Come dance with the gypsies... Circulation: 106,486,787 Issue: 212 | 14th day of Collecting, Y7
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Chronicles of the Court Rogue: Rivalry - Part One


by nimras23

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Jeran owed her big time for this, Mareian decided. Khalyen too; this whole scheme was his idea. Taking a deep breath in through her nose, Mareian forced herself to relax as she blew the air back out though her mouth. It's like riding an Uni, she told herself mentally. Once you have it down you never forget. Though it would have been nice, she thought with an inward scowl, if she'd had a bit more warning, it had been years since she'd danced like this.

     The normally pirate colored Lupess stretched her arms over her head to warm up stiff muscles. It's three weeks until the Day of Giving, she thought. Jeran and Khalyen have better get me something nice to make up for this. Picking up a set of castanets from a near by table, the diminutive Lupess smoothed her brightly colored dancing skirt, and then stepped through the door into the main floor of the pub.

     "It's show time," she murmured softly.

     *****

     It was good to be home, Lisha of Meridell decided as she hugged her sleepy Warf, Chubby. While she had enjoyed her half year stay in Brightvale, she had missed her brother and Meridell. Brightvale was full of books and scholarly people whom she enjoyed talking with, but it never really felt like home the way Meridell did. The time in Brightvale had been rewarding though, Lisha thought with a warm glow; she had brought a full wagonload of new books to be added to the Meridell Royal Library.

     Meridell's Royal Library was Lisha's pride and joy. When she had originally been appointed Head Librarian by His Majesty, the library had been in shambles, with no filing system or even a list of the books it owned. She felt maternal pride in how the library had grown and developed under her care; the new books she brought today would go a long way towards making her library one of the preeminent in the world. But before she started to work, she wanted to see her brother.

     *****

     Sir Jeran Borodere sipped his grog slowly. The last thing he wanted to do tonight was to have his senses dulled; hopefully before the end of the evening he would have some hard evidence of Baron Aafees' weapon smuggling operation.

     "So, when's your sister getting back?" a tall, pirate colored Lupe asked him curiously.

     Jeran grinned at his rogue friend Khalyen. "Sometime later this week; of course she might bury herself in her books as soon as she gets back, and we won't know until 2 weeks later."

     Khalyen laughed easily, "It will be interesting to see how she and Mareian get along." At Jeran's quizzical look, Khalyen continued, "I've heard about how smart your sister is, and Mareian's one to the most intelligent people I've ever met. Two people with that much raw intelligence should never hook up; it will put the rest of us out of business."

     Jeran snorted, "Except both of them hate being the center of attention, so they'd at least keep us around as figureheads."

     *****

     Jeran wasn't in his rooms or his office. Where was he? In exasperation, Lisha finally flagged down Danner and asked him. Apparently the message from Brightvale they had received said she wasn't returning until later in the week, so no one was expecting her back yet. Once Danner managed to get over his surprise, he told her that Jeran was at the Dancing Whinny, a pub near Illusen's Glade. He was also thoughtful enough to send her an escort to the pub, a red Draik squire named Athless.

     Entering the pub, Lisha didn't have a hard time spotting her brother. Jeran towered above nearly everyone, with the exception of his companion; a lean pirate Lupe Lisha didn't recognize. Both Lupes were attentively watching a tiny shadow Lupess dancer. Looking around, Lisha noticed that the diminutive Lupess had the attention of the vast majority of the patrons. Vast majority meaning all the males, several of the women in the pub didn't look too pleased about all the attention the dancer was receiving.

     Lisha's eyes narrowed as she watched the dancer smile charmingly at a gaudily dressed orange Skeith who Lisha recognized as Baron Aafees. "Well," Lisha muttered under her breath, "at least we've determined that she has no taste in men."

     Lisha slipped up behind her brother quietly; it was easy enough to do, he was busy watching the dancer make herself comfortable with the Baron. The pirate colored Lupe sharing the table with Jeran saw her approach and winked in her direction, then directed Jeran's attention so she could sneak up unnoticed. Lisha's lips quirked, she might like Jeran's new friend.

     Walking quietly right up behind Jeran, Lisha placed her hands on her hips and pinned back her four ears in a mock anger. "Jeran Thomas Borodere, six months I'm away; only to return and find you wallowing in grog and watching dancer girls?" she drawled accusingly. Jeran jumped, nearly knocking over his drink, while his lanky companion unsuccessfully tried to muffle his laughter.

     "Lisha!" Jeran cried happily as he scooped her up into a tight hug. Lisha grinned as she returned his hug, how she had missed him! Jeran looked questioningly at his Lupe companion, who nodded in answer to his unspoken question.

     "Athless, stay here and keep Khalyen company for me while my sister and I return to the castle," Jeran ordered as he took Lisha's hand and rose. The Draik sat himself at the table while the lanky pirate Lupe flagged down the bartender. Jeran sent one last look back to the dancer, who was chatting amiably with the inept Baron, then turned his attention to his sister on the walk back to the castle. "How was Brightvale?"

     Wanting to get his mind off the pub dancer, Lisha launched into a detailed account to Jeran about her trip and all the new things she had seen. She was busy telling him about a new ink recipe she'd learned when they arrived at the castle. To her surprise, Jeran led her to his office instead of either of their quarters.

     "Sounds like you had a great time," Jeran commented as he put a kettle of water to heat over the fire. "While you were there, did you get to know any of the people coming over for the ball?" Every year the rulers of Meridell, Brightvale, and the Darigan Citadel got together for a Day of Giving Ball. The kingdoms took turns hosting it; this year was Meridell's turn.

     Lisha smiled sympathetically, the ball was probably a security nightmare for him and Danner. "Some, I made friends with most of the nobles who will be coming." Blushing she finished, "Rolan has asked me to go as his partner."

     Jeran's eyebrows raised, "Prince Rolan?" At Lisha's nod as he continued, "That makes sense. Having a Meridellian as his partner would go a long way to defusing some of the tension between King Hagan and Skarl." Lisha sighed inwardly; leave it to Jeran to find a political motivation for anything.

     The kettle of water started boiling, distracting Jeran. Lisha watched him closely as he deftly grabbed mugs from a cabinet, and pulled the kettle from the fire. He'd changed while she was gone; he was more relaxed, and the tension lines that had haunted his eyes ever since the last battle of the second war were gone. She didn't know what had caused the change, but Lisha liked it.

     Setting a mug of steaming hot chocolate in front of her, Jeran apologized, "I don't have any coffee, I know you prefer it." Settling down across from her he added honey to his tea.

     Smiling Lisha blew gently across her hot chocolate; Jeran hated coffee, and she couldn't stand tea. "Yes, well as long as you don't try to serve me any of your nasty boiled leaves, I'll forgive you."

     The door to the office swung open silently, and Jeran's eyes lit up when he saw the visitor. Turning in surprise, Lisha saw the shadow dancer from the pub saunter in like she owned the place. If that little minx thinks she can just waltz in here after snuggling up to that inept Baron, she's going to have a new thought coming to her, Lisha thought with indignation.

     Smiling impishly, the tiny Lupess shut the door and pulled off her dancers' blouse; revealing a black sleeveless tunic and steel grey fur underneath. Blinking in surprise, Lisha realized the shadow color on the Lupess' arms only extended up to her elbows.

     Jeran stood and poured more water from the kettle into a large bowl, then handed the multi-colored Lupess the hot water, a small towel, and some soap. As the Lupess scrubbed her face with the hot soapy water, the water turned to an inky black while her fur lightened to the same color as her upper arms.

     Settling back into his chair, Jeran asked the dancer, "Did he take the bait?"

     Toweling off her now pirate colored face, the Lupess replied in a low alto with a peasant accent, "Smooth as silk, and by the end of the evening I probably could have gotten him to sell me the family jewels." The Lupess glanced at Lisha, "But details can wait until tomorrow," she continued while making a face. "This stuff itches and I want a real bath; and tomorrow I can go over it with you and Danner at the same time, instead of having to say everything twice." Curtsying politely to Lisha, the tiny Lupess slipped out the door.

     Sheepishly Lisha realized that the Lupess must work for Jeran. No wonder he was watching the dancer so closely, she thought. I must have interrupted them while they were working. She was very glad she hadn't said anything to Jeran about the dancer earlier.

     *****

     A loud banging sound woke Mareian. Someone was knocking on her door. Stretching, Mareian suppressed a yelp. All that dancing at the pub yesterday was definitely taking its toll today, despite the hot bath and all the stretching she'd done last night. Her banging door rudely demanded her attention again. Five more minutes, she silently pleaded; all I ask for is five more minutes.

     A baritone voice called from the other side of the door, "Mareian, I know it's early, but I need to talk to you." Mareian scowled, didn't Jeran ever sleep? She knew he had stayed up later than she had last night, with the return of his sister. Biting back a groan, she slipped out of bed with an agility that beguiled the stiffness in her legs.

     She opened the door to glare at her giant employer. "Jeran, you do realize that there is a limit to how long a person can function without sleep, don't you?" She was slightly mollified when she saw that he looked about how she felt. Opening the door wider, she gestured the blue Lupe inside.

     Jeran shot her a grateful glace as he dropped into her overstuffed chair. "Ready for the bad news of the day?" he asked as he ran his hand through the fur between his pointed ears. That was never a good sign, Mareian thought with an inward wince; Jeran only made that gesture when he was extremely frustrated.

     "What is it?" she asked, sitting down on the foot of her bed.

     "Brightvale's entourage moved up the date of their arrival by two weeks."

     Mareian stared at him, "What? That's in less than a week! Why would they do that?"

     Jeran sighed, "Probably so King Hagan can trip up Skarl. You know he never lets an opportunity to fluster His Majesty pass by."

     Mareians eyes narrowed, "It also means the extra security people from High Reaches won't get here in time; lovely."

     "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Could you arrange for some of your brother's people to come fill in our guard holes? People good in a fight, and you know won't rob us when they think we're not looking. We'll pay them standard commission."

     Mareian looked at Jeran in surprise. "You could ask him yourself, you know."

     "I can't without officially admitting I know who he is; and I'd hate to have to arrest a friend like Khalyen."

     Nodding, Mareian agreed. The Champion's friendship with the King of Thieves could get awkward sometimes because of their respective ranks. "Consider it done. How many do you think you'll need?"

     "Forty or so should be good, that would be a huge load off my shoulders." Jeran coughed, suddenly looking awkward. "I, um, also have another request." Mareian cocked her head, encouraging him to continue. "Danner and I are going to need partners for the ball."

     Mareian blinked in surprise, "I thought you were going with Lisha?"

     "So did I," he winced, "but apparently brothers don't rate as high as the Crown Prince of Brightvale."

     Mareian smiled, unleashing her charm upon the hapless King's Champion, "Jeran Borodere, are you asking me to the ball?" She carefully hid a grin as the inside of his ears blushed bright red.

     "Unless you'd rather go with Danner, I need you working the floor for me at the ball." She had to hand it to him; his voice was much more composed than his ears were.

     Mareian wrinkled her nose. "Choice, choices," she teased the flustered Lupe. "I'd much rather go with you," she assured him. "I'll see who I can find for Danner. Why didn't he have a partner lined up yet?"

     Jeran rolled his eyes, "You know Danner. He would sooner die than get turned down by a girl, so he simply didn't ask one."

     Mareian groaned, burying her face in her hands.

To be continued...

 
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