Chapter Three

Ky watched the guard patrol pass under the window from the second floor bedroom. It was the one thing he hadn't adjusted to in the three days they'd been there. He couldn't count the number of times he'd considered abandoning the city and fleeing into the countryside. He could have found someone, maybe Thorgrin, to deliver the letter and then just disappeared into the southern provinces.

Shaking his head at the thought, he turned away from the window and considered the pile of clothes on his bed. He'd spent most of the money his father had left him now, while Matthew had opted to spend most of the money he'd brought to the city on an in-depth analysis into Alleria's many whorehouses. The last few gold pieces were in a pouch at his side.

He hadn't cut his hair, though he'd brushed it for the first time in months, trying to make it in some way respectable. Joh had found him a decent tailor, and he'd had new clothes made, the best clothes he'd ever owned. The leather gloves were still a little stiff. A new strap for his sheath lay on the bed beside the pack he'd bought at the markets.

Ky drew the sword. He caught himself staring at the blade for a moment. Then he sheathed it, clipped it to the strap and tied it over his shoulder. He stuffed the rest of his clothes into the pack just as someone knocked on the door. Matthew didn't quite stumble in, though he steadied himself on the doorframe.

'You ok?' Ky asked.

'What a night,' Matthew replied.

'What was her name?'

Matthew frowned. 'Began with an S, I think. We going are we?'

Ky nodded, picking up his cloak. Matthew grabbed the bag by the door, strapping his sword belt on.

'Good thing I packed before I left then.'

The tavern was mostly empty when they reached the drinking floor, except for Joh, cleaning up from the previous night. Ky acknowledged him, dropping another gold coin on the nearest table and heading out onto the King's road.

Ky stared at the castle.

'Want me to go see about some horses?' Matthew asked.

'No, I think I'd rather you were there. Not sure what to expect really.'

The two headed up the road towards the castle. When they reached the gate, a guard approached them from the gatehouse. Ky stood there rubbing his shoulder while the guard examined the envelope Ky had taken from his pack.

'Alright. Head on up towards the keep. When you see the stables on the left, take the next right and go all the way to the end. Can't miss the compound.'

'Thanks,' Ky said. 'I thought the Dragons used the east tower.'

'They do, normally, but without a king or an heir the Dragons have to stay at their temple out east. No idea why. Commander Mayken's the only one allowed in the city, and the council don't want that bastard Dar seen near the keep. Compound's the closest place still in the castle they can keep them,' the guard replied, returning to the gatehouse.

Ky passed through the gates and followed the guards instructions. When he saw the stables, he paused, the horses holding his attention. Then he followed Matthew down the side street towards the compound.

It wasn't much to look at. Stone walls that formed a square with the south and east walls of the castle, broken only by a thick iron and wood gate. A battered shield hung from a post atop the wall, a faded dragon barely visible. Across the street, two men casually watched the compound. They showed no sign they'd noticed either Ky or Matthew as they approached, and neither made any move when Matthew banged on the gate. They waited patiently for almost five minutes before the gate slid open a foot. Thorgrin looked through the gap, saw Ky and glanced quickly at the men across the street.

'You boys come to say goodbye or something?' he asked, eyeing the packs they both carried.

'Actually, we're here to see Commander Mayken,' Ky said with a smile. It broadened as Thorgrin jerked back in surprise.

'Well I, uh,' the big man started. 'In you come then. The elfling ain't got nothing better to do.'

Thorgrin slid the gate open a foot more. He allowed them to pass him before slamming it back into place. He led the way across the courtyard and into the building.

'Now, what would you be wanting with Mayken?' he asked.

'Just fulfilling a promise,' Ky said quietly.

Thorgrin stopped at a door at the end of the passageway and turned to face him.

'Not planning on drawing swords are we?'

'No,' Ky said. 'Nothing like that.'

'Good. I'd hate to have to kill the only elf I like.'

Thorgrin pulled open the door. For a moment, Ky saw a bookshelf and desk before the big man's frame filled the doorway.

'Young elf to see you. Name of Ky,' Thorgrin said.

'Well, send him in I guess Thor, I haven't anything else on my plate,' a voice said from the room. Thorgrin grunted.

'You need this one?' he asked, indicating Matthew. Ky shook his head. 'Alright, he and I'll go start on a jug of ale. You're welcome to join us when you're done with Lord Elfling there.'

Thorgrin headed back down the hallway, opening the second door on the right and leading Matthew in. Ky took a breath and stepped into the study. Mayken was in the process of extricating himself from behind a pile of books spread out across the desk when he froze, his mouth slowly falling open as he stared at his guest. Ky had expected the shock and took the time to study the room. Other than the bookcase and the desk, a case of swords hung from the wall. He could see two that matched the one strapped to his shoulder. There was a basin and a small table with a handful of bottles of wine and ale. As for Mayken, the elf was a little taller than Ky, his long black hair tied back in the appropriate ponytail for a commander in the royal guard. Black pouches lined both his eyes.

'Braiken?' Mayken breathed.

Ky smiled at the compliment.

'No,' he replied. 'My father was a little taller than I. And I don't have his eyes.'

Mayken came around the desk, hands outstretched. He gripped Ky's shoulders, staring into the young elf's eyes, before throwing his arms around him. He held him close for some time, shaking gently with laughter. After a while, Mayken released him, and led him to the two chairs in front of the desk.

'Gods, I never thought I would see the day,' Mayken said. 'Is he here? Your father, I mean. Is he in the city?'

Ky met Mayken's eyes, and watched the happiness slip gently away. Mayken closed his eyes, rubbing at them. Then he stood, poured two mugs at the table and returned.

'How?' he asked.

'He took a cold. Couldn't shake it.'

Mayken shook his head. 'It's always the smallest thing with the best of us,' he raised his mug. 'Distant lands.'

'Calmer Seas,' Ky said, finishing the toast.

'I'm glad he taught you that. I see his sword, too.'

'And I see two hanging there just like it. Yours?' Ky asked. Mayken glanced over at the cupboard.

'No, not mine. My father's and my grandfather's. They both won the blade. I came second. Can only compete once, of course, and you carry the one won that year. Your father was a good man, but then you'd know that. I almost went with him when he retired.'

Ky nodded, not quite sure how to respond. He pulled the letter out and handed it to Mayken.

'He promised I deliver this to you.'

Mayken hesitated, then took the letter.

'Do you know what's in here?'

Ky shook his head and Mayken carefully opened it. Mayken glanced up from the first page.

'You'll stay, won't you?' he asked.

'I, um, I was planning on, well, I don't know. I guess I hadn't gotten past giving that to you and putting some distance between myself and Commander Draiek.'

'Draiek? What's that piece of dirt want with you? Oh, let me guess, he saw the sword and thinks you aren't worthy to carry it. May the gods damn him and all those like him. Regardless, you must stay. For a few days at least. I'm sure we have just as many stories to tell one another, and given all I generally have for company is the man that spends his nights thinking how he can kill me for my own good, it would be a wonderful change of pace.'

Ky considered the offer, only for a moment.

'I would be honoured,' he said.

'Excellent.' Someone knocked on the door, and Ky turned to see Matthew standing there.

'Are the two of you going to be long?' he asked.

'No, we're done. But we're going to be staying for a few days, if that's all right?'

'Wonderful! I can stop alternating my drinks with water then,' he exclaimed, and disappeared down the hallway, calling for Thorgrin to pour another round.