After a few more minutes making my way along the top of the wall, I reached the door that lead into the keep tower and ducked inside. The room where I’d lain unconscious after the attack of the griffon had been reorganized shortly after I’d woken up, the beds pushed closer together to make room for cots, the medical supplies packed away and the large table at the center removed in favor of more cots and bedrolls.
That week, Sir Hagan had told each of the knights to assign a few beds each as they saw fit, and then he’d put the rest up on a rotation, saying to me and Bat that he was “trying to strike a balance between granting privileges for merit and making sure nobody freezes to death”. In practice, each of us ended up sleeping in the makeshift bunk room one or two nights a week, with a few exceptions. The knights themselves tended to stick to their own tents out in the courtyard, Sir Hagan’s things had been set up in the top floor of the tower just above, and Sir Tolan seemed to have decided to ignore the tower entirely, setting himself and the dozen or so under his command up just outside the eastern gate of the keep, their tents set up right next to the wall to keep out of the wind.
The other exception was for those who were on night watch each week; Sir Hagan had said it was a fair reward that those who sat in the cold all night be allowed to sleep in the warm during the day. They only filled about half the beds, and when I stepped inside only five or six were still totally asleep, the rest talking in low voices or sitting with mugs of hot cider or stew.
One of the older veterans from one of the knights’ units was sitting by the hearth, poking at the coals with a stick. One of Sir Erian’s men, maybe. He looked up as I entered, gave me a brief nod and returned his gaze to the fire.
“Know if Sir Hagan’s in?” I asked him. He grunted, sounding noncommittal, but nodded again and pointed a finger up toward the ceiling. After a moment, it was clear no more information was forthcoming. “Thanks,” I said, and moved toward the stairs.
As I reached the bottom step, the man spoke, his voice soft but still loud enough for me to hear. “You’ll want to lose the cloak.”
“Sorry?” I turned back toward him.
“She’s got it extra hot up there today. Too warm for wool.”
“Ah,” I said. I pulled off my cloak and draped it over the banister. “Thanks again.”
The man grunted again, and gave the coals another prod. I adjusted the cloak on the hand rail, trying to make sure it wouldn’t slide off, and then, taking one step at a time so as not to aggravate my leg, I climbed up the stairs and pushed open the wide trapdoor at the top.
I could feel the temperature rising as I ascended. If the mild day outside had felt like late winter, and the bunk room had felt like the middle of spring, Sir Hagan’s chamber felt like early summer. My skin began to prickle with sweat as I reached the top of the stairs and lowered the trap closed.
Sir Hagan’s space took up roughly half of the top floor of the tower. Most of the furniture and such that had gone in his tent was now here, carried up by Bat and whoever Bat had been able to lay hands on while I’d lain unconscious; the bed set up beside the far wall, the round table at the middle of the long rectangular space, Sir Hagan’s little writing desk set up on an empty crate off to one side. Notably absent was his cookpot, which was downstairs in the bunk room, but there would have been little use for it as there was no hearth in Sir Hagan’s side of the floor.
The other side of the floor had been walled off, separated from Sir Hagan’s space by a hastily-erected barricade built of wagon bottoms, crate lids and whatever other flat wood had been available to scrounge. Gaps in the wall had been stuffed with rags or covered over with waxed canvases, and a tent frame and its accompanying tarp had been set up as a kind of door between the two spaces.
Sir Hagan stood behind the table, staring at some pages on the table in front of him. “Mason. How heals the leg?”
“It’s doing well, Sir,” I answered. While he’d given me his permission to speak less formally to him in private, I’d slipped back into more formal modes of address as a matter of habit, and Sir Hagan hadn’t made an issue of it. “Wade said you wanted to see me?”
“Our guests had some questions about the attack on the keep, and about your fight with the griffon in particular. I told them I’d ask you to speak with them.” He looked up at me. “If you’re willing, of course.”
“Of course,” I said, “I’ll tell them what I can recall.” I lowered my voice, glancing over at the tarped-over doorway. “Unless there’s some reason I can’t think of why I should hold something back?”
“Hmm?” Sir Hagan raised his eyebrows at me, and then shook his head. “No, nothing like that. I’m not ordering you to answer their questions, is all I meant. Be as honest and forthright with them as you’re comfortable with.”
“Understood.” I stared at him for a moment. “Are you all right, Sir? Asking as your broken lance.”
“All right?” He paused for a moment, looking over at the wooden wall and back at me. “I’m fine, more or less. Just a bit overwarm, and sleeping poorly as a result. Nothing more than that, and nothing to be done about it for the moment.” He waved me toward the door. “Go on if you’re going on, Mason. I have work I need to do here.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. Sir Hagan’s eyes went back to the table in front of him, and I walked over to the wall and stepped under the curtain.
If Sir Hagan’s room was early summer, the Fae woman’s chamber was a blazing late summer afternoon. The narrow windows had all been stuffed with rags or covered over, and despite the mildness of the day a fire still blazed in the hearth in the far corner of the room. The prickling intensified, and I started to sweat, immediately and profusely, feeling like I had a fever that was breaking.
Most of the room was taken up by what served as a large, long trestle table, really little more than long boards propped up on boxes and crates. The surface of the table was covered in all manner of philosophical equipment: jars and rolls of lead like the ones that had made up the cells in the aura cart, sheafs of parchment and sticks of charcoal, glassware and small braziers and hand-sized crucibles. The two Euphentine philosophers stood near the midpoint of the table, examining an apparatus of some kind between them, some device made of coiled copper wire and bars of iron. At the far end of the table, observing their experiment from a distance, was Irandrya, who looked up as I entered.
“Salveo,” she said, speaking in Euphenti. “Is there something we can do for you, young soldier?”
“I…” I cleared my throat, and then responded in the same tongue. “Sir Hagan said you wished to ask me some questions about the fight? With the griffon?”
“Oh,” she said, “I did not-”
One of the philosophers, a round-faced man with pale blond hair, looked up. “Well, that was faster than expected. Have a seat, we’ll be ready for you in a moment.”
The other, who was stout and bald-headed with a long, dark beard, frowned. “Hold it steady, Mercus.”
The first man mumbled something under his breath. Both of the men’s faces were slick with sweat, and I imagined I’d not be far behind them in that. I looked down the length of the table; the only chair I could see was at the far end, near the Fae woman. I made my way gingerly along the trestle, careful not to bump anything, and put a hand on the back of the chair, still standing for the moment.
Irandrya looked up at me. “As I was saying, Sir Hagan said he would send the soldier who killed the… the beast you’ve referred to as the ‘griffon’, but I did not realize it would be you. I hope that you are well… Mason, was it?”
I nodded to her. “Colum Mason. Or ‘Griff’, apparently.”
She cocked her head. “Griff?” She looked away, over to one side. “Oh, because of the…” She laughed a little, and then looked back at me. “Well then, all right. Greetings, Griff Mason.” She gestured down the table. “This is Mercus Bratila and Appius Nusa, and I am Irandrya Ayes, though you knew that all ready, of course.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but I heard a curse from one of the men behind me, and an instant later I heard something shoot past me, whistling through the air like a stone from a sling, and heard a loud crack as something struck the wooden wall beside me. I blinked, and turned slowly back toward the philosophers, who were now both standing upright and staring back in my direction.
“Interesting,” the blonde one, Mercus, said.
“Not what we were looking to accomplish, of course,” said the other, Appius, “but yes, certainly interesting.” He picked up a cloth from the table and wiped his brow. “We’ll have to investigate further. Not now, though.”
Mercus looked at his companion, and then at me. “Oh, yes. Naturally.” He gestured at the chair I was leaning on. “Please, sit. I’ll pour us water, please drink it, you’ll sweat enough of it out that you’ll need it, and you might not think of it later, back out in the cold.”
Irandrya noodded. “Yes. I do apologize for that, by the way. My… the place from which my people originate is warmer than your world, substantially so. The difference in Etrenium was bearable, but this place…”
“I seem to recall you saying something to that effect,” I said. “You told Sir Hagan we should attack during winter, because the cold would drive the elves away.”
“Oh, yes. You were there that day, of course.”
Appius sat down across the table from me. “Do you and Miss Ayes know each other?”
“Young Griff Mason was with Sir Hagan’s retinue when Sir Hagan introduced himself to General Byrne and the Concord leadership,” Irandrya said. “He caused something of a stir.”
“Wait,” said Mercus, setting a cup on the table in front of me. “Was he the one who brandished a knife at the council, and then asked General Byrne who exactly he thought he was?”
I nearly spat out the sip of water I was taking. “I-”
“The same,” Irandrya said.
“I didn’t ask him who he thought he was,” I sputtered, “I just… asked him who he was.”
“But,” Appius said, “you did wave a knife at the council?”
I opened my mouth to protest, and then sighed. “…yes.”
Appius grinned broadly, and Mercus chuckled as he sat down beside him. “Well,” he said, “it appears today is full of surprises. We not only confirmed a story today, but met a public figure as well.”
I grimaced. Brilliant, I’m known across Etrenium as “that fellow who pulled a blade on the Concord.” Just brilliant.
Mercus took a sip from his cup. “All right, all right, let us be respectful of this young soldier’s time, and ask our questions so that he can get back to his duties.”
“Please,” I said, grateful for the change of subject, “ask away. My memory of the events is still a little fuzzy in places, but I’ll tell you whatever I can.”
“Well,” Mercus said, “We’ve heard from a number of your soldiers that you punched a monster to death. Let’s start with that.”
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