"Call off those fanfares!" Eileen called furiously down the passage.
On the heels of that furious bellow, Captain Eileen Delran spun around to part a curtain and say in a far gentler voice, "Your Grace, I fear your business meetings cannot proceed. This day, at least. Not unless you want to die - and all the senior nobles being summoned with you."
"You're right," came the swift reply from the alcove behind the curtain. "There's more than one man in the kingdom who'd welcome that particular extermination, but I can't count myself among them. Would you recommend I withdraw, hired blades and all, to my room? This instant?"
"You senses are as swift and keen as ever, my lord."
"If only your flattery rang with truth," came the gentle, rather sad whisper. "I'll get going."
"Very good," Eileen breathed, letting the curtain fall and spinning around again to glare at a guard who was stumbling up to her, coughing violently, his face gray. He waved a hand, fighting to express himself but failing.
A lieutenant behind the guard tried to speak in his stead, only to be plunged into helpless coughing and retching. "I- I-"
"Idiots!" Eileen snapped. "Stay out of the smoke! Close the doors across the passages by the dining hall and by Lady Denworth's bower - open all windows and doors near us! We must clear the smoke!"
Catching sight of a wizard hurrying up from the other direction, she pointed at him and ordered, "Ialen, commandeer all guards from their assigned posts and get into the dining hall and get rid of whatever's causing this!"
"There'll be no noble meeting this day! Do it!"
She turned back the other way, saw a young mage she recognised peering anxiously out of one of the rooms along the passage, and snapped, "Jasten, go after the duke's bodyguard, and make sure all of them are readily equipped! Hurry!"
Jalsten nodded hastily and ran, but someone else was shouting at Eileen, and his voice was far from friendly.
"Eileen," an older sorcerer called, appearing through a door with a handful of fellow senior wizards behind him. "I don't recall you being named commander of the duke's household! Surely-"
"Surely -someone- must guard the duke before all else, Thonan! Seeking to do anything less courts treason, does it not?"
"But why call off the meeting?" another of the wizards growled as they quickened their pace to reach her. Servants were appearing now, too, looking frantic as they tried to evade the smoke or appearing out of various chambers, drawn by the commotion outside. "The duke will be less than pleased!
"I have spoken with the duke," Eileen growled, her voice reminiscent to that of a burly guard captain's, "and he realised in a moment what you have not: that the fires are not normal - hence magic is involved - and there must be a traitor among us wizards in his employ, unless someone got into one of our minds and so knew exactly what must be done to bypass our wards without alerting us or clumsily destroying them. Now, where does that compel -your- thinking, Kalward?"
The aged sorcerer regarded her in silent sobriety, yielding a quick nod and then announced, "Eileen is in the right. We must quell the smoke, investigate what traces we can find, search the room, and weave new wards to replace the compromised ones.
Yeltan Bucks nodded in firm agreement to lower suspicion, but saw his place to leave as the others bolted in different directions to work. Determined, he stepped through the smoke and advanced down the passage not favoured by heavy trafficking this dawn.
Something still eluded him, though. Sure, he was paid, but why would Lord Ordale send him to start fires inside a manor in a passage that held no victims?