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Fiction, Fantasy, Serial Novel
by: J. Dennis McKay
Yllek paced his chamber like a lion in a cage. A quite well appointed cage, but a cage nonetheless. Of course, the old bastard had squeezed the details of his most recent problems from him. And a few other inconsequentials from the recent past as well. He stopped and surveyed his surroundings once again. A fire burned low in a large hearth at the south side of the room. It was reasonably pleasant out, and the low fire sufficed to chase the chill. Against the opposite wall sat a massive mahogany four poster, heavily laden with plush looking quilts and pillows, and flanked on either side by matching mahogany night tables. On the east side stood curtained french doors, with two small windows facing out to the balcony, walkway, and interior courtyard two floors below. To one side of the balcony door, nearer the bed, stood a substantial armoir, again in mahogany, with etched jade panels inset into it's double doors and single, deep drawer at the bottom. On the other side of the doors, under the window, sat a matching mahogany writing desk and chair, com plete with a neat stack of high quality parchment, a green marble inkwell, an asortment of quills, two candles of dark red sealing wax, an assortment of sealing stamps (Yllek's own), and a tall, blown glass lamp filled with emerald green oil.
In front of the fireplace sat a round card table, covered by a green cloth, and flanked by four plush, green leather upholsterd wingback chairs. Another blown glass lamp sat in the center of the table. The door to the inner hallway was heavy, oak, surprisingly lacking in ornamentation, with three substantial brass hinges, a levered brass handle, and two heavy steel slides on each wall beside the door. Stark reminders of the realities of living in Tovani. The floor was covered by a plush, green, wool carpet. Above the mantle of the fireplace, hung the only painting to ornament the walls. A copy of Manfred's "Last Stand of Brecht the Handsome." Yllek couldn't help but smile at Domi's cruel sense of humour. Ylleck stood and meditated on the excelent quality of the copy in front of him for fully fifteen minutes before realizing he was, in fact, looking upon the long lost original, missing some sixty years. "Dear Papa," whispered in awe to the empty room. "What other lost treasures do you keep hidden from the unworthy?"
Yllek guessed that Domi wasn't only poking fun at him with the painting, but subtly reminding him of the wealth and power of his host. That one canvas was worth more than four of the best ships ported less than a mile to the east. For two days Yllek had occupied the same space as one of the great works of the height of Tovani culture.
Two days locked in his guilded cage. Out of respect for his host, Ylleck kept to his apartment. He was well aware that even the mighty Domi would face potential retribution if his prescence became widely known. The doormen could all be trusted without question, but only a fool would count on the loyalty of all his servants in a city where vast wealth could trade hands to support a rumor that might harm a rival. Yllek's only point of contact with the rest of the house since his arrival had been with Gianni, who had faithfuly fetched all his necessities and helped him whittle away the hours by graciously loosing at cards, drinking and trading old lies well into the night.
Yllek snapped out of his revery as the door swung open and Gianni backed into the room, pulling a serving cart laden with two covered dishes, a large carafe of steaming kaff, two bottles of wine, and the necessary goblets, mugs, and utensils. Gianni was obviously the worst for the previous night's festivities, and his hands shook visibly as he set out the meal on the card table.
Bleary eyed, he looked towards Yllek. "You could help. I'ma soldier, not a wench, if you haven't noticed."
"I have noticed," Yllek smiled back. "The beard is a dead giveaway."
Gianni harumphed in response and sat down to pour himself a kaff and examine his brunch. Lifting the dome off the plate revealed thick slices of steamed ham, a mound of whipped eggs, two heavy slabs of buttered bread, and a cup of blackperries topped with cream. Ever the man at arms, Gianni used his dagger to spear a slice of ham, and a trencher of bread to scoop up his eggs. Wasting no time, Gianni was licking the remnants of berries and cream from his fingers, washing it down with his third mug of kaff and eyeing the wine suspiciously by the time Yllek was barely half done his plate.
Yllek broke the silence first, "You can't be that hungover, what's bothering you Gianni?" Gianni studied the table and swirled his index finger in the remnants of his fruit glass for a moment before filling his wineglass, downing it in one swallow, then refilling it. "Come on man," Yllek creased his brow, "how bad could it be?"
"It could be a lot better," Gianni took another swallow of his wine, then poured a glass for his companion. "She's here, Yllek."
Yllek looked confused for a moment, then it dawned on him. "The gods hate me," he took a long swallow then burried his face in his hands. "You'd think they had better things to do then torment me."
Gianni examined his friend for a while, then emptied hisglass again. "It gets worse."
Yllek looked up, his face ashen, "How could it?"
"She has family here, the Gandolfo's."
Yllek groaned. The Domi family may have been one of the most powerful families in Tovani, but the Gandolfo's were their equals, and fierce rivals. He looked accusingly across thetable, "You're not done ruining my day yet, are you?"
"The Gandolfos lost two of their best ships in that explosion, and a warehouse. They've wanted your head ever since." Across the table Yllek buried his face and groaned again. "They know you're here. Not just in Tovani, but here at the estate. We're trying to find out who leaked it, but that's not the major concern at the moment. So far, they've kept the information to themselves, but that won't last. They sent a messenger this morning asking for Domi to turn you over."
"And?" Yllek asked, without a trace of hope in his voice.
"Domi turned them down flat." Both men looked equally puzzled. "The old man must really like you."
"He's asking for a war by not even negotiating," Yllek was a realist, when it came down to it. He was well aware that his life wasn't worth a pig's fart, given the forces in play here.
Gianni turned his hands to the ceiling. "Who know's what goes through the old fart's head? Our families have been spoil ing for a fight for years. Maybe he just got tired of waiting."
"Domi's the most patient man I know," Yllek countered. "He's got something else in mind here, and I'm afraid he's making me a part of his plans."
"There's little doubt of that, at least," Gianni mumbled. "Did you know how powerful Elanna is?"
"You mean her father, Oudara," Yllek corrected.
"No, I mean Elanna. Oudara's a dottering old fool, Elanna's been managing their estate lands for years, and quite well by all accounts. She holds massive influence within the Gandolfo's businesses. It's even been rumored that she holds the real power behind the scenes, and just keeps Papa Gandolfo on for appearances."
"But if she holds so much power in that family, then why, I mean how...?"
"She had to have known who you were all along. She was playing you, my friend."
"And now it's Domi's turn at the board." Yllek stood up and began pacing the room. "Papa's no fool. He would have known who Elanna was as soon as I told him. He's up to something. I wouldn't be surprised if he instigated the leak. He's got something in mind, and I think we're playing on his schedule."
"What we? You're playing on his schedule. I'm just a bystander here. By the gods, I pray I'm just a bystander." This time Gianni filled his glass from a skin he had hidden in the sleeve of his shirt, then offered his cuff to Yllek, who accepted. The two sat in silence, sipping strong brandy. "If it's any comfort, I doubt Papa would throw you to the wolves."
Yllek nodded, "Not his style. He's got something else in mind." Silence overtook the room again for a few moments while Yllek swirled his drink between sips. Then his attention snapped sharply towrds his companion. "You weren't supposed to tell me all this, were you?"
Gianni reddened, "Ahh, no. Not all of it. Just that your lover had arrived in town. I wasn't even supposed to mention that anyone knew you were here."
"Did Papa give you all this information?"
Gianni snorted. "I'm the Captain of the House Guard. I have my own sources. All he told me was that Elanna had arrived in town last night, and that you might be interested in knowing."
Yllek sat in silence. Gianni may be a soldier born and bred, and probably the man most loyal to Papa, but he was no less a fool than his master, and only slightly less prone to gamesmanship. Yllek began to wonder, not for the first time in his life, if he was out of his depth here. He was also becoming aware of how crippled he was, locked up in this room and cut of from any information other than what he was being fed. Not that he believed he was being lied to, just that he was being kept ignorant of anything they didn't think he needed to know, or didn't want him to know. "There's more going on here than you're telling me, Gianni."
Gianni drew upon his best poker face. "Of course there is. There always is." Gianni tuirned on a friendly half smile, "Don't worry too much. Even if we don't always have your best interests at heart, no one in this house wants to see any harm come to you."
For some reason, Yllek found this last piece of honesty more unsettling than anything else he'd heard that day.
A mile to the north, in one of the other great manors of the city, protected by it's own tower, an elegant young lady took her midmorning tea alone in the central courtyard garden. Great care had been taken in creating and tending this green space, but Lady Elanna still found it confining and artificial compared to the sprawling gardens of her country estate. With nothing pressing, she wandered the garden, teacup in hand, a servant bearing a carafe at the ready a discreet ten paces behind. She let her mind wander to her country gardens, trying to imagine what sort of statuary would best be suited to a new section she had planted just this spring.
Her thoughts were interupted by the approach of a courier she had sent of that morning. "Lady Elanna," the man bowed deferentially and waited for a response.
"Yes Movry?" she replied without taking her eyes from a manicured lemon tree.
"The message was delivered as requested, m'Lady."
"And the response?"
"As expectected, m'Lady."
"Excelent." Elanna turned and nodded graciously to the man dressed in the gold and burgundy livery of house Gandolfo, "Take the rest of the day as your own." Excelent indeed. It had taken nearly four years to draw Yllek into her plans. He had fled the estate sooner than she had expected, but the important thing was that he had run in exactly the direction he was supposed to. She turned and handed the cup to the servant who hurried to relieve the lady of this small burden. Without hurry, Elanna headed to the western exit of the inner courtyard. There was much left to do, so many strings left to pull, but she need not hurry. What she wanted, what she felt this cursed cursed city desperately needed, required patience and a delicate touch. As she came ever closer to her goal, what had been nothing more than a dream four years ago, it became harder and harder to contain her eagerness, and all the more necessary. Patience, she remindered herself. Once piece of the puzzle at a time.