Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

Published by

Airborn Press


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 Sword Called Kitten Serial    EPISODE 7

Gordon A. Long

 

Published by

Airborn Press

 

 

Lord Reginar’s caesterhoff was rather impressive, but Theobald was able to ignore the polished wood and delicate tapestries that surrounded him.

“Tell me about Lord Odo, father. Why is he so important?”

Lord Skonric glanced to his host as if for permission. “A review of the situation, so we’re all facing the same direction. It is our challenge to deal with the Maridons who have partially conquered us. I say partially, because while there may be a Maridon king on the throne, there are still a majority of Inderjornian nobles in the Conclave.”

“Although we have generally smaller holdings than the Maridons.”

“Exactly. This means that there is a balance of power, which the king may use to his advantage. As long as he has the good of the realm in mind, we are not adverse to this.”

Theobald nodded. “However…?”

“The other faction among the Inderjornese. The men whose fathers never agreed with our surrender. The families who would have fought to the bitter end, until the realm was destroyed for everyone. They would start the conflict again tomorrow if they thought they had a chance of winning. Of course, the Maridons are similarly divided, between those that want to make the realm function as it is, and those who wish they had been allowed to continue the war.”

“Where does Lord Odo fit in this?”

“That’s the problem. We don’t know. His properties are out in the Eastlands. He has never spent much time in Koningsholm. He only attends the Conclave when it is absolutely necessary. Now he has shown his face, but we don’t know which way it is turned.”

“Perhaps toward both.”

Lord Reginar mused a moment. “He could be playing both sides to his own advantage. He seems the sort. However, he has large holdings in the East. If he would join with us, it would spread our influence across the realm. This is why we want Cate to sound him out.”

Theobaldlooked directly at Lord Reginar. "Have you considered that we are making the same mistake twice?"

The elder lord  frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Cate and I have agreed that using her to approach me was a rather convoluted way of getting information you could have found out with a direct question. Basically a waste of time."

He put out an arm to deflect the threatened swing of the lady's fan. "Not that I'm complaining." He grew more serious. "But why don't you just have a meeting and discuss it with him?"

The two older lords made eye contact, then both shook their heads. "No, Theobald. It won't work like that. Both Lord Reginar and I have tried hints, suggestions, even almost-direct questions. He must know we are courting his support, but he refuses to commit. With Lady Cate, we hope his guard might be down.”

Theobald shook his head. “I don’t like it. If we were more certain of his loyalties, I wouldn’t mind. But we’re not. I think it’s too risky.”

Cate tapped her fan on the table as if to give her fist something to do. “What do you mean, risky?”

“Cate, you’re offering this man something you have no intention of delivering.” He frowned. “At least, I hope you have no intention!”

The other three burst out laughing. Lord Reginar slapped his hand on the table. “I think the newly-betrothed is getting protective about his future bride.”

Theobald’s face began to redden.

Don’t make yourself look like a fool. Loosen up. This is a family situation. Laugh!

The young lord forced a smile. “All right. I suppose I am. But I still don’t want her taking any risks. We don’t know this man, or how he will react. That’s the problem, isn’t it?”

His father nodded. “And that’s why she is taking this risk. If he is being dishonest with us, it could cause a lot of trouble.”

“I understand that. I’m not saying she shouldn’t try to find out what she can. I just think we should take what precautions we can.”

Lord Skonric frowned. “I certainly agree. What do you suggest?”

“Ishould be nearby.”

With your Sword.

Cate laid a hand on his to take any sting out of her speech. “I’m not sure that having a jealous future husband hanging around the corner is going to make my task any easier.”

 Lord Reginar shifted to face Theobald. “Yes, I fail to see how you can be of much use, and you could certainly cause him to become suspicious.”

Theobald looked at his father, then made up his mind. “What do you know about my Sword, Lord Reginar?”

The lord glanced down at the Sword. “I know it’s magic. I know for damn sure it’s given you something you never had, because before this week, I never even noticed you.”

“Something that made you think this union was a good idea?”

The lord’s eyes shifted to his daughter before he answered. “I already knew an alliance with your family was desirable. Until recently, this solution had not occurred to me.”

Find a reason to touch him.

Theobald rose. "My Lord, are you certain that you want a union between Lady Cate and myself, and will do everything in your power to aid the Skonric family, as we will, on our part, aid you?

The older lord frowned, but, drawn by Theobald's formal speech, he rose as well. "I am certain."

Theobald reached out his hand. After a slight hesitation, Lord Reginar grasped it, arm-to-arm, and the Sword felt the rush of his emotions.

Aside from some hesitation as to the sweeping nature of the declaration, and understandable uncertainty as to what game you are playing at the moment, he is telling the truth.

Theobald nodded and sat down, Reginar again following his lead.

“Ifwe are going to be that closely allied, I think it would be useful for you to know something about the Sword. She helps me read emotions.”

“Emotions. That’s it?”

“Among other things. The point in this case is that her talent allows me to tell when people are being truthful. As you were a moment ago. It lets me read their intentions. If Cate is going into danger, my Sword will know, even if she doesn’t. If she is close enough.”

“In the same room?”

“No, even a thick stone wall seems to make no difference.”

“Perhaps that could be arranged. Cate?”

She nodded to her father, then returned her hand to Theobald’s arm. “I would certainly be more comfortable if I knew help was nearby.”

The two older lords exchanged glances, then both nodded.

Theobald covered Cate’s hand with his own. “All right. We’ll get to the planning. Cate already knows what answers we need. All we have to do is create the opportunity for her to ask the questions.”

All who has to do is create the opportunity?”

The tapping of the fan seems to be some sort of warning, Theobald.

I got that impression. I will take care.

He glanced at his betrothed. “Yes, that is true, my dear. You have the easy part. All I have to do is stay close but out of sight.”

He stood. “My Lady and I need to talk, and we don’t want to be seen together this early in the proceedings. As long as he thinks Cate and I are strangers, he won’t connect my presence with hers.”

“What if he saw you at the banquet that night?”

The two young people looked at each other, and both faces warmed. “We were quite out of the public eye, Father. Our actions in public were completely decorous.”

Reginar nodded.

Cate rose as well, and the two lords sat looking up at their offspring. Lord Reginar glanced at his new ally. “I think we have left this matter in good hands.”

Theobald’s father hid a frown before it began. “I certainly hope so.”

Your father doesn’t quite trust us yet.

Don’t worry. Soon he will.

He most certainly will.

They left the room, moving apart in case they were noticed. There could be spies in any house. “What do you think will work on him?”

Cate mused a moment. "Hmm… How about a bit of truth?"

"Truth?"

"Yes. It worked on you. There was never any doubt in your mind who I was or what I was after." She glanced up at him and slapped his arm. "That's not what I meant. And by the way, I was only told to get the information from you. The sleeping together part was my own idea after I met you."

He controlled his grin. "No, I understand what you mean. Nobody with any brains, approached by the daughter of a prominent lord, is going to assume it's simply because of his handsome face."

"If I approach him, he will be expecting me to pump him for information."

"So what will he do?"

"He will answer in whatever way he thinks will lead me to his bed."

"And how does that help us?"

That is where I come in.

"Perhaps I can tell if he is lying."

"Don’t worry. My Sword can tell. It's a dangerous game, but it sounds feasible."

"Exactly. Now, I must go and dress for my part. You go back to the Conclave and find the other leading actor in our little drama. I will make my entrance by separate carriage at mid-afternoon.”

I will watch for you, and find us a quiet spot we can meet."

* * *

Theobald and Cate paused in the doorway of the large reception room, surveying the circling lords, the uncrowded tables.

“There are few people here. We can’t go in. Too conspicuous.”

Too late. He is coming.
“This way.” He slid her aside to stroll along the wall, watching Lord Odo as he entered.

“He may be more of a problem than we expect.”

Her eyes on her quarry, Cate did not respond, though the Cat could feel her agreement.

Dour and uncommunicative, Lord Odo stalked through the gathering as if no one else of any importance existed. He was well armed and plainly dressed, and his look dared anyone to criticize. He planted himself at a central table and snapped a gesture to a servant, who responded with alacrity.

He’s very sure of himself.

Tell me something I can’t already see.

Cate stopped by an arras that hung just far enough away from the wall to give Theobald a shadow to slip into. “How are you going to get close to him?”

She tossed a smile over her shoulder. “I think I’ll manage.

“May I make a suggestion?”

She reached back and touched his hand. “It is good of you to ask first, Theobald. Go ahead.”

“Don’t be as obvious as you were with me.”

She slapped his arm. “How could you say such a thing?”

“I could because this is a different situation. I was willing prey.”

“Don’t be surprised if he isn’t just as willing. Watch this.”

“Are you…?” It was too late. She stepped forward. No, stepped wasn’t the right word for the way she moved. Several men’s heads turned. She stopped just close enough to Lord Odo to attract his attention, and looked around as if trying to choose a table. He rose, bowed, and spoke to her.

Relax. She knows what she’s doing.

I’m not worried about that. I’m concerned she might have to do it.

You’re not going to be any help, hiding behind a tapestry like an amateur spy.

I had noted that. He glanced around.

No one is watching.

How do you know?

Because I am sending a feeling of “no one is over here” throughout the room. Even if they see you, they will not notice, if you know what I mean.

I don’t, but I’ll take your word for it. Can you read either of them?

I can read Lady Cate very well, even from a distance. You two have a…relationship. It helps.

And Lord Odo?

He has a strong mind. Him, to a lesser degree.

All right. I’ll wander past them.

Don’t worry. They are too interested in each other to notice you.

They are what?

Keep walking.

What do you mean by “too interested?”

She is trying hard to send feelings of acceptance and cooperation. He is too busy receiving them.

Theobald passed through Cate's line of sight but she did not react. As far as he could see, she was acting demure and slightly hesitant.

Will that work?

I believe so. He seems the type to appreciate a dominant position. Unlike you.

This touched off a series of rather interesting images in the young lord's head.

Concentrate, Theobald. We will become conspicuous if you stand here alone. You need to find a place to sit.

Theobald found a table where he could place himself close enough to the other occupants that he might be joining them, far enough away that they did not consider him intruding. He signalled a servant for wine.

What's happening now? They have been standing a long time.

Yes. The longer she talks, the less progress she makes. If she were to touch him I could read more.

Can you tell her to?

No. It is not allowed. I'm not even sure I could. Perhaps… ah, yes, I can induce the impulse. There. She touches his arm. Oh!

What?

He is more interested than shows on his face. Much more.

What do you mean?

I am sending her the impulse to relax, to pull away and let him lead. Yes, she responds. See how she reclines back as she sits? Now he is leaning towards her. Much better.

So you can't talk to her, but you can influence her through her feelings.

That seems to be the case.

Can you influence his emotions?

I have no point of contact unless she touches him, and then it is very weak.

We'll keep that in mind.

For the next while, the conversation seemed to be going back and forth to no purpose. Then…

Something is going to happen.

What?

I don't know. I feel certainty. Watch them. One of them has decided on a course of action. Yes, there they go.

Lord Odo rose and offered his arm. Cate made appropriate coy gestures and eventually rose and took it. The two marched off at a rather quick pace.

Don't rush it. I can follow her from a distance. You haven't touched your wine. Might look strange. Someone might be watching us.

Theobald glanced down at the glass by his elbow. He took a reasonable gulp, leaned back and looked around the room.

No one notices us.

He took another drink, set the half-full glass down, and stood. Taking care to move casually, he strolled after the departing couple.

Left out the door. Pick up your pace.

They were moving fast.

Faster still, now. Anticipation.

Theobald began to hurry. "What do you mean?"

Don't worry. As long as she holds his arm, I can read him. Her act has been very successful.

As long as she's not too successful. Has she asked him the important questions?

I have no idea, but I have read nothing to suggest it. Hurry. They are getting farther away. Her feeling is fading.

Trying to move fast without unseemly haste, they rounded a corner, only to be brought up short in the doorway by a crowd of people. Their quarry had left the building, but it seemed there was some sort of commotion in the street.

What’s going on? Theobald forced a path out the doorway.

I don’t know, but everyone is very excited.

Which way did they go?

The Cat searched, but the swelling emotions of the crowd clogged her senses. I…I can’t find her.

What do you mean you can’t find her?

Too much emotion. What is going on?

Theobald craned to look toward the middle of the crowd. It’s a barehand fight. The Maridons put these on to entertain the commoners. Do you think he brought her through this mess on purpose to throw us off the trail?

How could he know to do that?

Well, find her!

I can’t. There is too much emotion. Her mind is gone.

What do you mean, gone?

Wherever she is, I cannot contact her. She is on her own.

But…

I’m sorry, my Lord. My powers are useless in this mob.

Theobald stood, his fists clenched in frustration, looking out at the milling crowd, barely hearing the shouts and curses or noticing the two men battering at each other in the centre. All that the Cat could read in his mind was an anguished cry.

Cate! Where are you?

Only the roar of the crowd answered.

 

* * *

 

We apologize to readers for this cliff-hanger ending, but the characters were having far too much fun in this issue, and they have reached the size limit of the post without solving their problems. In recompense, we will not make you wait until the end of the month for a continuation, but will post Issue 8, “A Real Headache” in two weeks.

 

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