Alec was up early the next day. It was going to be a tedious one of meetings and questions and he needed the focus and discipline of drill to settle his mind.
Arriving at the practice field, he moved into the warm-up routine he’d been drilled in from childhood. He then moved through sword, daggers, spear, quarter-staff and hand-to-hand routines. Nathan was the only member of the castle guard who could match him and he was absent, so he drilled through the forms solo, used to ignoring the audience his fluency often generated.
As he finished a completion and cool-down sequence, he became aware of the members of this morning’s audience. A small one, just one lady and two guards.
“You must be good at dancing Captain.”
“To be good at dancing, Your Ladyship, you need to know the steps. These are the only ones I know.”
Mellisande humphed, but appeared satisfied with his answer.
“Are you enjoying some fresh air before breakfast or does a specific errand bring you out here so early?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
Looking more closely, Alec saw the small signs of tiredness and agitation. He also saw she was wearing the locket he had last seen in the pile of gifts on her table the previous night.
She noticed the direction of his glance and touched it briefly, “Who sends someone an empty locket? Shouldn’t it have a miniature of him, or a lock of hair?”
“I cannot presume to know another person’s mind Your Ladyship.”
She shifted, “I need to go to my godmother. I should have been there months ago.”
Alec looked at her curiously, “I’m sure that’s sensible Your Ladyship but shouldn’t you be having this conversation with your father and the Commander rather than me?”
“You spoke last night of looking into a school. I require you to accompany to my godmother’s home before you do so. I also wish to visit the healer before I go and she may not admit anyone other than your squad.”
“My squad also need to resume a fuller investigation of the caverns. You’re stretching us rather thin Your Ladyship.”
Her chin came up, “I’m sure you’ll cope Captain.”
He looked at her consideringly, she returned the stare with a level one of her own, then blinked at the sudden quick flash of his grin.
“As you say Your Ladyship. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get cleaned up before the Commander discusses your wishes with me.”
She inclined her head regally and moved toward the main body of the castle, guards trailing but alert. No one wanted to follow the fate of the two who had lost Her Ladyship in the forest.
Some time later, clean and fed, Alec knocked on the door of the Commander’s office, entering in response to the barked command.
“I hear you’ve agreed to deliver Her Ladyship to her godmother.”
“I stood and listened when she told me I would sir, the decision isn’t mine to make.”
“No, it’s hers and while I’m less than happy with her going to you first, I do agree with the assignment. She is marginally less stubborn when your squad is assigned to her.”
The Commander waved him to a chair and looked across at him, “You’re likely to be leaving soon anyway I think.”
“Probably sir, I’ve been assigned to you for a while and I believe the incidents of last night, and some others, warrant reporting and investigation.”
“Will you be taking all your men as well?”
“No sir, most of them are local lads as you well know, you assigned them to me on arrival, they belong here. Jase is a stray I picked up on the way to Wolfgrove and now sees this as home. The only ones you’ll be looking to replace are myself and Nathan.”
“How do you want to play it then?”
Alec frowned in thought for a few minutes, then looked up.
“I’ll give you my suggestions sir, they may not work with the other guard squads and the running of the keep, so I can adjust as you see fit.”
“There are three tasks my squad are effectively assigned to, through my actions. The first is to better explore the caverns and assess their safety. The second is to investigate Master Bartholemew’s claims and actions. The third is to deliver Her Ladyship safely to Lady Almeria, preferably without adventure.”
The Commander nodded, although the last comment did draw a smile.
“The caverns are best checked by a local team, they would have been sneaking in there as children, so will already have an idea of their layout and some hazards. That can either go to the main body of my squad, or one of the others.”
“Yours I think, it’ll give them something to do and help ease in their new commanding officers. Any suggestions on who?”
Alec laughed and named the guard from the night before, “I’ve been training him up for command and he makes good use of unexpected additions like Jase. He has a way of finding talents and strengths the men themselves don’t know they have. His preference for Jase as a scout will help keep the lad grounded here too.”
The Commander made a note and Alec continued.
“The latter two are more of a problem. The investigation is important, but so is getting Her Ladyship safely on her way to her husband. And she’s going to dig her heels in if she doesn’t get her way.”
“I think my squad might enjoy one final trip together, then return under new command to take up cave exploration. I can continue on to King’s Circle to make an interim report, then go and see if this school is as strange as my intuition tells me, if His Majesty so decrees. His Command may decide to assign it to another once I provide the information and I’ll move on to whatever else he has in mind for me.”
“I will need to talk with the steward before I leave though, it’s his information I need to get to the King’s investigators.”
“Indeed, and why is Her Ladyship so determined to spend time with the healer before she goes?”
“I’m no mind reader sir, I’m afraid I couldn’t say.”