, “I don’t suppose I could persuade you to make this a little easier, could I?“
Immerine’s hands grip the sheet as white-hot rage flows through her. She is about to angrily retort when she looks at Matteo and sighs. “To spare him pain and humiliation I would gladly do this. Matteo, stay here. I’ll leave.“ She grabs the clothes and pulls them on after shedding the too tight nightshirt. She stands up and slowly crosses the room. “I can shut the door after myself.“ She says to the red-head.
“It seems the problem has solved itself in the most direct fashion, Lord Ashgale. If you feel you must clothe yourself, I will hand the items to you and turn my back while you dress.“ says Kayla in a no-nonsense fashion. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Matteo’s eyes follow Immerine as she leaves the room and he exhales slowly as she closes the door behind her.
Kayla walks to the door to make sure it is secured. She turns to Lord Ashgale and with deference to his station salutes him crisply. “Lord Ashgale, my name is Kayla Dariel. I am a trooper within the Berduskan Light Cavalry and I have been assigned to assist you. My recommendation comes from Captain Zaina. I am aware of your mission and I am aware that the guard has no official stance in assisting you. The Captain felt a more direct tie was necessary, hence my assignment. I am here in secret and only you are to know of my true allegiance.“
Kayla smiles brightly at the noble, “I will also keep your secret with the Lady. Captain Zaina never have need to know.“ Still perched upon the edge of the bed, Matteo’s eyes flick over towards the young woman. “How did you do that?“ He ask quietly. “She never does anything I ask her to do.“ Waving away the question he pushes up from the bed to unsteadily stand upright, clearing favoring his uninjured leg, while covering himself with the gown. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter.“
Clenching his jaw tightly shut, Matteo hobbles painfully over to the nightstand. By the time he arrives beads of sweat stand out on his forehead and his hands are trembling. The skin around his eyes is pinched and he takes a couple shallow breaths to steady himself. “As you can see.“ He says flatly, reaching for his clothes, “I am not in any state to get up to any mischief, and the lady Immerine is barely in a better state than I am. There is no need to keep secrets.“
Carefully lowering himself to the floor to pull his dark trousers on over the stiffened bandages that cover his leg he asks, “Do you know a Lady Portia Coldspring?“ At the question Kayla looks over her shoulder and sees the top of Lord Ashgale’s head. Frowning, she walks over to him and carefully lifts him into her arms and sets him back into bed. She does so effortlessly. “No, Lord Ashgale, I do not know a Lady Portia Coldspring. My information is scarce and I was hoping you would be able to involve me a bit more in what will be expected.“
She looks down at the noble, and shakes her head briefly. “You may not wish to keep secrets your Lordship, but I have my orders. I still will keep what I saw to myself, there is no need to hurt the Captain any further than she already is. If I may speak freely for a moment. I hope you have more heart than some of the nobles I have known, your Lordship. I hope you are more akin to the men in my family, true to one lady and one lady only. If you go about wounding hearts, you will reap what you sow.“ Kayla turns a serious eye on the man, “If you chose to tell the young woman outside about me that is entirely up to you. I am sure she will have questions, and from looking at her you better have answers.“ Kayla smiles impishly. “Shall I ask her back in?“
“In a moment.“ Matteo replies looking up at her, a frown marring his smooth skin. “If you don’t mind I would rather not be handled like a sack of potatoes. I am not injured so badly that I cannot take care of myself.“ Despite the fact that he is pale and shaking slightly he seems to be almost daring her to contradict him. “I have too much to do to be injured, and it does not involve sitting around in bed all day.“ Kayla raises a copper eyebrow. “I see. I am sure the injuries will postpone themselves and obey your commands just as you seem to expect all life to obey.“
Glancing down at his shirt and jacket he gives a moment shake of his head. “Can you please have a look in the dresser for something I can use to immobilize my lower back? A corset or something? No one else in the group knows Portia either. She’s a priestess of Kelemvor who Lord Sillisten sent to help me and whom seems to have been taken by the Zhentarim. You can say you’ve been sent to help find her and no one needs be the wiser regarding your true position.“
Kayla digs in drawers and the closet looking for the smallest corset she can find and brings it over to the bed. “I do not think you will fit in this and if you had the strength to wear it you would be able to battle Lieutenant Aluar. In your condition you should not even be wearing trousers. Raise your arms and let’s see what we can do with this.“ She holds up the corset. Matteo grunts softly and grimaces as he raises his arms. “You’re as bad as she is, you know that?“ Wincing as he sucks in a deep breath he adds, “You can tell Barim to call upon me whenever he wishes.“
Kayla takes the corset and pulls it around his arms and quickly laces it tight and ties the ends to the bedpost. Turning she walks to the door, “If I am as bad as the woman you chose to share your bed with I will consider it an insult. You have wounded a very good woman’s feelings, Lord Ashgale. My Captain deserves better than you. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to introduce myself to your companions at the Running Stag.“ She opens the door.
Kayla opens the door and looks out looking for the harlot who was in the Lord’s bed. “Ahhh, Lady.“ Kayla puts venom in that word. “His lordship is ready for you again. I am sure he is getting warmed up.“ She looks over her shoulder, “Steamed, even. When you are finished enjoying one another’s company I will be waiting for you at the Running Stag.“ Kayla breezes by Immerine and shows herself out.
When Immerine looks in the bedroom she will see Matteo with his hands raised in the air both arms wrapped tightly together with a corset and the corset strings tied to the bedpost. Immerine takes a step after the red-headed demon, but stops at the head of the stairs as she gets dizzy looking down. She heads back to the room and peers in. She looks in shock at Matteo and she laughs. “Oh my. What did you say to her? Did you try to kiss her? I don’t think she liked it whatever you did. Doesn’t that feel uncomfortable having your back stretched taut like that?“
“Do you mind?“ He asks with what is almost a pleading note in his voice. “This is rather uncomfortable.“ “No, I do not mind at all. Answer the question. Why did she tie you up? Did you learn why she was here?“ Immerine takes a step into the room and looks around carefully. Closing his eyes, Matteo tries to shuffle into a more comfortable possible but quickly gives up as his constraints begin to twist his back. “She is here to help us in what we are doing.“ He grunts. “She knows Zaina and thinks I have hurt her somehow. Now can you please untie me?“
Immerine deftly walks forward and hold Matteo’s arms tightly to keep steady pressure while she unties the strings. Once freed she slowly eases the weight of his body onto his back to keep from increasing his pain. Sitting next to him she smiles softly, “You were planning on leaving, weren’t you?“
“I… we have to, Immerine.“ He replies quietly, wrapping an arm about her waist and turning his head to kiss her thigh. “A great deal happened yesterday that you might not be aware of. The Lady Jalarghar collapsed and Portia has been abducted by the Zhentarim, both of which I need to check upon. We also have to return to the Stag to catch up on everyone, collate what we might know, and try to formulate a plan of action. On a more personal level I need to find a walking cane to get me through the next few days and a new sword.“ Sighing softly, he adds, “And I need to return to the guard barracks to talk with Zaina.“
“None of this we can accomplish by staying in bed.“ Gently squeezing her knee, he kisses her thigh once again. “Will you help me get dressed? I promise to take as good as care of myself as possible.“ Sudden tears are in Immerine’s eyes and she stands up quickly. “No. If you choose to kill yourself I will not assist. I should have left you tied to the bed. You believe the world cannot get along without you for a day or two but you are wrong. If you get up and start going places, I am getting up and leaving.“
“Immerine…“ Matteo says, exasperation edging his voice, “… I am not going to kill myself. I am going to get dressed then I am going for a ride in a carriage. I am not going to do anything strenuous and I am not going to hurt myself. But I *am* getting up.“ Matteo reaches for his shirt and begins to get dressed. “I will neither help nor hinder you Lord Ashgale.“ Immerine walks to the dresser, puts on her face mask and arranges her belt and pouches around her waist. “Goodbye, Matteo.“ She heads to the door.
Matteo watches Immerine leave, his face expressionless and eyes a flat gray. Donning his shirt he slips gingerly to the edge of the bed before pulling on his boot hose and left boot. Standing up he grabs his jacket and struggles to shrug into it while hobbling towards the door. Before Matteo can open the door, Rohr appears. “Milord, can I assist you?“ And he offers his arm for Matteo to lean on.
“Just a moment, Rohr, if you don’t mind.“ Matteo replies a little stiffly. Standing with his weight balanced on his good leg he adjusts the black trousers to fit more evenly over his bandaged encased leg and tucks his unbleached linen shirt in. Buttoning it up the front he tugs the sleeves into place before plucking at the shoulders of his thick knee-length winter jacket so that it settles more comfortably. Buttoning up the jacket in turn all the way to the top of its stiff collar he glances down at his sleeve. Midnight velvet trim merges with the black wool of the jacket. “Someone picked my mood.“ He murmurs under his breath.
“Time to go back to work.“ He says aloud as, accepting Rohr’s arm once again, he moves to the top of the stairs and begins to slowly hobble stiffly down. “I am going to need a number of things, Rohr. Can you have Jethro bring a carriage around front? I’ll be stopping off at the Jalargharspires to see the Lady Ditalidas before heading into town. If there is anything here that will help relieve pain, could you get me some? I’ll also need a walking cane if there is one and the ring given to me by Captain Zaina that was in my possession last night. The wrist sheath for my dagger might be wise as well. I’ll be in my office collecting a few papers and some loose coin.“
Pausing at the foot of the stairs to recover his breath Matteo leans gingerly against the wall. “Do you know why the Lady Angruatil asked to see me yesterday, Rohr? I did not get Master Wisp’s message until late.“ Movement seen from the corner of his eye, attracts Matteo’s attention as well as Lady Angruatil’s voice. “I wanted to know how far your exploits have taken you on your mission. I have received a dire message from High Priest Sillisten.“ Rohr helps Matteo in one of the chairs in the foyer before he moves of to arrange a carriage. Lady Angruatil glances at Matteo’s leg, before looking up at his face. “How are you feeling? Are you sure you want to move about?“
“I have felt better.“ Matteo replies dryly, a faint grin turning up the corner of his mouth and lending a little expression to his pale face. “In truth, I feel pretty terrible. My leg is agonizingly painful and my back not much better, but I have a few things that need doing. Thankfully none of them are too strenuous.“
“Lord Jalarghar has decided to involve himself and fund our little investigation, relieving the city of the burden. I need to impress upon him the gravity of his commitment. With funding from one of the First Families it is likely that others not of the First Families will not support us, expecting the Jalarghar’s to foot the bill. Therefore, if he decides to cut his financial support before we are done we will likely have to turn to one of the other First Families, most likely one of his rivals. Given that they are currently prime suspects involved in the Lady Ditalidas’ attempted abduction that could potentially be a fatal mistake. I can do that while briefly visiting the Lady Ditalidas who collapsed yesterday. It seems she is manifesting some raw arcane ability and the changes have taken a toll on her body.“
“After that I have a few errands to run, including a visit to see Zaina… Captain Tellendar, I mean. Then I will drop into the Stag to try and coordinate some sort of effort to find and rescue Portia from the Zhentarim. Unfortunately, we have little to go on regarding their current location. We can continue our efforts to find Lohgran. We also have some writings or runes to get deciphered at Twilight Hall. It appears that after leaving the city they headed north into the Reaching Wood, certainly that is where their tracks lead. We recovered Tharkas’s body and burned it last night but did not have time to pursue their tracks further so a sortie deeper into the Wood might be in order soon. In the meantime I can see if Lord Sillisten’s divinations have yielded any further result.“
“One thing that may be of note is that it seems whoever tried to abduct or kill Lady Ditalidas animated remains from the Fields of the Dead for the task. The corpses of the creatures destroyed two nights ago wore ancient uniforms originating from the Kingdom of Cormyr to the east and Amn, Tethyr, and possibly Calimshan to the west. A rough date would place the armor in the late Shoon Imperium, I think. Indications are that the same people responsible for the attack on Lady Ditalidas also murdered Tharkas, and hence are also involved in the trade disruptions.“
Closing his eyes, Matteo leans back slightly into the chair. “What else? A few of our companions have fallen by the wayside but our numbers have been bolstered in return. Of note, I suppose, is Kayla, sent by Captain Tellendar to unofficially represent the Guard in the investigation. Her identity is secret, so I would ask that you keep it that way. Oh, we also recovered the body of a Tethyrian Janessary in the same place we found Tharkas’s corpse. What he was doing here I do not know.“
A worrying look clouds Lady Angruatil’s face for a moment as she ponders over the information given by Matteo. “Hmmm… Zhentarim involvement. They never learn. Seems the madness of their god influences their judgment. Darkhold is weakened with Sememmon gone, yet they still harass the Vale, despite the setbacks they have suffered.“ Shaking her head as she ponders over the issue, the Lady falls silent for a moment. She lifts her slanted, hazel eyes up towards Matteo when she speaks again. “The guards and the Harpers have mounted a few attacks against Zhentarim caravans. Maybe Captain Zaina can help you with possible routes or know hideouts the Zhents use in the area. That could be a starting point.“
“But you are in no condition to go about.“ The lady shakes her head once more as her gaze wanders over Matteo. “I had hoped you would stay put a while longer so you could rest and heal, but it seems you can’t be kept in bed. I don’t want you to hurt yourself more in you stubbornness…“ A smile briefly play’s along the Lady’s lips, “… therefore, use this.“ She reaches into the folds of her dress and pulls forth a small vial. “This should alleviate most of the pain and injuries you have sustained.“ She holds out the vial for Matteo to take. “When you go and visit Lord Jalarghar, try to arrange a meeting between him and me. I can use his support in my endeavors, and maybe help him as well in his to our mutual benefit.“
“Very well.“ Matteo replies, taking the vial and removing the stopper. “A meeting with Lord Jalarghar, I think I can arrange that. At the earliest possible moment?“ Trying not to tilt his head back too far, Matteo slowly drinks the potion and immediately feels the effect of the rejuvenating fluid. A pleasantly warm feeling courses through his body and the pain and strain seem to melt away. Only a remnant of the damage remains, a little lingering pain in his back. Also his ankle doesn’t seem to have healed completely, but it is difficult to tell with the cast around his leg.
“If it suits Lord Jalarghar, a meeting on the 12th would be convenient for me.“ Lady Angruatil replies, “I see the potion has had a good effect on you. There is more color in your face now.“ She smiles and walks over to Matteo, giving him a little pat against his cheek. “Ah, I see that Jethro has a carriage ready for you. Good luck on your mission. When you need to see me, you can leave a message with Rohr.“ Without further ado, the Lady turns around and enters her office.
Cautiously rising to his feet, Matteo hobbles towards his own office to gather a few papers in a thin hard, leather-bound folder and some loose coin, still trying to avoid placing weight upon his injured ankle. Once he has what he wants, Matteo exits the front of the building towards the waiting carriage and Rohr.
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