By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 43 - Morning Rose
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, around breakfast
The carriage ride is brief. It is still early, and the rainy weather has most people stay indoors, or whenever they have to go outside, make their trips as brief as possible. A few merchants still man their stalls and the smell of fresh bread enters the carriage as it rides past a bakery. The sound of the hooves and the wheels clattering over the cobblestones echo against the buildings and add to the sounds of a waking city.
The carriage halts in front of the Jalargharspires and Matteo exits, walking up to the gate. A stern looking guard walks up to him. “State your business please?“ “Lord Matteo Ashgale to see the Lady Ditalidas.“ Matteo replies, unconsciously flexing his injured knee.
The guard opens the gate and beckons Matteo in, the man’s gaze searching Matteo’s form. “Please enter milord. A servant will take you to the lady.“ As soon as Matteo enters the grounds, the wrought iron gate closes behind him. The small garden in front of the building consists mostly of a few flowerbeds and a path on which the guards patrol behind the man-high wall. Using the doorknocker Matteo announces his presence, and within mere moments the door opens and a servant appears. “Yes milord?“ Inclining his head gently, Matteo replies, “Lord Matteo Ashgale to see the Lord Jalarghar and the Lady Ditalidas.“
“Yessir.“ The servant inclines his head and sweeps his arm out inviting Matteo further into the mansion. “Please enter milord.“ Matteo enters the mansion and proceeds in the direction indicated. The servant closes the door, and walks up to Matteo. “Please follow me milord.“ And he leads Matteo to an anteroom. The room is well furnished, the oak paneling from the main hall repeating itself. One wall of the room is dominated by large bookshelves. A hearth is burning in the opposite wall, providing comfortable warmth from the chill outside. Two leather recliners and a mahogany salon table are positioned in front of the hearth. “Please have a seat milord. I will notify Lord Jalarghar.“ As Matteo walks up to the chairs, he notices the expensive Zazesspuran rug on the floor. Despite its origin, it fits in remarkably well with the furniture that seems to come from the Moonsea area.
Raising an eyebrow at the choice in furnishings Matteo stands before the fire, enjoying the sensation of warmth returning through his body. Rubbing his hand together and blowing upon them he turns from the hearth and makes his way over to the bookshelves, perusing their contents while waiting. Matteo is browsing through some collected poetry from a Cormyrian bard when the door to the anteroom opens and a somewhat heavyset man in rich but elegant robes walks in. Though the resemblance is not immediately apparent, Matteo recognizes some of Ditalidas’ features in the man’s face. This must be Lord Jalarghar, the man is followed by a younger man carrying a book and writing utensils. Matteo puts the book back in its proper place and moves toward Lord Jalarghar.
Lord Jalarghar seems to size up Matteo for a moment before stepping up to the young Sembian. “Well met Saer Ashgale. Though we he never met before I’m familiar with your name.“ The man, slightly balding but otherwise blessed with the same dark hair as Ditalidas, gestures for Matteo to take a seat. “Can I offer you something to drink? A cognac or wine?“
“A drink would be most appreciated, my lord.“ Matteo replies, dipping his head slightly in acknowledgement. “Saerloonian glowfire if you have it, otherwise a cognac.“ Lowering himself a trifle stiffly into a chair by the blazing hearth he waits for Lord Jalarghar to seat himself. Waiting for his guest to be seated, Lord Jalarghar nods in return and takes place in the other recliner. The other man opens a concealed cabinet and pours two drinks: a wine and a cognac. Carrying the two drinks on a silver tray, he places the crystal glasses on the small table. Opening a small drawer in the table, he pulls forth a small box of cigars. Offering Matteo one before presenting the box to his liege. Matteo politely declines the offer. Lord Jalarghar takes a cigar and waits for it to be lighted. Drawing a couple of pulls from the cigar and blowing the aromatic smoke into the room, he turns his head towards Matteo. “Tell me Saer Ashgale. What can I do for you?“
Leaning forward, Matteo takes the faintly luminescent, pale chartreuse and swirls it around inside the glass, inhaling the fragrant bouquet. Taking a small mouthful he settles back into the chair. “An excellent vintage, my lord.“ He compliments his host. Flexing his knee, he shifts slightly within the confines of the chair to ease the pressure on his back. “I am here for three reasons, my lord, all relating to your daughter in one way or another.“
“First, it is a courtesy call to see how she is faring. She gave us all something of a scare yesterday.“ Lord Jalarghar listens to Matteo with businesslike interest at first, but when his daughter is mentioned, Matteo notices a slight narrowing of the man’s eyes, but he makes no move to interrupt Matteo.
“If it is not too much trouble, I wouldn’t mind speaking to her briefly.“ Matteo asks his host. “The second and third matters are more closely related. I have heard that you have decided to underwrite certain investigations involving your daughter and the attack upon her two nights ago. Is this true? May I enquire as to what you know about the attack and precisely what you think you are financially supporting?“
“As to your first question.“ Lord Jalarghar answers, his face still neutral, “My daughter seems to have recuperated well, though I’m not sure if she is able to receive visitors yet. I have not spoken to her since she was brought in last night by that valiant young paladin.“ A hint of regret seems to tint the man’s voice at the last sentence. He waits for a moment before continuing. “That same young paladin has embarked on a quest to find out what happened and who is responsible for the attack on my daughter. He has my financial support in acquiring equipment and to cover expenses in regards to the investigation.“
Taking a deep pull from the cigar, Lord Jalarghar leans back a little in his recliner, focusing his stare on Matteo. “Might I inquire to your interest in this matter?“ Meeting Lord Jalarghar’s eyes Matteo holds them, no sign of deference in his demeanor. “As you are no doubt aware there has been increased disruption in river trade of late. Early indications point towards intensified efforts coming from Darkhold. There appears to be some tie with those responsible and those responsible for the attack on the Lady Ditalidas. I have been employed by Lady Angruatil to investigate the matter and herein lies a potential problem. A small group of willing people have joined with me in this endeavor, your daughter being one of them.“
“You have offered Telsom, the paladin of Sune, financial support in his efforts to track down those responsible for the attack on your daughter. I myself had arranged for the city to underwrite our efforts. Once the city learns that the wealthy Jalarghar family is offering financial support I expect my funding will dry up which will place our operations in some difficulty. It seems you currently envisage supporting Telsom. That limited funding will not cover our expenses as a group, which means we will have to look for alternative funding elsewhere.“
Sighing, Matteo leans back into his chair. “Herein lies the problem. The most likely candidate behind the attempted abduction or murder of your daughter is one of the First Families acting in concert with the Zhentarim. If we approach the First Families to make up the difference in our funding we could unknowingly ask those that want your daughter dead to influence our actions. Do you see the problem? By kindly offering to help Telsom you may have inadvertently cut the larger group’s funding, hereby only endangering your daughter’s life even more. Yet, if you cut that funding only those hostile to your House will be willing to help us, not fearing your displeasure. Again, thereby only endangering your daughter’s life even more.“
As the visitor reply’s Ditalidas head snaps up. Without a sound she mimics his name. Then a smile crosses her face. She quickly moves from the bed to the mirror and places some of the still wet hair locks in the right position. After she is satisfied, and that is pretty quick, she moves to the door. “Come Vidya, let’s meet our guest.“ She gives the weapons on the bed one last glance, but decides she can get them as soon as she needs them. Her hearth beats a bit quicker with a slight ache in it. What will father think of this? Resolute she shakes her head and with that gesture she shakes off her insecurity. Quickly she walks to the study.
Lord Jalarghar strokes his chin in thought, slowly nodding his head. “Hmmm…“ When a short knock on the door interrupts his thoughts. With a short knock Ditalidas enters. A smile crosses her face as she sees the face she expected. “Hi Matt…“ With a glance to her father she makes a small curtsy “… Ehm… saer Ashgale.“ The curtsy looks a bit funny since she’s dressed in a riding suit and not in the dress you would expect her to see in. Her long black hair is wet and seems to carry a deep glow. Small blushes are on her cheeks and a sparkle lingers in her eyes. Instead of sadness a new strength seems to hide in their blue depths. She walks up to her father and gives him a kiss on his check. “Daddy.“ She says in a greeting manner.
Lord Jalarghar puts his hand on hers and briefly squeezes it. “Welcome my dear, why don’t you join us?“ While she stands besides her father her gaze glides back to Matteo, A little tension in them. “Please tell me that everybody is alright.“ Then she regards him from top till toe. “Pleas tell me that you are alright. What happened yesterday?“ Suddenly she realizes she is asking questions without waiting for an answer.
Glancing at Lord Jalarghar Matteo gives an infinitesimal shrug, almost as an apology, before rising a little stiffly to his feet. Gesturing towards the spare chair with one hand he bows slightly. “Why don’t you have a chair and join us, Lady Jalarghar. What we were discussing concerns you as much as anyone.“ Lowering himself a trifle gingerly back into his chair, he shifts about a little to get comfortable. “If your father will forgive the digression I’ll spare a moment to summarize events.“
Ditalidas moves quickly to the spare chair. Almost without the thought she moves aside the daggers in her belt so they won’t be in the way when she sits down. She keeps her eyes on Matteo’s face, worried… Matteo starts his story, “After you collapsed I asked Telsom to escort you back to the city which, as you know, he did. Nik and Kalil accompanied him. The Lady Immerine has something of a disagreement with Lieutenant Aluar and rode off at pace, the lieutenant in pursuit. With the weather closing in Marc, Emlyn, and myself ventured into the woods. We found an old house inhabited with mindless undead which we destroyed before burning the house to the ground. Marc was injured slightly in the combat, nothing serious though. We discovered Tharkas’s body buried beneath a pile of manure and a few more pieces of information pointing at Zhentarim involvement before the closing weather forced us to return to the city.“
“Oh no.“ Ditalidas mumbles, her gaze holding compassion and even more worries. But lets Matteo continue. “I left the others at the Stag before dropping in to see Lady Angruatil and taking care of a few business details and some paperwork. After that I visited Captain Zaina at the guardhouse to discover that the Lady Immerine and Lieutenant Aluar had not returned to the city. I went out in search of them but managed to accomplish little more than being mauled by an angry bear and falling off a cliff.“ Smiling wryly, he adds, “In the end the Lady Immerine rescued me.“
Her face goes a little pale while Ditalidas listens patiently to Matteo’s story. Matteo’s gray eyes flick towards her father briefly before continuing. “The news is not all so cheerful though. Grim has checked out of the Stag and disappeared, while Druth has not returned from his foray to the docks yesterday. The Lady Portia has been abducted by the Zhentarim. In fact, I will be dropping in to see Lord Sillisten after I am finished here.“
“Your father has kindly offered to provide Telsom with funds to investigate your attempted abduction from two nights ago. I was just explaining some of the unforeseen ramifications of his generosity.“ When Ditalidas walked up to Lord Jalarghar, Matteo could see a gleam of pride in the man’s eyes. That gleam very quickly makes place for a neutral, businesslike glance at Matteo’s comment. “If I’m understanding you correctly Saer Ashgale, you are asking me to finance your operation, one which seems to coincide with the investigation I have already decided to sponsor.“ Lord Jalarghar looks over to his daughter, “And you want to participate in this endeavor my dear?“ His voice has a hint of worry in it. “Would that be a good idea? I couldn’t stand losing you…“
Ditalidas looks at her father at the sound of his voice. A loving smile crosses her face as she looks in his eyes. “I know.“ She whispers. Her gaze drops to the floor for a moment as she swallows away a lump in her throat. Her voice is clear and steady when she continues. She raises her head and looks first at her father and then at Matteo. “It’s not only that I want to participate in this. I’m already involved in it. I don’t want to sit here…“ She lifts her arm to point out the house around her. “… Locked away from the big bad outside world.“ She looks at her father with an apologizing smile. “Not even for my own safety. I want to find out who is doing this to… us… and why…“ Anger flickers in her eyes. “I won’t allow them to toy with… mother… anymore.“ Slowly the anger subdues, replaced by a firm gaze. “With or without your permission I will do myself and you a favor by aiding Matteo and the rest of the group I recently met.“ The firmness in her eyes softens and she looks at her father with compassion again. “I’m sorry, but I really feel this is something I should do.“
Lord Jalarghar sighs, and though his face expresses worry, there is a glint of pride in his eyes. “So much like her…“ He softly says. From Ditalidas he looks to Matteo, the business like look gone, instead replaced by the eyes of a loving but stern father. And in a stern voice he addresses Matteo. “I’ll go with your proposal Saer Ashgale. But you will have the responsibility of my daughter’s safety.“
Matteo flinches infinitesimally, little more than a tightening around the eyes. “Perhaps you would be better entrusting her to Telsom.“ He replies, “I do not have a very good record at protecting women.“ Ditalidas sighs softly and rolls her eyes up to the ceiling in a desperate gesture. “Daddy! Matteo!“ She says desperately. “I’m not a child anymore. I can take care of myself. And with this new power that I posses and discovered yesterday, there’s no reason for you…“ And she looks her father in the eye “… to worry about me. I know you do worry about me, but I’m very capable of taking responsibility for my own action. Please!“
Lord Jalarghar’s face remains composed, but there is a hint of anger in his eyes. He takes a long draught from his cigar before tossing it in the hearth. He stands up and paces through the room, hands behind his back. “This dangerous life you’re pursuing doesn’t suit you, nor did it suit your mother.“ He says in a barely controlled voice. “Instead of trying to avoid danger, you want to seek it out!“ Lord Jalarghar raises his hands in the air in a helpless gesture, while shaking his head.
“I know I can’t keep you in. You are old enough to stand on your own legs. Still I disapprove of your choice.“ He turns around facing Ditalidas, a slightly pained expression on his face. “I wish you would reconsider my daughter. I won’t stop you, but I wish you would choose differently.“ He walks back to his chair and takes up his glass. Emptying the cognac in one pull, he sets the empty crystal back. Looking at Matteo and Ditalidas, Lord Jalarghar turns towards his secretary. “Make the necessary arrangements with Saer Ashgale.“ He looks back at his daughter and his guest. “If you will excuse me. I have business to attend to.“ And he leaves the room.
Ditalidas looks at her father, her mouth slightly open. Surprise visible upon her face. As her father talks about her mother she flinches of the unexpected pain she’s feeling in her chest. His words about the dangerous life that doesn’t suit her are so contrary to what she feels that it hurts her even more. As her father leaves the room Ditalidas jumps up from her chair and runs a few paces while calling: “Dad!“ Half way the room she stands still. Her chin drops to her chest as she closes her eyes. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry I cannot be who you wish me to be.“ She whispers softly.
Turning away from the retreating Lord Jalarghar and Ditalidas to give them what privacy he can, Matteo looks towards the waiting secretary. “I have a few arrangements that need to be made, though they should not take too much time. When you are ready?“
“What kind of arrangements would milord make?“ The secretary asks in a somewhat hoarse voice, while reopening the ledger he is holding. Lifting an eyebrow while awaiting an answer, t6he man dips his quilt in the little inkpot that seems to be attached to the ledger.
Rising a little stiffly to his feet, Matteo straightens his jacket as he replies, “If you will see two hundred in gold forwarded to the Running Stag under my name, that should suffice to cover living expenses to start with. A further five hundred can be forwarded to Lady Angruatil’s to cover miscellaneous expenses. After that I will see receipts of expenses are delivered to this household for reimbursement. As Lady Angruatil also has some part in our endeavors, I need to schedule a meeting between her and his Lordship, preferably on the twelfth of this month.“
At the sound of Matteo’s voice Ditalidas tilts her head and turns around slowly. She regards first Matteo and after that her father’s secretary. Silently she watches them taking care of things. For a moment she doesn’t know what to do, then she walks back to her chair. Since Matteo rises, she doesn’t sit down. As Matteo speaks of a meeting between Lady Angruatil and her father, she asks: “Why?“
Turning to face Ditalidas, Matteo replies, “Lady Angruatil has connections and sources of information outside of our group. If she could share that information with your father it might be beneficial. Those people that used the undead to attack you the other night were seeking to either abduct or kill you, my lady. The most likely scenario at this time of who was involved is one of the other first families of this city in alliance with the Zhentarim. Your father most likely has a more comprehensive knowledge of the city’s nobility than I do, so a meeting between the two of them may narrow down the list of suspects. In the meantime, if some young scion of one of the first families asks that you take a walk with him or share a dinner I suggest you refuse.“
Ditalidas grows a little pale at Matteo’s last remark. Shrugging his shoulder slightly, he adds, “They both have trading interests as well. Who knows, they may even be able to work to resolve this issue and form some sort of cooperative enterprise for their mutual benefit.“
Ditalidas nods in agreement with his last remark. A lock of black hair pops from behind her ear and into her face. With a quick gesture she puts it back where it came from. “There are little amongst the first folk from whom I’d accept an invitation. Even if I got one, there is little I would expect. But I will keep your warning in mind. Should I receive an invitation I will notify you about it. Maybe it would help to narrow down the list of suspects.“ She sighs and shakes her head slowly, her bright blue eyes sad and a little worried. “To be honest, I’m not too happy with the way things evolve.“ She sighs again. “But I guess there’s nothing to be done about that right now.“ She shrugs her shoulder and tosses him a warm smile. “Is there anything else you want to have arranged here?“
“Well.“ Matteo replies, returning her smile briefly, “I did also drop in to see how you were doing.“ Stretching his back, he grimaces slightly before settling. “I will be heading to the Stag now to see what the others are up and to try and keep things moving along, if at all possible. I still have to drop in the see Lord Sillisten for any update on Portia as well as the guard barracks to see the Captain. Will you be remaining here or can I offer you a carriage to the Stag?“
Ditalidas turns her head and looks at the door, lost in thoughts for a moment. As if talking to her self she says: “I was planning on having a conversation with my dad, but with the mood he’s in now, I’m not sure if that’s a good idea.“ Her gaze drops to the floor and after a few moments she looks up to face Matteo. Then she shrugs and smiles. “There are some things I need to get from my room. If you don’t mind I’ll go and get them. After that I’ll be ready to join you.“
She walks towards the door. When she is about to disappear in the hallway she turns around to face Matteo again. She tosses him another smile. “I really appreciate your concern for me. I am glad you are here.“ She tosses him a wink and then she’s gone, the sound of her footsteps slowly fading away.
Ditalidas hurries up the stairs to her room. She takes her cape and throws it around her shoulders. Then she walks towards the bed and takes the crossbow. She straps it on her back and puts the quiver besides it. Hands on her hips and frowning a little, Ditalidas stares into the room. Then suddenly her eyebrows lift, and she exclaims, “Yes, almost forgot!“ Walking over to her nightstand, she recovers the two items she retrieved from the undead and puts them in the pouch at her belt. Picking up the staff from her bed and taking it in her hand she turns, the cape floating trough the air behind her and leaves the room as quick as she entered it.
Lord Jalarghar’s secretary is scribbling some notes in his ledger while Matteo and Ditalidas engage in a conversation. Apparently done scribbling, he waves some air over the writing to let the ink dry and looks up to Matteo. “A message will be delivered to Lady Angruatil with an invitation for a meeting on the twelfth.“ The man runs his finger along the notes he wrote, “The funds to be accrued for the miscellaneous expenses will be ready on that day and payment will be made. And the payment details for living expenses will be arranged with the proprietor of the Running Stag establishment.“ Looking up from the ledger again, the man addresses Matteo once more. “Anything else Milord?“
“No thank – you.“ Matteo replies gently, “I think that covers everything.“ Closing the ledger, the secretary inclines his head briefly, “Very well. If you’ll excuse me, milady, milord.“ He greets Matteo by nodding his head politely and exits the room to the main hall.
Back downstairs she walks to the study. A cape, fitting the colors of her riding suit, is hanging from her shoulders. On her back a crossbow hangs besides a quiver. In her hand she holds a beautiful black quarterstaff with geometrical figures carved in it. In her belt shimmer the hilts of two daggers, also carved with what seems to be the family crest. “I’m ready to go.“ She announces to Matteo. Her black hair falls like a waterfall around her face. In her blue eyes shimmers a confidence that, combined with the weapons and the way she’s dressed, gives her an aura of danger.
Ruldan, having seen Ditalidas’ attire and probably having had advance warning by Suha, is ready at the door, “You carriage is awaiting you milady, milord.“ As the two approach the door, he holds it open. Outside Jethro, lady Angruatil’s coach driver, has parked the carriage right in front of the steps. He is holding the door to the carriage open. Inclining his head in greeting he offers a polite gesture for the two to enter. A quick dash takes Ditalidas and Matteo through the cold rain that has started to fall down from a lead-gray sky.
After a brief ride through the wet and cold city, the carriage pulls into the Running Stag’s courtyard and halts in front of the door. The driver climbs down from his perch and opens the door, allowing Matteo to help Ditalidas descend. The driver has parked as close as possible to the door; the two passengers have only to take a few steps through the cold rain before they enter the Stag.
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