((Author’s Note: Sorry I’m a day late this week, everyone!))
The center of the village they’d entered was mostly empty when the trio arrived, a small square surrounding a charred, ruined wooden platform. Naz guided Varlaine’s horse to the stage, climbing off and hitting the ground heavy enough to sink her boots into the mud. Without much explanation, she began emptying the saddlebags they’d spent so much time filling in the morning: armfuls of gold jewelry, rings, and coins galore. Each she laid out in a line on the raised platform. When she cast Varlaine a glance, he hopped off of his horse to hurriedly assist.
“What did you mean, ‘capital sentiment is not positive’?” Eryn asked, as the mercenary and prince together began empting the bags that Cassius bore. She sat atop the griffon with crossed arms, demanding an answer, while Naz briefly offered Cass a stroke to his cheek in passing. The griffon arched into the touch, working his beak. “And what exactly is your plan here?”
“My plan,” Naz rasped, then grunted with the weight of a particularly hefty sack of treasure, and Varlaine scrambled to help her with both of his hands under the bag. The two carried it together and dumped it next to the rest of the spoils. “Is to get these people out of here. Before the fires from the palace spread this far.” She opted to ignore Eryn’s first question, earning her a wicked glare.
Varlaine stopped to rest, leaning against the stage and looking over the treasure they’d brought back. It certainly looked like a lot, even to his princely eyes, and it was only a fragment of what they had found in the den. “Fires? What do you mean?” He frowned when he asked, but quickly reverted to neutrality when he realized that a few townsfolk had trickled into the square and were regarding him with curiosity. His royal tutors had taught him that he must not convey his emotions outright, especially uncertainty.
“If what I’m hearing—and seeing, with you two—is true, there is a power shift blowing in the winds.” Naz, too, acknowledged the people. She did it with the same stern look that she bore at all other times, and Varlaine wondered who had taught her to look so steady, like a rock. Then she returned to emptying Eryn’s saddlebags and ensuring that all of their retrieved goods were laid out in a long, glittering line. “This area is unstable. At best, more bandits will be looking for weak picks, and this is one. At worst, war will be at these peoples’ doors in a week.”
Eryn’s face set in obvious doubt when she heard Naz’s proposition. “What do you mean, ‘war’?” She asked, sliding her arms around Cassius’ neck in a hug. The older mercenary shrugged her shoulders, going quieter as the number of people in the square grew. At her nonanswer, Eryn reaffirmed herself with a huff. “Revengard isn’t going to war. Some people attacked the capitol, sure, but I bet they’re being driven back, if they’re not all gone already.”
“If you believed that, you would be returning home right now.” Naz’s tone was not biting, but her words hit hard. Hard enough that even Eryn, whom Varlaine had learned never ran out of things to say, went quiet. “Varlaine, what did you see? Did royalty die?”
The prince nodded, slow and carefully, as he replayed some of what he’d seen on his way out. Yes, he knew that several of his siblings had not been as fortunate as he was escaping the castle. There had been screaming, and the sound of skirmishing, and the gut-wrenching scent of what he’d now learned was spilled blood. “Yes. I know at least three princes… and one princess… are gone. Perhaps more.”
“I don’t know how politics work here,” Naz’s voice lowered, some of the new arrivals to the square starting to approach their huddled little group. Among them were children, a small handful of which seemed quite excited to see the mercenary. They started to close the space between them and the prince’s group quickly, splashing through the mud, and Naz offered them a wave. “But where I’m from, killing a Lord’s son is a major offense. I imagine it worse for a king. There will be a retaliation. And if the assault force was capable of making it into the castle…”
Varlaine didn’t need her to finish her sentence to understand where it was going. She stepped forward and away from him, towards the approaching people, and stooped low to greet a pair of children who hugged around each of her metal-clad legs. Whoever had attacked his home had both purpose and power, and he lacked knowledge of either. The prince looked to Eryn, who had closed her eyes to bury her face in Cassius’ feathers, and retreated further into himself by placing a smile on his own lips.