A few days had passed since the unfortunate attempt by those ignorant fools to burn a mage alive. Either she had sufficiently intimidated them into not trying it again—which she was not too sure about being the case—or someone had taken a hand in preventing further attempts. Probably some slightly more intelligent church official, as part of some scheme against his or her supposed compatriots.
Whatever the reason, she had not had to worry about burnings for the past several days, which was undeniably a good thing. Instead, she had spent her time collecting additional information about the De Reimers. A small coin here, an innocent smile there, and it was amazing what things people knew.
She had just had a meal in one of the better inns when she spotted a man in her family’s dark gray livery, leading a lathered horse by its reins. He clearly appeared to be looking about, searching for someone. Silently, she groaned a little. “Of course he couldn’t leave well enough alone…” she muttered beneath her breath. It didn’t take a genius to know the messenger was looking for her. Her grandfather had never been able to let her run around on family business without sticking his nose in. She really
should’ve known he’d poke his head in here too.
“Messenger! Over here!” she spoke loudly, not quite shouting, but making her presence known as she lowered her hood. He spun around, taking a moment to spot her even with her calling him out. With a brisk walk, he came over to her.
“M’lady Raudhfell! I did not see you.” he said as he arrived. “The Duke asked me to see this got into your hands.” he held out a sealed scroll case.
Urd grabbed it, then pulled out a small coin and handed it over. “Of course he did… When you get back home, thank him for me, will you?” This last bit had a subtle hint of sarcasm to it, but she did not think the messenger would pick up on that. While she did not carry much money on her person, she could afford this. It was an investment in the long run. Messengers as good as this one deserved such, for she could see from the markings on the seal that he’d made excellent time on his trip, clearly following the most direct route from home. Having the loyalty of the family messengers would pay off more than that paltry coin cost her in the long run.
“Thank you m’lady, I will repeat your message to him.” he said with absolute honesty in his voice.
It was abundantly clear at that point he had not picked up on the sarcasm. “You may be excused to go about your business.”
“Of course, m’lady.” He answered, quickly turning about and heading off.
In turn, Urd slung the scroll tube onto her back underneath her cloak, raised her hood back up and made her way back towards the Thale Manor. She could not open the case in public.
The contents of the missive were fairly simple. First of all, he had included several pieces of information about the De Reimers, all of them putting them in a fairly good light. Then he ordered her to reveal her parentage to the king, almost as if he thought that was his decision to make. She supposed that as head of the house she would have to listen to him, but that still did not make it his decision. The final piece of information was a report that there was supposedly some sort of marriage deal going on between her father and some Blackwell woman named Naomi. That could spell trouble.
Had it not been for the final piece, she would’ve been very tempted to show her grandfather up by ignoring his instructions, but she knew that with that piece in mind, she couldn’t. Typical, but only expected. She knew well that her grandfather knew of her tendency to not enjoy being ordered about. The first thing she did after this was to go to the nearest fireplace and put every sheet paper from the missive into it, making sure they were burned and the ashes stirred around so that nobody would be able see what they had contained. After that, she left the mansion, heading for the royal palace to find one of the De Reimers.
Isabel was currently in the castle's courtyard accompanied only by Ulf. Now that Autumn had set in the courtyard’s usual colorful plants had transformed into a orangy brown. The courtyard of Miserth reminded her of the garden’s back home in Iredale. Now that Aurelia was gone, Isabel wondered who would take responsibility for maintaining it. Isabel’s trail of thought was interrupted as someone entered the courtyard. As Isabel turned to face them she realised that it was Duncan’s personal bodyguard; Alenius. As she made her way over to them Ulf placed his hand on his sword; though he didn’t think she was a threat he wanted Alenius to feel threatened in his presence, though to no avail.
“Excuse me my lady,” Alenius said with a small bow “But Lady Urd Raudhfell has arrived to see you.” To this Isabel expressed surprise, she knew that a member of the Raudhfell had recently met with her brother her in Nyhem in regards to Aurelia’s murder. However she had no idea why she wished to meet with her, nor that she was even still in the city.
“And what does she want with me?” Isabel asked.
“In honestly my lady, she actually asked for the king, however when I told her that meeting him would not be possible she request for you instead.” This infuriated Isabel. Not only had Isabel been Urd’s second choice but she believed she had the authority to summon Isabel like she was some common noble.
“Why do you think this is worthy of my time?” Isabel demanded “Send her away, I am not some commoner that she can summon upon request.”
“Normally I would my lady I assure you, but I have reason to believe that it is important that you meet with her.” Alenius said as she tried to sound confident. Though she normally had no trouble asserting herself to nobles who believed themselves better than her, Isabel was different. Firstly she was the king’s sister but more than that, Isabel had a way of draining away one’s confidence. Isabel glared at Alenius before she replied
“And what makes you think that?”
“A while back I was at ‘The Plucked Hen’,” As Alenius began Isabel rolled her eyes; did she truly intend to waste her time with pub stories?! “While I was there I took note that Urd Raudhfell was also present. As first I didn’t pay her any mind but as I listened something caught my attention. It would appear she was asking numerous patrons at the inn about the De Reimer family. I believed this to be rather strange so I asked a number of the King’s spies to track her, and it appeared this wasn’t just a one off event. She was clearly gathering information regarding the De Reimer family, for what purpose I don’t know, although it didn’t seem malicious, in any case it may be worth asking her about it.”
Though Isabel remained skeptical she agreed that it did seem odd. Why would a member of a prominent house be gathering information on the De Reimer’s from inn keepers and drunks? While half of Isabel wanted to dismiss Urd out of spite, the other half knew she may miss an important opportunity if she did.
“Very well, take me to her then.” She said as she signaled Ulf to follow.
After arriving at the royal palace, Urd had been informed that the High King was busy, that there would be no opportunity to speak with him without prior appointment. She supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised. He was trying to defend his claim as High King, after all. When she asked to see another De Reimer, she was informed that the Lady Isabel De Reimer was present. Thus, she asked to see the lady instead. It didn’t really matter that much which of the De Reimers she got to see, for they were all relatives, even if they didn’t know it themselves. She’d heard less kind things about the Lady Isabel, but nothing that painted her in a truly bad light.
The room she’d been taken to was spartan, clearly a small reception chamber of sorts. Only when the door opened up a good quarter hour after she’d been escorted there did she know for sure she’d even get an audience. The first woman to enter was the same one that had taken her to the audience with the high king several days before. Immediately afterwards came a finely dressed woman, with long brown hair, tall sharp eyebrows and a somewhat rounded face. Urd could instantly see the family resemblance between her and the High King, and though she found it impossible to see any similarities to herself there. But then, she couldn’t see any such between herself and her mother either, and everyone said they looked alike, so that had little to no relevance.
She quickly rose to her feet, then bowed deeply, as was proper when greeting a Cawanori noble of higher rank. “Lady Urd Raudhfell at your service, My Lady Isabel De Reimer.”
“Lady Urd.” Isabel said harshly, as frustrated as she was with Urd’s blunt invitation she decided she would remain reasonably civil, after all the Raudhfell were vital to Cawanor’s infrastructure and she dared not risk ruining their relationship “What brings you here, I trust you have a good reason to request my presence?”
“Family brings me here.” Urd answered, not at all put out by Lady Isabel’s tone, having been prepared for just that sort of tone of voice. “To be specific, our shared family.” It felt strange to say that to a woman she had not even met before this day, but it had to be said.
Isabel raised her eyebrow upon hearing this “Do you care to explain yourself?”
“Do you think I would be here if I had no such intentions?” Urd quipped. “You are my aunt, and I am your niece.”
“What?” Isabel’s previous anger and frustration was now replaced with utter confusion. She paused for a moment as she looked at both Alenius and Urd, both of whom were clearly as confused as she was. She remained quiet for a moment longer before finally responded “Are you joking… or just utterly deluded?” Isabel said still baffled at what she had just heard.
“Nope. Not joking, not deluded. Granted, I doubt my father—your eldest brother—knew what would come out of it when he and my mother played around nineteen years ago.” She didn’t really want to think about her mother doing that sort of things with anyone. “My mother certainly didn’t.”
Isabel was still stood in shock. What this girl really suggesting that Patrick was her father? Isabel lightly shook her head to bring her back to her senses “This is prosperous.” Isabel shouted “How dare you accuse my brother of such scandalous actions. If you indeed are my niece then show me proof!”
Urd didn’t know what to say to that. How could she prove it? How could anyone prove their parentage? Nothing had prepared her for that demand. After a very tense minute, she answered. “I have no idea how to prove it. All I have is my mother’s words.” Her tone clearly showed how she had not been prepared for this. After a few moments of almost panicking at no longer having control over the situation, she suddenly remembered something her mother had said. “Wait, now I remember! My mother said he has a birthmark, shaped like a pickaxe on the inside of his right thigh, halfway up from his knee to his, well, private parts. Is that proof enough?” With that recollection, she felt much more confident.
When Urd first spoke Isabel started to smile, it was clear that this bumbling girl had no proof. However as Urd continued Isabel’s smile disappeared. How did she know about the birthmark? No one knew about it. Even as a child Patrick insisted on dressing himself rather than have servants do it for him and he certainly didn’t go around telling people about it.
“How do you…?” Isabel stammered before turning to Alenius “Fetch my brother immediately and tell him to meet me in the council chamber!” she barked as Alenius quickly bowed and made her way out of the room. Surely there had to be a reasonable explanation for this? None of this felt real. Then again why would she make such an outlandish claim if she wasn’t certain?
“Follow me this way, Urd Raudhfell.” Isabel said quietly as she slowly walked out the room with Ulf following behind.
A true plethora of expressions passed over Lady Isabel’s face after Urd mentioned the birthmark and described its location. It was almost gratifying to see it, but Urd did not really bear the woman any ill will. Why should she have? The woman had never hurt her or hers. When instructed to follow, she did not need to answer, but did as told. Her mother’s words had clearly had an effect.
As Duncan approached the council chamber he saw that Ulf was standing outside. The presence of the gigantic brute indicated that Isabel was already inside. Alenius had already told Duncan what had already happened between Isabel and Urd and he was finding difficult to believe. As Duncan approached Ulf opened the door for him. Just before Duncan walked through he turned to Alenius.
“Make sure no one enters.” Alenius nodded in compliance a shout the door as Duncan walked through. Inside were only two people. Isabel who was currently sitting at her place on the table and Urd. Duncan looked at Urd to his sister, before finally looking at Urd again.
“So, from what I gather, you are apparently my long lost niece.” Duncan said sarcastically, unlike Isabel he had time to mentally prepare for this discussion. Though he was as surprised as Isabel he would not let Urd know it.
Not much time passed from the time they entered the audience chamber until Urd’s uncle arrived. She listened as he spoke, not needing long to think of an answer to his clearly sarcastic statement. “For me to be your long lost niece, you would have had to know about me prior to this day. From what I have gathered about our family, sharing knowledge is common, and your sister—my aunt—did not know anything about me. Therefore, I do not believe the term ‘long lost niece’
would be accurate. ‘Previously unknown niece’
might be more appropriate.”
While it was entirely probable that he was surprised by her revelation, she noted that there was no evidence thereof in his voice or on his face. That either meant that he was a far better actor than her aunt, or that he already knew of her relation to him. However, his knowing that did not make sense. Not when compared to what she had learned about him from her questions and what her grandfather’s network had discovered. Therefore, she could only assume that he was a better actor, which was something she would definitely have to keep in mind in the future. Especially if this did not go as she hoped.
Duncan’s face hardened as he scowled at Urd.
“I would remind you to mind your tone when speaking to me. Regardless of whether you truly are our niece I will remind you that I am still your king. This isn’t the first time I have told you this.” Though Duncan didn’t raise his voice there was a certain severity in his voice. ’and it won’t be the last’
she thought to herself, though some hint of it probably showed in her eyes. “Yes, yes…” she answered, then added—remarkably enough without sarcasm—”My liege”. It had taken her a lot of trial and failure with her grandfather to manage replying like that without sarcasm. As she did, she curtsied deeply.
“Better.” Duncan said “Now then,” Duncan said as he gestured for Urd to take a seat at one of the council chairs before taking his own seat “While I remain skeptical about what you claim I am at least willing to hear you out. Tell me who is your mother? How did she and my brother meet? When were you…” Duncan paused for a moment as he awkwardly searched for the right word “conceived.” he finally stammered.
“If you’ve memorized the Cawanori noble houses, as I am sure you have, you’ll know. In any case, my mother, the Countess Raudhfell, is Lady Ida Raudhfell. The rest I would not expect you to know.” She paused for a moment before continuing. “My parents met during her formal presentation at court in Cawaport. From what I have understood, my mother wasn’t properly chaperoned, and your brother wasn’t exactly closely watched over either. Seeing how they were both rather young at almost thirteen years and thirteen years of age, they presumably did not truly understand just what a series of… encounters
... would lead to.” Urd was not too comfortable about thinking about her mother having sex with anyone, let alone speaking about such an act.
“My mother apparently found him to be rather irresistible. Which is presumably the primary cause I exist.”
Duncan listened carefully as Urd spoke and remained silent for a while afterwards. It was true that Patrick and Ida had been close during the brief time they had known each other. Though Duncan had only been nine at the time he still remembered how romantic they had been with each other. Duncan had even made fun of Patrick over it, before Patrick punched him in the arm and told him to shut up. Not to mention that Urd’s age matched up with the amount of time that had passed since Patrick and Ida met.
“What you claim… it certainly possible.” Isabel looked up at Duncan upon hearing this “The more I think about it the more it makes sense. However I will refrain from judgement until I hear confirmation from both my brother and your family. Until then you may stay here in the Keep.”
It seemed to Urd that her words had at least not fallen on deaf ears. Though they naturally desired further confirmation, they were willing to believe what she knew to be the truth. She would have to get a message sent back home, asking for her mother to provide her confirmation, just as she knew that her aunt and uncle would be asking the same from her father. “I sure seem to be moving around a lot. But it will be more practical to be here than to reside in the Thale Manor, so I will accept that offer. I will also have a message sent to my mother to have her provide her account of the tale, so as to not have it be second-hand. Besides, residing here will make it somewhat more difficult for a certain recently appointed magister to use me in her political maneuvering, which is a definite bonus.”
“I will have a shapeshifter deliver the message to Patrick, it will be the quickest possible way. For now,” Duncan said as he knocked his fist loudly on the table. Upon hearing this Alenius entered the room “Alenius will show you to your room. You are free to leave the keep anytime you like.”
“Thank you, uncle.” Still the term tasted a bit new in her mouth. She’d grown up with a few great uncles, but no actual aunts or uncles. She wondered a little what her life would have been like if her parents had not been split apart almost almost immediately after her conception. Would it have been better? Worse?
Once Urd left the room Duncan and Isabel exchanged looks. They were silent for a long time before Duncan finally decided to break the silence
“Well, this turned out to be an interesting day.”