Of Black And Red | Sam Aro

I am aware that some of the names are a little odd, there is a reason, hint hint.

-Author’s note

Of Black And Red

Sam Aro

The Queen’s Cryptographer Award: Part 1

Music video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNjOf4WqgSY

Dan Benado was lying in his bed, trying to get some sleep. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t have been tired, for he really was, in any other case he would have fallen asleep in an instant. But no, there was something else, something that worried him.

Looking up he saw Old Kenweg hunched over the fire, probably feeding it with the billets of wood, which were piled up beside the wall.

”Kenweg!” Dan called out, wondering if he had slept at all. ”What time is it?”

The old servant gave the fire a last look before rising to greet Dan. ”It’s still early, sir. If you look out the window you can still see the moon rising.” His voice was reassuring, like it always had been. The fact that he was gaunt, but not spiny, made him look as little a threat as an infant.

Not bothering to follow Kenwegs instructions Dan rose from his bed, if he couldn’t sleep he might as well do something productive. Even before he was on his feet Kenweg was there, ready with a coat to replace the warmth of the blanket. Not because it would have been cold, winter wasn’t to come in many a moon Rather, it didn’t fit the lord of the keep to run around half naked.

With a sigh he walked up to the painting on the other side of the room. It depicted him, or rather a younger him. It depicted a man before a thousand worries, before his hairline had crept up four inches. He still had his robust and muscular build, perhaps he was even stronger now. But there was something, something missing. The eyes on the painting were unconcerned, they held no secrets.

Secrets was something the fifteen years as lord had forced him to familiarize with. Most had been more or less noble, to defend his servants and his friends, but some were of a lesser sort. Some he regretted, some he simply wished forgotten.

”Kenweg,” He called out. ”has Raffia found out about Damsel Si, the one with the lovely voice?” He trusted Kenweg, had done all his life. Why wouldn’t he? Kenweg had practically raised him.

”No.” Kenweg answered. ”I believe your wife is still clueless about the chefs apprentice.”

This should have been a comfort for Dan, but for some reason he didn’t feel at all relived. Kenweg saw much, but Tenrec Keep was large and it was impossible for Kenweg to know everything. Besides, Raffia was not stupid, sooner or later she would find out. All Dan could do was hope it would take enough time for the matter to become irrelevant.

”I appreciate…” Dan started, but Kenweg didn’t let him.

”No need, sir. I have only done my duty.”

”But some would consider your duty to be to reveal me.” Dan tried.

”You forget, sir,” Kenweg continued. ”that I am your servant, not your wife’s. In my eyes you have done no wrong, and there is no certainty that your wife would condemn you either.”

No certainty. Dan chuckled at the words. Of course she would condemn him. But perhaps Kenweg was right, perhaps he had done nothing wrong. What was the harm in it anyway?

”Kenweg!” The old servant nodded. ”I am feeling a little… hungry. Would you keep my wife out of the kitchen for, let’s say, tonight?”

”As you wish, mi lord.”

It didn’t take long for Dan to reach the kitchen. Passing a mirror he had adjusted his cloak a little, he was the lord of the keep after all. Not long ago the kitchen had seemed odd and unfamiliar, but recently that had changed. Now he could easily find his way to the back, and through the small, well concealed door.

The room was dark, but Dan wouldn’t need much light. A girl, perhaps fifteen years old, shuffled a little when she noticed Dan.

”Ready to talk?” Dan asked after he had carefully closed the door.

The chains around her wrists prevented her from fully raising her hands. ”Sir, I don’t know anything I…”

”Don’t lie to me.” Dan cut her of. ”I caught you carving one of those marks, what do they mean?” A few month ago Dan had noticed markings in various places. At first he had paid them no heed, but with time he had become suspicious.

They were always placed partly hidden, but still fully visible, say only for those who looked. Always a circle with some mark in the middle. Sometimes a crude S, sometimes a number and sometimes something unrecognizable. And they always disappeared a soon after.

One day Dan had caught Si, the chefs apprentice, carving a circle under the foliage of a bush. Now she sat here refusing to tell him anything, and Dan was running out of time. First Ranter-Veil, the chef Si was apprenticed to, had started wondering where she was. Then Tuygil, the stable master.

”I don’t want to keep you here.” Dan didn’t know what to do. ”Why can’t you just tell me?”

Her whisper was barley there, but he could distinguish the words in the dark quiet. ”Because… because he told me not to.”