Secrets and Shadows: Part Five
Arianna was awoken from her troubled sleep by a soprano shriek. “Wuzzat?” the Eyrie mumbled, and opened her eyes, an action she instantly regretted. The bright morning sun was blinding, and she hastily threw a hand in front of her face and slid off of the barley sack, squinting towards the source of the sound. When her eyes had adjusted to the sudden light, she cautiously opened one eye and saw a pretty blue Kau in an apron standing in the open doorway, wringing her hooves in dismay. The maid gaped at the lieutenant, and then forgetfully bobbed a curtsy.
“You gave me quite a scare, there, miss. I never expected to find people locked in here,” the Kau accused as she stared at the two interlopers. The maid gave a gasp when she saw Rhydel’s face, and said, “Oh, and the ambassador too? The whole Citadel’s been looking for him.”
“Wonderful,” Arianna growled. The ambassador made a face as he stood up. Unlike the Darigan Eyrie, he would receive no lecture for being lost in the bowels of the castle, but he definitely had made a bad impression on Darigan Citadel’s leaders.
“Well, I guess it is time for us to go speak to the Commander,” the Eyrie said levelly, and the two exited the storeroom, leaving the bemused Kau behind as she collected a small bag of wheat.
Crossing the courtyard, Arianna noticed an unusual level of activity as workmen bustled over and around a wooden reviewing platform. Then she remembered tomorrow’s official ceremony to formally introduce the Ambassador to the Citadel and to all of the dignitaries, which she had forgotten about in all of yesterday’s excitement. She felt extremely embarrassed when she realized that they had almost canceled the whole thing.
Somebody behind them called out, “Hey, there they are!” Arianna turned and watched a young Lupe with a pike jog towards them. The Lupe saluted to the ambassador and asked, “Sir, are you alright?”
“Why yes, I’m fine,” Rhydel said, surprised. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, you weren’t at dinner, and then nobody knew where you were. Everyone was very worried that something had happened to you.” The Lupe then noticed Arianna and saluted quickly to the Darigan Eyrie. Somewhat sheepishly, he added, “Commander Bhrack wants to see you, lieutenant,” while his ears were laid flat against his skull in embarrassment.
“Then I better not keep him waiting,” Arianna sighed, and followed the young soldier across the courtyard. She felt a twinge of pity for the poor Lupe, who was clearly ashamed at leading an officer to face the commander’s wrath.
It didn’t take long to feel the brunt of it. The walk across the Citadel lasted only a few minutes. The commander noticed them the moment they entered the courtyard. The Tonu looked up from interrogating a soldier and barked at her, “Arianna! Where have you been?” With long angry strides, he stalked over to stand in front of the Eyrie and glared at her. “Well, speak up! I haven’t got all day.”
“That’s Lieutenant Arianna,” the Eyrie replied, her eyes narrowing in anger. “I gave the ambassador a tour through the ancient corridors of the Citadel. We got lost in the underground maze of hallways, and we were in there all night until we found a locked door which led outside.”
“You mean to say that because you lost your way, you led the Meridell ambassador through the dregs of the keep all night long, while every officer, soldier, maid, and kitchen servant scoured the Citadel looking for the two of you. If anything had happened to the ambassador, I would have had you court-martialed within the day.”
“Do you think we got lost on purpose?” she snarled back, and then visibly calmed herself. “Sir, I have something very important to say.” She motioned for the commander to follow her as she stepped further away from the crowd. She lowered her voice, glancing around to see if anyone besides the ambassador was trying to listen in. “While we were in the lower corridors of the Citadel, we overheard a meeting of some sort of secret society. They were plotting to overthrow Lord Darigan.”
The Tonu commander’s small black eyes narrowed as he scrutinized her face. “You must have gone mad,” he muttered and turned away in disgust.
“No, you have to believe me!” Arianna cried as she ran after him. “I’m not making this up!”
“That’s it!” he growled. “You’re confined to quarters, pending an investigation into your fitness as an officer. You there!” he called to a pair of soldiers standing nearby. “Escort her to her quarters and then make sure she stays in them.”
Rhydel quickly sidled over to the Eyrie. “Arianna! What do you want me to do?” he whispered quickly as he eyed the two guards approaching them.
“Talk to Darigan. Tell him what we heard. But don’t tell anyone else; we don’t know who is in on the conspiracy.”
“Alright.” He nodded. “And I’ll make sure Darigan gets you out of this.”
“Thanks,” she whispered, and then Bhrack and the two soldiers were standing beside him.
“Your sword,” the Tonu growled, and held out his hand.
Arianna glared at him, and then unbuckled her sword belt and thrust it at him. The commander took it wordlessly, and then turned and walked away. The two soldiers grabbed her by the arms, and she angrily shrugged them off. “I can walk myself.”
They arranged themselves on either side of her and led her through the castle and into the stone-lined corridor where her small room was located. Arianna’s footsteps slowed as she caught sight of the large iron padlock on the outside of her doorway, and her two reluctant escorts grasped her arms to ensure that she wouldn’t bolt away from her prison. They propelled her into the room with a rough shove, and she stumbled forward into the corner of her desk as they slammed the door shut behind her. She spun around and pounded the door with her fist, shouting “Let me out of here!” She snarled wordlessly at the door and then listened in silent fury as the metal lock on her door clicked shut with a sense of finality. Then she heard a chair being dragged across the flagstones, and the small squeaking noises as her guard positioned her chair in front of her doorway and sat down.
“This isn’t fair!” She shouted at the door, then leaned against the solid wood door and sank to the floor. “Oh, what’s the use?” she asked the empty room. “Shouting won’t help.” She closed her eyes. She had never felt so powerless.
* * *
“Please, I need to speak with Lord Darigan. It’s extremely urgent.” Rhydel pleaded to Caecillius.
The chamberlain gave him a dubious look. “I’m sorry, your honor, but Lord Darigan is too busy to be disturbed.”
“It’s of the utmost importance,” the Silver Kougra continued. “I must speak with him; this is something vital which he really needs to know.”
“If you would like to tell it to me, I would be more than delighted to carry it to my lord,” the Darigan Draik offered politely. Rhydel was tempted by his offer, and might have considered telling the chamberlain of their discovery if he not remembered what the Eyrie lieutenant had told him. But they could tell no one of what they had discovered down in the abandoned corridors of the Citadel. Anyone they spoke to could be a member of the conspiracy. Even the Draik chamberlain, who was patiently standing in front of the entrance to Darigan’s chambers, could belong to it, hiding his ambition behind a friendly and loyal facade. The ambassador couldn’t take the chance.
“No,” the Kougra sighed. “I can only tell it to Lord Darigan. Are you sure that I couldn’t see him, even for a moment?” he added plaintively.
“I’m very sorry, ambassador,” Caecillius said sympathetically as he patted the ambassador on the shoulder. “But there is no possibility that anyone can speak to Darigan today. Perhaps after the ceremony tomorrow?”
“I don’t know if it can wait that long,” Rhydel said with resignation. “But I have no other choice. I will wait, and be patient, and hope that it will not be too late.”
* * *
There was a feeling of urgency, of excitement and anticipation among the Shadow Council tonight. The Shadow Master knew that the fear of discovery was still fresh in their minds, but it was overpowered by the knowledge that their many months of planning would soon be brought into action.
“The Eyrie has upset our plans,” the Shadow Master began. “Since she disappeared in the company of the ambassador the night that our meeting was disturbed, we can only assume that they were the ones listening in on our plot. We must change our plans and eliminate both of them at the soonest possible time. We will have to kill the ambassador tomorrow, to eliminate any chance he might have to spread any rumors. And as for the Eyrie... well, we have a special fate for her. Has the journal been planted in her room?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Excellent.” The assembled, hooded conspirators felt a shiver of excitement. “We will act tomorrow.”
* * *
Very Early Morning
Lieutenant Arianna wearily rubbed her face with both of her hands. It had been a long, sleepless night. After tossing and turning for several hours, she had given up on pretense of sleep and had lit a candle. She lay on her back and stared at the shadows which flickered across the plaster ceiling. She felt the flat wooden boards of the bed through the thin mattress, and her back and wings ached. With a sigh, she sat up and swung her legs over the bed. She gripped the mattress with her hands and glared at the door. In a couple of hours, Rhydel would be officially presented to Darigan Citadel as Meridell’s new ambassador. She could only hope that he had been able to convey her message to Lord Darigan in the meantime.
She stretched her arms and wings as she stood up, and as quietly as she could (so as not to disturb the soldier outside her door) began to straighten up her quarters. She had been careless earlier today, and piles of clothing and papers were heaped on the floor from when she had been pawing through them hours ago. She had been desperate to find something, anything to get her out of this mess, but she found nothing that would help her. She didn’t even know what she had been looking for.
Shaking her head at her own carelessness, she methodically began to refold her uniforms and restacked her papers. She knelt to collect a few stray pencils which had rolled under her bed. She opened the drawer of her nightstand and felt around inside, and found three more pencils and an eraser. As she pulled her hand out, she felt something brush up against the back of her hand. Odd, she thought. I shouldn’t have anything else in there. She reached back in and pulled out a small green book. The cloth-bound cover was worn from use, and it had no title. With a mental shrug, she stood up and went over to stand it on her bookshelf, but then something made her pause. She carried the book back, and sat down on the edge of the bed, holding the book within the faint glow of the candle. Slowly, she read; first with surprise and astonishment, then curiosity, and then with a growing horror which made her palms sweat and her blood run cold.
To be continued...