Aton and Reedl approached the house of Kascho and Uillia amid Hevvlar’s morning bustle, the sun already risen above the rooftops some time before. Aton felt artificially alert, blinking in the sunlight that heartily disagreed with his internal clock.
Uillia opened the door, a baffled look on her face. “Why do I get the feeling we need to stop meeting like this?”
Reedl spoke. “Ma’am, if you wouldn’t mind allowing us inside once again, we have matters to discuss with your guests.”
“Of course, of course, come in. I’ll get you some hot chocolate on. Extra milk, of course,” Uillia added the last remark pointing a finger at Aton.
Once they got inside however, she seemed more concerned as she set the pot on her stove. “Domire, Misolfa, and Tido aren’t here at the moment. They’ve gone out running, the three of them. I’m not sure exactly when they’ll be back, but it shouldn’t be too long. I think they left half an hour ago. They’ve gone a couple of times before on a path through the woods outside town. Seems to take them a little under an hour.”
Reedl clasped his hands in front of himself, arms hanging down from his shoulders. “Have they told you anything about why we came last time?”
“No,” Uillia replied, “but they seemed anxious about something for a good day afterwards, then threw themselves even harder into their training, if you can believe it. I’ve never seen that kind of focus for that long while being that sweaty. Once they get back, they’ll probably do some exercises as a group in the back. Or they would if you didn’t need them for something. They already did a session before they went out running.”
There were scuffs of quick footprints on stone outside, then the door opened quickly. Domire, Misolfa, and Tido burst in. Surprisingly, they did not appear very surprised to see Aton and Reedl.
“What’s happening?” asked Domire.
Aton started. “You shortened your run? Why?”
“It just seemed like we needed to get back earlier today,” answered Domire. “What’s going on?” he pressed.
Aton responded, reminding himself that even if his siblings were around, he needed to be ready to lead in any situation. “We need to talk. At home, this time.” He looked at Uillia. “I’m sorry Uillia, but now that we’re all here we cannot delay. I’ll have to pass on the chocolate this time.”
Domire, Misolfa, and Tido dressed appropriately as quickly as they could and with Reedl and Aton, the five of them made their to the Fassendais as quickly as they could and remain inconspicuous at the same time.
The council was already assembled when they arrived. The council members did not appear too please to be awoken in the middle of the night—again—but seemed more concerned that there was a situation to deal with.
As Reedl and the four princes and princesses entered, the council stood. The four siblings in attendance chorused a, “Thank you, please be seated,” in unison. All sat, including Reedl, except Captain Bailen.
“Young princes, princesses, may I commence to brief them as we discussed?”
Aton looked at his siblings, who were still not apprised on the recent development. “Captain, do you mind if I read the note first? We count on your passion to do your job, but I wish everyone to hear the news neutrally first. Then you may have the floor.”
“Of course,” Bailen replied, sitting.
Aton walked over to Captain Bailen while Domire, Misolfa, and Tido stood awkwardly behind their parents’ seats. Bailen handed Aton the rolled-up parchment and Aton unrolled it. “Captain, will you tell us where and when we came by this note?”
“Yes, prince Aton. It was delivered by arrow shot at the palace front gate an hour and a half ago! Whoever loosed it is gone like a proper coward.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Aton said. “This is the content of the message delivered.”
Aton read the ransom note from top to bottom. Upon finishing, he looked around the room at each council member. “I believe its flowery language belies its method of delivery. Mighty fancy for an arrow-shot note. I have already heard Sageman Reedl’s and Captain Bailen’s analysis of this missive. As they agree with each other and it seems to add up in my mind, I’ll turn the floor over to you, Captain Bailen.”
“Thank you, prince,” Bailen replied. “Despite making overtures of assistance and charity, this is none other than a ransom note for our king and queen! This Augfi is a coward who hides behind a rock of anonymity. If he truly cared for our people, he would reveal himself and offer his help without these strings attached. I am convinced that he abducted them in the first place. We should disregard any demands he makes. Are there any questions about that, specifically? Princes, princesses, do I have your leave to discuss security business to proceed from this point?”
“Hold on a second,” Tido said, looking unsure of himself. “Of course we do not want him to take over. Are we certain that he is the bad guy here? Is there not perhaps some way he could help? Perhaps if we…” He trailed off, uncertain of what he was going to say.
“Well, Tido,” said Misolfa, “I think Aton must have already viewed it from the same angle you must be considering now. Right, Aton? If there was any possibility of getting real help…”
“We would explore it.” Aton finished for her. “But he only gives us one way to respond, with a red banner hung out front. Perhaps we could signal a desire for discourse with a different colored banner, but he is only looking for capitulation. I think we should enact the security protocols Captain Bailen is about to outline. Are we good, Domire? Tido?”
A three-hour meeting followed. In the end, despite resistance, trade was greatly restricted, much to the commerce Guildmasters’ chagrin. Petitions, already mostly on hold due to the king’s and queen’s absence, were completely stopped until further notice. Guard shifts were increased, around the city gates, in the town square where the Thallenrose resided, and around the palace. Nobody was to enter or leave the city without at least an Orderly-Sergeant reviewing their records and cargo.
Domire, Misolfa, and Tido were returned to Harrval, and Aton mentally returned to the frustrating monotony of helplessly waiting. Train, exercise, study, practice, repeat, and not a word of news. He just hoped he would be able to get some sleep at all before the sun came up in a couple of hours and made it impossible to fall asleep.