The Long Road to Ruin Ch. 23

byLady_Blackhawk©

An ache pierced her heart as she reached for the dial and spun it to the appropriate numbers. Left twice to 3, right once to 12, and back left one circuit to 54. She exhaled heavily as she pulled the lever and the door swung open, opening to the reveal a stacks of golden trade bars. Fire burned in her eyes as she lifted on and took note of her father's seal stamped on it. These Dhorn pigs were paying their soldiers with her father's gold. Though she knew the trade bars would be heavy and she may not make it out of here alive, she couldn't leave them in Dhorn hands. This belonged to the Royal family and to her. She gladly liberated the Dhorn of it and placed them within her empty haversack.

She moved to the safe to the right of the middle one and tried another combination. She hoped she would get it opened on the first try. Left twice to 7, right once to 23, and back left to 30....the date of her father's royal coronation, the date he assumed the crown from her grandfather, King Rolan II. She pulled the lever and nearly exclaimed with joy as it came open. But her elation was sobered as she wondered how the Dhorn had found out the combinations. Obviously from her father or from his most trusted advisor, Sir Elbreth. She didn't want to think of the horrors they had felt before either gave up the information. Before the Dhorn had cruelly beheaded her loving father.

She pushed those thoughts away and looked inside the vault. Hundreds of small bags were strewn about its interior. Picking one up and looking inside it, she found gold coins inside. Every last one of the bags joined the gold bars within her haversack and feeling no remorse, she moved to the last and final safe. She made short work of its combination. 10 left, 18 right, and 36. Her mother's birthday. Her mother had been much younger than her father. He had already been crowned King six years before her birth. There had been rumors of another woman, of a would be Queen. Shiloh had once found a portrait of a beautiful woman stored in one to the castle's many cellars, but when she inquired about it to her father, he had reprimanded her sharply. Shiloh never again asked. Had this woman been special to her father? And why would he keep her a secret?

Shiloh shook her head. So many mysteries surrounded her parents. So many questions left answered. Why? Why he did have a pick a fight he should've known he had no hope of winning? She slammed her fist against the heavy door and yelped in pain. Stupid!

After emptying the contents of it into her stuffed to bursting pack, she hefted its heavy weight onto her back and groaned softly. Over laden, she closed her eyes. How will I ever make it? How? Then she felt a swelling of might in her muscles, bolstering her ability to move. She grinned to herself. Bastian... he had lent her his strength once more.

"I am here for you, my precious little one. I give my power. Have no worries, for I'll help you out of here without notice." Bastian's voice entered her mind, urging her to simply just walk out and none of the soldiers would be any wiser of her presence. He made it seem too easy. She couldn't help but believe him. Surely Bastian wouldn't bring her to harm, not when she had delighted him so.

She placed her trust in him and followed the sound of his voice. She cracked the heavy door and slipped though it, into the small office. Rounding the table, she opened the door to the outer room where the Dhorn soldiers continued to chop away at the combat forms.

She breezed passed them and headed to the large entrance chamber. She walked right down the middle of it, in awe that none of the patrolling Dhorn had taken notice to her. And when she reached the door, she was able to open it up just wide enough her to be able to squeeze her way through. She let out a breath of relief as she closed it behind her, her eyes jumping to the Dhorn who were stationed on this side. None of them had noticed her at all.

Shiloh dashed away from them, giggling with glee all the way back to her apartment. She knew at some point she would have to pay the piper for the assistance she had received from her dark friend. But paying Bastian had never been an unpleasant event. She had rather enjoyed their time together.

O.O

Forty-five thousand gold.

Shiloh beamed at the haul of loot she'd netted herself. Forty-five thousand! When added to the fifteen hundred fifty she'd garnered from the dwarf and the nine hundred thirty six she already had, it all totaled forty-seven thousand four hundred and eighty six gold pieces. She screamed with glee, dancing about the book littered floor of her apartment. Surely that was more than enough to purchase what she needed in order for her plan to come to fruition.

She gathered it all up again, placing the heavy bars on her table while the loose coins were placed back in bags. She yawned pitifully. Her bed was calling her. Mmmm.... blessed rest in the same kind of soft bed she'd had in her room in the castle.

O.O

The next day, she grabbed a small pouch of gold and headed for Gaston's. She didn't bother with a disguise. Her black catsuit would have to do until she purchased some new clothes. Hopefully he'd be so disgusted by the stench of it that he wouldn't recognize her as Lady Belara.

She noticed how he wrinkled up his nose at her as she perused his goods. "Those dresses are made of the finest silks and satins. Don't touch unless you can afford to buy," Gaston sneered at her.

Shiloh flashed him a sweet smile as she held a turquoise dress up to her in front of a mirror. She liked the color. It brought out the blue in her eyes. Setting it aside, she pulled out a low cut red dress with a full sweeping skirt from the display. Red.... hmmm, blood red... She smiled as she stepped behind a decorative wooden screen to try it on. The silk slid over her skin in a whisper, hugging her bountiful curves. She liked the way it fit.

She checked herself in the mirror. Yes, this one is mine. Next she tried on a black shimmering gown made of satin, shiny crystals and feathers. It suited her vanity immensely. She had often liked to sparkle and shine. It made her feel like a princess again. But as much as she wanted this particular gown, she knew it would call way too much attention to her.

She hung the black dress back up and picked up the red one and the turquoise one as well as the matching cloaks, stockings, shoes and parasol. She walked over to Gaston, who eyed her with a snobbish look on his ruddy face. "You had best have money to pay for those, girl, else I'll have to call the guard."

"Name your price, good sir and I shall gladly pay in gold," she retorted with an even haughtier tone.

"One thousand gold, girl." His eyes flicked over the merchandise.

Shiloh handed him the pouch of gold. "One thousand, good sir, and feel free to keep the rest as a tip for your wondrous service."

He stood before her flustered and stammering as he opened the heavy sack to reveal the gold coins within. "Who are you?"

"My name is not important, good sir, but what is important is that you should not judge by appearances. I will tell you that I am of noble birth, but I am living in exile. I would be pleased to do business with you on a continuing basis."

"I beg your pardon, my lady, that I have mistaken you for a servant."

"I often find that posing as a commoner makes me less noticeable. I do not like to broadcast that I am wealthy. It attracts the wrong kind of attention. Not only from thieves, but less than honorable men. And as a single woman, that kind is not welcome. I have no family anymore. Now I bid you a good day. If the gowns are satisfactory, I shall return for more." Shiloh nodded and left the shop. She returned to her apartment, bathed and donned her red gown, stockings, shoes and cloak. She applied her make-up artfully, accentuating her big blue eyes with the right amount of color and shadow. She swept a hint of blush upon her cheeks and a touch of color to her lips.

Perfect, she smiled, as she looked herself over in her floor length mirror. She hoped her act would fool whoever had taken over the temple in place of Father Derthur. She wondered if the Dhorn had brought in one of their priests. She had known that Father Derthur's temple had been faithful to the Hooded One. Surely the Dhorn would not be.

She loaded her loot into her haversack, groaning as she hoisted it onto her back. She didn't know how much the item she sought would cost but she was sure it would be fairly pricy. That kind of magic was rare.

Stepping out into the rain, she opened her parasol and lifted it above her head. She smiled at good looking commoner coming out of the Bear Pit. She needed a manservant. This one might do nicely.

"Excuse me, my good man..." she called breathlessly, batting her lashes at him while displaying the prettiest of pouts.

He turned to her, raking his eyes over her, and smiled. "Yes, my lady?"

"Could you be of assistance to me, perhaps? I'm in need of a strong man to carry this heavy parcel to the jewelers. You look quite able and I'll be more than happy to compensate you for your trouble," Shiloh smiled sweetly at him as she struggled with the haversack.

"To the jewelers, you say? I was headed that way. I live close to it. I'd be honored to help you, my lady." The dark haired man beamed a smile at her. "My name is Aldrich."

"Lady Bella," she smiled as she handed her burden to him and headed off in front of him. She kept a watchful eye on him as they wound their way through the winding streets of the north ward. Aldrich seemed content to follow her, his eyes glued to the hypnotic swing of her hips.

"Here we are, my lady," he cleared his throat as they reached the front door of the building.

"I thank you so much. I don't know how I ever would've managed on my own. Good help is so hard to find these days. All my servants have deserted me since my husband passed away. This is all I have left and it is needed for the funeral expenses," she sniffled dramatically. She reached into the haversack and drew out of small pouch. She knew this particular one had a sum of ten gold pieces in it. "Take this, for your trouble."

"Thank you, my lady. It was my pleasure," Aldrich exclaimed before he dashed away.

Shiloh smiled. Men, it was too easy to get them to do whatever needed done. She knew her charms were nearly irresistible.

O.O

Upon entering the jeweler's shop, she glanced around, lugging her heavy pack to the counter. The man behind the counter eyed her quite warmly. She returned her most winning smile at him. "Good day, good sir," she purred. "I hope you can be of assistance to me."

"I shall do my best, Madame."

"My husband passed away just recently," Shiloh pulled a silken handkerchief from within her bodice and dabbed at her eyes while sniffling. "This is all I have in our safe, but I would like to convert the biggest part of it to jewels. Perhaps that way it won't be such a chore to manage. My dear husband, Emric, had always promised me diamonds during our so very short marriage, but he failed to make good on it before he died. Might I be able to trade for them? I have plenty of gold."

"Let me take a look."

And so the bartering process began.

O.O

Relieved of the gold trade bars and half of the sacks of loose coins, Shiloh walked away with seven good sized diamonds, feeling fairly good with her ability to get what she wanted. She also chuckled to herself as she slipped a couple rings on her fingers that she had palmed while the haggling had been taking place. Such pretty baubles and none of it had cost her a thing.

Leaving the shop and the marketplace behind, Shiloh headed to the temple. She took immediate note of the large banner that was draped across one side. That hadn't been there before.

She frowned as she circled it. This place seemed eerier and not as inviting as Father Derthur's place of worship. And knowing that he was no longer the resident priest had to be the reason why. She sucked in a deep breath, mentally going over in her head the words she would say to whomever she encountered inside. She knew she had to sound knowledgeable of what she was talking about or the new priest may see through her ruse.

This had to work.

O.O

Red and black banners were now hung in place of the grey ones held sacred to the Hooded One. Cautiously she approached the man wearing robes that matched the colors heralded in the banners, eyeing his surreptitiously.

"Welcome within the arms of the Lord of War. How may I help you this day, my child?"

"What happened to Father Derthur? And who are you?" Shiloh questioned, warily.

"I am Father Kheldar. The priest you seek has... left... the city. I believe he sought a new post and graciously turned over the temple to us. Might I help you?"

Shiloh noted the smarminess in his voice. This priest made her skin crawl and she knew why, having little doubt he had something to do with Father Derthur's death. She knew she had to seem like she was unaware of his unfortunate end. "Oh, that sounds delightful. However he and I had made arrangements for a business transaction. Perhaps you would be willing to deal with me as he had."

"It would depend on the nature of the arrangement," his eyes swept over her in an appraising manner so far removed from any glance that a man of the cloth should bestow upon one of his flock that it sent shivers down her spine. It made her wonder if he shared the restraints that the Dhorn placed upon their soldiers.

Shiloh lowered her eyes as she placed a stranglehold on the desire to kill this man where he stood. She raised her head dutifully once her emotions were once again under control. "My husband passed away recently and I spoke to Father Derthur about certain arrangements. Unfortunately when my husband died, he did not leave me hardly anything. I know he has our wealth stowed somewhere. When I consulted the good Father after the funeral, he told me he could provide me with the very thing I would need to garner such information. He also advised me to return in a week's time. In my grief, I had not realized that more than a week had passed. Did he perhaps leave word with you about this matter?"

"And did the dearly departed Father tell you what this item in question was?" Father Kheldar asked as he fixed his eyes upon her shapely figure and licked his lips. His thoughts ran wild. A young wealthy widow.... how rewarding that could be for the church.

"He did mention a rod of sorts, but beyond that, I am not sure," her voice dropped into husky tones as a flush engulfed her cheeks.

"A rod? Perhaps a magical rod? Did he perhaps quote you a price of said rod?" Kheldar asked, his beady eyes feasting upon her.

She flushed prettily and studied her feet. What a pervert! This lecherous scoundrel made Vico seem like a schoolboy. "We had agreed on six large diamonds. I have them with me. They are all I have until I find out from my husband where the rest is. I can't believe he would leave me so destitute."

"I am not sure what Derthur had in mind. Speaking to the dead is usually done by a priest, but not with a rod. Are you sure he mentioned a rod?" Kheldar took in the sight of the near frantic female before him. He barely removed his eyes from her heaving bosom.

"Oh no," she insisted. "I don't recall him saying anything about speaking to the dead. I

feel so awkward talking of this. It's so personal, but I am with child you see and it seemed to me that Father Derthur had spoke of something that would bring my husband back to me. I didn't believe such a feat was possible, but he reassured me it would be so. Dear Father Kheldar, I am desperate. I was reluctant to say anything before. I thought maybe it'd be better to say I needed our money, but what I really need is my husband back. My child needs his father. I have been so lost without him."

Shiloh poured out her heart and soul, all the feelings she held inside of her as she thought of Vico. "Please, you must be able to help me. Good Father Derthur was willing to part with the appropriate rod and even teach me how to use it. Only he did not wish to be party to it happening. I believe he didn't want his name attached to the whole situation in case something went terribly wrong. I have the means and I will do anything to make this happen. Please, dear Father. Have pity on me."

She looked up into the man's eyes with tears flowing down her cheeks. She let loose a ragged sob and sank to her knees at his feet.

"Tell me, Lady, was your husband a nobleman? What is your family name?" He asked her. "And where are you from?"

She looked up at him rather surprised. "We are of minor noble blood," she whispered.

"From Dhorn? You wear the trappings of Dhorn nobility, but no Dhorn woman worth her salt would be caught outside her home without a male escort of proper male relation."

Shiloh shook her head. "No, not from Dhorn, good father. We are originally from Sargoza. I am Lady Bella Alcott. My husband is the late Lord Emric Alcott. We were on holiday when we traveled to Betancuria and we decided to stay for a while. That was before the Dhorn rescued the city from that vile king. How my husband used to shake his fist at the things that bastard did. Then recently my husband died. He was much older than I. Father Derthur said his heart exploded," she blushed prettily. "We were very much in love. I must have him back. I shall accept no other man for my husband or father to our child."

"Lady Alcott," he seemed to scratch his chin. "I do believe I can be of assistance to you. I do recall seeing such a rod amongst the items Father Derthur left behind, his gifts to us, he said. I shall part with it for the agreed upon sum, if you would but give me a day."

"A day? Why so long, good Father? Surely we can come an earlier time. I'd do anything to have my beloved husband back this very moment. Please, have mercy on me. Every moment without him is torture," she sobbed as she tugged upon the bottom of his robes.

"Anything?" He repeated wickedly.

Shiloh sent a pleading look up at him while she fumed inside. This no count lying bastard of a lecherous priest had things a holy man shouldn't have on his mind. She didn't like the way he licked his lips and stared at her partially exposed breasts. How dare a man of the cloth have such impure thoughts about a supposed widow who was grieving her husband? How dare he?!?!?! "Please?"

His lips twitched. "Return tomorrow with the jewels. Come alone and be prepared for the likes of something you've never felt before. Only then shall I give you the rod you seek."

She nodded meekly, still fuming inside. She was well schooled enough in the arts of deception to know that he was lying. She figured he would check up on the information she gave him to see if she was on the level. Fortunately for her, she knew most of the nobility in the countries surrounding her own. Her father made sure she knew the names and titles of everyone worth knowing. Lord Emric and Lady Bella were distant relatives on her mother's side. Lord Emric had died the previous year, leaving his sizeable estate to his wife. As far as she knew, they were childless. This Dhorn priest certainly wouldn't delve that far into their personal business. "Very well, dear Father Kheldar. I am looking forward to it. You have made me happier than you could ever know. I shall see you then."

Shiloh headed out of the temple, resting against the rail of the fence that surrounded it. She wasn't sure she had pulled that one off, but she knew if she returned to the temple the next day, the rod she'd be given wasn't likely to be the rod she wanted.

She was more than sure that he'd be more than willing to take advantage of the young grieving widow.

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