The knight leant his weight upon the door, momentarily grateful that he hadn't yet taken the time to divest himself of his armor. He set his shoulder to the iron-banded oak and heaved. The door gave way on the third shove. Grumbling under his breath at the resistance, the knight straightened up and drew his hair back out of his face.
He had traveled two days with the goddess back to her quarters in the capital, then mounted back up immediately and headed east. On “family business,” he had claimed. Not entirely a lie. His family's holdings were near the eastern border of the kingdom, nearly two weeks' travel away, and this was technically family business. A fact he'd killed to keep secret, but there it was. It had been a simple matter to get over the border from there, and the best part of another month of travel to reach his destination.
The knight had no fondness for the lengthy journey, and wished he could have made it faster. He bore news that could not wait even an instant. Only his horse's needs kept him from pressing on through the night. Finally, just before the noon sun had reached its peak, he had arrived at his destination. The stablemaster's boy, familiar with his comings and goings, had taken the knight's horse for grooming and feeding, while the knight had marched into the bowels of the keep and the business awaiting him.
The room beyond the door was as dark and stifling as the spring day above was bright. A thick, cloying scent billowed out the doorway and filled the air, smoky like incense but thick with odors of rot and decay. The knight schooled his face to stillness, repressing the urge to cover his mouth and pinch his nose shut. No matter how often he came here, the stench never grew any less horrible. Then again, other than for his visits, the door was opened maybe once a year.
Something skittered and scratched in the dark, crossing the room. The sound was suddenly cut short with a muffled squeal, barely audible. A new note entered the foul odors clouding the air. The knight trod into the room, feeling ancient hay squelch under his feet, thick with some festering slime.