When Teo was arrested he assumed he was going to spend the rest of his life, painful and short though it might be, in one of the Dawn March’s dungeons. When he was loaded into an unlocked and rather comfortable wagon he was puzzled, up till the moment that he understood he’d been used as bait. From there he presumed the trip to the dark and dreary dungeon was going to resume as scheduled.
“This is not at all what I expected a prison to look like,” Teo stared at the soaring, white stone ceilings and gem bright, rainbow windows of the palace they stood in.
Officer Sol had driven their carriage into a wide underground passage inside the capital city’s third wall. That matched Teo’s original expectations, though after their conversation, the vampire had thought Sol was not particularly interested in upholding the Dawn March’s more questionable mandates like locking up an innocent man. Their carriage had passed through numerous checkpoints though, and, with each one, Teo heard an additional lock clicking shut on the remainder of his life.
When the carriage finally came to a halt, Teo expected to find himself in the bowels of a fortress with rusty locks and mold growing everywhere. A busy transit hub was something he couldn’t have expected or imagined under the circumstance, so the presence of other carriages and carts and a whole marketplace of commercial trade goods struck him much the same as an invading army would have.
Sol had eventually talked the vampire out of the carriage, assuring Teo that he hadn’t driven them to Pandemonium’s shores.
From the Underhub, the two ascended through an even more tightly guarded series of checkpoints until they were standing in a reception room that was more elegantly appointed than any estate Teo had ever seen while in on the Telli’s service. Everything in the room was done in fine satins, or polished gems, or rich, dark woods with gold and silver accents providing a warmth and light that left Teo feeling both relaxed and in awe at the same time.
“You have some funny ideas of what ‘protective custody’ entails vampire,” Sol said. “Just wait here for a bit. I’ll get our presence announced and we can see about getting you turned over to the Queen’s Guards.”
“I’m sorry, but what are you saying?” Teo asked. “The Queen’s Guards are going to arrest me? I’m afraid I’m really not that important.”
“Oh you poor, poor wretch,” Sol said. “If you didn’t want to be that important, you should never have let the Captain get her hands on you.”
“Believe me I wish that could have been avoided,” Teo said.
“No use crying about it now,” Sol said. “I’ll just go and tell the proper folks what’s up. I expect it will take a while. These sorts of people always move slow. If you don’t hear from me in five or six hours, I’m sure someone will be by with lunch. Shouldn’t take much more than a day to get this sorted out though so you probably won’t need a billet for the night.”
And with that Teo’s driver was gone, leaving him alone in a room that could have hosted breakfast for twenty with room left over for the servants to pass unnoticed. Teo settled in for a long wait, perplexed at the turn of events that led him from lying bleeding and broken in an alley to sitting on a couch that was so comfortably cushioned he wasn’t sure he was capable of leaving its embrace. He didn’t have a great deal of time to consider his situation however as barely a half hour later a page arrived in the room.
“You are summoned to attend an audience with the Her Majesty,” the page said. “Please follow me.”
“Did you saw Her Majesty?” Teo asked. “As in Her Majesty the Queen?”
“Yes, sir,” the page said. She held her position at the door with great patience. Teo remembered serving similar duties. There was always the tension between the desire to fulfill your appointed duty as quickly as possible and the desire to avoid annoying someone who could be an honored guest.
Teo rose from the couch, regretting the departure from the lazy stupor he’d sunk into, and nodded to the page.
“Thank you, please show me where to go,” he said. In the back of his mind, his thoughts spun and scrambled and shattered apart on each other trying to answer the question of why he could be meeting with the Queen, of all people in the realm. The temptation to ask the page what was going on was strong, the young girl was the only source of information he had, but he knew from experience that she almost certainly knew nothing of his situation and that even if she did there was no method short of mind control that would pry the information out of her unless she’d been instructed to tell him.
The two walked in silence, down Royal hallways, up Royal staircases and through Royal doorways, each of which managed to convey its exalted status in the materials they were composed of, the architectural styles applied to them and the fact that there were more guards per square foot than Teo could remember seeing in most lending houses.
With his mind caught trying to absorb the whirlwind of spectacles that surrounded him, Teo barely noticed when they arrived at their destination.
“Presenting Teolicianza Si’Nostrum,” the Queen’s seneschal said as Teo was led into the room.
“We would have privacy with this witness,” the Queen said and to Teo’s horror, everyone else in the receiving room filed out in an orderly fashion, including Sol who had apparently been presenting Teo’s case to the Queen moments earlier.
Standing before the sovereign of his adopted realm, Teo could summon only two thoughts to mind. First that it was crucially important with royalty to address them at all times in a manner befitting their station and second that he had never once received training in the proper etiquette for dealing with the supreme ruler of the Gallagrin.
“You have rather vital information,” the Queen said, gesturing for Teo to come forward and take a seat at one of the testimonial desks before her. “Say what brings you to my court today.”
“My apologies your Majesty. I was not aware…” Teo said, struggling to think of where to begin his tale and what the Queen might consider to be vital information. He eased into the cushioned chair which put him directly in front of the Queen and glanced around looking for some obvious clue as to where to start explaining his situation.
“You weren’t aware that you were being sent to us?” the Queen said, guessing at the probable cause of Teo’s flustered speech.
“Regrettably, no,” Tea said. “I would have endeavored to present a more appropriate semblance both in appearance and manner.”
“Neither your appearance nor your manner displeases us.” the Queen said. “Your tale grows more intriguing each moment though. What game is she playing I wonder?”
“I am not at all sure of the games others may be engaged in Your Majesty,” Teo said. “I suspect my role is only a minor one.”
“On such have kingdoms been won and lost,” the Queen said. “Please begin your tale wherever you would like, we would hear all of it and will have questions on many of the details, if our intuition is correct.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Teo said and began to recount his story, starting from his arrest by Officer Kor and working largely backwards in time from there.
The Queen listened intently to his story, prodding him gently for additional information on areas he was tempted to skip over. Her questions were broadly focused, but Teo had the sense that there was a central figure the Queen was trying to discern through his eyes. At first he thought she was interested in hedging in Duke Telli to determine his connection to the matter but the longer they spoke the more her questions tended towards oblique inquiries as to Officer Kor’s status. Despite not having a great deal of insight into the strange woman’s psyche or situation, Teo grew increasingly comfortable speaking about his experiences. The Queen was warm and considerate and seemed genuinely grateful to have a new source of information on her kingdom.
Then they came to the news of the murder at Castle Nath.
The Queen’s consideration and gratitude remained but when she learned the name of the boy who’d been slain, a name Teo had only overhead while he was being questioned by the Dawn March, all of the warmth drained from her features.
“Are you certain of what you heard?” she asked him. “Has Lorenzo truly been murdered?”
“I will stand by my recollection of what the Dawn March officers stated,” Teo said. “Whether they were speaking the truth however is beyond my capacity to ascertain.”
The Queen rang a small bell that sat beside her throne, and a moment later the page who led Teo to the receiving room entered through a small side door.
“Your Majesty?” the page asked and bowed low in her sovereign’s presence.
“Send a missive to Telli,” the Queen said. “He is to report here, to me, today, with any information he has concerning any members of my Page Corp who were on holiday in Nath.”
“At once Your Majesty,” the page said and left the room so quickly Teo thought she’d simply vanished.
“Please, continue your tale,” the Queen said. Coming from royalty it was a command, not a request, but the Queen’s demeanor left Teo with the sense that it was a command he could have asked permission to refuse if he had good reason.
“My words feel as though they are all a jumble,” Teo said. “I do not know for sure if this is connected, but I would find it straining coincidence if it was not; we, Officer Sol and I, were accosted on the journey here. Someone felled a tree in front of us and attacked with enchanted arrows at the very least.”
“Yet you appear safe from harm,” the Queen said. “Is that why you appear so famished?”
“No, I was not the one who fought off the attackers,” Teo said. “Officer Kor had ridden in secret on the top of our carriage. When we were ambushed she revealed herself and took the fight to the attackers.”
“And what became of her?” the Queen asked.
“I’m not certain,” Teo said. “Officer Sol seemed to feel she was in no danger and she’d ordered him to continue on in the event of an emergency, so he drove us off before the battle was decided.”
“She’s gone back to Nath,” the Queen said, her voice softer than it had been.
“There is still a great deal of uncertainty regarding the murder from what I gather,” Teo said. “And I don’t believe Officer Kor has a great deal of faith or trust in the other members of her barracks.”
“That is a view which is perhaps warranted,” the Queen said.
“I didn’t mean to cast aspersions on any of your agents, Your Majesty,” Teo said.
“Perhaps you should,” the Queen said. “We know well the effect our father’s reign had on this kingdom. And our grandfather’s before that and our great grandmother’s before them both. Even our own ascension to the throne has left us with a variety of perilous issues to contend with.”
“I’ve heard that you’ve made great strides in the last six years though,” Teo said, hoping to lighten the atmosphere.
“For each piece of the house which is rebuilt, two more threaten to crumble,” the Queen said. “There was no kindness between our father and ourself but perhaps we can extend him the mercy of acknowledging how the crown can drive one to madness.”
“If I may do anything to help lighten that burden…” Teo said.
“Your words today have revealed a heavy load that we must carry,” the Queen said. “But it appears to be a load we were destined to carry regardless of whether we were aware of it or not.”
“Which of my words have given offense?” Teo asked.
“No offense has been given, but we see the pattern now,” the Quee said. “Someone is moving against us. Someone resourceful, someone clever and someone who is determined to take my throne and, quite probably, my life.”