Happy Friday, my friends! Today's chapter is short...so i'll be posting a bonus chapter later this weekend (probably tomorrow). Yipee!
Eagle stalked Lady Claire and her entourage as they enjoyed the market, keeping a safe distance to remain in the shadows. She and her ladies strolled from stall to stall, perusing goods, giggling and chatting in a happy manner. The guards that trailed behind the entourage left him frowning. The damned guards were far too restless. Each time Eagle got a good look at them, he noticed their darting eyes. Worse still, the king's Shield was the most vigilant of them all.
Side-stepping a puddle, he pulled his wide brimmed hat lower over his eyes. He should have realized early on the difficulty of his job. Kidnapping a royal? It would not be easy. The fellow who hired him warned him of such. This lady was well protected indeed. He certainly would not capture her today. But he could still use this excursion to his benefit and learn as much about her as possible.
He was certain now that this young lady was far more important than his contractor let on. It should not have surprised him. No wonder his contractor gave so little information away. Had the man been entirely truthful, Eagle's refusal would have been adamant. But he was here now. He wouldn't waste the opportunity.
After his meeting with the strange contractor, it took him nearly two weeks on horseback to reach the capital. He traveled alone, leaving his associates behind. He would make new connections here in Kastali Dun. His pockets had gold dragons enough for that, thanks to the handsome deposit he received.
Upon his arrival the day prior, it took no time whatsoever to determine information about Claire's identity. The city was bursting with gossip about this outsider—how she had come from a land beyond the Gate, the strange powers she possessed, and the titles the king bestowed upon her making her royal, a position that came with blood or marriage. There was no shortcoming of information. She had gone from the cells beneath the keep, to servant, to royal...
It was fortunate for him that he already had some idea of his applicant pool—he would need men willing to do what others might consider unthinkable. He spent the night prior moving from tavern to tavern, frequenting the alehouses and brothels in search of prospective accomplices. Oftentimes he worked alone, but not this time. He would need a place to hide out and somewhere to store the woman after he had captured her, just in case leaving immediately wasn't an option. If all went well, he would take her and be gone, slipping out of the gates with the large crowds that often moved into and out of the city...
As he walked on through the market, his gaze never left Lady Claire. When she and her ladies stopped nearby, he swooped into a neighboring stall and pretended to sniff various fruits. At that very moment, something funny must have been said because the women with Claire burst into a fresh wave of giggles. A moment later they moved on, stopping at a booth selling meat pies. Each of them purchased one before continuing, eating whilst they walked. He thanked the merchant who eyed him suspiciously, paid for the apple he held, and resumed his pursuit, keeping a safe distance.
When Claire's party entered a particularly large merchant's tent, he decided to follow them in, noting that two of the four mailed guards remained outside to watch. This vendor sold various writing supplies. His tent was stocked with quills, ink pots, books, stacks of parchment, and the like. Feigning interested in the quills to his left, Eagle watched his prey from the corner of his eye.
"It's going to be such a joyous occasion, Saffra." Claire's voice drifted in his direction. She stood near a display of parchment piled in the corner of the merchant tent. He could hear the merriment and excitement in her tone. "I can't wait to help plan for your wedding and design your wedding dress. Tell us again how Commander Daxton proposed?"
The women continued their natter, oblivious to his presence—unaware of his watchful eyes. All the better for him. However, the Drengr in their presence did notice him. He felt the Shield's gaze more than once.
"Can I help you sir?" A voice sounded behind him.
He turned to find himself face to face with the merchant. "Greetings, kind sir," he said, giving the man a quick bow of his head. "I was wondering the price of these quills and perhaps an ink pot to go along with them. I have several letters to write."
At that moment, Lady Claire made her way over to where he stood and began shopping for quills. "Pardon me," said she, reaching around him for a dark brown, feathered plume. Her arm brushed his, but only barely, as the fabric of her gown rubbed against that of his tunic. She paid him little mind otherwise as she removed a quill from its holder, studying it. He clenched his jaw and looked away from her. So close but yet, so far...
"The quills here are five steelys each, mister," replied the merchant, gazing expectantly at him. The merchant then pointed at the upper row of writing devices. "Those on the top are of higher quality, they are two silvers each. Depending on the ink pot that interests you, some are two for a silver and range up to five silvers for the larger sizes."
"Why are these so much more expensive, if I may ask?" Lady Claire interrupted the merchant, pointing to the larger quills. The merchant looked at her and smiled wide.
"My dear lady," the man said, removing one of the more expensive products from its holder and rotating it between his index finger and thumb. "These are made from larger feathers, particularly swans' feathers. And they have nib attachments which are pure silver."
What a farce! Who needed a silver nib on a quill?
"Of course," she replied making a grab for one of the nicer quills. This time he stepped out of her way, moving to the side to get a better look at her. Up close she only reached his shoulder in height. Her hair was golden as the sun, cascading down her back. The gown she wore must have cost a steep price. It was all frills and fabric.
The merchant watched her for several moments before turning back to him. Quickly, he removed one of the cheap, black-feathered options, and asked for an ink pot as well. Paying for both, he retreated from the tent. Spending too much time in the lady's company was dangerous. If he was suspected, his mission would be at an end.
Placing his wares into his side sack, he made his way to the booth across the lane. This one served ale. Just so, stalking was thirsty work. He ordered a tankard and sat to watch the folks going about their business.
It was some time before Lady Claire and her entourage emerged from the tent. The ladies in attendance were all smiles, chatting enthusiastically and throwing their heads back in laughter. Claire looked happy. He wondered why his contractor was so interested in kidnapping her. A secret love interest perhaps? There was no denying her beauty. She had charm and a lovely smile to go along with it. Given her rise to fame, it seemed a likely scenario.
He turned his thoughts elsewhere. Like every job he did, it was not his business to mettle. He'd killed many a person without a second thought. Asking questions was dangerous business—it could get one into trouble. A man needed to make a living, so he completed his missions without hesitation, as long as there was gold enough to pay him, and this time there most certainly was.
His scrutiny followed his prey until Claire rounded a bend and continued out of sight. He could do nothing today, not with the heavy protection surrounding her. If it came to it, sneaking into the keep might be his only option. For now, he would bide his time...
⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️ Thank you for reading. Please consider voting if you enjoyed this chapter. I have posted a short discussion below. ⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️
DISCUSSION: We finally see a glimpse of the man hired to kidnap Claire . Now that he's made it to Kastali Dun, we know for certain that Claire is being watched. King Talon's vigilance was prudent.
Q1: What do you make of Eagle? Do you think he is a redeemable character? Is there a possibility that as he gets further into his mission he might change his mind and leave Claire be?
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