The Duchess’s Secret

–Dark of the Moon, ch. 9–

In which the companions meet the duchess of Torniel, who reveals a secret and gives them a mission.

←Read Chapter 8: Quicksilver and Sunlight


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Norros and Elend struggled to their feet and gaped out the window at the unmasked vessel. “What did you do?” asked Nadarr.

“I don’t know,” said Norros. “But let’s get out of here.”

As he said it, they heard the crash of breaking glass from behind them and a voice shout, “Kvort Koh.” They spun around in time to see a shimmering blue ring of arcane energy erupt against the wall opposite them. As the speaker chanted the incantation, his invisibility spell dropped, and they witnessed a tall, sallow figure in long green robes step into the portal. He looked back at them and sneered: “I was never paid enough for this work. You and the Pact can have each other.”

Nadarr let out a roar of challenge and charged. He barreled into the man, and the force of the collision thrust the fellow through the portal before Nadarr could find purchase on his robes.

“That was predictable,” said Norros, and at the same time, Elendithas said, “Should we follow?”

“What about our hunter friend? We have no idea where that runegate goes.”

“I have an idea,” said the bard. “Nadarr hold my hand.” Elend thrust her hand to the Dragonborn and put her head into the portal. At the same time, Nadarr saw the portal flicker and pulse. He pulled Elend back just as the portal snapped shut with a fizzle of arcane energy.

“What did you see?”

“Not much. A sandstone room with a window overlooking a desert-like landscape. I had no time to notice anything else.”

“If that was Silvern, he’s gotten away for good then. There aren’t any deserts in Sularil as far as I know,” said Norros. “It’s just as well. I wasn’t looking forward to facing a wizard of his stature. Let’s look around.”

As they searched the tower, a pigeon hopped into the room, fluttered up, and landed on Norros’s shortbow. “Get away, you rat with wings,” said the rogue, shooing the bird with his hand. The pigeon clung on and cooed defiantly.

“Wait a tick,” said Elend. “Can’t Danath speak with animals? Maybe this bird is from him.” She addressed the pigeon. “My, this does feel odd, but tra la la.” She recounted to the pigeon what had happened in the tower. When she was done, she could have sworn the bird nodded to her before taking to the air again.

Nadarr had been searching the room as Elend talked to the pigeon. “Look what I found. Can you read it?” Nadarr handed Elendithas a scroll of parchment written in Elvish.

“Oh my, this is a scroll for opening one of those runegates that man just used. We could go after him if only we knew where he was. And here’s another one: a scroll of flight! We should keep these safe.”

“Um, guys,” said Norros from across the room. “I think I found something else. Four of these bricks are hollow.” They joined the rogue at a spot in the wall opposite the spiral staircase. It took them a minute to find the right pattern to press, but soon they accomplished it and the brick wall slid into the floor, revealing a massive dumbwaiter. “Seems like a faster way down.”

They reached the bottom of the castle and retreated through a maintenance hallway to the exterior near the Sea of Torn. They joined the throng of people exiting the Pinnacle, many of them still craning their necks to view the Skyship hovering silently off in the distance. Danath met them near the haberdashers shop at which they lost Thevir the day before.

“We know you don’t want to go into the Pinnacle, Danath,” said Norros. “But we need to go back. Please come with us.”

“My pigeon friend told me what happened. I’m guess I’m really in it now.” Danath allowed himself to be dragged reluctantly back across the threshold into the Pinnacle. Any presence of guards was helping to keep people from being trampled by the mass exodus, which resulted from the skyship interrupting the Duchess’s seating, and they made it back to the courtyard without incident.

As they entered the castle’s courtyard, a horse and rider cantered up to them. Upon the horse sat a young woman with long dark hair twisted in an intricate pattern of braids. She wore a circlet on her head and an expression of nervous excitement on her face. As she passed them, she reined in her horse and turned: “Elendithas? Is that you?”

The young woman dismounted and held her horse’s reins as she pulled Elend into a one-armed hug. “I haven’t seen you in positively ages. You must come and see my mother. She’s a bit stricken at the moment. And your father was here earlier, did you know? Oh, you must have seen him. He didn’t mention you were here for mother’s seating, as well. How odd. But here you are. Come, come. My errand can wait I suppose.”

Elendithas looked back to her companions as she was pulled along. As they hurried to catch up, she mouthed, “Who is this girl?”

Norros jogged up and fell in line. “Elend, why don’t you introduce us to ‘Lady Kirra Esris’ if you two are such good buddies.”

“Yes, of course, Lady Kirra, these are my friends Nadarr, Danath, and…Steven.”

“Charmed, I’m sure,” Kirra prattled on, “But no need for such formalities, El. What’s a title between you and me. Ever since we met that summer at camp, I’ve been dying to see you again, but then one thing led to another and I never got in touch. I’m terribly sorry. But with my studies and all… I’ve gone to school for healing (my mother is a cleric, you know), but I just didn’t have the knack. I can conjure a thing or two, but that distasteful arcanist my father kept around never really took the time to tutor me.”

Kirra never seemed to take a breath. As her monologue continued, she led them into the castle, past the throne room and down a flight of stairs. “I even spent a few weeks living out in the woods trying my hand at surviving in the wild.” She eyed Danath’s bow. “But I never got the hang of it. Seems you need to practice with a bow to be able to hit anything. I’ve never been much for practicing. I always just hope things will come naturally.”

“Maybe I could teach you sometime,” said Danath, interrupting Kirra’s flow.

Her eyes moved from Danath’s bow to his strong jaw and kind eyes. “That would be marvelous, master hunter. Come, come. Here we are.”

They stopped at the doorway to a small, windowless parlor deep in the castle. “No weapons past this point,” said a guard at the door.

“That’s a problem,” said Norros. “I’m quite attached to mine.”

“You and Nadarr stay here with the weapons then,” said Elendithas, handing her rapier to the paladin. “Danath and I will go.”

“If you say so,” said the ranger, glancing at Lady Kirra waiting expectantly. He pressed his bow into Nadarr’s hands, then pulled his dual shortswords from their scabbards on his upper back, spun them on his palms and held them pommel out. Kirra gave a little clap at this display. Danath grinned. “Let’s go.”

Elendithas and Danath followed Kirra into the room. Duchess Samara Esris sat a small table holding a steaming cup. Eight guards filled most of the space in the room. The duchess seemed small in comparison – small and fretful. “Kirra, what did I tell you about running off. It’s not safe…” The duchess broke off when she saw Elendithas and Danath. “But who is this?”

“Mother, this is Elendithas Day! You remember, I told you all about meeting her at camp. She’s frightfully good company. When was it? Four years ago? No, five. It was the same summer that…” Kirra sat down abruptly and her voice trailed off.

“Yes, dear, we sent you away while your brother was very sick after his accident. We didn’t want you to have to see him suffer.” She turned her attention to Elendithas. “I’m so glad to meet one of your friends, especially on a day as uncertain as this one. Miss Day, your father was just here, but he took a runegate back to Thousand Spires to report the disturbance. I’m surprised he left without you.”

“Oh, you know my father,” said Elend, reaching for something true to say. “He’s always so caught up in his work.”

“Indeed.”

“Duchess, my friends and I have been investigating something, which has led us to the Pinnacle, specifically to your late-husband’s advisor Fenlis Silvern. We think we might have spotted him earlier, but we don’t know what he looks like.”

“Silvern.” Samara spat the word. “That odious man is no longer in my employ. If he had not resigned this very morning, then my first act as head of state would be to relieve him of his post and invite him to leave Torniel with all speed. I never knew what Arlan saw in him. Tall, skinny man, pale, with a self-aggrandizing air and horrid teeth.”

“We thought that was him,” said Elendithas. “We can report that he has left Torniel by means of a runegate and is now someplace with a desert view. So, very far from here, I’m certain. Perhaps Starfall?”

“How do you know this?” Samara put down her tea, sat up straight in her chair, and looked Elend in the eye.

“We saw him create the portal in his laboratory at the top of Glass Sea Tower. He said, ‘They don’t pay me enough for this,’ and then…” Elend stopped and looked around. Then she bent down and whispered, “He said, ‘You and the Pact can have each other.’ Does this mean anything to you?”

Samara put her hand on Elend’s and echoed her whisper. “I think we should continue this conversation in private.” She snapped her fingers, “Captain, take the guard as far from me as your conscience will allow.”

“But, Duchess, the skyship. Your safety.”

“I am well aware of the situation, Captain, and your loyalty is appreciated. Perhaps at the far end of the next room will suffice.”

The captain gestured to his guard and they filed out, leaving two at the doorway with Norros and Nadarr.

“Miss Day, I would like to know everything you know about this Lupine Pact. I keep hearing this name. First it was a joke about stolen silverware. But now I fear they had something to do with my late-husband’s death. And if this skyship is in anyway related, and it must be, what with its connection with the phantom moon… I don’t know how you’re mixed up in this. I know your father would not approve. But I do not have the luxury for your family’s drama today. Tell me what you’ve been investigating. Do not leave anything out. Be truthful or I shall know.” The duchess spoke with authority, but now her voice quavered. “And perhaps, when you are done, I may have one or two things to confess myself.”

Elendithas and Danath looked at each other. The ranger let out a deep sigh and nodded. “Perhaps without your usual embellishment, Elend,” he said.

“Where to begin,” she said. “We all met in Cold Harbor last week, when we were sent to investigate the slaughter of sheep at a farm. The same pack of wolves that killed the sheep attacked us. The dire wolves had a symbol branded on them.”

“A circle and ‘L’? I’ve seen it,” interrupted the duchess.

“Yes, ma’am.” Elendithas continued, telling Samara about the silver shipment and the attacks on the Archon and the barge.

“And you say,” said the duchess, “that the werewolf returned to her human form when she died. That is…most distressing. Go on, child.”

“We were arrested for murder by Rasmussen Wyle who had a warrant attested by the duke’s seal.”

“The duke’s seal? My, my. It has been missing since the day he died.”

Danath cut in, “So you didn’t send the arrest warrant?”

“This is the first I’ve heard of any of this, master hunter. Besides, warrants are not usually issued with such high authority as the duke’s. Wyle must have been suspicious of that. He’s also fairly odious, but he’s no fool.”

“He was suspicious,” agreed Elend. “That’s why he let us go and commissioned us to come to Torniel-by-the-Sea to look for answers. That’s why we were at the top of the tower. That’s why we accidentally disrupted the enchantment and unmasked that skyship.”

“That was you?” blurted out Kirra. “You see, mother, I always told you Elendithas Day was simply the best. We only met for three weeks, but it was enough, wasn’t it, El? True friendship. It’s like we’re just picking back up where we started!”

“It was actually my companion, Nor…I mean ‘Steven’ out there who broke the enchantment,” said Elendithas. “It’s odd. It happened less than an hour ago, but the full moon feels like nothing more than a quickly vanishing dream now.”

“I feel the same way,” said the duchess. “Now, where were we? Yes, the seal. The werewolves.”

Just then, Norros called out from the hallway. “Dan, Elend, a word?”

“Excuse us,” said Elend.

“Whatever your friend can say to you, he can say to me,” said Samara, who rose and accompanied them to the doorway.

“Ladyship,” said Nadarr, “It appears four of your guards have vanished.”

Samara’s eyes widened, but she kept her composure. “Thank you, master Dragonborn. Captain, if you please. Where are my guards?”

The captain spun around, as if noticing his missing troops for the first time. “Bloody hell. Excuse me, Duchess, I will retrieve them.” And before Samara could respond, he was gone.

Samara swore under her breath, then whispered, “Look, at this moment, I have few options. I don’t know whom to trust, but I am relying on my daughter’s connections for the time being. You two…” She gestured to Norros and Nadarr. “For today, you are honorary guards of the Pinnacle. No one comes back in this room, not even the captain who just left. Do you understand?”

Norros had been leaning against the wall, but now he stood up straight and looked at the remaining guards. “You heard the duchess. I’m in charge now. You, take up posts at the far door. My friend and I have this one.”

The guards grumbled, but Nadarr’s imposing presence gave them a sudden desire to acquiesce. Samara beckoned to Elend and Danath, who followed her back into the room. “I honestly do not not who to trust these days. My husband’s advisor was in on the plot. Who knows how many of my guards have been bought and paid for. I don’t want to have to rely on you and your friends, Miss Day, but perhaps an outsider, untainted by the goings on in Torniel, is the right woman for the job. Can you and your friends get to that ship and stop this? I don’t know what you’ll find there, but I have my suspicions.”

The duchess fell silent. No one spoke for a moment, and then Danath prompted, “Would you care to share those suspicions, your Ladyship?”

“I do not wish to, but I think I must. Kirra, please retire to your room. You need not be a part of this conversation.”

Kirra stood up and put her hands on her hips. “I’m not going anywhere, mother. You’re always trying to protect me, keep me safe from the world. But I’m seventeen, almost eighteen! I can take care of myself.”

“What I have to say will not be to your liking.”

“I’m staying.” And with that, Kirra sat down and gripped the arms of the chair with both hands.

“As you wish.” Samara sighed. “Kirra, your brother did not die as a result of a hunting accident.”

“Calder? What then, how did he die?”

“The brother you knew is gone, that is true. I’m so sorry that your father and I kept it from you, darling, but Calder is not dead.”

Kirra began to protest, but Samara talked over her. “Calder was out hunting in the Aril Forest, that much is true. He was always out hunting. He was bitten by his quarry and cursed with lycanthropy. We did not see him for several weeks. When he returned to the castle, I knew immediately that something was wrong. That’s when we packed you up and shipped you off to the Equestrian, where you met Miss Day here.”

“Oh, that’s where we met,” blurted Elendithas. “Right, right. You were the little girl who was always chasing after me on your pony.” Kirra was too caught up in her mother’s confession to realize Elendithas had very little memory of her.

Samara continued: “I am a cleric, as you know. I should have been able to remove the curse. Alas, the curse of lycanthropy can only be removed if the victim is willing. And your brother was…not. He had embraced his new nature. But I should not say ‘new.’ No. Calder always had a mean, sadistic streak in him. We went through three household cats before we got wise to his ‘experiments,’ as he called them. Even before he became a werewolf, I feared what his eventual rule would do to our land. And then he turned evil completely. Your father banished him from Torniel. We gave him a funeral and propagated the story of the hunting accident. It was true enough, at least.”

Danath cut in: “And now you think your son has returned to, what, take over the country at the head of a pack of werewolves?”

“Yes, I do. He has shown his usual methodical nature. First, ridding the region of the element that is deadly to his kind. Killing my husband. Yes, the Duke’s death was not natural. He was poisoned – I’m so sorry, Kirra. I fear I’m next, then my daughter here. And technically, Calder is the Duke of Torniel. I assume Silvern gave him the Duke’s seal, as well. But I would never wish for him to take the seat of power that I assumed today. He is…evil.”

Samara fell silent again, and now the sounds of Kirra softly weeping filled the room. Elendithas sat down next to her and rubbed her back. “There, there. Yes, now I remember you, friend. You sure have grown up. There, there.”

Danath covered his emotional reaction to Kirra’s distress with an air of business. “How do we get to the skyship?”

“My griffin riders can take you. I would send a whole battalion to take the ship, but I recently dispatched our reserves to Cliffwatch as something odd and potentially dangerous is happening on Lullaby Island. Go out to the courtyard and then a left up the stairs to the roost. Take this note to the griffin master. Report back to me when you’re finished. Come, Kirra, we must find a more secure place to hide.”

“And what about Calder? What do you want us to do if we find him?”

Samara looked back from opening a secret door in the bricks. She gazed at Danath and Elend for a long moment, prodded Kirra into the passage, and said, “My son died five years ago.” And then she was gone.


Chapter 10: The Skyship→


Written by Adam Thomas, Dungeonmaster
Jarrod Antkowiak as Norros Arborshade
Allissa Leonard as Nadarr Kasdann
Jack Leonard as Danath Errandir
Leah Thomas as Elendithas Day

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