To Burn a Witch
Over the past few years, Davena settled into her new life as Sheriff of the Rathport Marches. Eventually, she had been joined by her husband Regulus, once he was certain his mother would be able to handle running the family estates at County Nonius. Fortifications were completed on the new castle, Dun March, providing adequate lodging and good defenses for the Sheriff's family. In the north, Davena's Tower and the village near it continued to prosper, requiring little direct oversight, especially after she appointed a local constable to help protect and preserve the law there.
This past spring, Prince Calvus chose several nobles he regarded as especially capable in terms of defending the realm, granted them lands in the Marches, and granted them the title marquess or marquessa. The land grant was permanent, giving the nobles' the prince's authority in those lands and the title was hereditary. Thus Regulus and Davena as well as two other noble families were granted a new title. In addition, Davena was granted permanent ownership of the newly finished Dun March. As a Marquessa now, she would be sworn to defending the Principality to the best of her ability, aiding the Prince when called upon, and agreed to pay his tax. For this great duty, and in recognition of her service, Davena Nonia Reguli became Marquessa of the Southern Marches and Countess of Nonia. Likewise her husband Nonius Regulus became Marquess of the Souther Marches and Count of Nonia.
Calvi had been offered a title of Princess Consort by right of marriage to Prince Calvus, but she had declined at the time. It was likely a political move aimed at keeping already disgruntled nobles from being further irritated by the marriage of their prince to a night elf sorceress. Further she stood on unsteady ground with the local temple who feared she was a dark sorceress. They couldn't prove she used black magic, but they knew it to be true. Refusing the title helped sooth a few concerns about her making a naked grab for power. When being courteous, she was referred to as "Lady Calvi". The populous usually simply erred on the side of caution, calling her "my lady". But among friends or in informal situations, she preferred to dispense with such courtesies and asked to be called simply Gràinne.
Some knew something more important about Lady Calvi than titles or rumors of dark sorcery, however. They listened to tales spread by taproom bards that spoke of a great dragon ridden into battle years ago by Ancaria Davena, then only a knight, and wondered where that dragon had gone. Some look to the night elf sorceress at the side of the prince and wonder.
Harvest time had arrived after a long, hot summer. Davena was in Rathport taking some much needed time away from her duties in the March and visiting with her friend, Calvi. She also took advantage of being in the city to spend some time with her family.
Davena was at her home in the town when there was a heavy knock at her door. The two heavily armed guards she saw at first had her worried, but when she saw Prince Calvus coming forward she understood they were just his normal bodyguard. "Good afternoon, Marquessa," Calvus said. "I apologize for dropping in unannounced, but I must leave town for a few days and I was hoping to have a word with you before I left."
Davena knew Calvus only breached protocol like this when in private. Coming to her door like this was a little out of character for him. "Please, your Highness," she said, stepping back and out of the doorway. She couldn't help but wonder what was so important that he would simply show up at her door.
She guided him through the entryway into the garden courtyard and to comfortable seats at the far side. "May I offer you something to drink?" There was a bottle of her family's wine in a decanter on a small table, along with a platter of fruits, nuts and cheeses. Davena was about to take a break from going over the latest missives and letters from her constable at the tower when Calvus had arrived.
After Davena poured them drinks, Calvus chatted with her a little about the state of her holdings, banditry in the Marches, and what mischief the goblins of Bronwyn's Folley might be up to. It was frustrating to wait to hear why he'd come, but there was no hurrying him.
Finally, once they were seated alone in the atrium, Calvus turned to the matter that had brought him here. "The nobles have grown bold of late, thinking to poke about in my personal business. I was wondering if you might have heard?"
Davena thought about it, going over in her head the gossip and discussions she'd heard. "There has been some talk," she said, not wanting to offend yet knowing that he'd asked. "Concern about the security of the succession of your throne." It was a subject her mother had touched on, but only as a lead in to a discussion about why Davena herself had not yet given Regulus and heir.
Calvus released an irritated sigh. "The most aggravating thing is not that they talk about my personal business, but that they are also right. Well, it isn't for lack of trying. I just think it isn't as easy for a woman like Calvi to get pregnant. I don't think there is anything wrong with her or me, but I think night elves don't have a high birth rate." He sighed again, but this time is sounded more sad than anything. "I've tried to approach the subject, but it hasn't gone anywhere. I get the distinct feeling she'd be angry with me if I push. So, I thought maybe it would be easier for her to speak with another woman and close friend?"
Davena didn't quite know what to say at first. "I could try," she finally said. "My mother has been making noises about grandchildren, so I think it would be easy enough to turn the conversation in the direction needed."
After extending his thanks, Prince Calvus soon made his exit, saying he was needed down at the shipyard.
Calvi had yesterday invited Davena to do a little shopping in the elven quarter this afternoon, which meant Calvi would be waiting for Davena at Dun Rath. Davena knew of an herbalist in the quarter, whom she'd planned on visiting to see about some herbs she wanted for her magic. There was a good chance there were also fertility concoctions as well, something that might help Calvi and Calvus conceive.
Davena went upstairs and changed into clothes more suitable for her excursion, and she informed her own guards she would be leaving shortly. She felt the guards were superfluous, given her own capabilities, but Regulus convinced her they were important. They were a reminder to others of her rank and importance - not to rub it in the noses of the other peers and citizens of Rathport, but to inform those who did not recognize her that she was a noble and due respect. Plus, the guards were there not to be her only protection, but the first line of defense. They'd deter casual criminals, and hopefully give her enough time to be able to respond to a serious attack.
Not knowing how much she would be bringing home with her, Davena took her carriage to the castle.
Calvi joined her shortly after she arrived and they road down to the elf district together in Davena's carriage. There had been a couple of her shield maidens with her, but Calvi felt crowded. She left them at he castle with a statement she was safe enough with Davena.
On the way they chatted a little about current events, but Davena couldn't help but notice a sealed letter in Calvi's hand. "Is that for me?" Davena teased. She didn't think it was, but that it was a letter of some kind for someone in the elven quarter.
Calvi looked surprised. "Yes. Both of us actually. I wasn't sure whether to throw it away or read it. It's from some priest at the temple."
"It's never good to ignore the temple," Davena said, repeating the childhood mantra. "They always find out." She held out her hand. "I'll open it, if you want."
Calvi shrugged and handed it to Davena. The wax seal was intact so Davena knew Calvi hadn't so much as peeked at it yet. When she broke it open and read the flowing script inside, she realized the letter was from the arch priest of the temple. Marquessa Reguli was named explicitly in the salutation, so Davena surmised he'd wanted Lady Calvi to know of his request, but had really wanted Davena's attention. He'd written out of concern for a priest who'd gone missing from a village just within the bounds of the Marches, south of the heart of Rathport territory, and requested the Sheriff look into it.
Davena related the contents of the letter to Calvi, and who, specifically, it was from. "I can't ignore this request," she said afterward. "I don't remember hearing of any trouble in that area recently. I probably ought to go see the arch priest when we're finished here to find out more."
Calvi shook her head. "This is more important than shopping. We'll go to the temple together and see to this. Calvus has left Rathport, so it is my duty to protect his people." It was also an excuse to get outside of town and away from a court filled with tiresome, gossiping nobles so it was easy to see why Calvi would take advantage of an opportunity to escape them. Besides, Lady Calvi was in no way essential for the day to day running of the principality. When Prince Calvus was away, those duties fell to a number of trusted servants and his sister.
"Very well," Davena replied, and informed her driver of the change in destination. For a moment, she considered broaching the subject of children, but decided it was not the best time.
They were able to track down the arch priest at the temple, but he was able to provide barely any further information. The letter had indicated where the village was, and it put it right near the forest of Bronwyn's Folley, where it had been for centuries. But the arch priest was able to add that the priest that had gone to the village might have tried to investigate some woodsmen that went missing. The arch priest knew that both Calvi and Davena had experience dealing with trouble from the woods, and the fact that Davena was now sheriff of the Marches made them his best choices of people to look into it.
Davena asked how long the priest had been missing, wanting to get an idea of how difficult it might be to find his trail and discovered it could only have been a day or two. The arch priest had written the letter just this morning.
The marquessa thanked him and, after asking for his blessing and making a small offering to the gods, left the temple. "Shall I drop you off at the castle first? I need to take care of some stuff and let Regulus know what's come up." She was disappointed at the situation, for she had been looking forward to an evening at home with him, but duty must come first.
"Yes, thank you," Calvi said. "I can meet you later at your home and we can set out from there. I'll arrange for some horses."
After dropping Calvi off, Davena had the driver take her to Regulus' warehouse. He was spending the day with his steward, going over plans to expand trade routes. When he heard about Davena's investigation, he asked if he should send a summons to his house guard or perhaps Dun March. Soldiers could be on hand to help her search in a couple days, should the investigation take that long.
Davena suggested Dun March. The soldiers were there to defend and protect the Southern Marches, and they needed to get to know the area - and be seen doing it.
With private, intimate goodbye, Davena returned to the house to prepare to head out. She was joined soon by Calvi who'd brought the two shield maidens she'd left at the castle before. She also brought three horses to ride and one pack horse that already had some supplies and water for the trip. Since Davena had a magnificent steed already that Calvi knew she'd prefer to take, Calvi hadn't needed to requisition another horse.
They soon set out from town, heading south. After riding a couple hours, Calvi brought her horse near to Davena. The sorceress still struggled a little with riding. She managed to get around on them all right, but she never looked comfortable on one and she certainly didn't trust her skills in dangerous situations. But the only other options were to go on foot, which was too slow, or for Calvi to unleash Ignavoraxis. But Prince Calvus had asked Calvi to avoid doing that since a gigantic dragon flying over the principality cause a lot panic among both people and herds of domesticated animals. Not to mention the fact the nobility was not comfortable with her flaunting power.
The two shield maidens had dropped back, talking quietly among themselves and leaving Calvi and Davena to a little privacy.
"We're probably going to be heading into the Folley," Rey said. "But we should head to the village first." She glanced back at the shield maidens. "How much experience do they have?"
"They are two of the best," Calvi said. Davena knew the shield maidens specialized in defense and teamwork. That meant they'd be best used protecting Calvi and Davena's backs rather than acting on their own. "I agree. If the missing priest went to look for missing woodsmen, then the village might be able to tell us more about the situation."
"And check the priest's home, on the off chance he left a clue, or may have returned," Davena added. She adjusted her tabbard, not used to wearing it. Back at Dun March, everyone knew who she was, and the garment was something she wore only on official business as sheriff. "I doubt it, though. People who go into the Folley unprepared generally don't come out again."
Calvi laughed softly. "Truth. But I suppose woodsmen worry at the edges of the forest all the time, else we'd very little lumber."
"Very true. I know we forced the edge of the forest back during the building of Dun March," Davena said. "It led to several goblin attacks. We ought to go over the villages defenses, if any, to see what can be done to help protect against an attack. If anything, they need a place to shelter the women and children." She decided that might be a good time to bring up a certain subject. "Speaking of children, I've decided not to perform the contraception ritual at the end of the month when it expires." Her voice was softer than before, barely loud enough for Calvi to hear.
Calvi smiled and turned to look at Davena. "So you and Regulus have decided to have a family?"