Seres rose early the next morning. Being woken up by the ring and the fear of losing Rowan had given fuel to her own nightmares. They weren’t as bad as Rowan’s, but there was no escaping it after the many years they had spent in the caves. Seres was even convinced that Amran’s nights had to be at least slightly haunted. The anger from how Rowan had been treated certainly didn’t help and it still flowed through her veins as she made her morning preparations.
Seres set out to find Rowan, only stopping quickly at an early morning street vendor to purchase some breakfast for the two of them. Fortunately the young woman was exactly where she’d left her. Still swinging her blade around in her second set of training clothes. She’d even managed to acquire a few observers during the night. Although they were all wisely keeping their distance.
It was clear from the glistening sweat on Rowan’s brow and the non-existent sandals that she had been dancing with her sword all night long. Seres was impressed. Even for an Ardent it had to be quite the feat. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like it had done much to abate Rowan’s rage. She couldn’t see it in her face, but Seres could feel it pushing on her own anger.
“Can I offer you breakfast and a towel Milady?” Seres quipped to get the attention of the dancing girl.
Rowan didn’t say anything in response. She just finished the last few steps of her dance before sheathing her sword in one fluid motion and hopping over to Seres with voracious intent. Some of the nearby spectators fled in her wake; the rest conveniently realised that they had pressing business to attend to.
Seres wasn’t even sure if Rowan ate her breakfast or simply inhaled it. One moment it was there and the next it wasn’t. At least she didn’t try to eat the towel as well.
With the entertainment at an end, the majority of the remaining spectators shuffled over to the guard house to get ready for the morning shift. Thankfully, most of the people entering the building hadn’t stopped by for the unusual show.
“Do you want to change or?” Seres left her question hanging as Rowan simply raised an eyebrow in response. Seres wasn’t exactly surprised by the answer. It would be a tremendous waste of time to go all the way back to the inn just to get changed, considering it was on the opposite side of town. Seres just hoped the silent nature of the answer meant that Rowan just wasn’t in a chatty mood as opposed to being the calm before the storm.
“Just let me do most of the talking, ok?” Seres asked as the duo approached the building. She was afraid of things going incredibly wrong if Rowan was the one taking charge.
Rowan glanced sideways at her. “Why?” she asked.
“I don’t want you burning the precinct down because of someone saying something stupid to you.”
That was enough confirmation for Seres, though she still had to grimace as Rowan slammed the doors open.
To Seres’ surprise, instead of reacting to a potential threat the guards inside just glanced at the entrance before continuing on with whatever they were doing. The only person to give them any further acknowledgement than that was the guard on desk duty. He greeted them with, “What can I do for you young ladies this morning?” and a disapproving look in his face.
“We’re here to see the guard captain,” Seres answered firmly.
“I’m afraid the captain isn’t accepting visitors at this time. If you wish to file a report, schedule an appointment, or issue a complaint, please fill out the requisite form. We have a scribe available if your reading and writing skills aren’t up to scratch.”
“You misunderstood me,” Seres replied with some fire, “that wasn’t a request. If you aren’t going to help us, we’ll just have to go looking for him.”
“We can’t let you do that.”
Seres flashed her signet ring and said, “You can’t stop me. Let’s go, Rowan.” For a brief moment, Seres swore she could smell burning as stepped away.
A few guards tried to stop them as they barrelled though the precinct. The smart ones did not. The observant ones were more preoccupied by the smoldering footprints that Rowan had left behind. She wasn’t about to set the precinct on fire in a fit of rage, but that guard had been as obnoxious as fuck.
They eventually found the guard captain’s office in a small, out of the way place at the back of the precinct. In a mirror of how they had entered the building, Seres denied him the courtesy of knocking and slammed the door open. The captain jumped in surprise, probably unaware of the commotion, and knocking over a large pile of paperwork as he landed.
“What in the blazes? Who are you?” Who let you in here?”
Seres gave him a steely look. “We’ve come to complain regarding two of your men.”
“You’re here to waste my time with a measly complaint? We have forms for dealing with matters like that.”
“Ah yes, how silly of me,” Seres replied sardonically, “I should have just let the issue fall to the annals of bureaucracy. Why didn’t I think of that sooner?”
“I don’t appreciate your tone, Miss.”
Seres stared daggers at him. “And I don’t like being treated like an idiot. This is a serious complaint and it needs to be addressed immediately.”
“Fine! On what grounds are you issuing this complaint?”
“That’s simple. They tried to arrest my companion unlawfully whilst also defending a rapist.”
Seres interrupted him before he could say anything else. “This is a formal complaint from the Crown, by the way.”
It was then that the guard captain saw Seres’ signature eyes and the signet ring on her finger.
“Your Highness! We had word of your return, but never in my wildest dreams did I think you would visit our poor town so soon.”
His tone had completely changed from annoyed and condescending to flattering with a hint of fear.
“I’ve been travelling with my friend and companion, Lady Rowan’efrii Alyris Naliir who was almost raped last night and then summarily mocked, harassed, and threatened by your guards. What have you to say about this?”
“Is this regarding the incident with Master Tamris last night?” the guard captain asked hesitantly. “He was brought in last night less than intact.”
“He’s lucky that’s all he lost,” Rowan muttered.
“That’s the one,” Seres confirmed. “Whilst in a heavily inebriated state, he accosted Lady Rowan in the middle of a busy street and tried to rape her when she resisted his advances. Being an Ardent, she was eventually able to break free and defend herself. In doing so she was forced to draw her sword on him to remove the offending item before things escalated any further. I’m sure you can agree that this was a perfectly reasonable response, considering the circumstances.
“Guardsman Ilum and Guardsman Kasta on the other hand, were inclined to disagree. When they arrived, they acted in ways unbecoming of any person, let alone law keeper. They ogled her, accused her of assault, threatened her with charges of public nudity, and not once did they offer her any comfort or even something that she could cover herself with. Instead, they insisted on leaving her
“It was only when Lady Rowan was pushed over the edge and she revealed her rank and station that they relented. Had been almost anyone else, your guardsman and the rapist would have gotten away with it. This is simply not acceptable. They should have been there to provide aid and comfort for Rowan regardless of her station.
I demand that they be stripped of their rank and fined with the money going to help other victims. Furthermore, I will be having your precinct investigated thoroughly for other instances of gross misconduct and malpractice. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Your Highness. Completely.”
“Excellent. Is there anything you’d like to add, Rowan?”
“What else is there to add other than making sure that bastard never attacks anyone ever again? Actually, there is one thing. He will need to be treated, correct?”
“To avoid the area being completely sealed, yes.”
“Then let it be while he is awake and without any pain relief.” Rowan’s eyes were fierce as she gave her verdict.
The guard captain paled slightly. “I’m not sure — are you going to ratify that request, Your Highness?”
“I don’t need to,” Seres answered. “Rowan was granted the titles of Ardent Flame and Lady of Fire by my mother and would thus be well within her right to claim the man’s life. Surely you heard the news? This is the written decree if you don’t believe me.”
The guard captain paled even more. He could almost pass for a corpse. “That won’t be necessary. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“I can’t think of anything. How about you, Rowan?”
With nothing left to be said, they left the terrified guard captain to his duties and the precinct only little less disruptively than they had entered.
At Rowan’s suggestion, they stopped by the town’s pitifully small Messenger’s Guild to have Seres’ investigation request delivered to the capital. They paid triple to ensure that the message would before Seres was forced to utilise her original plan of using the official Resonance Crystal channels in Feldran. The receptionist told them it would depart either later that day or the next on one of the boats. Seres would still need to check once they arrived in Feldran, but it meant that the investigation would have time to get rolling.
Once the request had been processed, it was back to the inn. There were still a couple of things that they needed to do before they could leave. Namely, Rowan was in dire need of a bath and a change of clothes.
Seres handled everything else while Rowan made war on all the dust and grime she had picked up while training. It would take considerably more to wash away what had happened last night, she dared not think of how long that would mark her, but it was a start.
Once she was done with the bath, Rowan started slipping into the riding clothes that Seres had put aside. She completed the ensemble by belting a long curved knife to the back of her waist and a smaller dagger to one of her boots. Finally she attached the badge of the Ardent Flame firmly to her belt.
She hadn’t given it much credence until now. That was probably a mistake. At the same time, Queen Elarin hadn’t exactly been clear in it’s purpose. If anything, Rowan was half convinced that she didn’t actually know its full purpose. She had, after all, given it to Rowan in private and then announced it only a few hours later.
The icing on the cake, however, was what she had said about when it was just the two of them. Rowan could, without too much difficulty, summarise the conversation as, “If you have any problems, show this to such and such and they should be able to assist you,” and, “this is a relic from the first Ardent Flame, so keep it safe.” The former was an obvious use for a symbol of rank. The latter, on the other hand, just seemed like “this is old and important and I don’t know why.”
Part of Rowan wondered if the badge would have been useful with the guards, but in the end she realised it was unlikely that they’d have recognised it. While Rowan was sure the announcement and, by extension, relevant descriptions were being distributed across official channels, the two guards likely weren’t in the know. In which case it would probably have just come across as flashing some fancy jewellery. As time went forwards, however, more people would recognise both her and the badge.
There was also the second line which had been Rowan’s primary reason for keeping it in her packs until it was needed. That had been her way of keeping it safe. Again, Queen Elarin hadn’t given her much to work with other than potentially hint that there might be more to the badge. You don’t get to be an ancient relic and not be special. Just look at Elan Fiir. Then again, it didn’t have a flashy name. She’d need to ask Seres if she could see anything strange about it.
That would need to be a question for the road. To ask it now would just keep them in Baromiir, which was not an option Rowan wanted to consider. Fortunately, all the packing was done so there was nothing left keeping them there.
Author’s Notes: So originally this was a significantly shorter segment of a chapter alongside what is now Chapter 29. However, one of my beta readers suggested that I add more detail and split it in two. This is the result so I hope you like it.