Editor's Note: If you have not yet read the previous chapters to this story, please go to the Fantasy Archive and read those, first. Thank you, TDS.
Acting Regent of the Westerlands, Minister Avodar Moorcroft, was not having a pleasant morning. He had been awakened from a troubled sleep nearly three hours before sunrise and informed that Princess Isabelle was not in her room, as she should have been. The men at arms who had been sent to take into 'protective' custody were, as usual, useless, so Moorcroft dismissed them and called for his Captain of Guards.
Captain Goetz arrived as Moorcroft was being helped into a long, fur-lined robe, to stave off the pre-morning chill. The captain bowed, slightly, and asked, "Your Grace summoned me?"
"Get me some boots and stir up the fire," Moorcroft snapped at his young servant, Marc. The boy ducked his head and covered a yawn, then hurried over to a wardrobe, to remove a pair of thick felt boots. Still not having looked at Goetz, the minister wrapped the robe tightly around his rotund body and sat down heavily in a high backed chair, across from the wide hearth. "The Princess Isabelle is apparently missing," he stated angrily, ignoring the captain's obviously rhetorical question.
"I have been so informed, Your Grace," Captain Goetz said, as Marc dropped to his knees before Moorcroft with the boots.
"Have you mayhap been informed as to where she might be?" Moorcroft asked, as he stuffed one swollen foot into a boot and his servant held up the second boot for him.
"Nay, Your Grace, not at present," the captain admitted, "but I have men searching the castle grounds for her, even as we speak."
Moorcroft got his foot into the other boot and waved at the glowing embers in the hearth, indicating he wanted a fire going. Marc ducked his head and scrambled over to add kindling to the coals. "How is it, Captain," Moorcroft asked, rubbing his hands together for some warmth, "that the child was allowed to disappear in the first place?"
The captain stared straight ahead, the thumb of one hand hooked into his belt, his other hand resting on the hilt of his sword. "I regret to say I do not know, Your Grace," he replied.
Moorcroft turned to glare at the soldier. "And just what do you know, Goetz?"
The captain shuffled his feet, slightly, and then cleared his throat. "I had the child's personal guards relieved, just after the princess was abed, as you ordered, Your Grace," he said, still staring straight ahead. "The men who were sent to watch over her and escort Isabelle to her new 'quarters' this morning discovered her gone, shortly after they arrived." Goetz cleared his throat, again. "I now have men searching for her. There are not many places she can hide here in the castle, Your Grace."
Moorcroft snorted and turned to the fire, which was now crackling merrily, and held his near frozen hands toward the flames. "Princess Isabelle has lived in this castle her entire life, captain," he snapped, "and no doubt knows it better than you know the bare bottom of your favorite whore! If she wanted to hide for any reason, I daresay your men would not be able to find her." He rubbed his hands together, and shouted to Marc, "Bring me some heated wine!"
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