Still disguised in his cloak, Robert Chandler arrives in the city of Rand, accompanied by Sheena, Zachary, Baxter and Ellephar. It's now two hours past midnight.
Ah, here I am again, back in Rand after a long, long time, Robert thinks. I better hurry and meet Hulferd. Only he can get me in contact with Rael'charon, and only he I can trust.
And so, silently, the five sneak through the narrow streets to reach Sansarine Hunters' Guild before sunrise. And they arrive in half an hour.
Robert knocks on the back door slowly and intermittently, trying not to wake the neighbors. He does so until...
'Yes, YES! What is it? If it's about guild affairs come back at nine! And stop knocking on my door or else...!'
The door opens. Hulferd, the guildmaster stands on the doorway with his eyes half-open, holding a sword in case of danger.
'And now what do you want, mister...? It's three o' clock in the morning, so it's better be good!' he says, his face looks upset.
'Sir Hulferd, don't you recognize me? I'm Robert!' says the cloaked man. Hulferd gets startled.
'Ah, Robert!? I... I know that voice! Robert, my dear apprentice. Do come in!' Hulferd's face turns cheerful.
As Robert and his companions come in, Hulferd just realizes something and asks, 'Lo, they are not Christopher and Carolyn, your partners! They're... I know, you two must be Baxter and Ellephar, ex-hunters!'
'Aye, in the flesh,' says Baxter.
Ellephar adds with a dull 'uh-huh.'
'And who's this lady here? You must be from Meshallah or somewhere in the middle-east,' says the guildmaster, tightening his grip on his sword and posing a stance as he sees these three suspicious-looking persons.
'I'm Sheena um Mekh'ta bin Abdul Aziz Haran, and yes, I'm from Meshallah,' says the middle-eastern lady.
'Sheena Mekh'ta? Ah, so the rumors are correct. You're the one who stole the Le Partizane and made the Aurora return empty-handed after some fierce duels.'
'I don't want to boast about it, but I'm afraid it's true.'
Hulferd turns to Robert, saying, 'And you, rumors had it that you killed the Pope and you probably are the Dark Overlord's heir. Tell me, is there any truth in it?'
Hearing that, the once-a-pirate Rob doesn't get surprised or upset. He just touches Hulferd's hand gently to keep the guildmaster's sword in its scabbard.
'If bounty is what you want, sorry to disappoint you, but I didn't do it.'
'I guess I do trust you after all. A mature and enlightened man you show me now would never do such atrocities,' says Hulferd with a sigh, standing at ease. 'But you were involved in an act of piracy with this woman, Sheena Mekh'ta!'
Now Sheena gets alerted, 'No, I commited policy with Baxter, Ellephar and my crew. Robert and this fellow Zakharia were only stowaways in my ship.'
'Zakharia?' Hulferd reacts, 'Who's Zakharia?'
'That would be me, Zachary,' says the man called 'Zakharia', coming from behind Ellephar. Hulferd's eyes and mouth widen in disbelief.
'... Sir Zigurd...! Is... Is that you...?'
Zachary nods. 'Well, I remember I was called with that name a long time ago.”
Sheena, Baxter and Ellephar are surprised to hear that. But nothing compares to Robert's shock on this new knowledge. Zachary (or in Sheena's tongue: Zakharia) is in fact Sir Zigurd, one of the sixteen best knights of Lore in the Order of the Lions. Robert never met him before because Sir Zigurd was always 'guarding the border'. Apparently, all these years he was stationed way behind enemy lines as a spy disguising as a traveling merchant named Zachary, organizing Lorean spies there, sending crucial informations to Lore and eventually helped Lore won the war, repelling Arcadian invaders.
‘Sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, Robert,’ says Zigurd, ‘You surely understand, don’t you? It’s for my own safety.’
‘You don’t need to apologize, Sir Zigurd,’ Robert replies calmly. ‘No matter what your identity is, I’m really grateful for your help.’
Hulferd cuts in, ‘So, as we have made ourselves clear now, let’s get down to business that made you come all the way here.’
Briefly but thoroughly, Robert explains about what happened and his intentions to reclaim his father’s sword and prove his innocence in trial with Rael’charon’s help.
‘That’s about the wisest thing to do, Robert. To seek and surround yourself with people who know you and trust you. But I doubt Rael’charon will be able to help you. He is now busy handling and investigating some mysterious murders of high-ranking officials including Lord Larson Walthorn in Jeland, Varestine.’
Robert is aghast, ‘Larson, Duke Walthorn’s son? How come?’
‘We don’t know for sure, but Rael’charon has specially warned us that some of the victims were somehow related to you. Squire Kelba from the Jeland stables… A failed attempt on Sir James Hickram from the Order…’
Robert clutches his fist and grits his teeth.
‘Monsters! Squire Kelba, he was a good man! Tending horses was his life, he would never be involved in anything, and murdering him never crossed my mind!’
‘Rael’charon somewhat knows that these murders were committed to frame you, Robert. So, you’ll have to prove to him that you are really innocent, and maybe, just maybe, he can work something out for you.’
‘Thank you for your information, teacher.’
Hulferd pats his own thigh. ‘So, what are we waiting for? Let’s prepare to set off to Alceste! Rob, Sir Zigurd, please just watch these three fellows while I go up to tell Charlotte and Pear.’
Mihir's Top Reads of 2017 - As has been the pattern with these lists of mine, January seems to be the best time for posting these. I hope our readers will forgive this idiosyncrasy of...
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