Secrets and Shadows: Part Two
Whistling happily, Ambassador Rhydel of Meridell strode down the corridor towards the courtyard to meet his guide. After many days of being formally introduced to all of the important people who lived in Darigan Citadel, he was looking forward to spending time learning more about the history and culture of the Citadel. Earlier today, the ambassador had sent a message to Lieutenant Arianna, politely asking her to meet him at the courtyard. He idly wondered if she would be there already, waiting for him. What an enigma! She seemed to be an ideal officer from the brief impression he had of her, but the Tonu commander had what was obviously a long-standing feud with his subordinate. He couldn’t imagine why Bhrack could have such hatred towards a soldier who seemed as clever and intelligent as she was.
He was not surprised to see that the lieutenant was already in the courtyard and was waiting for him. She was studying the flower gardens so intently that the ambassador had to cough discreetly to get her attention. Then the Eyrie turned towards him and Rhydel was momentarily taken back. The intensity of her gaze and the fierce expression on her face was intimidating and yet, somehow strangely familiar. The ambassador felt the unpleasant sensation that he had seen that face before, but could not remember where or when. He was grateful when the lieutenant spoke first, breaking the silence in the courtyard.
“Are you ready for your tour of the Citadel and its grounds?” Arianna asked politely.
“Why, yes,” he answered quickly. He felt he needed to break the ice between them. “Your parents must be very proud of you, an officer in Lord Darigan’s service.”
“They’re both dead,” the Eyrie said coldly.
“I’m very sorry,” Rhydel murmured. Arianna looked at him out of the corner of her eye and gave a wordless mental sigh when she saw the hurt look on his face.
“I thank you for your sympathy. My father was a soldier in Darigan’s army,” she said smoothly, the well-practiced lie coming easily to her lips. “He was killed in the second invasion of Meridell. My mother died two years ago of a wasting sickness.”
“I’m sure that they would be very proud of you,” the ambassador said quietly.
“Thank you,” she said, and nodded her head in gratitude.
“So how long have you held your position?”
“Four years from last spring,” she replied. “I was commissioned as an ensign, and two and a half years ago I was promoted to lieutenant.”
“Do you enjoy your job?”
“Oh yes,” she replied with conviction. “My duties are fulfilling, and Darigan is a good man to serve. He’s very fair in his rulings, and shows loyalty and trust to his subordinates.”
As soon as they had reached the Citadel’s gardens and courtyards, she changed the subject to the ancient history of the Citadel. She recited the ancient legends which described how the Citadel was created when a powerful Lupe sorcerer pulled a mountain out of the earth and enchanted it so it would float in the sky, much to Rhydel’s fascination. He listened on as the Eyrie described life in the early history of the Citadel, and then the ravages of the plague which cut off them from the surface world. She spoke with confident authority about the long years in which the Citadel remained isolated from the rest of the world until Darigan came into power.
“When he was heir-apparent to his father Lord Karlin,” Arianna explained as they passed though the stone corridors of the upper Citadel, “Darigan led several military expeditions to the surface of Neopia. He was fascinated by the ancient ruins he discovered, and his first act after succeeding as the leader of the Citadel was to personally lead a team of scholars and excavators to his favorite site. They uncovered a tomb containing three sarcophagi and a few odd artifacts, but when opened, the coffins were empty. Lord Darigan took possession of the surviving artifacts and,” she shrugged, “the rest is history.
“Under the sway of the orb, Lord Darigan immediately began building up the army, and, when the orb was stolen by King Skarl, launched a merciless campaign to reclaim it. Once the orb was reclaimed, it took total possession over Darigan and changed him into a monster. A united group of Meridell knights and Darigan armsmen stood against him, and the transformed Lord Darigan disappeared after the battle, and it was believed that he was killed. The citadel breathed a sigh of relief that the hated orb was destroyed, but unbeknownst to the survivors, there was another artifact in storage. This one would cause even more heartache and sorrow than anyone could even imagine.”
“The Kass pendant.” Rhydel said softly.
Arianna gave a sad nod. “Yes.”
They walked in silence for a long moment before the lieutenant spoke again.
“The Citadel as we know it has changed greatly over the years. It is believed that the original structure dates back to 470 years ago. However, almost all of the buildings around us are less than three hundred years old. The Citadel itself has undergone many additions and renovations. The oldest parts are buried deep within the structure and are used as storage rooms, while the surrounding rooms and towers were added at a later date.”
She then went on to describe the great works of art owned by the Citadel, and was rewarded with the Ambassador’s enthusiastic interest in the subject. She had been foresighted enough to consider that the new ambassador might be interested in fine culture, and had taken the precaution of asking a fellow officer about the artists, philosophers, and writers that had been supported by the Citadel. Pleased by her guest’s appreciation of the fine culture belonging to her beloved homeland, she talked more on the subject of art, mentioning a few famous names such as the Jetsam muralist Reynold, the tapestry weaver Samuel the Krawk, and the sculptor Torin the Ixi. The ambassador was very pleased when he heard that one of Darigan’s predecessors had commissioned a pair of statues from the last artist that she had mentioned.
“You have two of Torin’s statues?” Rhydel had asked, greatly surprised. “He is very famous in Meridell. We are quite lucky to have eight of his works displayed at the Skarl’s castle. I would be very interested to see these.”
“I would be more than happy to show them to you,” Lieutenant Arianna answered, and then answered, somewhat embarrassed by her lack of knowledge, “but I do not know where they are being held. If you wish, I could make my enquiries tonight and find out where they are.”
“That would be fine,” the Kougra answered amiably. “But unhappily, I believe that we must continue this discussion tomorrow, as it’s getting late.” He sighed as he walked over to a window and leaned on the ledge, starring at the setting sun. Undoubtedly he would have another ceremonial dinner tonight, and another mind-numbingly repetitive evening, as an unending stream of business owners, accountants, assistants, bored housewives and squirming children filed past to gawk at the foreign diplomat and grab their fifteen minutes of fame by shaking his hand. At least he would have an interesting activity to take up his afternoon tomorrow.
Lieutenant Arianna nodded her head in assent. “I agree. Shall I meet you again in the courtyard at the same time tomorrow?”
“That would be fine,” Rhydel said with a smile. “I thank you for your patience in teaching me the history of this fascinating country. I look forward to what I will learn next.”
* * *
The Shadow Master watched with a confident smile as one of the grey-cloaked figures approached him at the end of the table and extended a red-furred hand which was clutching a single sheet of parchment, covered in faint writing.
“My lord, here are the samples of her handwriting, as you requested.”
“Excellent.” The Shadow Master smiled coldly as he took the faded piece of paper from the grasping simian hand. “And who is the one who will create the journal?”
A small grey-hooded figure stepped to his side and bowed. “I am, my lord,” a soft feminine voice said quietly.
“Then here,” the cloaked leader said as he reached into his robes and pulled out a set of papers. “These are her records---information about her life here at the Citadel, her records as an officer, along with some personal details which will make the journal seem genuine. It was very difficult for me to get these documents without arousing suspicion.”
“Thank you, my lord,” the clerk said as she took the parchment and the bundle of papers from his hands. “I will begin immediately.” She bowed before backing away to retake her place at the table.
“Very good,” the Shadow Master acknowledged, and continued. “As for the rest of you, you know your tasks. We will meet again tomorrow night.”
To be continued...