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Hours later, I stirred, refreshed. Yawning into the sunlight that trickled through the tiny window slits, I lay still. Finally I rose, dusting off my attire. The others were already awake, talking quietly in my absence.
"Can we risk it?" Logan was saying.
"We can't wait to be found. We'll need initiative. Any peasant will do. They haven't heard the news yet, and they'll likely recognize me," Phillip responded.
"And what're we discussing?" I asked, blinking to clear my eyes. As one they turned towards me, smiling.
Logan spoke first. "Good morning. Or afternoon rather. We were discussing our next move. There are several options. But the most dangerous one sounds the best."
"And that is . . ."
He continued. "Eva and Jacob are already in the city. Joseph Klein is also in Teimsfeld. To do anything, we'll need their support. The question is how to reconnect with them. Phillip wants to send a messenger, but my vote is to infiltrate the city ourselves. Obviously, there'd be danger."
I considered. "Of course there are problems with sending a messenger. Who can we trust now? But if we go ourselves, the city is sure to be crawling with Courtiers and oblivious soldiers as well. No one knows we're innocent, and the Riktian military will act as such. Joseph can't do anything to inform them because he's trapped too."
Phillip smiled wanly. "All valid points. How do we proceed?"
He held up a hand. "The two of you saved my life. You're foreigners and shouldn't have any loyalty to me. I think 'Phillip' can suffice. Besides, I'm not officially the king; I haven't been crowned. Strange perhaps, but you're about the most important people in the world to me right now. My life is forfeit in my own land, and I've only two Englishmen who say otherwise. I think we can dispense with formality for the moment."
I chuckled. "There are certain Riktians who will back you as well . . . Phillip." I had trouble addressing the man this way. "But I see your point. And thank you. Now here's a third plan. They know we've rescued you. They know that Logan and I are traveling together. Let's change that. Three men might be caught, but one can slip through easier. How about I go to Teimsfeld and find our friends? I'll talk with Joseph, hear his next move, reconvene with you two, and go on from there. Besides, Logan's hurt and you're too recognizable, Phillip." What I said was true. The slash along Logan's arm was still fresh, and in a country as small as Riktenburg, there was a high chance that most citizens would know the royal brothers by sight.
Logan furrowed his brow in thought. "This assumes an awful lot. Jacob's still wounded as well. It looked bad to us, and having one or two days of recovery isn't going to fix that — such wounds don't heal instantly. We have no idea where Joseph is. If Fuchs is holding him at the palace, or keeping him under watch, we'll never be able to get close enough to talk. Both of those are possible, and any mistake on our parts and we're lost. If Fuchs captures you, he will torture and rend your body until you give him our location here. On the other hand, if we send a messenger, there's at least an equal chance of detection. Anyone we send is liable to talk freely or lead Fuchs' men back to us. You know my opinion. What do you say Phillip?"
The monarch played with his hands for a moment before speaking. "Nathaniel's unhurt and trustworthy. I vote him."
"It's settled then," I said rising. Having lost my jacket back in the manor, I shrugged the suspenders from my trousers. Unfortunately, I caught one on my shoulder and struggled with it for a few moments.
"What're you doing?" said Logan trying not to laugh .
"Is there anything more conspicuous than a royal guard? If there was, it'd look like me — with only half of an unfitting uniform." I moved towards the wall, pulling down a forester's outfit. The attire was fashionably drab and suitable for the hunt. As this was a royal way-station, its make was of fine material, and the supple cloth actually fit as well as the guard's uniform; if it didn't adhere to my body like a tailored suit, I couldn't complain. Buttoning up the waistcoat, I turned to my compatriots.
"How do I look?" I asked.
They took a moment to appraise me. Logan even walked around, scrutinizing me. He stroked his chin delicately and finally nodded in approval. "For the mess you normally are, this isn't half bad," he called with a laugh.
The banter lightened my mood, and the departure that followed wasn't terrible. The plan was simple. I'd return to Luden by train and then traverse the pass to Teimsfeld, retracing our previous route. Hopefully I'd pick up a ride from a generous herdsman. Riding atop a famer's wagon would offer me some level of credibility. The others would simply wait for me in the hut. They had provisions for at least a week, and if they kept a low profile there was no reason to suspect that the Faith would find them. When I'd met with Joseph and reunited with Jacob and Eva, we'd return to the hut and plan our resistance.
Smiling at the coming journey, I wandered back through the forest towards the road. Of course I'd be avoiding the Faith's manor along the path. I felt I could skirt around it. The sun was just beginning to set as I walked along, so I'd have the cover of darkness to hide my movements once more. I was happy with my prospects and feeling confident about my success.
I avoided the village of Octen and walked through the fields parallel to the road. The journey was simple, and despite the proximity to the Faith's hideout, I felt brash. As darkness swept over the fields, I moved quicker. I was determined to reach Fielburg by dawn to catch the first train. Of course I hadn't any money yet, but I hoped the kindly ticket-master would be aboard. The more I thought of it however, the more this seemed a disadvantage than a boon. He'd likely have heard of the messenger's death on the platform in Luden, and he'd certainly connect the event with me if I revealed myself. But wandering through the tall grass along the road, I put those thoughts from my mind.
I was well rested and the miles went quickly. Only once did I need to duck down and hide. A lone rider came trotting up the road, and while I couldn't tell if he was a Courtier or not, I was determined to take no chances. The rest of the journey was uneventful, and I reached Fielburg before dawn. I again walked down the path around the hamlet's perimeter, retracing my steps from the night before.
As before, the town was ghostly silent, and the slight guttering of street lamps was the only indication that life resided within this silent place. I found a quiet bench near the train platform, and settled in to wait for morning. Despite my confidence, I was still wary; it wouldn't do to fall asleep and be taken so easily. Given my aristocratic hunting attire, I'd kept the saber; it might have looked out of place elsewhere, but as a noble, I felt I could wear it and avoid scrutiny. As I sat quietly on the bench, my finger slowly traced the revolver resting in my waistcoat pocket. I'd replenished my ammunition at the way-station, and I'd taken extra bullets besides. If things came to a fight, I'd be ready.
The sun finally rose, spreading her wispy fingers towards the horizon. The town stirred about me, and I was required to greet several passersby. While they regarded me curiously there was no suspicion in anyone's eyes. I was only another wealthy huntsman who wandered through their town. After a while the streets were filled with residents, and the few shops opened along the village's main street.
My stomach grumbled, reminding me of the needful. I stood up and wandered towards the nearest shop, a humble affair that smelled deliciously of warm bread. Stepping inside, a surprisingly thin baker called out a hello at the sound of the bell above the door. Turning, he placed his hands on the counter and leaned attentively forward. "What's your pleasure?" he asked, beaming.
I ordered two hardy loaves from the man and passed over my Italian lira. The man stared at it for a moment. "I don't think I can take this," he said at last.
"Friend, you see that it's silver, yes? I'm sorry, but I've just come from Rome and haven't any Riktian money. I need to get to the capital today by train, and the government can't accept this." He continued to look at it. "It's silver," I said again.
"I just want enough change to get me to Teimsfeld. You know that a silver piece is worth much more than two loaves and a train ticket," I pleaded.
He consented at last and passed over a pile of copper crowns. I smiled. It would've been difficult using the train without the proper currency a second time. I couldn't be too careful, because someone could be looking for me anywhere.
I exited the shop and tripped over a passing Courtier.
I fell in a heap, but he managed to stay on his feet. He pulled me from the ground, collecting his fallen bowler at the same time. Brushing the dust from the silver diamond, he held out a hand. "My sincere apologies, sir. I didn't see you there."
I ducked my head as much as possible, attempting to avoid his gaze at all costs. "It was my fault. Thank you for the assistance," I mumbled. I ducked away without another word, drifting off through the crowd. I didn't run, but I couldn't help moving quickly. The man didn't follow, so I figured I'd escaped. My nervous feet carried me along like a current, brushing past pedestrians and finally climbing the train station's stairs. I checked a timetable. The next train would be arriving within the hour, so I purchased a ticket and snatched up a newspaper from a local boy and sat heavily on the nearest bench.
Because of the small size of the village, the paper was Luden's evening edition from the night before; the morning paper wouldn't have arrived in Fielburg yet. I sat munching on my bread for a few minutes before I finally glanced at the paper. Flipping the Luden Line open, I coughed sharply to cover my surprised gasp.
On the front page were three separate drawings. The faces of Logan, Jacob, and myself peered back at me from the print. They were expertly handled and accurate to the smallest detail. They'd even captured the small scar I had along my eyebrow. I shut the paper, instinctively trying to hide the evidence.
The move was foolish. No one was looking around, and the hue and cry certainly hadn't been raised. Sheepishly, I reopened the paper and glanced at the article. Of course it came straight from the Faith. It told a woeful tale of Phillip's death in a Swiss forest and how the diligent soldiers of the king had apprehended the villains responsible for the deed. The murderers had proven elusive, however, and had even managed to escape from the palace. Along with the images, King Martin was offering a heavy reward for information leading to our capture. We were described as foreigners of the most deadly disposition who'd kill without cause. The palace warned all readers to be exceptionally careful and diligent in the next few days. With luck the devils would be reclaimed, and justice would follow swiftly.
Despite the danger I had to chuckle. My family had always described us as bumbling friends who loved the games life threw our way. To be described as 'deadly and dangerous' was a far stretch by any imagination. But this thought was tempered by a wave of guilt; had I not proven myself to be deadly in the last week? Blood was on my hands, and no amount of justification could change that.
These pensive thoughts ended as a black train puffed into the station. It came from the opposite direction of Luden, and I wondered how far into the Riktian countryside the line actually went. By this time a small clump of villagers were waiting to mount the train. They carried various bundles, but most seemed to be traveling for a day trip to the city. I smiled as the others went about their daily lives, wishing I could join in their leisure. For my part, I stood, tucking the accusing newspaper under my arm. I strode across the platform.
Just ahead, two men in black bowler hats stepped up to the train. I froze. I had bumped into one outside the bakery. The other was Eva's former lover, the scarred Kurt Weber. He was talking softly with the other man. My breath caught in my chest, but I couldn't resist. I crept near them, listening behind two giggling young women who waited for the train as well.
Kurt was sneering at the other fellow. "I don't care if they have wings to fly about the country. You will find them! They haven't gotten far, and they're likely to disappear further into the countryside. Look for the duke's favorite places. They'll avoid the royal lodges, but he'll slip up. Besides, he's being led by those idiots. One of them will make a mistake, and I want to be there in time to catch it. His Majesty will want this resolved immediately. There's no telling what'll happen if they wander the countryside indefinitely."
I almost growled. This villain was droning on about our vexing escape. His mention of the imposter king was nearly too much. I clenched my fists to avoid any idiotic move, but it was with difficulty.
The other man was wringing his hands anxiously. "Yes, Weber, but we need more time. It's been a day. We can't produce miracles, espec—"
Kurt grabbed the man's lapels, drawing him close and breathing fiercely. The laughing girls didn't seem to notice. "The miracle is how you let him escape. Your one task was holding him until we could proceed, and you let him slip through your hands like water. I didn't come here for posterity's sake. I expected things to be in order, and you idiots botched it all." Kurt let him go, glancing about.
The train stopped then, and Kurt slipped onboard and out of earshot, leaving the unfortunate Courtier in his wake. Obviously I didn't follow. I slipped down the platform and wandered onboard a lonely car. Two elderly gentlemen were discussing the weather as I slid past them, taking a seat near the back of the train. I flipped open the newspaper once more, careful to cover the front page. For a while I read aimlessly through the pages. It wasn't interesting. The only article of note came in the international news section. Things were heating up in Paris; the populace was growing more and more discontent with Louis Philippe, and the violence continued. I couldn't blame them after the poverty we'd noticed.
The irony of that chain of thought struck me. I was a highly wanted fugitive in a country now ruled by a charlatan. My supposed crime was helping an egalitarian king. The murdered king's only crime had been to respect the people's will and forgo absolutism for enlightenment.
It was a maddening world.
The train shuffled forward, and I settled into the movements as we raced towards Luden. Eventually, the old ticket-master puttered into our compartment. After collecting his dues from the car's other passengers he came for me. I breathed a silent prayer that he'd forgotten my face.
"Ah, our soldier!" he cried warmly. Damn.
I put on a small smile nonetheless. "Good morning to you too sir."
"My, the king has you traveling all up and down Riktenburg, doesn't he? In one place a day and gone the next. No wonder you all keep busy." He looked me up and down. "You've changed attires though. I like it, but not exactly the guards' regular style is it?" He spoke in a rush, a wide smiling beaming across his face.
"Well you know," I sputtered awkwardly, "We do get around. I've a ticket for you this time though. No need to charge the palace again."
He laughed. "Of course, of course. You lads just keep up the good work. Did you hear the news about the archduke, God grant him rest?" He peered at me, and it took every ounce of my composure to not leap from the train's window. Given our speed, it was probably for the best.
"I did. And those devils escaped too. They killed a few of our guards." I dropped my head feigning sadness.
"Terrible matters indeed. Riktenburg will be mourning. You'll catch them?"
"That's certainly our intent." I was growing uncomfortable with the progression of the conversation.
"Good. Now if you have the fare, I'll be on my way." He stuck out his hand, smiling pleasantly, and I was more than happy to hand over my ticket and be rid of the kindly man. Snapping it up, he turned and wandered back up the train.
I rode the rest of the trip in peace. No one bothered me, and I was more than content to sit and brood by myself. I kept taking feverish sidelong glances about the car. Someone had to be watching me, but the elderly gentlemen simply prattled on, not the least bit concerned with me. Trying to quash these worries, I peered out the window. The landscape swirled by in a rush, and I was again struck by the beauty of this country. Under different circumstances, it would be altogether plea
sant to ride this line and enjoy the Riktian countryside. I sighed. That wasn't going to happen for a while, perhaps never.
The train finally slowed, emitting great clouds of steam as we glided into the Luden station. The old men gathered their possession and exited the train. Waiting for a time, I followed. I wanted to put as much distance between Kurt and myself. Having thought about it, it was incredibly foolish to have even ridden the same train as him, let alone eavesdropped on his conversation. It seemed I had much to learn regarding cloaks and daggers. After a few minutes, I stepped lightly down the stairs and into the crowd on the platform.
No one screamed and no one was shooting. The body of the fallen messenger was removed, but a dark blotch of blood still clung to the station's edge. I tried not to look.
I walked away from the crowd, never glimpsing the scarred Courtier. I headed down the nearest alleyway and paused at the end, glancing behind. No one followed, but I continued to dodge this way and that, curving around strange streets for an hour. After this I was sure that no one had followed me, so I struck off in the general direction of the mountain path. I was aided in this by the gorgeous peaks which loomed above the city. While the range was apparently narrow, its impressive length took my breath away. It was no surprise that Riktenburg's two most powerful cities had settled on either side of its shadow.
Being around noon, the streets were relatively deserted. People were eating with their families or enjoying a respite from the summer sun. After securing a small lunch from a nearby vendor, I walked along, avoiding all contact with those that remained. Eventually I came to the edge of the city and wandered onwards. In all of this I missed the horse I'd had earlier. I only had my two feet to aid me, and the trip was taking longer than expected.
The occasional farmer or small clump of animals was trekking up the mountain pass. Through these masses, I went onwards. The thrill of the chase was absent, and I was utterly alone. Even as I climbed, the mist waited for me. It swallowed me as the path snaked upwards and the trees disappeared. Near the top of the pass, a kindly peasant asked if I wanted a ride. He was driving a small cart filled with odd bags. I didn't ask about the wagon's contents but hopped aboard. The man was pleasing to chat with, and although necessity forced me to keep my words jaded, his company provided for an enjoyable afternoon. The trip went fast too, which was an added bonus. It felt good to relax my feet, the man's nags pulling us along at a decent clip.
Towards nightfall we descended down the other side of the pass. The trees began appearing around us again. The pleasing Riktian farmlands loomed ahead, while the buildings of Teimsfeld glinted in the fading sunlight. The man apologized as we neared his farm, and I hopped off with many cries of thanks. He turned down a gravel lane, and I continued towards the city as night fell.
The darkness didn't bother me, but I was a little apprehensive about gaining access to the city. Teimsfeld didn't seem too antiquated, but it still possessed its medieval walls. If these were shut for the night, I'd be out of luck and forced to wait until morning. Of course that would bring the added difficulties of avoiding the crowds. Anyone could recognize me, and the Courtiers would be on me in an instant.
I finally reached the outskirts of the city and ducked through an open gate just as the guards were shutting down the city for the night. Despite the ride of the generous farmer, the trip had still taken all day, and I was exhausted. There was no rest for the weary though, so I slipped into the menagerie of buildings, trying to remember the route to the Kleins' home. I'd memorized the address earlier, but in the darkness, everything looked the same, and I lost my way many times. I was forced to dodge patrolling groups of soldiers, and the whole time, I was terrified of discovery.
Finally, I came upon a certain corner that I recognized. From there, I traced my way through the dark streets towards the Klein home. I'd resolved to meet with Joseph before looking for Jacob and Eva. As much trouble as I had finding an address that I knew, it would've been impossible tracking down the monastery. I came upon the home and slipped up the entry staircase to pound on the door. With each thud of the knocker, I glanced about, waiting for enemies to pounce. Finally the door opened, and I shoved my way inside.
Back to The Faith: Book I of the Uprising Trilogy book
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