Chapter 81: Loctris 2
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The whitecloak led Benzhi through winding streets, up the side of the mountain range to the Governor's Mansion. Calling it a Mansion was a misnomer, it was a Keep, with its arrow slits, thick outer walls and parapet on the fourth story, it dwarfed all the other buildings in Sandstone.
The keep backed and embedded itself into the Mountain, Benzhi was interested in how far they tunnelled and what secret exits were hidden by the mountain face.
No other buildings were as high as the keep, it looked down over the entire city which snaked north through the ravine. From this vantage, Benzhi could see how it was wider at some points as if the snake was swallowing prey. The keep was not only tall and deep it was wide as well, stretching across the mountain face. It probably housed all the whitecloaks in the city, their servants, their families and still had room for halls and other functional rooms such as courtroom, dungeon and rooms for the king on the odd occasion he visited Sandstone.
The whitecloak leading Benzhi stopped at the bottom of the staircase leading up into the main arched entrance. The bottom of the wide staircase had a temporary blockade in place, wooden blocks narrowed the entry point where two guards challenged any person seeking access.
“Good day Whitecloak Hasard,” said one guard, who wore no cloak, but was identified by his white tabard with a small black teardrop.
The whitecloak who had been leading Benzhi, Hasard, nodded to the guard, “Good day Trint, this one is with me,” he said while indicating Benzhi and continued up the stairs.
Hasard led Benzhi through corridors, up staircases before finally arriving in an empty room with tables and chairs. It looked like a meeting room.
“Wait here please,” Hasard said, and he knocked lightly on one of the doors attached to the meeting room. It opened with an older whitecloak on the other side.
“Hasard?” the older whitecloak said in greeting and question at the same time.
“Justicar Lonis, I have come across a person of interest, will you call a conclave?” Hasard asked.
Lonis’ interest was peaked, and he entered the meeting room as Hasard stood aside to allow him.
“Justicar Lonis,” Hasard announced, “this is Benzhi, from the north, the one who defeated the five blackcloaks during the Vaugend troubles.”
Lonis’ eyebrow raised, “he travelled here through all that mess?”
Hasard said, “I do not know, we have not discussed that yet, that is why I am asking for a conclave.”
Lonis considered the statement. “No, I do not think so, perhaps the Governor and I will interview him first, informally, and see where it leads us.”
Hasard bowed his head, showing respect to the whitecloak Justicar, “as you wish.”
Benzhi waited patiently through the whole exchange, taking in names, ranks and anything he could glean about the whitecloak organisation.
Hasard left, to go and see the Governor apparently, Lonis sat down at the table and indicated for Benzhi to sit across from him.
“We won’t start until our leader in Sandstone, the Whitecloak Governor arrives, but that doesn’t mean we can’t chat,” Lonis began, “so you are Benzhi,” he stated rhetorically.
Lonis was in his middle years, he could be forty-something or early fifties, Benzhi could not tell. He had long light brown hair tied back in a ponytail, and it was streaked with grey above his ears.
Benzhi nodded, “yes I am. What is a justicar exactly?” he asked.
Lonis smiled “ah, yes we can chat about our organisation to pass the time. A Justicar is a rank of the Whitecloaks, we are senior to a whitecloak and their disciples, and as the name implies we enforce or enable Justice in the kingdom. That is our primary mandate. My role and speciality is in investigations and uncovering the truth. We all uphold peace in the realm and dispense justice, however where something is complicated or important, a Justicar will become involved.”
Benzhi nodded slowly as Lonis talked, “complication like dealing with nobles instead of normal citizens?” he asked.
“You could say that, but, anyone can ask for a Justicar, and the whitecloak will decide whether it is a valid request. Nobles usually always insist on Justicar involvement unless they are guilty and the truth is yet to be uncovered,” he laughed at his observation.
“And the Governor?” Benzhi asked.
“A Governor administers a province for the King. The Kings laws prevail, but laws require judgement, not everything is black and white,” Lonis stated. “Of course if something is of royal significance the Governor will send it to the King,” Lonis’ body language spoke volumes, he was informing Benzhi on a number of levels at once.
“There was no Governor in Vaugend, and the whitecloaks served the Baron, but they were mostly mundane guards. Why was Vaugend different?” Benzhi asked.
“Vaugend was a frontier city and a way to distance the King’s cousin. No whitecloaks worth their salt would have followed that man. This is encroaching on the ground that the Governor, and perhaps even the King will discuss. Despite being a Justicar that incident is of royal significance, it is not for me to condemn or pardon you. I will say you have mitigating factors on your side, from a purely judicial standpoint, but, well, there is face to consider.”
“What do you mean by face, exactly?” Benzhi asked, he had an idea, but he would rather the Justicar tell him.
“Face is a man’s, or woman’s for that matter, standing. Or how they are seen. It is related to their pride, their ego and how others to view them. There is a saying, to lose face, have you heard it?” Lonis asked.
“Yes, I have, to lose face. Where I am from it means that your perceived honour or prestige, has been lowered,” Benzhi answer.
“Exactly,” Lonis remarked, “in Loctris, especially amongst Royalty and the nobles, face is extremely important. The reason the King empowers the whitecloaks to run the kingdom is that we do not let face get in the way of doing what is right for the kingdom.”
Lonis suddenly stood, and Benzhi noticed someone was entering the room, so he stood as well, to get that sort of reaction from Lonis it was probably the Governer.
Hasard trailed behind a woman in white leather armour with a pure white cloak. She was in her mid to late thirties, at a guess. She had brown hair pulled back in a tightly wound bun at the rear of her head. Her sharp features were supported by thin lips, defined cheekbones and piercing hazel eyes. She wore a rapier-like a sword at her hip and strode in on thigh-high white leather boots. Even her belts and straps were white leather.
In times past Benzhi would have thought she was beautiful, however, after spending months with Gisael, Reyas and even Anastasia and Carney, this woman merely registered average on his libido rating scale.
“This is Sigwurd the White, Governor of Sandstone,” Lonis introduced the Governor, “and Governor, this is Benzhi of the North.”
Benzhi did not correct them, he did not want it to be known he was from the Alpine Forest, although it may be inevitable, he would not assist the information getting out.
Benzhi bowed his head and held out his hand in the earth tradition to shake. Sigwurd looked at his hand and raised an eyebrow.
“Is this your customary greeting?” She asked, “you will need to show me,” her voice was ladylike and commanding at the same time. She reached out her left hand, Benzhi pointed to her right, as he had his right outstretched. She then reached out with her right, her sword hand, he took it in his and shook three times before releasing.
She smiled briefly, “that wasn’t so bad, some cultures see the need to exchange saliva,” she said with a tiny amount of amusement.
Benzhi had to chuckle to himself as he sat after the Governor did. When anyone had mentioned governor over the past week or more, he had always pictured an older man. For a brief moment, before discussions started he imagined bending her over the table and taking her from behind. He shook his head and banished those thoughts, this was serious business.
A scribe entered behind Hasard and was about to sit. Lonis looked to the Governor, she nodded.
“No notes will be taken from this meeting, this will be an informal interview to ascertain risks, motive and allegiances. An informal meeting will yield a better outcome for the Kingdom as this is our first contact with the person known as Benzhi. Please make that entry and return back to your office Royal Scribe,” the Governor ordered.
The Royal Scribe made notes in his large journal, Benzhi assumed it was the words just spoken, and left.
The Justicar nodded his head twice to the Governor then looked at Hasard.
She considered Hasard for a moment, “close the door and take a seat Hasard. Depending on the outcome of this meeting you may be assigned to accompany this individual in the future, it would be best if you were privy to this meeting if that were to happen.”
They sure were prim and proper, Benzhi thought, well the Governor was at least.
Benzhi relaxed, leaned back in his chair and put his arms behind his head. He wanted to exude a relaxed confidence. After inspecting each of the whitecloaks with qi sight, he knew they were all talented. He had no idea of what abilities they possessed, but if they were anything like the blackcloaks he had fought during the small war with Vaugend, they would be capable qi warriors. Although, he had come a long way since then.
He was only frustrated by Kebo, that little blighter had not shown for a few weeks now, and he wanted to learn more about affinities, assuming Kebo was able to teach him on the subject. Benzhi’s mind was drifting he best get back to the task at hand. The Governor was talking.
“…and I will not hold the demise of my cousin against you,” she said.
“Wait,” he said, “your cousin,” he looked at Lonis briefly then back at the Governor, “are you royalty?”
She cleared her throat, “I am distantly related to the King yes, but I am not royalty. Before you begin answering our questions, I will do you a favour and let you know something about and the Kingdom of Loctris and qi talent.”
“Most of the talented qi users come from the same great great grandfathers and grandmothers. Talent with qi and qi abilities is the primary attribute of a whitecloak, and since qi talent is hereditary, many amongst us are related to the king and each other, albeit distantly. Even Hasard here is a distant cousin of mine.”
Benzhi slapped the table with his hand, startling all before apologising. “That explains something for me,” Benzhi said, “I am in your debt.” This tiny fact explained a lot about his relationship and attraction to and with the Daughters. Did the Fae know this, did Mother? He wondered before bringing his attention back to the present.
The Governor leaned over and said to him in a serious voice, “yes you are talented, we know this even before testing you. If you are highly talented, your children will be valuable and sought after by many.”
Benzhi had been through a lot, hell, he had imagined taking the Governor from behind just a few minutes ago, but this statement, delivered as a matter of fact as she just did, made him turn bright red.
She smiled at him, making him red with embarrassment gave her a small amount of joy, “we digress,” she said.
“Now what we want to know is,” Sigwurd stopped beating around the bush, “why are you here and what do you want. We also want to know your version of events in Vaugend."
It was Benzhi’s turn to clear his throat, he would tell the truth, to a certain extent, only holding vital information regarding the Alpine Forest. He made several promises and commitments since arriving on Basal, QW6, but his overriding goal was the protection of the Alpine Forest and its people. Its what he lived for, it is what gave him purpose. This all stemmed from his vow to Mother on his very first day in the lump which was now his body and his home.
“I am here because the Dwarves have been very good to me and I am indebted to them,” he began, “the made me a special spear, this armour, shield and sword. They are extremely precious qi weapons. In return, I was to lead a group of warriors to clear a trade route from their stronghold to the Kingdom of Loctris. The dwarves do need, and actually love, to trade their highly valuable crafted items for things that they need. However they could not break through the portal spawn,” he began.
“We have been working to this end for months, and in the process, we saved a thousand people from Vaugend who have now settled in New Vaugend, just outside the Dwarven Stronghold, where it is safe. We also rescued a noble from Vaugend named Master Gilford, he will be able to confirm much of what I say and what took place in Vaugend previous to the portal spawn event,” Benzhi finished.
Lonis nodded, “that sounds logical, “ he said while continuing to nod and smile, “just a few facts escape me.” Lonis questioned people to gain the truth and was a qi master, he may even have qi tricks up his sleeve, Benzhi started to view him with qi sight.
Lonis continued, “there were no reports of a Dwarven settlement in the northern mountains, and it was reported you were a leader in the lands of the north, not a warrior for hire.”
Benzhi shrugged, “either the dwarves arrived through a portal recently or your reports were just ignorant of their presence. For as long as I have been here the dwarves were present and the people of Vaugend new little and showed little interest in any of the local people,” Benzhi answered, he watched Lonis who was creating patterns around his own eyes and ears, Lonis was enhancing his senses somehow.
Benzhi was relaxed and calm, if Lonis was listening to his heartbeat, he would not discern any falsehood. However, it was unknown exactly what Lonis was doing, creating a qi lie detector by enhancing his senses was only one possibility.
Lonis nodded slowly, “we will do as you suggest and speak to Master Gilford. What is his relationship to you?”
Benzhi stated simply, “well, he used to own a mine in Gael lands, we kicked him out and ruined him. So he probably hated us for that. We defeated the army sent by the baron, which his was part of. Then, there were some events in which we did not cause him harm. He was released after the small war, and we rescued him and his people on our way here, as I mentioned earlier. So he has reason to both hate and love us.”
“And he has reason to be afraid of you,” the Governor added.
She took a deep breath, looked him in the eyes and asked him in a serious tone, “Now tell me..” she was interrupted a loud knock on the door, followed in mere moments by a bell tolling. The bell was loud, it must be in the keep.
She stood, “enter,” she commanded.
A disciple entered, he was young and had no cloak, Benzhi assumed he was a disciple because he was talented.
“Governor,” he breathed, “I was sent to find you, there is an invasion, Warthague is under attack and Darkdaug has fallen.”
“What,” she shouted, her mask dropped, a loss of composure as concern swept her face, “who.” She looked at Benzhi briefly before shaking her head, how could he accomplish that while he and his immediate elite warriors were all in her city.
“It is said to be a band of Myrkalfar elite,” he said fearfully.
Everyone in the room, including Benzhi, was struck with shock and fear.