Appendix A: Chapter 13

[Editor's note: Chapter 13 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

“Please step right in, sir, and take a seat. He’ll be in to speak with you shortly.”

The guard gestured towards the open doorway. Roland nodded in response and stepped through, entering a small gray room. “A seat” was accurate; a single wooden chair sat in front of the long wooden desk that dominated the room. A much more comfortable-looking padded leather chair stood behind the desk, Roland guessed that that one wasn’t the one being offered to him.

The door slammed shut behind him, and now the only light entering the room came through a series of narrow slits in the stone wall. The openings were much wider on the inner part of the wall than the outer. Though Roland knew little about archery — such matters were typically left to castle guards — he did recognize the basic design, allowing bowmen to fire out through the openings at almost any angle while making it exceedingly difficult for return fire to pass the other way.

Seeing little else to do, Roland sat down in the chair and surveyed the rest of the room, which didn’t take long. The left wall, opposite the windows, had a row of hooks mounted along the top for hanging tapestries, though none of them were currently in use. Along the far wall, behind the desk and to either side of the other door into the room, stood a pair of heavy wooden cabinets with locks on the front. Given the side of the desk, Roland guessed it too had storage compartments on the other side, probably also locked.

Roland briefly mused about a bureaucrat occupying the office, alternating his duties between shuffling papers and firing arrows at attacking armies outside the windows. Of course, office space was probably not the original purpose of the room. But whatever the intentions the designers of Castle Blackstone had for the room, the Royal Knights of the Kingdom of Telerand had other uses for it. Assuming the original designers had given it much thought to begin with; for a castle named Blackstone, there was surprisingly little actual black stone to be found in its construction.

Having looked at everything to be seen in the room, Roland fixed his eyes on the far door, through which he assumed his interviewer would eventually pass, and let his thoughts turn to his journey from the past week.

He had managed to lead Anna and her brother through the forests outside Castle Helioth. The ordeal had reminded Roland of how much his survival skills had atrophied since he had gone through the Order’s training program. He had come across little that looked even remotely edible as they passed through the trees, save for some mushrooms, and Roland remembered just enough about mycology to know he had no idea how to distinguish the edible ones from the poisonous ones. As a result, the three of them survived on the dried foods he had packed before leaving Derinham.

Between the challenges navigating beneath the forest canopy with few landmarks to orient around, the slowly but steadily diminishing food supply, the continued lack of signs of being pursued, and Anna’s frequent protests about not wanting to wind up dying lost in the woods, Roland had finally acquiesced, and the three emerged from the forests near the road between the village of Fairgold’s Bluffs and Castle Blackstone. In retrospect, Roland thought, at least his navigation skills hadn’t been too bad.

The three had spent the night at an inn along the road. Though he had taken a separate room next to Anna’s, he spent most of the night watching the hall for any signs of trouble. He was relieved when they finally made it to the castle, as now Roland would finally have a chance to rest and not have to keep constant vigil over Anna and her brother.

As he thought of the previous week, Roland considered how Anna’s brother Derek had said little, and hadn’t complained at all about what must have been a difficult journey for him. Roland had tried to engage him in conversation a few times, and while he was polite almost to a fault and seemingly appreciative of the rescue, and definitely happy to be reunited with his sister, he spoke little about his time at Castle Helioth, and to listen to him had hardly even minded his captivity there. Roland had been concerned that his behavior might be covering some kind of trauma, but Anna had insisted that this was simply how her brother had always behaved.

Roland briefly wondered whether Mattias might have been right about what he had said about Derek, that whatever power he had, it confused him or scared him, or both. Roland had tried a couple times along to journey to ask Anna about it, but each time she had quickly changed the subject, and Roland hadn’t pushed her on it.

Roland’s thoughts snapped back to the present as the door on the far side of the room swung inward, and a man passed through, clutching a small stack of papers. He closed the door silently behind him and stepped behind the desk.

“Ah, you must be Roland, paladin third class of the Order of Yssindria,” the man said, glancing down at the papers as he said Roland’s official rank. He stretched his hand over the desk towards Roland. “Welcome to Castle Blackstone.”

“Thank you,” Roland replied, lifting himself from his seat to shake the man’s hand before they both sat down in unison.

“I have been told you have an urgent matter you wish to discuss with the Royal Knights, correct?” the man began.

“Yes, but,” Roland hesitated, eyeing the man behind the desk. He was not dressed in the usual garb of a knight. If anything, the man’s clothes reminded Roland more of a merchant than anything. “I’m sorry, sir, but I had been told I was going to be speaking with one of the knights overseeing this region, and….”

The man smiled knowingly. “Yes, ordinarily that would be the case, but given the current circumstances, I’m sure you understand how most of the knights are rather tied up with other duties at the moment.”

“Sir?”

The man flipped through the papers he had brought, until hitting upon something that caught his notice. “Ah, right, sorry, you’ve been a bit out of the loop while you’ve been out on your latest mission. I suppose you’ll have ample time to get caught up on current events, but suffice it to say for now that I’ve been brought in as a sort of independent consultant to fill a few desks while the knights are off doing more pressing things. You can call me Dalton, by the way, no ‘sir’ necessary. Now, do you have any other questions for me before we get started?”

“Just one, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.”

“Shouldn’t the two I brought with me be here too to speak with you?”

“All in good time, Sir Roland. It’s more beneficial at this stage to interview each of you separately about what you know, so that people are more confortable telling their side of things, especially if there’s a disagreement or discrepancy in your stories.”

“You think one of us might by lying?” Roland asked.

“Not at all,” Dalton quickly replied, “but each of you surely experienced different things during the incident at Castle Helioth. It’s my job here to listen to the three different accounts, put them all together into a unified picture of what happened, and recommend to the Knights what action they need to take. Getting unfiltered testimony from each of you is essential for the process to work. Trust me, it’s what I’ve been trained to do, and it’s why I’ve been assigned to work this issue on the Knights’ behalf.”

Roland nodded in acceptance.

“Good. Now, why don’t we begin at the beginning.”

Roland related the tale: how he had met Anna, how he had learned about her brother’s captivity, how they traveled to Castle Helioth, how they got separated, how he fought Mattias, what Mattias had told him of Derek’s kidnapping and his ultimate plans, and how the three of them had escaped the castle and made their way to Blackstone. All the while, Dalton sat at the desk, nodding silently and writing something on the papers he had brought with him.

“It’s certainly quite a story,” Dalton remaked once Roland had finished. “You did the right thing bringing this to our attention. Now if you don’t mind, I have some follow-up questions before I let you go and bring in the next person for their account.”

“Not at all.”

“Good. Let’s start with the basics. How many men do you believe are at Helioth?”

Roland thought, replaying events again in his mind and counting the number of people he encountered. “It’s hard to say. There was Mattias himself, of course. And there was one standard guard over Derek, presumably the whole time, so that’s two. And at least one to kidnap Anna, so three. At least three. Probably more, but that’s all I saw.”

“I understand. Now, think carefully. Tell me everything Mattias told you about his connections to the black market.”

Roland tried to remember. “Not very much, other than that he was involved in it somehow.”

“Did he mention any specific villages? Any numbers? Routes? Goods? Any details you can remember would help us greatly.”

“Well,” Roland replied slowly, “he did say he was in Doomhammer the day of the fire. Something to do with establishing connections there.”

“I see,” Dalton replied, writing a bit more quickly than before. “Did he say who he was meeting with? Or what the outcome of those negotiations might have been? Anything else that happened?”

“Um… no. Just that he was there, and that he fled the town as the fire spread, taking Derek with him.”

“Mmm,” Dalton frowned. “Any other villages he had dealings with in the black market or in criminal syndicates? Anything like that.”

Roland shook his head. “Not that he said explicitly. But if I had to speculate–”

“Please do.”

“If I had to speculate, he at least has to have some kind of contacts in the towns between Doomhammer and Helioth, since that’s how he must’ve had to travel. And Anna managed to track him, or rather track Derek, through word of mouth back along that path.”

“Did she tell you how?”

“Not really, no. I know she at least worked sometimes at a tavern, and as an, um, street performer, but I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. I was never around when she was collecting information.”

“Well, I’m sure she’ll be able to fill in those details for us. Anyway, I believe that will be all the questions I have for now, but I ask that you keep yourself available for a follow-up session. Did you have any plans to leave Blackstone anytime soon?”

“Um, no,” Roland replied, feeling a little confused. “Did you want to ask about Mattias’s plans to start his own war against the kingdom? Um, sort of?”

Dalton smiled and shook his head. “Delusions of grandeur or the ravings of a madman, no doubt. It’s hardly anything to worry about. You didn’t see anything there that suggested he actually had the ability to do such a thing, did you?”

“No,” Roland admitted. “But what about his magical abilities?”

“We’ve dealt with other criminals that were good at hiding. He won’t pose a problem.”

“But I saw how he–”

“It was dark,” Dalton interrupted. “You said so yourself. It was hard to get a good look at him. I understand that. But you shouldn’t put too much stock in tales like that. Criminals love to spread stories about themselves; it helps keeps their victims from putting up too much resistance.”

“I suppose,” Roland said, unsure. “But I do have one request before I go.”

“Yes?”

“Anna and Derek have been through a lot, and they don’t really have anywhere else to go. Would it be too much trouble for the Knights to give them someplace to stay while they’re here, at least before they can get back on their feet?”

Roland thought that Dalton, for a moment, looked slightly taken aback, but quickly regained his composure. “Oh, no problem at all. In fact, I was going to insist. I’m here to do whatever I can to help, after all.”

“Thank you.”

“And thank you, Sir Roland, for you assistance in this matter,” Dalton said, standing up. “We’ll be in touch.”

Chapter word count: 2,098 (according to wc)
Total word count: 23,944 / 50,000 (47.888% complete)

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