Something awakened Callindra at full alert. She wasn’t sure what it was, but Brightfang was half out of his sheath before she had finished sitting up. Padding across the room on cat’s feet, she saw the pre-dawn glow on the horizon and shook her head. It was probably just another dream brought on by too much drink the night before.
She walked to the basin next to the window and poured water into it from a pitcher, splashing some of it on her face and rinsing out her mouth. A slight noise outside her door caught her attention and a gust of wind blew through her open window, whirling around the room for a moment before calming. Gods she felt jumpy this morning. She blamed the cursed skirts. They were too long and kept threatening to tangle in her legs if she took her normal strides.
Yanking the door open, she startled Ardie who had just set a stack of packages down. “I got yer things miss.” He said, almost tripping as he tried to walk backwards, bow and not drop the steaming bowl of porridge and the mug of light ale he was holding in his other hand.
Callindra realized she had partially unsheathed her sword again and sighed in exasperation. “Sorry Ardie, I’m a little out of sorts this morning. Thank you.”
She took the breakfast he offered and gave him a silver coin. He shook his head and held it out to her, “I still owe ya change miss, ya ain’t gotta give me nothin.”
“Nonsense.” She said, waving a distracted hand at him. “Now move those packages in here so I can pack them in my saddlebags. And I told you my name is Callindra.”
He looked at her, his mouth set in a firm line, “I don’t need no charity.”
“I don’t need the money.” She said, “Besides I like to reward a good assistant. Unless you’re telling me you don’t think you’ve earned a little extra? In that case I can certainly find more work for you. I’m sure my horse needs combing and my saddle could use a polishing.”
He scuffed his feet, “I done it already.”
“Consider it payment then.” She said, “Now go away unless you want to help me get dressed as though you were my maid?” Artie bolted as though she’d asked him to scrub chamber pots.
Callindra was just returning from a brief practice in back courtyard of the inn when she heard Vilhylm’s voice ringing out through the Inn.
“Where is she? Has she been taken?”
“Vil, it’s too damn early to be so loud.” Cronos muttered, looking up from where he nursed a mug of ale and nibbled a plate of sausages in the common room.
“Took who?” Callindra asked, stealing one of Cronos’s sausages.
“I guess the Countess wasn’t in her room this morning. Her carriage is still here though, she’s probably out…” He waved in the general direction of the town.
“You think that someone like her has just gone out, what, shopping? In a town like Maple?” Callindra laughed, “You must be suffering from the effects of last night’s drink.”
“Whatever. She was more trouble than she was worth anyway.” Cronos grumbled.
“I’d better go and see what’s going on before he breaks something.” Callindra said with a sigh.
When she arrived at the top of the stairs, she saw Tryst standing at the door to the room Countess Adbar had been sleeping in.
“Calm down Vilhylm, I’m sure this isn’t what you think.” Tryst was saying, trying to calm him down, “Let’s just take a moment to look at things before jumping to conclusions.”
She looked at the room and noticed several things that didn’t seem right. “Tryst, I think he may have something here. Look, this door was broken in from the outside. That window has been broken as well and from here it’s an easy drop to the roof of the stables. Nothing is missing but that only makes it more suspicious don’t you think?”
“Exactly what I’ve been trying to say!” Vil exclaimed, “See? She understands what I’m trying to say.”
“I know a stable boy. He will be able to tell me if anyone came or left last night.” Callindra said. “Why don’t you come down and have some breakfast and I’ll go talk to Ardie.”
Vilhylm allowed himself to be led down into the common room while Callindra went to the stables. Ardie was laying unconscious on the floor, the side of his head swelling from a harsh blow. She knew better than to move him, instead running full speed back into the common room.
“Tryst, he’s been hit on the head.” She said, quiet enough that only he could hear, “Can you come take a look please?”
“Who?” Tryst looked up from where he was giving good attention to a plate of eggs, bacon and fried potatoes.
“Could you just… come with me for a minute?” She asked, meeting his eyes. “Please?”
The priest rose with a nod and followed her to the stables. He knelt next to Artie and ran his hand over the boy’s head. After a moment he muttered a few things that were either prayers or curse words… maybe both. Callindra bent over him, her brow furrowed in concern.
“How long ago did this happen?” Tryst asked.
“It couldn’t have been more than an hour.” Callindra said, “He brought me some supplies just before I did my morning Korumn.”
Tryst continued to mutter and a gleam of Power trickled from his fingers and settled over the boy’s head.
“Is he going to be all right?” She whispered and almost made a very undignified squeak as the boy’s eyes flew open.
“Miss Callindra, I knew you’d come!” He exclaimed, throwing his arms around her waist and burying his face in her midriff.
“Uh.” She said, blushing crimson, “Well I didn’t really do anything. Tryst is the one who saved you.”
“No need to be modest Callindra, you are the one who brought me.” Tryst said, hiding a smile.
“Artie, we need to know who did this.” Callindra said, ignoring her burning cheeks and holding the boy out at arm’s length. “Did they do something with the Countess Adbar? She is missing.”
“Yes! They rode in this morning after breakfast and asked about the Countess. When I told them she was here they hit me on the head.” He began to cry in hiccoughing sobs, “When I tried to stop them, they hit me again and my head got all swimmy and I felt sick and I just knew you’d come to save me.”
“I’ll… bring you to your mother.” Callindra said, picking him up and walking back toward the common room.
When they told Vilhylm and Cronos about what they had learned Vil rose from his chair, knocking it over with the force of his standing. “We must go at once! We must find her!”
In spite of herself, Callindra couldn’t help but agree. This was an urgent need; kidnapping someone from their rooms, even someone like the Countess, wasn’t something they could overlook.
Tracking the kidnappers had taxed Callindra’s skills to their absolute limit, but she managed to trace the hoof prints of their horses along the road heading north. Once they were on the road, they rode hard and just as the dawn light was breaking they could see a small camp ahead. Their quarry had apparently ridden a long way to get to the town of Maple and now their animals were spent less than an hour from the town.
“We should prepare ourselves.” Vilhylm said grimly, dismounting from his horse. “They won’t expect someone from town to have found them this quickly.”
“It looks like haven’t even posted guards.” Cronos said, looking down at the camp. “Either they’re mad or supremely overconfident.”
“Are we sure about this?” Tryst asked, his brow furrowing with worry. “I don’t want to jump to any conclusions.”
“Have you even looked at the camp?” Callindra asked, “They have her wrapped in her blanket from the inn and trussed like a huntsman’s kill. If they don’t intend her harm, why would they have taken her from her room at night? I may not like her much, but it’s obvious she didn’t go willingly.”
“We must at least give warning before we attack.” Tryst said.
“What?” Said Vilhylm, “We will do no such thing! If they know we are attacking they may well kill or injure my Lady! That cannot be allowed.”
“We must hit them hard and fast.” Cronos said, “I will target the furthest with magic while the rest of you hit them full on with everything you’ve got.”
“I can hit them with more than steel.” Callindra said with a feral smile.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Said Cronos with an apologetic glance, “You don’t have restraint or control and might hit things you don’t intend to.”
“I guess you’re right.” She said, not happy about him being right but acknowledging that the winds resented being ordered around. “Let’s get to work before they notice us.”
With that, they swept down the hill at a run, Cronos firing bolts of arcane power to strike two of the men nearest the trussed up woman. Their enemies didn’t stand a chance, Callindra cleaving the head from one and severing the leg of another while Vilhylm took the two remaining men and smashed their heads together with brutal force.
Callindra almost felt remorse at slaughtering them in this way, but she quickly suppressed it. These men had chosen to attack her friend. They had chosen to take the Countess from her bed against her will. Actions had consequences and they were now answering to whatever Gods they believed in for them.