Chapter seven: Life on the Fringes
“Fredric, this has got to be your worst idea yet.”Osarius couldn’t contain a little laugh as they skirted the edge of the woods outside Kayhas’s cottage. “What happened to our passage into true manhood? We should be bringing Kayhas this man’s dead body, not crawling to higher authorities so they can tell us what to do.”
Fredric shot Osarius an irritated look. We are not cold-blooded killers. He was outnumbered.
Osarius didn’t know quite why he was so piqued. Perhaps he didn’t like the idea of being observed, of being tested like an animal for a certain response. “Kayhas probably is not even home from the base yet. I do not even think that the troupe has returned from their trip.” With a grunt he shifted Epathar’s weight so that he could open the gate to the Commander’s cottage. The small, open guard tower was empty. Kaspia had probably gone on the excursion as well. If his house was unguarded, the Commander was not home.
“See, Fredric, now let’s get rid of this scum before – wait, what’s that?” Osarius dropped Epathar abruptly, and Fredric grunted as he took up the weight. Osarius reached out and grabbed at something that fluttered in the wind, stuck between the wood of the doorframe and the wall of the house. It was a green envelope. And on it was the symbol of the Malevolents. Osarius stared at it for a moment, and then ducked into the house. Fredric followed, lugging Epathar as far as the stoop before dropping him on the wood floor.
“Osarius, what are you doing? If the commander is not home, we need to find someone else to question this worm.”
Osarius handed Fredric the letter, and looked around the cottage for other clues.
As could be expected of a high-disciplined general, the inside of the cottage was spotlessly clean, neat as a sheet and nearly bare of all but the necessary furniture. The kitchen had a small table and one chair, the small attached living room had one chair next to the burning fireplace. He turned toward the Commander’s room, a realm never breached. Osarius often ran errands from the commander’s house to the base, but Kayhas had made quite clear the consequences for entering his room. Swallowing, Osarius pushed open the door. He told himself the lie that it was too late to turn back now. It was his job to dispatch traitors. No matter who they were. He scowled as he wondered why he had let Fredric stop him from killing the Malevolent.
The room was nearly completely dark, because the drapes were drawn tightly across the small windows. He used his mind to flick them aside. The room was nearly as bare as the rest of the house. There was only a bed and a dresser. And two small oil portraits on the wall. One was of the cottage, and the other was of a shockingly young Commander Kayhas next to a woman Osarius never would have expected to see again.
Fredric’s mother, the late Princess Chanurise.
When she had died, the King had confiscated every image of her that he could find and buried them with her in the grave in a bout of grief insanity. Fredric and his father had supported the King’s decision. Osarius missed the woman’s wise and optimistic face, and was shocked seeing her beside the Commander. He was nearing forty-five years of age, and in the picture he was no older than Osarius. Chanurise always had an ageless beauty about her and didn’t look much different as a girl of about sixteen. She had her arms around the Commander’s waist gazing up at him with a small smile, and his arm was around her shoulder. The Commander was smiling. Osarius only stared at the picture for about ten seconds before turning his attention to the desk. On it was a bottle of cologne, and a stack of wrinkled, unfolded pieces of parchment. Beside the stack was a piece of blue stationery with a short note scrawled on it.
Osarius didn’t want to read it, but his eyes darted sideways and he caught the opening: My Dear Chanurise. In the corner was a date only last month.
My Dear Chanurise,
I continue to miss you every day. I know you will never get these letters but it helps, writing to you. It was always our tradition, writing to each other once a month. Even when you rejected me for Zon…you were still my best friend, Chan. Are still. And that’s why I feel so badly for what I did to your son. I know I should apologize. I shouldn’t have said the things that I said in front of all of those people, especially those parts about you. You know how I hate it when people won’t listen to me…I really thought the military would have been good for him. You know I wouldn’t have pushed him if I didn’t think that! And he is such a prodigy, like his friend. I know he is angry with me for what I said to Fredric, but what am I supposed to do?
On a happier note, he is coming along very nicely. You remember what a way he had with swords and throwing knives, and he’s got an instinct that’s almost precognitive. Even I have troubles defeating him in a fight. I have been pushing the King to let me appoint him as commander of a troupe, even though he is only twenty-two. I know he was like a second son to you, Chanurise, so I will do my best, even if his rebelliousness gets under my skin some days. I’m sorry I couldn’t get Fredric to join. They would have made quite the pair, I’m sure. I will continue to look out for Fredric, but there’s only so much I can do since he is not under my command. I will write to you next month, as always, my love.
But there was nothing else that suggested the Commander was dallying with traitors.
“Did you find anything?” Osarius asked, stepping back out into the main part of the cottage. Fredric was shifting through books on a shelf. Wordlessly he shook his head. “Then what do you suggest we do?”
“Well I guess we will have to take him – where did he go?”
The two rushed to the open doorway, just in time to see a cloaked figure dash into the woods, disappearing. Fredric spat out a mouthful of colourful oaths, staring in horror at the spot where Epathar had vanished.
“Who are we supposed to tell?” Osarius mused. “The military and police are all under the Commander’s power. There is no one we can trust.”
“We can not simply say nothing! Despartus has been compromised.” Fredric ran his fingers through his hair in agitation, “You didn’t find anything that we can show to the king besides the letter? Wait, where did the letter go?”
The worm had taken it. And now they had no reason to be in the Commander’s house whatsoever, with their prisoner gone along with the only piece of evidence they had. “We have to get out of here before anyone catches us.”
They strode casually back to their horses, searching for anyone who might be watching them. They mounted and rode toward the palace, fighting to stay calm. “Well, I did not find anything tying Kayhas to the Malevolents, but…” He handed Fredric the letter.
Fredric shook his head when he was done reading. “I didn’t know they were friends. Possibly lovers! Imagine: the Commander could have been my father.”Their rough morning temporarily forgotten, he grinned at the thought of the dour old Commander being in love with his mother. His smile dropped when he remembered the scene at the ball last month. “He was really sorry for what he said?” Fredric asked again. Osarius nodded.
“Mostly because he cared about your mother so much, but yes.”
“What are we going to do about the Malevolents?” Fredric asked, returning to the matter.
“I don’t know. We will be leaving in a few hours. I suppose I can tell Kaspia to keep an eye out. She does not like me much, but she dislikes the Commander even more. At least somebody will know.”
Fredric nodded, folding the letter and putting it in his saddlebag. They emerged from the woods, taking the main road back to the palace grounds. His fingers lingered over the bag.
I suppose you never stop learning things about people, even after they’re gone, Osarius heard Fredric muse as they cantered along the road. You never know someone you love as well as you think you do.