A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.04 – Musae et Homines {Mice and Men}

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***

Elena vaguely wished that time would slow down the way it did when she was fighting. In the split second after Emerald spoke, there suddenly seemed to be too much to do and too short a time to do it in. If she had had more time to prepare her friends for the revelation, or had even discussed the matter with Emerald, Elena might’ve had a better idea of what to do, but as it was she caught off-balance.

She hadn’t even seen her friend’s hands move, but Frederica was holding one of her blades, and from the way Belloza tensed Elena wouldn’t be surprised if the Saggitara didn’t have something sharp available as well.

“No one panic,” Elena said, wincing as her own voice came out a little shrill.

“You knew about this?” Frederica’s voice wasn’t accusing, but her eyes narrowed.

“I thought only Rhetors needed Rhetorguards,” Belloza said, uncharacteristically serious.

“That’s what she’s saying.” Owl sat completely frozen, but he gripped his book hard. “She’s a Rhetor, we’re riding with a Rhetor.”

“Stop,” Elena said, a little more firmly, “Emerald is alright, it’s not as bad as it seems.”

“It seems as though in addition to Princes and banking families after us, we’ve also got the Guardhouse,” Owl replied evenly. He turned to Emerald. “How long since you’ve escaped?”

“Less than a year ago.” Frederica too was still, all except for her agitated fingers which fidgeted, clearly missing the twirling knife that was her usual companion. “She worked at Studio De Luca, in the kitchens. I didn’t recognize her until now. Thought your man took you to the Guardhouse.”

Emerald sat quietly, hands in her lap, as the others talked, her typical small smile in the corner of her lips. Elena was glad that she seemed so unconcerned, but hoped that her friend’s apparent confidence was warranted.

“Emerald came and found me, after he took her away,” Elena said, “she needed help, and I…I didn’t think it was right that she should be executed for something Domenico did. Domenico killed his Rhetorguard when he escaped, Emerald didn’t.”

“It might’ve been easier if she had,” Owl said, “but now the problem is on all of us.”

“You’re mad that there’s a Rhetorguard after us and not that, I don’t know, we’re riding in a carriage with a Rhetor?” Belloza said.

“We’ve been around Emerald, alone with Emerald, hundreds of times over the past few months,” Owl shrugged, and although his fingers beat out a rapid pattern on the cover of his book, “if she’s a Rhetor she always has been, but this pursuer, this is a new factor.”

“I’m sorry,” Emerald said quietly.

Elena stiffened, waiting for the entire carriage to erupt at the sound of Emerald’s voice, but her friends took it in stride, only a slight wince from Belloza marking any change in their demeanor.

“I’m sure we all want to discuss…this…” Owl continued, “…but I think it would be more productive to use the limited time we have to discuss what we’re going to do.”

Elena let out a sigh of relief. She could worry about how to explain Emerald to her friends later, right now she could focus on man hunting them down. “Ele, is Rolf trying to overtake us? Our approach should be different if we meet him here in the road or in the town.”

“He’s matching our pace,” Ele reported from his spot handing down in front of the window, “I don’t know how guards hunt down Rhetor, but he probably wants to catch her alone.” He glanced up in the direction of the carriage’s front, making sure the driver couldn’t hear their quiet conversation.

“The fact that we don’t hear about guards hunting down Rhetor makes me think they don’t like it to be a public display,” Owl said, “I can’t imagine the Guardhouse wanting the loss of reputation and trust that would come with a visual reminder that they’re fallible.”

“We can do what we did with Waldren,” Belloza said, “lure him into one of the rooms in an Inn, one with a window, and I’ll curve a bolt into him.”

“No,” Elena shook her head emphatically, “Rolf is a good man, we can’t kill him. Besides, Lord Waldren wasn’t wearing armor. Rolf will be.”

“Thank you,” Emerald’s voice plunged the carriage into a sudden quiet, “thank you all, for not even considering turning me in.”

“We could do that,” Frederica spoke up. “That would be one way to get the guard off our back without killing him.”

“Doing that would be killing her,” Elena shook her head again. “We’re getting him off of our backs, and we’re doing it without killing anyone, or causing a fuss, or making more problems for ourselves.”

Her friends in the carriage exchanged glances. “Alright,” said Owl, “what’s your plan?”
Elena looked around at the team she had to work with, her little team, and let the Storm buzz within her.

 

***

 

She had hoped that it would be dark when they reached the city, the alleys of the city lit only by moonlight. In a tiny town like this, there would be shadows and crevices and dark alleyways everywhere, and they had enough of a headstart that Elena hoped they could make good use of them.

Instead, the sun was only beginning to set as they emerged from the carriage, and a quick glance at the road behind them showed her that the black-armored man on his horse would catch up far before the city had grown dark.

“Small town,” Owl reminded them as he emerged, “not a lot of places to set this up.”

“Do we have a plan?” Fred jumped down from the roof of the carriage where the Echoes had been riding, “Ele filled us in on the situation, but it’s hard for us to plan without you.”

“There should also be a discussion about exactly when we would be told about our travelling companion,” Bello folded his arms and glowered at Elena and Emerald from his crosslegged seat above them.

Elena glanced over her shoulder again. Rolf had spurred his horse into a brisk trot. Apparently he too had realized they would be harder to track and hunt down the lower the sun set. As soon as Frederica and Elena had pulled their small packs off of the undercarriage, the little group made their way into the town itself.

“Should’ve brought my hammer,” she muttered.

“Too conspicuous,” Owl repeated his advice from the castle, “sticks in the memory. We need to get you a sword.”

“Not tonight, not against a Rhetorguard,” Emerald glanced over her shoulder as well, “something tells me you’ll be outclassed in that area.”

 

***

 

The town was small, but they didn’t know their way around, and they didn’t want to attract attention by asking. By the time they finally found just the right spot, the sky had turned yellow and orange, and the shadows cast by the buildings around them were long.

Elena glanced around at the small alleyway as Belloza helped prepare Emerald. It wasn’t a back alleyway like she would’ve prefered, and it fed into a courtyard that was a little more open than she would like, but with Rolf who-knew-how-close behind them, it would have to do.

The few windows looking out into shadow-crossed little courtyard were darkened, and unlike Milia, this city certainly slept. During their search they’d only encountered a few people still walking the streets, few and far enough between that it was unlikely they’d be interrupted.

“Almost done, get ready,” Belloza murmured, finishing the final knot to tie Emerald’s wrists tight. She stood straight with her chin tilted at a defiant angle, a makeshift cloth gag between her lips. Owl and Frederica stood on either side of the Rhetor in the middle of the courtyard and Bello and Fred stood beside them, with Belloza positioned at the far wall with crossbow in hand.

It made for a very picturesque sight, a pair of guards and a pair of Echoes flanking the bound and silenced woman, with an archer to cover their backs. Still as a stone, her hand steady, Frederica held one of her whittling knives to Emerald’s throat. Just inside the entrance to the courtyard, a few feet from the mouth of the alley, hidden completely in the shadows, Elena waited with a large stick in her hands, one she had bought from a bundle on a passing merchant’s back.

As the shadows stretched longer, they waited.

Elena’s muscles were so tense they hurt after just a few minutes, but she focused on remaining still and quiet, poised to strike just as soon as Rolf moved past the corner, passed by the shadow where she waited. She had expected him to be moving quietly, like an assassin, so when she heard the steady footsteps approaching she almost worried that a passerby was about to come across their little scene.

Only Belloza’s sudden straightening and Owl’s narrowed eyes told her that the armored man she could hear approaching was the one they were waiting for. The others were facing him, but Elena waiting around the corner didn’t have the luxury, and had to rely on her sense of sound. True, they were almost sure that Rolf was a Mortalis, incapable of seeing Ele even if he stood at the mouth of the alley and shouted his movements…but Elena wasn’t willing to risk even the slightest chance of messing this up.

The Rhetorguard armor moved together with heavy metallic noises on each footstep, making it easy to tell how close he was even if Elena couldn’t track him by Owl and Frederica’s gaze latched onto the man. He was only about five strides away now…four…three…two…

It was a motion of such fluidity that it was over almost as soon as Elena realized what was happening. She had measured his footsteps perfectly, the final step bringing him into the courtyard, a sudden black shape a few feet away from her.

In the exact same instant, he brought up the thin silver sword he was carrying and pressed it gently against her throat. In his other hand, held loosely, a throwing knife caught the light.

Elena froze, not even daring to breath at the feeling of metal against her skin. It wasn’t pressing hard, but it felt somehow sharp. Even the silver of the sword against the backdrop of black metal felt like it cut into her vision, and she worried that she would start shaking and that the small motion would be enough to do her harm.

“Elena,” Rolf said, his voice bringing back the nostalgia of Studio De Luca. With two fingers, he gestured that she was to move out toward the middle of the courtyard. Elena didn’t dare disobey.

“How did you-” she began.

“It seemed a good place for an ambush,” Rolf replied, but his attention wasn’t on her. “Listen to me,” he called to the group in the middle, slowly approaching them with Elena held at swordpoint. “I appreciate that she can’t talk, so I don’t have to throw the knife. I appreciate that you think you have this situation well in hand. But please believe me when I say that you do not have the situation well in hand.”

“Well enough in hand,” Owl replied cooly, “we’ve made it this far.”

“I know it feels that way,” Rolf said. One of his hand was extended in a calming motion, and he moved closer to them an inch at a time, as if approaching a deadly wild animal, “but you need to understand how dangerous this is. You think you’ve got a Rhetor at your beck and call, you think you can do the job of a Rhetorguard and keep yourselves safe, but it takes decades to train us, do you understand? A couple of kids with a gag can’t keep themselves safe from a Rhetor, you have to know this is insane.”

Elena got the impression that Rolf could open her throat without even turning his attention to her, and she stayed very still as she spoke.

“We’ve been managing her, Rolf,” she said, “we’ve already gotten her to do things for us.”

The millimeter shift of the metal against her throat as Rolf turned a horrified look on her was terrifying.

“What things?” he asked, for a single second letting his attention slip. It was the only single second needed, just the amount of time for the Rhetor to lift her bound hands and pluck the gag from her mouth.

Emerald politely suggested that Rolf drop his sword.

***

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5 responses

  1. Typos! Free typos! Get your free typo here!

    She had hoped that it would be dark when they reached the city, the alleys of the city lit only by moonlight. In a tiny town like this, there would be shadows and crevices and dark alleyways everywhere, and they had enough of a headstart that Elena hoped they could make good use

    that she could hide in.

    ->Something’s missing there.

    Elena glanced over her shoulder again. Rolf had spurred his horse into a brisk trot. Apparently he too had realized they would be harder to track and hunt down the lower the sun set. As soon as Frederica and Elena had pulled their small packs off of the undercarriage, the little group made

    ->Something missing here as well.

    Instead, the sun was only beginning to set as they emerged from the carriage, and a quick glance at the road behind them showed her that the black-armored man on his horse would catch up far before the moon would rise.

    ->So this is in no way a big deal, but the time the Moon rises isn’t tied to the time the Sun sets. But it could just be that at this time of the month it synced up :3

    Thanks for the chapter, Maddi!

    Like

    2016-05-16 at 11:58 pm

    • Or well, they mostly aren’t tied. But I’m just being picky for no reason. Never mind Zim.

      Like

      2016-05-17 at 12:01 am

      • Oh I /never/ mind the presence of a Zim!

        Thanks much for the catches. Next time I brag about how I can totally write with a migraine, perhaps I should give the bits written with a migraine a bit of a closer look ^_^

        Like

        2016-05-17 at 9:02 am

        • Or, go to bed with the lights off, rather. :/ We can wait until your hair stops hurting. <_<

          Like

          2016-05-18 at 5:31 pm

  2. zoxzix

    Oh, I’d forgotten that things Rhetors did were narration, not speech…. that’s a freaky tell, man. It’s not words, it just, happens… Great storytelling device. Reminds me a bit of Tabletop RPG’s. Rhetors are dungeon masters.

    Like

    2016-05-20 at 4:52 am

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