Nadine and I sprang to our feet and darted away from the window opening. “Blast it, Hook,” I hissed. The riders were approaching quickly and if they hadn’t been headed to the villa already they certainly would be now. One hand on my daggers I started moving toward the kitchen, Nadine followed. I could hear the horses turning in to the little court yard before the back door. Stopping by a hole, I peered through the wall at the two men dismounting on the other side. I grinned when I recognized the burly form of Jemin. “It’s alright!” I cried, as Ayglos and Namal came running from the great hall. “It’s Jemin!”
My brothers heard me, but kept their hands on their weapons as they reached the door and stepped out to meet the arrivals.
Jemin came to meet them with a grin and a bow, “How have you fared, my lords?”
“We are well,” replied Namal, inclining his head in princely acknowledgement, and then turning his gaze to the stranger with Jemin. “Who is your companion?”
“I have brought a doctor.” Jemin gestured, “This is Rawyn Drayk, one of the finest doctors in all of Daiesen.”
Rawyn Drayk stepped forward, saddle bags slung over his shoulder, and bowed. He was old, but wiry and radiating energy. He had close trimmed white hair and beard, and his dark clothes were both well-made and unassuming. “I have been told that there is a wounded creature here who needs my help,” said the doctor.
Namal bowed slightly and moved aside, “Please, come in, and welcome.”
Namal led the doctor inside, and Jemin and Ayglos followed with the horses. Nadine was gliding to meet them even before they were in the entryway. “Doctor,” she stretched out her hand, “Thank you for coming.”
The doctor took her hand and bowed, touching it to his forehead. “My lady,” he replied.
Watching the exchange, it was easy to forget that there was no roof on this place and the walls were blackened and crumbling around us. I wondered how much the doctor had been told about us, and how much he would know once he saw our father.
“Please, follow me.” Nadine turned and the doctor followed her down the hallway toward our cellar.
The rest of us lingered in the entryway. Helping Boitumelo with Remko had been hard enough, I didn’t want to have to help with my own father. My brothers were likely entertaining similar thoughts, because Ayglos said, “Let’s see to the horses, shall we?”
The four of us led the horses to the great hall where Hook and Sinker were already grazing. As we walked, Jemin explained their cover, “We’re expected back in the city before nightfall. I have ridden with the good doctor in escort on a visit to one of the nearby villas—the caretaker is old and much loved by the family; he has been ill and the family wanted him checked on. Rawyn Drayk is one of the best physicians in Dalyn. He is a kind soul who only wants to heal, he will not betray your secrets.”
We tied the horses to the water fountain with enough line to let them graze a little. Hook and Sinker investigated the newcomers and settled into grazing nearby.
“Well,” I said, “I was going to explore the villa.”
“Don’t wander far,” Namal replied. He was already moving off to a spot clear of the horses and taking off his sword belt. “Ayglos and I will be here wrestling for a while yet.”
“Jemin?” I asked, “Would you like to join us?”
“If you’re worried about me getting into trouble, then you should come along, because I am going to explore.” I was quite experienced with persuading reluctant companions.
The burly man grimaced. “I will accompany you.”
“Excellent.” I turned and headed toward the front of the villa this time. The past two days we’d stayed at the back of the villa, Nadine and I had started at the back and hadn’t gotten far, so I wanted to start someplace new.
Jemin jogged to catch up with me. He was wearing an unremarkable gray cloak, but underneath was a dark blue uniform trimmed in gold. The golden river of Dalyn circled on his shoulder. I remembered back to the tavern in Gillenwater and marveled at how unlike the simple country workman he seemed now.
“So, what news from Dalyn?” I asked as we reached the end of the great hall.
“We all arrived safely back in our various ways,” replied Jemin, giving me a hand over some fallen pillars. “Dalyn is much as we left it. Though…” he paused and I looked at him with raised brows.
“Though the gossip is more thrilling than when we left,” he hopped off the pillars.
“I would imagine they have a lot to talk about.” I ignored the hallway crossing our path and moved into what must have been a beautiful foyer—the floor was scattered with rubble, but underneath I could see a mosaic depicting fields and trees. The walls had been faced with smooth white stone, though now only pieces remained in place. “I bet they had a skylight in here,” I commented, picking my way forward and gesturing toward the sky.
“Why?” asked Jemin.
“Because I would have,” I replied. There were alcoves off to either side of the foyer. I could see the remains of chairs tucked in them. The front door to the villa was a dark, heavy wood that was bowed and splintering as if it had tangled with a battering ram. It hung half open, its hinges partially ripped from the door posts. Hunting scenes were carved all over both sides of the door. I touched the door gently, tracing my fingertips over the horsemen and stags until they were obliterated by the bludgeoning. I felt as if I were touching the embodiment of loss.
“My lady,” Jemin’s protest came as I slipped through the front door and stepped onto the front stoop. There was even more debris out here. Once, carriages would have been able to pull right up to these stairs, but now the generous courtyard was full of weeds, smashed crockery and furniture…as if the Nether Queen had first had her men break things by hand before burning the place down. Thorough of her.
Jemin squeezed himself out the front door and I turned to greet him, but the words died in my mouth. Across the lintel was carved the word Rydderhall. This place must belong to Quill.