Aroldo lay still, enjoying that moment of peace one has just often waking. He can feel the sun streaming in through the windows and hitting his face. In the distance he can hear birdsong mixed with the sounds of the city.
But the short moment of peace cannot last long, for there is much to do. Rising from his large, comfortable bed, he heads to the water basin on his dresser and washes the sleep from his eyes. Throwing on an old, yet comfortable robe, he opens the door to his bedroom and heads down a dusty corridor and stairs and heads straight to his greenhouse.
Here, the air is thicker, the moisture and botanical smell of growing plants and herbs a cherished scent. Aroldo consults a note near the door, a list of requests for a variety of things, the wizard was well known for supplying excellent quality spell components, and understood the needs of wizards, being one himself. His reputation has him supplying a significant number of his colleagues at the Alabaster Academy.
After some quick watering and pruning, Aroldo heads towards the kitchen, intent on brewing some strong tea in an attempt to suppress his yawning. Opening the door, he is assailed by a strong minty aroma. Alaria is already awake and sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a mug of mint tea. The bard seemingly sat in a shadow, dressed all in black, with her new short, black hair.
“Good morning, "Aroldo tries to be as cheerful as he can, “I might go something stronger myself.” he announces as he vaguely gestures at Alaria’s mug. He merely gets a short grunt in reply.
Suppressing a wince, he places the kettle on the stove. As he goes about preparing the teapot he announces “I’m glad you’re here, I’ve been meaning to speak to you about something, actually.”
Alaria looks up from the spot on the table he had been staring at, and cocks an eyebrow at the big man. “Time for me to move out?” she says flatly.
Aroldo looks slightly shocked." No, no, not at all! It’s been nice to have someone else in the house, frankly!" He scratches at his stubble as he tries to think of how to best to talk to the despondent bard.
“The house has been quiet, without Livia or Aelia,” begins Alaria before stopping herself saying any more.
Aroldo feels fresh pain in his heart as the bard mentions his dead wife and child, but decides to ignore the comment believing Alaria is just lashing out in her own pain.
“And to continue to be frank, I’m a little worried about you,” he sighs. “You’re angry, I understand that. You’ve been tried and convicted of a crime you’re innocent of. You’ve lost friends and patrons. Your whole life stolen from you in moments…” The wizard pauses as Alaria looks away, her features battling over whether to show rage or despair.
“It’s left me with nothing!” Alaria hisses when she’s finally able to look back at the concerned wizard. “They will pay!”
“Yes. Yes they will,” announces the wizard with firm determination. “But you can’t do it alone. If you want to make a dramatic, but futile gesture, I can’t stop you – but there are other ways."
Alaria seems to be unconvinced by Aroldo’s statement, and eyes him carefully, not hiding her doubt. "You say that, but how come you haven’t told me anything since you and the others saved me from these hounds! Alaria’s eyes reflect the horror she experienced, not knowing that she had others who would risk their lives to save her.
Aroldo reaches over and takes one of her hands, ignoring the bard flinch at the contact. “I knew nothing when I went to the Courthouse that day, nothing but I had to get you out of there somehow.”
Alaria smiles sadly but she squeezes Aroldo’s hand, “If it wasn’t for the others, I don’t know how you would have done it. We might have both ended up dead.” the way the bard pronounces this gives Aroldo a sense of dread, and he has to suppress a shiver.
“It’s a…” Aroldo pauses for a moment and hides his lips.“…dangerous game. Even if you think you’re ready for everything.”
“Something has happened, hasn’t it? Don’t bother denying it, I can tell when you’re lying. What is it?” the bard asks.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you. Well, a few things. I’ve have received news of Pavo. He made it. He got out of the city, the Dottari didn’t get him. I’ve spoken to someone who shared a few drinks with him,” announces the wizard, a delaying tactic while he finds the right way to tell her about Rufus, Titus and Keldor.
“Thank the gods!” breathes Alaria and for the first time that morning the smile reaches her eyes. It fades away however, when she realises that isn’t the only thing Aroldo could be telling her. “What else? Please, tell me.”
Aroldo rubs his face with his free hand, the grief, shame and fear as fresh in his mind as the excruciation is in Alaria’s. “Most of the others that helped saved you are dead,” he finally announces flatly.
Alaria stares at Aroldo for a few moments, fresh tears welling in her eyes. “Why is this happening?” she asks forlornly. “Only a year ago things were better. Happier.”
“The House of Thrune!” exclaims Aroldo. “That’s why! We’ve been lucky before. Ignored because we’re at the arse end of their empire. But now they need all their resources, they’re showing us how they treat everyone. Damn those dirty devil fuckers!” the wizard exclaims, the heat of his emotions coming out in his voice.
Alaria gets up to see to the boiling kettle. “They’re already damned, Aroldo. We just have to send them to Hell to meet all their friends” Having filled the teapot, she brings it over to the table to brew.
This time it’s Aroldo’s turn to smile sadly. “Easier said than done. Trust me on this.”
Alaria pours her host a mug of tea and a fresh, less minty one for herself. “Well, all I know is we have to do something, I can’t just sit here anymore!”
“I know. I also know direct action is dangerous, and now is not the time. But we do need to take action, and I have an idea,” announces Aroldo.
Alaria sips her tea and leans forward, even more intent on the wizards words. “Well, I know you’re keeping a lot from me, but I am eager to hear what you are willing to tell me.”
By pure instinct, Aroldo lowers his voice and leans forward, matching Alaria’s posture. “Our new Lord-Mayor is over-reaching himself and upsetting many, many people. But they don’t necessarily know anyone else who feels the same way. They’re afraid to speak out. Afraid to find others who feel the same way. What they need is a place they can gather freely. Where they can speak easy and hear others in return. A place to be inspired and reassured.”
Alaria nods in agreement," Yes, many fear their neighbours- a single report to the Dottari and you can disappear, never to be seen again. Go on."
“Well, we just have to find a few places where it’s safe for people to gather, bar’s, coffee shops, forgotten basements. Places where people can express their feelings, tell their stories, a place…”
“Where people don’t feel quite so alone.” Alania finishes.
Aroldo smiles, "Exactly. A place where they can hear rebellious songs and stories of better times. When we were truly free.”
“Oh? And who’s going to sing them these songs? Did you have someone in mind?” Alaria asks, the hint of a sparkle in her eyes that has long been missing.
“I would be happy if a Little Black Swan would make the odd appearance. I know she has a wonderful voice that’s gone unappreciated far too long,” says Aroldo. “You may have to be a bit more discreet in your comings and goings though. I may know the odd spell that can help with that, and a few friends too.”
The wizard wants to keep his friend safe, and has been thinking of assigning a couple of the street performers and one of the freedom fighters as an escort and bodyguard. The thought occurs to him that he should perhaps ask Bug or Gaian about that, but realises that when it comes to Alaria’s safety, he doesn’t care what either of the two psychopaths think.
“Little Black Swan,” murmurs Alaria as she touches her hair. “Alright, I’m in. What next?”
“Probably the hard part,” admits the wizard. “The people I’m initially thinking of are students and faculty at the Academy, many who don’t dabble in the infernal arts hate their power and influence on the institution. And I’m thinking you may know a few artists and musicians who may be interested. We find a few places they can all gather, and spread the word.”
The bard smirks a touch, “As easy as that?”
“Perhaps not,” Aroldo lets out a low chuckle. “But we have to start somewhere.”
Alaria smiles, “And so the Free Kintargo Society was formed one morning over a pot of tea.”