2. Death Watch
It was nearly the third watch of the night before she left the Inn. Of course she had sent everyone home as usual and worked in the dark after they had closed the tavern for the night. The dim light of the dying fireplace would have made it impossible for anyone other than her to work, but her eyes found the place well lit. She liked the solitude after the chaos of the night and hummed (quietly so as to not disturb the guests sleeping in the Inn's 20 rooms) as she cleaned the large tavern area. An hour later, she had finished the chores and silently slipped out of the back door from the kitchen area, locking it behind her. Of course she wasn't supposed to be on the street this late after midnight curfew, but with Duke Bugley gravely ill she was the unofficial steward of the Duke and so the captain of the watch reported to her. She hurried through the empty street, moving with the silence of a ghost as she slipped across the Inn's courtyard and through a gate that separated the Inn from the Great Tower of Westmark, the official residence of the Duke. It was a massive, nearly square Keep, five floors with a parapet at each of the four sides rising another story in height. As was often the case, her stealth startled two of the guards standing on either side of the outer wall, but after many months of the same thing happening, they recognized her, and she waved to them as she climbed the steps to the Tower's main door. One guard raised the portcullis and she zipped inside and up the winding stairs to the Master Bedroom.
She entered quietly, without knocking, and found Krys asleep in a chair beside the bed of Gamel Bugley, the Duke of Westmark. Father Bugley - as he had demanded that she address him- seemed to be almost engulfed by the huge bed, his frail, pale form showing no hint of the robust man who had raised her for 7 decades. Aurei paused and looked down at the man she thought of as her father and her heart ached inside as she beheld his pitiful form.
He should have been a great grandfather with a score of grandchildren surrounding his bed in his last years. But like Lute and Siris, Yesh had not blessed the Bugleys of Westmark with children and so he lay dying alone, except for Aurei and a handful of fiercely loyal employees and servants who loved him as dearly as any grandchildren.
"Father, I am here." she whispered to him, knowing fully well he
probably couldn't hear her, and she leaned over and kissed his
forehead, noticing how raspy his breaths were. It wouldn't be
long, she thought, and as was usually the case each evening, she
began crying, her tears plopping on the Duke's forehead.
"Aurei?" Krys stirred in the chair beside her.
"Yeah, it's me."
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"Don't be, I'm so very grateful that you sit with him. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"How are things at the tavern?" Krys asked, trying to lighten the somberness of the room.
"About like always. Thorm brought me a Drow short sword. A guy tried to kill me. Nothing much really."
"You'll have to tell me about that tomorrow." Krys responded, knowing her friend's mood very well.
"Okay. Krys, he looks so fragile tonight." Aurei suddenly found herself overcome with emotion and resumed sobbing. Krys jumped up and eased her friend down into the seat she had just vacated then sat down on the edge next to her.
"Oh, Aurei" she hugged her, joining the Drow girl in her pain. The two women sat there crying for a short while before Krys asked her, "Do you want me to go get someone to sit with him tonight? You've been here every night for months, Aurei. You need a break."
Aurei just shook her head firmly, "I'm staying here. I'm alright now. I just needed to get that out of me."
"Do you want me to stay with you? You can tell me about the latest assassination attempt on you."
Aurei smiled, "No, you have the first shift tomorrow afternoon. I'm fine - Drow don't need much sleep, really. We can sit and reminisce and feel fairly rested up after a few hours. I'll be fine, really. Thanks though."
Krys squeezed her hand, "If it gets too much for you, send someone for me, okay?"
Aurei nodded and Krys got up and slipped out, leaving Aurei alone with her dying human father and her memories.