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The Dungeons of Stormholm Caer

Posted on Thu Dec 15th, 2016 @ 1:45am by Mikhael Stormdanovich & Renestrae tyr-Vashti & Hawke Windwalker & Aereth Archive
Edited on on Mon Dec 26th, 2016 @ 4:35am

Chapter: When Shadows Fall
Location: Dungeon, Stormholm Caer, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: Early October 3550

The massive keep known as Stormholm Caer held more than a two thousand years worth of secrets. It seemed to grow out of its rocky promontory as if it were part of the great mountain itself. Likewise, its roots appeared to sink deep into the earth lending to the illusion that it had grown from Daranau Eira instead of being built by the hands of the Chimera. Little was hidden from the castle residents above ground, however, the ways and rooms that lay below the stone fortress were, for the most part, an unused secret. Yet, there was nowhere within the keep that was kept secret from its ruler.

Mikhael made his way along a little used corridor that wound its way ever deeper into Stormholm Caer. Doors to storerooms and accesses to staff chambers opened off much of its length, at least until the last gradual bend where it continued on to end abruptly in a wall of solid stone. Only the High Lord and a handful of others knew the secret and how to place their hands and fingers just so and in what order to press the glowing symbols that would appear causing the stone wall to roll silently back on unseen wheels. Mikhael smiled as he ducked his head under the lintel and stepped inside. A mumbled phrase and a small ball of light appeared in his hand as the stone door rolled back into place leaving the corridor in front of him dark and forbidding. There were a few light globes spaced along his route in sconces on the wall, but the handfire was enough.

As he trod silently along the corridor, moving ever deeper beneath the fortress, Mikhael wondered at the odd summons. He had been working late in his private chamber when the garrison’s commander, Second Marshal Brychan Emrys had knocked on his door with a handwritten message from his Ryndar. Come to our old fort, it had said and was signed simply H. Not the old fort, but our old fort. That in and of itself required some thought and Brychan had not been inclined to offer further information. More curious than annoyed, Mikhael had shrugged out of the dressing robe he wore over his tunic and leggings, pulled on soft soled boots and headed off into Stormholm Caer’s night, his mind searching for a clue regarding what old fort Hawke had been referring to.

It had been near the vast kitchens that it came to him. When the weather was fine, they had often played at the ruins of an ancient cylch known as the White Fort, but when the weather was foul, he, Hawke and Anastasiya had spent hours on end exploring the unused areas of the fortress. One of their favorite spots was the hidden and secret dungeons that lay in the lower caverns beneath the castle. They had been driven from this secret lair on more than one occasion by Kimber and Thoreson Windwalker.

The dungeons had two entrances but a person had to know the route to them as well as the secret to opening the stone guarded access. One of the ways lay far beneath the main caverns that stood at the back of the fortress, the other was the route Mikhael now followed. As he walked, he noted that the floor was curiously dust free and the walls dry and clean as well. More curious than ever, Mikhael lengthened his stride as he was now able to see the glow of a light in the distance, yet the light flickered as if someone - or something - was passing back and forth in front of it. For a brief moment, Mikhael felt the old childhood thrill of exploring the dark places of his mountain home.

One more turn in the passage brought him to a carved door frame which was normally guarded by a massive iron gate. The gate had been rolled back into the wall allowing Mikhael unhindered access. Stepping through the doorway brought him into a large circular well-lit vestibule. Moon globes cast a brilliant light from sconces set high on the stone walls. The sections of wall were interspersed by small cells, all were dark and their iron barred doors were open except for one. Pacing back and for in front of the one locked cell was the Ryndar. To Mikhael’s eyes, his friend seemed unusually restless and agitated.

As he did not want to wind up spitted on one of his friends’ daggers or sword, Mikhael cleared his throat to announce his arrival. Closing his fist around the blue ball of light in his left hand, he doused the handfire. Moving with his usual grace, he crossed the vestibule to stand in front of the barred cell with its single light globe hanging from a ceiling that was hidden by darkness, well above anyone’s ability to reach it. Covers to darken the cell’s light globe were accessed by a hidden panel outside each cell. When the fort’s dungeons had been in use, the guards alone controlled when the lights came on and were turned off.

Each cell on this level was the same. Roughly twelve by twelve, they were large enough for two occupants. On each wall was a stone ledge that served as a seat and a berth. At the back was a stone trough with clean cold water burbling up through a small fount. A round hole was set into the floor at the end of each berth, probably meant to contain a chamber pot. Mikhael knew that in other levels of the dungeons there were long unused bathing pools and privies, but not in the cells themselves. They had the barest accommodations.

Not surprisingly, the lighted cell in front of which he stood, contained an occupant. Someone, presumably Hawke or the now absent Emrys, had covered the berth with a thick layer of clean straw and thick woolen blankets. Mikhael’s eyebrow rose. That meant somewhere nearby someone was keeping clean bedding in case of need which would also explain why an area he remembered as dark and dusty was now dust free and swept clean. He turned his odd silver-flecked cobalt blue eyes back on the cell’s occupant and the other eyebrow rose. The prisoner appeared to be a young woman. He could not see her clearly as she lay with her head turned from him, but he had an impression of thick dark hair and a clear, slightly dusky complexion. She was clad in serviceable leathers and a cloak had been laid across her for warmth.

Mikhael turned to Hawke, brows still raised in inquiry, “Is this a new practice I have yet to be informed of? Taking unknown women hostage and secreting them in unused dungeons...and, more importantly, does your wife know of this predilection?”

Hawke spun right out of his pacing and was suddenly inches from Mikhael, his obvious unease evident in a lot of ways including his refusal to engage in their usual bantering. “We have been friends for a very long time. I need you to be completely and totally honest with me for the next several minutes…” Hawke lifted his arm to point at the form on the bed. “Tell me you do not know who she is...and make me believe it.”

The High Lord managed not to blink in surprise yet it was a measure of his respect for Hawke and their friendship that he did not question the man. Instead, he gestured for him to open the cell door and stepped inside and walked over to the berth to stare down at the woman. From that vantage point, he was able to take in the delicate features, the clear and slightly dusky complexion, dark hair, brows and lashes. Beyond that, he could tell that, beneath the cloak that had been draped over her, she seemed to be slight of figure and form as well. After several more moments, Mikhael spun on his heel and exited the cell, closing the door again.

“To the best of my knowledge, I have never seen that young woman before in my life,” he paused, “I cannot, of course, state it as an absolute as people do physically change from birth onward.”

Hawke nodded sharply. “Fair enough answer...and I accept what you say as far as it goes. Now…” Hawke crossed his arms and kept his gaze on Mikhael. “...why does she have your eyes?”

This time the right eyebrow rose and Mikhael did a long, slow blink, “My eyes? My eyes are right here.” He indicated his face with the sweep of one hand. Now, his expression indicated that he was concerned that Hawke had been drinking and more importantly, he wanted to know how far he needed to go in order to catch up.

Hawke exhaled and reached over, unlocking the door once again and then gesturing inside. “Her eyes...go look at them.” Hawke let Mikhael precede him inside and he took up a position in the doorway as he waited for the High Lord to examine the woman.

“They are closed,” Mikhael stated although he had stepped back inside the cell. “Why are they closed? Why is she unconscious? What….”

Mikhael’s words were cut off by the heavy clang of the door slamming shut. The High Lord turned to see Hawke standing on the other side of the door glowering at him. “They’re closed because I punched her so hard Brychan had to catch her...I did so because I saw her eyes and felt what she started to do...now if you don’t look at her eyes I will leave you in there with her...so LOOK!” Hawke’s voice snapped in that same battlefield tone his father had used so many times, the few fading echoes chased each other into nothing along the stone corridors.

For his part, Mikhael merely raised both eyebrows at Hawke. A flash of something that could have been either amusement or annoyance lit his eyes but was gone in an instant. There were very few men or women within Mikhael’s circle that would speak to him straight and without worry for diplomacy and rank. He actually valued and respected that in Hawke. Turning back to the girl on the berth, he carefully extended his arcane senses and there it was! Though subtle due to the fact that she was unconscious, Mikhael could still pick up the residue of the arcane about her and it was flavored with that note unique to the Cymry. More than that, it carried a subtle familiarity with it as well!

“She is Cymry,” Mikhael spoke softly. What was more important, that subtle essence he could detect was one that he felt on a daily basis. All things had an essence. That was the best word Mikhael could think of. And that essence was different for each and even more so in the arcane.

For several long moments, Mikhael continued to simply regard the young woman on the berth. It somehow felt wrong to lay hands on her even if it was just to peel an eyelid back and look at her eyes. She was not of his House...or was she? There was that note to her arcane essence... Yet a glance at Hawke showed that his Ryndar was implacable. Whatever it was about her eyes that had caused his friend, who normally held the utmost respect for women, to strike this one, had to have been substantial. He leaned over the berth and with a murmured apology, gently lay a finger on the delicate lid of her left eye and rolled it back just enough so he could see. He studied the blue orb with its flecks of gray and silver, realizing in a flash what Hawke had seen...and quite likely thought.

Now Mikhael’s brows drew down into a frown as he moved away from the girl and back to the door. He knew enough about life to know that particular traits could and often were associated with a specific bloodline. So it was with his eye color. While blue eyes in general were not an uncommon trait, the odd shade of ice blue with the mix of silver and gray flecks was peculiar to House Stormdanovich. Not only that, it was not a common occurrence even within the family. Once outside the cell again, he faced Hawke, “She is both Cymry and of the House.” He looked at his friend’s implacable face, “What? You do not think I sired that girl?”

Hawke blinked at Mikhael then looked to the door and the form on the bed. “I don’t know what to think...but even you have to agree this is a very curious situation.” Hawke rubbed his forehead with his finger and thumb a few times. “So assuming this is not your doing...how could this happen?”

Mikhael snorted, “You are a married man, Hawke. Surely you understand the basics of how people are created, no?” Another quick look at the young woman and the High Lord shook his head, deciding to lay Hawke’s worries to rest. He understood his friend was just trying to protect the House and, more importantly in Hawke’s mind, the High Lord. And, to be fair, his relationship to his son’s mother had not been...conventional. “Hawke, I would have been…” he mentally calculated as he guessed the girl’s likely age which was hard to determine in the Cymry, “perhaps nine years old when she was conceived and born and whilst precocious, not even I could have managed that one.”

“No,” Mikhael shook his head. His eyebrow arched again, but then he gestured as he mused, “She appears to be from one of the eastern Border clans. They are mostly descended from southern Aquilonian and Stygian tribes that settled in the eastern mountains of D’hassa centuries ago. While considered Cymerian, they tend to be very insular and any trade is almost exclusively amongst their own kind and the border villages.” As he spoke, Mikhael also mentally reviewed his familial connections.

There was really no one directly descended in the Stormdanovich line in the current generation that could account for the girl’s existence. Mikhael’s current crop of nephews were definitely too young and he had no cousins…

Suddenly his head snapped up and he snapped his fingers, “Lorcan!”

Hawke looked at Mikhael as his thoughts followed the implications of what his friend just said. He glanced over at the woman on the bed in the cell. “So the reason she was asking about him might be that she is his daughter…?” Hawke breathed deeply and rubbed his fingers along his trimmed beard. “Well, it does explain much, but it also raises a lot of questions. I don’t remember Lorcan mentioning a daughter.”

Mikhael shook his head in a negative agreement with Hawke, “I cannot say I knew him well, but I seem to remember Lorcan was often away on information and news gathering travels. He was an accomplished bard with a remarkable singing voice. Perhaps as Gero was Ryndar at the time, he will know more…”

Her head was pounding.

As much as she wanted to move, even the act of awakening was difficult. The throbbing, pounding sensation in her skull seemed no better lying still than it would perhaps be moving. She was vaguely aware of voices some distance away, but she had trouble even remembering where she was. As she stirred, her hand inched in little spurts against the serviceable fabric of the mattress. It was not stuffed with straw, as it had been in her previous quarters, but perhaps wool. Why that detail occurred to her, she wasn’t quite sure.

Laying on her side, she tipped her body so that she could drive the heel of her hand against the mattress, while the other -- tucked against her body -- could attempt to propel herself away into a seated position. The act only served to cause her head to spin further, and she partially collapsed. Gritting her teeth, she made a second attempt, all the while trying desperately to focus on a thin thread of thought: how had she come to be there?

As her vision swam into crispness, the stone walls of the cell became fully apparent to her. Patting herself down with her free hand, with one arm steadying her as she leaned against it, half-upright with her legs folded to the side, she realised that all of her weaponry was missing. Her bow, bladed weapons, even her quiver -- notably absent. Even her cittern. What harm could she do with a cittern? Her anger swelled in her breast, amplified by the incessant ache of her head and jaw.

Then she remembered.

Her fingers instinctively found the bruised, swollen portion of her face where she had been struck. No teeth missing, thank the gods. No breaks. A well-placed blow, but a blow nonetheless. She twisted around in her seated position so she could examine the cell, her fingers still cautiously probing the site of impact. Her blue eyes met the barred door of the cell, and the two men beyond it, and her anger blossomed into fury.

Had they touched her? Compromised though she was, she was not without determination, not without fight. She forced her legs over the edge of the bed, unsteadily rising to her feet with the wall to guide her. As much as she did not want to appear weak, her hand remained against the wall, catching its fissures and ridges as she took clumsy steps toward the door.

“Is...this...how...my father...treats people?” She hissed through gritted teeth, her words faltering with effort. “Was the...sight of me...so offensive to him...that I was imprisoned?” She was now up against the bars, her hands white-knuckled as she gripped the cool iron. The glow of the globes was offensive to her gaze, sensitive from her reeling headache. She glared with every bit of rage she could muster. Bold men they were with a barrier between them! Surely they did not fear her? And if they did, well, they were a cowardly lot, and so was her father. Little wonder he returned none of her mother’s pleading letters. He had fooled her once, and then again, and was full of shame to know he’d birthed a child in such a scandalous fashion.

Mikhael stepped closer to the bars and turned his arctic gaze on the woman within. He felt sure they had solved the riddle of her parentage...at least the Stormdanovich side of it. And now, with her eyes wide open and glaring angrily at them, the last vestiges of doubt vanished. In the last two or three generations, there was only one man that might have sired her and propagate some of the distinctive traits of the line...eye color and the Cymry gifts.

“I beg your pardon, child,” Mikhael said, “as we have no knowledge of your father’s identity, we cannot answer how he would treat people.” We could refer to both Mikhael and Hawke or it could have been meant as the royal we. The High Lord would leave the girl to decide on how it was used for he really did not presume that everyone knew him on sight. Many people did for he traveled his land frequently, attending Gatherings and seeing to his people’s welfare, but had not ventured into the mountains of the east...at least not publicly.

There was one last concern to be addressed as well. If he had put the girl’s heritage together with her appearance, Hawke would have come to the same concern himself. Long had y Carthu used the border mountains as strongholds as it made it easy to slip into Aquilonia. This afforded them two advantages. The first was the knowledge that Cymeria Guard patrols would not follow onto Aquilonia soil as any such incursion could be perceived as an act of war under the frail truce that bound both countries. The second was that they could raid Aquilonian border villages and holdings and slip back into the mountains. If word reached the authorities, it could be said that Cymeria was behind the raids.

Either scenario meant this woman might easily be a spy for y Carthu.

“Ah, then...does his lordship...strike people at his leisure?” Renestrae said scathingly, fixing Hawke with a sour look, every bit as haughty as a countess. “He surely knows who...my father is.” Wrestling through the nauseating pulsing of her skull, she added, “The man with the brown hair. Does he deny it, then? He set eyes upon me and cried out before I was so charmingly brought here against my will.”

Hawke did have the good grace to look a bit abashed while being the focus of her anger. “I admit I acted in haste but I saw something that did not need to be common knowledge until I had more answers. A tavern was hardly a place to let you keep asking questions. I apologize for striking you but not for the reason I did so.” Hawke then glanced over at Mikhael. “I also owe you an apology for thinking what I did…?”

Mikhael brushed Hawke’s apology aside with the wave of a hand and a smile, “No need, my friend. Cymry ages are difficult to assess at the best of times.” He scanned the girl from head to toe, “I have sisters so I have something to compare to, but our guest here could as easily be sixteen as thirty in years.” He slanted Hawke another smile, “Besides, like you, I traveled extensively in my youth.”

Hawke nodded then let out a bit of a groan. “Thank you, but please don’t even tease the possibility that there might actually be offspring out there we do not know of…”

Mikhael chuckled at Hawke’s words before turning the arctic blue eyes back on their guest, Mikhael asked brusquely as he moved closer so she could get a good look at his eyes as well, “What is your name and who do you claim your father to be, girl?”

It was not as though she did not know whom the man before her was, even though a name had not been given. All the same, she could surely be flippant and ask, but what good would come of it? Still, she drew herself up against the bars. She would not allow herself to appear so frail before them.

“I am no girl,” she said, unable to help but try for a little defiance. “My name is Renestrae, and while it is just a claim to you, it is truth to me. My father is Lorcan up Gwenchellian.” She tipped her chin upward, glaring at the High Lord. She was dwarfed by him, but she might as well have been eight feet tall by her expression alone. “If he denies it, I know enough that there is surely proof of it.”

Mikhael regarded the woman steadily, wondering when their shared eye color would make the kinship connection for her. Even so, he was not ready to give her answers. He wanted more information first. Besides, while she was a tiny thing, she was attempting to hold her own and doing a fair job of it. He sent a glance toward Hawke, a subtle twitch of an eyebrow telling his Ryndar to not give away anything just yet.

“Lorcan up Gwenchellian is a name known in these parts,” the High Lord stated without rancor. “So, tell us your proof, Milady Renestrae,” Mikhael’s deep voice was velvety smooth, no trace of sarcasm. Nor was he completely gaming her. Claims on the House had to be validated by more than a pair of blue eyes. He was also reasonably sure that word of Lorcan’s relationship to Kimber was not well known.

Her fingers curled around one of the bars so tightly that the knuckles coloured white.

“The proof will be known to him,” she said evenly. Would they keep her there, imprisoned? Or should she attempt an escape? His Lordship was being evasive, at best. Neither side wished to yield to the other, to let slip even a scrap of knowledge. “There is much I may tell, but I must see him for myself. There is much he must answer for.” Wind, and air, and storm...even if she had sway over her abilities, she remembered the furious lightning of the High Lord’s wrath.

“Answer for, girl?...” Hawke spoke from his position behind Mikhael. “...That sounds very much like you are accusing him of a crime. Perhaps we can start with that information before we do anything for your demands.”

She moistened her lips unthinkingly, turning them inward before they were allowed to be released. It was an unintended show of her uncertainty, that she was off-balance by the incessant thumping in her head.

“‘Tis a long tale,” she said, reluctant to divulge more information than she was prepared to share with them, not knowing their intentions. “Letters were not returned. My mother sent him pleas for his return. Her anger sent him away, and she had reason enough for it.” She turned her head away, so that they would not see the hurt in her eyes. “There was not a single word from him.”

Could Lorcan have fathered a child while on one of his many long assignments infiltrating y Carthu in the east? It was, of course, quite possible, maybe even likely. Also, Mikhael was only making a guess as to her origins based on her appearance and the knowledge he held of his lands. During the Interregnum, many had fled into the mountains. A majority of those refugees had been the Celts of Cymeria and eventually the backbone of y Carthu.

y Carthu was a real threat. Many of the rulers of the past, Kimber included, had tried to thwart their propaganda by abstaining and even, to some extent, vilifying the Chimera’s powers themselves. It had been an extreme reaction to the horrors perpetrated by the reigning Tsars during the Interregnum. y Carthu which literally meant the Purge arose from the ashes of that time. Their agenda was simple; eradicate every Chimera bloodline...kill every man, woman and child with Chimera heritage. They advanced this agenda through insidious infiltration into other groups and with the use of propaganda. Where possible, y Carthu joined powerful bandit and raider groups and then swayed them to target the Chimera.

Fortunately, the majority of Cymerians also knew their history. They knew that while the Tsarimovs had used their powers indiscriminately and to horrifically enforce their rule, it had also been Chimera that led the rebellion that toppled the Tsars and restored peace. Yet, y Carthu persisted throughout the centuries and had found a stronghold within the lands of the east, along the D’hassan borders with Aquilonia.

All these thoughts flickered through Mikhael’s mind quicker than the bat of an eye. She could be the child of his uncle. She could still be y Carthu’s attempt to gain a foothold and secure information from inside the House, a viper in the nest. If so, could that be turned to their advantage? He gave a mental sigh. Much of his speculations would have to be aired to Gero and Hawke privately. Now, he felt the slight push of the girl’s powers...the rise of the wind. He pushed back, ever so slightly, to see if she was able to recognize it. Was she trained?

Mikhael turned to the bales of straw, neatly stacked against a far wall. Hefting two easily, he plopped them down near the cell door and seated himself on one. “Long tales are meant to be enjoyed. I believe we should hear yours starting with where you are from.”

Hawke watched Mikhael drop the bales and sit on one. The Ryndar stepped over the other bale and sat down on it, resting his hands on his knees in a listening pose instead of with his arms crossed as he wanted to at the moment

She folded her arms instead, her brows coming together in a stern frown. Whether or not they had her at their mercy, she would not simply yield to whatever demands they fancied! Were they protecting him in some fashion, from a child he had sired out of wedlock? Oh, what a scandal it would surely be among the courtiers!

“Not until he sees me for himself. He may stand at the far end of the room, if it pleases his Lordship, if he is so in fear of me.” Again, there was the slight uplift of her chin, even though both men were no longer towering over her.

Mikhael was more amused than annoyed at the girl’s steadfast and stubborn defiance. After all, he did hold the upper hand at this point. He tilted his head to one side, his cold blue eyes hooded and dark, “What makes you think Lorcan up Gwenchellian resides here or is present to see you?”

A little tremor of doubt was a treble note in Renestrae’s heart, but she maintained her rebellious air all the same. That the High Lord seemed to regard her as though she were a child, unrattled by her steadfastness, was a little irksome. He was a man who surely dealt with all manner of folk at court, and she wondered whether she was being fooled. He surely thought she was little more than a gnat.

“I was told I would find him here,” she replied, trying for a little honesty. “I must find a way to speak with him.” Her heart felt as though it had swollen and sunk. His previous mission had been to sniff out y Carthu; perhaps after his experience with her mother, he had gone elsewhere? No, she had to believe she would find him, wherever it took her, no matter what trials were demanded of her.

Mikhael flashed a glance at Hawke whose face was still and impervious. He could continue gaming her, but this back and forth was accomplishing nothing. Squaring his shoulders, Mikhael met her eyes, still amazed by how they reflected his own. No wonder Hawke had taken the actions he had.

“Lorcan up Gwenchellian is dead. He died at the Battle of D’hassa.” Technically, of course, Lorcan had Crossed upon being fatally wounded. Still, the difference between that and death would likely make little difference to the woman. Still, Mikhael made the admission quietly with a tone of respect in his voice and even a bit of compassion for the girl who was being given the stark news.

Her carefully-maintained facade showed hairline cracks, as though they were running across sheets of ice, before splintering and shattering. Her chest felt so constricted that she wondered whether she might suffocate, then and there. She stared at Mikhael, intensely, aghast, seeking out lies in his expression...and saw that there was nothing but honesty therein. She might have shrieked “liar!” at him, but her lips refused to obey. Her hand slipped away from the bars, and she turned away, taking slow, unsteady steps away from the cell door. Little motes of dust and dirt stirred at her feet, moving slowly in a circular fashion. The grief, and rage, and sorrow emanated from her very being, and the wind listened.

Stupid. Stupid, stupid fool -- she had not considered the mere possibility that he was no more. No, more than that, she had refused to consider her quest would remain unfulfilled. She was so blinded by the need to confront him, to see her mother’s grief remembered, that it was unfathomable that the gods would be so cruel. And yet, here was the outcome -- her coming was pointless, and her life was utterly meaningless.

Hawke stirred slightly. “He was a good man regardless of what business you may have had with him. I am sorry you cannot speak with him. I can see it was important to you and I am also sorry for how you were treated when you arrived here.” Hawke looked distinctly uncomfortable at her reaction to the news and his part in her arrival as he spoke.

Mikhael heard Hawke’s words to the girl, but his attention was on the swirling bits of dust and dirt. The elements answered easily to the Stormdanovich bloodline. Mikhael could have easily brought his own powers to bear should the need arise, but the wind’s response - so far - was quite gentle. A breeze, a whisper; as if to answer the girl’s grief and console her with its presence. That, as much as her unusual eye color and her knowledge of Lorcan’s existence and association with Stormholm Caer lent her credibility.

Deciding in an instant to demonstrate his power, both as a warning to her and a demonstration of kinship, Mikhael sent a gentle whirl of wind to mingle with that surrounding her. At the same instant, he sent a directed force of wind toward the lever that controlled the gates into the cells. The lever resisted for a moment before moving and allowing the gate to roll open.

“Lorcan was my father’s brother, my uncle,” Mikhael stated as the door opened.

She drew breath in slowly, allowing her lungs to fill, exhaling with the slowness of a mountain-dweller. Indeed, in the lower lands, she had found breathing easier, but it was constricted now, as though a vice had been bound about her ribs. There was a subtle backward jolt to her shoulders at the sound of the door unlocking. More important still, she had felt the quiet push of power, and was reminded properly of whose presence she was in.

She turned, startled, her eyes rounding fully, her lips parted as words leapt forth, unbidden.

“Brother?” She repeated, in a small voice. Her defiance forgotten, Hawke’s apology momentarily missed, she stared in shock. Brother? To the sire of House Stormdanovich? She had only known him to be a member of the High Guard. She had unthinkingly taken staggering steps backwards, sitting down hard on the bed. Cousin to the High Lord. Her father, dead, brother to Kimber Stormdanovich. She had little to show for it, unless Lorcan had kept proof of the relationship. She knew not whether any portraits had been painted in that time, nor whether he had even kept the other half of the song.

“I think,” she said, in a very quiet voice, “I should like some time for myself.” She paused, dropping one of her hands to one of the pouches that snapped onto her belt, nudging her fingers beneath the flap to seek out something bound in thinned, waterproof leather. She held the bundle forth. “This is all the proof I have of my lineage.” Her gaze dropped to the floor, and she added even more quietly, “I am of Haradar, of the Mar’kathi people. My mother’s name is Vashti tyr Anaya. If Lorcan kept anything of his time in my village, then you shall find something of its like in his possessions.”

Half of the song was scribed therein, written in both her mother’s hand and Lorcan’s. Her secondary copy was in her mother’s hand; if they chose to burn the original, then she would have nothing at all to her claim. She needed their trust, and it was surely the only way. Even if the song was not in his possessions, they could surely match the handwriting.

“Haradar,” Mikhael murmured quietly with an arched eyebrow. Sharp cold blue eyes scanned the papers Renestrae handed to him. The name of the village and the mention of the Mar’kathi confirmed his suspicions of what region she hailed from. Mika had not been privy to all of his uncle’s assignments, but knew that he often prowled the borders between D’hassa and Aquilonia. As he finished reading, he passed the papers to Hawke. They would need to find Gero and discuss all this in private...later.

Mikhael returned his attention to Renestrae and inclined his head respectfully, “Well, cousin, I believe I should introduce you to the Chatelaine of Stormholm Caer and then find a meal and more suitable accommodations for you. These papers will be returned to you but I would like a chance to read through them.”

He did not really give the girl the time or opportunity to disagree. Nodding to Hawke, they gathered her few belongings and escorted her out of the cell. Mikhael spared one last glance at the unusually clean and well-maintained dungeon that was allegedly no longer in use. Well, Gero had asked to be free to make use of an area that was off the books for his Ravens.

 

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