The Rogue Knight Page 21

Crossing to one of the mirrors in the room, Cole found that he looked like a middle-aged Italian guy, short but muscular. Seeing the reflection helped Cole realize he didn’t need to let everyone know this was his first time in a confidence lounge. As long as he didn’t divulge important information, he could be anybody he wanted, act however he chose. He couldn’t do much worse than his first conversation. Maybe he’d do better if he loosened up.

Surveying the room, Cole tried to relax. The guy playing cards struck him as the most approachable. Cole walked over and sat near him. “How are you?”

The man didn’t look up from his game of solitaire. “Content. You?”

“Just looking for news.”

“I’m Stumbler. What are you called?”

“Dracula,” Cole answered for no good reason.

“Never heard of you,” Stumbler said. “What song do you sing?”

“Karaoke hits from the sixties, seventies, and eighties,” Cole tried.

The man looked up from his cards. “What nonsense are you talking? Go bother someone else before I complain to the management.”

Joe had warned Cole not to lie. Apparently, that included joking. So much for his experiment with relaxed improvisation. Cole decided to move on rather than risk really annoying Stumbler. He stood up to find the beautiful young woman staring at him. She wore a snug, glittering gown that reminded him of fish scales. She curled her finger, summoning him over.

As Cole drew near, he tried to remind himself that she could easily be an ugly old lady. Or even a grungy old man. He shouldn’t let her looks intimidate him. He resolved to be more honest. Making up weird answers had gotten him nowhere.

The woman leaned forward and spoke in hushed tones. “I suspect the Rogue Knight might be the exiled Duke of Laramy.”

“Wow,” Cole said. “I have no idea what that means.”

“Should I speak slower?” she teased.

“I don’t know any of those people.”

She blinked. “Surely you’ve heard of the Rogue Knight?”

“I haven’t,” Cole said. “This is my first visit to Elloweer.”

She patted her hands together delightedly. “In truth?”

“Yeah. This is my first time in a confidence lounge.”

“I hardly believe you, but let’s pretend. I’m Vixen. Where do you come from, Mr. Mysterious?”

“Sambria.”

“Distant parts of Sambria, if you haven’t heard of the Rogue Knight.”

“Far from Carthage,” Cole said. “Who is this knight?”

“That is the question,” she said. “His identity is a matter of much debate. The Rogue Knight became champion of a small community east of here. He has an insatiable urge for dueling and a knack for winning. He started with minor towns, but he has moved on to great cities. None of this sounds familiar?”

“No,” Cole said. He wondered if what she was talking about had anything to do with the info they needed to help find Honor. It definitely didn’t seem connected to Dalton or Jenna. He was tempted to cut her off and ask what he really wanted to know, but she seemed excited about this topic, so maybe if he let her discuss it, she would eventually get to something he cared about.

“The Rogue Knight shows no interest in settling down to enjoy the spoils of his victories. Six knights now follow him. Some say seven. They live like vagabonds. When the Rogue Knight unseats a champion, he sacks the alderman and grants all taxes to the common people of the town. No officials or nobility get a copper bit. Over a short span, the Rogue Knight has become quite the man of the people. As you might expect, his list of enemies grows quite long.”

“Shouldn’t he be called the Rogue Champion?” Cole asked.

“One could make that argument,” Vixen said. “But none of the lords or champions of Elloweer wish to bestow that honor upon him. He does not behave like a champion. They say he robs travelers. Some cities have declared him an outlaw. He is wreaking havoc with our government.”

“You don’t like him?”

“I would give my right arm to meet him,” she gushed immediately. “My opinions have not yet crystallized. I burn with curiosity. I agree with our nobility that the man is a scoundrel, but you must admit there is something horribly romantic about such boldness.”

Cole thought it sounded like the Rogue Knight had a groupie. “You know who he is?”

“Nobody has seen him without his armor,” Vixen said. “His helmet conceals his face. But he could be the Duke of Laramy. It fits. The duke was a vocal advocate of the common people, and he often flouted convention. They say he died, but what if that was a ruse to conceal his new identity?”

“So it’s a theory,” Cole said.

“At the very least,” she replied. “At best it is a brilliant deduction. The Duke of Laramy was notoriously handsome.”

“Are there other theories?”

“Dozens. But here I am overflowing with gossip without asking after Sambria.”

“Carnag fell.”

“As we well know,” Vixen replied. “The slayer of the fiend remains unannounced.”

“I heard some legionnaires helped.”

She waved away the information like it was a bothersome fly. “Are you really so devoid of knowledge? Don’t you know something juicy? Then we could truly talk.”

Cole leaned toward her and lowered his voice. “I heard that Declan, the Grand Shaper of Sambria, was chased out of hiding.”

“No!” she said. “How certain is this?”

“It’s reliable.”

“Some have surmised that Declan would have passed on by now.”

“He’s alive and well. He was hiding behind the Eastern Cloudwall.”

She gasped. “At the Brink? Absurd.”

“I guess there was space back there,” Cole said. “He found a way in and built a fort. A bunch of legionnaires flushed him out.”

“Declan got away?”

“Nobody knows where he went. But I heard they almost had him.”

“These are indeed novel tidings,” Vixen said. “Substantial if not scandalous. Very well, I owe you something remarkable. Since we’ve visited the topic of the Rogue Knight, I will impart recent developments that are not yet public.”

“Okay,” Cole said, a little disappointed that she was still focused on the knight and didn’t have anything else to reveal.

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