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Stronghold 2 » Forums » Story Archive (Read Only) » The Heir Unapparent - Story Thread
Topic Subject:The Heir Unapparent - Story Thread
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posted 05-02-02 20:15 EST (US)         


WRITTEN BY: Cellish, GillB, Jayhawk, Lancer, Micah Aragorn, and thurdl01

Alfredo: Duke of Millefiore (Thousand Flowers). Middle-aged. Weary of duties. Father of Ricco, Loriana and Caterina. (Jayhawk/Micah Aragorn)
Bianca: 17-year old apprentice to Roberto del Strego. Quiet, clever and loyal. Slender figure, deep violet eyes, with a shock of dark curly hair that regularly escapes from her braids. She's not unattractive, but very unaware. Makes no effort to enhance her looks. Nicknamed 'Ceneri' (ashes) because she's always smudged with the ashes from various fires. (Jayhawk)
Caimbeaul: Captain of Duke Suciando's troops. Above average heighth and build; black hair with black goatee. Weather-worn facial features, reddened skin, dry wrinkles, cracked, chapped lips. Irritable disposition. Gains loyalty through fear of his wrath. Respected for his battle experience. (Cellish)
Carlo: Boyhood friend of Ricco's. Now one of his advisors and lieutenants. (Micah Aragorn)
Caterina: 19-year old, 3rd child of the Duke, nicknamed 'Cat'. Has slightly feline appearance.
She's of average heighth, slim build, with a slightly pointed face and large green cat-like eyes. She has long black curly hair and a smiling mouth. A mix of "romantic" and "wild child", she's fiercely loyal to her family but fears Ricco, her older brother. Overly sheltered by father. (GillB)

Cesare: Thief, opportunist, mercenary, can be loyal if the cause attracts him, about 31 years old, medium build, black hair, brown eyes. (Lancer)
Crimson Knight: Paladin of unknown origin. Wears crimson red clothing and full crimson head mask or bright metal armor with crimson plume and cape. (Lancer)
Dante: Boyhood friend of Ricco's. Now an advisor and lieutenant. (Micah Aragorn)
Figaro: Jester. Brown hair, brown eyes. Tanned complexion. 21-years old. Somewhat well muscled and slightly taller than typical. Wears multicolor, geometric patterned clothing. Adept swordsman who entertains with verbal humor and physical stunts. (Lancer)
Giangiacomo Ghaia: Minstrel. Very tall. Green eyes. Tendency towards melancholy. (Jayhawk)
Loriana: Duke's middle child. Has auburn hair and hazel eyes. Frugal, wise, practical with money. Sensitive and wise to the needs of the people. Widely liked by the people. (Micah Aragorn)
Ricco: Duke's oldest son, heir to title. Has dark eyes, black hair. Spendthrift; arrogant like a bully. Feared and disliked by populace. (Micah Aragorn)
Roberto del Strego: A wizard who lives in San Luca Maggiore. Bushy-bearded, thick-eyebrowed, portly, red-faced Roman, with big hands and an impressive (roman) nose. He moved north to get away from the Church. He's loud, bluff (rough, blunt, but not unkind). He constantly wipes a bald spot on his head with a handkerchief. (Jayhawk)
Suciando: Duke of San Luca Maggiore (Greater St. Luke). Spotty (salt n pepper) beard; thin eyebrows; entrapping turquoise-colored eyes. (thurdl01)

Millefiore: "Thousand Flowers" - The home of Duke Alfredo and family (Ricco and half sisters Loriana and Caterina).
San Luca Maggiore: "Greater Saint Luke" - The home of Suciando and his minions.

Please only post story episodes in this thread. To communicate with other writers, please use the following link to the STORY DISCUSSION THREAD.

One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 08-12-2002 @ 09:44 PM).]

posted 06-07-02 11:46 EST (US)     51 / 140       
The fat alesmith grabbed a rag off the rack, and wiped off a wooden cup, more as an act of thoughtful reflex than through any dilusion that the cup would be any cleaner when he was through with it. The stranger was an odd sort, and the young man that followed him looked of an aprenticing age.

"Aye, you're in the right town, mister, but I don't much think you'll want to be providing the Duke with the kind of entertainment that he enjoys."

The stranger shuddered a bit at the implication. Answering the unspoken question, the bartender replied, "he's not the most plesant of men in the land, but he does keep us safe so long as we follow his regulations. Plus, with the rumored war getting ready to go full scale, I think the Duke will end up with as much of his type entertainment as he desires."

In a corner of the bar, a figure slipped out the door. Another overly inquizitive stranger in such a short period of time? The Duke would indeed ply gold for the news.

The alesmith saw the figure slink out, and knew where he was going. "Listen, sir, the Duke has more eyes and ears than I could easily count, and I can tell you that, by the time you make it to your cart, he will know why you're here, and what you want. If you want to wait, I'm sure that vulture of a tax collector will suddenly decide it's time to check my books. He often speaks for the Duke."

The stranger moved off to a table with the tankard, and the younger man followed behind him. The barkeeper put down the towel, examined the mug, shrugged, and filled it up for the next customer.

posted 06-07-02 14:06 EST (US)     52 / 140       
Figaro took a long gulp of the foamy brew in the wooden tankard given him by the alesmith. The boy drank from his cup the somewhat sweet but spicely flavored beverage that was also a brew; but his brew was made from roots and herbs and contained nothing fermented as did Figaro's. The boy wondered what ale tasted like, as his father drank the brew but prohibited the boy from drinking it until he was of a proper age. What's so special about ale, he wondered. It's nothing but grains and other plants. Someday he would find out, even if it was before he came "of age".

The jester took another gulp and peered over the edge of the tankard at some of those around him. Unfriendly all, he concluded. Even the alesmith seemed more cautionary than friendly. Uncommon for a alesmith. Usually these were among the most gregarious of villagers. Something about the trade, he speculated. No, it will not do to be here for too long; quench thirst and then go about his business in the village.

An empty tankard and cup marked the table where the jester and his apprentice formerly sat. The south end of the horse tied to the back of the covered wagon was the only view presented to Duke Suciando's men when they arrived on foot at the tavern. The alesmith recognized them immediately and secretly laughed at their improperly timed arrival.

"I'm afraid the two you seek are well on their way into the village, gentlemen. May I offer tankards of ale for a few coins to help ease your disappointment?"

One of the two men hissed something profane at the alesmith and motioned to the other to depart. Walking at their best pace they did what they could to catch up with the wagon and its occupants. The alesmith snorted in derision when the tavern door closed behind the departing men. "Good riddance to you. My ale would have soured in your guts anyway. Terrible thing to do to good ale," he concluded. Two nearby customers nodded in agreement.


"Keep your eyes and ears open, Fredo," reminded Figaro. "Your father told me he has 'eyes' here and you will recognize them by face or utterance. Stay alert, boy, and tell me when you find them."

"Yes, Master Figaro. I shall," the boy reassured him.


Indeed, curious pairs of eyes were refocussing on the two strangers in the covered wagon with painting on the side that announced an occupant was a jester. Which one? The young man or the boy? Maybe both? We'll have to see, the villagers concluded. By the time Figaro reached the village commons an entourage of curious onlookers had formed and followed them there.

There were two pairs of eyes with thoughts in mind other than entertainment. One pair of eyes recognized the boy and prepared to covertly signal the youngster, the other pair remained focussed on the jester; for they had met once before.

The Duke's men huffed and puffed as they did their best to catch up to the covered wagon before he had a chance to begin his show on the commons. They arrived too late. Figaro was already engaged in tricks and skits. People's laughter and applause echoed off the walls of the village structures that surrounded the commons. It would not do to upset the villagers by interrupting the show. The Duke would not like that... not at this time anyway. The Duke's men could do nothing else but wait.

So too waited the two men... the one who knew the boy and the one who knew Figaro.

One word deserves another.
posted 06-07-02 14:14 EST (US)     53 / 140       
The two men dressed in the robes of the Duke's guards shifted in the mud like an uneasy horse. The uniforms included hoods that the Duke enjoyed, since seeing not immediately seeing the eyes of the guards put his men at an advantage with villagers.

They also well hid the fact that the calmer of the two men had eyes that were an unnatural shade of turquoise...

EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 06-07-02 18:36 EST (US)     54 / 140       
Catarina woke with a start, stretched luxuriantly and had that one glorious brief moment before she was fully awake when the horrors of the last few days weren't yet remembered. However, all too soon reality struck and she lay back down again, fighting the tears that seemed to come unbidden much of the time.

A maid knocked at her door and, on entering, informed her that the Bishop had come up to the castle and wished to see her.

Caterina realised that, with Ricco out of the way, she could ask the Bishop's advice as she had intended to do the day before so she leapt out of bed, threw on her clothes and ran down the stone stairs looking far younger than her nineteen years with her waist-length curly hair streaming out behind her.

She stopped abruptly at the door to the Hall and wondered if she should go and tidy herself, but decided that the Bishop had known her since she was a small child so he probably wouldn't notice her slightly dishevelled appearance.

"Your Grace" she said, eyes downcast, as she opened the doors.

"Caterina my child" was the reply as the elderly man, weighed down by heavy robes, walked towards her and blessed her. "How are you bearing up? Is there news of Loriana? I need to implement your father's last wish."

Caterina shook her head sadly. "No news your Grace. I don't know what to do. She wouldn't have run away or shirked her duty."

"No of course not," answered the Bishop. "Loriana doesn't have an ounce of fear in her body. However, it is on a different matter I come to see you. I have received a request from the Duke that a place should be found for you in a convent many miles from here and ..."

"What?" Caterina took a step backwards in her astonishment, but then blushed crimson as she realised she had interrupted the man of God. "Your Grace ..." she started.

"I know, child" he answered soothingly. "Do not worry about the conventions. I had to tell you this .. however I am to visit the far side of the Dukedom, starting after I leave here and I am wondering if the instructions did not reach you before I had to go ..."

Caterina looked up with a tiny glimmer of hope in her eyes. "Your Grace?"

"You are lucky. You did not leave the castle very much during your father's lifetime so you would not be recognised by most of the people. Loriana must be found .. I am sure she is alive now but I don't know how long that will last. And now I must leave. I have sworn the maid and the guards at the gates to secrecy about my visit so none will know I have been here. Farewell Caterina, and may God be with you."

The Bishop made the sign of the Cross and then left.

Caterina turned and slowly climbed the staircase to her bedroom, pondering what the Bishop had said and wondering if she understood correctly what he wanted her to do.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
posted 06-09-02 19:15 EST (US)     55 / 140       
Coins clinked into the small metal pot Figaro had placed on the ground just before he began his performance. At its conclusion, smiling villagers with coins to spare tossed there coins into the container, most finding their way, though some landed on the ground close by. Fredo ran over to pick up the errant coins and place these in the pot with the others.

One coin had fallen close to where a man stood. Not paying any attention to the man, Fredo reached down to pick up the coin only to find one of the man's shoes had reached the coin first. Fredo looked up frowning, "Sir, that is my Master's coin now!" Then he paused as he saw the man wink at him. It was one of his father's men.

The man spoke in a gruff voice. "That's a dropped coin runt; it's not meant for the likes of you!" Then the man bent down and pulled the coin out from under his shoe whispering to Fredo at the same time. "Behind the stable at dark, tonight." Then he stood up. "Back to your master, runt," he said, and strode off down the street.

The boy feigned anger, "May the pox form a village on your face." Fredo picked up the last of the coins and ran back to Figaro, who was putting equipment and props back into the wagon. He whispered, "Master, I've made contact. We go to the stable, tonight, at dark. Figaro nodded indicating nothing more was to be said.

Figaro looked around just to get a view of the village now that his audience had departed. He saw two men in hoods still nearby. He didn't recognize them. There was another man standing in a shaded area, his face unrecognizable from this distance, though seemingly familiar. Figaro gave him a moment's attention, but was immediately distracted by the hooded men who seemed to be talking to each other and glancing repeatedly in his direction.

Who are they and what do they want, he wondered. "The show is over, sirs," he advised them. They stayed in place making Figaro wonder even more what the two were about.

One word deserves another.
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 06-11-02 20:23 EST (US)     56 / 140       
Cat sat on her bed deep in thought. All her life she had been babied by her father and Loriana, but she'd always felt that one day she wanted to break the shackles and find adventure like boys could. Now, all of a sudden, that freedom seemed a necessity rather than a half-thought wish, and she wasn't altogether sure she wanted it.

However, the threat of living the rest of her life in a Convent and the Bishop's implication of Loriana's imminent danger decided her. Nothing would be right in Millefiore until Ricco was deposed and Loriana was in her rightful place as ruler.

She knew the countryside quite well although she had not been allowed into the towns and she could ride a horse as well as any boy. A thought suddenly struck her. As a woman, she would stand out riding around on her own. But as a young man ...

She looked at her reflection in the window and saw the immediate problem of her hair. It was waist-length, thick and curly. She was still puzzling over what to do when there was a tap on her door and Maria came in.

Caterina explained to her what the Bishop had said, what she had decided to do and her predicament. From the folds of her skirt, Maria produced a kitchen knife. It was a long bladed, very sharp implement and, after a little arguing, Maria hacked at the long tresses which fell soundlessly to the floor. When eventually she finished, Caterina could not believe the difference it made to her appearance.

"If I can find some sort of cap, I think I really could pass for a young man" she said in surprise.

"Wait here" said Maria as she sped down the staircase. She was back very soon with some breeches, a jerkin and a cap all of which had certainly seen better days. "It's all right" Maria said, mistaking the reason for Cat's horrified expression. "They're my brother's and I asked if we could borrow them."

Cat reluctantly pulled the clothes on, finding the breeches very uncomfortable after her flowing skirts but, looking at her reflection, she was taken aback and looked behind her quickly. She laughed as she realised that there was no young man in the room .. the man she saw was, in fact, herself.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures

[This message has been edited by GillB (edited 06-11-2002 @ 08:32 PM).]

posted 06-12-02 21:03 EST (US)     57 / 140       
A large, heavy hand pounding on their cottage door startled Ceneri so badly that she spilled the irridescent substance in the vessel all over the worktable. Roberto del Strego, himself startled as well, shouted a warning to Ceneri as the first of the wood knots the spilled substance touched expanded and then shot out of the worktable and into the air.

Ceneri stepped back from the table, her eyes opening wide as another and then another of the wood knots wiggled and expanded and then shot into the air like a crossbow's bolt. Roberto had the presence of mind to duck as one particularly wild wood knot shot past his head and richocheted all about the workroom. The last knot touched by the substance bulged in place, and then shot straight up, lodging itself in the thatched roof overhead.

Ceneri looked at him contritely, her expression saying she was sorry and her voice saying, "That frightened me." Roberto sighed even as the pounding on the cottage door continued. "Better see who it is girl before they break the door down." Ceneri ran to the cottage door and opened the small inset door to see who it was.

"Duke's business, girl. Better open the door," said a gruff voice belonging to the taller of two soldiers standing outside. Ceneri did as she was told just as Roberto entered the central room, the one occupied previously by the jester and the boy, closing the workroom door behind himself.

The soldiers entered, the taller soldier wasting no time in giving his message to del Strego. "Signor del Strego, the Duke says you are to see him in his castle within the next two days. Understand this request? Shall I repeat it?"

"I am neither deaf nor simple in the head. I understand what you say." Roberto glanced at Ceneri standing to his left and to the right of the soldiers. "Did the Duke say I was to see him alone or not?"

The two soldiers looked at each other. "He didn't say," the tall soldier answered. "Ask him when you arrive there."

"When I arrive there? By then I will have travelled the distance perhaps assuming the wrong thing. The Duke can't expect me to leave the girl here all by herself, can he?"

"How would we know," countered the soldier. He and his comrade looked at Ceneri with expressions she didn't appreciate, then they looked at each other. "She looks like she could entertain herself adequately for a few days while you are gone... Or we could stay and look after her for you."

Roberto did not like the tone of voice or the look in the soldiers' eyes. "She will travel with me. Tell the Duke we shall be there as requested, weather and road permitting." The two soldiers snickered, gave a half-hearted salute and left the cottage. Ceneri felt only a little better after she heard the soldiers' horses galloping away.

"Prepare to travel to the Duke's castle, Ceneri. It is a brief journey. We shall leave tomorrow or the day after."
Ceneri would have preferred that neither she nor her Master had to make the journey, but when the Duke gave an order...

Then her mood brightened for she suddenly remembered that it was to San Luca Maggiore that the jester had travelled. As she began to gather necessary things, she wondered speculatively if he were still there... or maybe, with the Duke himself.


Caesare watched the two hooded agents of Duke Suciando as they discussed between themselves how to approach the jester, who was picking up props used in his final show on the commons. The boy was of no concern to them. Let him dash about trying to pick up coins, they said to each other. They laughed when they saw the man stand on the coin, bend over and growl something into the boy's ear, then pick up the coin and leave. The surprised expression on the boy's face was quite entertaining.

Caesare thought the boy's meeting the village bully to be something of a curiousity, but paid as little attention to it as did the Duke's spies. He was more interested in seeing how the jester reacted when the boy told him what happened. Hmmm... No reaction. A little unlike the jester. Not at all the same as when Caesare's two comrades confronted him on the Po River Road... former comrades, that is. Well, it was just a coin, something not quite the same as a life on the line.

Caesare decided he would spend the next few days remotely, but not too far, from wherever the jester might be. Duke Ricco's jester, huh. Maybe the jester might be willing to exchange some coin for some information Caesare happened to have.

Ah yes, the benefit of ale is the loosening of tongues. If not for that tankard, Caesare told himself, he would not be in possession of some knowledge that must be worth a pouch of coin from someone, maybe even the jester. What's her name, again? Oh yes, Loriana. And the place? Hmmm, the fortress of... uhhh... Oh, never mind, that's not important. What is important is that he knew exactly where the fortress was located and who was imprisoned there... The Duchess of Millefiore.

One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 06-12-2002 @ 09:27 PM).]

posted 06-13-02 16:10 EST (US)     58 / 140       
The two hooded men nodded to each other and advanced to where Figaro stood by the covered wagon. One of them pulled his hood back revealing an olive complected face with dark eyes placed behind a prominent Romanesque nose. Curly black hair, matted by the effects of the hood framed the top of his head. The other man made no other move than to stop at the side of his comrade.

"You are the jester who stopped in the tavern?" asked the unhooded man.

Figaro made a grand show of looking around the commons by swiveling his head to all points north, south, east and west. "I don't see any other jesters around here so it must have been me."

"The boy is your assistant?"


"Ah yes, apprentice. He is not your son?"

"No. Another's who has placed the boy in my care." Figaro decided it was time he asked the questions. "Who are you two and what do you want?"

"We should ask what it is you want," countered the unhooded man.

"To be left in peace to do my performances, collect my tokens and then to depart," answered Figaro.

"To tell Duke Ricco what you have seen here?" the man persisted.

"And what have I seen? A village, some villagers and you two. Is this information the kind to strike fear into Duke Suciando's heart?"

"We said nothing about Duke Suciando."

"You didn't have to. Everything here speaks of Duke Suciando. Why wouldn't you as well? Now if you'll excuse me I wish to find a campsite and then leave this village and return to Millefiore. Any reason I cannot?"

"None, Jester... For the moment." The unhooded man replaced his hood and motioned to the other to follow. Figaro watched them leave talking quietly to each other as revealed by the way one's hooded head was tilted in the direction of the other's.

Fredo edged closer to Figaro. "I don't like those men, Master." Figaro reached down and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder for reassurance. "Do not concern yourself with them Fredo. They are but tools of the Duke. Dull ones at that, I suspect."


The sky was dusky grey and Figaro waited impatiently behind the stable. Fredo too was there, watching for signs of anyone entering there from out of the early night's light. Finally, footsteps behind them...

The man who had faked a confrontation with Fredo appeared from a parting between two tall bushes. He smiled when he saw them. "You are much grown since I saw you last, Fredo. Here's your coin, Master Jester. You didn't think I would keep it did you?"

"No. And it is the farthest thought from my mind at the moment."

The spy nodded. "Here is the information you seek - The Duke, Suciando I mean, wants control of the Po River. He is considering allying himself with Venice in exchange for their help. Millefiore is in danger. Ricco is being played the fool. He thinks Suciando is his ally when in truth the Duke intends otherwise. Loriana is Duke Suciando's concern. He thinks Millefiore will fall into his hands easily with Ricco in control. He thinks it would be otherwise should Loriana fulfill her father's directive. That's why she was abducted."

"Where is she hidden?"

"I don't know, and that's the truth of it."

"How did you come to learn all of this?"

The spy snorted. "Servants hear much but have empty purses. Add to their purses and servants vend what they've learned. There are some who... What's that?" A nearby noise disturbed him in midsentence.

"You'd better go before you or any of us are discovered here," urged Figaro. "What is your name?"

"Fredo knows my face. If you do not hear my name you cannot reveal it under torture. It's best things stay as they are. Farewell, Jester."

"Farewell," answered Figaro as the man quickly walked away and disappeared into the vegetation surrounding the stable. Figaro looked around once more and then he and the boy walked back to their campsite at the edge of the town, just beyond the tavern.

Caesare waited until all three were gone before he stepped out into the open. Hmmm, the jester knows why and now I now why and where. More to be earned now than before. He walked towards his sleeping room considering what to do with the information in his possession.

One word deserves another.
posted 06-14-02 07:33 EST (US)     59 / 140       
Suciando's hood had remained in place, and the jester seemed to suspect nothing. On some occasions he knew that his own eyes and ears were much better for obtaining information than relying on those attached to others...

The jester could potentially be trouble. The only reason Suciando was ever willing to have even a margin of alliance with another duke is to have control over the flow of information in the arrangement. This jester could upset the balance, and could compromise his position in the upcoming war.

He turned to the other hooded figure, a lieutenant he almost trusted (Suciando had long ago learned the only Lieutenant that could be completely trusted was a dead lieutenant).

"Watch him. Do not let him know he has a tail. Do not let the brat see you, as he seems to act as eyes for the Jester. Send me reports when possible. Do not report to me yourself, watching him is your first and only duty at the moment. I will send word when your vigil is over. If you lose this Jester, know that I will find time to trust you implicitly at that point."

The lieutenant, a young man named Romeo DiMarci, swallowed hard, said "yes, Duke," and set about his new duty.

posted 06-17-02 20:47 EST (US)     60 / 140       
Figaro decided to extend his stay in San Luca Maggiore if for no other reason than to continue to entertain the villagers. His skits, physical stunts and feats of balancing skill continued to bring villagers to the commons regularly during the day. Even eyes charged to watch his every move about town could not help but be entertained and amazed by the things the jester did.

"No common jester," said one stranger to another. "Very funny stories and skits," said another. "He does more than just play the fool," observed one merchantilist who took time from his shop to see Figaro's act. "How does he do that, Mother," asked one of the young boys there to see the jester his friend talked about.

"He's kind of cute," said one young girl to her same-aged friend of 12 years.

"Who? The jester?" asked her friend.

"No, silly. The boy, his apprentice."

"Oh, I guess so," was her reply. I think so too, is what the friend actually thought, but she wanted Fredo to notice her first and so she decided to ecourage the other girl as little as possible.

"Well, I think so," reaffirmed the young girl placing emphasis on the "I" above her other words.

As he passed the collection pot around, Fredo ignored the two girls even though they tried to flirt with him all the while he worked the crowd.

Stupid girls, he thought. Why don't they go somewhere else and quit bothering him! Beat a rug or something. There's important work to be done and he, Fredo, was on his Master's business, as well as his father's. Stupid girls!

Figaro noticed the boy's difficulties with the two overly attentive girls. Later he said to Fredo, "Had some trouble with those two girls?"

"No," was Fredo's terse reply.

"They seemed interested in you."

"Who cares, they were just stupid girls."

"They didn't seem stupid to me. In fact, they seemed to be well spoken, intelligent and pretty," persisted Figaro, his voice carrying a teasing tonation.

"Awww, Master. They're girls. I don't want to talk about them anymore!"

"There'll be time enough for that later I presume," agreed Figaro, knowing that it was enough teasing for now.

"Huh?" said the boy who couldn't understand why anyone would want to talk about girls anyway.

"Never mind, Fredo," said Figaro, laughing quietly to himself as he walked around the wagon to put some of his props into storage. The time will come...

Then Figaro's mind wandered about in his own personal thoughts about "girls". Ceneri's face popped into his mind, with its smudges; and this was closely followed by an image of Cat. He wondered what Cat was doing, if she was well, if she was safe.

He wondered why he was wondering about Cat in particular... and not about anything else at that moment.

One word deserves another.
Micah Aragorn
posted 06-18-02 04:34 EST (US)     61 / 140       
Carlo hid in the shadows but with a clear view of Caterina's chamber door. Ricco had told him to watch his little sister's movements should she decide to do something drastic. It wasn't a happy task as he always seemed to get the droll jobs while Dante seemed to get the ones with a little adventure to them. But Carlo knew that to complain to Ricco would have a bitter reward and he wanted to stay on his good side hence possibly gaining stature and monetary rewards.

He slid a little further back into the shadow as he watched the servant and Caterina's childhood friend, Maria,approaach the chamber door and quietly knocking entered the room.

She was in there for awhile and although he heard voices he couldn't tell what they were talking about. Then the door opened and Maria left only to return a short time later carrying what seemed to be clothes and not the usual attire that the woman of this household would wear. They seemed to be of plain cloth and design. "What is that about?" Carlo said to himself slightly mystified.

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 06-18-2002 @ 04:38 AM).]

EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 06-19-02 04:52 EST (US)     62 / 140       
"What do you think, Maria?" asked Cat as she turned round to face her friend.

Maria gasped. "I think .. I think .. if I didn't know who you were, I'd think you a young man. I can't believe how different you look."

She then looked at her friend very carefully all over. "Hmm. There's a few minor things you need to see to. Your hands are a woman's hands. You must keep them hidden if possible. And your walk. You must learn to swagger a little as men do."

"Like this?" Cat asked, caricaturing the insolent swagger which was still instantly recognisable as Ricco's.

Maria giggled. "Not quite like that. Remember you are a lowly born man. Oh, and that's the other thing. Your voice and your accent. You must speak with your voice as low as you can make it and you need to talk as I do. You sound far too high-born for your clothes. Can you do that?"

"Of course I can." She sighed. "I suppose riding Campino is out of the question?"

"All organised" replied Maria. "You are to borrow my family's horse. He's old, but he will carry you safely for as long as you need him."

Caterina drew in a deep breath and went to embrace Maria. "Farewell friend. I will return soon with Loriana and Millefiore will be a safe place again."

She went towards the door and, hearing a scuffling sound outside, flung it open to see ... nothing. Blaming the noise on rats, she crept down the stairs following Maria and left the castle through the kitchens where an elderly but sturdy looking horse whinnied at her approach.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 06-19-02 07:28 EST (US)     63 / 140       
Caterina rode through the town and was surprised that no-one looked at her. She was used to riding through the streets with her father and seeing bowed heads. She decided that she rather enjoyed the anonymity and rode on, head held high, out into the countryside beyond and towards the River Po.

She had decided to head for San Luca Maggiore for, if it was Ricco who had taken Loriana, that would be where she had been hidden. She hoped that, once she reached the town, she would be able to find out more.

She felt a little shiver of fear as she was rode along the deserted tracks, the tall trees almost touching over her head to make the path like a tunnel. She heard strange rustling noises and sometimes a cracking branch. She even thought she heard muffled hoof-beats behind her at one time, but on turning round she could see no-one.

She was pleased to get nearer the river and see many other fellow-travellers heading towards the ferry to cross over. She dismounted and stood to one side, hoping not to be noticed. Once the river was crossed, she followed a side track towards the town as she was still a little nervous of having to speak to anyone. The forest was dense and the noises seemed more prolific than in Millefiore.

All of a sudden as she rounded a corner, a man jumped out in front of her. She reined in her horse swiftly as she did not want to run him down. The man grabbed hold of the bridle and, as if it was a signal, several others emerged from the undergrowth and proceeded to pull her off her horse.

"And what makes you avoid the main route to the town?" growled the first man.

"I .. I" Cat squeaked, suddenly remembering who she was supposed to be and instantly lowering her voice. "I wanted peace and quiet on my ride."

The man tore at something round her neck. "A gold chain? Surely this is woman's wear? Now why would a poor man like you be wearing a fancy gold woman's chain? I think you stole it, so now it's mine. Anything else hidden on you?"

"N-no" Cat whispered, cursing herself for such stupidity.

"I don't believe you. I will search you. Hold him down!" This last was to the other three men. The first took hold of her legs, the second of her shoulders. The third bent over, took hold of her jerkin and was about to rip it off when, in the distance, there was the sound of a horse's hooves and the creak of a wooden wagon coming towards them.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
posted 06-19-02 16:23 EST (US)     64 / 140       
"Look there, Fredo," said Figaro. The boy looked towards the place Figaro indicated. "Yes Fredo, I'd swear it was those three footpads again plus another, except I know two of them I sent to Diablo's Inn and the third gone to some unknown place in the hills. Stay low boy and run if things don't go well!" With that, Figaro snapped sharply at the reins and the horses picked up a much faster pace than usual.

Figaro saw the man pulled off his horse and cast to the ground. The distance closed faster yet. On one turn the wagon made as if to lift two wheels off the ground. Fredo gulped as he felt the wagon tilt and then return to solid footing once more. The boy held on a little tighter than before.

The footpad reached down once more and Figaro guessed either the unfortunate dismounted rider was about to be struck or some way else would suffer from the footpad's rough handling.

The noise of his wagon must have finally been heard, for the man, no... not a man, a young man or adolescent, lifted his head to see who approached. The footpad manhandling him let him go and looked over his shoulder at Figaro's approach. The ruffian turned, as did the other three footpads. It was clear they were trying to make up their minds what to do about Figaro. They appeared to have decided to wait.

Figaro reined in his team of horses a short distance from the footpads and the, yes, very young man who was now sitting on the ground. "Gentlemen, may I be of assistance? Are you having some difficulty helping this young man to his feet." Cat felt some momentary relief as it was plain Figaro, who she recognized immediately, did not recognize her. But this was a jester, not a warrior, not a soldier, and certainly not a knight.

"This is none of your business, jester," spat one of the men, apparently the leader.

"You know, there were some of you on this road earlier who spoke unkindly to me. Is there something wrong with your breeding in this part of the Po?"

"Are you mocking me?"

"Hmmmm... Yes. I am a jester, aren't I?" Figaro's voice turned somewhat sterner as he handed the reins of the horses to Fredo. "Help the young man to his feet and return his horse."

"He has some items that belong to me," snarled the leader. "I think I'll take them and the horse first, if you don't mind."

"I do mind, and I believe he has items you hoped would be yours, that is, until I came along." Figaro saw hands go to their swords and daggers and knew what he must do next. His hand pulled a throwing knife from his shirt that found a place in the chest of the man holding the horse. Startled, the aged mare reared as the knifed footpad dropped to the ground. The horse trotted down the road then stopped and looked back as if to see what would happen next.

Three on one, almost even, thought Figaro as he reached into the recess of his wagon bench to withdraw his own sword.

The young man, now totally ignored by the footpads, rose to his feet and withdrew a knife as the three remaining footpads charged Figaro. Bravely, he attempted to stab one of Figaro's attackers, only to receive a blow on his knife hand causing him to drop his knife, and a second blow to his face from the back of the hand of another thief. The young man dropped to the ground, stunned, but with his vision clear enough to see the assault being mounted on the jester by the remaining three thieves.

Figaro perfectly timed his leap from the bench seat to somersault over their heads and land on his feet behind the charging footpads, his sword at the ready. The surprised thieves stopped in their tracks and spun around to confront the agile jester.

Clang, clung, clang, clump, clang! The sound of metal striking on metal reverberated off the walls of the surrounding elevations. Figaro was being pressed inordinately hard by the sheer number of swordsmen he had engaged. Hmmm, not good this time, he concluded as he struggled mightily. Maybe, just maybe, it is one too many, he thought. And the youngster. He quickly glanced to where the stunned youth sat on the ground, eyes open wide, mouth looking the same. No, no help there. Obviously not a warrior.

Cat sat on the ground, the pain of the blow largely forgotten, as she watched Figaro wield his sword more expertly than the best swordsman she knew of in the castle. The jester a swordsman? Willing to fight for a stranger? Who could have known? Cat felt a little guilty for assuming the worst about him because of his association with Ricco and the timing of his arrival. She drew her breath in that moment as Figaro's battle took a turn for the worse.

Figaro staggered under a particularly savage blow, nearly tripping over a large stone in the roadway. He recovered his balance just in time to ward off a flurry of blows from his attackers. Though his attackers were wearying, Figaro, fighting three at once, was wearying more rapidly, despite his skill.

A movement in the vegetation between the river and the road stole a moment of his attention. A new rider in sight, maybe a friend, maybe not. He seemed to be approaching. Figaro groaned inwardly. It was the footpad who escaped Figaro days before. Figaro recognized him immediately. ENOUGH! A reserve of strength surged upwards to ride a crest of calculated anger in Figaro's soul.

Figaro found an opening in the defense of one of the footpads and administered a strong blow with his sword to the man's neck. Spurting life, the man crumpled to the ground. The other two stepped back staring at their fallen comrade. Figaro paused trying to catch his breath. It was then the two remaining footpads caught side of the newly arrived ally; for they recognized the man as one of their own, in the same profession, now alone because his comrades were dead. News travelled quickly among those in the profession of thievery.

Figaro readied himself to battle three enemies once more. This time he added a brief prayer to his preparations. He suspected it might be needed. Cat saw the other man and guessed the worse. Knowing it might be fruitless and in desperate fear for herself... and for the jester too, she rose to her feet to fetch one of the fallen thieves' swords. She didn't know how to use it, but she felt she had to help in some way.

Figaro saw the young man who was the cause of his current prolonged problem walk to where one of the fallen footpads had dropped his sword. The youth attempted to lift it, but it was obvious this youth was not used to such weapons. "Drop it!" bellowed Figaro. "You'll hurt yourself more than them with it!" The youth's face reddened, but he said nothing; nor did he drop the sword.

"There are three of us once more, jester. Make it easy on yourself and drop your weapon. The youth is no help to you."

"Ahem," said the newly arrived horseman. "There is an error in your count, thief. I see only two of you."

The leader's mouth opened wide as his chin dropped. "Cesare, you are one of us, not a traitor to our ways!"

"Not today, thief," countered Cesare. "I'd advise you to remove yourselves. The jester may be a little worse for the wear, but I think the day will be his if you raise your swords against him any longer." Figaro, knowing full well this was the third thief, the one he hadn't killed, stood there sword at the ready, though he himself was thoroughly puzzled by the third theif's unexpected goodwill.

The leader and his surviving accomplice looked at each other in silent communication. Then the leader decided. "Till we meet again, jester." The thief raised his sword in the form of a half-hearted salute and he and the other thief swiftly ran into the vegetation leaving Figaro, Cesare, Fredo and the unknown youth alone on the road between San Luca Maggiore and Millefiore.

One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 06-19-2002 @ 09:24 PM).]

posted 06-19-02 22:23 EST (US)     65 / 140       
As if unable to bear the weight of the sword any longer, the youth dropped it onto the ground and stepped away from the weapon. Figaro retained his sword at the ready still concerned about the intentions fo the newly arrived thief, Cesare.

Cesare dismounted from his horse and made a very obvious show of not reaching for any weapons so as not to alarm the jester. "Master Jester, I see we meet again," began Cesare.

"No closer, thief. I warn you." Figaro tried to mask his exhaustion as much as possible by keeping the newcomer away.

"I am no longer a thief, Master Jester. I am a merchant of sorts."

"What do you sell?"

"Message bearing services, information, among various things. Whatever oportunities present themselves. Perfectly honest... Well, let's just say more legitimate than is thievery. I truly mean you no harm." Cesare noticed the youth had walked up the road to recapture his idle horse and was returning with its reins in his hand. "A noble deed, Master Jester," continued Cesare.

Figaro snorted, "Reckless, you mean."

"That too. It was good that I came along when I did." The youth had now rejoined them and was standing behind and a short distance from Figaro. Cesare attempted to reassure Figaro once more. "Jester, I have no weapon on my person and my sword is in its saddle scabbord. As I said, I mean you no harm."

Figaro studied the man's face for any sign of subterfuge. Seeing none, he lowered his sword, though he didn't return it to its place at the bottom of the wagon bench. The jester heard a sigh from behind him. He turned, stepping backwards just to make sure both Cesare and the youth were easily in his view. "Are you hurt?" Figaro asked the youth.

Cat remembered to use her 'deep' voice. "No, just angry. Thank you, Master Jester." That was the first time she even considered putting the honorific in front of his trade. She did it without knowing it and surprised herself in the process.

Figaro shook his head. "You don't have to put false tones in your voice. I know you to be a youngster. Why... the blade of a shaving knife has never even met your face from the looks of you. Maybe it won't be long in coming, but today isn't the day, boy."

Cat flushed red with irritation until she realized what it implied. Good! He still doesn't seem to recognize me, she thought. So Cat modified her voice to sound like a boy's. Actually, it turned out to be less straining on her vocal cords that way, making it easier for her to talk than before. "I guess I wasn't much help."

Figaro shook his head. "Not a concern. You are a youth, not a full grown warrior. Your help was not expected."

"But why did you help me? I'm a stranger, just a boy as you say. Why get involved?"

"Hmmm, why indeed," said Figaro feigning a puzzled tone. "Because I was your age once and someone helped me who didn't have to, I guess. And that's how I came to be a jester... and to be in this place at this time, I suppose."

"Really?" Cat couldn't imagine how all of this was connected, but accepted what Figaro said.

"Yes, boy. Really." Figaro spun about, sword primed, as he saw Cesare step forward.

"Master Jester," said Cesare, who immediately halted. "I assure you I have changed my ways. I swear it on the blood of my family." Figaro knew this to be the strongest sworn oath among the peoples of the Po River Valley. It was not given lightly because it gave permission to the offended and his kin to take the life of the offender and any in the offender's family so chosen to die. Even the Lords of the Castles knew better than to interfere in matters involving blood oaths.

Figaro relaxed his tired grip on the heavy sword and walked to the wagon. He handed the weapon to Fredo, who wiped it with a rag and held it just in case, and to prevent anyone from seeing him put the sword in its hiding place. Figaro was about to address Cesare when the sound of trotting horses caught their attention.

A man and a young woman riding horses and pulling a loaded pack horse behind them appeared around the nearest turn south of Figaro and the others. They recognized the jester and his wagon immediately.

To Figaro's eyes, the girl on the horse seemed suddenly fully alarmed when she saw him. Her eyes took in the rest of the scene very quickly: Fredo on the wagon, Cesare standing nearby, the boy with the horse and the corpses on the ground. Then her eyes returned to Figaro and saw what the jester had not given much thought about. There were patches of blood on his clothes, most of which was the blood of others; but some of which was his own. Without asking, she urged her horse forward, dismounted and ran to the jester to see the seriousness of his wounds.

Figaro was surprised by the look of concern in her face that sent worry lines across the two smudges on her cheeks. "Oh Figaro! You're hurt!" She lifted her peasant skirt and ran as best she could to the river to dip the cloth she pulled from a pocket into the cold water. She returned just as quickly.

"Sit here," Ceneri said, pointing to a flat rock at the side of the road. Figaro obeyed, all the while looking in the direction of Roberto del Strego who approached on his horse, the pack horse in tow. Ceneri began to dab at the jester's cuts, while glancing repeatedly at his face to make sure she wasn't hurting him.

Cat watched all of this unfold saying nothing. Inside her was turmoil as she tried to understand what the appearance of the older, portly man had to do with the jester; and why this... this girl seemed to immediately leap to the jester's aid and comfort. She felt annoyed that the jester accepted the girl's interference without protest. And she felt something else, something different; an emotion she hadn't felt since she and her sister had grown up and stopped competing for their father's attention. It was... well... it seemed to be... kind of like... jealousy.

One word deserves another.
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 06-20-02 04:40 EST (US)     66 / 140       
Cat shook her head. She must be dazed after being pulled off her horse. Why should she be jealous of a grubby looking girl and a common jester?

Luckily common sense took over and she realised that she must move on while all the attention was on Figaro. She felt proud that she hadn't been recognised but didn't count on the deception lasting. She struggled to her feet, gently stretching arms and legs to make sure that no serious damage had been done in her fall. No, she would be aching and covered in bruises for a while, but she could still walk so hopefully she had been lucky.

She risked a glance towards the rock and saw that the grubby girl was still ministering to the jester whilst the large man stood to one side. All of a sudden their eyes met, and she felt naked as if he could see right through her disguise. She deliberately turned away and quietly mounted her horse, setting off once again in the direction of the town of San Luca Maggiore, ignoring the shouts that followed her and the feeling she had of piercing eyes boring into the back of her head.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
Micah Aragorn
posted 06-20-02 14:55 EST (US)     67 / 140       
"What do you mean she's not in her room?" Ricco's voice showing the displeasure at Carlo's answer to the whereabouts of his sister. "I gave you a simple job to do and you failed."

"I was doing my job and clearly watching everything. Well, except how that boy got in her room", replied Carlo.

Both Ricco and Dante,who had been standing next to Ricco, both turned their heads at Carlo and in unison said," What boy?"

"The one that left the room with the servant girl Maria."

Ricco now clearly disturbed said," You didn't follow the boy and Maria?"

"No, I didn't want to leave should Caterina leave her chambers." Replying Carlo thinking he had done the right thing. "After a short time Maria returned and entered the chamber again but this time there were no voices. So as Maria was leaving I asked her if your sister was there and she answered no."

"You did ask her about the boy?"

"Yes,and she said it was just her brother who wanted to talk to Caterina."

A growl sounded in Ricco's throat like a threatened animal,"You are a fool Carlo. Bring the servant girl to me."

Carlo did as asked and soon returned with Maria grasping tightly her left wrist and tugging her along into the room.

Maria kept from looking at Ricco and his two cohorts. She didn't wish to look afraid but her stance and the constant rubbing of her hands together showed differently.

Ricco moved to the servant girl and putting a hand under her chin lifted her face for him to look directly into her eyes and said," Maria, I'm only going to ask you this question once and I expect the right answer. Where is my sister?"

Maria slightly shaking and trying to be loyal to her childhood friend answered," I don't know my lord."

The gentle hand that Ricco used to lift her face left a clear mark on Maria's face where the slap had occured and sent her to the floor in pain.

"You will tell me where she is and who that boy was that left her room with you or I will have you flogged in the center of the town as an example to anyone who lies to me."

Maria tearfully sobbing and not wanting to be harmed nor show any embarrasment to her family answered him,"She has left to find the Duchess Loriana. The boy was she disguised as to make her exit unnoticable."

"Where is she going,"Ricco asked.

"To San Luca Maggiore.", Maria between sobs answered.

Ricco turned to Dante and Carlo and with urgency in his voice said," Find her! Don't bring her back here but watch her every move and if she is getting to close to the truth then bring her back. I can manuever here better without her added distraction." Looking at Carlo he added,"Think you can do this without failing me this time, dear friend."
Carlo took a deep gulp and without answering nodded his head.

Ricco then turned his attention to the servant girl," As for you. You are to stay in your room and not to talk with anyone. I'm not finished with you yet."

Dante and Carlo headed to San Luca Maggiore as their mounts would take them ready to do Ricco's bidding.

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 06-21-2002 @ 01:14 AM).]

posted 06-20-02 16:19 EST (US)     68 / 140       
Figaro rose from his seat on the flat rock flexing his tired shoulders and arms on the way up. Stinging pains pinpointed where combat with the footpads left their marks. None of the wounds was particularly deep. Most were merely scratches. The greatest pain came from his tortured muscles, the ones he used indiscriminately when wielding his sword.

Bianca, the girl nicknamed Ceneri, received a smile from Figaro and a word of thanks. Contented, she walked to the river to wash out the cloth she used to attend to Figaro's wounds. As she walked to the river she saw the boy climb back on his horse and ride north to San Luca Maggiore. She supposed he had thanked Figaro although she witnessed no such exchange. She didn't give the youth a second thought.

Cesare returned, shovel in hand, to find Figaro talking with his apprentice at the front of the wagon. "Where do I stow this tool, Jester?" he asked.

"You're finished already? I intended to help," said Figaro.

"No bother. I gave them a thief's burial. It didn't take long."

"Apparently not." Figaro didn't want to speculate on what thiefs considered a thief's burial. Then he reminded himself that Cesare was no longer a thief, though he knew their ways. "Place the shovel in the rack below the rear axle, please." Cesare began to walk in that direction but stopped when he heard the name "Caterina". He paused to listen from a discrete place where he could not be seen.

"...No, Fredo. I don't know why Caterina is dressed up to look like a boy. I thought it best to not let on I recognized her. She must have a reason. Anyway, she wouldn't listen to anything I told her and never has, so I thought it best to let her continue her masquerade. Who knows, she might be on some secret mission on behalf of her brother, Ricco. Odd thing though for the girl to do considering what's been going on in her household. Then again... Regardless, you're right. I wish she hadn't taken off so fast. I didn't have a chance to talk with her about her sister Loriana... And now we must return to Ricco's castle or there will be the devil to pay." Figaro felt uncomfortable about the situation but could think of no alternative.

Recognizing the conversation was over and that he had learned all he was going to learn, Cesare slid the shovel in place and returned to where Figaro stood. "Well, I think Master Jester that I shall be on my way."

"To Millefiore?"

"No, north... To San Luca Maggiore. There's a message I'm carrying that must be delivered."

"Farewell, Cesare."

"Farewell and a trouble free journey, Jester." Cesare fetched his own horse, mounted it and rode off at a quick clip in the same direction taken earlier by Caterina in her boyish disquise.

The deep voice of Roberto distracted Figaro from his thoughts. "We meet and part again, Signor Figaro." Bianca, at his side, smiled at Figaro.

"Yes, Signor del Strego, once again."

"I hope the rest of your journey south will be uneventful."

"So do I, Signor. Farewell. And farewell to you once again Signora... Bianca. Thank you for your very kind attention."

Bianca smiled broadly at the use of her real name instead of her nickname. She wiped at a cheek in almost a reflex reaction, depositing a small quantity of river mud there. Ah yes, if not ashes then something else, Ceneri will be Ceneri, thought Figaro. He found it appealing.

As he guided the wagon south on the Po River Road he glanced back for one last look. Bianca, back on horseback, saw him turn and she waved to him. He waved back just before a curve in the road took both from each other's sight.

One word deserves another.
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 06-25-02 02:50 EST (US)     69 / 140       
Caterina looked down on the town of San Luca Maggiore. She stifled a yawn. She was so tired, sleep having mostly evaded her since Loriana's disappearance and now so aching as well. She felt battered and bruised and longed for a comfortable bed.

She remounted her horse and followed the track down the hill, spotting an inn in the distance on the outskirts of the town. Maybe here she could find a bed, but she was a little nervous as to how to go about this as she had not visited an inn before ... after all it was hardly the place for a Duke's daughter to be seen.

However, she had to get sleep or her quest to find Loriana would be useless. She tied up her horse alongside some others outside, drew a deep breath and walked in, trying to remember to swagger slightly.

She saw a rudimentary counter, a few tables and benches and many men clutching tankards of ale. The atmosphere was hot and stuffy and the noise of talking almost unbearably loud as she pushed her way through the crowd to the counter where a rough looking individual was serving the ale. She drew herself to her full height and called out for ale and bread thinking that she was fitting in rather well. The man looked at her in a puzzled fashion, but poured the ale asking for her payment of twopence.

Caterina was aghast. Being a Duke's daughter she had had no need for money in her life and now had no idea what to do. Tears, as ever, sprang readily to her eyes. Surely she wasn't going to be defeated at this first hurdle? At that moment, she would gladly have welcomed even Figaro to help her out. She turned away quickly so that the landlord wouldn't see her tears and spotted a figure coming towards her who looked vaguely familiar.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
posted 06-26-02 22:20 EST (US)     70 / 140       
Cesare closed the distance between himself and the disguised girl as quickly as he could. His first glimpse of her was seeing her tie her horse to the post at the Inn and disappear inside its doors. She paid no attention to anything or anyone else, nor did she see Cesare approach just as she stepped inside.

The former thief followed her taking a place inside near the door just as Cat received her ale and bread... and the innkeepers request for payment. She has no money, Cesare realized just as soon as he saw the distressed look on her face. Perfect! Just the opportunity he was looking for! He left his place by the door and stepped towards Cat and the innkeeper.

"So there you are!" Cesare cried out, surprising Cat and causing all eyes to turn to him. "I'm lucky to have found you. When you dispatched those thieves one of them dropped this. I think it is yours. For what you did, you deserve its return... and my thanks as well. You saved my life." Cesare reached out and offered Cat a small pouch partially filled with coins. A small investment in my future, he thought, and well worth it.

Cat recognized him immediately as the one the jester called Cesare. Saved his life? That's not how she recalled it. Confused, but having no reasonable other choice, Cat accepted the pouch mumbling a word or two of thanks. She opened it and found twopence to pay the innkeeper and additional coin, enough to make a pauper feel rich for a day.

"A tankard for your trouble?" offered Cat, remembering her basic lessons in courtesy.

"I would be very happy to join you!" said Cesare with unfeigned enthusiasm. Another twopence and the filling of a tankard, and Cat and Cesare were sitting quietly in a corner of the room and no longer the focus of general curiousity.

"Why did you do that?" said Cat, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Because I, Cesare, know who you are, Caterina, daughter of Alfredo, late Duke of Millefiore," Cesare whispered back.

Cat's face reddened as emotions of annoyance and fear warred with each other. "How could you know?" she whispered, an irritated edge to her voice.

"It doesn't matter how I know. It's what I want to do that matters," he said.

"And what is it you want to do, Cesare?"

"Help you find your sister, the Duchess. I know where she is being kept."

Caterina's heart gave a little leap, then caution prevailed. "What is this to cost me?"

"Only a fair reward. I am a seller of information, nothing more nothing less. I have information you seek at a price to be paid. Are you interested?"

Cat did not feel compelled to trust the man, but she had nothing else to work with for the moment. "What will it cost me?" she asked, and then leaned forward to hear what price the man would ask.

One word deserves another.
posted 07-04-02 13:36 EST (US)     71 / 140       
In a continued whisper Cesare told her. "I'm tired of wandering about. Yet I have no craft skills. For the information I'm carrying I think a fair reward would be a plot of land in Millefiore capable of supporting crops and a herd of cows. Oh, and one more thing: a full pardon for anything I am accused of that happened in my past. It's very little to ask, I think, in exchange for freeing your sister."

"A pardon?"

"Uhhh... Well... You see, there are some things I have done as a matter of 'business' that are... well... Let's just say I regret them and would like to see them erased."

"You didn't kill anyone did you?"

"No! Never! Except in self-defense. There were some I came to know in my 'business' who killed for the fun of it. But I never did. Ask the jester. He knows."

Ask the jester? Cat leaned back in her chair considering Cesare's offer. Could she trust this man? She concluded she could trust the jester more, and that wasn't saying much for Cesare. On the other hand, she had no idea where her sister was being held and this man apparently did. At worst, he would lead her nowhere and he would not reap his reward. At best, she would find her sister, a task that seemed increasingly improbable until the advent of Cesare. Cat decided.

"I have no power to grant lands in Millefiore or to grant you a full pardon, Cesare, but my sister does. If we free her, I believe she will be more than happy to grant you your reward. I will insist upon it. I know my sister very well. She is honorable and kind and will respect my promise to you made on her behalf."

Cesare studied the eyes and expression on the pretty face of Caterina. She means what she says, he concluded. Yes, this may be the way to end one life and to begin another, one that he would prefer. Besides, if he were fortunate enough, he might be able to settle down with a woman at his side (one like Caterina, he thought but didn't say). "Agreed," he responded.

Cesare extended his coarse, calloused hand to Caterina, who put her smooth, smaller boned hand in his to make the traditional gesture of agreement. Cesare held it a little longer than he intended, but not too tightly. Caterina withdrew her hand as quickly as she could, not able to tolerate the contact for very long.

"Now we must make accomodations for the evening and obtain supplies for the journey," suggested Cesare.

"Yes, you obtain supplies. I'll arrange for accomodations... separate accomodations," Caterina added pointedly. She pushed some coin across the table to Cesare to pay for her share of the needed supplies; and both pursued their respective errands.



Figaro noted the tension among the servants and other residents of the castle keep and wondered (though he had a strong suspicion) what might be the trouble. "It's Duke Ricco" said one of the food servants. "He's furious about Mistress Cat's leaving the castle. What's worse, he doesn't know where she's off to. It's been simply horrible here since..." The servant was interrupted by a bellowing voice that echoed off the walls of the spiral stone stairwell. It was unmistakenly that of Ricco.

"Out of my way, knave! Go about your business or your business will be at the end of a rope!" A thump was heard followed by a cry of pain, no doubt from a servant who felt the point of Ricco's boot. Moments later, Ricco appeared at the bottom of the stairwell.

"See what I mean," the servant said and ran back to the kitchen to avoid the Duke, but leaving Figaro as the only other person in the Duke's immediate presence.

"So Jester, you are back! For what may I ask?"

"To serve you as you should command, Duke Ricco," replied Figaro. For a moment Ricco's expression softened. Such words always made him feel affirmed in the position he believed was his and his alone.

"No need of you for weeks, Jester. We have other business these days. My sister being one of them."

"Mistress Loriana?" said Figaro. Ricco's face managed a slight smile. Mistress... Not Duchess... Just 'mistress'. There are some, he concluded, who knew their place as well as his and his half sisters'.

"No, Mistress Caterina this time Jester. She is missing. My men are searching. You have not seen her in your journey have you?" The Duke's eyes searched Figaro's for any sign of subterfuge. Figaro was careful to not reveal anything.

"No one who looked like her when last we met, Milord," he answered. Suddenly clattering pots and then arguing voices erupted in the kitchen area. Ricco exploded once more. "Cursed servants! Can't they do anything calmly or quietly" he bellowed, his voice reverberating off the stone walls of the Keep.

Ricco turned to walk towards the kitchen in a great hurry. Figaro called to him before he disappeared. "Milord, do you have any duties for me!?"

"Not for a month of Sunday's, Jester!" called back Ricco as he rounded the corner of the great hall and entered the stoneway to the kitchen. "Go where you will!" This was said by Ricco with a fading voice as he progressed rapidly in the direction of the kitchen and the dispute heard therein.

Hmmm, thought Figaro. This makes a number of options possible. He walked to his wagon, where Fredo waited, thinking about what he could... or should do.

One word deserves another.
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 07-05-02 04:45 EST (US)     72 / 140       
Catarina's room at the inn wasn't what she was used to at all. It was small and the minute window was dirty, so very little light came in. Looking around and wrinkling her nose at the smell, she decided it was probably just as well the room was dark. If the rest of the room was as dirty as the window, then it wasn't going to be a very salubrious place to spend the night.

She sighed and started to get ready for bed. How hard it was without her maid but she was one of the common people now so would just have to manage.

She had just made her bed on the floor, not trusting the bed-linen when there was a tap on the door. A moment's panic overtook her as she remembered tales of robbers and worse at inns but then she chuckled softly to herself as she couldn't imagine there were many robbers who would knock at the door. She looked down at her state of undress and decided that opening the door would not be a good idea.

"Who is it?" she called softly.

"Cesare" came the reply. "I have supplies for our journey and it will be a long one so we will leave at first light. I have asked the landlord to provide breakfast for us soon after dawn."

Catarina looked at the window and wondered how she would know it was dawn but decided that if she did not appear, Cesare would wake her.

"Thank you Cesare" she answered. "Until tomorrow."


Cesare retired to his room to dream of freedom, his own bit of land and a normal family life. Catarina's dreams were far more disturbing. She dreamt of Loriana, of Ricco, of the jester and of Cesare; their faces and bodies seemed interchangeable and they all seemed to tower over her. Over it all there was a heavy black cloud and a feeling of danger. The nightmares woke her several times during the night, bathed in sweat, until eventually she was too frightened to go to sleep so she just sat, rocking herself gently, waiting for sunrise.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
posted 07-05-02 23:59 EST (US)     73 / 140       
The clatter in the wagon made Fredo put his hands to his ears. "Must you be so noisy in here, Master Jester? It's likely to deafen me!"

"Hush boy, I can't help it. It's not easy to reach these things and draw them out noiselessly."

"Impossible I dare say, Master."

"Quit your complaining. It's the last piece I'm bringing up this moment. Now, put the planks back in place, boy."

"Done master."

"Good. Now remember what I said. Stay in the village in this wagon or in the keep. If anyone asks about me, tell them I have gone for new props and I desired you to stay and watch those I currently possess. Understand?"

"Yes, I understand. Be careful Master. My father would be angry if I let anything bad happen to you."

"A noble thought, young Fredo; but I think the responsibility is mine relative to you. So you be careful, my young apprentice."

"I shall," said Fredo, a look of concern still hinted there.

Figaro smiled and gave the boy a gentle head rub and then went outside to place the bundle of items on the haunches of his horse, one of the steeds typically tied to the back of the wagon when they journeyed. Figaro leaped up onto the saddle and with a quick snap of the reins and the press of his knees to the horse's side, he directed the animal to the main road leading towards the village and Keep of Duke Suciando.


Cat slept so soundly she never heard the scrape of boots on the bough of the tree that grew near her window. Nor did she hear the window creak ever so slightly on its grimey hinges as it was carefully opened from outside.

The man entered her room and allowed his eyes to adjust to the greyness inside. He looked for Cat first in the bed, but was surprised to find it empty when it should have been filled. If not for the whimper let out by Cat as she slept fitfully with her dark dreams, the man might have stepped on her where she lay on the floor. He halted just before he would have placed a heavy foot on her outstretched, twitching hand.

He studied her form to ensure he knew how she lay on her makeshift bed partially covered by a nearly tossed off woolen blanket. He could see her hand now and across from it the place where her slender legs transformed into the gentle rise of her hips. The blanket sloped downwards from there, falling away to reveal smooth shoulders and a young woman's charms, though not indecently, just more so than would typically be revealed during the day and in public.

Cat's hair, short and closely matted to her head, gave her the boyish look she desired as a disguise, but failed to truly hide the beauty of her face, especially in the eyes of one who knew her. He smiled in appreciation and quietly placed near her hand a note he had composed.

As quietly as he entered, the man made his way through the window, closing it behind him. He then climbed back down the bough and trunk of the tree and quickly disappeared into the night. Though no one was awake or nearby to see, any who might have spied him would never have seen his face. They would only have seen the crimson cloth-covered head of a man of average heighth who seemed to be there for a moment and then was swallowed up by the night.


Cat sat on her makeshift bed, her hands shaking, staring at the note she found, wild thoughts racing through her head. The note said:

I too seek your sister. Be strong. There is one who shall help.

It was signed: A Friend

A friend? What friend would sneak into her room in the middle of the night and leave such a note. Cesare? What is he trying to prove? That he can do with me as he wants? That he can play his 'messenger' games with me at will? Cat shivered at the black thoughts her mind was constructing.

Cat nearly screamed as a ham fist pounded on her door. "Boy! Wake up! It's time to leave! Get a move on" It was Cesare making sure she was awake. He had the presence of mind to say 'boy'. Clever man, invading her room and then pretending to play the game by her rules.
Friend indeed. Cat called out in her 'boy/man' voice. "Yeah, yeah... hold yer britches! I'll be down in a moment! Go fill yer face in the meanwhile!"

Cesare understood the message, because Cat heard his heavy footed step as the man left the area outside of her door and made his way to the public area of the Inn.

One word deserves another.

[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 07-06-2002 @ 00:13 AM).]

posted 07-06-02 18:23 EST (US)     74 / 140       
Pack horse in tow, Cesare and Caterina left the village and Keep of San Luca Maggiore behind. "She is being kept in a stronghold at the foot of the Alps north of here." said Cesare. "It's an old Roman fortress, generally in ruins, except where it has been repaired."

"Who holds her there?"

"Men of the Duke's."

"Which Duke?"


"I might have guessed... Is my brother involved?"

"I think so... But I'm not sure. His name was never mentioned by my... sources."

"Lead the way then, Cesare. Your reward awaits you there."

"Yes," concurred Cesare. "My reward." He gave a sideways glance at Cat and then focussed them on the road ahead.

Other eyes were focussed on Cesare and Cat which went unnoticed from their places under the cover of trees and shrubbery: Two pairs of eyes in faces covered by hooded robes; and a third pair, separate and at a distance from the others, peering from holes in a crimson hood.

One word deserves another.
EXCO Alumna in Kul Tiras
posted 07-07-02 05:11 EST (US)     75 / 140       
The road seemed deserted. Evidently not many people were journeying this early. Although she had no idea of his past, Catarina found herself trusting Cesare. She did wonder, however, what would happen when and if they reached Loriana's prison. Would he imprison her too for a ransom? Or was his story of wanting to settle down true?

She pondered the little that Cesare had told her. Why would Suciando have wanted to imprison Loriana? It didn't make sense. Ricco had to be involved somehow.

She shivered slightly, partly from fear of what was to happen and partly as the air seemed to be getting noticably colder.

'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened' Moving Pictures
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