As soon as he heard that, Teste clenched his palm upon one of the rusty bars on the metal fence as he glared back at Brendel. His face was pale as a sheet, his eyes wandering everywhere but the person he was talking to. In close vicinity, he resembled a wandering spirit not long for this earth.
He was in great contemplation on whether to reveal all he knew to Brendel that very instant but was adamant that Brendel would accept his end of the deal, yet unable to hide the utter desperation saturated on his expression.
“I don’t have much time left, Milord...you and I, we had no qualms, and even the tiny misunderstandings back then I’m sure you’ve all but moved on from by now. So, what do you say, I believe you as a trustworthy man no less, so all I need is your promise, and I will reveal this secret to you.”
“Viscount Teste, given your condition I don’t see how you still have any leverage to strike a deal with me,” Brendel did not mince his words.
Even though he was intrigued by what could possibly torment this once boastful Viscount to the way he was today, his thoughts were now entirely on the young redhead Highland maiden with her trademark ponytail, and the anxiety that ensued with her abrupt disappearance.
“Milord, you’re a heartless fool, you know that?! Disavowing the safety of your most trusted subordinates!” Teste suddenly twitched vigorously, his body awkwardly twisted as his grip on the rusty fence tightened. Whining he begged, “I just need one promise from you!”
“Alright,” Brendel ultimately gave in, “But I’ll first need to make sure your secret is worthwhile.”
Teste seemed to be instantly freed from his agony, his distorted face gradually free to align back to where it belonged as he added, “...Milord, it concerns Miss Head butler…!”
His eyes then instantly popped wide as he shrieked, “No no no! Wait wait...wait, Milord, let me finish...ugh...Boke Nelson‘s daughter...Magsk’s henchmen...if you still care to know please free me from...No, don’t take me away! I beg you both! Argh…”
After a barrage of wailing and cries, Teste’s voice dropped low into a series of growling, and just then, Brendel felt a certain movement across the nightscape.
On the riverbank, an illuminating silhouette flashed through the background from where they stood, but it was massive, and despite only once, it felt as if an army the size of tens of thousands just marched into the fray, and with a blink of Teste’s eyes they were gone almost instantly.
Only then did Brendel realized the correlation and rushed to the riverbanks. By then the water was as serene as it always was, devoid of any signs of recent turbulence.
Turning his gaze back towards the rusty fenced gate and its noticeably snapped end, it was visible proof that the scene he witnessed before was not a hallucination.
Brendel stood by the riverside, indulging in the soothing breeze of the autumn nocturnal winds, yet with further contemplation of the chain of events prior a chill flashed through his spine.
Teste’s last words seemed to radiate within his mind. Boke Nelson‘s daughter...that’s Amandina no doubt about that, but what does that old bag know about her? And Magsk is looking for Amandina, why?
Magsk was a man he was fairly acquainted with, originally a squad leader of the White Winged Legion and a high-ranking member of the All for One cult, after the Battle of Ampere Seale and the subsequent squad reevaluation however, he was shuffled out from the picture. He should be burning on a stake by now...but what does all this mess have to do with Amandina?
Originally here in Praguesse for family matters, he was now struck into the complicated mess against his will, and was left perplexed.
He just could not fathom any reason for Amandina to be engulfed in this. Turning back to look at the crumbling building behind him, the flimsy structure slanted to its side, on the verge of a total collapse, and in the dark of night resembled a beast with its claws encroaching the beholder. Paired with the flickering lights nearby, which had the added effect of bone-chilling horror, he took a light breath, his heart extremely rattled with uneasiness.
Momentarily after, the teenager that had previously taken leave came running back to him, huffing and puffing. It took little time for him to notice the grim expression on Brendel as he took to ask, “Am I too late sir?”
Brendel did not reply, but instead reverted with a question, “Did you hear anything when you came?”
“Huh, no sir,” The teen replied with a baffled look on his face.
Brendel took a last glance towards the rusty fenced gate, then retrieved the package, in it were a warm load of bread, several slices of ham, and a few baked potatoes fresh out the oven. It appeared less like the food sold on display at the guesthouse, and much likely food from the youngster’s home.
It was in no way a hearty meal, but it was far better than any stale bread from the campsite. He wrapped up the food and tossed a silver coin to the teen as a tip.
The teenager was rather bewildered, despite appearing cold and unapproachable from their first encounter, Brendel was rather generous however with his money.
Brendel noted that the youth was the henchmen of the local warlord and with his liberal tip he had secured himself with a mode of communication and a temporary local hire.
With the tip of one tael alone, equivalent to a week’s wages for a master craftsman, the teenager would prefer nothing more than to provide Brendel with anything he needed. A generous employer was hard to come by after all.
Not to mention the tip.
Brendel ordered the teenager to report back to him again the following day, took a last glance over the streets lining Bucce river, and then went back upstairs himself.
Back in the room, he found the girls by the study desk, Freya was engrossed by the book she was reading under the candlelight, which Brendel quick noted was titled ‘Suleiman’s Cavalry Journal’.
It was a renowned benchmark for Cavalry tactics produced by the Aouine Royal Officer Academy themselves. Even though it was rather rugged, it was well known to him by now that the young maiden from the Buccian countryside would diligently spend her pastime self-educating.
He then turned his gaze towards Amandina. The skill level of the Head Butler herself was far from that of his own or Freya’s, and was closer to that of any ordinary human. After days of prolonged carriage rides she was visibly exhausted and had fallen into slumber on the very desk she sat by.
But that was Amandina’s personality after all, despite how fatigue-ridden she was, she was in no way ready to tug in for the night.
Brendel, observing the sight, let out a bitter smile whilst shaking his head. He gently shut the door behind him and placed the packed food before Freya, only then did she notice his presence as she appeared ever so shocked, instantly pulling herself back to reality.
Brendel hurriedly placed his finger over his lip, hinting she kept her voice down, then pointed to Amandina as an explanation of why. Freya only then realized that the Head butler maiden fell asleep by the desk where she sat, and prompted let out an apologetic smile, “My apologies Brendel, I was too immersed into the book I didn’t realize she was…”
As she hastily pieced together her explanation Brendel waved his hand as a reminder that it was all fine. Ever so slightly he carefully scooped Amandina up, with a hand over her back and the other by the curve of her neck. Amandina by then was deeply asleep, her eyelashes twinkled ever so slightly, it was Brendel’s guess as to what dream had popped into her head then.
Brendel quickly noted the swirl of fragrance from the young maiden around his nose and promptly caught on. Meanwhile, Freya that was by the sidelines noted the sight and felt a tweak of jealously arose within her as she blurted, “Brendel, should I help too?”
Brendel hesitated for a moment and quickly realized it was more appropriate for Freya to be carrying her instead, just that when he noticed Amandina limply falling asleep on the study desk he felt sympathetic and reacted instantly, hence forgetting his surroundings at the moment.
He paused momentarily, before shaking his head ever so slightly. What’s started was already done, what difference would it make to stop now anyway., as he walked towards her bedside and gently laid her down, before tenderly tugging the blanket over her. Once certain that she was comfortable he turned towards Freya, noting that she tilted her head slightly away, however.
“You should get some rest too, I’ll keep watch for the night.”
“No need, Brendel, I’m not tired,” Freya decisively rejected.
She then lifted her diary and flipped through a few pages but quickly realize that she was no longer in the mood, and could barely even take in a word. Frustrated, she paused for a moment and lifted her head to look across the room. Noticing Brendel was now seated on where Amandina was just a moment ago, she was just about to ask about his relationship with Amandina but Brendel too, noticed that she was looking over was a tad quicker as he took to ask, “Did you hear anything earlier?”
“Of what?” Freya frantically replied, noticeably caught off-guard by Brendel’s abrupt question, and was certain he shifted the conversation in the nick of time, effectively keeping her from delving deeper into her curiosity.
Brendel wrinkled his forehead by the thought, for Viscount Teste’s final cry was not mellow in any means, it could’ve reached over a hundred meters in radius along the river. He took to ask the teenager earlier but the response was exactly the same as Freya’s.
Hmm, that’s strange, normally only under the one scenario that I’m hallucinating will this happen, but the snapped metal gate definitely offers solid proof.
Recalling Teste’s words, he was reminded of Amandina’s encounter with the limp, and the subsequent interaction with the patrol knights.
I was sure those dishonest fellows were just on it to leech some pocket money, but now that I think about it again it sure seems littered with a bunch of plotholes. Aouine might be plagued by systemic corruption, but the Nobles have their own set of rules, Amandina regardless is still one of them.
Those patrol knights should know that. Even if they were to blackmail for some fast cash there surely are better targets out there, there’s no need to come all the way here to get themselves into unnecessary trouble. Based on Teste’s remarks today, Praguesse’s patrol knights must also report back to the White Winged Cavalry.
That would mean the people we met that day might actually be Magsk henchmen, and if Teste was honest, then what does the All for One want from Amandina?
Coming to that conclusion, he couldn’t help but peek over to the highborn maiden in deep slumber, bearing instant resemblance to the sleeping beauty from the stories. But in Brendel’s mind, there was no melancholy in him, instead confusion and perplexity.
Brendel shook off the thoughts in his head, what could not be deciphered might as well be left aside for the time being. Amandina is by his side anyway, if the All for One were to pester her they would nevertheless have to go through him first.