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A whisper in the dark, p.1
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       A Whisper in the Dark, p.1

           TD Bauer
 
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A Whisper in the Dark


  A Whisper in the Dark

  By: TD Bauer

  Published by: TD Bauer

  Copyright 2013 TD Bauer

  Cover art by: Allison Preswick

  www.allison-preswick.com

  License Notes

  All rights, including the right to reproduce this eBook, or portions thereof, in any form, are reserved by the author. This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only, and may not be resold or given to other people. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents and events are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Other Published Works

  by TD Bauer:

  (Tales of Katsume Shogoro)

  A Ronin's Honor (#1)

  Duel at Strolling Ponds (#2)

  Dedications

  To Mom

  For all the encouragement over the years

  to keep writing, for being a supportive beta-

  reader, and just because.

  To Dad

  You've set so many great examples over

  the years, one of which has been

  tackling your interest and hobbies

  head-on.

  To Nancy

  For putting up with my craziness that all

  authors go through from time to time.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  About the Author

  Chapter I

  Despite the seaside-sounding name, Tulle-sur-Mer was located half a league inland. Once it had been a sleepy port, but long ago the Rennes River silted up where it emptied into the ocean and left the town dry. These days Tulle-sur-Mer managed some minor fame due to the efforts of a local winery, but even then it had been some years since a noteworthy vintage had been produced. With the port long gone and the town a few days ride from notable crossroads, Tulle-sur-Mer was considered out of the way by most travelers.

  The sun had already set hours earlier when two men on horseback approached the town’s southern gate. No guards stood watch, and the travelers rode into the town without comment or question. The narrow lane they followed was sparsely lit and cobbled. Stone and plaster houses as well as shops lined both sides of the street and were built wall to wall with no space between. Every hundred feet another narrow street would branch off, winding its way to another part of the town. In the distance the sounds of an occasional drinking house with its music and laughter could be faintly heard. Most of the dwellings the two travelers passed were dark and showed no signs of light from within, indicating people were likely fast asleep, which was to be expected at such an hour.

  One of the two travelers was a man in his late twenties with shoulder length dark brown hair, dark calculating eyes, and neatly trimmed goatee. His name was Navarr Doucette, a shrewd man in the service of the Queen Mother. He was of average height for a man of Rennardy, lean of build, with a square jaw and slightly retrousse nose. He was dressed in the attire of a chevalier; with brown leather breeches, brown leather vest over a white sleeved shirt, turned down knee boots, matching gauntleted gloves and baldric, and wide brimmed hat upturned on the left side and adorned with a white ostrich feather. Attached to his baldric, at his left hip, was a well-crafted swept-hilt rapier. Further back behind his rapier was a parrying dagger. Both weapons looked the part of having seen some use. His only other armament was a heavy wheel-lock pistol concealed beneath his travel cloak.

  The man riding alongside Navarr was ten years older and already showing signs of graying brown hair in his thick goatee with a few wrinkles about the eyes. His name was Gaston Charboneau, the Duke de Bouford, brother to the Queen Mother and uncle to the King. Though his dark red doublet was in fact suitable for arduous travel, it spoke of newness and finery more accustomed to that of a wealthy merchant or tradesman. Boots, gloves, and wide brimmed hat were of matching color, with the later decorated with a black ostrich feather. His collar, cuffs, and the trim of his turned down thigh boots were bedecked with white lace, and noticeably dusty from the road. He was armed in a similar manner as his younger traveling companion, though his rapier and dagger were fanciful in appearance with gold-gilt trim along their hilts and ruby pommels.

  The Duke’s attire concerned Navarr more than a little. He was supposed to be discretely escorting the nobleman to the city of Bayonne where the Queen awaited her brother’s arrival. The need to travel in secrecy and avoid undue attention was something Navarr stressed implacably from the start of their journey. But the Duke refused to wear second-hand clothing or anything that was faded from previous use. It was all Navarr could do to dress the nobleman down to his current choice of clothes. He just hoped it would be enough so the Duke would not be recognized for who he really was during their long journey. Already they had been on the road for three days and all had gone well, which did little to relieve Navarr of his concern.

  Navarr and Gaston continued following the main street north in silence. After a short while the narrow lane opened up into a small market square. The item hawkers and laborers had long ago taken their goods and returned to their homes at dusk, leaving row upon row of empty stalls and booths in their absence. The only indication that people had been present at all was from trampled remains of vegetables and broken glass that marked the ground around several of the booths.

  “That looks like a suitable establishment,” said Gaston. He gestured to a large building made entirely of cut stone located across the square. An oil lantern above the building’s doorway provided enough light for the sign hanging left of the doorframe to be clearly depicted; The Blue Sparrow Inn.

  Navarr nodded and the two men guided their horses in that direction. Upon dismounting they both took a moment to stretch before grabbing their saddlebags and heading for the inn’s large door. Gaston moved to open the door but it wouldn’t budge. It was locked tight.

  “Landlord!” shouted Navarr at the door. He turned from the sturdy looking oak door and studied the outside of the inn, noting its small windows that were heavily barred. “Locked door, barred windows,” he murmured to Gaston, “not particularly inviting for those wanting rest for the night.”

  Gaston didn’t have a chance to reply before the inn’s door swung slowly open several inches. The bearded face of a middle-aged man peered out and looked curiously at the two travelers with small, dark eyes.

  “What do you want?” asked the innkeeper.

  “I’d think that obvious, monsieur,” said Navarr incredulously. “It’s late and we’re weary from the road.”

  Uncertainty etched upon the innkeeper’s grisly face as he looked back and forth from Navarr to Gaston.

  “We’re not without means of payment,” Gaston said as he produced a bulging coin purse from inside his doublet. He gave it a few shakes for emphasis and the coins inside clinked together.

  “Silver?” asked the innkeeper doubtfully.

  “Better,” replied Gaston with a smile, “gold, freshly minted pistoles.”

  Navarr sighed inaudibly. No matter how often he stressed to the Duke the need to avoid undue attention the man didn’t seem to care. Flaunting a coin purse and displaying such wealth did not help to maintain obscurity. He would have to comment further when both men were alone.

  “Your names?” asked the innkeeper.

  “I’m Gaston and my young friend with the brash manners is Navarr.”

  The innkeepe
r steeped back and opened the door wide. He made a quick gesture for the two companions to enter. Inside a few candles burned low on tabletops and a fire smoldered in the fireplace. A young boy of about twelve years of age sat at a small table outside the kitchen door and looked on with interest at the two travelers.

  “They’ve horses that need tending,” said the innkeeper to the boy as he disappeared in the kitchen. The boy quickly rose from his table and went to tend the animals without a word spoken to either traveler.

  Both Navarr and Gaston removed their travel cloaks and sat at a table with the bearing of men who had traveled far. Gaston couldn’t help but cringe under the withering stare that Navarr set upon him, and before long his own eyes dropped to the tabletop. Few were the men who could exchange hard looks with the Queen Mother’s most trusted agent. Gaston didn’t need to ask what was bothering the younger man, for he knew his own actions outside the inn’s door was the cause of it.

  After a few minutes of silence the innkeeper returned from the kitchen with a tray of food, two bottles of wine and cups. After sitting the tray down on the table he went and sat in a chair near the fireplace. Navarr and Gaston wasted little time as they eagerly helped themselves to the cheese, bread, and cuts of beef on the tray.

  “You receive many guests, monsieur innkeeper?” Gaston asked between bites.

  “Just occasional travelers passing through. Few are the locals who frequent my establishment. They prefer the gambling and drinking halls when compared to the simple fare that I provide.”

  A dozen minutes passed with more silence as Navarr and Gaston filled their bellies. Finally Navarr pushed the tray to the side and stood with Gaston following suite.

  “If you don’t mind,” Navarr said to the innkeeper, “we must rise with daybreak and be back on the road. Can you see us to a room with a couple beds?”

  “Certainly. I'll show you to my best room.”

  The innkeeper reached for a lit candle sitting atop one of the tables and gestured for the travelers to do the same. He waited a moment until both men had their saddle bags and candles in hand then led them to a dark hallway towards the back of the main room. The innkeeper led them past a handful of doors lining both sides of the hall before finally opening the last door at the halls’ end. He led the travelers through the doorway and into a modestly decorated room with two small beds, a round rough-hewn table, and two chairs. The walls were lined with dark wood panels and a small brick fireplace was on the opposite side of the room from the beds.

  “Is this the best you have?” Gaston asked. He wasn't overly impressed with what he saw.

  “Yes, monsieur. I apologize if you are used to more finery, but I try to keep things simple.” The innkeeper lit a small lamp that sat on the table brightening the room considerably from what meager light the candles had provided.

  “This will more than suffice,” Navarr said, giving Gaston a disapproving glance.

  “Will you gentleman need anything else?”

  “We’ll be early to rise,” Navarr answered. “If you could see to it our horses our ready at first light as well as our bill it would be appreciated.”

  “And something to break our fast,” Gaston quickly added.

  “Yes, of course,” Navarr agreed, “but have it ready for us to take on the road,” he said to the innkeeper. Then he turned to Gaston, “We’ll eat in the saddle.”

  “The saddle? I’ve never-“

  “Thank you, that will be all,” Navarr said, cutting off his traveling companion and dismissing the innkeeper.

  As the innkeeper left the room Navarr closed the door and bolted it making sure it was secure. Turning he stood and squarely faced Gaston with a disapproving look.

  Gaston sighed, “Please, not another lecture.”

  “I’d say you need it.”

  “What’s wrong with wanting to be comfortable while traveling?”

  “As brother to the Queen you’re certainly entitled to a lavish carriage with a team of six white horses as well as a score or two of armed guards. However-“

  “No ‘howevers’ and no ‘buts’, if you please,” Gaston interrupted, already feeling defeated. He plopped down in a chair, wishing he at least had one servant to see to his needs.

  “However,” Navarr continued, “the need for you to travel and arrive quietly at court was expressly ordered by your sister. That’s why we’re traveling the back roads, that's why you don’t have a carriage to ride in, and that's why I wanted you to dress below your station. Flaunting your wealth and desiring treatment you’re typically accustomed to doesn’t bode well for the purpose of our travel.”

  “I’m just bored, is all.”

  Navarr kneeled down before the fireplace and began to stack some kindling and wood to make a fire. “Oh, and why is that?” he asked over his shoulder.

  “When I heard I’d be traveling alone with you I was certain there would be some adventure to be found, some excitement.”

  “And why would you think that?” Navarr asked, though he already knew the answer. He was at the Queen’s beck and call, just like his father was before him, and like his father he found himself mixed up in many intrigues. Stories of some of those adventures, where danger and daring was found around every corner, became common gossip among the nobles of the kingdom.

  “You’re the Queen’s agent after all! But we’re halfway through our journey and there’s been nothing but dusty roads and dreary little inns.”

  “Good, let’s keep it that way.”

  Navarr took his candle and lit some parchment, and then in turn used it to start the kindling on fire in the hearth. He fed the growing fire as it continued to spread. The sound of popping wood and acrid smoke faintly filled the room.

  Standing, Navarr moved towards one of the beds but stopped short when he noticed Gaston looking at him expectantly.

  “What?” Navarr asked.

  Gaston looked at his dusty boots, “I don’t suppose you’ve pity enough in your heart to re-“

  Navarr held up his hand for silence, “You may be the Queen’s brother and the Duke de Bouford, but I’ll not help you remove your boots.”

  “Well it was worth a try.”

  “If you knew me at all from these past few days you’d know it wasn’t.”

 
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