Pressing my thighs against the horse’s side, I urged Doglan to slow down as we neared the palace gates. Homar waved to me from atop the left battlements as he saw me approach. Shouting at someone I couldn’t see, I nodded at him and led my steed forward as the portcullis swung open.
“Good day, Sir Marius,” Shastan Croyle said as I neared the stable doors.
Tossing the reins in his direction, I hopped off of Doglan’s back. “Well met, Shastan. Has my lieutenant returned?”
His knowing gaze twinkled with amusement as he led my horse inside. “Aye. He’s bin back fur ages. Ye can fin’ heem ower yonder.”
“He’s inside the stables?”
“Nae, sairrr. Inside th’ keep, Ah hink.”
“I see. Take care of Doglan, will ya?”
Grinning broadly, he sunk into an awkward bow. “Ay coorse, sairrr.”
Giving him a quick salute, I hurried towards the main keep. It amused me to know that not only was Kimbar Doblemine three years my junior, but he was also my lieutenant. He’d had taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes from the moment I’d set foot within the palace barracks. Bestowing him, and the Princess Tyale, with my undying loyalty, I’d sworn to protect them, at all costs.
Blindly rounding a corner, I bumped into the devil himself. We crashed onto the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. Extricating myself out of the knot, I brushed as much dirt as possible from my uniform.
“Blimey, Marius,” Kim said as he bent to pick up his discarded sword. “What gives?”
Rubbing a hand across the back of my neck, I stared at the scuffed toes of my boots. “I didn’t see ya.”
“I can see that. Longing for Jules, are ya?”
My face flushed with color. “Maybe.”
He chuckled loudly, clapping a hand across my shoulder. “Perhaps, ya should go find her?”
“Nay, my good man. I just came from the inn. I don’t think she’d like it if I returned. ‘Sides, I’ve something I want to discuss with ya.”
Clutching the sword tightly between his fingers, Kimbar pointed towards a door at the end of the hall. “Ah, I see. Mind following me towards the foundry? That’s where I was headed when ya bumped into me.”
“Splendid,” he said as he turned towards our destination. “Have ya noshed?”
“Aye. Well, of sorts, anyway.”
He stopped within his tracks and turned to face me. “Well? Which is it? Either ya have or ya haven’t.”
Damn it, I thought. How is it that someone so young can unsettle me so? “Nay, I huvnae.”
He nodded, pursing his lips as he summoned one of the guards. Sending him off to the kitchens, I followed Kimbar as he entered the foundry. Tossing his sword onto the table, he pointed to a chair that sat before his makeshift desk and ordered me to take a seat. He grabbed a set of silver goblets and a pitcher sitting atop the sideboard as he skirted the bench’s edge. Pouring an ample portion of Solam Dinae into the cups, he slid one across the trestle’s surface. I picked up the stein and saluted him with it as I gulped down half of its contents.
“So,” he said as he set down his chalice. “What brings ya here?”
I shifted within my chair and pulled a tattered, and quite weathered, map out of the satchel I kept around my waist. With a flick of my wrist, I sent the parchment airborne. It landed with a soft swish across one of Kimbar’s ledgers. He reached forth and pinched the edge of the paper between his thumb and forefinger, carefully drawing it to him. His deft fingers unfolded the delicate vellum. A sharp gasp spilled from his lips as he tried to make sense of the diagram that lay before him.
“Where did ya get this?”
The skin across my cheeks stretched tight as my lips thinned into a line. “I found it.”
“I’m aware of that, private. The question is who did ya take it from?”
Kimbar’s dark eyes bored into mine, his face devoid of emotion. I had not anticipated this confrontation so soon. How am I supposed to tell him that his commanding sergeant major had defected from his post and joined forces with the Spider Queen? I wondered.
“Quigley defected,” I replied, running an unsteady hand through my hair.
“When? And how?”
“I’m not exactly sure. Fort Galilea was deserted when I got there a couple weeks ago. Quigley was hiding up on Spinner’s Ridge when I found him. He was going on and on about Moragotha, said she’d created some sort of portal that leads down to Earth and that she’d found what she’d been looking for. I never got to find out what that was, though. He turned on me, moments later, so I killed him. That map was on his person.”
He turned the parchment around, pointing to a dot at the lower left of the topographical depiction. Leaning forward, I tried to decipher what he was trying to tell me. Three isosceles triangles had been scratched onto the paper’s surface with the words Field of the Dead noted underneath. Two stick figures had been drawn beside two of the triumvirates. As I looked closer, two more words appeared upon the page.
My brow furrowed, for I did not quite understand the meaning of what I was now a witness to. “The Scholl and the Denmarden?”
Kimbar nodded. “Do ya know what all this means?”
I shook my head. “Hardly.”
He tapped a finger against the vellum and said, “If what Quigley said is true, then this is where Moragotha’s portal is located. These two figures and the triangles symbolize a union between her and these two races. This means that nothing good will come of whatever they’re plotting.”
“Can we stop it?”
“We don’t know what she’s found, though.”
Kimbar’s eyes narrowed to half slits. “I do.”
A light bulb went off inside of my head as I put the missing pieces of the puzzle together. “She’s after Ty?”
He pushed himself to his feet and began to pace back and forth throughout the length of the room. “Seems so and she won’t stop until her Royal Highness is dead.”
“Can we stop her?” I repeated as dread sank into the depths of my soul.
“It’s a possibility, but I honestly don’t know. Unless we bring Ty here, I don’t think we stand a chance in defeating the Spider Queen.”
A swift knock upon the door interrupted our conversation. I watched Kim exchange a few words with a footman, the color draining from his cheeks as he spoke. Sending the man off on another errand, he rushed back to his desk and grabbed the sword he’d discarded not too long ago.
“Aye. A throng of soldiers have been spotted east of the city. I’ve sent my father word to have portions of our battalion gathered at each city gate. I’ve also requested that each bridge be drawn. We mustn’t take any chances with what’s headed this way.”
Pushing myself to my feet, I said, “What are my orders, sir?”
Kimbar rolled his eyes at me and groaned. “I thought we were past that nonsense, soldier?”
“We’re at war, Lieutenant. I mustnae forget my place in the scheme of things.”
He snorted, tucking a dagger into one of his boots. “Very well, private. If that’s how ya want it.”
“Make haste to the eastern barracks. My father is located there. He’ll tell ya what to do next. If he balks at anything, just tell him that I sent ya. You’re dismissed.”
Giving him a quick salute, I hurried out of the foundry and ran down the adjacent hall. The entire palace was in an uproar. Servants were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, leaving their posts unattended. The footmen were doing their best to bring order to the chaos, but their requests were to no avail. Panic was settling in and people refused to listen to reason. I prayed for the best, hoping that we would be able to protect the citizens of Arrogane City. For if the enemy gained the upper hand, all hope was lost.