“Send for the fool, now!” The order ripped through the air like a bolt. Saing’s minions scurried to find the Jester. Saing continued to read through reports that a party had left the city by way of the Eastern Gates, among those in the party were the Royal Jester, Commander Goettch, and the Minstrel, Eepir Kahz. Other reports indicated that the Jester had recently met with a gypsy, Sir Gregor, and Dar Benedict. There was no information about what any of them had discussed.
On horseback, racing along highways that stretched into the Kingdom of Twisting Rain, the three men slowly disappeared into the budding sunrise. They arrived at the Village Hall of Middletowne, and growing city on the crossroads that led into eastern Gothex. There they saw a great festival already in progress. Many people had come to the hall, some dressed as their favorite characters, to celebrate the great story told by the famous minstrel Lucuase. Kahz, Goettch, and the Jester made their way into the hall and mingled with the locals. The festival was the perfect place to discuss matters of state. There were concerns about Saing’s rule and the role of Gothex as a border country between Twisting Rains and the Western Empire. They lacked the military forces to prevent an all out war between the two giants. If they ever went to war, Gothex would be crushed in the tidal wave of blood from their armies. Between Goettch’s military expertise, Kahz’s street gossip, and what the Jester knew about the Royal family and the civil government, they could paint a fairly accurate picture of Gothex’s strengths and weaknesses. Gothex had more than their share of weakness they all saw.
So they formed a new plan. The three men took less than a day to develop and map out how to secure Gothex’s holdings. The only thing missing, a few key players would have to make some unlikely decisions.
Back in Gothex, Lady de’ Gruse made arrangements for her father to be buried. Sir Gregor and Lady Hee A’tor traveled far to the south to aid and comfort the noblewoman. The ceremony was a somber one, the court was stunned to learn that de ‘Gruse’s father had actually been in Gothex when he passed. Many well-wishers spoke quietly in the mourning daughter’s ear as the paid their respects.
In Springville, a letter is dispatched to the Jester in Gothex, it is signed by three men whom the Jester has known for years. The messenger is instructed to ride until he finds the Jester and to personally hand deliver it. He is reminded that his family will be well taken care of, should he perish. Should he fail though….his family may never be seen again. So much trouble for three words, the rider thought as he set off on his mission.
As the Jester’s carriage passed under the Eastern Gates, it was stopped by the roadwarden.
“Yer wanted. Follow me to the Baron’s.”
“But of course.” The Jester replied. He didn’t think it would have taken long for Saing to want to talk to him.
Passing through Saing’s guards, the Jester noticed Tintar leaving the Baron’s chamber. The General was looking very tired and distressed. He carried with him a stack of dispatches and maps.
As the Jester entered the Inner Sanctum, a violent looking dagger embedded itself in the edge of the door nearest the Jester’s head. He stopped for a moment to collect himself when Saing spat “Explain yourself.”
“My Lord, I was verifying rumors of weaknesses in our Ministry of Intelligence.” The Jester eked out.
“Myself and the others who traveled with me went to celebrate the Minstrel of Middletowne and quietly tell some unreliables a few small tales. It was our intent to see if the information was picked up by Benedict’s agents.”
“Get out then.”
Not having to be told twice, the Jester turned and left, but not before noticing a map, drawn to show Gothex, not as a border country but as a small empire nestled between two giants. The Jester caught his breath.
“Fool, do you have something to say?”
“No mi’lord.” And with that, he slipped out into the antechamber.
To a guard standing post the Jester queried, “Where is the General?”
“Always in the war room.” Came the reply. As soon as the Jester turned the corner, another door opened and a man known only as the son of Lambare entered.
“Was that he?”
“Who? The Fool? Yes, that’s him. He and the General are old friends.”
“Then you have done well. Here is your reward.” The man tossed a bag of coins to the guard who missed them. As he bent over to pick up his earnings, he felt the hot point of a dagger penetrate his back to the left of his spine, burying its point in the rear of his heart. “Not
that you’ll have the time to spend it.” The assassin said.
Moving quickly, the wandering clown made it through the maze to the war room. “My friend? Is it time?”
“The time is now.”
“I will pass along the word. Go safely my friend.”
That night, as the Jester slept, he had terrible dreams. He awoke with a fever and needed fresh air. Crossing over to open the drapes of a window in his bedroom, he noticed wet footprints at the foot of his bed. Instantly alert, the Jester squinted his eyes to better see into the shadows of his room.
He did not hear the assailant behind him. It was too late; he felt the garrote go tight around his neck. Reacting without thinking he slipped his fingers into the strangle hold to try and catch a breath. At the same time he bent over forward, throwing the attacker off balance and crashing into a low table. Before he was able to recover, the Fool was knocked to the ground, pinned on his back, under the weight of the killer. Through the window, moonlight glinted off the killing device, a long thin handled dagger meant for the heart. Holding the dagger above his head the assassin hissed, “You cannot stop P’jai’us!”
Then everything went wrong.
Lady de ‘Gruse, awakened by the struggle, saw her husband about to be murdered, threw the candlestick holder with inhuman force striking the knife wielder in the back of the head and hands.
As the blade went skating into a darkened corner, the now unarmed attacker fled out the open window, escaping into the damp night.
Twenty-three days later, the messenger fell from his horse in front of a small shop where the Jester was still buying gifts for his bride.
Half dead, he handed a scroll to a man he had never met, but would knew on sight.
The Jester took the parchment.
The three words had arrived.