Chapter 19 Part 1: I Made a Calculated Risk, But Man Am I Bad At Math
Clandestine was relieved that Hogarth and Mindy agreed to take the child home first. She turned around, letting out a sigh of relief as she looked towards the horses. Hogarth must’ve brought them all with him when he came to help Mindy, which she wasn’t mad about. She assumed he came and helped her pull them up faster, and might’ve been the only reason she didn’t get caught by an angry injured griffin.
As she walked over to Billy, she gave him a big kiss on the snout and patted his head. “Were you good while I was gone Billy?” she asked softly, just to him. He flicked his tail and wiggle his head a little, nudging her hand. It made her smile, feeling a small amount of the anxiety lift at his affection.
The sun was getting lower in the sky, and the light was shifting. When they set out to search for the griffin, the sun was high in the sky. Now it was close to setting, and the cliffs began to shadow over them.
“Wait, you didn’t see an egg down there, did you?” Hogarth asked from behind her. Clandestine spun around, laughing a little.
“Oh, no, the egg wouldn’t be down there anyway. It was st-“ her words cut short when she realized they didn’t know that the egg was stolen. Did they? They knew the egg had left when the griffin escaped, but they were never able to figure out how the griffin escaped in the first place. All their paperwork seemed to point it to the neglect of the griffin keeper on watch. They didn’t know about the Diamond brothers and how they had sold the egg at an auction, or how James was going to steal it. They thought the egg would be down in the nest, with the griffin and the kid.
Clandestine’s heart stopped and her eyes widened, and she turned around slowly, seeing Mindy helping the child up on her horse, and Hogarth standing beside his horse, rolling up her rope in his hands. He was staring back at her, eyes narrowing. Mindy was giving her a similar look, eyes even more intense and suspicious than Hogarth.
“It was… what?” Hogarth asked.
“Stolen?” Mindy filled in the blanks for her.
Clandestine’s heart started to race, and she could feel her body and her face getting very, very warm. She looked to the kid, as if he might be her saving grace and distract them, but he just stared back at her blankly, oblivious to the tension between the rest of them.
“Is there something you didn’t tell us?” Mindy pressed.
Clandestine’s eyes fluttered, and her mind began to race. Should she tell them? Would they get mad at her for not telling them? Wouldn’t they be suspicious as to how she knew? Would they question her motives for wanting to come on this mission? For wanting to find the griffin? Would this get her in trouble? And what about the kid? If she got them mad, what would happen to the kid?
Sweat was quickly forming on her forehead and her underarms. She let out a sharp, quick laugh.
“The kids’ parents own a tea shop,” she blurted out, slurring her words together. “They live there.”
Mindy and Hogarth both stared at her, then looked at each other, then back at her.
Hogarth said, “What?”
And Mindy’s brows furrowed. “How do you know this?”
Everything in Clandestine’s mind was screaming. Just screaming. There was no sense and logic anymore. All she felt was the need to run.
She let out a short wheeze of breath, and without announcement, ran to Billy’s side and hopped up, grabbed his reins, and spurred him into a gallop. She could hear a confused stutter from behind her and Mindy cutting herself one word short of a curse, probably because the kid was there. The kid started to cry again.
“Come back here!” Hogarth shouted. But Clandestine was already making a lot of distance. Billy was quick to respond and quick on his feet, and she didn’t have a kid to worry about before running off. She felt bad leaving the kid behind and not getting to see him brought home, but she knew he’d be okay with Mindy and Hogarth. They were soldiers - it was their job to keep people in the city safe and do things like return lost kids to their parents.
It was probably also their job to follow her, but, she couldn’t hear anything.
She glanced back a few times to see if anyone was following her. Nothing. Maybe they decided it wasn’t worth it? There was no point? Just like there was no point in capturing the griffin and bringing her back?
In any case, it didn’t matter. If they weren’t following right behind her, she would keep charging ahead just in case. Now that the child was found she had something more urgent to attend to than griffins and eggs, and that was finding James.
The only problem was, she couldn’t remember what inn he’d said to meet at. High something? But she couldn’t wait that long and she didn’t think he would be there yet. Heists usually took some time and planning, and she couldn’t imagine it had been easy to find out where the egg was right away anyway.
But she didn’t know where to find him otherwise, and that was what made her frustrated. Her hands tightened around Billy’s reins, and she tried to take in deep breaths.
She had to come up with a plan. James had come up with a plan, but that was before they knew that Alex had talked to Barlowe, and more people would know he was in town now. Now it was her turn.
She had Billy slow down a little as she looked out at the city walls in the distance.
Where would someone go to keep a griffin egg? Surely they wouldn’t stay in the heart of town. That would be too obvious, but she didn’t want to chance it just on that, so she came to a decision: she’d run quickly through the downtown area and look for Elliot outside of different inns. If she didn’t see him, then she’d run right back outside the city and circle around the outskirts.
She looked down at Billy, giving him a pat on the side. She’d have to stop and get him some food and water in town if they were both going to be running around like crazy people.
The sun was setting behind Ms.Barlowe, the edge of its rays clearly seen peeking out behind the distant cliffs beyond the tops of houses and the city walls. She sat very regal in her chair, shoulders back and back straight as if to make herself look taller. Her belly set her at a small, required distance from the edge of her desk, and when she went to put out the nub of her cigar in her ashtray she had to extend her arm completely to reach.
Carter sat across from her, amused at how intimidated she seemed to be, even when looking at him from behind a desk. Her eyebrows were drawn into a straight line and she seemed to be staring him down as if that alone would put them on the same playing field.
Though she was a mayor of a growing and booming city on the edges of the deserts, she was still under King Blackfield’s finger, and Carter was at the king’s right hand, with the princess at his left. Barlowe couldn’t pretend that her success was almost entirely owed to the support of the king, and for that, she owed them. The Moonlight Kingdom provided resources, safe trade routes, and access to the kingdom’s most recent developing weaponry, and in exchange, they owned Ruddlan, because they owned Barlowe.
It was why he was able to see Barlowe without an appointment.
“I was told you were visiting regarding a matter of great urgency,” Barlowe said, watching as the door at the end of the room closed, and her assistant exited the room.
“Yes, I have someone here on commission to capture an outlaw of rather high profile. Alexander told me he filled you in on the basics,” Carter said.
Barlowe nodded slightly, though she seemed hesitant.
“When he came here he was unable to speak…” she said, hands folding in her lap. “His neck and throat were swollen. He had to see immediate care.”
Alexander had not told him that. Inwardly, Carter bristled, and outwardly, he leaned forward in his seat. Alexander had said he would have Tiberius caught and secured for him in Barlowe’s cells within a week. Considering he had arrived a little earlier than a week, he would give Alexander grace. Tiberius wasn’t the easiest person to keep captured.
“Where is he now, then?” Carter asked.
“He said he had gone to lay a trap to catch the criminal, but that was all he told me, via note,” Barlowe said, her words pointed, thinly veiling her offense. She lifted up a piece of paper that had been written on off her desk and tossed it to the edge. Carter reached over and grabbed it, looking it over.
It was Alexander’s handwriting, and the message was cryptic, as per usual. He always had a weakness for unnecessary dramatics. He folded the paper up and set it back on the desk before leaning back with a sigh.
“I’m sorry he’s shown himself difficult to work with, and unprofessional with this note,” he said, giving the obligatory apology a measure of sincerity for the sake of peaceable relations. “I’m sure his communication has been hindered by his inability to speak at the moment.”
Barlowe looked at Carter, blinking slowly. She was unimpressed. So was he, but he was going to defend Alexander for the time being, especially while he was still out on the job.
“Well, what you need to know is that the outlaw I’ve come here for is a man named Tiberius Hemming. Alexander is a highly skilled tracker and hunter and was able to find him and track him here, where he’s come to capture him for me. I’m here to ensure Tiberius makes it back to the kingdom securely. He’s wanted alive, and not dead, and in the past, that has presented other bounty hunters trouble. I won’t have him escaping capture again, so I’ve brought my own resources to ensure he cannot do so,” he explained, maintaining eye contact with Barlowe as she listened.
A silence seemed to rest on the room as if all of the busy sounds of the town so near to her mansion were finally dying down, too quiet to leak in. Barlowe took in a slow breath.
“Tiberius has been through here before,” she said quietly. “A few years ago. I don’t want him in my city.”
“Well, you can rest assured, Alexander is out there right now, making sure he’s caught. He’ll soon be out of your hair.”
Barlowe’s lips pressed together, the wrinkles around her mouth deepening.
“I want him out of here by tomorrow,” she said.
Carter suppressed a scoff. “So do I.”
“He’s wanted for treason, right?” Barlowe asked.
Carter nodded once, watching her as he inclined his head. “He’s a traitor. The kingdom has unfinished business with him.”
Both Carter and Barlowe’s heads swiveled towards the double doors as one of them flew open, a frazzled soldier in Ruddlan red and brown armor holding the handle. Her hair was sticking out every-which-way from her bun and her face was notably flushed from running. Her flushed even deeper when she saw Carter, and the kingdom crest on the chest-plate of his armor, and she understood what she’d just burst into unannounced.
“Explain yourself,” Barlowe barked.
The woman stood up straight, clearing her throat. She was still breathing heavily.
“I’m deeply sorry for the outburst Ms. Barlowe,” she said with a bow of her head. “Commander Haddon.” Another bow.
“The woman - Clandestine - who we were sent with to find the griffin and the egg fled the scene. The griffin was greatly injured and the egg was nowhere to be found. I believe there’s more she’s not telling us, that the egg was stolen. She might be running to return to it and flee-“
“And you didn’t pursue her?” Barlowe interrupted.
The soldier took in a deep breath.
“We had a child with us,” she answered. “Rescued from the griffin’s nest. We had to make sure the kid was safe first. But I’d like to request some of the dogs to help track her down. If she has the egg she’ll be leaving town about now, if not sooner.”
Carter looked between Barlowe and the soldier, concealing his interest in the mild drama playing out between them. An escaped griffin, now injured? A stolen egg?
Barlowe leveled the soldier with an intense glare.
“Take the dogs and move quickly. I’m sick of this griffin and this egg causing me problems. Put an end to it. The egg takes first priority, but I want that monster hunter caught and put in prison.”
The soldier nodded, frozen for a moment at the door.
“Now,” Barlowe ordered. The woman then shut the door, with half as much force as she’d opened it. Steps could be heard hurrying down the hallway.
As Carter turned back to Ms.Barlowe, he watched as she leaned back into her chair and rubbed the bridge of her nose and her eyes.
“Seems like you’ve got a bit of a mess on your hands,” Carter commented idly.
Barlowe released a long, drawn-out sigh.
“I’ll just be happy once all these criminals are put in jail and dealt with.”