A capon crowed, though it was evening. He sang a warning, with a bold edge. For it was not because he knew he'd soon be a fine and tender dinner upon the plate of Baron Armâtre, juicier than any other chicken as such castrated roosters are. No; this the chicken did not know. Yet, like a vigilant dog, it seemed to sense that something was awry.
Inside a nearby house, a man muttered, "Eliash, the rooster, is just like his namesake."
His wife answered, "Doesn't know when to stop singing?"
"Aye," he grinned, running a hand through his bristling short red hair. "It's his fault our son is gone!"
They both had rich red hair, common in Haeville. She was statuesque, tall and stalwart. On the contrary, her husband was lithe and quick. Built like a knife, and just as sharp of wit.
"You can't blame our nephew for this," she said. "We make due without Johm. And soon he'll be sending us what he can spare."
"Right from that noble bastard's purse!"
She sat down opposite him, to a candlelit dinner of freshly harvested vegetables. Steam rose from their plates, and still from their hearts.
He smiled at her, and they bowed their heads in thanks to the Qurystals.
"He'll play for the Queen, Joward, not the menacing Windsmire wretches."
"Aye," he said again. He snickered, and the skin on his edgy nose wrinkled with discontent. "The shadows behind every page and scroll of written history in Lakeland."
"Oh, ever the cynic, my love."
Knife was brought to boiled flesh, and forks rose food to mouths. They ate in a silence that expressed how quiet things had been since their son's departure.
Joward looked up from his dinner, "Y'know, I miss her. She reminds me of my gallant youth."
"Your swashbuckling youth?"
"Aye! A blade in my hand and a purse of good coinage."
"She was a pretty catch. I was so proud of him." she paused to swallow. "I hope she catches up with him, before it's too late."
He nodded calmly, and the silence resumed for a long moment. They ate, they breathed, they drank and they thought.
And then through the window, they heard the capon crow once more. Its stunted comb and wattles were surely flailing like drops of blood, never to fall from their wound.
"Someone ought to put an axe to that chicken's head," Joward muttered. "If I crowed like that, every day, the castle would find me in this quiet little town."
"I'm sure they've given up on tracking you down, hon."
And at that moment, there came a hard knock upon the door. The metal gauntlet, its folded fingers shining brightly, hit again and again upon the door.
"Who is it?" she asked through the door, in a yell.
And then the luminescent claymore, which the knight held with one hand, crashed through the door. Wood shattered to pieces, which he kicked aside with plated boots. Despite the weight upon him, he moved as if unarmoured.
Joward drew a serrated knife from the nearby counter as he stood up to the sound of his wife's screams.
The knight towered over their furniture, and rose a head taller than them both as he stepped through their doorway. A deep voice came mercilessly through his visor, "Woman, where is your son?"
And again, the capon crowed its warning. But it was too late.