In late afternoon, Marvella rides a laden chestnut horse across a stream, with the sea visible on the left. Hurrying to catch up, the horse plunges down the path and back into forest.
After a few moments, she rides across a wide wooden bridge and reaches up to Dirkennion in a glade.
“Again, what manner of creature are you that can outlast a horse?”
Dirkennion glances up from studying trampled bushes. “Some say we are cursed,” he replies. “Painted. And alone.” He chuckles, his gaze following signs of destruction and snapped tree branches.
Marvella dismounts with “Good girl,” and pets the horse. “Stories do not do the Ehara credit.”
“I suppose.” He spots something and goes to it.
“Those men on the boat weren’t carrying much money. A few coins. Standard weapons.”
“Hired thugs,” Dirkennion says, stepping carefully. “They keep their treasure elsewhere, if they had been paid yet at all.”
She follows him. “Gold paint, gouge marks,” she notes, pointing. “From a royal wagon?”
“You do your office credit, Marvella,” he says, following a trail. “If I am not mistaken…there is a boat dock about a mile in that direction.”
She follows him a few steps, an eye on her horse which is drinking from the stream. “That would explain how…your cousin arrived at my dock at Dillingham. But…if this is where the prince was taken, why not follow the prince?”
Dirkennion has stopped by the first of several noticeable depressions in the ground. There is a view of the distant water and dock, and a smooth wagon road bends nearby. He points at the smashed bushes and mud.
“This is from a giant.”
Marvella’s eyes widen and she reflexively reaches for her sword.
“It is nowhere nearby, now,” he says. “Ruts in the road. Two bodies,” he notes, pointing.
“The royal guards,” she says, peering at them.
“This is where it happened. My kin, I believe, knew he was outmatched by the giant. So he chose to pursue the hired men, down to the boat, and so forth.”
“How did your cousin come to be here at the right time? This was an ambush, from the looks of it.”
Dirkennion looks around. “Rather fanciful place for a meeting, would you not say?”
Marvella follows his look. “You believe the Prince of Endless was to meet someone here? Like a suitor?”
“If my kin was protecting the suitor…he would have sent her back upon hearing commotion. We should learn where this road leads. Later. That way is Endruskenlessinia.”
Endruskenlessinia is a wealthy kingdom spread across several close hills. It surrounded by a high, well-guarded stone wall, with torches lighting up the twilight.
Dirkennion on foot and Marvella on horseback calmly approach through the town, heading for a stone bridge leading to the main gate. There is a guardhouse on the near side of the bridge.
Two guards step out and cross halberds while villagers pause to watch. “State your business, Ehara.”
“We are constables, sworn to protect,” Dirkennion says. “We have urgent business with the Royal Family.”
Marvella clears her throat. “Surely, good sir, there is an advisor who can make time for us.”
to be continued…