A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.03 – Optimum Consilium {The Best Laid Plans}

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***

Elena slept, by necessity, but the stress and exhaustion that had dragged her down was not kind to her as she slept. She drifted in and out of consciousness, enough to vaguely notice that Owl and Emerald were talking quietly between themselves. Each time she half-woke, falling back into a deeper sleep was harder.

The seats were uncomfortable, her stomach was tied in knots, and the rocking of the carriage reminded her of nothing more than the first time she had delved into Lord Waldren’s dream world, a year ago. Elena’s mind melded the memory and her dreams, vague shadows of monsters and nightmares. In her memory, the Twisted had been more curious than angry. In her dreams, the hatred was almost palpable.

As if reading the contents of her mind, the now-familiar invitation nudged against her sleeping mind. A brushing feather, the lightest subconscious invitation, would you like to join us? it asked.

For the first time, Elena answered no.

The invitation pulled, insistent, like a child trying to drag an adult by the arm against their will. Vague impressions began to seep into her experience, the smell of pine, the feeling of cold hard ground beneath her, someone’s concerned voice.

Elena pushed them away, and slipped deeper into a fitful sleep full of monsters, blood, betrayals, and a dying jolly man in black furs.

***

It was grey when Elena woke up to the same gentle rocking, grey and raining for the first time since Spring had started. She was the last in the carriage to wake, but the others were silent and serious, as if the grey clouds outside had leaked inside and infected them all.

“The Storm is angry,” Belloza murmured, breaking the silence. It was an explanation for thunder that parents gave their children, but in the new context the words were ominous.

“When the Storm finds out what we’ve done, will he take our Storms from us?” Frederica asked quietly.

“I don’t think he can, but I’m…” Elena winced, “…I’m not sure.”

The carriage lapsed into silence again, and Elena looked down at her hands clasped tight in her lap. There was a sour taste in her mouth which might’ve been sleep but seemed more like the cloying tension between her and the others in the carriage.

Elena had grown up alone. An only child with a protective mother, in the small town of Carpi where the other children closest to her age were spread out and distrustful of the Stormtouched girl who talked to her imaginary friend. Until Milia she’d never had friends, and she didn’t know how to reassure them now.

I don’t even know how to reassure myself, she thought, and wished that Ele was here to give her guidance instead of riding atop the carriage’s roof with Fred and Bello.

“Master Coastering is the wrong target,” Owl said, so suddenly that Elena jumped. He, was looking through the window, his finger tapping on the leather-bound book that he always carried with him. “We shouldn’t be starting this venture in Florezia, and we shouldn’t be starting with Coastering.”

“Isn’t it a little late for that?” Elena asked, “we’re already on the carriage there.”

“That’s why I don’t want to go there,” Owl turned to give her his full attention, “there aren’t enough layers of separation yet, not nearly enough. We have to assume that we were watched, that our movements are being tracked. As soon as we arrive in the next town we should rent rooms in an inn for the evening, then get on a carriage for somewhere else. It’s the absolute minimum we can do.”

Elena blinked. Owl was normally so reserved, but he had clearly put thought into this.

“But Master Coastering is our next target for a reason,” Belloza broke in, “of all the Twisted he’s the weakest, the least defended, the best next target.”

“The most obvious next target,” Owl said.

“All of the Twisted will be on guard,” Elena said, “Coastering’s guard is just easier for us”

“I actually don’t think they will,” Emerald spoke for the first time on the carriage ride, “it’s too expensive to be on guard against an assassination, both in money and in reputation. The Twisted will have always had enemies, which means at a base level they have security that they’re confident with. The only Twisted who increases security will be the Twisted they think you’re coming after next, and that’s Coastering.”

“You assume that the Twisted know who I’m going after next,” Elena said.

“It fits your pattern, at least as far as they know,” Owl said, “your first target was Lord Waldren, followed by Midora. The two least guarded, assassinated at a time when they were travelling and under your domain, in your territory. On the other hand, you left the much more well defended Little One alive.”

“I didn’t have a choice!” Elena blurted, but then paused, “but that is how it looks to them, like I’m starting with the weakest of the Twisted and picking them off from easiest to hardest. Following that plan, we’d move from Master Coastering, to Banker Del Favero, to rulers Lecente and Little One, to Master of Spies Cordano.”

“Let’s say ‘to hell with the list’ and kill one of the rulers or Cordano,” Belloza said, and Elena wasn’t quite sure she liked the spark of excitement in the young archer’s eyes.

“Something unexpected like that,” Owl nodded, “but probably not the one in Milia or in Florenzia. Cordano will know we’ve entered her city within the hour, and Little One is most likely no better. We don’t have much experience avoiding networks of spies.”

We don’t have much experience with any of this, Elena thought with a hint of despair, but she didn’t voice her worries.

“Lecente is well guarded.” Frederica was twiddling her thumbs as if the absence of a knife was occupying her entire focus, but she spoke just as tersely as when her attention was on a block of wood.

“Like Owl said,” said Elena, “Lecente will always be well guarded, and she isn’t expecting us right now. She’s as poorly guarded right now as she’ll ever be, and if we’re really going to do this…” She trailed off for a moment, still a bit overwhelmed at the monumental task, “…then now is as good a time as any. As soon as we arrive at the next town we’ll set out again for Rimi.”

“Elena.” Ele spoke sharply from the window, leaning down at an awkward angle, and something about the tone of his voice made Elena’s already worried gut twist further. “Someone passed us about an hour ago, on horseback, coming from Florenzia. Maybe he recognized me, or maybe he just had a hunch, but when he was almost out of sight he turned around and has been following us ever since.”

The group within the carriage exchanged worried glances.

“Coincidence?” Frederica said.

“What was he wearing, Ele?” Owl asked, “was he a guard, or did he do something to make you worried?”

“It’s not that…” Ele seemed reluctant to continue, but finally blurted, “…I recognized him. It’s been a long time but..Elena, it’s Rolf. Rolf is following us.”

Elena’s gaze flicked to Emerald, expecting shock or fear. Instead what she found there was a resigned determination, as if she’d been waiting for this day but was still sorry to see it finally arrive.

“Is that a bad thing?” Owl said, “do we need to do something about this? Who is Rolf?”

“Ah, Rolf is probably someone who will interrupt our plans…” Emerald cleared her throat, then paused as the attention of the others fell on her, “…he’s been chasing me for months. Rolf was my Rhetorguard.”

***

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***

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5 responses

  1. zoxzix

    Uh oh….

    Like

    2016-05-10 at 11:29 am

  2. *Pokes llama* You all right, Maddi?

    Like

    2016-05-16 at 6:48 pm

    • I am! Sorry, normally I remember to both update the home page and push out a little delay post here, but the migraine that laid me out yesterday drove that right out of my head :/

      Working on the chapter even now, so hopefully I’ll have it up and posted before midnight tonight! Thanks for the concern, I really appreciate it ^_^

      Like

      2016-05-16 at 7:01 pm

      • Oh, I’m glad you’re all right :3 You usually make a note of the delay so I got concerned. I hope your migraine is gone :<

        Like

        2016-05-16 at 8:30 pm

        • Thankfully it is, strong meds and a good nights’ sleep banished it :) I was even able to write a partial chapter yesterday before I crashed…but when I crashed, I crashed hard

          Like

          2016-05-16 at 11:35 pm

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