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"What on earth?" snapped the rotund monk staring down at me.
"For the love of heaven, brother, shut the door," I gasped, heaving on the floor.
"Who . . . What?" His confused face might have been comedic if the door hadn't been ajar. Any second my pursuers might race forward, trapping me and presumably Eva and Jacob, within the walls of the place.
The fat cleric continued to stand there, so I drew myself from the floor and slapped the door shut despite his protests.
"Really!" he cried. "Now I must ask again. Who are you? And what're you doing within our confines?"
I started to speak, but a voice from behind called to me.
"Nathaniel!" Eva was rushing forward and drew me into an embrace. She released me quickly and turned to the other man. "It's alright. He's with us." She turned to me. "And why are you panting?" She said it with a laugh, but I held up my hand.
"I'm panting because I just sprinted miles to get here, avoiding the clutches of some duty-driven Riktian constables."
"Why didn't you lead them away and sneak back later?" Her gaze lanced through me, and I withered before it; she was like some Valkyrie — terrible and beautiful.
"To be honest, I didn't think of it."
She moved to the door, not looking at me. She slid open a small barred hatch and stared out into the street. "They wouldn't happen to have been a trio of constables, would they?" she asked over her shoulder.
"You really didn't think, did you? They're not moving this way, but it'd be death for us all if they did. Fuchs wouldn't care a jot for holy sanctuary. The Faith would kill anyone harboring us without a qualm."
"To be fair, it was all rushed."
"That's not an excuse and you know it. Thankfully for us, they're moving on."
The monk had left, and we were alone. I turned to her. "How is he? How're you?"
She sighed. "It's actually better than we might have hoped." She led me down a long hallway, nodding silently to several monks along the way. Small lamps dotted the walls, casting shadows. A pungent odor of incense wafted through the air, and a chill hung over the place. The hallway snaked after a bit, leading us along a winding path through the monastery. We turned through several arched doorways, climbed and descended stairs, and finally came to a sunlit greenhouse.
After a moment, I realized it wasn't a greenery, but it could easily be mistaken for such. One wall was composed entirely of large windows, the sunlight drifting serenely through the panes. It opened onto a small courtyard where several monks sat reading. Potted plants and flowers of various hues dotted the room, but what I'd taken for a conservatory was actually the infirmary.
Patients of various conditions dotted the room, their beds exposed to the warm light and wonderful aromas dancing about the space. Some were members of the monastery, while others were simply private citizens who'd come to seek the brothers' help. That seemed rather antiquated to me, considering the doctoral profession. We'd sought out the monastery because the situation had left us unable to trust a doctor.
I spotted Jacob in a corner. He was shirtless, and a mass of bandages covered his back. Eva glided towards him, her black tresses flowing with the movement. The man in the bed looked up and smiled warmly to see me. "Nathaniel!" he cried, sitting up. He winced at the movement.
"It seems those guards didn't shoot well enough, huh?" I joked, slapping his shoulder playfully before settling into a chair at the bedside.
"Not hardly. You saw it; the wound wasn't exactly beautiful. But it looked far worse than it was. I lost a lot of blood, but there wasn't much damage done. The shot was at a distance, and the bullet didn't penetrate too deep. Besides, it missed the most important stuff. You know what we Americans are made of. I'll be going strong in no time."
"I'm no expert on your people, but in every other culture, writers are . . . well you know."
"Don't make me hurt you." he laughed.
"If you two are done harping, can we discuss something of actual importance?" asked Eva, her voice lilting good-naturedly.
I turned to her, folding my hands properly. "But of course, good madam. The menu for this evening's gala? The opera? Perhaps the newest fashions of Teimsfeld? What other topic could possibly be more riveting than the fur over silk debate?"
"No. Actually, I wondered how you were coming along on saving the kingdom?"
"Ah, yes. The kingdom." I laughed. Pausing, I turned serious. "To make a rather incredibly long few days short, here it is." I launched into the tale. "And after sleeping like the dead, I returned to find you two and reconnect with Minister Klein. I've been to see him already, and he's given some help. Logan and Phillip are waiting for our return, and we'll proceed from there," I finished.
The others remained silent during all of this. At the closing, Jacob raised a finger. "And how are we proceeding? From what the brothers have said, the city is crawling with police and guards."
"Before I answer that, how much have you told them?" I asked.
Eva spoke first. "They know everything. I've known Abbot Baum since childhood. Do you remember him when we first arrived?"
I shook my head. "Those memories are a bit clouded."
"Anyway, he's the most trustworthy man in the entire city. He was loyal to the king, and Martin even came to him for advice sometimes. It was only natural to tell them. Abbot Baum has already sworn his brethren to silence. We're safe here as long as no one leads the police to the door." She turned a glance to me, but her tone lacked the coldness from before.
I shrugged sheepishly, and Jacob laughed before speaking. "Did you run into some problem?"
"I arrived by flinging myself through the cloister's door. Some constables weren't too pleased to see me walking around Teimsfeld."
"Back to Jacob's question," said Eva. "What're we doing next? Can Joseph help us, and have we learned about Mercedes yet?"
"As to Mercedes, Joseph knew no more than we did. Fuchs took her, but there's no telling where she is or how she's being treated." The others sighed deeply before I continued. From the tortured look in Eva's eyes, she was dreading the fate of her closest friend, and I couldn't blame her. Mercedes was at the mercy of a lunatic despot. Who knew how Eva would cope?
"But Joseph did have some help for us. The only way out of this, the only way to save Riktenburg is to capture or assassinate Fuchs as he killed Martin. No one will believe the truth. It's too ridiculous. The idea of a charlatan replacing the king is laughable, and that's Fuchs' genius. Ludicrous, but he's done it. Besides, if we show Phillip as proof of our story, Fuchs and the Faith will be on us faster than rain. No. The best plan is to attack the man when he's least guarded, kill him, and present Phillip to the people afterwards."
Jacob leaned forward. "And how does Joseph suggest that we accomplish this? Fuchs is sure to have guards with him all the time."
"That, the minister didn't say. But he did offer us the means to do it. Eva, have the Kleins ever mentioned Simon Duval?"
"Oh yes, the French swordsman? Wasn't he a companion of Joseph's? I know he's eaten dinner with their family and myself before."
"Yes, he is a swordsman, and a Riktian veteran who served with Joseph in their younger days. The minister feels he is loyal to the royal brothers and will help us. He leads a cadre of young swordsmen at a fencing school. According to Joseph, they're all adventurous young men, and usually go on to serve in the armies of Europe. They're about the closest thing in Riktenburg to soldiers not under Fuchs' command. We'll travel to them, and hide out among their numbers. Besides, it wouldn't be a bad idea to practice our swordsmanship a bit more. I know I've needed mine in the last few days," I said.
Jacob indicated his wounded back. "Nothing like a bit of sparring to aid recovery."
"Nothing like you resting for some weeks before even thinking about that," scolded Eva.
"Regardless," I jumped in, "we can lay low and wait for news. Joseph promised to ke
ep in touch. Fuchs has to slip up. He'll be making public appearances, and he can't be surrounding himself with dozens of guards all the time. He'll mess up, and we'll be there to strike him down like the serpent he is."
"Sounds reasonable. We've nothing else to go off of anyway. Like Eva said, they're looking for us, and sooner or later they'll have us. It won't do to stay in the capital much longer," said Jacob.
"Speaking of which, how soon will you be able to travel?"
"We're a step ahead of you," he said. "We figured one of you would be coming back if things went alright. If you hadn't, someone would come for us anyway and travel arrangements would be the least of our problems. So we asked the brothers to procure a carriage somehow. It seemed an imposition at first, but one of the monks stepped forward. Apparently, he's the last son of a wealthy Riktian noble. His family provided the carriage without question, and it's waiting here. We can travel whenever you say the word, and I'm well enough to bounce for a bit in the carriage. Walking might be difficult yet, but that'll come soon enough. Like I said, the wound was better than we hoped."
I nodded, looking to Eva. "Good thinking. Unfortunately the fencing school is outside of Hemline."
She pursed her lips. "And if I'm understanding you correctly, the king and Logan are by Octen, in the opposite direction."
"Exactly. We can't send a messenger. Things are too dangerous for that, so I'll have to return and bring them to Hemline. In the meantime, it's best that you two get out of the city. No sense in risking your lives and the brothers' safety any longer. Eva, you've met Simon before. Would he remember you?"
She nodded. "I imagine. It was a while ago, but I can simply remind him if he's forgotten."
"Wonderful. You two can go ahead to his school. We'll follow when we can, and things should sort themselves out from there."
Jacob laughed darkly. "'And then we'll drink until we're giddy!' You make it sound so easy. Something's bound to go amiss."
I stared at him. "Do you have some other plan to suggest?"
He grinned. "Of course not, but that doesn't stop me from harassing yours."
"Fair enough. Now, on another note, have you read the papers?"
Eva scoffed. "Why yes! We simply wandered down the streets asking for the latest edition."
"Well, if you had, you'd have noticed a rather flattering spread of drawings. They have the faces of Jacob, Logan, and myself plastered for everyone to see. Front page. They're quite accurate. Today, I had to ask directions to find this place. My helper seemed suspicious at first, and when I'd left him, he went and notified the constables. You saw the results of that. People know what we look like and are more than willing to help their king catch the devils who murdered Phillip. We need disguises."
"For starters, how about shaving your beard?" Eva said. My initial reaction was horror. I was incredibly fond of that feature, and it had only started to grow in fully in recent months. However, my nicely trimmed beard was neatly depicted in the newspapers.
"As much as that would remove all my romantic attraction," I said dramatically, "I suppose it might be necessary."
"And how about travel by night?" she continued.
"I tried that. It worked when I knew where I was going, but Teimsfeld is not the easiest city to navigate in the dark. And what about you two?"
Jacob shot a glance towards Eva. "Well as I understood it, Eva's not even a suspect. As for me, if we're lucky, no one will glimpse me in the carriage anyway. Once we're with Simon, it shouldn't be an issue until later. The next time the Courtiers see us will be the assassination. If we fail, we'll have bigger problems to worry about."
Eva raised a hand. "Not to discredit that, because you have a good point, but who says I'm not a suspect? Oskar, the Courtier I knocked out in the palace, may well have recognized my voice. The fact that they didn't place my face in the paper isn't proof of anything. It was dark enough near the cells that they probably just didn't get a good enough description of me."
"True," I answered. "And that certainly makes you less recognizable to the general public, so we'll take any advantage we can get. But this is all moot until we actually move again. No one should find us in the meantime."
They both nodded. I stood.
"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to find some food, a razor, and a bed in that order." Their pattering laughter followed me from the room.
Back to The Faith: Book I of the Uprising Trilogy book
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