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  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
    VVesley
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  • 4,419 Words
  • 368 Views
  • 6 Comments

The Truce - 12. Chapter 12

Thank you for reading!

Jezebel Di Coteau threw the bottle of wine that sat on her desk onto the floor, making it shatter into thousands of shards that littered the floor of her office. The red liquid inside formed a puddle that slowly crawled to expand its circumference as it seeped into the stone beneath. She sat with her elbows on her desk and hands on her temples, and groaned in frustration. After a few moments in which everyone was too tense to say anything or move, Jezebel addressed the nearest guard.

“What are you waiting for? Clean that up now.” The guard hastened to carry out her command, clearly nervous at how the young general might react. “And you,” she said to another, “get me a report on the latest numbers from the forge.” The man hurried to complete her second command, and Jezebel made another angry noise. “The rest of you, get the fuck out!” Her office cleared in under a minute, and Jezebel sat back in her chair when the door shut behind the last person to exit.

“Unbelievably useless,” she said aloud to no one in particular. “I suppose if I want something done right…” Jezebel looked through the rest of her mail, but nothing had been so consequential as the last letter that she had received. It was from Marion Monciet, who had informed her that Alexandre still lived. The tone was not friendly, and the contents implied that Jezebel’s contingency plan had been discovered.

She should be honored – no, GRATEFUL that I cared enough to actually commit to our plan. Just because you don’t have a spine doesn’t mean that everyone else doesn’t, Marion. Jezebel thought over how the Monciet princess had Alexandre under her thumb, but let him go in exchange for her lands.

Selfish bitch… she put her own acquisitions over the needs of the rest of us. She could have just killed Alex and taken back her lands by force! Saints help me…

Jezebel thought of the package that she had sent, which should have ensured her cousin’s death in the event that Marion failed to follow through. She completely failed. And now she thinks it’s alright to steal from me? That amount of powder took weeks to produce… and it’s a lot harder to create now. Jezebel frowned at the thought of Mikhail’s death, recognizing that it was more difficult to manage the mines and forges than she had thought. His leadership going away caused a slowdown in production, and that very much annoyed Jezebel.

Incompetent… everyone around me is completely useless. The people on this side of the rebellion can’t even execute a simple assassination. Jezebel knew that she had made the right decision switching sides, and was looking forward to a time when she could openly follow decent leadership.

Yago, she thought. Finally a leader with a firm grip on reality. Someone who isn’t weak, who can lead us into a new era of prosperity for Nabius. Jezebel had been in close correspondence with General Clarion for a while now, and was read in to his most recent tactical plan.

Alexandre is going to get crushed. Her cousin was already struggling, and Jezebel knew that what came next would be nearly insurmountable for him. She thought of the strike that Yago had been orchestrating, when suddenly a thought occurred to her.

A Di Coteau classic… I am a Di Coteau after all. Jezebel thought of one of the most daring strategies that a Nabian could attempt, and decided that she would simply go for it. Talia failed at the wallfort… this will give me a chance to show my superiority. And since I know exactly when Hadeaux will be arriving… I’ll be able to pull it off. Jezebel thought of Alexandre’s territory in the north, and looked forward to removing any traces of his existence.

I hope that Luca the whore will be there when I arrive. Jezebel thought of the three attempts that she had made on his life already, all of which had failed. He survived my torture and General Darion’s shaming, Meredith’s knife, and now the bomb in Ironia. She thought of the pleasure that she would take in watching him finally fall, and the score that would finally be settled. That boy has been a thorn in my side ever since he arrived. An urchin like that has no right to even be in my presence.

And Yago… he will welcome me with open arms if I capture the Di Coteau estate without sacrificing the men that it would normally take. She took quill to parchment, and began to prepare for her departure. Let’s see… I need passage north, which should be easy. I’ll need to leave soon to arrive before our forces do, but I have no business to wrap up here.

There are many sisters between here and Alex’s place, and they should be able to get me covert passage. We’ll need to keep the forge running, but who’s left is going to have to figure that out themselves. And as far as I go… I know exactly what I need to do.

This time, they won’t know that I’m coming. It should be easy.

***

Carl, Alex, and the small team that had been traveling with them arrived in Laura Nandra’s port town shortly after noon. Carl was sure that his presence hadn’t gone unnoticed by some of the Tomacians that were stationed in Nandra’s territory, but he supposed that there were always going to rumors about where the leaders of the revolution were at all times anyway. He and Alexandre entered her massive home side by side, walking in silence.

Carl looked around, not remembering entering the estate the last time he had been there. Then, we had been prisoners. Laura and Almanita captured us and could have ended this all before it began… thank the gods that they didn’t. Now, Carl couldn’t help but feel a sense of obligation towards the older general, who had been injured shortly prior to his visit. She helped us to forge an alliance between our nations… and Tomacia has repaid her by stabbing her in the back.

“This way please,” said one of the guards at the entrance. She led the Prince and General towards the east wing of the estate, which Carl was glad to see he recognized. This was near where he and Alex had met with Laura for the first time, and was near the rooms that they had stayed in. When they finally arrived at an ornate wooden door with intricate iron inlays, the guard knocked and made an announcement. “General Di Coteau and Prince Cathcart have arrived.” A few moments later, the door swung open to reveal a smiling Almanita.

“Boys,” she said excitedly with her thick accent. “It is so good to see you.” Carl thought that Almanita looked beautiful, and took in the sight of her. She was wearing brightly-colored silks as always, and elaborate jewelry the likes of which Carl had never seen. A piercing on her nose anchored a thin golden chain that looped gracefully up to her ear, and small flecks of precious stones dangled off of it. Her long black hair fell down her back, and a dignified stripe of gray grew out of one temple and carried all the way down her ponytail.

“Almanita,” said Alex with a reverent nod. “It’s a pleasure to see you too.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” echoed Carl. The three embraced each other by clasping hands just below the elbows, so that their forearms pressed against one another’s. Almanita’s many bangles made soft clinking noises against Carl’s light plate, but were silent against Alexandre’s black leather armor.

“Please, come in,” she said while stepping to the side. Carl stepped through the threshold, and observed the room before him. It was massive, and decorated with many colorful rugs and pieces of art. One side contained a few couches, a dining table, and bookshelves that reached to the ceiling, and the other was mainly for living. There was a huge four post bed in the corner, and Carl saw Laura Nandra there sleeping. Alex had noticed her too, and Carl was sure that the bandages that wrapped her entire torso weren’t lost on his partner.

“How is she doing?” asked Alex quietly. Seeing the general in a vulnerable state was shocking, as she had always been a shining example of Nabian strength. One of the generals that had held the front line against Tomacia for years, Carl had heard stories about her growing up. It was rumored that the iron gauntlets she used were so heavy that she could cave in breastplate with one blow, and her might had been used to inspire fear in Tomacian children when they were told tales about Nabius.

Carl had known that in actuality, most of the fighting between Nabius and Tomacia was not done in Laura’s territory. In talking with Alex later, the two had concluded that she never really had intended to do much fighting. In Nabius, she played it off as a major intimidation factor that caused Tomacia to back off from too many engagements with her. In Tomacia, she was known only to attack when she was attacked first. Most skirmishes with her troops had been over supply ships that travelled up and down the Pike, just like the one that had landed her in her bed now.

It is so wrong that this was done to you.

“She’s okay,” replied Almanita. “She still fights fever, but I am watching over her every second of the day. She should make a full recovery, though she will not be able to return to battle for some time. Ever, if I have my way.”

“Damn right I’ll recover,” said Laura’s gruff, low voice. “Stop talking about me like I’m an absolute pussy, woman.” Carl had to suppress a smile at Laura’s commentary, and he could tell that Alex was doing the same.

“And she’s awake,” said Almanita dryly.

“I’ll be well enough to return to battle in a few weeks,” said Laura. This completely disregarded Almanita’s earlier statement, and reminded Carl of Alexandre’s stubborn mannerisms.

Nabians.

“I’m glad to see you’ve still got your fighting spirit General Nandra,” said Alex. Laura grunted at that, and sat up in bed.

“Watch your tone with me boy, or I’ll show you what fighting spirit means.” Alex raised his hands as if to apologize.

“Hey now, no need to come for me.” The pair smiled at each other through the eyes, despite having respectably neutral facial expressions.

“Come over here,” Laura barked. Almanita, Alex, and Carl made to do as she commanded, and gathered around her bed. “How long will you be staying with us?”

“Well,” said Carl, “we’d like to carry out a thorough investigation of what happened. We also figured you could use some help around here, and we’d like to go through the encampments to the west once we head back. We were hoping that we’d get to see the front line in your territory in person, so long as you both are okay with hosting us?”

“You are more than welcome,” said Almanita. “I believe you know where your room is? You’ll be in the same one as last time.” Both Carl and Alex nodded.

“Investigate all you want,” said Laura. “You’re not going to find anything.”

“What makes you think that?” questioned Carl. “I’m the prince of Tomacia – the people who attacked were Tomacians were they not?”

“They were, but they’re not going to say anything more to you than they did to us.”

“What makes you think that?”

“They’re trained like Nabians not to talk. The band of soldiers that attacked fought like Nabians too – there’s likely been some cooperation going on that you weren’t aware of.” Carl frowned.

That’s strange.

“Besides,” chimed in Almanita, “If they wouldn’t talk under my… persuasion techniques… they’re not going to.” Carl knew what she meant by that. Almanita was kind and open-minded where it counted, but Carl knew that she was just as vicious as any native Nabian could be. He imagined that her torture would be quite creative, especially when her wife’s safety was involved.

She is married to a general of Nabius. You don’t get to have that position by being cute and cuddly. Carl thought about himself, and his own marriage to a general. Maybe I’m not so good a person as I’d like to think. But no, Alex… Alex is different.

“I see,” was all that he said. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Can you give us your account of things, General?” asked Alex. Laura rolled her eyes as if annoyed to comply with his question, but gave an answer anyway.

“Basically we were caught by surprise. A group of men ambushed us on a routine shipment inspection. They took down the sailors on several small ships that were docked in town, and burnt them. I happened to be there, and a group of soldiers and I intervened. I hadn’t noticed that some of the Tomacians that weren’t with the original attackers closed rank behind us, and launched another attack. We were encircled, and it was a bloodbath to get out.”

“I’m so sorry, General Nandra,” said Carl. “I can’t believe that – “

“Save your apologies, Prince,” snapped Laura. “It’s not like it was your fault.”

“Yes, but they’re Tomacians. I – “

“You can’t take responsibility for the actions of everyone. Gods know leaders who try to end up shitting the bed too early. If you tried to remedy the messes every idiot in this world made you’d spend your whole life accomplishing nothing.” Carl was stunned at her matter of fact assessment, but was also relieved that she didn’t appear to hold a grudge against him.

“I… suppose not,” he said after a few moments consideration. “We’ll still launch an investigation on the Tomacian side.”

“Investigate all you want, we know who was behind it.”

“You do?”

“Of course. It was the order – I believe you two are at least generally familiar with the Hallowed Order, yes?” Carl nodded.

“My parents had me read about it, but I didn’t know that it still existed until recently.”

“Yeah well, Nita and I recognized a few of the soldiers that launched the assault from meetings.”

“You’re in the order?” asked Alex.

“Of course,” replied Almanita.

“I have a few questions for you then. Firstly - ”

“I will address your questions at another time,” said Almanita sternly. Alex frowned, but accepted this.

“Why would the order attack you?” asked Carl.

“I don’t know,” said Laura with a shake of her head. She grabbed a fistful of her short gray hair that hung in messy strands about her face and pushed it back out of her eyes. “It’s pretty fucking disappointing though.”

“Was there something of value on those ships?” Laura made eye contact with Almanita, and shook her head again.

“That’s what we can’t figure out. Of all the ships to pass through here, those were some of the least valuable ones. They didn’t contain anything but food – some produce, some meat, and some ale. We can’t think of a reason why anyone in the order would attack those. If they wanted to go after food reserves, there’s a lot more effective ways to do that. If they were trying to damage us financially, these weren’t the right shipments to target. Overall… it feels pretty random.”

“Hold on. Why would the order attack you anyway? From what I know… it seems to make very little sense to align with our enemies.”

“We don’t know the answer to that either,” said Almanita. “The order should be apolitical. We know of your alliance with Jared Coyne and Marion Monciet as well – it does not make sense for the order to directly assault the alliances that you have worked so hard to set up.”

Stranger and stranger.

“So… is there anything special about these food products? Were they really nice?”

“Nope. Pretty standard.”

“Where did they come from?” interjected Alex.

“Somewhere in the south,” replied Laura dismissively. “I can assure you that we’ve looked into every lead. There doesn’t seem to be an explanation.” Alex sighed, and Carl felt the same sense of defeat that he was expressing.

“Alright then,” he said. “We’ll let you get some rest, General Nandra.”

“Like I need rest!” shouted the older woman.

“Thank you,” said Almanita gracefully. “We’re very happy you’re here. Should you turn anything up during your stay, please let us know right away.”

“We will,” said Alex, and Carl nodded his agreement.

“Excellent. In that case, you can join us for dinner at sunset.”

“That sounds great.”

***

Eamon walked down the long stone hall of the Di Coteau estate that led towards the office of the General. When he reached the doors and pushed them open, he simply leaned in the door frame expectantly.

“Is it time?” asked Luca from the other side of the room. Eamon just nodded, and listened to the sounds of the chair slide out from underneath the desk. Luca’s footsteps made soft noises that told Eamon when he was near, and Eamon reached out to grab Luca’s hand. He placed his fingers in between Luca’s, and the pair began to walk hand in hand back the way that Eamon had just come from.

“Let’s hope she has something to say,” said Luca.

“I’m certain that she will.”

Luca had recently been sent a letter from Marion Monciet, that contained a warning that Jezebel had intended to kill the party that had recently met at the Monciet castle. While this was no surprise to anyone save Marion, the danger level associated with Jezebel went up considerably at this revelation. It had been a while since Jezebel had made any move that greatly betrayed her family or political alliances, but this signified that she was trying again.

A new generalship didn’t occupy her for too long. Eamon thought about Mikhail and some of the other soldiers that he had known that had been sent to help Jezebel set things up, and felt bad for them. I hope that they’re all doing alright. There’s no guarantee with that one.

As the pair walked in silence, Eamon reflected on his next interview. As captain, he had taken to interviewing the entire house staff and each soldier that was currently stationed under him. After learning from Marion that there were people that were close to him who were working for Jezebel, Eamon wanted to take no chances. There were some people that he knew would certainly never intentionally harm the Di Coteau household, like Alfie the cook. He was implicitly trusted, and had always been a steady rock to rely upon.

But there are so many of them that I don’t know. In the individual interviews that Eamon had been conducting, he had found out a lot more about some of the staff than he had bargained for. Secrets like who was sleeping with who and skeletons from the pasts of the staff had been unearthed, but that wasn’t really what Eamon was looking for. He had been searching for connections to Jezebel, and had finally found one. A serving girl by the name of Elizabeth was still working in the Di Coteau estate, and she had ties to both Jezebel and Meredith.

Meredith… who I failed to protect you from Luca. He gave the shorter teen’s hand a squeeze, and felt Luca lean his head up against his shoulder while they walked. It won’t happen again. When they finally reached their destination, Luca and Eamon broke apart and entered through the wooden doors to a rather plain guest bedroom. It had been set up with a table and some chairs, so that Eamon could talk with it’s inhabitants and uncover their secrets.

“Elizabeth,” Eamon said in a cheery voice. “Thank you for meeting with me today.”

“It is my pleasure, Captain,” said the girl. In all the time that Eamon had known her, he always thought that she seemed nice. Now that he was suspicious of his motives, he was questioning every interaction that he had with her. “Master Luca,” she said politely.

“Hey Elizabeth,” said Luca cheerfully back. “You look very pretty today.”

“Thank you!” Eamon could tell that she was genuinely pleased, and seemed to be flattered by the compliment.

“Of course.”

“Listen, Elizabeth,” began Eamon, “I don’t mean to pull you away from your duties. Sorry for the inconvenience of having to meet in the middle of the day.”

“I don’t mind at all, Captain. I’ve got plenty of time to get everything done. Besides, I’ve been expecting your summons.”

“You have?”

“Of course. You’re combing through the entire estate, are you not?”

“I am indeed. You’re right. I don’t expect this will take long.”

“Great. What can I help you with?”

“I’ll be straight to the point – we know that you know Jezebel Di Coteau.” Eamon listened intently, and heard Elizabeth’s heart beat a little more quickly for just a few seconds before it returned to normally.

So she does.

“I do. General Di Coteau has visited us in the past, and I’ve worked for her several times.”

“But you know her from before her visits too. You’ve known each other for a long time.”

“Yes… that is true.”

At least she’s not lying.

“Would you mind providing some background on that?”

“Certainly. We really just trained together for a while is all. We are not close.”

“At an academy?” asked Luca. “I wasn’t aware that you had attended one.”

“Yes, I did. Only for a few years. I didn’t pass a few prerequisite tasks to continue moving up.” Eamon understood that, having passed some of the same tests that she was likely referring to. Most did not pass, but most of those tests were also dangerous. The most surprising thing about that statement was that she had failed, but also survived.

“I see,” continued Luca. “And you were at the academy with Jezebel?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said.

I can tell she’s lying. Eamon heard the falsehood through her heartbeat and breathing, and nudged Luca under the table.

“Interesting. Are you sure it wasn’t somewhere else?” Elizabeth’s face faltered at that, and Luca nudged Eamon back so that he knew they had struck a nerve.

“I’m sorry?”

“Well, somewhere else. Anywhere else I suppose.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“The master of the house is asking how you really know Jezebel, Elizabeth,” spoke up Eamon. “And now I as the captain of this territory’s guard am asking you.”

“How… I don’t – “

“Elizabeth,” said Luca kindly. “We know everything.” This was what they had prepared for as they circled in on the last member of the staff to be interviewed, and Eamon hoped that it worked. He needed to be keyed into the network of intelligence that operated here so that he could protect Luca.

“What do you mean?”

“We talked with Marion,” Eamon said. “When we went to meet with her. She’s filled us in on it all.”

I hope this bluff works.

“We were instructed to inform the rest of your… group that Jezebel Di Coteau has gone rogue. She is not to be trusted,” said Luca.

It has to have been Jezebel that told Marion about the allergy. There’s no way it was anyone else. So Jezebel knows Marion, and Jezebel knew Meredith. If Elizabeth knew Meredith…

“I… what do you mean?”

“She’s a traitorous bitch,” Eamon replied. Elizabeth smiled a little at that, and gave a small laugh out of her mouth. Eamon hoped that this was a good sign.

“Jezebel has always been… difficult to work with. Even as a sister.”

“We trust you to disseminate this information to the rest of your sisters.” Luca had replied, and Eamon noticed that he adopted the use of the word ‘sister’ immediately.

I guess if they refer to each other in those terms, it’s smart to use their language. This makes it seem like we really have been read in. Eamon felt a surge of admiration for Luca deep in his chest. He thinks so quickly.

“Does Almanita know? Is this on her orders?” Elizabeth asked the pair.

“We’re not sure,” admitted Luca. Eamon remembered a lesson from the Mullansburg academy from when he was very young.

The best way to tell a lie is to fill it with truth. He’s convincing.

“We’re only acting on a warning from Marion.”

“I see. In that case, I’ll choose to align with Marion over Jezebel.”

“That’s very wise,” said Eamon. “We would hate for any more incidents to occur.”

“The issue with Meredith was… awful. She was only following instructions, but it was wrong of the sisterhood to take part in hurting you.” Eamon assumed that she was looking at Luca. “For the record, many of the girls were opposed to the order.”

“Thank you,” said Luca. “That’s good to know.”

“Of course.”

“Elizabeth?” asked Eamon.

“Yes?”

“Does Jezebel have any more orders out amongst your group that are still standing?”

“Well, yes. Nothing important, I would think. She has put out word that she wants assistance with covertly moving north. The higher ranking girls among us always notify the rest when they travel – it helps to keep them safe.”

“I see. North as in this way?”

“I think so.”

“Thank you for letting us know. This concludes our interview. Please inform me of any other movements that you catch wind of.”

“It is not my place to betray the secrets of my sisters, Captain. Not even to you.” Eamon frowned deeply, and rested a hand on his side. A knife was holstered there, and he let his fingers run along its hilt. “But I will do my best, of course,” added Elizabeth hastily.

“That’s all that I ask.” When Elizabeth left the room and shut the door, Eamon turned his head in the direction of Luca.

“Well,” the younger man said, “she’s definitely doing something.”

“I agree. If she doesn’t announce her visit this way to us soon, we should heighten security.”

“She could just be visiting her father, or uncle.”

“Doubt it.”

“Yeah,” said Luca with a sigh, “me too.”

“How should we prepare?”

“I need to go write a letter. Walk with me to the aviary?”

“Of course. I would be happy to.”

Copyright © 2018 VVesley; All Rights Reserved.
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For once Luca and Eamon have a little heads up on one of Jezebel's plots. I hope Luca proves to be the superb adversary I believe he is.

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14 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

For once Luca and Eamon have a little heads up on one of Jezebel's plots. I hope Luca proves to be the superb adversary I believe he is.

For once indeed! Thank you for reading and for the review :)

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With any luck word will pass through the sisterhood about Jezebels' treachery and they will be able to better track her movements. Once they guess her destination they can prepare a little surprise for her. At the same time their heightened alertness will hopefully better prepare them for Hadeauxs arrival.

Still curious who ordered the tomacian raid and what their objective was. I'm hoping it wasn't a trap to lure Alex and Carl or perhaps even distract them while a major offensive is launched elsewhere. Thanks for the new chapter, without any clear answers we are perched eagerly on the edge of our seats.

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5 hours ago, Goodie said:

With any luck word will pass through the sisterhood about Jezebels' treachery and they will be able to better track her movements. Once they guess her destination they can prepare a little surprise for her. At the same time their heightened alertness will hopefully better prepare them for Hadeauxs arrival.

Still curious who ordered the tomacian raid and what their objective was. I'm hoping it wasn't a trap to lure Alex and Carl or perhaps even distract them while a major offensive is launched elsewhere. Thanks for the new chapter, without any clear answers we are perched eagerly on the edge of our seats.

Glad to hear that the suspense is working!  

Thank you for reading and leaving a comment!

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Can't help but hope Luca or Eamon kill her... She is a general after all, and wouldn't it just be grand to have wonderful little Luca become one 😉

Thanks for sharing your amazing talents with us, as always. You spin a wonderful tale 💙

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14 hours ago, bundu_st said:

Can't help but hope Luca or Eamon kill her... She is a general after all, and wouldn't it just be grand to have wonderful little Luca become one 😉

Thanks for sharing your amazing talents with us, as always. You spin a wonderful tale 💙

Aww, thank you so much! Such kind words. Thank you for reading and leaving a comment!

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