71 The Noble Visitor*
It had taken him months, but finally, Aegin had found a way to answer the questions that had been burning within him. He'd been sent on various missions, his father had no doubt suspected him because of his behaviour and had tried to keep him occupied. Still, every spare moment that Aegin could find was dedicated to getting information. Information privy only to the Duke's private office.
It was almost impossible to get near the office without being detected, certainly during the day when the office window was in plain view of a nearby garden frequented by servants and other kinds of foot traffic. Never mind the hall door. That was under constant guard watch day and night. The Ridge Men were not Guards. They weren't even allowed inside the estate except for when they were receiving their missions.
It had been too risky for Aegin to make a move, so instead, he'd waited for an opportunity. If nothing else, his time amongst the Ridge Men had taught Aegin patience.
Finally, just as Autumn was arriving, the opportunity came. Aegin had overheard the guards preparing for the 'Noble Visitor'. It was a code word used amongst all of the forces of the Kildare family. It meant that the Emperor himself was visiting.
Outside of the Kildare family, it was very rare for the Emperor to visit anybody. Most of the public believed that he rarely left the capital. If it were up to his advisors, the Emperor really would never leave the Palace. But the Kildare family had always had stubbornness in their veins.
So why was the Emperor's visit such a big deal for Aegin? Because the entire security of the estate would be focused on keeping the Emperor safe. That meant that not only were the guards surrounding the Duke of a lesser pedigree, but they were also less likely to spot trouble. And more importantly, the Duke himself would focus his time more on pleasing the Emperor than anyone else.
It may have been strange for the Duke, a Kildare by blood, to curry favour with a relative, but that relative was the Emperor, and from a more significant branch of the Kildare family. His favour in all things were a basic requirement to keep the Kildare line in power. After all, an Emperor could easily swing his favour to the family of one of his advisors or one of his queens or concubines should their words be pretty enough or their coffers big enough. It depended entirely on the state of the empire. And the Empire was on the decline.
The Emperor was staying the night, so Aegin picked his time carefully. The Duke would not want to show off the Emperor's visit, it was more than likely he'd use the evening to have drinks with the Emperor rather than a lavish party. Sure enough, there were no extravagant orders from the kitchen nor changes in guard rotation. Just a carriage that arrived inconspicuously during the day and left mid-afternoon with a body double.
Now all that was left was to wait until the candles in the parlour were lit.
Aegin rested on the balcony that was attached to the Parlour. It overlooked the cliffs and the main town far below. Just to his right and two floors down was the balcony he would usually go to when receiving his missions. The balcony he now sat on was much larger, and used for entertaining guests in the summer months. Now, with the chill in the air, they were unlikely to come outside, and even if they did, there were plenty of hiding spots for Aegin to take advantage of.
It was after eleven when the Duke and the Emperor, a younger man with an even more arrogant air about him than his older companion, entered the Parlour.
Aegin took out a crystal glass he'd swiped from a local tavern, and placed it carefully against the glass of the window from the corner of the balcony. Though the voices were slightly muffled, Aegin could piece together enough of the conversation to understand what they were saying.
"...enough of your indulgences, Cornerlius," the Emperor whined, "Tell me some good news".
"Well, Francois has managed to secure a connection to the dwarves in-"
"You know what I meant, Cornelius," the Emperor sighed, he sounded partly drunk already, but that only made Aegin's job easier, "How are things going with the little monster you locked up?"
Cornelius sighed, "Progress has been...slow, Your Majesty. Doctor Zaroth is doing all he can to discover the boy's secrets but the boy is becoming more and more hostile towards his efforts".
"And of our ultimate goal?" asked the Emperor.
There was silence, and Aegin had to stop himself from leaning closer to listen, movement would only make somebody aware of his presence.
"The girl was placed in the cell beside him...unfortunately as per the last report, the boy showed no signs of interest in her," Cornelius admitted.
They must have been talking about Seri. Even Aegin had found her irritating the last time he'd visited Rassa. He'd only put up with her for half an hour, let alone the weeks she'd been within Rassa's range. She clearly had no idea of the extent of his senses. Despite her imprisonment, she was still wearing clothes more lavish than that of a prisoner. Perhaps not of a noble, but her smell was enough to tell Rassa that she wasn't thrown there coincidently. Aegin need play no part in alerting him of that.
A glass was smashed, and Aegin frowned. What was their ultimate goal?
"It doesn't sound like your blood if he is not drawn to a pretty face, Cornelius, are you sure of who the boy is?" asked the Emperor.
Aegin froze at the implication in their words. Whoa, what?
"He is Phillip's boy, that is a certainty," Cornelius replied.
The Emperor seethed in anger, "We need an heir, Cornelius, we're all getting older, and without any children in our houses we are beginning to receive questions of our virility. The whole family is. Our only solution to break the curse is to have someone who is of our bloodline yet does not acknowledge it produce our offspring for us. As far as you have told me, this Rassa is not even aware of his origins, he should have no problem producing offspring, and yet you tell me that the first pretty girl he's exposed to in his years as a man is producing nothing?"
There was silence for a moment, "I'll have Zaroth hurry the process along".
"You had better".
Aegin removed the glass cup from the window as carefully as possible, then slipped over the edge of the balcony and down the cliff.
Grandson. Rassa was the Grandson of Cornelius Kildare. He was a Kildare? Why the hell were they locking a Kildare in a place like Jerrica? No wonder Phillip had left.
Aegin paused halfway down the cliff, a question popping into his head at the image of seeing Phillip in Cordon. The look on his father's face.
Has his father known the whole time? Aegin frowned. Only one way to find out.