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One Hundred Seven
What Iain had seen of the mansion suggested that Rhyem did not live below his station of being a duke in the powerful kingdom of Keltormir. The place was full of artwork of high quality. The majority of it was paintings, mostly realistic works, although there was a small percentage of much more abstract art present. What statuary there was tended to be incredibly detailed. Some of the statues of elves even had what looked like pores worked into the stone where the statue showed skin. It must have taken elven artists decades or centuries to produce each one.
Or, Iain reminded himself, considering magic, perhaps the statues had once been alive and then the individual had been turned to stone for one reason or another. That could mean that they were former enemies of some sort, turned into the ultimate trophy for the discerning and vengeful enthusiast. It sounded incredibly arrogant and very creepy, but then these elves were the ones who had decided to pull a piece of their heaven from Arvandor, not think the entire procedure through properly and then cause massive tidal waves and destruction all over the world as a result, killing uncounted elves and other people when they did so. Their gods had been forced to intercede to save the planet. Afterwards, the elves pretty much shrugged their collective shoulders and said “oops” before naming the new island Evermeet. Compared to that, turning enemies into permanent art to use to adorn the home wasn’t really all that arrogant or cruel. Or, to Iain, it at least wasn’t inconsistent with what he’d seen of the elven psyche.
Entering the building hadn’t been difficult. Eirian had looked inside an upper floor window and then teleported herself and Iain into the room she’d seen. Then she’d returned to his left forearm as he used his perception to locate Rhyem’s bedroom and plan out the route.
It was early morning and, while there was some activity in the kitchen, the upper part of the building was quiet as Iain eased through it unseen. The door to the bedroom was locked, but the key in the lock on the other side of the door was easy enough to manipulate with magic to unlock it. Iain was polite enough to relock it behind him after entering.
Unfortunately, Rhyem wasn’t sleeping alone. He was sleeping with Sylnala Stormlily, whom Iain recognized from their previous meeting.
If he’d known of her presence before working his way here, Iain would have waited for her to leave, but he was already inside the building and he wasn’t going to make his way out just to come back later. So he raised a hand and two rune chains leapt from it. Each wrapped a single line around the throat of one of the elves before circling under the bed and tightening just enough to touch their skin.
Iain then summoned a globe of bright light that filled the room with brilliance. “Morning,” he said loudly.
Rhyem jerked up, only to come to a gagging halt when he hit the end of the slack after less than two inches of movement. He then fell back to the bed, clutching at his throat. Sylnala twitched once and opened her eyes without otherwise moving.
Rhyem felt the chain around neck. “What is this,” he said quietly. His eyes moved to see Iain and widened. “You!”
“You did summon me, Rhyem, why are you so surprised I’m here?” Iain moved closer to the bed. “You should have expected this. I am not yours to summon, so of course I’d hurry here so I could decide if you were just stupid once and I could let this pass or if this was a permanent failing that was going to have to be permanently addressed.” He smiled thinly. “What’s odd is that I’m not sure how you managed to reach me. You’ve met me and you know my name, but only a High Wizard can cast the spell for delivering message scrolls. You’re not a High Wizard. And, as far as I know, there is no way for a High Wizard to use your description of me to turn that into a destination focus. It is that mystery that really drew me here, since it means if I ignore your summons I’ll just get more of them.”
His smile vanished and his eyes narrowed slightly as they cut to look at Sylnala. Her eyes went wide. “That’s right, I’d forgotten that there’s a clerical version of the spell. Not only do you meet the first two criteria for using it, you’re also powerful enough to cast it. In the interests of your continued good health, I’d strongly advise you don’t do that again. We are not friends and I have many things to do with my time that do not involve dealing with this foolishness a second time.” And, he reflected, he now recognized that it was her scent on the scroll that had tantalizingly eluded identification.
“We had no choice,” she said quietly. “He is the duke and I am his wife now and we both answer to His Majesty, who ordered us to send you the message you received. I protested doing this and he insisted. I don’t even know what the message is.”
Iain chuckled. “Thefaren is supposed to be a good king, reasonably just and with a good sense of humor. Is this not so?”
“It is,” Rhyem said, his fingers still testing the chain pinning him to the bed. “He is a good king and a good elf.”
“Then I doubt he told you that if you didn’t do this, he would have you killed or stripped you of your titles and property. And you two are both smart enough to consider that I might not want this and might well decide that making examples of you two would prevent this from happening again, which it most certainly will if I meekly arrive as scheduled for this whatever it is.” His smile was cold. “And that doesn’t even include the fact that if I kill you, nobody here can do this again, since only Sylnala meets the prerequisites.”
“This behavior is beneath you,” Sylnala said. “You are not here to torment us and, if you were going to kill us, we would be dead, probably without ever waking up. Since you are already here, meet with the king, but since you are early, you will be meeting him on your terms and not his.”
“You lied to me,” Iain said amusedly.
“I have not,” Sylnala protested.
“You said you didn’t know what the message was.”
She froze and slowly nodded. “I did lie to you then. I was terrified that we were going to die. I’m sorry that I lied to you. I will not lie to you again.”
The rune chains evaporated, leaving behind a scent of jasmine as Iain leaned back against the wall. “He is not my king. I don’t care what he wants.”
Rhyem sat up, rubbing his throat. “His Majesty will not listen to me in this. Only you can convince him not to send more messages if you ignore the one you’ve received.”
Sylnala sat up slowly. “I would advise you not to threaten him as you did us.”
“That was not a threat.”
“Warn us, then,” she corrected. She was nude from the waist up, but most elves didn’t sleep with clothing whenever they could. She and Iain both ignored it, as was normal for elves. “The advice is still sound.”
Iain grunted. “If you’re giving advice, how about you advise me on how to see him today? As you pointed out, I’m here and I have no reason to remain in this city for several days. I also am not coming back any time soon if I leave without seeing him.”
“The High Wizards tracked the scroll across the kingdom,” Rhyem said. “They know where it went and so they know where you live.”
“They were going to find out eventually,” Iain replied. “I am not trying to hide. I only want to be left alone.” He shook his head. “Which I am not getting.”
“If you ignore them long enough, the king will send a messenger to you now that he knows where you live,” Rhyem continued. “That’s what I was trying to say.”
“He’d better send someone really good at climbing and sneaking,” Iain chuckled. “It just so happens that the mountains where I live are full of bad things just waiting to happen to passersby. And a lot of them think elves are pretty tasty.”
Sylnala eyed him curiously. “Are you one of them?”
“Heavens no,” Iain said with a moue of distaste. “Elf meat does not interest me.” He started to stay something else and stopped himself.
“What were you going to say?”
“Something crude, sexual and not at all relevant to this discussion.”
Sylnala smiled. “Please, I will not take offense.”
“I like having sex with women, including elf women. Them, I do like the taste of.”
Sylnala frowned and then laughed. “Oh. I see.”
Rhyem got out bed and filled a cup with water. He, too, was nude and, again, it was ignored. “I can talk to someone this morning about you attending court today. If the docket isn’t too full, and it usually isn’t, that should be possible.” He took a deep drink and refilled the cup before passing it to Sylnala. “You will stay with us while I’m gone.”
“I shouldn’t,” Iain began.
“How can we find you if you do get on the docket, if you’re not staying with us?”
Iain shrugged. “Very well. I’ll leave and show up at your front door properly so I don’t infuriate your guards by having them discover that I managed to sneak past them and ambush you in your room.”
“Considering that the captain of my guard is my cousin and she angers quickly, I would appreciate that,” Rhyem said with a grin. “How did you get in so easily? My home is warded against teleportation and any other way in I could think of.”
“You might want to have someone you trust check that,” Iain replied. “I didn’t have any problem teleporting into your home and I didn’t sense any sort of wards.”
Sylnala smiled. “Would that have stopped you if you had?”
“No, I have other options that I would have tried. Still it would probably keep out others who have your worst interests at heart. Now, I’ll be gone for a few minutes so I can knock.” He muttered for a moment and vanished.
Iain leaned against the wall in the room where all the petitioners to see the king of Keltormir waited for their turn and ignored the curious stares in his direction. Considering the size of the kingdom, the king’s royal court only dealt with the problems of nobles and other powerful members of Keltormir’s society, so it wasn’t surprising that most of the people in the room knew at least someone else who was there today. Of course, none of them had the faintest idea who he was but, so far, none of them had seen fit to approach the commonly dressed moon elf.
A finely dressed young moon elf male entered the room, looked around and headed for where Iain watched the others. He nodded to Iain and leaned against the wall next to him. After a few minutes, Iain noticed that everyone else was studiously ignoring the newcomer’s existence. He glanced at the elf. “Who are you that they are so are busy pretending you don’t exist?”
The moon elf gave him a surprised look. “I’m here to plead my case in a property dispute with the king’s cousin and they don’t think I will prevail because it’s the king’s cousin and they’re friends. They think the king will punish me for even presenting my case and they don’t want to be involved with anything concerning the king’s ire.”
Iain nodded. “If they’re so sure you’ll lose, why are you here?”
“The king is fair and honest and law and tradition are on my side.” The elf examined Iain closely. “I am Baron Naeven Stillleaf. My I ask who you are?”
“I’m Iain Grey and you don’t recognize me because I’m new to the city.”
Naeven frowned. “If you are new to the city, why are you waiting for an audience at court?”
Iain chuckled. “That’s a very good question and I wish I had an answer for you. Unfortunately, I don’t know.”
Naeven’s frown deepened. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know it doesn’t, but it’s the truth.”
Everyone’s heads came around when the door to the throne room opened and several people made abortive movements in its direction. It wasn’t really the door to the throne room, instead it led to an antechamber which did lead to the petitioner’s entrance through which one did enter into the throne room. The announcer, an older elf wearing ceremonial plate armor that had been gilded with the kingdom’s colors, stood in the opening. He looked around the room. “Iain Grey!”
Iain smiled at Naeven. “Be well, Naeven, and I hope you win your case.” He headed for the announcer, stopping in front of him. “I am Iain Grey.”
“Come.” The announcer led him into the antechamber and shut the door to the petitioner’s room. He spoke in the singsong of long repetition. “I will announce you. His Majesty will acknowledge the announcement. I will then tell you to proceed and you will stop at the red stone that is inset in the floor a dozen feet from His Majesty. There you will kneel until told to rise. Do you understand what I have told you?”
Iain nodded. “I understand.”
“I must announce why you seek an audience with His Majesty. What is the purpose of your petition?”
Iain managed not to smile. “I don’t have a petition.”
The announcer’s voice turned waspish. “I am very busy and I have to do my job, which you are currently making impossible. You must have had a reason to seek an audience. What is it?”
Iain refused to let the elf provoke him. “I’m not here because I want to be here. I received a message to present myself before the king. It didn’t say why.”
“You must be mistaken. Summonses always give the reason the petitioner is summoned. Give me the summons.”
“I don’t have it. It’s probably on my desk.”
The announcer folded his arms. “You are supposed to present your summons to prove that you have business with the king.”
“I don’t have any business with the king.” Iain spoked slowly and distinctly since he was starting to wonder if the elf was retarded or something. “He summoned me. Obviously, that means he has business with me instead of me with him. Unfortunately, he didn’t tell me what that business was.”
The announcer’s face twisted into a sneer. “Without the summons, I can’t know why you are here. The law says you are supposed to bring it with you.”
“I don’t know Keltormir law. I’m not a citizen of the kingdom and it’s my first visit to your fair city.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I don’t know. Here’s a solution. You can ask the king why he summoned me and then we’ll both know the reason.”
The sneer deepened. “Don’t be absurd.”
“Absurd? Me? I’m not the person asking the same question over and over when I already know the answer.”
“Aha! You do know why you’re here! Tell me so I can announce you.”
“The answer is I. Don’t. Know.”
The door to the throne room opened and a guard poked his head in. “Next.” His head withdrew as he moved aside.
The announcer shook his head. “You can’t go!”
“The fuck I can’t.” Iain poked the announcer in the base of the throat. “And you’re not going stop me.”
The announcer’s mouth moved and a rush of air came out, but he made no other sound as Iain headed for the door and passed into the throne room without stopping.
The throne room was fifty feet on a side and well decorated with paintings, statuary and sumptuous furniture in strategic locations. Ornate tapestries hung from the walls as well as the rafters in the middle of the chamber. On either side, cushioned benches were lined with well dressed people, presumably nobles of the kingdom here to watch court for one reason or another.
The king was seated in a throne carved from oak and decorated with inset pieces of jade and precious stones. He looked to be in his late middle age and was luxuriously dressed, but the circles under his eyes and the pallor to his cheeks suggested that the stress in his life was probably a lot higher than was safe for his level of physical activity. A frown creased his brow as Iain finished his trek across the room and stopped on the red piece of inlay in the floor. “I am Iain Grey. You’re probably waiting for your announcer to announce me, but he just lost his voice for the next twenty minutes or so. Now, we both have things we’d rather be doing with our time, so why have you summoned me?”
An elf wearing the uniform of one of the king’s guardsmen who was standing to the right of the king stepped forward and leveled a spear at Iain. “You will kneel in front of your king!”
“With all due respect,” Iain said to Thefaren, “you are not my king and I do not kneel.” Gasps came from the crowd.
Thefaren’s eyes twinkled suddenly and he leaned forward slightly as he waved the guard back. “You are the dragon who has been bringing Duke Rhyem so many Vyshaantar heads.”
“Actually, one of my servants has been delivering the heads but, yes, I’ve been helping with the harvesting.”
“Can you prove that you’re a dragon?”
Iain smiled. “Of course I can, but your throne room isn’t nearly big enough to hold my dragon form and I’d probably crush a whole bunch of people if I shifted into a dragon and that’s before I broke through the walls, damaged the structure of this building and brought the ceiling down on everyone in here.”
“Why are you hunting the Vyshaantar?”
“One of my servants is a member of the Vyshaantar royal family and she hates them for things they did to her. I’m allowing her to work through that hatred by helping me destroy them. Also, they ordered their High Wizards to massacre a whole bunch of my goddess’ worshippers and I don’t think they should get away with it unscathed. When I’m done with the nobles, I’ll go after the empire’s High Wizards until I find the ones who caused the massacre so they can be punished.” He cocked his head curiously. “Did you summon me here to ask me what I’ve been doing?”
“I wanted to know what your activities would mean for me and my kingdom.”
“Well, so far I’ve saved a chunk of your army and I’ve kept pieces of your kingdom from being occupied and some of your civilians from being massacred or having to make new flags to wave when the Vyshaantar army marches through.”
The guard stirred again. “You will address His Majesty with his title and the respect he deserves!”
Iain glanced at the guard before addressing the king again. “I don’t want to sound insulting to either you or him, but if he attacks me, I will defend myself and then you’re going to need a new guard to fill his post.”
The king chuckled. “You think very highly of your skills. I should warn you that he is one of my most elite warriors.”
“Then you’ll have a more difficult time filling his position, but that won’t change what’s going to happen to him if he attacks me. I see no reason to let anyone poke holes in me. It hurts and is very hard on my clothes.”
Thefaren burst out laughing. He stood and said in a ringing voice. “Court is over until tomorrow.” He looked at Iain. “Come with me.”
Iain gave a mental shrug and followed him out of a door set to the right of and behind the throne. They stopped in a small chamber where they were joined by three guards and a moon elf female wearing a gold circlet on her head. She had on mithril half plate armor and was carrying a broadsword with a very ornate hilt. Her face bore a strong resemblance to the king’s, but her hair was silvery white while his was the more common black. Thefaren gave Iain an apologetic look. “I am the king and I must have guards wherever I go, even when I want to speak with someone in private.”
Iain chuckled. “I understand. As the leader of my clan I have to have constant security too and I’ve been told I should have it especially when dealing with outlanders in private.”
The female moon elf gave him a curious look before deliberately looking around the room. “Where are your guards?”
“They’re here, it’s just that they tend to be fairly unobtrusive so as to give me the illusion of freedom and to keep from panicking the people around me.”
The female’s eyes reflected her disbelief. “I want to see them.”
“They don’t show themselves just because.”
Thefaren smiled. “I would like to see them too. Please?”
Iain sighed mentally. “Very well. Viersunuth?”
The air near the wall shimmered and became Viersunuth. The dragoness was in the form of a wingless blue half dragon who stood nearly six and a half feet tall. She was heavily scaled and muscular but her form showed mammalian characteristics like the Dragonesses did. She was wearing a bodice and skirt of drow styling and had what were either long daggers or short short swords strapped to her forearms. On her right hand was the ring Iain had made her which allowed her to change shape like a metallic dragon could. Her fangs gleamed in the light as she gave a quick curtsey. “My lord.”
One of the guards swore in elven and put himself between the half dragon and his king.
“And that is why she stays unobtrusive,” Iain noted. “Thank you, Viersunuth.” He looked at Thefaren. “Should she go back to being unobtrusive or should she attend to me so your guards know where she is?”
“She’s very remarkable,” Thefaren said with a grin. “If she disappeared, I’m afraid my guards would either spend their time jumping at the flicker of every shadow or they’d try to get me away from here and you as quickly as they can. Let her stay.”
The female elf was frowning prettily. “The court wizard should have discovered her presence.”
Iain smiled as Viersunuth circled around to stand behind him. “Normally, I’m sure he or she would have, but this is dragon magic we’re talking about and we take special precautions when we know we’ll be around powerful outlander mages who routinely use detection spells of various sorts.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Outlander?”
“If you are clan then there is clan and then there is everyone else. Everyone else is an outlander. And what is your name, miss?”
Thefaren smiled. “This is my youngest child, Shatris Maerdrym.”
Iain nodded to her. “It’s nice to meet you.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Is it really?”
Iain smiled again. “It’s always nice to meet an attractive female.”
“Not beautiful or alluring,” she asked curiously. “I’ve been told I’m both.”
“I don’t know you well enough to know if you’re beautiful. That has to with personality and we’ve only just met. I don’t flatter people just to flatter them.”
She smiled back at him. “Well, at least you’re honest. I like that.”
Thefaren looked at them. “Come, we’ll talk in the garden.”
Shatris walked with Iain as they followed the king. “You said you had guards,” she said, stressing the plural of the word.
“I do. Yes, you haven’t seen them all and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“So you have secrets?”
Iain chuckled again. “I have many secrets. Doesn’t everyone?” That got a laugh from the king.
The garden was as Iain had expected, full of flowers and fruiting trees and bushes. The king sat down on a bench and pointed Iain at another bench facing the first one. Shatris stood next to the king’s bench.
Thefaren leaned back against the bench. “I sent for you because I wanted to meet you, since you were helping us out so much and without any request for reward.”
Iain nodded. “Please don’t be insulted, but I came here because I was curious about who had the gall to summon me since I’m not a member of your kingdom and I’m not sworn to you. That means I’m probably not going to respond to another summons.”
“Your mountains are in my kingdom. There are those who would argue that makes you one of my subjects.”
“There are those who would argue that a thunderstorm is just some wind and water,” Iain pointed out. “And anyone can draw a map and say everything they show on it belongs to them. I believe that’s what the Vyshaantar Empire says about your lands. All of us here know it’s really about power and the ability and desire to project it.”
“Will you swear yourself to me?”
Iain shook his head. “I’d rather not. I take oaths very seriously, since I am fey, and I see no reason to become subservient to the kingdom, you and your heirs. I just want me and mine to be left alone to live our lives as we see fit.”
“Dragons are not fey,” Thefaren said.
“There are dragons in the Feywild,” Iain noted calmly. “They are fey. I am not from this world and I am also fey.”
“What if father insisted that you swear an oath to him,” Shatris asked.
“If he were to do that, then we would have a problem since he can’t force me to bend a knee to him. He can tell me to swear an oath to him and then he can try to coerce me into giving it and finally he can try to kill me if I continue to decline to do so. I am free and I cannot be forced to give up that freedom by anyone unless I agree to do so. What other people say about my freedom only matters if I allow it to.”
“That kind of talk could be called sedition,” Thefaren said with a smile.
Iain chuckled. “With the understanding that, as king, theoretically you can define anything as whatever you want it to be and others have to go along with your definitions,” Thefaren laughed again as Iain continued, “sedition is usually plotting or agitating against the legal authority. That usually means that only citizens of a country can be seditious.”
“Your viewpoint is interesting,” Shatris said.
“It’s also treasonous,” the king noted. He smiled again. “If you were part of my kingdom.” He rubbed his face tiredly. “Which I agree you are not. Will you be an ally of ours?”
“I am willing to be neutral towards Keltormir for as long as Keltormir remains neutral to me,” Iain replied. “I think you and I can reach an agreement where we leave each other alone, except perhaps for some social visits and hopefully some trade later on. But I will not commit to always being a friend of Keltormir when, one day, one of your ambitious heirs listens to some unsound advice and decides it is time put me in my place and under her control.”
Thefaren nodded. “That is definitely possible. My son is my heir and he is very ambitious. In some ways, I fear for my kingdom when he is king. What will you do if my son sends an army to conquer you?”
Iain snorted. “The mountains I live in are very unforgiving to newcomers, especially if they can’t fly. The mountain will kill a portion of any army that enters it and the creatures who live there, from the other dragons to the orcs and gnolls to the goblins and giants, they will kill a lot more. The dwarves of the Kingdom of Shanatar might also take umbrage at its presence and attack it. If it ever gets near my lands, I will meet with the leaders, under a flag of truce, and ask them to stay out of my lands. When they refuse to do so I will peacefully leave under the flag of truce, if I am allowed to. Later I will kill those leaders and then I will watch that army unravel. Of the survivors, any who enter my lands and seek refuge will be asked for their parole and repatriated back to the closest community of the people who sent the army in the first place.”
Thefaren raised an eyebrow. “Parole?”
“I am a civilized being. I will accept the oath of anyone who is my prisoner and seeks to become my guest to not take up arms or promote activities against me and mine for a year and a day unless I have reason to believe they are insincere. If they give their oath and then later break that oath, well, they’ve broken an oath with a fey and will reap the appropriate reward.”
Thefaran smiled. “That is a very old custom among the elves. It isn’t followed much anymore and it’s nice to see you still do.”
“It’s an even older custom among the clans,” Iain said as he rose. “And I must be going. I have a great many things I have to do today.”
“I would like to send an ambassador to your clan.”
Iain frowned. “Why would I want to accept one?” One of the guards made a choked off noise that brought a chuckle from Viersunuth.
“It would promote goodwill and understanding between my people and yours,” Thefaren said. “And it would allow us to communicate faster and more accurately.”
Iain stood and looked evenly down at the sitting moon elf. Finally he grunted. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
“I am not,” Thefaren said calmly. “You are right that we can coexist. I am not young, however and I hope that an ambassador might give my son pause when he listens to that poor counsel you mentioned earlier.”
“The mountains are even less friendly to small groups unless they’re pretty sneaky,” Iain said. “Having said that, send who you want.”
“I was hoping that I could prevail upon you to ensure Shatris’ safe arrival at your land,” Thefaren said.
Shatris bowed to Thefaren. “I can be ready to leave in an hour, father.” She looked at Iain. “Can I bring an assistant?”
“Ambassadors are not guests and are not afforded the protections and hospitality of being guests,” Iain replied. “Unless you later seek to become my guest, you will not be extended the rights of hospitality. I have a drow who is staying at my home and she is my guest. I am aware of the enmity between the drow and surface elves. I assure you that she will not seek to harm you. If anything befalls her or any other of my clan or my guests, if I discover that the ambassador or her assistant is involved, I will act as is my right and responsibility under the laws of hospitality as defined by my clan. In such an event, I will ensure that any corpses are returned to Keltormir for interment along with a full report of what transpired and why.” His eyes were serious as they looked into hers. “Can you accept this?”
Shatris swallowed hard. “Could we be guests of yours too?”
“A guest is not supposed to act against the interests of the clan. By definition, an ambassador is supposed to represent her kingdom and its interests.” Iain turned to Thefaren. “I don’t want to have an ambassador from your kingdom. Instead, will you let Shatris come and visit my home for a while? She can be my guest and learn about what it means to be clan. If she is married or has children, they can come too.” He smiled. “A friendly visit between our peoples is better for everyone than sending an ambassador to spy on me. Besides, Shatris will learn a lot more as my guest then she ever would otherwise. And, as my guest, I will protect her. I won’t protect an ambassador.”
Thefaren looked thoughtful. “Can she come back once in a while?”
“It took me only a few hours to travel from my home to here. I don’t see why I can’t bring her back here occasionally or if her presence is needed here.” He looked at Shatris. “Can your things fit in a single wagon?”
“I have a magic chest,” she replied. “Everything will fit in it.”
“Then, unless your father protests, you’ve got an hour.” Iain looked at the king as Shatris bowed to her father and briskly walked towards the palace. “Where would you like me to wait for her?”
“Sit down again. I’d like to spend the time talking with you while she’s getting ready.” Thefaren looked at one of his guards. “Get some refreshments.”
“As you command, Your Majesty.” The guard hurried off as Iain sat back down.
Shatris stared at the Lemon Sour as the cloak dropped and the hammership shivered into existence in front of the group. “You have a spelljammer?”
“I wasn’t aware you knew about them.” Iain started up the cargo netting that he’d hung over the side when he left the ship. “Wait here. I’ll lower a net on a rope and you can put your chest in it.”
“We maintain a squadron of ships as our contribution to the Imperial Elven Fleet in this sphere,” Shatris replied. She watched the net hit the ground and Viersunuth opened it up before grabbing her chest of clothing and dropped it into the center of the netting.
The dragoness looked up. “My lord, the chest is ready for loading.” Wings sprouted from her back and she took off to land next to him as he started to pull up the chest. “Let me do this.”
Iain stepped back so she could take over before leaning over the railing of the ship so he could call down to Shatris. “Climb up. Viersunuth will show you where to sit while I preflight the ship.”
Shatris quickly climbed the netting and over the rail, but Viersunuth had already pulled the chest aboard by the time she put her boots on the deck. “Viersunuth?”
The blue dragoness pointed at a bench with a cushion on it. “Sit here.”
Shatris looked around as she sat down. “Where is Iain?”
“He climbed down the other side to inspect the ship’s landing gear. He thinks one of the oleo struts on that side has developed a leak.”
“What is an oleo strut?”
Viersunuth chuckled. “It is the metal poles along the sides of this ship that it sits on when on land, but other than that, I’m not sure. I know the problem has to do with not breaking things when we land and it involves a tube with oil, air and a metal plate with tiny holes in it. Julia explained it to me but I didn’t understand anything else.”
Iain climbed aboard. He quickly pulled up the cargo netting on each side of the hull and then headed for the command chair. “Have you decided, my lord,” Viersunuth asked.
“I cleaned up the oil before we lifted off to come here and I found fresh oil there now. From where it’s located I figure the o-ring on the main piston that’s under the wiper ring may have had a leak since I rebuilt it a few months ago after that hard landing in the those damned crosswinds during that thunderstorm. I think it’s been slowly getting worse and it’s finally increased to where I noticed it. I’ve got a couple of spare struts and I’ll swap it out for one of them tomorrow and tear the defective one apart for repair when I get a chance, maybe next week.”
Shatris watched him curiously. “What does that mean?”
“I’ve got a part on this ship that hasn’t failed yet but will eventually and I’m going to change it out before it does and causes trouble.” The hammership lifted into a hover for a few seconds before speeding forward and climbing to clear the trees in its path. It turned as it continued climbing and accelerated smoothly until there was a brisk wind in Shatris’ face as the ship kept climbing.
“Are we going into the void? I’ve never been there.”
“Not today,” Iain replied. “We’ll steady out just below the clouds for the flight home. I need to fit this thing with radar or some kind of detection magic that simulates radar so I can spot the solid flying structures like silver dragon homes and storm giant castles that hide in the clouds before I’ll risk passing through them again. I’ve already had one near collision and it was pretty scary.” He looked up at the overcast sky as they climbed. “And today is not a day to be wishing for luck.”
“Are there many of those in the clouds?”
Iain chuckled. “I haven’t done a survey yet. I do know that you only need to stumble across one of them and the resulting collision would make your day very, very bad.”
Iain opened the door to his cottage, sniffed the air and frowned. Still sniffing, he slowly moved into the bedroom. He sniffed the bed and made a face. “Really?” He stripped off the bedding and tossed it to the side. The mattress, such as it was, was a large cloth sack that had been filled with grass and then put into the bed frame and smoothed flat. He sniffed the mattress, sneezed once and grunted sourly before grabbing it, flipping it out of the bed frame and dragging it towards the door. He stopped in the kitchen area to light a fire in the fireplace before dragging the mattress outside.
He was dumping the grass out of the mattress bag into a pile near his home when Laelra showed up. “Iain!” She frowned. “We normally change the grass in the fall. There won’t be much right now since it’s not spring yet.”
Iain nodded. “Yeah, but you had sex in my bed with someone else and didn’t clean up. Things are moldy and gross.”
“I did clean up and I didn’t smell anything when I opened up your house yesterday so it could air out.”
“You’re not a dragon and my sense of smell is a lot better than yours is. I could smell it as soon as I entered the house. I’ll wash this and the bedding. As for hay, I’ll bring some on my next trip.”
Laelra nodded. “I’ll try to do a better job cleaning up next time.”
Iain started to say something but gave a mental shrug instead and changed his mind. He wasn’t here very often and the house didn’t have a lock on the door. Unless he was willing to install one, nothing would change. “Anyway, good morning.”
She smiled. “Good morning. Are you staying for the ceremony tonight?”
“I am. I’ll leave tomorrow afternoon.”
“What will you do for a bed?”
“I’ve got some giant weasel furs that I was going to trade after the ceremony. Some of them will become bedding for now.” He finished dumping the grass. “Am I sleeping alone?”
Her smile warmed. “If I am welcome in your bed, you are not sleeping alone.”
“Then I’m not sleeping alone.”
Laelra chuckled. “Good.” She watched him as he folded up the mattress. “Is Zilvra still at your home?”
“Why isn’t she here for the ceremony?”
“I told her where I was going. She didn’t ask to come along.” Iain tucked the mattress bag under his arm. “I have no official place in the hierarchy and I didn’t think it my place to say something to her.”
“This ceremony is mandatory for priestesses,” Laelra said. “The goddess requires it.”
“And she has the entire season to go on a High Hunt,” Iain replied. “If you’re worried about it, I’ll remind her of her obligations, even if she doesn’t do it here.”
“The High Hunt is very dangerous to do alone,” Laelra said. “We can’t afford to lose any priestesses. The Lady needs us too much.”
“I have no authority to force her to come here and she seems fairly adamant about not coming here voluntarily.” Iain looked thoughtful. “I’ll do the hunt with her so the risk is less.”
Laelra scowled. “I agree that her treatment here could have been better, but it wasn’t that abhorrent.”
“She felt it was.” Iain headed for the house and Laelra followed closely. “I’ll put on some tea if you can stay for a little while.”
“I can. And she’s wrong, Iain.” She sat down and watched as he stoked the coals and placed a kettle on to heat.
“Did she really have to beg for food because she didn’t know how to hunt on the surface?”
Laelra gave him a defensive look. “I wasn’t told she did.”
“While people seem to think she’s an entitled scion of a noble house of Guallidurth, if you ask Vazmir about her, he should tell you that she has never been prone to complaining. He might also say something about her mother being a stone cold bitch with about as much sympathy as a blizzard.” Iain sat down next to Laelra. “And could it be that you didn’t look closely because you didn’t want to know so you didn’t have do something about the situation?” He slipped an arm around her waist and she sighed and leaned against him. “You were a commoner in Guallidurth. You might have been waiting for her to come to you and beseech your aid because it satisfied that drow desire to humble the proud if you have the whip in your hand, especially since she never really tried to be likeable. And if you didn’t officially know she needed help, you weren’t obligated to provide any until she came to you.”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” she said quietly. She glanced at him. “And when I do, I don’t like what I find. I shouldn’t be that petty.”
“In drow society, that’s not being petty, that’s being victorious,” Iain pointed out. “It’s part of what you can change here, if you put your mind to it. But Zilvra is unlikely to ever return to Ilhar Mrimm, unless the village is in danger and needs her skills to protect it.”
“She must be very angry with us.”
Iain chuckled. “She hasn’t said anything on that subject and I haven’t asked.”
“Do you find that amusing?”
He shook his head. “No, what I find amusing is that she only expected to stay with me while learning how to survive on the surface. After that her plans were to move on by herself.”
“You said her plans were that. Have they changed?”
“Solnys and the other dwarves are pushing her to leave, which is making her push back and stay. Solnys and the others really don’t want her to be clan and they’re not shy about telling her so. I figure I’ll be taking her oath sometime before the first greening of spring.”
Laelra smiled ruefully. “I think I’m jealous of her relationship with you.”
“We don’t really have one. We’re not friends. Right now my home is a convenient place for her to stay and I’m her instructor in survival and the flute.”
“Are you lovers?”
Iain shook his head. “Nosy, aren’t you? No, we’re not.”
Laelra laughed softly. “I don’t want to share her with you, but we’re not lovers either.” She turned to look at him. “Are you jealous of me having sex with someone else?”
“Like you said, we aren’t lovers. Even if we were, we’re not a couple and I have no right to try to restrict who you have sex with, so no. I do wish you’d done a better job of cleaning up, since you fucked him in my bed.”
Laelra sniffed haughtily. “There is no privacy at the chapel, and I thought I did clean well enough. Give me the bedding and I’ll have it laundered.”
“I’ll take everything with me. That way I can fill the bag with hay and bring it back.” He smirked. “And, if I take the bag with me, I don’t have to worry about Quendar hurting himself trying to find a bunch of hibernating poisonous snakes to put in my mattress.”
She laughed. “Why does he hate you so?”
Iain looked at her incredulously. “You really don’t know? He’s still upset that you and he are not fucking.”
Laelra looked confusedly at him. “But he has a lover now.”
“She’s not you.”
“She is not,” Laelra agreed. “But it could be that he has fixated on you and not me, because he seems to not be interested in me since he did find a woman who accepted him as he is. He still seems to want you dead, though.”
Iain pulled the pot off the fire and began making tea for them both. “That could prove to be very unhealthy for him. Him wanting me out of the picture because of you means he’ll have to consider your response if I turn up dead and he’s to blame. Him wanting me dead for no logical reason means there’s nothing except his own self preservation holding him back and I don’t trust that, which means I should act before he does. The best time to act before he does is now, when I know he’s not prepared to kill me.”
My lord, Sorrel said across their bond from where she sat on his left wrist, this does not sound like a good bad man trying not to be bad. Lucifer and Pandora will see this act as preemptive murder.
Laelra cocked her head curiously. “I don’t understand the reason for your sudden curse.”
“I realized something I don’t like. I don’t want to give Quendar a chance to hurt me, but to move against him before he tries something against me would look a lot like murder and I’m trying to avoid murdering people.”
Laelra nodded. “It would be murder and I would have to exile you, at the very least. I do not wish to do that.” She sipped at her tea and stopped, staring at the cup. “What is this?”
“I’m growing my own tea and brought some for you to try.” It was the blend of herbs that he’d gotten from Kasserine when they’d met.
“It is very good. Can we grow this here?”
“I don’t think so but I’ve got some seeds I can bring in the spring and you can plant them and see. If it does grow here, you can probably sell it to the other villages for a premium.”
“We’ll try that.”
“Good.” Iain put his arm back around her. “So, what are we hunting tonight?”
Iain had learned to play a flute back while he was Elminster’s student. The aged wizard had insisted that Iain learn, ostensibly because music had a rhythm very similar to several forms of spellcasting. Iain suspected that he’d been told to learn so that he could while away many hours over the years of his apprenticeship and later friendship with Elminster, entertaining his magical instructor, since that was exactly what he’d ended up doing while “perfecting” his skills. The type of flute he’d learned on had been a fipple flute very similar to a recorder. After returning home, Kasumi had discovered that he could play and, being a Nipponese supremacist, had introduced him to the shakuhachi, a very traditional end blown Nipponese flute. Iain had taken an immediate liking to its haunting sound and quickly learned to play it. He’d even learned how to make them and had Theodora load the instructions into his database in case he forgot before he’d left on this mission. He’d made one for Zilvra, and now he listened closely as she played the final notes to the piece of music he’d given her to perform.
She cast a quizzical eye in his direction as she laid the flute down in her lap and he smiled. “Your confidence is growing and it shows in your playing.”
“My playing is not as good as yours,” she noted with an annoyed tone.
“I’ve been playing various flutes for over thirty years,” Iain replied. “You’ve been playing for less than a moon and, honestly, you’re doing better than I was at this point. I’m a good technical player. I find inspirational music hard to do, although I am getting better at it. You’ve got a flair for transporting the listener to wherever you want the music to take her. Your skill is still rough, but with some polishing you’re going to be a much more popular player than I am.”
Zilvra stared at him for a second. “You really think so?” Instead of being a blatant attempt to get more praise, she really sounded like she didn’t believe him. Praise was something completely out of her experiences in her earlier life, both as a member of a noble house in Guallidurth and, later, in Ilhar Mrimm.
“Zilvra, would lying to you about this do anything useful for me?”
She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment before shaking her head. “I can’t think of anything, except perhaps it might let you end my lessons sooner.”
Iain chuckled. “Believe it or not, I enjoy teaching and you’re a decent student. And, truth be told, you’re not really that bad a person. Even Solnys has stopped trying to convince me to throw you out nearly as much as she was.”
The drow raised an eyebrow. “That I find hard to believe, Iain.”
Iain grinned. “I didn’t say she’d stopped completely. It’s just that instead of every hour on the hour it’s shifted to something closer to every hour and a half.”
Zilvra smiled uncertainly back at him. His idea of humor was taking her a while to get used to, but she was trying to understand his quirks. “Isn’t that difficult when she comes in to wake you up at night since you sleep in the nude?”
“It is, for her,” Iain admitted. “I mean, she has to do it with her eyes closed. I keep moving the furniture and she keeps tripping over it when she tries to sneak over to my bed.” Zilvra laughed at the around mental image, but it wasn’t far from the truth.
The dwarves, having been slaves their whole lives and having no privacy at all, were, in Iain’s opinion, overcompensating a great deal and had become rather prudish about simple things like nudity. That was fine as far as he was concerned, except for the zealotry some of them showed in taking this prejudice to others. Solnys, in particular, sometimes acted as bad as Pandora in policing proper dress among the clanswomen here. Kobolds had his idea of nudity and ignored her entreaties, which left him to be the subject of her attentions. Her attempts to convert him over to her philosophies were not going well for her.
Iain and Zilvra were in the huge chamber that was his bedroom. Rather than find some smaller room to use as his bedroom, Iain had used groupings of furniture to subdivide the place into areas dedicated to particular activities. Here were a pair of benches, some chairs, some stands for music scores and a low table where Iain was learning how to read and write the scoring notation used on this world and at this time. If nothing else, he had to learn it so he could teach it to Zilvra, although most priestesses of Eilistraee never learned to read music and instead picked up new songs by repetition and listening to others play.
“Why do you tolerate her behavior,” Zilvra asked curiously.
“For the same reason I tolerate yours,” Iain put his flute down and picked up his guitar. “I’m not tolerating anything. I accept that people sometimes act in ways that I find annoying and that, as clan leader, I choose not to exercise any power I might have to change their behavior through force unless they’re dangerous to people who don’t deserve it or are using force on them. It’s part of being clan.” He strummed a chord. “After all, being the Grey is not about me being a tyrant. It never was and, if I have any say in it, it never will be.” His eyes met hers. “Having said that, it’s my clan and it will go in the directions I want it to go. People who don’t want it to go the way I want it to are free to find something else to do somewhere else while they do it.”
“And if I tell you to take it in a certain direction,” a new voice asked from the darkness to Zilvra’s left.
The guitar spun away from Iain to crash to the floor as he shot to his feet, a three inch ball of glowing energy appearing in each of his open palms as he spun to face the direction of the voice. Brilliant light suddenly filled the room to reveal an eight foot tall nude female drow with ankle length silver hair as Zilvra winced and shielded her eyes from the glare. The balls of energy flared and flickered out as Iain took a deep breath and slowly released it. “With all due respect,” he said as the light dimmed to torchlight that still filled the entire chamber with the same level of illumination, “would it be too much to ask that you knock or something? I’d rather not destroy my furniture or kill bystanders because I was surprised and acted instinctively to protect myself.”
The drow strode forward, eying his hands. “I don’t recognize that spell.”
“It’s not really a spell,” Iain said as he headed for a cabinet near a small table set up with a sava board. “I learned pokegirl techniques before I figured out other ways to channel my magic to defend myself with it and I tend to go for those techniques first without thinking about it.” He opened the cabinet and pulled out a tray of cookies. “Zilvra, in case you don’t recognize her, this is our goddess, Eilistraee.” He smiled as turned back for the music area. “Elistraee, I believe you know your priestess, Zilvra Khaven.”
“Please remain seated, Zilvra,” Eilistraee said calmly as the drow priestess gaped at her. “I must admit, your playing is coming along nicely. Well done.”
“Thank you, Lady,” Zilvra said slowly.
Iain held out the platter and the air filled with the scent of cinnamon and fresh cookies. “These are called snickerdoodles, although these have some ginger in them along with the cinnamon because I like them that way.”
Eilistraee took a handful of the cookies and sat down in the chair Iain had been using. “Thank you.” She looked down at her hand. “How is it that they are warm?”
“The cabinet is the anchor for a stasis field that is bounded by the interior walls and doors of it,” Iain replied. “The field deactivates if the door is opened and reactivates when it is shut, placing anything inside it into temporal stasis. It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold, even when they’re jumbled together.”
Eilistraee smiled broadly. “That’s an impressive piece of magic, Iain. If you’re not careful, I may come here one day to find out I have to contest with Mystryl for your attentions.”
Iain shook his head. “I know she’s awesome and everything, but I already serve two goddesses and I’m good with having just you and Mielikki. I’ll be polite if she ever comes here, but not much more than that.”
Eilistraee flashed a grin. “That is the correct thing to say, my priestess.”
Iain offered the tray to Zilvra, who took three cookies. “I don’t understand,” she said quietly with a hint of panic in her voice as her eyes kept moving between him and Elistraee.
“Iain is my only male priestess and I keep a much closer eye on him than I do my other priestesses because of the irregularity behind his becoming my priestess,” Eilistraee explained. “Now that you live here, you’ll be seeing more of me as I come to monitor his behavior.” She nibbled on a cookie and beamed at Iain. “I like these.”
“I’ve got a bag of them ready for you when you leave,” Iain put the tray down between her and Zilvra. “I’ll get the lemonade.”
“While he is perhaps a bit too blasé about my presence in his life,” Eilistraee continued, “which could be because I come by here regularly to check up on him,” she held up a cookie, “and get good food.” She looked at him amusedly as he returned with two large mugs of lemonade. He handed one to her and one to Zilvra. “Iain gets my special attention because, of all of my clergy, he is the only one who is not truly good at heart and I want to ensure he does not act on the improper impulses that he has, from time to time, had.”
Zilvra looked questioningly at Iain where he stood patiently nearby. He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “I don’t value life the way she wants her priesthood to. The lives of those important to me are important to me. Others, not so much, no matter whether they are good, evil or whatever.”
“Iain has done an exemplary job of fulfilling my desires while not following those impulses of his,” Eilistraee said. “I have found little in his behavior to fault.”
Zilvra looked from Eilistraee to Iain. “Does Laelra know about this? Is this why she wants to have your child?”
“There is no need to raise your voice, Iain,” Eilistraee said reprovingly. “Zilvra, no, Laelra is not aware that I visit here and she is not to learn of it.”
“Yes, my Lady.”
“What the fuck is Zilvra talking about?”
Eilistraee smiled at Iain. “Laelra has decided that she wishes to have a half dragon daughter. She believes that I want her to have one.” Her smile faded. “I have never told her that. That belief comes from the same place as that desire, which is her own ambition.”
Iain’s voice was flat. “I’m sterile.”
“I am aware that, at least for the time, by your own power you are not capable of fathering children,” Eilistraee said. “We will discuss that later, when the time is right.” Iain scowled as she continued. “Laelra will not be bothering you about this for some time other than by continuing to drag you to bed every time you visit the village. The truth is that she is already pregnant, and with a half dragon child. Once she realizes this, she will believe she has attained that which she desires and it is very likely that her interest in you will wane a great deal. Considering your sexual drive, you should prepare for that event.”
“I’m sterile,” Iain repeated quietly. He looked thoughtful for a moment and then his eyes widened. “She fucked Laraxithious?”
Eilistraee smirked at him. “Several times, actually, since she met him. They’re the reason you had to clean and change your bedding last month. Does this bother you?”
Iain shook his head. “I’m bothered by your knowing things about me you weren’t there to witness, which is amusingly ironic since I do this to everyone else.” Eilistraee chuckled. “As for them, they’re both adults. Laelra can choose her own sexual partners and so can Laraxithious. I’m much more concerned about Quendar trying to put a dagger in my spine than who other people are having sex with when they’re not having sex with me.”
“And that is the way that it should be. What will you do about Quendar?”
“You’re aware that he wants me dead and that he just hasn’t figured out how to murder me without it coming back to haunt him afterwards.”
Eilistraee shook her head. “I know the hearts of my priestesses, that I may guide them properly and give them my gifts of power that they may do my will. The hearts of my worshippers I do not know nearly as well. Quendar is a true believer, but only just. Like many, he listened to me once, when I offered and gave him aid. Since that event, also like many, his life is filled with what must be done for him and not what should be done for me. Many worshippers of many gods ascribe their wants to their god, but as long as they do not go openly against our religion, there is little we can do.”
“Well, Quendar would like to see me dead, and has admitted as much. I thought it was because of my relationship with Laelra, but she thinks he just doesn’t like me. I’m beginning to think she’s right and I’m wrong in this. As long as he confines himself to merely wanting me dead, I’ll leave him alone. If he tries to kill me, I will kill him if I can and I suspect I’m much better at killing people than he will ever be.”
“He’s been trying to turn Laelra and the others against you,” Zilvra said quietly.
“That would be unfortunate, but I am not going to do something to him for that. Everyone involved is an adult and free to make their own decisions.” Iain rubbed his eyes for a second. “And, in the end, while it’s a very nice shrine and a decent village, it isn’t my home. I can worship anywhere that she,” Iain nodded towards Eilistraee, “allows and there are some nice places in this valley that would be perfectly acceptable. There’s only one possible difficulty.”
Eilistraee looked curiously at him. “What is that?”
“You have a consecrated shrine there and I’ll protect it with or without Laelra’s permission and even if she’s exiled me.”
Eilistraee chuckled. “I did not decide to have a shrine there, you understand. That was Laelra’s predecessor who made that decision.”
“I don’t hear you telling me that I don’t have to defend it.”
She smiled. “I would prefer that you did. While it has only the religious significance that my worshippers place on it, it has become a refuge for some of my worshippers and I would like them to survive for their natural lives.”
“So I can evacuate them to save their lives if I have to choose between saving them and saving the shrine?”
“Yes,” she said with satisfaction. “Just understand that some of them will resist being evacuated.”
“I think I can keep that from being an insurmountable issue,” Iain said dryly. “But if they insist on battling to the death, I will just save the others.” He rubbed his hands together briskly. “Now that you’ve had cookies and lemonade, did you want to hear Zilvra play more or did you want to teach me more about the strategies of sava?”
She smiled serenely back at him. “I want to hear you play, Iain, and I want to hear more of those interesting songs from where you came here from.”
“Very well, Lady.” Iain looked around and picked up his guitar from where it had skidded across the floor. He winced at the deep scratches in the finish. “I’ll be a couple of hours putting that right,” he muttered as he sat down on the closest bench while he mentally reviewed the chords to Def Leppard’s “Love Bites”.
The low rumble woke Marguerite. She opened her eyes and looked around without moving before slowly sitting up. To her right, Dominique snored quietly as she slept and, on Dominique’s right, Zareen lay limply. The Unicorn reached out with her twee. If it woke me up, you’re already awake.
Zareen’s lips curved into a gentle smile as her eyes opened. Yes. Outside. Driveway.
Marguerite carefully pulled the covers back and slipped out of bed as she sent a question to her twee. Zero one forty four, Saturday morning, it replied.
Dominique’s snoring stopped when Marguerite looked out the window. “What is it,” the Archmage murmured.
Light swept up the drive while the gate swung shut behind a small vehicle as it rumbled towards the house. Motorcycle, Marguerite replied. Driver, no passenger.
Dominique sat up and shoved at Zareen, who was suddenly standing. “I think we can vocalize here,” she said in the same murmur. “It’s way too fucking early, so that’s probably Wednesday coming home.” She yawned and stretched luxuriously as she got out of bed. “They don’t keep normal hours so it’s likely they won’t want to wait until daylight. Wash up quickly, dress and let’s go downstairs before someone comes to let us know she’s home.” She looked at Marguerite. “Or does your ladyship have different orders?”
“Are you trying to piss me off or are you just good at being a bitch?”
“Yes,” Zareen said with a grin. “Dominique wake grumpy. Pick fight.”
Marguerite opened the closet they’d been given for their clothing. “And what does it take to get Dominique past her early morning grouchiness?”
“Coffee and orgasm,” Zareen said.
“We don’t have time for the orgasm,” Dominique grumbled as she headed for their bathroom. “Hopefully there’s coffee downstairs.”
“If necessary, I’ll make you some coffee,” Marguerite offered. “Mamma gave me permission to use the kitchen.”
A few minutes later, there was a quiet knock on the door. Dominique was out of the bathroom and she threw on a robe before cracking the door open. “Good morning.”
Pugsley gave her a nod. “Good morning. Wednesday is home and Mother sent me to ask you to come down and meet her.”
“Was that her motorcycle we heard?” Pugsley nodded. “We’re dressing now and will be down in just a few minutes. Are you supposed to escort us?” He shook his head. “Then would you be so kind as to ask your Grandmama for a pot of coffee for me, please?”
Pugsley smiled. “Wednesday drinks coffee too and there’s some already being made.”
Dominique gave him a broad smile. “Thank you, kind sir.” Pugsley flushed and hurried away as she shut the door. “It’s a pity we don’t have any grown daughters to introduce to him. He’ll be a good male for whoever we do bring back for him.”
“Take there,” Zareen said. “Let meet girls and choose. Fester too.”
Dominique frowned. “What about if the women come back here and go feral?”
Zareen grinned. “Addams women. Who know difference feral or not?”
“She’s right,” Marguerite said as she quickly dressed. “Now hurry so we’re not late.”
“It’s two in the fucking morning,” Dominique grumbled as she dressed. “You can’t be late until after sunrise.” She helped Zareen braid and put up her hair and then quickly inspected Marguerite, who inspected her in turn. “Let’s go.”
Lurch was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. “Come,” he said in his deep voice and led them into the parlor.
Morticia was sitting in her chair and Mamma was in hers and leafing through a large tome of some kind. Morticia gestured towards one of the couches. “Please be seated. Wednesday is changing from her drive and should join us presently.” She motioned towards two cups that sat on the coffee table in front of the couch. “Dominique has coffee with three lumps of sugar and,” she shuddered slightly, “fresh cream. And Marguerite has tea.”
Dominique picked up her cup with a smile. “I just don’t like sour cream in my coffee. It’s great on some things, but not this.”
Marguerite took a sip of tea. “How is your daughter?”
Mamma looked up from her book. “She was not told about your visit, so she is curious as to who you are and why you are here.”
“Why haven’t you told her yet?”
“Until now, we were getting to know one another,” Morticia said. “Wednesday had no need to learn about this until we both decided that the situation was acceptable.”
Mamma grinned. “In the old days we would finalize the negotiations and any bride price or dowry without the daughter ever knowing and then you would capture her to prove your prowess. My first suitor’s family couldn’t capture me but my second one’s did.”
“Will we be required to capture Wednesday,” Marguerite asked curiously.
“I do not believe so,” Morticia said. “She likes to think she is old fashioned, however, and so it might help if she does join your family.”
“She here,” Zareen said from where she stood behind the couch.
A few seconds later a young woman entered the parlor. “Mother?”
“Please join us, Wednesday, so you may meet our guests.”
Marguerite examined her as she obediently moved to sit next to her mother. Wednesday was as tall as her mother, but not as slender, and her coal black eyes were most likely contributed to her by her father, Gomez. They were definitely not the dark brown of Morticia eyes. She was wearing a dark dress similar to Morticia’s and Victorian slippers.
Wednesday sat down next to her mother and poured herself a cup of coffee, watching the newcomers with interest. Morticia gestured towards them. “Wednesday, this is Marguerite Grey, Dominique Grey and Zareen Grey.” Wednesday’s eyes lingered on the horn in the center of Marguerite’s head as her mother continued. “They are here representing their husband, Iain Grey, and wanted to meet you.”
“Actually, Iain is my male,” Marguerite corrected. “He’s married to Dominique, but we are not married.”
Wednesday looked up at Zareen. “And you?”
“I am his and he is mine.”
“I met Iain a few months ago,” Morticia said. “He is a powerful wizard and not related to us in any way. I invited him to meet you and these ladies are here, following a tradition similar to one we once followed where they came to see if you were worth inviting to join them.”
“Grandmama told me about that tradition,” Wednesday said. “She also said that only Addams’ follow it.”
“We are Grey Clan,” Marguerite put her teacup down. “We do not follow the same traditions that the Addams follow, but we have our own traditions, some of which are very like yours. Iain told us of your mother’s invitation to him and we came to meet and evaluate you to see if you are worthy to be one of us.”
“You want me to feel the need to prove myself to you,” Wednesday noted. “I do not have to prove anything. I am an Addams and I am inferior to no one. Instead, you should prove to me that you are worthy of my family.”
Marguerite’s eyes narrowed, but her voice was calm and even. “I am a Grey and I have nothing to prove to anyone. If this was nothing more than a meeting between us, I would laugh in your face and ignore you. However, I was given other instructions from my maharani and the mission is more important than my feelings on this. What is it that you think will prove my worth and the worth of my clan?”
Wednesday rose and drew two rapiers from an umbrella stand near the doorway to the hall. “I will test your martial skills first.” She turned to face them. “Who will I be fighting?”
Marguerite stood. “Zareen cannot fight you because she is our security. Dominique should not fight you because she is an Archmage. You would stand no chance against her magic.” She smiled wryly. “That leaves me.”
“If you kill her,” Dominique said quietly, “our mission is a failure.”
“If I kill her,” Marguerite replied just as evenly, “it will because her arrogance proved she isn’t worth making inner harem. Ninhursag will understand that.” She looked at Morticia. “This is your house and I am your guest. I am not your daughter’s guest. I will not fight your daughter if you do not allow it.”
Morticia was still sitting in her chair. “Wednesday, do you insist on this even though you know nothing about these people?”
“Boys tried to court me at school, Mother. They were weak and useless and had no spirit. This one sent women instead of coming to see me. I can’t test him, so I will test them until he arrives. Then I will test him.”
“Iain doesn’t know we’re here,” Marguerite said. “We wanted to meet you to see if you had sufficient value before we bothered to bring you to his attention.”
Mamma laughed when Wednesday’s eyes narrowed. “Did you think they would just arrive and beg you to join them? They are as proud as any Addams.”
“Marguerite?” Morticia met the Unicorn’s eyes. “I will allow this to take place.”
Marguerite nodded. “Would it impress Wednesday more if I defeated her quickly or if I allowed the bout to continue for a while to give her some opportunities to injure me?”
Morticia smiled. “You are certain you can defeat her?”
“I have learned that Addams’ are very durable. I also presume that Wednesday knows how to use the sword she’s pointing at me. Still, she is at least somewhat human, and no single human will ever defeat me.” She produced a small metal rod from the waistband of her leggings and flicked her wrist, expanding the asp to its full forty centimeter length. “And I don’t like rapiers. Cut and thrust, yes, but not rapiers, so I will use this instead. Are we going to fight here or outside? Outside I will have the advantage since I can see in the dark as well as you can in full daylight.”
Zareen leaned over the couch, grabbed Dominique by the neck and jerked her backwards over the couch just before Wednesday dropped the second rapier and lunged to the attack. Marguerite deflected the thrust and stepped backwards. She grabbed a vase off of a display table and hurled it in a sizzling fastball at Wednesday’s head. Wednesday ducked and yelped when the vase exploded against the wall behind her and sprayed her with shards of porcelain. Marguerite went into a ready stance and waited patiently.
“I liked that vase,” Morticia said quietly.
“Your daughter picked the battlefield,” Dominique said as she smacked away Zareen’s hand. “Everything in it is a potential weapon.”
“Can mend,” Zareen said.
Wednesday thrust again. Again, Marguerite parried it with her asp. They circled, Wednesday’s rapier always moving as she looked for an opening. Wednesday thrust again. Marguerite deflected the weapon up and over her shoulder as she slipped inside Wednesday’s guard and buried her fist in Wednesday’s stomach just below the rib cage. Wednesday grunted and stepped backwards to make room between them.
Marguerite smiled. “Good core.”
“I train regularly with my father,” Wednesday replied as the continued circling. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen.” She lunged and thrust, aiming for Marguerite’s leg. A knife slid from the sleeve of her dress into her left hand as she moved and she swung it to cut at Marguerite’s stomach. Marguerite deflected the rapier strike outward and rotated in a blur, her spinning back kick connecting solidly with Wednesday’s chest and smashing her into the wall behind her hard enough to shake the entire house.
Wednesday woozily slid to her knees, fighting to breathe as Marguerite stepped away from her. “Sorry, you rushed me when you pulled the knife,” the Unicorn said. “Take a moment to shake it off and try again.”
Morticia looked over the couch at Dominique and Zareen. “My daughter has no chance, does she?”
Dominique glanced at her. “Marguerite is the worst fighter of the three of us, but she’s still much better than any human can hope to be. Nothing is certain in a fight and so Wednesday has a chance against her. It’s a very small and remote one, though.”
Using the wall as a support, Wednesday slowly pushed to her feet. “I am not stupid,” she said in a hiss. “You’re much better than I am.” She tossed the rapier to the side and flipped the knife, catching it by the blade. She held it out to Marguerite, hilt first. “I yield to you. Do you accept?”
“This was a test, not a duel,” Marguerite said as she collapsed her asp and put it away. “You don’t yield during a test, so there is nothing for me to accept. Instead, you end the test and tell me if I passed it. Did I?”
Wednesday coughed once and wiped her mouth with her hand. It came away bloody. “You passed. There will be other tests, though.”
“I have healing magic,” Marguerite said. “Far be it from me to heal your shattered ribs without permission and stop your pain, but I would like to heal you enough to close the perforations in your lungs so you don’t bleed out. It’s hard to observe us to see if you might find our family acceptable while you’re unconscious.”
Wednesday coughed again. “You may, but no more than that.” She tucked the knife back up her sleeve.
Marguerite placed a hand on Wednesday’s chest. It glowed for several seconds before she pulled it away. “Done. Your ribs are still badly cracked, but your lungs are no longer punctured.”
“Well done!” Gomez beamed at his daughter as he entered the room. “You fought well. There is no shame in facing an opponent the caliber of Marguerite and not being victorious.”
“There is if I don’t learn from what happened and improve so that one day I can best her, Father,” Wednesday countered.
“True,” Gomez said. “I have no doubt that is what you will do.”
“If you join us,” Marguerite said quietly, “we will give you the training to face people like me on as even as footing as you can.” She smiled. “Just understand that while you are training, I will be too. I have my own people to one day best.” She glanced behind her. “And two of them are here with me today.”
Morticia rose. “I believe we are done for now. While I’m sure that Wednesday will have more tests for you, they can wait for morning.” She held out her hand and Gomez took it. “It’s time to go to bed.”
“I just woke up when the house shook,” Gomez protested.
Morticia gave him an arch look. “I didn’t say we’d sleep, my love.”
Gomez grinned suddenly. “I agree.” Walking together, they left the parlor.
Mamma watched them go with a smile. “You can all go to bed too. I’ll clean up.”
“We’ll help,” Marguerite said firmly.
“So will I,” Wednesday said.
“Well, this is going to be fun,” Dominique muttered as the two women glared at each other. “I’ll put the vase back together while they’re trying to out clean each other.”
Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani
April Grey - Duelist & beta
Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage
Pandora - Fiendish Archangel
Zareen - Nightmare
Sofia - Ria
Vanessa – Evangelion
Lucifer – Megami Sama
Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice
Heather - Elfqueen
Marguerite – Unicorn
Scheherazade – Dread Wolf
Irena – Sanctuary Goth
Lynn – Dire Wolf
Rosemary – Mistoffeles
Dianthus – Elfqueen
Golden Cloud – equine unicorn
Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female
74 male Goblins
89 female Goblins
Queendom / Outer Clan
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
14 Wet Elves
Eirian - Silver Dragoness
Aurum - Gold Dragoness
Skye - Blue Dragoness
Emerald - Green Dragoness
Beryl - Red Dragoness
Julia - human
Ling - Cheetit
Matilda - White Tigress
Liadan - Twau
Sorrel - Armsmistress
Natalie - Blazicunt
Maria – Slutton
Rhea Silvia – Chimera
Alabaster – Dragoness (white)
Onyx – Dragoness (black)
Lapis – Dragoness (blue)
Garnet – Dragoness (red)
Iolite – Dragoness (purple)
Malachite – Dragoness (green with white swirls)
Dabria (was Loviatar) – Dark Queen
Omisha (was Hel) – Demoness
Viersunuth great wyrm blue true dragoness
Helesatra Vyshaan half pit fiend (fiend) half sun elf. Princess of the Vyshaantar Empire.
Talyl – drow commoner
Zarza – drow commoner
Sabrae – drow commoner
Sintree – drow commoner
Alyfaen Dinaen – drow, matron of House Dinaen
Phaerxae Dinaen – drow, former matron of House Dinaen, mother of Alyfaen
Selsharra of Evermeet
Myrna (Age 4)
Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)
Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)
Seraphina: Megami Sama
Miram: Angel (Age 5)
Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)
James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)