The Beholden

Chapter Four – The Messenger.  

Outside of the town of Mittenwald, toward Lautersee, there was a cottage all by itself located in the foothills of the Italian Alps.  Here lived a woman named Arnina, the mountain singer.  For most of the year, she was a bit of a recluse. Tourism had found its way into the town that was on the path of every photo opportunist heading south to Innsbruck so she was engagingly selective with visitors.  She despised the ski adventure tourists with their money, expensive gear, and other materialistic ways.  They were easily avoided because the winters were terrible and she rarely ventured out of her home.  During the summer, she emerged as a completely different person.  She would set out for the town and play her violin and accept small change.  She would only collect enough to get her the bare necessities to help her prepare for winter.  This consisted mainly of items for canning her vegetables.  Her large garden produced food throughout the growing season and was more for sustenance than for hobby.  However, she did fancy the summer through hikers as they more in touch with nature and easily charmed.  There was only an earthen path to her home and every so often some curious hikers would pass her way.  She would offer them some food from the day’s harvest in exchange for some small talk.  Arnina was interested in the foot traffic in town in order to gauge the potential evening profit.

Today, the town center of Mittenwald was bustling and she would bring her violin for a solo performance.  Arnina catered to the evening crowds who were more receptive to adding something extra to the dinner date.  She could bring the drama of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto on dreary evenings. If the evening was perfectly crisp, she would stick with a mix of Lindsey Stirling’s best music.  She would often finish with Shadows.  An old, German trainman’s lantern was used as a necessary prop for the backlighting when she would briefly imitate scenes from Lindsey’s video.  Tonight, the crowd was larger than normal.  The sky was open to the heavens above and the scent of the middle forest flowed into the town aided by the down sloping winds of the surrounding mountains.  As she scanned the crowd, she was sure to make eye contact with those who were enjoying the performance the most.  This was not done only for a good tip but also to make the connection of mutual appreciation.  After she wrapped up her last song, Arnina recognized two familiar gentlemen that made their way from the back of the crowd.

“Connell and Alden,” she said.  “I was not expecting the two of you until later.”

“We would not want to pass up a chance to catch one of your riveting shows,” said Connell as he picked up her lantern.

“Let’s catch up on the way back to my home.  It’s a good forty-five minute walk.”

The path to Arnina’s took them through a large meadow and down along a tree line.  Then, they vanished into a sparse forest with its carpet of evergreen needles teasing their noses with holiday spirit.  The waxing crescent moon exposed itself above but the lantern Connell foolishly carried drowned out its bewitching glow.  They discussed all that life had dealt them since their last meeting.  That would be all the personal stuff and not the real issue at hand.  They would save all conversation surrounding the Beholden for the closed doors of Arnina’s home.

Arnina lived in a rustic retreat cottage previously underappreciated by renters.  The cottage was more space than she needed and upkeep was always behind schedule.  Upon arrival, Engelchen, her short-haired pointer, was there to greet them.  Connell and Alden made themselves comfortable in the living room as Arnina went to fetch the wine in the open, adjacent kitchen.  As they sat waiting, before them was a large fireplace made of fieldstone and its hearth that spanned across the entire wall.  White Zinfandel was her preference.  In fact, it was all she kept.  Arnina served the wine and sat down on the chair.  She began to tell Connell and Alden about the group the Beholden were up against.  They were known as the Rogue.  The Rogue always seemed to be a step ahead, as if they knew their adversaries next move.  This group was a negative offshoot of the Beholden.  Normally, they were methodical and defensive.  However, some members have diverged and gone on the offensive.    This divergent sub group intended to go after Stephan.

“Why are they going after Stephan?” Connell asks with a bitter tongue.

“Because his father leads the Rogue.”

Almost in unison both men shout, “What!”

Arnina asks for calm as she continued.  She explained that Stephan was in no danger from his father but they must be separated.  They needed John and his passive stance to remain in charge and alive.  “That is your job, Alden.”

“As for you, Connell, you must retrieve Madison.”

“Madison?”  Connell gives a half shake of the head.  “I am to go to America?”

“No. She is in Barcelona,” reveals Arnina.

Before they could ask, Arnina told the both of them the adventure Madison had begun and her current plight.  She warned them that the tasks at hand would not be easy.  The network of the Beholden cannot grow without all four of you.  The chain of events the two of you set off will cause the network to accelerate.  This will keep the Rogue occupied and thinly spread.  There is more for Alden to do.  Once you retrieve Stephan, the two of you must bring me the key hidden in the New Town Hall in Munich. One of the characters of the Glockenspiel, the night watchman, carries the key.  There is a small access door in the night watchman’s right calf. The key has been safe there for many years.

“As you both know, you cannot stay here,” said Arnina with reprehension as she wavered her finger.

Frustrated and trying to keep the conversation going, Connell exclaimed, “But, we have so many questions about the Rogue and about ourselves.”

“When, and I do mean when you return, I shall provide more information,” Arnina proclaimed raising her wine glass doubtlessly.  “There is a great revolution coming that will bring things mankind will use recklessly.  I shall give all of you what you need to become champions.”

“I sense the rush of the network about to propel me forward,” said Alden. “Oh, before we are off, I brought you something.”  Alden reaches into his back pocket and unfolds some papers.

“More sheet music from another one of Miss Stirling’s best.  This one is Song of the Caged Bird.  A haunting, mournful beauty based on a poem written by Maya Angelou.”

Just as Arnina grasped the sheet music, Connell and Alden were whisked away by the demands of the network.

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