Tainted Victory – The Finale (Page-a-Day)

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Claudia climbed on. They trotted out of the barn together, saying goodbye to Hugh and Goblet, both of whom finished packing up the carriage. She gave them a final nod, then clicked her heels on the horse’s side. His stable trot turned into a stable run. She clicked him one final time. He moved from a run to a full on gallop, kicking up mud and dust as the two raced out of town.

Hugh watched the two vanish into the woods ahead. He loaded up a sack onto the back of his seat. “We should be ready to go in a minute.”

Goblet spun around. “I think we are forgetting someone,” he said.

“Forgetting…” He looked to the castle. Evelyn had not reappeared since she went to retrieve her knives. “Dammit!” He ran to the castle. 

It was deserted. He had gone through the throne room first. All the treasure they counted remained intact. The icy wall that Olivier made to close the vault off could not be melted by any skills Hugh knew she had. The kitchen and dining room were as they left them. He rested his hand on the secret lever to the servant passages behind the cabinet. If he pulled it he knew all too well he could be lost in the bones of the castle forever. He had to stick to the main rooms.

After clearing the first floor he went directly to the top. Hugh remembered Evelyn called the king’s suite upon arriving. He reached the door to the bedroom. The ornate doors were open. He peeked inside. The bed had been made up, and the rest of the sellable items had been kept in their place. It was all very odd for a hired thief. 

He looked back down the hallway he moved through. He did a quick mental checklist of every possible item she could have wanted. There was nothing in either of their personal rooms worth anything of value that just one of the king’s jewels could not utterly surpass. He passed a hallway on his way to the stairs. The sun’s rays came in from the far side. It was bright, unlike the rest of the corridor. He turned and a bell went off in his head. 

The light at the end of the corridor came from the war room. That meant the war room door was open. Inside the war room was possibly the most valuable item in the whole land. He ran down the hallway. His body moved so quickly he did not think his brain told him to move. He reached the room in seconds.

His eyes adjusted to the direct sunlight piercing through the windows. He did not need to look to see what was wrong. There was no multicoloration coming from the center of the table. The egg was gone along with the runic pillow that allowed the team to carry it out of the vault. A folded note sat plainly on the bar, tan pillow. 

Hugh picked up the note and unfolded it. He got to the first word before bird songs broke his concentration. The songs originated from the broken window. Two birds, one yellow, one black sat along the window’s sill. He went over to the window. The birds flew away. A pleasant breeze followed. He looked down at the note, then back to the birds. They fluttered through the sky as though they were not just flying, but dancing. 

He looked back down at the note again. He began to read but already knew what it was going to say. He could feel Evelyn’s pointed words through the first line. He did not need to read more. This was her goal all along; she would make sure the egg would be well taken care of. 

 Then, outside  the vision of the note he saw a familiar black silhouette move cross the field to the castle wall. The silhouette carried a purple sack on their back. The silhouette flung a rope over the castle  wall and climbed over. Once they reached the top of the wall they looked back. The face had a familiar soft and elegant complexion with a stern demeanor. They looked back at him. Hugh smiled then tore the note. The silhouette nodded, went over the wall and vanished into the woods. 

Hugh held the pieces of the note out of the window. The breeze took them. They joined the birds in their dance over the city. It was a city once besieged by a dragon’s smoke and fury now started to receive light and warmth.

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