Dawn came like the remnants of melting ice caps of the northern continent. Swift and ruthless, tearing open the eyes of the dead and in slumber.
I woke up to the darkness before daybreak, just when the streaks of blue, red and pink started to fill the once-black sky. The window to my bedchamber was left opened, probably by one of the chambermaids in charge of my room to allow in the cool wisps of air.
” Lord, the fog has lifted. Would you like to tour the city now?” a soft voice whispered suddenly at the door. I almost panicked, but then calmed, thinking that it might be one the maids already up and about cleaning duty in the castle. I stood up and stretched, then walked across the room and opened the door.
“Aagh!” I screamed and almost slammed the door shut. A 6-feet tall masked woman peered her head into the room as soon as I opened the door. She wore a black robe which made her seem no different from the enveloping darkness lurking in the corridor.The mask was painted red with white tribal patterns of the Housecarl of Brule. There was the faintest of ruffling like the window curtains flowing with the winds as she stepped inside.
“I-I’m sorry. Am I that scary to you, milord?” the feminine voice shivered. Clearing my throat, I hastily stood up. I could still hear my own heart thumping. The tall and woman was a part of my personal guard of 10, three of which were former assassins, two bandits, one doctor and the rest are a mix of former knights, scouts and vagabonds.
“You scared the bricks out of me with that bloody mask, Sev! I told you to only have it on when you’re on a mission.”
“My apologies, lord. I thought the sight of my face would be more disturbing for you” she said as she knelt and took off the mask. The woman has a decent face, skin white as porcelain, brown determined eyes with freckles sprinkled on the cheeks. That was the description for half of her face, though. The other half was horribly disfigured, pink and raw due to a forest fire during the dry spell season a few years before I became the viscount. I found her – or rather captured her when she tried to steal my untied boot, earning her the other in the face. She glared at me when I asked her name, so I wiped away the blood on her lips and dragged her all the way to the castle to train under Haron, and promptly gave her the name she was now known as, Hunter Sev.
” You know that I choose my personal guards solely on their skill and merits, right? Besides, you look fine and dandy anyway when I look closer.” I smiled and pulled her close, staring right into her eyes. Sev shuffled, her good cheek flushing as she turned away. “Come on, let’s go for the tour.”
The city of Brule was divided into four sectors each protected by a gate – a massive wooden door more-like. The castle we walked out from was located near the southern gates, the one most heavily guarded by Brule soldiers. We did a quick warm-up and started jogging towards the northern gate as the city bell rang to signal the start of morning. Sev followed closely behind me, her hair tied up into a bun and her face covered by the mask again. We perform tours around the city on a bi-monthly basis to inspect the state of the people, hear their thoughts and feelings and come up with plans to improve their living conditions. In addition, it makes it easier for me to mark up in-demand goods if these people are doing well.
This sector is the residence of wealthy merchants, upstart nobles and the army barracks. Here, the goods circulated by traders are mainly of luxurious apparels, precious metals and high-class boutiques. As I was only in my joggers’ and a sweater, it truly gave people the impression that I was a young man being chased by his lover after being caught having an affair. The nobles who would look at me with disdain are nowhere in sight, probably still sleeping in the comfort and warmth of their bed while the merchants were already up and about today’s business, snorting and laughing as they slap me on the shoulder when I pass by. The shops and houses here were colorfully painted to attract potential customers or to show off a noble’s wealth.
I slowed down my pace when we approached the narrow alley between a florist’s shop and a general trader’s. “Here we are, at the first stop.” I walked briskly into the alley to the back of the store. With Sev still closely behind me, we knocked on the florist’s store. We stood there for a few moments before hearing the creaking of floorboards and the door swung open.
“Young Eric! What a welcome to see you here in the morning, lad,” a deep, rumbling voice welcomed us. The owner of the store beamed a smile at me and grabbed my shoulders. He was a powerfully built man, muscles bulging tightly through his checkered shirt and an apron, threatening to rip and tear open the innocent cloth.
“Morning, Rhodes. Might you have some time for us to discuss news this lovely morning?” I said in my most well-behaved, totally-faultless, non-pubescent voice I could make. Rhodes was my intelligence officer in-charge of gathering news and rumors in the city and the kingdom of Rustar. Originally, he was a scout officer during the rule of my uncle, but before the start of the war against the kingdom he quickly discovered his talents were actually in information gathering when he anticipated the kingdom’s increasingly hostile actions would result in a war. This vital information gave the city ample time it needed to stockpile on food and supplies in addition to reinforcing the walls with ballistas, bringing about the two-year long siege against the kingdom.
“Of course, my boy. Come in, I have some interesting rumors for you.”