197. Within the Law
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Within the Law

Middanhal

Eleanor came rushing into the rooms she shared with Arndis. “Have you heard?”

“I have not,” replied the other woman. She continued eating her breakfast in a calm manner, cutting cold ham into pieces. “What is amiss?”

“Lord Vale’s chamberlain is dead. He fell from a tower,” Eleanor explained, slightly out of breath.

Arndis’ movement froze. “Like Theodwyn,” came her voice softly. “Was anyone seen?”

“None that I have heard of.” Eleanor shook her head. “But the castle is rife with rumours already.”

“Any that seem credible?”

“They hard to make sense of.” The Hæthian lady sat down opposite Arndis. “He had arrived from Valcaster a few days ago. Bringing the jarl’s books to him.”

“And?”

“He was found with torn pages on his body. Apparently, he was concealing something.”

“As chamberlain, he would have had ample opportunity to swindle his master,” Arndis considered. “If he was involved in something nefarious, it seems naïve to consider his death an accident.”

Eleanor leaned forward. “You think he was pushed?” She whispered the question.

“He was an older man, was he not? Plenty of soldiers in this castle strong enough to overpower him.”

A shiver went through Eleanor. “A murderer in the Citadel! That will make it hard to sleep at night.”

“Seeing as we have no dealings with the jarl of Vale nor have we ever met his chamberlain, I dare say we are safe,” Arndis remarked dryly.

“Still,” her companion said. “These are such unpleasant times. Enemies at our gates, and those meant to defend us are in Hæthiod, fighting yet another war.”

“With the number of troops in the city, not to mention that we cannot be encircled, I would consider us quite safe,” Arndis reassured her. “When was the last letter from Sir William?” she asked after brief hesitation.

“More than a month ago.” Eleanor regarded her. “Arndis, he would write without delay if he knew anything of your brother.”

“I know.” The young woman returned to her breakfast. “I know.”

~~~~

The captain of the city guard stood flanked by two of his soldiers in front of a door. Two Red Hawks blocked his path. “Sorry, captain, but we can’t let you through.”

“You are in my castle,” Theobald declared. “You will stand aside now!”

“We take our orders from the lord protector,” the mercenary retorted. “He told us to guard this door and let none through.”

“You dare to defy me,” the captain spoke through gritted teeth. “A man is dead in my castle. It is my right and my duty to examine his body!”

“The lord protector feels otherwise, clearly, and he outranks you, I should say.”

“If you do not get out of my way, I could have the entire garrison hack you to pieces!”

“This is our post,” replied the Hawk. Both of them lowered their spears slightly to an angle more suited for combat.

Behind the captain, his soldiers grasped the hilt of their swords. Theobald stood fuming for a moment before he raised one empty hand. “Enough. This is not the place.” He sent the mercenaries a spiteful look. “Your time is coming to an end.” He turned on his heel to stalk away, followed by his men.

~~~~

“Did you hear?” The big door to the library groaned as Kate pushed it open. She found Egil sitting on a bench, staring at the bookshelves. “About the jarl’s man?”

“No.”

“He’s dead. Not just any servant, an important one. He fell from a window, but they hurried to take his body away, and they’re acting all secretive about it,” Kate related with speed as she approached Egil. “What’s that?” She pointed at a letter in his hand.

“A question from the dragonlord. He wants to know the process behind stripping title and land from a jarl.”

“His own brother?” Kate gasped.

Egil sent her a disappointed look. “Probably the jarl of Isarn, don’t you think?”

“That makes more sense,” she conceded. “But the war is hardly won with Isarn’s soldiers on our doorstep. What’s the point in taking the title away? It won’t change anything.”

“Not in the war, but it does in the Adalthing,” explained the apprentice to the King’s Quill. “If he can bestow the northern titles on men loyal to himself, he’ll have full control of the Adalthing.”

“Huh.” Kate looked pensive. “So what are you going to tell him?”

“I’ll let you know as soon as I do.” Egil exhaled. “I have no idea what the law says.”

“Well, you can find it in a book, right?”

He pointed at the bookshelf on the opposite wall. “Those are the laws of Adalrik,” he explained with dismay. Numerous heavy volumes stood arrayed. “I’ll be lucky to have found an answer before solstice.”

Kate bit her lip. “What of Master Quill? Surely he knows. He knows everything.”

“Maybe, but that assumes he’s even able to answer. I can’t remember last time I heard him speak.”

“Well, it’s either that or going through those books.”

Taking a deep breath and exhaling, Egil got up. He walked over and knocked on the door to Quill’s chamber. Despite receiving no reply, he went inside.

The sparse room contained only a bed, a small drawer, and a chair. On the largest piece of furniture, Quill lay under blankets, wearing a nightshirt. “Master Quill, I need your help.”

The scribe looked gaunt to the point of famine, and his skin had turned as pale as bronze would allow. As he opened his eyes, the brown orbs had a yellow tint. “I’m tired.”

“I’ll let you rest in a moment,” Egil promised, sitting down on the chair. A bowl of half-eaten stew sat on the drawer. “But do you know where to find the laws on succession? Which of the books?”

“Did the prince die again?” The old man’s voice sounded like grains of sand grating against each other.

“No, Master Quill. The dragonlord wishes to know how a jarl may be stripped of title and lands.”

“That is simple.” The old scribe coughed a few times. “He must be declared guilty of high treason by the Adalthing. The king may then bestow the jarldom to a male heir of the former jarl, assuming said heir is not guilty of high treason as well.”

“I think in this case, the dragonlord wishes to give the title to a new family.”

“If so, the Adalthing must approve. A house cannot be robbed of its title without the consent of the assembly,” Quill explained with raspy breath.

“Oh. That’s simple enough. I’ll write to the dragonlord.” The youth smiled and rose.

“Egil.” For the first time, the old scribe turned his eyes to look at his apprentice. “You must read the books. You must learn the law.”

“I shall, Master Quill.”

“Never forget. You are the embodiment of the law. Your person is sacrosanct.” A coughing fit interrupted any further declarations. Egil grabbed a cup of water next to the bowl and helped the old man to drink.

“You should rest, Master Quill.”

With laboured breath, the scribe sank back into his bed and closed his eyes.

~~~~

Konstans drummed his fingers against the table. “I admit, it is a strange hour that he should die. I would not consider it coincidence.”

“Right!” exclaimed Valerian.

“But if someone pushed him, I would say they did you a favour.”

The jarl frowned. “How could that be?”

“You are spared the indignity of his betrayal becoming public. Bury him in a pauper’s grave and let him be forgotten.”

“But Konstans, something sinister is afoot!”

“Brother, servants cheat their masters. It is a fact of life as certain as the sunrise,” Konstans explained with an impatient voice. “That is why we only trust family. Be thankful that fate saw it fit to remove this particular servant, saving you the trouble.”

“If this ended here, I would be indeed be grateful. But far too many things do not add up.”

Konstans sighed. “Such as?”

“Arion stole from me. That is obvious from my own books. Yet on his body, we find torn pages proving he is also guilty of stealing from the royal treasury? And a coin from Alcázar is placed on his body, suggesting that the real culprits should be sought beyond our borders,” Valerian explained eagerly. “All of it fits together far too neatly.”

“Brother, merchants cheat on their taxes, yet another certainty. If you are so offended by it, you are free to pursue the matter further. Yet I must ask you do this elsewhere and leave me to my own work.”

“I shall,” the jarl declared loudly, turning around to leave. “I shall!”

~~~~

As Inghard entered the library with a book in hand, he was greeted by Godfrey, sitting in a chair. “You are still here.”

Godfrey bowed his head. “I come and go.”

“Where is Egil?”

“In the scriptorium, writing a reply to the dragonlord.” Godfrey looked at the book in Inghard’s hands. “He tells me you are very fond of stories.”

“I am. If I could, I would do nothing but read or hear them all day long.”

“I suppose once you are king, that will change.”

Inghard frowned. “I guess so. I better make the most of my time now, in that case.”

Godfrey laughed a little. “That is wise. And in fact, I think I may know a tale or two that you will enjoy. I can promise you, they’ll be unlike any you have heard before.”

The prince wetted his lips and finally sat down on a bench, placing his book on the table next to it. “What story?”

Godfrey smiled and began.

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