"Steady! Hold her steady!"
The shout of the Captain is filled with panic, as the airship lurches sideways again, drawn in by the unbreakable pull of the maelstrom.
For the hundredth time during this battle, Keryn curses the arrogance of the mages who have unleashed magic far too strong to control and thrown it against each other like careless children in a snow ball fight. Now the magic has taken on a will of its own, drawing in everything.
Gripping the railing tightly, he squints at the monstrous catastrophe unfolding right before his eyes. Several ships have already been pulled in and they are being torn to shreds as he watches. Debris raining down to the ground far below. Lightning of unnatural colours flashes from the outer edges of the vortex towards the centre and down as well.
For the first time, Keryn looks down and recoils in horror at what the battle above has done to the ground below. There were luscious green forests when the battle began but now he is looking down at a nightmarish, burning wasteland, glimmering magical fire, obscured by thick roiling smoke.
A sailor runs past him, his face contorted in agony, clawing at his own belly and Keryn realizes that the magic has gone so far out of control that it is now affecting the elves of the fleet as well. The sailor screams and then flings himself overboard, plummeting to his certain death.
The ship violently jerks towards the magic vortex again. There is no way they will be able to get free of its force, no matter what the Captain is screeching, Keryn realizes. His hands grip the railing harder as he considers his ugly options. Stay on board and get ground to a fine paste when the ship will be shredded, or jump.
Jump seems like the lesser evil. This would be a good time to start praying, but he has never been a believer. So he instead opts for more cursing as he weaves the spell that will slow his fall. It's not meant to be used from heights like this and Keryn has no idea how it might interact with all the wild magic making the air flitter around him, but he really has no choice.
He takes one last look at the maelstrom looming much too close already, then climbs over the railing and lets go. He can feel the spell take a hold of him, make his body lighter, but the ground still rushes up to meet him way too quickly.
The impact feels like it shatters bones, but he manages to curl himself in a tight ball and roll with it. When he comes up, his left shoulder hurts and he knows he'll have impressive bruises, but nothing seems broken.
He quickly pushes himself back up to his feet. The very ground itself is as hot as if burning. Looking at it, he can see lines of magic heat zigzag through it. More magic gone wrong. The air is thick with smoke and ashes raining down from above. He is surrounded by the glimmering skeletons of what once were living trees.
Tears prick his eyes and it's not just the smoke, it's rage as well. This is so terribly wrong and so terribly senseless. Nothing has been gained by this battle and in truth by this whole ridiculous war. So many lives lost, so much beauty destroyed for absolutely nothing.
The sound of the maelstrom above is constant thunder and the crackling of too much energy crammed into too little space while down here, there is an eerie howl in the air and the brittle crunch of burned up woods breaking. The smell is all wrong, not of burned wood but of decay and a scary citrus scent which is typical for wild magic.
While Keryn is still trying to get his bearings, a low moan close by startles him. Could someone else have survived the fall?
Without thought, his soulblade coalesces in his hands. An elegant long blade, slightly curved and sharp as a razor it glows, looking like it is made from purest moonlight. It is an expression of everything Keryn is. Tall, lean, pale, raven hair, fast and deadly in his enchanted black leathers.
Only very few of the high elves can call forth these blades and they are the champions of their respective sides. Most of them are fighting in this cursed war now. Keryn is one of the youngest, barely an adult by elven standards.
Carefully, he picks his way through the wreckage of airships crashed from the sky even before the vortex opened. Twisted hulls of metal and wood, rent and bent out of shape.
The moaning is getting louder and stranger as if coming from many throats.
He ducks out of the way when a large piece of debris crashes down from above, splintering, shooting burning missiles of wood and metal everywhere.
And then suddenly, he is upon it or maybe it is upon him. A hulking monstrosity of mangled flesh, grown together again in shapes that were never planned by nature. It moans and groans at him from many mouths, some of them nearly choked by folds of flesh and trashes around, trying to hit him with misshapen limbs. Wild magic has created it.
Keryn moves without thinking, his blade cutting through air and magic and flesh with equal ease. Part of the thing slides to the ground. The opened wound doesn't bleed, but an overwhelming stench of decay rises from it. Undead and unclean. Keryn stumbles backwards only to find himself faced with more of the things, clawing their way through the wreckage towards him, now that they have noticed him. Some of them are no more than an arm with eyes on it, some knotted lumps of flesh with too many maws of sharp teeth, some almost humanoid with dead eyes, all of them moaning and grabbing and hissing.
He fights. His blade cuts the flesh, but more importantly it cuts the magic holding the undead together, scattering their parts to the ground. Lost in the smoke and nearly overwhelmed by the horde, one direction is as good as any. He just tries to keep a straight line so he might just have a chance to get out of the killing zone under the maelstrom, hoping that the creatures will thin out where the magic is weaker.
Scrambling up another hill, he jerks to a stop, suddenly faced with an unexpected sight. Atop the hill, another creature turns to face him, but this one is vastly different from the undead monstrosities. Huge and hulking, covered in short tan fur, wearing nothing but a ragged loincloth and strips of leather wrapped around its huge, clawed feet. A slim tail, tipped by a dark tuff of fur flicks back and forth nervously. A massive head with a dirty brown mane, rounded ears are flattened back in an aggressive pose on top of his head, short snout, slit green eyes full of wary intelligence. It's holding a huge weapon, the blade massive and ragged like he is himself and it's crouching, ready to fight.
A beastling. High elves create them with magic from all kinds of animals for various tasks.
Keryn has seen one like this before, on a rare occasion when an important sun elf was visiting his mother on a business occasion before the war. These are created from huge predatory cats roaming the deserts far to the south. They are rare, used as bodyguards for the few sun elves who can afford them.
This one doesn't look like a high maintenance luxury item, though. There are scars marring his fur which can only have been left by magic wounds inflicted on purpose. Heavy iron shackles encircle his wrists and ankles which look like the chains attached to them have just been hacked off. He is huge. Most beastling races created smaller than high elves but this one is taller and much broader then Keryn.
But it is alive and that is great. Someone who has survived this madness. The battle above them is clearly over and maybe that means they don't have to be enemies.
Keryn slowly lowers his blade and breathes a sigh of relief when the beastling mirrors his move, one of his ears perking up curiously.
He is just about to try and say something friendly when he sees the undead thing rise up behind the beastling and instead shouts a warning.
The creature reacts instantly, shifting its footing and then the huge weapon cleaves the abomination behind him in two. It's not the only one though. It seems they have used the brief moment when Keryn and the beastling where staring at each other in surprise to sneak up on them. They crowd in on them and soon enough, Keryn finds himself fighting back to back with the huge warrior. Alone, he might have succumbed to the sheer mass of monstrosities attacking, but together they make a formidable team.
It seems like forever until finally no more of them come. They are both breathing hard and coughing from the smoke and ashes in the air. But they are both still alive with only some new bruises and cuts to show while they are surrounded by heaps of undead body parts.
Keryn has a moment to wonder about this. Only his soulblade enables him to put these things to rest permanently by cutting through the magic. Then the beastling stretches, rolling his shoulders and the huge weapon he has been wielding like it was a part of him, a mere extension of his arm, disappears.
Keryn stares at him open mouthed.
"A soulblade." He whispers, awed.
The beastling is wielding a soulblade.
He is no mage or expert on such matters but he had never heard of anyone but a high elf having such a blade. It should be impossible. But fact is what he has just seen.
The beastling blinks at him in surprise and then speaks for the first time, his voice a deep rumble. "So that is what it is." He states.
With a flick of his wrist the blade reappears in his hand. He stares at it curiously. Then lets it fade again, then recalls it back to his hand. Like he has never done so before and is studying a new thing. But also like it is the most natural thing in the world.
Which of course, it is. After all, the blade is part of him. And fits him as perfectly as Keryn's blade fits him, Keryn thinks, suddenly smiling.
The beastling sees him smiling and suddenly grins back, his huge teeth detracting nothing from the fact that it is a friendly grin.
"That is pretty freaking cool." Keryn states and means it. "Did you just discover you had it?"
The beastling nods. "It was just there when I needed it."
Then they study each other again. Another warrior with a soulblade will at least triple his chances of getting out of this mess alive and Keryn can see that the beastling is thinking the same thing.
"So…" Keryn says carefully, "I think we really should get away from that." He points at the whirling maelstrom above them which hasn't lost any force at all.
The beastling nods slowly. "If you don't mind travelling with one of my kind?" he asks.
Keryn shrugs. "Can't say I would." He points at the beastling's shackles. "Looks to me like elves didn't treat you too kindly so I'd more expect you not to want to travel with me."
That brings the grin back. "Not met any elves of your type yet." He says, shouldering his weapon.
Thinking about the mad battle frenzy he has recently seen among his kind and how they have treated even him like a mere pawn, Keryn snorts. "I can assure you they are no better than sun elves in any way." He says truthfully.
The beastling flicks an ear in surprise. "You're a strange one." He comments and Keryn can't argue with that. He's never been very good at following orders.
Together they make their way through the wasteland, dodging the undead where they can, slaying them where they must. There is an easy silence between them. Keryn feels sure that the beastling is watching his back just as he's guarding his.
He isn't sure how long they have been trudging along but finally the smoke starts to clear a little. They are now almost out from under the vortex. Breathing becomes easier with less ashes and magic in the air. Not too far ahead, they can make out trees that are untouched by fire and magic.
But they are not out of trouble yet, they both realize, as something impossibly huge lumbers towards them. The thinning smoke quickly reveals the biggest abomination they have faced so far. It towers above them, a mass of writhing flesh glued together by foul magic, countless maws howling and moaning in agony and rage.
Neither off them hesitates. Weapons in hand, they spring forward to attack. This one is hardier than its lesser brethren. Cleaved off limbs reattach themselves, so brimming full of magic it is. The beastling curses as it hacks against the monster's thick, stumpy legs, trying to topple it. Keryn studies it trying to maybe find a way to scale it so he can attack the part that can be called a head.
Then the creature swings one huge arm and its meaty fist impacts the beastling with full force. He flies backwards and Keryn is sure he heard bones crunch. He feels his heart skip for fear that he has just lost the friend he hadn't even really made yet. But then the beastling pushes back to his feet, his face contorted in rage and roars.
He roars at the abomination with a sound that seems to shake the land and gives even the evil creation of magic pause.
Keryn reacts quickly. With the monster distracted, he jumps and climbs and claws his way upward and then his soulblade sings in a perfect arc and the creature's malformed head slides off his neck. The whole thing crashes to the ground, coming apart as its magic unravels.
It is now truly dead and Keryn ignores it, running to where the beastling has fallen back down to his knees, coughing blood.
"Shit!" Keryn curses. "Hold still!"
He presses both palms against the beastling's broad chest and feels the broken rips puncturing lungs. He is exhausted, but there is some more magic left in him and he weaves the one simple healing spell he knows, knitting bones and staunching the flow of blood.
The beastling blinks up at him in surprise. His huge teeth are bloody as he smiles. "Thank you." He groans and then draws a deep, much easier breath. "Damn."
Keryn smiles back at him, grateful that the beastling is alive.
"Can you walk?" he asks, helping the other warrior back to his feet.
The beastling nods. "Yeah, I heal quickly." He shakes himself, like shrugging water out of his fur.
Without another glance at the abomination they have slain, they continue.
Soon after they have left the pieces of the giant abomination behind, Keryn and Roars are among real trees and here the air tastes impossibly sweet after all the foul stench of undeath. They meet a few more of the undead creatures but these are much weaker and easily dispatched.
They put some distance between themselves and the burning battlefield behind him them. Both are tall and their strides are long, so they easily cover ground.
When they come upon a stream winding its way through the forest, they stop. They drink their fill and wash the taste of filth from their mouth, then the beastling unwraps his feet and cools his huge paws in the stream while Keryn sits on a rock and tiredly lets his head and shoulders slump forward.
The beastling gently prods him after a while. "Hey, are you all right?"
Keryn looks up with a tired smile. "Yeah. Just fed up with this stupid war."
He looks at the beastling again and realizes he is the friendliest face he has seen in weeks.
"I'm Keryn." He introduces himself.
The beastling almost seems surprised by the courtesy but then he smiles back. "I'm Roars." He answers and Keryn laughs.
"That's one damn fitting name." he says, remembering the beastling's roar.
Roars grins back. "Yeah." He says and they settle back into comfortable silence.
Keryn starts unwinding the tangled mess his braid has become and combs out the hair, then re-braids it carefully. Unlike most of his kind, he doesn't mind being dirty but he hates when his hair tangles and knots up.
"So what are you going to do now?" Roars asks after a while.
Keryn shrugs. He really hasn't thought about that yet. He should probably report back to the night elven capital but he really has had enough of this war. He could go home to his family's estate. They might still send him back to war, but at least he'll have a respite. Of course other unpleasantness awaits there. Like a bride he dodged by a narrow margin by going off to fight in the first place. But right now, marriage to some elven princess sounds like the lesser of two evils.
"I think I'll go home for a while." He says after considering his options. "What about you?"
Roars raises his hands, showing off the shackles. "Me and the sun elves didn't part on the best of terms. I don't really have anywhere to go." He explains.
Keryn feels a pang of sympathy for the beastling. Having ugly options is still better than having no options at all.
"I guess I'll just stay to the wilderness and try to survive." Roars adds and Keryn nods. "I can accompany you to the edge of civilisation." Roars then offers. "Safer travelling together. And maybe you'll see that not all beastling are just wild animals."
Keryn likes the offer but doesn't really understand the rest. "I don't believe that." He says. He has actually never thought about such matters. Beastlings serve the elves. That's just how it is. "And you seem a lot saner to me than most of the elves I have been with lately." He adds.
Roars laughs at that and Keryn thinks it was the right thing to say.
They are tired, but they decide to go on a little longer since there is remaining daylight. Keryn hopes that further away from the battlefield, they will find some game which can be turned into dinner. The companionable silence between them returns. They keep an eye open for more dangers, but the forest is calm. Almost shocked into silence.
They get lucky when the sun dips down behind the trees. Keryn catches three nice, fat rabbits which will make a decent dinner for both of them.
Roars watches with slightly horrified fascination as Keryn skins the rabbits and prepares them to roast over their campfire. Keryn quickly realizes the beastling has no clue on how to survive outside. While he turns the spit, he asks.
"So how did you end up in that battle?"
Roars shrugs. "Do you want the long or the short version?"
Keryn grins. "These will take a while until we can eat them, so the long version, please."
Roars comfortably leans back against a fallen tree. Keryn watches him with silent fascination. There is much in his posture that is cat-like, but equal measures of movement he must have picked up from elves. Like the sweeping gesture he starts his tale with.
"My litter was created to serve as honour guards to noble high elves." He explains. "We were raised with endless training in how to walk and stand and how to fight for our masters. And of course how to follow orders and keep our snouts shut."
He grins at Keryn with obvious impudence, showing clearly what he thinks of those lessons.
"When we were fully grown, I was sold of to an aging member of the sun elven council. He didn't want me for himself though; I became the centre piece of his eldest son's honour guard. That elfling was an arrogant little prick with a cruel streak who loved to show everyone how powerless they were compared to him. I don't recall how often I watched him whip his slaves and servants for imagined sleights. One day he was beating another servant. The girl was on the floor begging and he just kept hitting her. That's when I snapped. I grabbed his arm and stopped him. He was furious, obviously, shouting in my face. So then I really snapped, grabbed him by the throat and smashed him into the next wall, telling him in no uncertain terms who he was messing with,"
Keryn can't help but laugh at the image. He has no doubts the elf deserved what he was getting.
"Naturally I was quickly subdued by his other guards." Roars continues his tale. "I was punished for my insolence. Then I was punished some more. And of course I was punished. Finally I was taken to a facility where I was locked up in a tiny cell. Every day I was taken to trainers who used their magic to brainwash me, erasing my memories and making me the docile slave I was supposed to be."
Considering Roars is sitting there, grinning and very much not docile, Keryn is eager to hear more.
"When they were satisfied that I was properly broken, they sold me again. My new master was a blackhearted bastard. As long as my conditioning held, I served him well. But at some point I just… I don't know… my memories washed over me and I broke free of the conditioning. I ripped his head off."
Keryn nods. "Doesn't surprise me. Your soulblade cut through the enchantments they put on you. Nothing can bind those with a blade permanently."
Roars pensively scratches one of his expressive ears. "That would make sense. I felt like something cut open a cocoon I was trapped in. Anyway, after what had happened to me the last time I didn't hang around for more punishment but escaped. For a while I hid, made friends with some other escaped beastlings. We robbed food transports. It was a good time. Didn't last, naturally. We were caught. This time they didn't bother trying to break me. They settled for lots of punishment and then I was put on one of their war galleys, chained to the steering wheel with a few mindless ox beastlings. When the galley crashed back there I freed myself. And that's pretty much it."
"Sounds to me like you did no wrong." Keryn says even though that is probably the last thing a high elf should be saying to an escaped beastling murderer.
Roars cocks his head and looks at him curiously. "You really are a strange one." He says.
Keryn shrugs. "I'm a spoiled brat."
Roars shakes his shaggy head. "No, the elfling I was supposed to guard was a spoiled brat. You are…" he clearly isn't sure what to call it.
"I'm the youngest child of my family." Keryn explains. "My older brother was married already when I was born. I was allowed to do whatever I pleased so I spent most of my childhood outside, running and climbing trees and crawling into caves. Then I found I had a blade and after that I didn't have to learn all the magic and politics anymore anyway. Just fight whatever I was pointed at."
"Sounds to me like they suddenly treated you like a beastling." Roars says and Keryn thinks he has a point there.
"Maybe." He looks at Roars seriously. "I would be honoured to call you friend." He says.
The beastling thinks this over but then he nods. "Likewise." He says and they shake hand and paw.
"Dinner is ready." Keryn announced and gives one of the roasted rabbits to Roars.
The beastling takes a first careful bite, but then he purrs happily and tears big chunks out of the meat. Keryn smiles. He likes it when his meagre cooking skills are appreciated. He eats his own rabbit and has to admit all things considered it isn't half bad.
Then he notices Roars is eyeing the last rabbit with longing but makes no move to take it.
"It's yours." Keryn says.
"Oh?" Roars looks really surprised.
"Of course," Keryn says with a shrug. "You're twice my size so you should eat twice as much."
Roars shakes his head. "I'm just not used to my m… an elf sharing so freely." He says.
Keryn smiles. "You're welcome." He says and that settles it.
Roars devours the second rabbit and then his eyes start drifting shut. He scratches at the ground with his huge paws and makes a comfortable sleeping place for himself.
"I'll take the first watch then." Keryn offers. He doesn't mind.
Roars blinks at him with one eye. "You think we need a watch?" he asks.
Keryn nods. They have no idea what still might be out there and he doesn't want it to catch both of them asleep.
"I'll wake you when it's your turn." He says.
Moments later, Roars emits a rumbling sound that is a mix between purr and snore and clearly means he is asleep.
It's a quiet night and Keryn enjoys the silence. He doesn't need much sleep anyway so he lets Roars sleep long. He looks up at the stars through the canopy of leaves above him. To the east the sky is still glimmering with terrible colours from the maelstrom but it lessens as the hours pass.
It turns out it was a good idea to keep watch after all when a boar suddenly crashes through the underbrush and charges into their little clearing. Its eyes a wide and there are purple glimmers of magic flashing along its back. It must have picked up some wild magic escaped from the battlefield. His blade appears in his hands as Keryn strikes. Before Roars is half awake, the boar is already dead.
"Time for your watch, kitty." Keryn tells him, a laugh in his voice.
Roars groans and grumbles. Clearly not the best of times for jokes. Keryn curls up to sleep.
They are up again and preparing the boar for breakfast before sunrise. Keryn shows Roars how to do it, now that he knows the beastling has never had chance to live in the wilderness. They eat some and pack up the rest for their journey.
Keryn has a good idea which direction they should be heading so they set out at a brisk pace. It will be about a week until they reach a night elf city. There Keryn will be able to catch a strider home to his family's estates far to the west.
They don't encounter more abominations which is reassuring. They quickly find out that they are well suited travel companions. They wander in silence and talk over the campfire. Keryn is quick and agile where Roars is strong and has endless stamina. They each have their own ways of dealing with obstacles. Where Keryn jumps over a chasm with a little help from his floating spell, Roars uproots a tree and tips it over the chasm as a makeshift bridge.
Keryn laughs when Roars is nearly startled out of his fur when he is woken up by a squirrel curiously sniffing Roars' face.
When Roars sits at the campfire cursing and hissing, trying to pull barnacles out of his mane, Keryn offers his assistance which is accepted only after more cursing and hissing.
Keryn dreads the moment when they will reach the night elf city and it comes much too soon. They have been travelling together a little over a week when moss covered walls tell them that they have reached civilisation and that means they must part ways. They stand there, tall elf, taller beastling and neither of them is sure what to say.
It's Roars who finally speaks. "Well, I guess that's it then."
Really not much else to say, Keryn thinks while he wants to say so much more. Because Roars is his friend and this is not how this should end.
"So you are going back to the wilderness now?" he asks. Not what he wants to say but something.
"Guess so." Roars answers, unhappily.
"But you HATE the wilderness." Keryn blurts out. Not quite there, but closer to what he really wants to say.
"Not like I have much choice." Roars says. "Sun elves will kill me on sight and yours will lock me up and question me for whatever I might know."
Keryn hasn't asked him anything. About the war. About sun elves. It never even crossed his mind.
And then he just says it: "You could come with me."
Roars blinks at him in surprise. Didn't expect that clearly.
"Not like they'd try and take you from me." Keryn continues, now that he has finally managed to get it out. "Me being one of their champions it's my bloody right to take home some spoils of war, right?"
Now Roars grins, wide and full of teeth. "Now that you've beaten it, it's all yours." He says and of course doesn't mean a word of it. But Keryn knows exactly what he does mean.
And that settles it. They enter the city together.
It's not one of the large, sprawling cities, but a small border town. That suits Keryn just fine. There is less likelihood that there will be military forces who might question who he is and why he is heading home.
Two or three storey houses are tightly packed inside the city walls. Canvass awnings protect the cobblestone streets from direct sunlight. Not that the Slaigh or Trolls or Bagoth need the protection, but the night high elves prefer it that way and they are the ruling caste. Their towers rise among the houses. It is late morning now and the lesser fey races are out working while their rulers won't appear until after sundown. There are a few beastlings in the streets as well, mostly ox-breeds, pulling carts or hauling loads.
Keryn has checked his funds before hand and found that he only has a few coins. Most of his things were lost when he abandoned the doomed airship. It will be enough to buy them passage on a strider back home, but sadly not enough to get them a room in a tavern, with a decent meal and a hot bath. Such amenities will have to wait until they reach his family's estate.
They will have to switch striders at least twice and Keryn's estimate is they will need three or four days to get home.
At the town gate they aren't exactly stopped by the troll guards, but kindly asked to wait so they can inform their commander of the presence of an elven champion. The commander turns out to be a cautious troll who very politely inquires about Roars. Keryn tells him that he found Roars and that the beastling now follows him.
He is startled when Roars takes a menacing step forward. "Does that little troll bother you, master?" he growls in perfect imitation of the most loyal pet guard.
His own: "No, it's fine, boy, down!" isn't quite as convincing but clearly good enough that the troll commander believes him to be just the usual arrogant high elf with an exotic pet.
They make their way across town to where they can see the strider station from afar, the impossible tall, spindly legged creatures towering over everything.
"You enjoyed that!" Keryn accuses, when they are out of hearing range of the trolls.
Roars just smirks, his tail swinging languidly as he walks.
Travelling per strider turns out to be much more pleasant than trudging through the wilderness on foot. The other passengers don't bother them, keeping as much of a respectful distance as possible in the little pavilion cabin that is strapped to the back of the strider. The fact that both Keryn and Roars look rather fierce and are both filthy from battles and travel means they don't look like they would appreciate idle chatter.
One brave, elderly troll matron remarks what a magnificent specimen Roars is and Roars responds by being exceptionally polite and helping with her luggage. Keryn can almost hear the beastling snicker at the whole episode. Roars is so much not a wild animal and so much a smart and humorous person that Keryn just can't understand how anyone could have treated him as nothing more than an ornamental trophy guard.
Somewhere along the way, Keryn runs out of money to pay for their meals.
"Why do your have to pay for things, anyway?" Roars asks, puzzled. "You go to war for these people risking your life, shouldn't they give you stuff for free?"
Keryn doesn't like that idea. "They never asked me to fight for them and they don't profit from that stupid war in any way. Why should I get things for free which they worked for?"
Roars' stomach disagrees loudly.
They end up picking up a free meal here and there.
By the time they reach Darsshan, the city closest to the estate of Keryn's family, travelling per strider isn't that pleasant anymore. Neither of them enjoys being locked up in a confined space for long periods of time. It's boring and it makes them twitchy with the need to move.
Darsshan is a large city which functions as a trading hub for the many rich estates around it. The strider station is huge and at the centre of a cluster of warehouses. The estates have their own striders which they mostly use to haul goods. The striders make the trip three or four times per night so Keryn knows they can hitch a ride with one belonging to his family.
For a while, they sit at the edge of the strider platform, enjoying the spectacular view and the fresh air. With all the people around them they can't really talk like they would like to, but Keryn points out some sights of the city.
When a strider comes into view, painted with the colours of Keryn's family, they get up and wait for it to dock at the platform.
Strider pilots are mostly Slaigh. This one is no exception, but when she climbs off the strider, Keryn notices the slight build and a big grin spreads on his face.
"Keeta!" he shouts and waves.
His childhood friend pushes up her travel goggles and stares at him in shock. "Keryn?" Then she realizes that it is really him and she tackles him, wrapping long, thin limbs around him. "Keryn! For fuck's sake! You're alive!"
Keryn hugs her back fiercely. He's only had two friends before he went off to war. Keeta is one of them. Gorn, a troll who now serves as a guard at the family estate, is the other. Neither of them ever cared how inappropriate it is for a high elf to hang out with lesser fey. Though he and Gorn have grown apart over the years, he and Keeta are still best friends.
"They said you are dead!" Keeta exclaims and punches Keryn's shoulder. "Said you died in some huge battle! Damn you, couldn't you have sent notice or something?!"
"I'm sorry." He says and can't help smiling at her. Just now it starts to dawn on him how lucky he and Roars really were to survive. "The town closest to the battle didn't have a messenger moth post. We really did come home as quickly as we could. So what's the news on that battle?"
Keeta shrugs. "They say no one survived at all. The battlefield has been declared off limits by both sides due to magical hazards. Whatever that means."
Keryn and Roars exchange a glance. They both have a very good idea why the commanders of both sides don't want anyone to see the mess they have created out there. "It was a giant fuck up." Keryn says. "Really, really bad."
"So now that you have survived, does that mean we've won after all?" Keeta asks with a cheeky grin.
Keryn snorts. "I don't think so." He asks the next most important question on his mind. "So… has my bride arrived?"
Keeta nods. "Yeah."
"What's she like?"
Keeta shrugs. "Haven't talked to her myself." She says. "She's been to the village a few times. Grapevine says she's not a complete bitch."
Keryn draws a face at that. 'Not a complete bitch' doesn't very much sound like a woman you'd want to marry. Not like he gets a say in the matter. After all it's the sole reason why he so eagerly went off to war in the first place.
"Awh, come on." Keeta comfortingly pats his arm. "How bad can it be? Not like you have to actually spend time with her, right?"
She is right, of course. Elven traditions often require political marriages which don't include the two people even living in the same city. Maybe they can work out some arrangement. She's probably just a spoiled elven princess who wants to spend her time with shopping and attending parties and talking about the latest poetry publications.
"I hope so." He says.
"So…" Keeta curiously eyes Roars. "Who's that?"
For a moment Keryn considers what to actually tell her, but the truth is he trusts her. "This is Roars." He introduces. "He survived the battle as well. We're friends."
Keeta raises a thin eyebrow at that. They both know this is a little strange even for him but she doesn't judge and that's one reason why he trusts her.
"Well, pleased to meet you, big guy." She says and offers her hand to shake.
Keryn can see that Roars is slightly startled by her easy attitude. He can also see that he likes it. In the two weeks they have travelled together they have learned to read each other quite well. Keeta and Roars shake slim hand and huge paw.
"Can we hitch a ride back to the estate with you?" Keryn asks Keeta.
"Of course!" Keeta grins.
While they have been talking, beastlings have been busy unloading the strider and they are nearly done. This strider doesn't have a comfortable passenger pavilion, but they can sit in the cargo space while Keeta climbs back into the pilot seat.
"I'm not even surprised anymore you are friends with a Slaigh." Roars says with a grin, once they are off. "She seems quite nice for one of her kind."
Slaigh are known for being moody, grumpy and generally unpleasant company. Keeta is nothing like that.
"She a very good friend of mine." Keryn says.
"You're really the worst high elf ever." Roars replies and they both grin because it's true.
The ride to the estate is just an hour. Since the cargo space is more open than a travel pavilion, they have a great view of the land without getting the brunt of the headwind like Keeta is in the pilot seat.
It's late afternoon when the estate comes into view. The tall white family tower is rising from the valley with the village clustered around it. The hills shielding the valley are covered in deep forests. Sturdy stone towers are set in intervals on the ridges of the surrounding hills, their tops wrapped in mists and low hanging clouds. Above the mists and clouds float the islands, covered with lush vegetation. There the riches of the family grow. Moonwine, which is used to brew powerful magic potions.
Keryn explains to a curious Roars how the islands are hauled in to the towers for tending and harvesting.
Roars eyes the family tower and village with an amused flick of his ear. "Doesn't look quite as pompous as sun elf estates I have served at." He comments.
Keryn smirks back. "I'm desolate it doesn't meet your standards."
"Not like I can afford to be picky."
Then they dock at the strider platform and climb off. The thought that they are only minutes away from a proper meal and bath make Keryn's stomach rumble and his skin itch. He is reasonable sure he has never been this filthy in his whole life.
"Will I see you later tonight?" Keeta asks.
"I have to talk to mother." Keryn replies. "And there is a good chance I will collapse asleep after that. But I'll come down to the village as soon as I can."
"Good." Keeta hugs him once more, which is really unusually affectionate of her. She really must have been saddened by his death, he realizes. "I look forward to having a beer and hearing all about the war." She says and straightens up, all cool again.
Keryn and Roars make their way off the platform and are promptly stopped again by the Steward, who is a Bagoth and very, very excited.
"Master Keryn, Master Keryn!" the small man with tufts of white hair and a huge nose is shouting while running toward them. "You're alive!"
"Indeed." Keryn says calmly. "Rumours of my demise were exaggerated."
"Your mother will be so happy!" The Steward exclaimed, his face nearly splitting with his happy grin.
'So happy' is not an emotion Keryn associates with his stern mother, but she will probably be pleased that he is still alive. Not just because it means that the marriage can go ahead and that is a great deal since his bride comes with a huge dowry, and not just because he is after all a champion and therefore precious, but he thinks she really does actually like him as well.
"I'll be sure to see her as soon as she gets up." He reassures the Steward.
After all, his mother will not be awake yet, since the sun is still in the sky.
"Of course, of course!" the Steward beams. "Should I have your beastling taken to the pen?"
For a long, awkward moment Keryn has no clue whatsoever what the Steward is talking about. Then he remembers that Roars is still standing behind him and that he must be the beastling the poor Bagoth is referring to.
"No. That won't be necessary." He informs the Steward, trying to remain civil with the man who has no way of knowing that Roars isn't a slave and even less a mindless animal to be locked up. "He's coming with me."
The Steward clearly disapproves of having such a huge beastling in the family tower, but he knows better than to argue.
"As the young master pleases." He says, managing to keep his frown to a minimum.
The family tower is exactly like it was about four months ago, when Keryn left to fight in the war. It takes him a moment to realize why it feels different to him as he and Roars make their way up winding staircases where his chamber are located up an upper level. The Steward has assured him that his chambers have not been changed yet, even though he has been officially dead for two weeks. The tower hasn't changed, he has.
It feels so stupid now that he was eager to join that war, even to escape marriage. He has killed, he has seen death, he has followed orders, he has been exactly what is expected of a high elf champion. He thinks it was a complete waste of time and life and resources. He knows he is not supposed to think, just to do what he is told. But he's never been very good at that.
The thought of going back to that war makes his stomach clench. Not because he is scared. He isn't. Because he is frighteningly sure he won't be able to keep his mouth shut. Next time some arrogant mage starts making a speech about how his magic will win the battle he'll punch him in the face and the commander for good measure and tell all the scared soldiers to go home.
That won't go over well.
Keryn quietly wonders how he will explain that to his mother. She was against him going anyway, but that was more because she wanted to get marriage done with. The bride comes with a huge dowry which his mother is planning to invest into the estate.
He is a little lost in thought so when he enters his chamber he draws breath to do the thing he always does first when he walks in here - shout for his beastling slave.
And then it hits him. The thing he has completely forgotten about. There already is a beastling in his life. Has been for over year when his brother insisted on buying him a pet of his own. A loyal hound-breed to act as his body servant and fuck toy. A beastling who he has fucked and yelled at and who he has occasionally hit when he was annoyed. A beastling he has paid about as much attention to as his couch.
Roars is walking around the room, curiously checking out his things while Keryn just stands there with silent dread and then revulsion rolling over him.
He remembers how he left. Dusk helped him pack and then Keryn left without a word. Without even noticing the mournful, scared expression his beastling was watching him with, but when he looks at it in his memory it is obvious.
He's been a complete and utter asshole with the trusting, loyal creature he should have cared for and he never even noticed.
He'll be lucky if Roars doesn't rip his head off and he'd fucking deserve it if he did.
Finally Roars notices him still standing there and his ear does that curious thing where it points almost straight to the side.
"Something wrong?" Roars asks and curls his fist in that move like he is almost gripping the hilt of his soulblade already.
There is no point in not telling him. He'll know if Keryn is lying and he'd find out soon enough anyway.
"I… kind of forgot to tell you something…" Keryn starts tentatively.
Roars nose twitches but he doesn't say anything.
"I already have a pet… beastling… slave…" Keryn continues, each word feeling like it's damning him more in the eyes of his friend.
Roars blinks at him slowly. "So…?"
"I… I didn't treat him very well, I'm afraid," Keryn struggles with proper words but there is only really one way to put it, "I'm sorry."
At that Roars snorts and his eyes twinkle with sudden amusement. "Shouldn't you be saying that to him?" he asks.
Keryn realizes with equal parts surprise and relief that Roars isn't judging him and won't kill him on the spot. He is also quite right of course.
"Where is he anyway?" Roars asks.
Excellent question. Dusk has never been not there when Keryn had need of him. Apart from the few times when Keryn had sent him on some errant and then forgotten about it, which then was followed by yelling and slapping. Keryn winces at the memory.
Knowing Roars has given him a vastly different perspective when viewing beastlings. Some of them may still be dumb animals but most are not and he is pretty sure Dusk isn't. There is no excuse for how he has behaved towards the defenceless creature. He has been just as much of a bastard as Roars' former masters.
"Well?" Roars insistently startles him out of his bleak self assessment.
"Yes, of course." Keryn nods and pokes his head out into the hallway again to hopefully find some servant who can enlighten him on the whereabouts of his missing pet.
A passing Bagoth girl, her arms laden with freshly washed laundry passes by and is stopped by him. "Excuse me," he enquires politely, "do you know where my beastling is? Dusk. Black hound…"
"Master Keryn!" she curtsies, which is quite the feat, with her arms packed full, Keryn thinks. "Yes, your brother, Master Gamdriciriel, took him in when we heard that you had been killed." She answers his question.
Icy shivers run down Keryn's spine. He may never have paid much attention to his pet but he's reasonably sure that he's never been cruel like his brother is with his pets. Even he wasn't able to ignore how his brother's pets sported bruises, walked with a limp too often and flinched away from any move towards them. If he even let them walk about and didn't keep them locked up.
The thought that his Dusk is at Ciriel's mercy makes bile rise in his throat.
"Do you know where my brother is keeping him?" he asks, trying to keep his mix of revulsion and rage in check.
"I think he is house training him, milord, so he'll be keeping him in his bedroom." The Bagoth girl replies, oblivious to his turmoil.
Housetraining him. Keryn has no trouble imagining what that entails. "Is my brother awake already?"
The servant girl shrugs. "He might be."
"Thank you." Keryn dismisses her. "Fuck." He then mutters.
Roars looks at him expectantly and he doesn't have to say a word for Keryn to know what he is saying.
"Yes, let's go." Keryn agrees.
His brother's chambers are two levels higher than his so it isn't far. Keryn considers knocking, but then decides against it. "Please wait here." He tells Roars, who frowns.
"If I hear fighting, I'm coming in." Roars growls.
"If you hear fighting, my brother will be dead by the time you get there." Keryn replies calmly.
Then he opens the door and goes inside. His brother's chambers are separate from those of his wife. Their marriage is a polite but cold one. They have never talked to each other much after their son was born. Keryn can only hope his marriage will go that well.
Much like his own chambers, the first room one enters from the hallway is furnished with couches and low tables. Lights are already on and a flustered Bagoth servant comes running from the bedroom to find out who is disturbing his master without knocking. He stops in his tracks when he realizes it's Keryn and Keryn is very much alive.
"Master Keryn!" he exclaims, probably as much in surprise as to warn Keryn's brother.
Moments later Ciriel appears in the doorway leading to his bedroom, wearing a luxurious dressing robe, his hair only partly braided yet.
"Taraskeryn?" he addresses him with his full name, which Keryn hates. His brother plasters a smile of over his face which looks quite fake to Keryn. "You're alive!" He exclaims, spreading his arms almost as if to hug him.
"Yes, I am." Keryn replies coldly. "Sorry to disappoint you."
Ceriel frowns. "Disappoint me? How can you say such a thing!" he admonishes. "Obviously I am delighted to see you hale. But really, brother, you should have let us know earlier."
"Yes, I think I should have tried harder to get word to you." Keryn growls, barely able to hold his temper in check. "Maybe then you wouldn't have taken Dusk."
His brother looks taken aback. "Your little hound? Taraskeryn, I took him in because he was whining and howling for you constantly. The poor creature was so neglected!"
Keryn winces at the truth in those words. Yes, he has left Dusk alone for months. But that doesn't mean his brother was well meaning when he took him.
"Where is he?" he asks angrily, but before his brother can answer the question he hears Dusk from the bedroom.
"Master Keryn? Master Keryn?!" he is so excited his voice is doing little flips.
All pretence of politeness forgotten Keryn pushes past his brother into the bedroom. There is a cage in one corner with a blanket on the floor of it and a bowl of water, the door is open. Dusk is not in the cage but straining against the chain attached to his collar to reach Keryn. He has always been lean but now Keryn can count the ribs under this sleek black fur. He's only wearing simple pants. Obviously his brother has tried to reduce the beastling as much to an animal as possible. There are no obvious wounds, but that probably doesn't mean Ceriel hasn't hurt him.
With a few large steps Keryn reaches Dusk and wraps him in his arms like he has never done before, protectively and gently. It is strange how perfectly the hound-beastling fits under Keryn's chin and how good it feels to hold him like this. He really can't understand how he ever missed this. Dusk presses against him, trembling, a very low whine in his throat.
"Ssh, I've got you, I'm back." Keryn tries to reassure his pet. There will be time to feel guilt later. Now he needs to be a good master for a change.
His brother snorts behind him. "He is such a spoiled thing." He says derisively. "I was hard pressed to teach him some manners, but he was just starting to behave like a proper pet."
"He is my 'spoiled thing' and you had no business taking him in the first place!" Keryn hisses at him.
"Well, my dear brother, you were deceased, as you might recall." Ceriel says smugly.
"Kindly wait a few weeks longer the next time you think I'm dead!" Keryn snaps and this time his brother actually flinches back at the very real threat of violence that suddenly hangs in the air.
Keryn ignores him and opens the simple magical lock that attaches the chain to Dusk's collar. Any high elf can do that without much thought but no other race can so it's nicely secure.
Dusk clings to him. Keryn disentangles him just enough so he can look at him. "Are you all right?" he asks, feeling ridiculous about it because clearly Dusk isn't. "Are you hurt?"
"No, master." Dusk shakes his head, his long black ears flopping slightly. His eyes are beaming with happiness at having Keryn back and it makes Keryn feel a little sick that someone he has mistreated so would miss him so much.
But of course it's not Dusk's choice. When he was created, his loyalty to his master was bound into him. He can't do anything but love Keryn and that makes it even worse. Had Keryn really not come back maybe his brother would have broken Dusk but he'd never have managed to beat his love for his first master out of him.
"Come on, we're going home." Keryn tells Dusk, keeping his voice carefully kind and void of the disgust he is feeling at himself right now.
"Yes, master." Dusk is so happy at the prospect that just for a tiny moment his tongue flicks out to lick Keryn's hand. Then he quickly looks down, his ears flattened against his skull.
He's always been hit for this because Keryn thought it gross. Now it's the sweetest thing he can imagine and he gently wraps his arm around his pet and leads him out of the room with a parting glare at his brother.
Outside Roars leans against the wall with his massive arms folded in front of his equally massive chest and looks like he owns the whole tower, despite the fact that he is still dirty and hungry and still wears nothing but a filthy loincloth and the shackles which had bound him to his sun elf airship.
Keryn ducks under his gaze, expecting a lecture on what a bad person he is, but Roars just looks at him and then at Dusk, who is hiding against Keryn's side and nods, satisfied. They return to Keryn's chambers in silence.
Once they are safely back in Keryn's chambers, with the door firmly closed behind them, Keryn leans against it for a moment, closing his eyes. He's got Dusk back and he managed it without killing his brother in the process. That is something to be grateful for. And Roars hasn't killed him yet, either. Another thing to be grateful for. Though it may only be a matter of time now. He draws a deep breath, steeling himself for the reproach he will surely see in Roars' eyes as soon as he looks at him again.
"No, I'm not going to steal him from you." He then hears Roars' calm voice, clearly addressing Dusk.
What is that supposed to mean? Curiously he opens his eyes and asks. "Huh?"
Roars and Dusk exchange a glance which he can't quite read.
"Go, prepare a bath for your master." Roars tells Dusk who obeys, apparently genuinely happy to serve Keryn again.
It doesn't escape Keryn though that he is walking with a slight hunch as if he is hurt. Something to check on if he survives the next few minutes. He turns to Roars as Dusk disappears into the bathroom. Roars has the deep frown on his furry brow that Keryn was expecting. His ears twitch and his tail is swinging restlessly.
He doesn't expect at all what Roars says next. "You're fucking him?!"
Keryn blinks at him in surprise. Of all the rants he was prepared for, this is a strange opening.
"Uh… yes?" he says, not sure where this is going.
"But you did notice he's a boy, right?"
For a moment Keryn is speechless. "THAT is your problem?" he then asks incredulously. "Not 'you are an evil, slave abusing elven brat'?!"
Now Roars blinks at him in surprise. "Uh… yeah… that too… but really… you're fucking a guy?"
"Yes?" Of all the things Keryn is feeling bad for, this is not one of them. "Why not?"
Roars wrinkles his nose in distaste. "That is just… weird."
"Oh, come on!" Keryn snorts. "Don't tell me you haven't had a score of sun elves line up to get fucked by you!"
Roars' eyes widen in comical horror at the notion. "NO! I haven't!"
"Seriously?" Keryn finds that hard to believe. "Are they blind or something?"
"Ugh." Roars makes a retching sound.
"Okay…" Keryn shrugs. "So… are you going to rip my head off now?" Better to get it over with.
Roars rubs his nose with his huge paw. "No. Why should I?"
"Because I'm the same kind of bastard your other masters were?"
"You're not." Roars frowns at him. "You're a bit misguided and simple maybe. But not evil."
"Oh." Keryn isn't sure at all what to say or do now.
"Look," Roars explains patiently, "you may have treated the kid badly in the past. But you now have a chance to do better. If you don't, I can still rip your head off. But right now that little doggy needs you badly. Dogs are like that. It must have killed him inside to think you're dead."
It's true, of course, and it makes Keryn feel as bad as he should. "I'm sorry." He says, even though he knows there really is no way to apologize.
"I've told you before: go tell him!" Roars says and points at the bathroom door.
He's really good at giving orders, and just like Dusk, Keryn simply obeys.
Standing in the doorway, he looks at Dusk, who is crouching next to the huge bathtub, carefully checking the temperature with his paw. The water has to be carried up here but the tub is imbued with a spell to heat it.
Dusk looks so pretty and Keryn wonders how he never appreciated this. His short black fur glistens sleek in the steam rising from the hot water, his long snout and ears give him an elegant look, his tail taps on the floor without him noticing as he concentrates on his task.
Memories flash through Keryn's mind. Of him yelling at Dusk for some ridiculous mistake and the beastling cowering before him in fear, looking at him with mournful eyes because he did something wrong. Of him fucking Dusk from behind, grabbing the scruff of his neck for purchase, ignoring chocked sounds of discomfort. Of him kicking Dusk out of his chambers with a curse when he comes home slightly drunk and Dusk just happened to get in the way. Right now Keryn really hates himself.
Then Dusk notices him and his eyes light up with happiness and his tail's tapping becomes excited.
"Master, it's almost ready!" he eagerly says. But then he notices Keryn's pained expression and his ears droop. "Master?" he asks, already worried that he has made some mistake again.
Immediately Keryn goes to him, kneels down and wraps him in his arms again, reassuringly. There really is only one thing he needs to say. "Dusk, I'm so sorry. I've been such a bad master for you."
He feels Dusk's long ears flick against him. "Master? No. You came to rescue me!"
He sounds so eager and happy it breaks Keryn's heart. Dusk can't even be angry with him for all the things he's done.
"Yes." He says softly. "But I abandoned you without even telling you where I was going. And I'm so sorry for what my brother did to you." He can't help rubbing his nose in the soft fur of Dusk's neck and feeling bad about it as Dusk gives a small, delighted yelp.
"Master Gamdriciriel was just trying to help me." Dusk says earnestly.
"No, he wasn't!" Keryn hisses angrily. "He had no fucking business taking you in the first place and that he hurt you… Damn…" He hugs Dusk tighter until the beastling winces.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Keryn loosens his embrace. "You're hurt. Let me see."
Dusk looks embarrassed. "No, master I'm all right. It's nothing… oh…" He gasps, his eyes going wide with wonder, as Keryn weaves his healing spell and his pain fades. "Thank you, master!" he exclaims and snuggles against Keryn as closely as if he was trying to crawl into him.
"Dusk, I've not been a very good master to you in the past." He tries to explain again. "But I promise I will do better from now on." Dusk seems entirely content, but Keryn needs him to understand this. "You have to tell me when I am being mean to you, so I can learn to be better. Can you do that for me?"
He isn't sure if Dusk really means or understands it, when he says: "Yes, master." But it will have to do for now. After all Keryn also has Roars to smack sense into him, if he starts misbehaving.
Keryn holds him and gently scratches behind his ear. Because that is something hounds like, he thinks. Though he isn't sure. There is an easy way to find that out at least. "Do you like it when I scratch your ears?" he asks.
"I'm not sure, master." Dusk replies, flicking his ears slightly irritated.
"Where do you like to be scratched?" Keryn's fingers work their way down Dusk's neck until he is scratching under his chin and suddenly Dusk relaxes against him with a blissful sigh. For a little while they just sit there, leaning against the bathtub, Keryn scratching his pretty hound and Dusk turning his head this way and that, enjoying the attention.
But then Dusk fidgets nervously. "Master? Can I ask something?"
"Sure." Keryn almost said 'of course' but it has never been allowed so far so it shouldn't be a surprise Dusk is being careful.
"Uhm… your new pet…," Dusk stammers, clearly uncomfortable, "will he be using me too…?"
Keryn laughs before he can stop himself. The memory of Roars' indignant disgust at the thought of male on male sex is too prominent still in his mind. "No, Dusk, he certainly won't be." He reassures his hound.
Dusk's relief is obvious as he relaxes back against Keryn again. But his question has brought another unpleasant subject to Keryn's attention. He doesn't want to ask but he has to.
"Do you… I mean… do you like it when I…?"
"Use me?" Dusk asks bluntly and innocently.
Keryn winces. But of course it's the ugly truth. "Yes." He says.
The fact that Dusk gives the matter some thought and doesn't reply with an outright 'no' is at least not as bad as it could have been.
"Sometimes I like it." Dusk finally says. "I like it better than when your brother used me."
Once more Keryn hides his unhappy expression in the soft fur of Dusk's neck. 'That is not enough', he tells himself. The warm scent of Dusk's fur makes him feel horny, but he silently promises himself that he won't 'use' him again like that. He can find others who will have a choice about sharing his bed.
Gently he disentangles himself from his clinging beastling. "I really should bathe now." He explains as Dusk looks quite disappointed. "Mother will want to see me once she gets up and I really don't want to face her like this." He gestures at his filthy self.
"Oh, of course, master!" Immediately Dusk is all business and helps him get out of the armour Keryn has been wearing for weeks not. "Should I take this to the leather worker in the village?" Dusk asks after briefly examining the armour's sorry state.
"Yes, please." Keryn says and climbs into the tub with a happy sigh. "And please also find some proper clothes for Roars to wear. The other beastling." He explains at Dusk's questioning expression.
"Yes, master." Dusk nods.
"And also have another bath prepared for him when I'm done." He adds. "Roars is at least as filthy as I am. And find some food for all of us. We'll eat together once I have spoken to mother."
While Dusk busily hurries off on his tasks, Keryn sinks back into the hot water and starts scrubbing himself. There will be time for a relaxing soak at a later time. Now he needs to concentrate on getting clean enough to see his mother. He quickly washes his hair as well. When he reluctantly gets up out of the tub the water has taken on a decidedly brownish colour. He rinses off with fresh water from another bucket and then calls in the servant to change the bath water.
Dusk has already set out clothes for him. Just the things he likes, he notices happily. Not some fancy robes but soft leather pants and a simple shirt.
Then he returns to the main room where he finds Roars on the couch, curiously thumbing through a book Keryn forgot there before he left for the war. Considering how smart the beastling is, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that he can read as well. Roars looks up at him expectantly.
"I told him I'm sorry." Keryn reports dutifully.
Roars nods. "Good. That's a start then."
His approval means quite a lot to Keryn and the knowledge that Roars will keep him on the right path helps him relax and feel at least a little better.
He easily slips back into the banter he and Roars have come to enjoy. "You smell." He tells the huge beastling with a grin.
Roars snorts. "So did you."
"There's a bathtub full of hot water for you in there." Keryn says and points at the bathroom door.
Immediately Roars' ears perk up. "Awesome!" He drops the book and gets up. "There was a servant here a minute ago, saying your mother wants to see you now." He informs Keryn as he heads to the bathroom.
Keryn just takes the time to loosely braid his hair and put on some boots before he goes to meet his mother.
Keryn's mother has been the head of the family for what seems like forever. Grandfather died two centuries ago and she inherited the title from him. Grandmother is still alive and lives at the top of the family tower but she is rarely seen, busy with high magic too complex for anyone to comprehend. She arranged the marriage which brought Keryn's father into the family at great cost. Keryn's father, just like Keryn, had a soulblade and served as the champion of the family, which his grandmother apparently considered a good investment. It didn't last long though. His father was slain in fighting a monstrous creature, created by a magical accident when Keryn was still a toddler and Keryn didn't know him well enough to miss him.
When Keryn discovered his soulblade everyone but his mother was proud of him. He didn't understand why she wasn't. His father's heroic death seemed quite impressive to him. That was before he went to war and saw what death is like much more close and personal. Now he does understand why his mother saw the soulblade as more curse than blessing. It wasn't that she wasn't proud of him - it was that she loved him too much to want to see him die as painfully early as his father did.
Keryn smiles a little ruefully as he stands before the door to his mother's chambers. There are quite a lot of things he understands better now and sees more clearly, he muses.
Then he knocks politely.
The door is opened by a Bagoth servant girl who quickly ushers him to his mother's dressing room. She is still sitting in front of her vanity and the servant girl gets back to tying her hair into elaborate braids. Her hair is still black as night despite her age with just a few silvery strands at her temples. She is as regal as an elven noble woman must be.
His mother smiles at Keryn through the mirror, quietly studying him for a moment.
"I am pleased to see that once more your grandmother's sight has proven accurate." She states calmly. "She was quite confident you were alive."
That would explain why she is not overly surprised to see him return, Keryn thinks. "I'm glad you didn't worry too much." He says.
A small frown creases her brow. "Oh, I did worry. I should have liked to receive notice of your continued existence earlier." She says with just the right hint of reproach.
"I was a little busy surviving and then I got back as quickly as I could." Keryn defends himself. Maybe he could have tried a little harder to find a messenger moth station, but he didn't think it would make much difference.
His mother waves his comment off. "Report on the war then, please."
Keryn isn't sure if she is actually expecting some elaborate military report. To his knowledge she has never cared about such things. He is also quite tired and there really is an easy way to sum it up. "It sucks." He says bluntly.
There is a tiny twitch under her left eye which could really mean anything. "That is your report?" she asks.
"Well… yes. I think it is." He replies.
"It will be quite entertaining to see what High Command has to say when they receive your opinion on their performance." She says and he isn't sure at all how she means it because he has never been good at reading her.
But he isn't given the time to contemplate as she asks her next question: "I hear you have brought another beastling pet home with you?"
Now he considers carefully. Roars is not his pet and he doesn't plan to treat him as one. He is his friend and he simply doesn't want to play a game of pretend that he is a slave when really Keryn sees him as a guest to this house. His brother will likely have a fit about that, but his mother is a different matter. She might disapprove, but she might also be willing to accept it. Which would make things a lot easier for both Roars and him. He decides to take the risk of telling her the truth.
"Not a pet." He says. "Roars is my friend."
Yes, his mother definitely doesn't approve. "Oh, please, Keryn!" she says, clearly annoyed.
But Keryn isn't willing to let this go, now that he has decided upon. "Yes, he is my friend. We fought together."
Now his mother actually turns around for the first time to look at him not through the mirror. "He is a beastling, Keryn. An animal. He can be a loyal companion, but he can't be your friend." She explains in that voice she always used when explaining something new to Keryn when he was still a boy.
But he isn't a boy anymore.
"He is smarter than I am, mother." He says.
That catches her attention. He has never been good at admitting someone was better than him in anything. "Is he now?" she says thoughtfully. "Well," she turns back to the mirror, "in that case I guess I can allow you this infatuation."
And just like that she gives him permission to treat Roars like a free person instead of an owned object.
"So…," Keryn brings up a question of his own, "what about my bride?"
"What about her?" his mother asks back. "Now that you are back we can finalize the arrangement. You'll be wed on the next full moon."
Much too soon, Keryn thinks, and apparently the thought is obvious on his face. His mother frowns once more.
"You only have to wed the girl, Taraskeryn," she admonishes, "not spend your life with her. I should not think that is too much to ask, is it?"
"No, mother." Keryn dutifully replies. He doesn't have to like it, after all, just do it. There is at least one thing he'd even less like to do. "Once we are wed, do I go back to war?"
His mother raises an immaculate eyebrow in silent question.
"I'd rather not." He confirms what she is asking.
She considers that. "You do seem a little… stressed," she then ventures, "maybe it would be prudent to inform High Command that you will need time to recuperate. Though I advise you put a more comprehensive report to paper for them than 'the war sucks'."
That is her equivalent of a joke and Keryn smiles at her. "Thank you, mother." He says because he knows exactly that she is being quite indulgent.
"You're welcome." Her face softens just a fraction. "I am glad you have returned alive, Keryn."
Acting on instinct and entirely out of turn he takes the step forward and gently hugs his mother from behind. "I am too." He tells her softly. "I love you, mom." Then he quickly withdraws again.
His mother looks startled, but a little pleased as well. Then she is all composed again. "I expect you to attend family dinner tonight." She informs him. "It's time you finally met your bride." Then she dismisses him with a wave of her hand.
When Keryn gets back to his own rooms he is greeted by strange howling sounds from the bathroom. It takes him a fearful moment to realize that Roars is singing in the bathtub. He is about to go in there and tell his huge friend how entirely disturbing his singing is when is distracted by the ethereal figure of his grandmother coming out of his bedroom.
As always she is wearing flowing, floor length, white robes which look like they have no weight at all which in turn makes it look like she is floating. Her long white hair definitely is floating, forming a wispy cloud behind her. She is a brilliant mage and quite creepy. Now she smiles at Keryn.
"Welcome home, Taraskeryn." She says.
Keryn isn't sure at all what she was doing in his bedroom and he is very sure he doesn't really want to know.
"Thank you." He says cautiously.
His grandmother looks at the closed bathroom door with an enigmatic smile. "Your friend has quite a unique talent." She says and Keryn is very sure she isn't referring to his singing.
"Yes?" he asks, wondering if he needs to defend Roars from his grandmother and how the fuck to do that.
"It will be quite interesting to have him around, I'm sure." She says. And then she leaves.
For a moment Keryn keeps wondering if he should be doing something about her, but then he decides there is not a bloody thing he can do about her at all so he ignores the whole strange visit and instead goes back to his original plan and enters the bathroom.
Roars is sitting in the bathtub and by the clear water Keryn can guess that it's his second one. Currently he is carefully cleaning his claws one by one. Most of his fur is clean already and has changed from dirty brown to quite pleasing, light sand-coloured. His mane is still a mess though.
"Your singing is scary." Keryn tells him with a grin.
Roars snorts. "What did mom say?" he asks, ignoring the insult.
"Mom says I get to keep you." Keryn answers. "I told her you are my friend and she's okay with that so you should be safe for now."
Roars' ears flick with surprise. "Really? That's pretty good then." He tries to run his paw through his mane, gets stuck and starts pulling on it with a curse.
"Let me help." Keryn says and picks up a brush from the cupboard.
He settles behind the bathtub and starts disentangling Roars' impressive mane. There are still a few barnacles stuck near his neck, but Roars has obviously washed it already. Keryn works in silence and Roars goes back to tending his claws.
They both look up when Dusk walks in and yelps in surprise at finding them like this. He looks disapproving and Keryn needs a moment to realize that his pet finds the notion of him doing servant's work inadequate.
Dusk is also carrying a tray with food so Keryn decides to leave that argument for another day. He pats the floor next to him. "Come on, sit." He tells Dusk, who of course obeys.
Keryn hands a sandwich with cold roast to Roars, who settles back in the tub and sighs happily. "I could get used to this service." He says with a grin.
They eat and after a short while Dusk settles against Keryn, accepting the somewhat strange situation. Soon both Roars and Keryn are almost falling asleep, clean and sated as they finally are. Dusk looks almost as sleepy and Keryn wonders if his brother has kept him awake on purpose to torment him.
"I'll sleep on the couch?" Roars suggests.
"Sounds good." Keryn approves. "We'll find you a proper bed or something later."
Keryn moves to his bedroom, gently pushing Dusk in front of him. "You should sleep, too." He tells his hound.
Obediently Dusk fetches the blanket he always sleeps on from Keryn's small dressing room. Sitting on the bed Keryn watches as he carefully spreads the blanket on the floor at the foot of Keryn's bed.
"Would you rather sleep in bed with me?" he asks.
Dusk looks up, frightened, and that is really the last thing Keryn wanted to see on his face.
"I don't know, master." He says. "I might not be of good service tonight. Master Gamdriciriel used me just before you came to reclaim me."
The mere thought makes Keryn shudder. "No," he quickly tries to reassure Dusk, "I didn't mean that. I… I'm much too tired anyway. I meant, would you like to sleep up here with me. It's more comfortable."
Dusk's ears perk up. "Can I?" he asks and suddenly doesn't sound frightened but happy and excited. "Is that allowed?"
"If I say so, it is allowed." Keryn says, taking the easiest way to explain it and holds open his blanket for Dusk.
"Okay… then I would like to…" Dusk quickly climbs into bed with him and after a brief moment of hesitation he tentatively creeps closer, seeking Keryn's embrace.
Keryn really has no clue why Dusk would want to be close to him like that after everything he has done to the beastling, but whatever comfort he can give he will. So he settles Dusk in his arms, with Dusk's head resting on his chest. He gently strokes soft fur and soon Dusk's breathing deepens as he falls asleep.
There are a million things Keryn still wants to think about, but it proves impossible with the warm weight of Dusk against him.
Later in the night he wakes up because that sleepy bundle of fur has turned into a trembling thing, pressed against him not seeking closeness but protection.
"Dusk? What is it?" Keryn asks sleepily because he can detect nothing wrong.
"M… master…?" His beastling asks and tries to get even closer. "That sound… what is that…?"
Keryn's sleepy mind needs a moment to sort out what Dusk could possibly mean, but then he realizes that the content rumbling purr and snore of Roars vibrates through the room and that it would be quite alien to someone who has not heard it before.
"That is just Roars snoring." He reassures Dusk.
"Oh." His hound relaxes almost instantly and in the near dark Keryn can still make out how his ears twitch in annoyance at the fact that he has gotten scared.
"That is nothing really," Keryn tells him with a chuckle, "you should hear his roar."
Dusk nods, snuggling against Keryn. Moments later they drift off to sleep again.
When Keryn wakes up it's still a few hours until sunrise. The family dinner will be held then. Night elves are nocturnal so breakfast is in the evening and dinner is served close to sunrise. Keryn used to keep to that schedule but life on a war ship and then travelling with Roars has thrown his inner clock completely off track.
Dusk is curled up close to him. Keryn's first instinct is to slip out quietly not to wake the beastling but then he remembers Dusk's reaction when he left the bed just for a few minutes to relief himself earlier this night. He found Dusk wide eyed and fearful that he had only dreamed his master's return, when Keryn got back.
Now Keryn leans down to him and gently strokes his ear. "Dusk?"
"Mmh?" the hound sleepily blinks at him, all fuzzy and cute.
"I'll be getting up now." Keryn tells him. "You go on and sleep some more, okay?"
"Yes, master." Dusk sighs happily and when Keryn leaves the bed he snuggles up with the pillow Keryn has just vacated, pressing his snout into it.
It's so easy to make him happy that it seems even more criminal to Keryn that he has never tried. He quietly put on a shirt and his boots and then slips out of the room.
Roars is still snoring and rumbling on the couch so Keryn doesn't disturb him either. He leaves his chambers to pay a visit to the village at the foot of the tower.
This is where the lesser fey live, who work at the estate. Sturdy houses build of stone with thatched roofs, most of them with small garden patches. Along the road leading from the tower to the strider station there are a few shops and a tavern.
Keryn makes his way to the leather worker's shop, who also makes armours, to check whether his can still be mended or if he needs to have a new one made. The Master Thuan is one off the grumpiest Slaigh Keryn has ever met. When he and Keeta and Gorn were just kids they used to play pranks on him. Nowadays Keryn has learned to respect the craftsman.
They have a quick chat about the armour which Dusk dropped off earlier and Master Thuan makes good use of the opportunity to once more explain to Keryn in annoyed detail how he should be taking care of his armour and how he has not been taking care of his armour.
When he comes back to the tower Roars is awake and curiously sniffing the items of clothing Dusk has gotten for him. Simple pants and short sleeved tunics, slave's clothes. But Roars doesn't seem to mind. Still Keryn makes a mental note to get his friend an armour made as well. Maybe they are not heading off to war again straight away, but it is always a good idea to be prepared.
"There you are." Roars greets him as he climbs into his pants. "Are you going to show me your home now?"
"I'd like to, but the family is expecting me to attend dinner first." Keryn explains. "I'll be happy to give you a full tour once that is done with."
Roars grumbles, clearly getting bored already.
"Please wait until I get back." Keryn pleads. "Once everyone at the tower and in the village knows you, you can move around freely. Let's just avoid trouble."
"Oh, well, I guess I can wait a little." Roars consents regally.
Keryn goes to rummage in his wardrobe to find something appropriate to wear. That is one part he really hates about family dinners - dressing up like some pretty elven prince. Quickly Dusk is by his side, rubbing sleep from his eyes, to help. Black velvet and silk with silver embroidery, his hair woven in several braids with tiny pearls. Keryn thinks he looks like an idiot.
So does Roars, judging from his choked laugh when Keryn steps out again. "You look… ridiculous." Roars confirms Keryn's fears.
"I know." Keryn states, none to happy about it.
"I think it's very pretty." Dusk murmurs shyly. And that mollifies Keryn slightly.
When he gets to the dining room only his mother and his nephew are there already. Hanathfyrien is still a boy. Growing up with a father who ignores him and a mother who is always too busy with her social connections to care for him he is quite shy and sweet and always a little lonely. Unlike Keryn was he isn't allowed to go outside and play with lesser fey. Instead he gets locked up with lessons and other boring, dusty tasks.
It's not very surprising that Keryn is the perfect uncle for him.
When Keryn enters the room, Fyrien abandons all manners and instead runs to him with a happy shout. "Uncle Keryn!"
Keryn picks up the boy and gives him a good spin before hugging him. "Hey, little rascal." He greets his nephew even though Fyrien really is an appallingly well behaved child.
"They said you were dead!" Fyrien exclaims angrily. "But I told them no one could kill you!"
His hero worship is quite adorable if a little misplaced. "Seems you were right then." Keryn says with a grin. He sits down at the table and settles the boy on his knee.
"Did you kill many sun elves?" Fyrien asks excitedly.
"A few." Keryn replies. "I fought a huge undead monstrosity." He starts the tale which will probably entertain the boy the most. "It was as tall as a house and had fists as huge a wagon…"
Fyrien listens with rapt attention and they both ignore it when Ceriel walks it and stares at them disapprovingly. He doesn't like it when Keryn 'spoils the kid' which makes Keryn wonder if he for some reason believes no one but himself is allowed to have any fun at all.
The next person to appear is Ceriel's wife, Wandrinath. She reacts with a surprised yelp when she sees Keryn and he realizes that probably no one has gotten around to telling her that he has returned.
He sets Fyrien down to accept her polite embrace. She is actually credibly pretending to be sniffling a little. "It's good to see you alive, Taraskeryn. We were devastated." Then her mind flits to the things that really interest her. "You had a beautiful funeral, though."
"I hope you have given me an impressive tomb." Keryn jokes.
Again Rinath yelps. "The tomb! Has anyone told them we don't need it now?" She looks expectantly at her husband who shrugs.
"I have." Keryn's mother says calmly.
"Oh good." Rinath is all smiles again. "Isn't it wonderful? We had that gorgeous funeral and now we'll have an even more gorgeous wedding!"
Keryn forces his own smile. "I'm sure with you making all the preparations it will be wonderful." He says.
His bride hasn't shown up yet but they still sit at the table since it's time for the first course to be served. Keryn has just enough time to wonder if she will come at all when she finally walks into the room.
For a high elf she is rather short, he notices first. She wears heavy, dark blue velvet gowns, befitting her station. Her hair is a mass of black curls, caught in a silver net embroidered with pearls. She looks like a perfect little elven princess. Much like Keryn looks like a perfect elven prince, he thinks with a healthy dose of sarcasm. She also looks about as happy to meet him as he feels.
She is followed by a huge troll bodyguard who takes up position as unobtrusively as he can against a wall. She really must be paranoid to have the guard come with her everywhere.
His mother nudges Keryn's foot under the table and he gets up to politely greet her.
"Princess Methirana," he bows slightly, "it is an honour to finally meet you."
Her eyes spit fire at him as she forcefully moulds her mouth into a smile. "Likewise." She presses the words out. "It is so nice of your to abandon your precious war for a little while to come see me." There is enough venom in her voice to fell a full grown dragon. No, she definitely doesn't like him.
"Children, please sit." His mother interrupts, before they can start hissing and scratching. "We want to eat."
They both sit down and for a moment there is oppressive silence while they start eating.
Then Rinath starts chattering about the wedding preparations and all the plans she has for that. She pretty much manages to carry the conversation throughout the meal with a few grunted affirmations from Keryn and a few comments from his mother.
The dinner is certainly not a cheerful affair and Keryn silently vows that he will try to avoid them in the future. He only remembered them as being boring but that was before he shared meals with Roars in the wilderness with tales and laughter. He would much prefer to be having a nice meal with Roars and Keeta at the tavern now.
Everyone seems grateful when dessert is served.
His brother has been drinking steady all through dinner. Maybe that is his way of putting up with them. Keryn had hoped to avoid further confrontations with him but apparently his brother really hasn't got the message that Keryn is truly pissed of at him.
"So, I hear you brought home a new pet?" Ceriel drawls, slightly drunk.
Keryn doesn't answer but he notices how his darling bride stiffens at his brother's words.
"I really don't see why you made such a fuss about that little hound of yours." Ceriel continues, oblivious. "After all you now have a new toy to fuck."
Keryn feels his blood run dangerously hot but he somehow manages to keep his calm. "You had no right to take him in the first place." He tells his brother coldly.
"Come on," his Ceriel laughs, "you should be thanking me, really. After all I was just trying to fix him."
"He doesn't need 'fixing'," Keryn hisses, now very close to losing his cool, "he is exactly like I want him to be and you nearly ruined him!"
"Oh," Ceriel snickers, "is he too wide now for your little cock, brother?"
In the very last moment, Keryn manages to suppress his soulblade appearing in his hand to gut his brother. Instead it is just his fist which firmly impacts on Ceriel's nose, breaking it and sending his brother flying backwards with his chair.
Keryn is shaking with rage. Ignoring the startled shouts from the rest of his family he quickly pushes to his feet and hurries out of the room. If he stays, he might still kill Ceriel.
He feels sick with how casually his brother speaks of tormenting a beastling who has never done anything but try to please. So far he has conveniently ignored what his brother is like but now he comes to realize that maybe he will have to do something about him. Ceriel has beastling pets of his own and Keryn's stomach clenches painfully on the food he has just eaten at the thought of what his brother must be doing to those poor creatures.
His mind played him colourful images of that and of his brother raping Dusk. He's not sure if he is going to be sick or if he will storm back into the tower to cut Ceriel open.
Not paying much attention on where he is going he ends up at the water trough outside the tavern in the village. He sinks to his knees next to it and simply dunks his head under water. The cold and not being able to breath help him calm down slowly.
When he comes up for air the tavern keeper, a portly Bagoth, is standing next to him with a concerned frown, holding out a mug filled with beer.
"Do you have something stronger?" Keryn gasps, dragging air back into his lungs.
"Already poured some in." the Bagoth reassures him and Keryn gratefully accepts the mug and drinks deeply.
The alcohol helps.
He settles down with his back against the trough, sipping the drink and wrestling down his murderous rage. Yes, he will have to do something about his brother eventually. But first he'll talk to Roars, who is smarter and calmer than he is.
"Master?" Dusk's voice startles him out of his thoughts. His hound is standing next to him, carrying an arm full of laundry and quite confused at his dishevelled state.
"I'm all right." Keryn reassures him. "I just had a little argument with my brother."
"Oh?" Dusk says, trying not to sound curious.
Keryn smiles up at him. "Yes, I broke his nose."
Dusk's looks shocked with his ears back flat against his skull.
"He said some nasty things about you so I hit him." Keryn explains.
"Well," Dusk is trying very hard not to look smug at that revelation and fails badly, "that is… uh…"
"What he deserved." Keryn finishes for him.
"Hmm." Dusk says not committal.
"I'm sorry for everything he has done to you." Keryn repeats once more.
That brings a bright smile to Dusk's face. "You are much nicer than he is." He says. It's meant to be reassuring, but it sounds damning enough in Keryn's ears for him to dunk his head right back into the trough.
The morning sun makes Roars' fur shine almost like gold, now that he is at long last clean. He draws quite a few appreciative stares from the lesser elves, who do their shopping, now that their high elf masters have retired to bed. That Keryn is still about with his two beastlings doesn't bother anyone. He has always lived more at the village than in the tower.
Most night elves are uncomfortable in direct sunlight, but Keryn only dislikes it when it gets too bright and too hot. Of course his magic is stronger at night; he is a night elf after all. But his soulblade doesn't care whether it is night or day and that is his true talent.
Keryn is showing Roars the village and has invited Dusk to tag along. The hound was quite confused by the request at first. Keryn has never just spent time with him like that. But now he seems to enjoy himself, looking at the shops and lesser elves like he is seeing them for the first time when really he has been to the village countless times. It takes Keryn a while to realize that when Dusk is running errands for him, the beastling doesn't stop to just look at things or people, he hurries along as quickly as possible. When he is not running errands for Keryn he stays in his master's chamber, awaiting orders. Keryn makes a mental note to arrange for free time for Dusk.
Roars stops in front of the smithy, where Master Thiana, the village's resident Slaigh tinkerer shapes all things of metal one can imagine. She is very talented and not quite as grumpy as most Slaigh. She is also Keeta's mother and knows Keryn quite well since he has eaten at her table often enough when he was a boy.
"I really want a knife of my own." Roars states in that voice that brokers no argument. "I'm sick and tired of always borrowing yours. And I really, REALLY want to get rid of these damn shackles!" He holds up his paws for emphasis.
Keryn knows that his friend is even more sick and tired of trying to cut things with his huge monstrosity of a soulblade, but they have agreed to keep the fact that Roars has a blade secret as long a possible. And he entirely agrees on the shackles. But that surely is a problem Master Thiana will be able to help with.
"WOAH!" Thiana exclaims when they enter the shop and she sees Roars. "Keryn! What the fuck is THAT?!" she points at Roars. Like Keeta she is rather short for a Slaigh so she comes up just to Roars' chest and he is at least twice as wide as she is.
Roars smiles at her, carefully hiding his teeth. "Actually, mistress, I'm a he, not an it." He says. "I couldn't help admire the beautiful blades you display in your shop window." He continues, and from him the compliments sound charming instead of cheesy. "I was wondering, if you would allow me to have a look at them?"
"Oh." Thiana squeaks and Keryn is very sure he has never seen her this flustered in a good way. "Well, of course." She adds a little more dignified and then glares at Keryn for reasons he can't fathom.
She shows Roars various of her works, both knives and longer blades and he keeps complimenting her on them. Keryn can only admire how he effortlessly flirts with her. They finally settle on a long, sharp dagger that for Roars' size would make a good knife. Thiana insists on reworking the handle, though, so it will fit Roars' huge paws. They agree on a price without ever consulting Keryn about it and he doesn't mind at all.
Then Roars gets back to the subject of taking off the shackles and Thiana is absolutely delighted to help out her new friend. It doesn't take long and Roars is free of these last tokens of his slave status.
Dusk has remained outside the shop, sitting on the doorstep, alternating between watching people pass by and closing his eyes and stretching his head up so the sun shines right on his face.
"You should get him something nice as well." Roars suggests, after he has concluded his talk with Thiana and while they are still inside and out of Dusk's hearing range.
Keryn agrees. He has no idea what the hound might like, though." Any suggestions?" he asks his personal fond of wisdom.
"You could get him a new fur brush." Roars of course has a good idea. "He is still using the one he had when you originally got him. It's pretty much nothing more than a wooden paddle now…"
They pick up Dusk and then head over to the general store. "Come inside with us, please." Keryn tells Dusk when he wants to settle outside again.
He quickly checks through the shelves and finds where the tools for beastling care are kept. Since the estate has quite a few beastling slaves there are plenty of supplies. Dusk curiously watches as Keryn picks up different brushes to look at them. Then he finds one he likes and beckons Dusk to come closer. He gently runs the brush over the fur on his hound's shoulder and smiles as Dusk makes a small happy sound.
"Do you like this one?" he asks.
Now Dusk blinks at him in confusion.
"I want to get a new brush for you." Keryn explains patiently. From the quick, surprised glance over to where Roars is standing Keryn can guess that Dusk thought the brush was to be for Roars. "No, it's for you." He confirms.
"Oh, it's very nice, master." Dusk smiles and Keryn notices approvingly that he doesn't complain that he doesn't need anything for himself.
"Is there anything else you would like to have?" Keryn asks. "A new blanket, maybe?"
Now Dusk looks fearful and Keryn can almost imagine him clutching his old blanket protectively when he says: "But I like my old blanket…"
Keryn smiles at him reassuringly. "Then you get to keep it, of course." He really needs more practice in figuring out what Dusk likes. He pays for the brush and then gives it to Dusk who carries it like some sort of treasure. At least Keryn got this right, apparently.
They have just left the shop when Keeta leaves her mother's smithy and waves at them. She is now off duty and has exchanged her riding leathers and cap for more comfortable pants and tunic. Keryn thinks she looks quite pretty for a Slaigh. She is outside so much that her skin isn't stark white but just pale, and lanky grey hair is cut short to fit under her riding cap and therefore doesn't hang down quite as limply as Slaigh hair usually does. And the fact that she is so short makes her look not quite as gaunt.
"Hey," she greets them, "I was just heading over to the tavern for a beer. Are you joining me?"
That sounds entirely perfect after the family dinner. Keryn nods and Roars growls approvingly at the thought of beer.
The tavern is located halfway between the tower and the strider station. It's the largest building in the village since it offers rooms for travellers as well as food and drinks for the local lesser elves. Behind the house there a large yard with huge, ancient trees spending shade to the tables and benches places under them. It's a wonderful place to sit, have a beer and chat. Many of the lesser elves come here after their work shift to hang out.
Keryn, Keeta and Roars find an empty table and settle there. Keryn wouldn't mind Dusk sitting on a bench as well but his hound seems much more comfortable sitting on the ground, leaning against the elf's leg with his snout comfortably resting on Keryn's thigh. Almost of their own accord Keryn's hands drifts down and starts scratching the nape of Dusk's neck. The beastling looks so blissfully happy and relaxed Keryn can't begrudge him this, even though it feels slightly wrong to treat him like a mindless pet.
"So." Keeta says, once all three of them have a mug of beer and taken a first draught. "What's up with you?" She gestures with her mug in Roars' general direction.
"What's up with me?" Roars asks back with a grin.
"How did you and Keryn meet?" Keeta specifies her question. "I mean, he is known to associate with lesser species but you must be a new low."
Roars laughs loudly at the joke clearly directed more against Keryn than him and Keeta. "We met on the battlefield." He then explains. "There I was, happily bashing undead thingies and he walks out of the smoke and lends a hand…"
Keryn listens as Roars launches into his version of the battle against the giant monstrosity and he has to admit Roars tells it with a lot more flair than he did himself, when he told it to his nephew earlier. With his booming voice and huge paws gesturing the beastling just makes a great storyteller. With a little smile Keryn notices that Dusk's ears have perked up and he is listening avidly, even though his eyes remain closed.
"…and then he invited me to come home with him." Roars concludes his tale. Then he eyes Keeta curiously. "Can I ask you something now?"
"Sure." Keeta shrugs and drinks more beer.
"Are you really a Slaigh?" Roars asks and Keeta almost spits her beer back into her mug.
"Excuse me?!" she bristles at the beastling, who raises his paws in a pacifying manner.
"I was just wondering because you look so different from all the Slaigh I know." He explains.
Keryn hides his grin behind his beer mug. He knows that Keeta considers herself quite ugly because of her somewhat coloured skin.
Keeta glares at Roars. "Yes, I am a Slaigh." She states angrily.
Roars shrugs good naturedly. "Okay. It's just you're the first pretty Slaigh I've ever seen."
Now Keeta just sits there open mouthed and Keryn can't help but laugh, which earns him a hard kick against his shin from Keeta, but then she laughs as well.
"Next question." She shifts her attention to Keryn. "You broke your brother's nose during dinner?!"
Keryn groans and drops his head on the table. So the news has already made the rounds. "Yes." His reply is somewhat muffled.
"Why?" The faked innocence in Keeta's voice is not very credible.
"Because he is an asshole?" Keryn goes for the obvious explanation.
"Yeah, well. We've all known that for a long time." Keeta snorts. "But why now?"
Keryn decides that the table is too hard to rest upon and picks himself up again. "I kind of snapped when he talked about Dusk." He tries to explain.
"Oh." Now Keeta looks at the hound who is still curled up against Keryn's leg. "Well, that's a good reason, I guess. Was about time someone beat the crap out of him anyway."
That gets her a raised eyebrow from Keryn. "I didn't know you hated him that much?" he asks.
Keeta wrinkles her thin nose in distaste. "Really, Keryn? Why do you think I have always asked whether your brother will be there when you invited me to anything and declined if he was?"
"Hm." Now that he thinks about that makes a lot of sense.
"I mean, seriously." Keeta exclaims. "That asshole is the reason I wasn't allowed to train for the position as wyvern rider!"
That is news to Keryn. "I didn't even know you wanted to do that." He says, frowning at her.
She has the good grace to look chagrined. "Yeah, well. I never told you. He didn't want to grant me the training because we are friends and he thinks I'm having a bad influence on you. So he told me I could train, if I stopped talking to you."
"He didn't!" Keryn looks at her in shocked rage.
Keeta studies the bottom of her beer mug.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?!" Keryn isn't really sure what he is most angry about here. "I could have talked to mother!"
"Because you getting involved in it wouldn't have helped." She says calmly. "He decides who gets what training. End of story. And I don't want you running to your mom like a little boy." She sighs. "Strider pilot is perfectly fine. Just let it be."
Keryn fumes silently. It seems the more attention he pays to his brother the more things surface that make him wonder if he maybe should have gutted him after all.
They drink more beer in silence and the earlier good mood doesn't really come back. In the end they split up with Keeta going to sleep, Dusk heading back to the tower and Keryn and Roars heading out to the woods.
"I think you are doing pretty well with Dusk, now."
Keryn and Roars have been walking among the old trees of the woods surrounding the tower for a while now in silence, so Roars sudden words come as a surprise to Keryn.
"Really? I feel like I am still treating him too much like an animal." Keryn says uncertainly.
"Rubbish." Roars snorts. "He IS a hound beastling and traits of the animal always carry over to the beastling form. He needs someone he can cling to, that's only natural. That someone should treasure his devotion and loyalty of course. As long as you do that, you're doing great."
Keryn tries to wrap his mind around the fact that maybe Dusk's really actually does like sitting on the floor, resting his head against Keryn's leg. He did look happy. It just seems too alien to Keryn. But Roars would know much more about beastlings and if he says Keryn is doing good, then maybe he is.
"You do realize that you'll have to fuck him soon?" Roars interrupts his thoughts and Keryn stumbles at the notion.
"You have to fuck him. I mean, as soon as he has mentally recovered from your brother's attention, that is." Roars says.
Keryn stares at him in a mix of confusion and horror. "You can't be serious!"
Now Roars frowns. "Of course I'm serious. If you don't, he'll think that you don't want him anymore. Probably even that you are disgusted with him now that your brother has used him. He'll be devastated."
"But… no!" Keryn waves his hands in a futile attempt so ward such ideas away. "That's not it at all. I just… he doesn't even like it when I use him! How can you ask me to do that to him?!"
"Right." Roars stops and gently but firmly grabs Keryn's shoulders and steadies him. "Maybe then it would be a good idea not to 'use him' but have good old awesome sex with him. You know, make it good for him. You do know how to do that, don't you? I mean, you have had normal sex, not just raped beastlings?"
The calm care in Roars words is plain infuriating.
"Of course I have had normal sex!" Keryn growls.
Roars grins and Keryn realizes his friend was just teasing. "Well then, I don't see the problem. You really owe this to Dusk."
He is right. And it's not like it's a huge sacrifice. The memory of Dusk's warm fur against his skin when they slept in Keryn's bed last night is quite enticing. Suddenly Keryn finds himself wondering what it will be like when Dusk's enjoys it, what sounds he will make. It's quite distracting.
Roars' grin grows wider and Keryn can see that he knows exactly what is going through Keryn's mind.
"Bastard." He grumbles. "So how do I know when he is ready?"
"I'll tell you." Roars says.
"And how do you know when he's ready?" Keryn asks, honestly curious.
Roars taps his nose with one claw and grins some more.
"Damn. That's handy." Keryn laughs.
"Now that we've cleared that matter, let's talk about something a little more important." Roars says. "Don't get me wrong, I enjoy your hospitality, but in the long run, what are your plans?"
"Plans?" Keryn asks back, even though he has a pretty good idea what Roars really wants to know.
The huge beastling growls at him, annoyed. "Yeah, plans. I mean, you can't sit on your ass and twiddle your thumbs indefinitely, can you?"
Keryn shrugs. "It's pretty much what I did with my life before I went off to war." He explains. Though he agrees with Roars, in retrospect that wasn't exactly fulfilling. "What are your plans, then?" he asks Roars.
Now it's Roars' turn to shrug. "I'm not sure. Honestly? I want to start a huge beastling rebellion and give us the freedom we deserve. But what are the chances of that succeeding?"
"Low." Keryn agrees with a grin. "But it does sound like something worthwhile doing. And there must be a reason why fate has given you a soulblade and a night elf champion to work with. I'm sure you'll make an awesome hero in the tales sung about you, the liberator of the beastling people."
Roars frowns at him for a moment but then his face splits in a huge, teeth-filled grin. "What makes you think I'm the hero? Maybe it's your fate?"
"Well, you are the unique beastling with the soulblade." Keryn supplies. "I'm just some regular elf you picked up along the way."
"Not that regular, if you truly want to help me with this." Roars says and now he is smiling.
"I do want to help." Keryn thinks for a moment. "Maybe not with an all out rebellion. But after seeing what my brother did to Dusk just for fun I agree that something needs to be done about the status of beastlings."
"Coming from you, that sounds surprisingly sensible." Roars teases.
"Yeah, well, I expect you to come up with a brilliant plan. After all you seem to be the smart one in this team." Keryn teases right back.
Roars nods, serious again. "I will try. Do you have a library back at the tower? I would like to read up on history and current laws regarding beastlings."
He definitely is the smart one, Keryn thinks. "Yes, I think we have a library. Not that I've actually ever been there." He says. "But I'm sure we can find it later. Now I have a suggestion: since you have only just discovered your soulblade I think it would be a good idea to put in some training."
"Hm. Won't that be rather risky?" Roars asks. "I mean, not just that we might be discovered but also that I might cleave you in two."
"The only thing you can parry a soulblade with is another soulblade." Keryn explains. "So it would be good training for me, too. I've rarely had the chance to train with another champion. And I can assure you it will be quite a while until you will be able to actually hit me. I am better at this than you. As for getting caught, we could train out here in the woods. There are ruins of an old guard house down this path where no one ever goes. We should be undisturbed there."
"Sounds good." Roars rolls his massive shoulders. "I could really use some exercise."
When they get back to the tower it's late afternoon already.
Their sparring has been long, hard, brutal and very satisfying. They each sport some impressive bruises and neither of them minds.
After they were done they went for a swim in the lake near the crumbled guard house. On their way back to the tower they stopped at the tavern. After so much exercise they were more than hungry.
Now they both feel rather peaceful and slightly drowsy. Still Roars insists they go looking for the library before they retire. They find it on a lower level of the tower. It actually takes up that whole level which explains why Keryn has never entered but just passed it by on the stairs leading further up. Book shelves cover the whole round of the outer tower walls and also form a maze of hoarded knowledge in the actual room.
"Hello, anybody there?" Keryn calls from the safety of the doorway.
It takes a little while and then a rotund, old Bagoth in heavy grey robes emerges from the depth of the shelves. Keryn is reasonable sure he has never seen this one before. He blinks at Keryn with much the same expression of confusion.
"Erh… young Master Taraskeryn…?" he asks, clearly not sure if he has the right person.
"Yes, that's me." Keryn says and smiles brightly while the Bagoth looks up at Roars with a frown of deep suspicion. "My friend Roars here would like to look at some books." Keryn explains.
Now the Bagoth's expression turns to outright horror, but before he can voice his objection Roars already takes over.
"Do you have Sonathiel's 'History of the Elven Nations' and 'Torn Asunder - A close look at Day and Night'?" he asks and now the Bagoth looks like Roars' has suddenly sprouted butterfly wings. "I'd also like a look at your law section." Roars adds, carefully smiling without showing any teeth.
"Uhm… sure…" the Bagoth says, looking at Keryn again for confirmation, who smiles approvingly.
"But you must be really careful with those books, they are very expensive." The Bagoth tells Roars while leading him back into the book shelf maze.
"Of course." Roars reassures him. "I promise I will treat your books with utmost care."
"I'll see you later back home?" Keryn calls after them and Roars waves an affirmative in his direction before he disappears behind a shelf.
Keryn returns to his chambers where he finds an excited Dusk with a message from his mother who apparently has gotten up quite early just to make sure she gets a chance to talk to him. Likely, she more wants a chance to thoroughly scold him for his behaviour at dinner. But of course there is no point in trying to delay it so Keryn makes his way to his mother's suite again.
This time she is already fully dressed and awaits him in all her regal greatness. The deep frown on her brow tells Keryn that she is indeed not happy with her sons fighting.
"I expect you will have a very good reason for your earlier performance." She says icily.
For a moment Keryn feels like a little boy again who has come home with torn clothes and dirty and bruised from brawling with the troll kids. But then he reminds himself that he is not that boy anymore and that he indeed had very good reason to punch his brother and in fact showed amazing restraint in only breaking his nose and not his neck.
"I think the fact that Ceriel was making fun of the fact that he has cruelly mistreated my beastling was reason enough. What he does to his beastling pets is despicable." Keryn says calmly and his mother raises an eyebrow in surprise. "I managed not to draw my blade and cut him open instead of just punching him so as far as I can see dinner went pretty well."
"Well," his mother says and carefully rearranges the wide sleeves of her robes, "I agree that his conduct is getting out of hand."
Now it's Keryn's turn for a raised eyebrow. He really hadn't expected her to agree with him.
"You can rest assured that I will have words with your brother as well." She continues. "He really had no right to simply take your hound without ever checking back with me. I'm sorry the little guy got hurt. Is he all right now?"
That is certainly much more care than his mother has ever before displayed for a beastling, but then Keryn has never before talked about such matters with her. After all he hasn't treated Dusk too well either. Then again the beastlings working for the estate are all treated fairly so maybe his mother is a much nicer elf than he or his brother have been.
"He's okay." Keryn answers. "He's a little rattled but I've healed his bruises and I…" He needs a moment to find the right words. "I care for him." He finally says.
His mother smiles quite fondly. "I like hearing that, Taraskeryn." she approves. "Now, please try to avoid further strife with your brother. Understood?"
"Yes, mother." Keryn agrees dutifully.
"Now to the other subject I wanted to talk to you about. Rinath will arrange a little tea time meeting for you and your bride so you will have a chance to get to know each other at least a little before you get married."
Now Keryn groans. He is pretty sure this is a very bad idea.
His mother raises a warning finger. "Yes, you will talk to each other like civilized beings. I insist."
"Yes, mother." Keryn says, this time with even less enthusiasm. "And when will the happy occasion take place?"
"In a few days." His mother says with a little smile. "You know what Rinath is like. Such things take time to make them as perfect as she wants them." Then she dismisses him graciously.
When he gets back to his chambers, Roars is back as well. He has taken residence in the guest room Keryn has never used. He is lying on the bed surrounded by various books. A huge fruit is speared on one claw and he is gnawing on it while reading. He looks quite happy and waves Keryn a good night, fully absorbed in his reading.
Tired from the eventful day Keryn goes to bed as well with Dusk who crawls under his blanket again and allows Keryn to stroke his fur until they both fall asleep.
The next few days pass quite peacefully. They fall into a routine of getting up around midday, spending the afternoon in the woods training, eating at the tavern with Keeta when she comes off duty and then spending about half of the night on their own.
Roars is reading voraciously. So far he has only been able to read when he could scrounge books from his masters. Now that he has free pick of everything available at the library, he gobbles down everything he can get his paws on. He also likes to talk about his new found knowledge. Some of it interests Keryn, some of it goes right over his head. He's just never really been the thinking type and politics and philosophy are not his thing.
Keryn takes up hanging out with the troll guards again. He is, after all, the family's champion and protection of the estate and overseeing the training of the guards is his job. Not that the estate needs any protection or the trolls any training. But it is fun to glare intimidating at high elf traders or dignitaries who come through.
When the day comes where Keryn is scheduled to meet his bride for tea, he nearly manages to forget all about it. Luckily, Dusk is there to remind him. The beastling has once more laid out a pretty elf prince costume for his master when Keryn comes back from training and dinner with Roars. Neither the outfit nor the fact that he has to spend time with the elf princess please Keryn, but it is unavoidable. So he steels himself and decides to just get done with it.
He has to admit that Rinath has set up a beautiful spot for their little date on a balcony high up the tower where they will have a beautiful view over the valley. Rinath is there already when Keryn arrives and immediately starts telling him about all the little details he should pay attention to when courting an elf princess.
Keryn listens patiently, ignoring the fact that he isn't courting the girl, after all they are already betrothed and he wouldn't want to court her if they weren't. He half hopes that Rinath will stay with them and take care of all the chatter so he won't have to actually talk to his bride, but she giddily informs him that she will leave them alone to 'get close'. With a little giggle she also expressly reminds him not to punch his bride. At least she doesn't seem to mind much that Keryn has broken her husband's nose.
Then Princess Methirana arrives with her troll bodyguard in tow. She looks about as happy at seeing Keryn as he feels at seeing her, but Keryn puts on a polite smile and so does she.
Rinath, on the other hand, is quite displeased with the fact that the troll does not budge from his place near the balcony door even though she is glaring at him for all that she's worth. Keryn isn't that surprised. After all, he now has a reputation of punching people.
They are settled at opposite sides of the tiny tea table and then Rinath flitters away wishing both of them a wonderful time.
For a while they just sit there, both of them sipping tea and picking at the tiny snacks.
Finally it is Keryn who decides that they will not exchange a single word if he keeps searching for something witty to say. So he just asks the first thing that comes to his mind: "So, you're from the capital?"
Her look over the tea cup is icy. "Yes." She says.
"So what is life like there?" he tries to keep the conversation from immediately dying of cold.
Irana opens her mouth to say something, but then the troll in the back clears his throat and her mouth snaps shut again and she instead glares into her tea cup.
Keryn looks over at the troll in irritation, trying to figure out what that little exchange was all about but the troll doesn't meet his eye.
"Right." He says, at a loss.
"So you are a war hero?" The princess asks, before he can ask her about the troll.
Keryn shrugs. "I guess."
"Killed a whole lot of people, I bet." Irana continues with an unhealthy dose of venom in her voice.
She obviously doesn't approve of the war which is actually a fact that would make her more likeable if she wasn't so fucking hostile, Keryn thinks. He shouldn't let it bother him, but it does.
"Yes, I killed a few." He says, trying to stay calm.
Irana somehow manages to smirk disgustedly and Keryn reminds himself he is not allowed to punch her.
"At least I do something." He growls at her. "What have you ever done with your life apart from spending your parents' money on pretty clothes?"
She is bristling at his accusation and opens her mouth for a sharp reply but is again interrupted by the troll with a stern. "Mistress!"
Now Keryn is more than a little irritated. "What the fuck?!" he addresses the troll angrily.
"It's none of your business!" Irana hisses.
The troll shifts uncomfortably on his feet. "I'm so sorry, young master." he says, still refusing to meet Keryn's eye.
That does it. "So you're so much of a bitch you aren't allowed to talk about it?" Keryn snaps at Irana.
Moments later he finds himself with a face full of hot tea as his sweet bride has thrown her cup at him. Luckily it's not hot enough to scald. Irana obviously is quite ready to launch herself after that cup, but before she gets to do so the troll is already behind her, wrapping powerful arms around her and lifting her up, very effectively restraining her.
Keryn stares at the display of his hissing, scratching, cursing bride held aloft by a tormented looking troll. Suddenly he understands that the troll isn't Irana's bodyguard, he's there to protect everyone else from her.
Strangely enough, the tea has calmed him considerably.
"I'm so very, very sorry!" The toll repeats, struggling to control his furious mistress. "Mistress needs to rest now." And with that he turns and carries her off the balcony.
Their cosy little date hasn't lasted longer than a few minutes and Keryn feels slightly sorry for all the effort Rinath has put into it. Luckily, she is nowhere to be seen. With a sigh Keryn pushes to his feet. Maybe this would be a good moment to try and reason with his mother again, Keryn thinks, as he makes his way back to his chambers. Maybe she won't force him to marry a violent mad woman.
"Back already?" Roars asks surprised from the couch, when Keryn walks in.
"Yeah," Keryn says and starts stripping out of his pretty elf prince costume, "she threw tea at me and then yelled at me."
Roars lowers his book and smirks at Keryn full of teeth. "Night elf mating habits are so fascinating." He says and Keryn laughs.
"No really," he then says, "that woman is quite mad, if you ask me."
Roars snorts. "I'm sure you said something to get her that angry." He states.
"I may have called her a bitch." Keryn admits. "But she hated me anyway." He grabs the comfortable leather pants and simple shirt he had been wearing earlier and puts them back on. "I mean, she really, really seems to despise the fact that I fought in the war." He explains, slightly muffled through the shirt as he is pulling it over his head.
"Well, does she dislike you fighting in it or the war in general?" Roars asks quite sensibly.
"She didn't say, but I am willing to bet that it's the war in general." Keryn says, now removing jewellery from his hair to put it back into a simple braid.
"Okay…" Roars thoughtfully scratches one of his ears. "But isn't that a good thing? I mean, it's something you have in common, right?"
"Hnpf." Keryn plops down on the couch next to Roars and steals a tiny honey cake from his plate. "I guess it would be, if she didn't hate me so much. I mean, she doesn't know what I think about the war or anything for that matter and I have no clue what goes through her pretty little head since that blasted troll doesn't let her talk about anything."
"Troll?" Roars prods.
"Oh, right," Keryn takes a bite out of the cake and continues with a full mouth, "I haven't told you about the troll. She has a troll bodyguard who apparently is there to make sure she doesn't hurt anybody."
Roars crunches his nose up. "Maybe it would help if you talked to her without the troll then?" he suggests. "I mean, it's not like she can hurt you, right?"
Keryn thoughtfully licks honey from his fingers. "You know, that might actually be really interesting." He agrees. "I guess, I would have to sneak into her suite somehow." He ponders the idea and then gets up. "She's a few levels higher than us but I think I could climb down to her balcony from even higher. And I can be sure she'll be home now."
Of course that is an entirely indecent and inappropriate thing to do, but it sounds like fun and Keryn has never been able to resist getting into mischief.
"Have fun!" Roars calls after him as he heads out again.
Keryn has been climbing all over the tower ever since he was a little boy, much to his whole family's horror. It was one of the reasons his grandmother taught him the spell to reduce his body weight really early. It takes only a little snooping around to find out in exactly which guest suite the Princess is - the one with the troll guarding the door. Then it takes a little planning to figure out which balcony to climb down from.
Soon enough, Keryn securely lands on Irana's balcony and politely knocks on the door, curiously gazing through the inlaid glass panes. He has to knock twice before he is noticed, but then his sweet bride draws a wicked looking dagger from the folds of her heavy robes and glares at Keryn through the door.
Keryn grins back at her insolently and makes a point of knocking again, very politely. It takes a moment for the fact to sink in that if he had wanted to attack her, surely he wouldn't have knocked, but then she looks very satisfyingly embarrassed and her dagger disappears back into the depth of her robes.
She opens the door cautiously and greets him with an annoyed: "What?!"
Roars might be the king of disarming smiles, but Keryn's isn't that bad either and he puts it on now. "I wanted to apologize for calling you a bitch." He says. "And I thought we might make a new effort at getting to know each other without the prying eyes of that awesome troll of yours."
Now she gaps at him in obvious surprise and then studies him with sudden curiosity. "You look different." She states and Keryn realizes that so far she has only seen him in that ridiculous elf prince costume.
"Yeah, well. I prefer not being dressed up." He explains.
Irana scrunches up her face and for a moment Keryn wonders, if he has said something stupid again but then she says: "Some of us aren't given that choice."
Suddenly smiling comes very easy. "Well, I promise that you won't have to dress up for me once we get that wedding business done."
For the first time there is a tiny bit of warmth in her blue eyes. "Uhm… I guess I should say I'm sorry I threw that tea at you… but I'm really not."
"Yeah, well, about that…" Keryn eyes her curiously, "I'm not sure why exactly you hate me so much. After all you don't even know me."
"You're a killer?" she suggests with some venom returning to her voice.
"Actually, I'm not a killer." Keryn says kindly. "I have killed very few people in that war and trust me, I despise it much more than you do, having seen it first hand."
Now Irana frowns. "Yeah, but you beat up your own brother when he makes jokes about your tiny dick." She tries a new angle.
"No." A tiny growl creeps into Keryn's voice and Irana takes a cautious step backwards. "I beat up my brother because he is a sick bastard who tortured and raped my beastling and he was damn lucky I didn't kill him for that!"
Irana snorts. "But you did bring home another beastling slave from your conquests." She accuses.
"Roars is my friend." Keryn says. "Not my slave. He is a guest in this house."
Apparently now Irana is out of objections as she blinks at him in surprise. "Really?"
"Yes, really." Keryn confirms. "My turn for a question: Why is that troll here with you, guarding everyone from you and making sure you don't speak out of turn?"
He is surprised when Irana grins at him brightly. "Because I was arrested while attending a meeting of the beastling underground in the capital where we were discussing ways to get more rights for beastlings and possible rebellion." She answers. "And after my parents bailed me out, they decided that marrying me off to a war hero would be the perfect way to get me under control."
Keryn needs a while to process that but then he grins back at her. "I have a feeling we might get along better than we thought." He says. "And you should meet Roars. You share many interests."
"I don't think my troll will let me out of here again before the wedding." Irana says unhappily and gestures at her suite.
Keryn shrugs. "It's not that much longer until the wedding." He says and suddenly he finds himself looking forward to it. "Then you can do whatever I please." He adds with a grin and is happy when her eyes flash cold fire at him and then suddenly soften as she laughs.
"Maybe this won't be so bad after all." She admits.
"Maybe we can even be friends." Keryn says and the thought is quite exhilarating. Who would have guessed one could be friends with a wife.
"You're kidding me, right?" Roars lowers his book and blinks at Keryn, who grins back at him.
"Nope, that's what she said. She is some kind of pro beastling freedom rebellion member." Keryn repeats.
Roars mix of a frown and confusion is rather cute. "That is… I mean, really…" This is the first time Keryn has ever seen the beastling lacking for words.
"I told you, fate has great plans for you." Keryn isn't entirely teasing anymore about it. This is just a little too unlikely to be mere coincidence. Maybe Roars is really fated to free his people from slavery. And if he is, Keryn will do his best to help his friend. It sure is a worthier cause than fighting in a ridiculous war where neither side can explain anymore what exactly they are fighting about.
Roars takes a moment to gather his thoughts. "So what exactly are these rebels doing?" he then asks, a lot more composed again.
"I have no idea. We didn't discuss that in detail." Keryn says. "I think you can ask her yourself once we are married. She is quite eager to meet you."
"Is she now?" Roars smoothes his mane back in a very cat like grooming gesture. "Well, I'll be curious to meet her, too." Then Roars yawns, showing his impressive amount of teeth. They have stayed up long tonight, so Keryn could attend that date with his bride. "I'm heading off to bed." Roars says and gets up. "But you still have something to take care of."
"I do?" Keryn asks surprised.
Roars grins. "Indeed. Dusk needs your attention."
For a moment Keryn has no idea what Roars means, but then he gets it. "Oh… uh… okay…"
"Do I need to draw you a map?" Roars asks, his grin getting wider.
Keryn sticks his tongue out at him in an entirely childish gesture. "No, thank you, I think I can manage on my own."
Despite the fact that thinking and planning aren't his strongest virtues, Keryn has spent some time considering how best to do this. He doesn't want to use Dusk again, he wants this to be a new start for them, something that his hound will enjoy and not something he sees as another duty. Luckily he knows one thing Dusk definitely likes so he has a point to start from.
When Dusk joins him in bed a few minutes later, Keryn is waiting for him with the new fur brush. The beastling blinks at him in surprise when Keryn gently pushes him on his belly but he doesn't complain at all when Keryn starts brushing his back in long strokes. If he was a cat he would be purring now, as it is he makes tiny happy grunts whenever Keryn touch a spot he especially likes.
Almost by itself Keryn's other hand starts to follow the path of the brush, marvelling at the shiny, soft fur. Keryn once more wonders why he has never taken pleasure in this before. He really was a short sighted, dumb elf kid.
He leans down and nuzzles Dusk's ears, where his fur is even softer. Dusk turns his head and looks at Keryn his big brown eyes, his expression relaxed, hopeful and - yes - loving. His long snout is not really made for kissing, but it is very good for nuzzling and rubbing against each other. Dusk rolls onto his back and Keryn notices quite pleased that his beastling is reacting favourably to this new kind of treatment. Dusk is quite hard and Keryn is reasonably sure that is not an effect he has ever had on his hound.
Curiously Keryn studies Dusk's cock closer. Long and slender and flushed a deep red, nestled in a patch of thick black fur it looks decidedly different than an elf's organ, but when he experimentally runs his fingers over it, it feels just as silky smooth and Dusk moans, letting his head fall back and presenting his throat in a gesture of surrender.
For a little while Keryn teases him with soft touches, but when he is just about to take him in hand more firmly, Dusk interrupts him.
"Master? Can I try something?"
Now that definitely is new. Dusk has never taken any sort of initiative and Keryn counts that as a good sign. "What would you like to try?" he asks.
"Master Gamdriceriel was very unhappy when I couldn't provide him with a proper blowjob so he taught me a new trick." Dusk explains eagerly, his ears perking up.
Keryn very much feels like punching his brother again. He can well imagine that 'teaching a new trick' must have involved quite a bit of pain on Dusk's end. It's not the beastling's fault that his long snout is rather unsuited for swallowing a cock, but that will not have stopped Ceriel from blaming him.
"I don't know," Keryn says, unsure, "I don't want you to do anything my brother forced you to do."
He is reassured when Dusk smiles. "I didn't like doing it for him." He says, and snuggles closer against Keryn. "But I would very much like to try in on you."
Now Keryn's curiosity is getting the better of him, so he stretches on his back, offering himself to whatever Dusk has planned. "I'm all yours then." He says, smiling back at his hound.
He is still wearing his pants and Dusk now makes quick work of helping his master out of them. Keryn's own cock is just as hard as Dusk's despite the fact that he hasn't touched it once or even paid much attention to himself. Just the sight of his beastling all hot, the feel of his soft fur and the earthy animal smell has done the trick easily.
Dusk takes a moment to study him and Keryn can read in his expressive face that he quite likes what he sees. It's hard to reconcile the fact how badly he has been treating Dusk before with how much his beastling still seems to adore him. But Keryn reminds himself of Roars explanation that loyalty and a need for a master is simply part of what a hound is and that the best thing he can do for the Dusk is to be a caring, loving master who actually deserves that loyalty.
Then Dusk leans down and cautiously nuzzles Keryn's cock. He keeps his eyes turned up to Keryn to carefully monitor his reactions, obviously trying to make sure he doesn't do something wrong. He has been smacked often enough for just licking Keryn's hand so it's a little miracle he even dares this much.
Keryn smiles at him and gently lays his hand on Dusk's neck, caressing and scratching him, trying to signal his approval in every way possible. He is relieved when he feels Dusk's tense muscles relax under his fingers and the beastling now fully concentrates on what he is doing.
At first it's just a few tentative licks, but then he gains confidence and his long, agile tongue wraps around Keryn's cock in a most unusual and plain exciting way. It's not the tight heat of a blowjob or a fuck but a hard to pinpoint slide of wetness and sensation that is surprisingly pleasurable. Soon enough Keryn finds himself shifting restlessly, though, as his cock demands more friction and something to thrust into. It's a very nice warm up, though, he has to give his brother credit for that.
Dusk has noticed his mounting lust and looks back up at him now. He is so pretty and so sweet and Keryn wants him so much. But this is supposed to be good for Dusk. So he is not going to simply take what he wants again.
"Did you like it, master?" Dusk asks hopefully.
Keryn nods and gently pulls his hound up to him by the scruff of his neck. "Yes, that was quite nice." He says, and goes back to nuzzling him in their version of kissing.
"Would you like to fuck me now?" Dusk offers, and he is actually sounding just as hopeful as on his previous question. That makes things a lot easier.
"I would very much like to." Keryn answers with a small laugh, pressing their two bodies together so their erections rub against each other.
Dusk gasps at the sensation and impatiently squirms in Keryn's embrace. Roars was right after all, he really wants and needs this, Keryn realizes.
"How do you want me, master?" Dusk asks, slightly breathless.
Of course Keryn knows perfectly well what Dusk is asking, but Keryn still replies with the first thing that runs through his head: "Happy."
"Oh." Dusk says softly and when he looks at Keryn his eyes are indeed shining with happiness. "Well…" He eyes his master thoughtfully. "Can I… would you let me ride you…?"
So far it has really only ever been Dusk on his knees and Keryn fucking him from behind, Dusk is a hound after all and for reasons Keryn really can't fathom anymore now, it seemed appropriate to him. He never cared whether that was good or comfortable for Dusk, but apparently it's not what his beastling wants.
"Still all yours." Keryn says and reluctantly allows Dusk to leave his embrace so he can sit up, kneeling over his master.
He is beautiful, Keryn thinks. He watches lean muscles work under sleek black fur as Dusk leans over to fetch a pot of salve from the nightstand, which Keryn put there earlier. At least he has never taken his beastling without proper preparation. Well, almost never. There might have been a few drunken incidents Keryn doesn't clearly recall anymore. Certainly none he wants to think about right now.
Keryn wonders, if maybe he should be the one doing this, but his hands are batted away playful when he tries. Then Dusk reaches behind himself and Keryn is treated to the amazing sight of his beastling closing his eyes and his lean body tensing and relaxing as he starts to stretch himself. It takes Keryn's breath away and he twists his fists in the sheets to keep himself from grabbing this wonderful creature. He wants to touch him so badly but he knows that he won't be able to control himself. Waiting and watching is sweetest torture as Keryn's own cock is throbbing hard and demanding between his legs.
Finally Dusk's eyes open again and he smiles down at Keryn as he gently takes a hold of his master's cock. Keryn can't help but jerk up against him and that makes Dusk chuckle, low in his throat. He is definitely enjoying this and that makes it even better to Keryn.
His breath comes in short, hard gasps as he watches Dusk raise himself above him and then Keryn groans as his beastling lowers himself onto his cock, tight and hot and perfect. His eyes want to slip shut at the intense sensation, but he forces them to remain open, to savour the expression on Dusk's face, his head bend back slightly, exposing his throat, his snout open with his tongue lolling out just a bit, his ears twitching nervously.
Then Keryn is fully inside and he feels Dusk silky tail thump excitedly against his legs and that is so unexplainably hot. Unable to keep his hands off Dusk anymore, he grabs at his hips, pressing them together just a little more. Dusk's soft whine is definitely more pleasure than pain, but Keryn manages to stay still, to give his hound the time he might need to adjust. With each thump of Dusk's tail his muscles contract around Keryn, but he wants, needs, more than that. So badly needs to fuck Dusk.
It feels like an eternity suspended in agonizing pleasure before Dusk slowly lifts himself up and starts moving on Keryn's cock. But it has been so worth the wait. This is so much better than any sex they have ever had. Keryn doesn't just get the wonderful feel of his cock burying inside Dusk, being gripped by him, he also gets the show of Dusk riding him, twisting on him in pleasure just as intense as the one Keryn is feeling. Keryn gets to touch him, caress him, have his hands all over the beastling.
He knows he won't last long. It has been a while and this is too hot to bear. Dusk yelps in surprise when Keryn wraps his hand around Dusk's cock and starts stroking him. For a moment he stares down at Keryn with the most adorable frown on his face, his ears sticking out in different directions in an expression of consternation. Making sure Dusk comes as well is another thing Keryn has never paid attention to. But then Dusk moans loudly as all coherent thoughts flees him. They move together, grinding against each other. It takes only a few more hard thrusts and both of them come, almost simultaneously.
Dusk collapses bonelessly on Keryn, but he manages to catch him and then wraps him in his arms, holding the trembling beastling close, their ragged breaths and his own thundering heart the only sounds in Keryn's ears.
It's so much better than everything Keryn had thought it might be he is a little stunned himself. Now the thought that he could have had this all along stings even more.
But then Dusk shifts in his embrace and looks up at him, his eyes beaming with happiness and Keryn banishes all that went wrong into the past. Now is good.
"That... that was wonderful, master." Dusk says with another shudder of pleasure running through his body.
"Yes, it was. Much better than anything we've done before." Keryn agrees, caressing Dusk's snout with his thumb. "Thank you."
Dusk looks even happier at that. "So we'll do it again sometime?" he asks eagerly.
"Absolutely." Keryn confirms. "And you don't have to wait for me to get you. You may start it anytime you like."
Now Dusk's grin grows outright cheeky and it looks gorgeous on him. "Anytime?" he asks.
Keryn laughs. "Make that 'at appropriate times'." He corrects himself.
"Yes, master." Dusk slowly lifts himself of Keryn and then snuggles up next to him, all warm and soft and relaxed.
Keryn thinks that maybe it would be a good idea to clean up a bit since Dusk will have dried semen sticking in his fur if they don't, but he just can't be bothered to move and Dusk is already nodding off. So he strokes Dusk's back some more and soon after they are both asleep.
When Keryn wakes the next day he is lying in a pool of warm sunlight, which tells him that he has slept much longer than usual. Normally when he gets up the sun hasn't come around the tower far enough to shine through the window in his bedroom.
He is also alone, no Dusk snuggled up against him, warm and soft.
Keryn stretches and smiles at the ceiling. Life is indecently good. Between a great friend in Roars, a pretty, cuddly bedfellow in Dusk and a suddenly rather interesting future wife, Keryn feels that he really has nothing to complain about.
His grumbling stomach reminds him that he is way past breakfast time, so he rolls out of bed to go looking for Roars or Dusk.
His hound is easily found when Keryn goes to pick up some clothes before venturing out. Dusk is sitting on the floor on his blanket in the dressing room, deeply in concentration. He is scrawling letters on a sheet of paper, copying them from another sheet which holds the same letters in Roars neat handwriting, only Roars has written them really large.
"Hey, sweety." Keryn greets his beastling and leans down to press a soft kiss to Dusk's even softer ear.
Dusk looks up at him startled. Normally it's impossible to sneak up on him so he must really have been concentrating hard. "Oh, master." He says and futilely tries to hide what he has been doing.
"What's that?" Keryn asks, trying to sound as none-threatening and un-angry as he possibly can.
Still Dusk looks like he has been caught doing something terrible. "I… uh…" He looks down, his ears drooping. "Roars said I should learn to read and write." He admits.
Keryn hunkers down next to him and gently raises Dusk's snout with a finger so he beastling comes to look at him again. "That is a very good idea." He says and feels elated as Dusk's eyes grow round with happiness and his ears perk up again.
"Really, master? I thought beastlings shouldn't learn such things?"
"Beastlings should learn whatever their masters decide they should learn." Keryn takes the easiest way to convince Dusk that what he is doing is all right. "And I think it's a very good idea. It will be quite useful when you can one day help me with correspondence." He smiles as another thought crosses his mind. "Or you can read stories to me. I would really love to snuggle up with you and listen to your sweet voice."
"Oh." Is all Dusk replies, but he rubs his cheek against Keryn's hand, looking quite pleased with that thought himself.
Keryn takes a moment to study Dusk's work, now that the hound is not hiding it anymore. "That looks really good already." He tells Dusk. "I'm sure Roars will be pleased with your progress."
He is also pretty sure Dusk would be blushing at the praise, if his face wasn't covered with black fur.
"Do you want breakfast, master?" Dusk asks, switching the subject.
"Yes, that would be lovely." Keryn says. For a moment he wonders if he can convince Dusk that he can take care of himself and that Dusk can keep practicing his letters, but then he gives up on the thought. Dusk is already on his feet, storing his papers and pen away.
"Where is Roars?" Keryn asks instead.
"He went to the library." Dusk answers. "He said he wanted to check a few things and you shouldn't wait for him."
So their regular training session in the forest would have to wait until later and Keryn suddenly finds himself with a free afternoon on his hands. He eyes Dusk thoughtfully. The activities of the last evening have once more brought to his attention that he should be taking better care of his hound.
He follows Dusk to the sitting room and plops down on the couch, watching as Dusk picks up a covered tray and then serves him breakfast which he must have brought up earlier. He is so pretty, long limbs moving with perfect grace even on the most mundane tasks.
"Is there anything you would like to do?" he asks Dusk, after taking a first sip of his tea.
The beastling blinks at him in surprise. "Master?"
Keryn gestures with the tea cup. "Since Roars is busy I thought we could do something together. Something you enjoy." He thinks for a moment. "Actually, what do you to in your free time? What do you like to do?"
The amount of time it takes Dusk to come up with something to answer is worrying in itself. Apparently simply enjoying himself has not been something Dusk has done nearly enough of.
"Okay," Keryn tries to help, after finishing the first half of his breakfast, still without an answer from Dusk, "you're a hound beastling so I suppose you should enjoy running."
Dusk's face lights up and he nods. "Yes, master. I use the stairs to run up and down."
Keryn catches the frown before it can appear on his brow. That will certainly not do as proper entertainment for his sweet Dusk. "How about you join me on a walk in the forest?" he offers. "There'll you have some nice long stretches where you can really run."
Dusk looks shocked at the idea. "In the forest? I've never been in the forest." He states with a healthy dose of apprehension.
"I promise there are no monsters hiding in the woods." Keryn says with a smile. "And even if there were, I would protect you."
"Oh." Keryn is pleasantly surprised when Dusk suddenly snuggles up against him on the couch. "I suppose then I could try it." Dusk offers tentatively.
"I would enjoy your company." Keryn says softly and scratches Dusk's neck, right where he has now learned the beastling likes it.
Dusk makes a small, happy sound and relaxes against him. Keryn takes that as agreement.
A while later Keryn is comfortably propped up against a fallen tree trunk near the ruins where he and Roars usually train. Sunlight is filtering through the canopy above painting pretty patterns on the grass.
He watches as Dusk emerges from under the trees on the path leading up to the ruin, running at full speed, his black limbs a blur of motion, his ears back and his tongue slightly lolling out of his snout. He looks radiantly happy. He has run several times back and forth between the village and this clearing while Keryn has been lying here and each time Dusk has reached the clearing he has looked happier than the last.
This time, though, he doesn't wave at Keryn and turn back to run off again, but in stead slows down just a little as he approaches Keryn. He has just a moment to brace himself, then Dusk flings himself into his arms, panting and grinning and hot.
"Thank you," he gasps between dragging in air, "thank you, master!"
Keryn grins back at his exuberant beastling. "You're most welcome, my darling." He answers and nuzzles Dusk's ears.
It takes a moment for Dusk to catch his breath but then he settles in more comfortably against Keryn. "That was so wonderful, master!"
"I'm glad you enjoyed it." Keryn considers for a moment. "Would you like to always join me and Roars when we go out?" he asks.
Dusk blinks up at him in surprise. "Am I allowed? I thought you were… well… I don't know what you are doing… but I thought it was secret…?"
He does have a point there. Keryn and Roars have kept that fact that Roars can summon a soulblade carefully to themselves. Keryn is pretty sure that his grandmother knows but obviously she has decided to keep that little fact for herself. There is no doubt in Keryn that most night elves learning of a beastling possessing a soul blade would either want him put down or dissected.
It isn't known why or how any high elf is able to call forth a blade. It is commonly considered a sacred and mysterious blessing. Sometimes the talent is inherited from parent to child, but more often it just manifests unexpectedly. Those who can do it are cherished as champions of their race.
Roars has done some discreet research and has found no reference to anyone but a high elf ever having exhibited the talent. With the limited supply of books on the subject in the family library they may of course be missing a lot.
A beastling would probably be a welcome test subject. Keryn doesn't have much experience with the more scientific or magical minded of his race, but he can easily imagine what they would do to Roars. So can Roars, of course. They have discussed the matter, Roars - being the smart creature he is - inquiring why Keryn would protect him against his own race. The answer is quite obvious and simple to Keryn: because Roars is his friend.
He has come to the conclusion that being not overly smart has definite advantages, it makes decisions much simpler. Maybe he should be considering a hundred implications and question whether he is doing the right thing in choosing the beastling over his own race so easily, but he doesn't. It feels like the right thing to do to him so he does it.
Roars finds that endlessly amusing, but when he wrapped Keryn in one of his companionable hugs Keryn was quite sure there also was immense gratitude for the fact of having a friend. That is enough to tell Keryn his decision is the right one.
Besides, he agrees with Roars that something must be done about the way beastlings are generally treated by the high elves. Dusk is the perfect example, always right before his eyes.
"Master…?" Dusk now asks, worried by Keryn's sudden lapse into silence.
"You're right, it is a secret." Keryn says, stroking Dusk's back reassuringly. "It's an important secret that you would have to keep."
Dusk's ears droop. "I'm not good at keeping secrets." He admits unhappily. "If your brother tried to force me to tell, I'm sure I would."
Ceriel is of course the very last person Keryn would want to know about Roars' soulblade. He cuddles Dusk close. "I guess then we should leave it to Roars to decide whether he wants to risk telling you. It is his secret, after all."
"Okay." Dusk burrows his snout against Keryn's chest and sighs unhappily.
It is pretty obvious he would have loved to run through the woods more often and Keryn promises himself that he will find opportunity for him to do so, even if he can't accompany him and Roars.
Dusk warm breath tickles where he lies against bare skin and brings pleasant shivers and memories with it.
"Can I ask you something?" Keryn says quietly.
"Of course, master." Dusk looks up at him curiously.
Keryn knows what he wants to ask, but isn't quite sure how to word it nicely. With a questioning frown slowly creasing Dusk's brow he ends up just asking it bluntly: "Last night, did you feel I was using you?"
Obviously he is hoping that Dusk will smile up and him and say, no. He fears though that Dusk will smile up at him and just as innocently say, yes master. Dusk does neither and carefully considers his answer.
Finally he says: "I'm not sure, master. But I very much liked it." He shrugs. "I really don't have anything to compare it to, I guess."
"Would you have liked it better, if it had been another beastling, instead of me?" Keryn asks. "Someone who can't order you?"
Dusk wrinkles his snout in the cutest way at that notion. "I want to be with you, master." He says and it almost sounds like he is admonishing Keryn, which gives him a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of his stomach. "But I think I would like to spend some time with other beastlings. Get to know them better."
Another item to add to the list of 'things Dusk should have been allowed to do right from the start', Keryn thinks contrite. "You can hang out with other beastlings whenever you like." He tells Dusk, who reacts with rubbing his cheek against Keryn's chest.
"Thank you, master." He says, sounding genuinely happy at the prospect.
Keryn considers for a moment. "You can date some, if you want." He then offers, even though he feels intensely jealous at the thought of someone else touching his hound. But it's only fair, considering he doesn't plan on limiting himself to Dusk.
Dusk grins up with him, suddenly with a delightfully, cheeky glint in his eyes Keryn hasn't seen before. "Then you may date too, master," he says, "though I will be very jealous." Almost like he has been reading Keryn's thoughts.
Keryn affectionately nuzzles his ears again. "You know that I will get married soon. You will have to share me then." He says.
"Hm, yes." Dusk grumbles, sounding rather disapproving. "Can I still sleep in your bed?" he then asks, glancing up at Keryn with pleading eyes.
Keryn laughs. "Of course. Who has ever heard of married high elves sleeping in the same bed?" He gently kisses one of Dusk's soft ears. "And she isn't so bad."
Dusk looks doubtful but doesn't argue.
"Keeta, have I ever told you that you have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen?"
Roars' voice has an almost musical quality, one Keryn hasn't heard before. And the way he is looking at their Slaigh friend is decidedly weird. Like she really is the prettiest thing he has ever seen instead of her stick-thin, tired usual self with mussed up, short hair sticking in all directions.
"They are deep as a silent pool in a forgotten clearing of a magical forest." Roars continues. "The colour of a midnight sky on a night when the air is heavy with the sweet scent of true love."
Keryn blinks at Roars. That really doesn't sound like anything he has said about Keeta ever before. He watches in consternation as Roars reaches out and gently takes Keeta's bony hand into his huge paw. Keeta is watching him like she is mesmerized by his words and by his intense look.
Like almost every evening they are sitting in the beer garden behind the tavern. They have just finished dinner and ordered another round of beer. And now Roars is getting all weird and Keeta seems to have forgotten the world.
"I want to dive into these eyes and drown myself in their loveliness." Roars says, no declaims, and Keryn guesses that his friend is actually citing a poem or song.
His guess is confirmed when Roars' deep rumbling voice starts to sing. It's is not a ballad Keryn recognizes so he guesses it probably is a sun elf song. It speaks of love and devotion and beauty.
And Roars' singing voice is quite amazing.
Suddenly all conversation dies as the rest of the guests turn to listen.
It's quite surreal as Keryn watches how Roars gets up and climbs up onto their table to sing loud and clear of his undying love for Keeta. Something is definitely wrong. Roars has never shown any interest in Keeta before. In fact, they have talked at length about what kind of girls or boys they prefer and Roars likes nicely rounded beastling females, preferably with large ears and bushy tails. Keeta is about as far from that ideal as one can get.
So why is he suddenly serenading her?
Unobserved by his friends, Keryn pulls Roars' beer mug closer and cautiously sniffs it. The faint scent of moonberry sugar is unmistakable to Keryn. Someone has spiced Roars' drink with a healthy dose of love potion.
Keryn is no potions expert, but his family is the number one producer of potions in the night elf realm. Knowledge on what is what and how to recognize it has rubbed off on his simply by constant exposure.
Roars finishes his song and bows to the applauding crowd before launching into a second one, this one even more sappy, his eyes firmly on the object of his desire - Keeta. Who seems entirely entranced by his sudden attention.
Keryn checks her drink as well but it is clean. With a smirk, Keryn wonders if maybe his Slaigh friend has been harbouring a secret crush on Roars.
She would never have drugged him, though. So that raises the ugly question, who might have a reason to do so. It could be a harmless prank but somehow Keryn has a bad feeling about it. He is suddenly very conscious of the fact that Dusk is back at the tower. He wanted to finish up laundry before joining them, but he is running very late.
Keryn firmly nudges Keeta's shoulder, managing to snag her attention away from Roars' singing for a moment. "I'll quickly check on something." He says "You keep an eye on that singing beastling for me?" Not like Roars has ever needed anyone keeping an eye on him before, but Keryn will feel better knowing Keeta will stay with him.
"Oh, I'll keep both my eyes on him." Keeta replies with a decidedly dreamy tone.
Yes, she definitely has the hots for the huge beastling, Keryn decides. But he will figure that out once he is sure, that Dusk is safe.
When Keryn gets back to the tower he has almost convinced himself that nothing will be wrong, that he is just over-protective of his hound after what Ceriel has done to him. Probably Dusk will laugh about him being so worried.
Then he reaches his chambers and finds the door standing open. From within, he can hear muffled crying and a soft voice speaking and he knows he has been entirely right to worry. Already he can sense the hilt of his soulblade in his hand as he enters.
The scene he finds doesn't make much sense. Curled up on his couch is Dusk, fur ruffled, crying with his ears pressed flat against his skull, hiding against the side of Keryn's mother, who is holding the distraught beastling protectively and soothing him with gentle words.
"Mother?" Keryn asks confused.
She looks up and Keryn is even more surprised to see silent fury glitter in her eyes. He has rarely seen her truly angry, but she definitely is now.
"It would seem that your brother did not listen very closely when I ordered him to stay away from your beastling." She says, her voice still soft, not to scare Dusk, but with enough icy anger to make Keryn pause.
Part of him wants to call his blade and go ram it down Ceriel's throat, but a louder part needs to know what his brother has done to Dusk.
"What has he done?" he asks, quickly making his way over to the couch.
Now Dusk finally notices him as well and looks up from here he has been hiding his face against Keryn's mother side. "Master?" he whispers and then Keryn has his arms full of his beastling, as Dusk flings himself at Keryn and clings to him. "I bit him!" he sobs. "I bit him and now you'll have to put me down!"
Keryn immediately wraps his hound in a protective embrace and glares at his mother. He is drawing breath to tell her that no one will touch Dusk when she glares right back at him.
"I've told him he won't be put down!" she says, exasperated. "He had every right to bite that cocky little shit who calls himself my son!" She throws her hands up and then gets up to pace the room. "I really have no idea what Gamdriceriel was thinking, dosing your little darling there with an aggression potion! And then he had the nerve to try and lie to me about it! As if I couldn't smell it on your hound's breath!"
Suddenly it becomes quite clear what Ceriel was planning. And what went wrong with his plan. Had he dosed Roars with an aggression potion down at the tavern things could have gotten very, very ugly. And giving a love potion to Dusk would allow him to do with Keryn's beastling whatever he pleased. They've been incredibly lucky that somehow Ceriel has managed to mix up the potions. Once more Keryn fights against the urge to go and murder his brother.
"Mother, what exactly happened here?" he asks, trying to sound calm and barely managing.
"I was on my way down to the brewery when I passed this floor and heard Gamdriceriel shouting." His mother explains, slowly recovering her composure. "Of course I investigated and found your beastling huddled in a corner and your brother kicking him like he had lost his mind. When I demanded an explanation he started raving about how your hound had bitten him and that he had turned rabid and needed to be put down. Naturally I checked on your darling next and it was obvious he had been drugged." She shakes her head. "Seriously! How can Gamdriceriel think I wouldn't notice that smell?! I tried to get your hound to tell me his side of what had happened but he was just crying hysterically so I kicked your brother out of the room and was just trying to calm your hound when you showed up."
"He…" Dusk speaks up, his breath hitching from crying so much, "he wanted to fuck me again. He just came in here and said things and… and… then I just… snapped. And bit him." He looks up at Keryn with huge, mournful eyes. "I'm so sorry, master."
"Well, I'm not." Keryn tells him calmly and smiles at Dusk. "I am fucking proud of you for biting him and I want you to do it again, if he ever tries laying hands on you."
Dusk stares at him disbelieving until Keryn's mother chimes in again. "I do not condone beastlings getting violent against their masters but in this case I have to agree with Taraskeryn. Gamdriceriel was completely out of line and deserved what he got." She smiles at Dusk, who still presses against his master but has calmed down a little. "I would prefer if you only resort to biting as a last means, though. If possible, find your master or me to protect you, yes?"
"Yes, mistress." Dusk nods.
"Good." Keryn's mother smoothes out her robes and then nods to both of them. "Keryn, I know you must be very angry now, but please leave the handling of your brother to me."
Keryn is angry still, but it's a calm kind of anger, not the seething rage he felt before. "I will give him this one last free pass, mother." He says. "But if he tries to harm me or my beastlings again I will kill him." High elves are proud creatures, them killing each other is not that uncommon when insults or injuries are traded.
His mother looks at him with surprise and respect. She is still used to the little boy throwing temper tantrums, but just the same forgetting about any slights quickly. Her suddenly much matured son seems to be to her liking as she smiles.
"I will make sure he understands this." She says with a polite nod. Then she has another kind smile for Dusk, who is still snuggled against Keryn. "You'll be fine now, sweety." She says and gently strokes one of his ear with the back of a finger. "Let Taraskeryn take care of you, hm?"
"Yes, mistress." Dusk says again and then shyly ducks his head away.
Keryn waits until his mother has left, then he gently pulls Dusk with him down onto the couch, Dusk has finally stopped trembling but Keryn still starts to stroke his back, smoothing his fur. "Are you hurt?" he asks.
Dusk shrugs and promptly winces. Of course he is hurt, Keryn thinks. He is not trained to fight and wouldn't know how best to evade damage when getting kicked. Keryn concentrates and works that simple healing spell he knows. Immediately Dusk relaxes much more and makes a pleased little sound in the back of his throat.
"Thank you, master." He murmurs and burrows closer against Keryn.
Now that pain and fear have receded, the hound's tension seems to flow right out of him and he can barely keep his eyes open.
Keryn leans down and kisses the top of his head. "Sleep a little," he tells Dusk, "I'll be right here and keep you safe."
When Keryn gets up the next day he finds Roars already sitting on the couch in the sitting room, a book in his lap, unread, with his head lying back and humming a happy, little tune to himself.
After Dusk had fallen asleep on Keryn the previous evening, Keryn had remembered that he should probably be checking on Roars as well, since his friend had been drugged, too. But he had also promised to stay with Dusk. So in the end, he decided that Roars would be quite able to take care of himself.
Only much later, when Dusk had woken up again much calmer, did Keryn go back down to the village to find out how the singing and wooing in the tavern had ended. With a healthy dose of amusement, the villagers informed him that Keeta and Roars had withdrawn to Keeta's little cottage, kissing all the way there. And that a little later the village had been shaken by a roar from that cottage which had made everyone snicker.
Keryn took that as a cue not to disturb his two friends. Whatever fallout would happen after the potion's effect wore off, they could deal with themselves. After all they are both adults.
Looking at Roars now Keryn thinks that was a good idea. Roars looks blissfully happy.
"Hey, big guy." Keryn greets him.
Roars blinks up at him lazily without moving his head. "Hey, tiny elfling."
"Soooo…," Keryn leans his arms on the backrest next to Roars' head and grins down at him, "I hear everyone heard you roar."
"So I have been told as well." Roars chuckles. "I think it will be a while until I hear the end of this. Folks in the village were quite amused when I went to grab some breakfast for Keeta."
"You brought her breakfast?" Keryn raises an eyebrow. Could this actually get serious? "Is that like a cat bringing someone a mouse as a gift? Eternal love and such?"
Roars seems to be considering that for a moment and then shrugs. "Don't think so. But she was a little sore when we woke up so I thought it would be only fair."
Now Keryn frowns. "But she's not hurt, is she?"
He worries even more when Roars actually looks chagrined. "She may have a few scratches and bite marks…" he says. "Nothing bad!" he adds when Keryn looks at his huge claws, horrified. "Hey, it just takes some getting used to that she has no fur at all to protect her!"
"Right." Keryn says, not feeling or sounding convinced.
"Why don't you ask her about it?" Roars asks with a seedy smirk. "She didn't complain."
That sounds more reassuring. And Keryn knows he will probably be kicked and hissed at if he asks Keeta. She doesn't take kindly to anyone prying into what she considers her private life.
Now he should of course tell Roars that he has been dosed with a love potion. "That was pretty sudden." He tries to lead in cautiously. "The singing, I mean."
Roars snorts. "Dusk already told me that your brother drugged him so I figured he did the same to me. No need to dance around the subject."
Keryn breathes a sigh of relief.
"I am guessing he mixed up the potions?" Roars says.
"Yeah, seems so." Keryn nods. "He's not only an asshole but apparently an idiot as well." He eyes Roars curiously. "So what does that mean for you and Keeta?"
Now Roars smiles fondly. "Actually she really is an awesome girl. Totally not the kind of female I would normally be courting. I mean, seriously, she is just a stick, really!" Roars shrugs a little sheepishly. "But I love her fire. And her wits. And her sharp tongue."
Keryn laughs. "So you'll 'court' her some more?"
Roars grins at him. "Guess so. What kind of mice does she like?"
Two more weeks pass.
Roars decides to tell Dusk about his soulblade so the hound can join them on their daily training in the woods. Both Roars and Keryn aren’t as worried as Dusk about him telling the secret to anyone else. After all, a high elf would consider Roars much too inconsequential to inquire about him and Dusk too stupid to question him.
Arrogance does have its uses, Roars states, and Keryn agrees.
Keryn is quite amused when Dusk starts calling Roars 'Master' as a result since he now considers Roars to be a champion as well. No matter what kind of approach Roars tries, he can't convince Dusk to stop. It's the first time Keryn sees Roars give up on something.
Their training together is quite amazing. Keryn has only ever had the opportunity to train with his soulblade against another champion when he first discovered the talent and an older champion came to the estate for a short time to show him the basics. Champions are kept busy and generally consider themselves too good to even need training.
Fighting against Roars, testing different manoeuvres and tactics is priceless to both of them. Keryn knows that his skills with the blade have improved vastly since they started.
He has also learned that taunting Roars too much results in the beastling flying into a rage. Though the moment when Keryn was clinging to the upper branches of a high tree while Roars was hacking at the trunk was kind of funny until the beastling actually felled the tree. Which had Keryn crash to the ground and Roars snap out of his rage to mourn the tree he had just slain.
In the whole time Keryn sees Ceriel once when they walk past each other in a hallway. The way Ceriel flinches away from Keryn and hurries off with his head bowed is quite satisfying. Whatever Keryn's mother has told his brother, apparently it's has gotten the very real danger of getting his head chopped off across.
When Roars isn't training or reading, he is courting Keeta which includes things like bringing her treats, repairing her leaking roof and activities which include more 'roaring'.
Keeta is quite open about displaying her scratch marks and teases Roars about them mercilessly, which in turn greatly reassures Keryn. There is as much teasing as kissing between Keryn's two friends, the same easy companionship they enjoyed before. Roars alternates between sleeping up in the tower and down in the village in Keeta's cottage.
Keryn curiously watches how calmly the villagers react to the fact that Keeta is dating a beastling. He somehow would have expected some of the outrage that any high elf would show about an elf having an affair with a 'lesser race'. Which of course is quite stupid since it is perfectly acceptable to keep a beastling pet for fucking.
But the villagers seem unfazed and when Keryn cautiously investigates he finds that it is not that rare at all. There are several villagers of the lesser elven races who live with a beastling as their partner. Only the smart beastling races, obviously. Who would want to be in love with a dumb cow?
Roars is delighted by the discovery since it means that the lesser elven races might be accepting of more freedom for beastlings. Of course it might an isolated phenomenon on this estate and bears further study. But Keryn thinks it's quite logical that beastlings and the lesser elves feel a kinship since both serve the high elves without much choice.
As the full moon draws closer, the wedding guests start to arrive. Some members of Keryn's family living further abroad, the champion who trained Keryn when he had just discovered his soulblade, some people he doesn't remember ever meeting but who apparently consider themselves his friends. Apparently Rinath has invited everyone she could possibly justify to make it a huge event.
Absent are member of Irana's family or friends of hers. Not that Keryn is surprised about it, now that he knows why Irana is being married off to him.
He is surprised when one of the servants informs him that Irana's brother has arrived for the wedding and would like to meet Keryn. Of course Keryn graciously agrees to seeing him. After all he is quite curious what the other elf wants of him.
Keryn doesn't know much about Irana's family. Just that they are based in the capital, that they are very wealthy and that they have invested a hefty sum in being able to marry their unruly daughter off to an elven champion. Money that Keryn's mother has already invested into their estate again.
Since Keryn's quarters are more comfortable than representative, they meet in one of the family salons. When Irana's brother walks in, there are obvious similarities. He is short for a high elf, but quite fit. He has an easy, open smile and actually looks like a genuinely nice guy. Keryn wonders how hard it must have been for him to watch his younger sister grow up into such a difficult little rebel.
Keryn returns the smile and shakes the offered hand.
"I'm Leathmadiel." Irana's brother introduces himself. "You must be quite busy with the wedding preparations so I have to thank you for taking the time to see me."
Actually Keryn has nothing to do with the preparations at all. The only thing he has been needed for is the fitting of his wedding clothes. Which was entirely unpleasant and left him so fidgety that Dusk dragged him off to bed to fuck his brains out right when he returned. But that is nothing one mentions to the brother of the bride so Keryn nods and smiles some more.
"Yes… well…" Leathmadiel nervously picks at the hem of his richly embroidered tunic. "I have received note that you have met my sister and that the meeting didn't go to well…"
Keryn almost laughs. Apparently the troll doesn't just protect others from Irana's wrath, he also reports back to her family. Keryn makes a mental note that they will have to send the troll back home with Irana's brother. He's definitely not company they will want around when they start plotting a big beastling rebellion together with Roars.
But right now Leathmadiel wants to hear something reassuring. Keryn smiles charmingly. "She does seem to be quite a spirit girl." He says.
Leathmadiel huffs unhappily. "She can be… difficult." He says. Quite an understatement of course, but he probably isn't planning to reveal just how criminal his sister really is. "She needs a firm hand to guide her." He adds hopefully.
Ah, so that is why they are marrying her off to a champion and war hero. That would explain why she was so very venomous about it. Keryn can clearly picture the conversation which must have taken place when she was informed of who she was going to marry. 'He will keep you in check with a firm hand, girl. He's a warrior! You better not mouth off to him!' No wonder she was expecting him to hit her or something and obviously him beating up Ceriel confirmed her expectations.
"I can assure you I will have no trouble keeping her in line." Keryn says with another disarming smile.
Of course he won't. After all he doesn't plan on keeping her from her hobby of beastling freedom fighting. Which means she will be on her very best behaviour while they try to fool everyone into thinking they are a well adjusted, law abiding high elf couple. Keryn finds it rather amusing how much he is enjoying the prospect. He should be worried about the fact that they will probably fail spectacularly and be publicly executed in some grisly way, embarrassing their families. But instead he feels a heady mix of excitement for an impossible adventure and grim determination for doing something worthwhile.
Irana's brother looks doubtful. "She has some strange notions in that juvenile, pretty head of hers." He tries to warn Keryn in a circumspect way.
"I'm sure she will settle down once she has learned her place next to a strong husband." Keryn says with a dismissive air. He can well imagine how she would scratch and bite if she heard him talk like that. Or maybe snicker behind her hand when she realizes the joke is on her brother.
Leathmadiel looks relieved. "I'm so glad to hear she will be in good hands here." He says and smiles at Keryn gratefully.
Keryn decides that he doesn't like the other elf much. What kind of brother would tell his sister's future husband that he may have to beat her up and heartily approves when said husband-to-be promises to do so? If Irana's whole family is like that he can easily see why she would turn to beastlings as friends and allies. He also silently vows that he will cherish her like she deserves.
"Once she settles down I might bring her with me to the capital when I come to meet with High Command." Keryn says.
This is another plan he has made with Roars, so the beastling can visit the big libraries there and further his studies as well as hopefully make contact with whatever the beastling underground Irana has spoken about. Of course that will need more planning once they can freely plot together with Irana.
"If she is a good girl I may allow her to visit her family then." Though Keryn very much doubt she will want to see him.
From the strained smile on her brother's face he guesses they'd rather not see her either. But Lathmadiel is of course trying to stay polite.
"That would be wonderful." He says with a tone of voice that clearly states he is anything but pleased with the prospect.
Keryn decides that he will leave it to Irana whether they will visit her family or not. It might be fun to torment them with their presence after all.
Lathmadiel stays a while longer, politely inquiring about the war and listening with the clueless attentiveness of a politician or merchant to Keryn's carefully edited recounting of some of the battles he has seen. Keryn knows that the other elf is just trying to be a good guest, but he has never been good at dealing with other high elves. This one is no exception. He still tries his best to be polite, too.
Finally they both feel they have been social enough.
"Well, it is a relief to know that my sister will have a good husband." Leathmadiel says, with a sincerely fake smile. "I will see you at the wedding then."
"Have a wonderful stay." Keryn says with a charming smile that might look just a little less fake. "If you get the chance, take a tour of the moonberry islands."
They shake hands again and then Irana's brother is gone.
"Damn, what an asshole." Roars states, leaning in the doorframe to his room, where he has been hidden, reading and apparently listening.
Keryn nods. "Maybe not quite as bad as Ceriel but certainly not a nice guy."
"I think the worst thing about him is, that he probably feels like he is actually doing a good thing for his sister, really." Roars muses.
"How can it be a good thing to tell her future husband to beat her up if she gets out of line?" Keryn asks, quite annoyed at the whole thing and at Roars for defending the jerk.
"He just wants to keep his little sister out of bigger trouble." Roars says gently.
Like he often does, Keryn marvels at the patience of his beastling friend.
"It must have been pretty shocking for him and his whole family when their little girl was arrested." Roars adds. It still doesn't score and sympathy points with Keryn and he must look like it as Roars chuckles. "Okay, I get it. We'll just call him an asshole and keep it at that?"
The wedding itself is actually quite beautiful.
Rinath has carefully decorated the estate's ritual circle with so many moon flowers that Keryn wonders if there are any left on the floating islands. They are hanging in garlands from the ancient standing stones and overflow from pretty, floating baskets.
Tiny conjured wisps provide the only illumination apart from the huge full moon in the sky.
The wedding guest are all resplendent in dark silk and velvet robes and coats, richly embroidered with silver or pale jewels.
Of course none of them are as heavily decorated as Keryn and Irana. They both wear the traditional white. Irana is in heavy, layered robes which make her look more like a pearl encrusted tent, her hair pulled up painfully tight in a complex knot with even more pearls. Keryn is trapped in pants and shirt and overcoat, all laced up so tightly they feel like they are constricting to suffocate him, his hair woven in braids upon braids. They just need to share one tortured look to know how much they both despise this, then they put their fake smiles back on.
Roars would have loved to be there and watch the ceremony, but this is a high elf only affair. Not even Keeta is allowed to attend.
Keryn's grandmother is officiating since she is by far the highest trained mage and the head of the family. She solemnly speaks the spells which will bind Keryn's and Irana's lives together to ensure they won't outright murder each other on the first chance they get. She must know of course that those spells will eventually unravel on Keryn. There is no way to permanently bind a champion. But most of the elves present don't know this and expect the show of commitment.
They applaud politely when Keryn's grandmother completes the incantations.
Then they all make their way back to the tower in a silent procession, led by Keryn's grandmother. While the guests feast, Keryn and Irana will be locked into the wedding suite near the top of the tower to complete the ritual.
When the door closes behind them and the key turns, Keryn tries to breathe a sigh of relief and is stopped by the confines of his wedding costume.
"Gnahr!!" Irana curses on cue and helplessly flails her billowing sleeves.
They look at each other unsure for a moment, each trying to gauge if the tentative peace they made on Irana's balcony still holds. Then they both laugh at how ridiculous they look in their respective outfits.
"I promise to love and cherish you for the rest of eternity, if you free me, oh brave champion!" Irana coos.
Keryn eyes her robes critically like he would seize up a foe in battle. The apparent path of attack is the lacing in the back so he steps behind her and tries to undo the million knots.
"This is ridiculous!" he curses after wrestling with them for a few minutes. "How are we supposed to fuck, if we can't even get this contraption off you?"
"Just push it up and get done with it?" Irana suggests with a snicker, which sounds somewhat breathless. Not because of excitement but because, like Keryn, she can't breath properly, laced up as she is.
"No way, I will free you," Keryn growls, "if this beast won't yield to subtlety, we'll use brute force. We need a knife or something like that."
He and Irana scan the room for some sort of knife but find nothing but the huge bed and a small table with some refreshments. After all they will be locked in here for the rest of the night.
"I suppose they want to make extra sure I don't stab you in the last moment." Irana mutters.
Keryn snorts. "Right. Brute force it is." He states and summons his soulblade.
Irana squawks in surprise. "Shit! That things is… are you sure you won't cut me in half with that…?"
Keryn grins. "Trust me, I know how to wield this." He says in his best hero voice. "Now don't move."
Obviously it's not exactly easy to use a long blade to cut something as delicate as lacing without hurting the even more delicate elf girl underneath, but Keryn really does know how to use his soulblade and makes short work of Irana's confining garments. They pool in a huge heap around her feet and she quickly steps out of them like they might sneak up her legs again if she stays near them.
Irana takes a deep, deep breath and then lets it out in a sigh of relief. "Goodness! Thank you!" she says, now with nothing on but a gauzy little wisp of an undershirt.
She is quite pretty, Keryn realizes. Maybe this being locked up and expected to fuck isn't such a bad thing after all.
With amusement Keryn thinks back at how Roars expressed his surprise at the fact that High Elves, which are known to have mostly political or monetary reasons for getting married, are still expected to have sex on their wedding night, when that often stays the only intimate contact they will have in years.
Keryn reasoned that it is probably a remnant of more feral times and obviously a great way to tighten the magical bindings of the wedding ritual.
"Your turn to help me." Keryn states, his blade dissolving again.
The coat is easily shrugged out of. Then Keryn raises his arms so she can get at the lacing of his shirt. She is a lot more practiced at loosening them and they are fewer than the ones on her robes so soon Keryn can breathe freely again as well.
Next up they both start working on the elaborate knots and braids in their hair. Keryn is quite quick at this since he has years of practice un-weaving the braids servants force on him and rewinding his hair into one simple braid.
Irana, on the other hand, grows more and more frustrated as she tears at the knots and pearls and braids.
"I hate this!" she finally hisses. "I wish I could just hack them off and forever be done with this shit!"
She looks quite funny with a mess of hair and decoration hanging askew on her head, but Keryn wisely refrains from laughing.
Night elves in general and night elf women in particular always have long hair. Keryn likes his own hair long even though it is sometimes quite impractical. But he also knows how much Keeta loves her own short, spiky hair.
"We could cut it off." He offers.
Now Irana blinks at him in honest surprise. "You wouldn't mind?" she asks, so hopeful she just looks adorable.
Keryn shrugs. "It's your hair. It's certainly your decision how you want to wear it."
"You know, I'm starting to really, really like you." Irana says with an honest smile.
Then she tears at the whole mess a little more so it hangs down enough for Keryn to safely cut it of with his re-summoned blade. She laughs when the mop of hair and decorations clanks to the floor. Keryn smiles as she straightens up. Now that her raven black hair is free of its own weight it jumps up in even tighter, mischievous curls which look just perfect on her.
"That actually looks much better." He tells her. "Though you may want to find a Bagoth who can properly cut it for you."
"Thank you." Irana says with heartfelt gratitude.
Then there is a moment of awkward standing there, looking at each other and trying to come up with something to say.
Before it can get to long, Keryn asks the first thing to pop into his head: "So… are you a virgin?"
Irana blinks at him in surprise and then a cute frown appears on her brow. "No." she growls. "And if you expect me to be I'm going to…"
"No, no!" Keryn raises his hands, trying to placate her. "Not at all. Virgins are quite annoying! All the fretting and trembling and not having much fun…"
Immediately Irana's mood changes to a snort of laughter. "I wasn't like that!" she declares regally. "In fact I had a blast. But then I didn't have some stupid High Elf fumble around on me but a beautiful, caring hare beastling."
Keryn can well imagine how a hare would be both sexually skilled and cuddly. Just the thought of the soft, floppy ears if adorable. "What happened to him?" he asks.
Again Irana's mood changes, this time to sad. "My father sold him off. Said I was getting too attached to him and treated him too much like an equal."
"Oh." Without thinking about it Keryn wraps her in a comforting hug and after a moment of stiffness she melts against him. "I'm sorry." The thought of loosing Dusk pains him enough to understand well how she must feel.
"It's one of the reasons I got involved with the beastling underground." Irana explains, her head resting against Keryn's chest. "I guess some foolish part of me was hoping I would find him again. I never did, but at least I got to help other beastlings." Then she looks up and smiles at Keryn. "You know, now would be the perfect moment to kiss me."
She is absolutely right and she looks quite kissable. So Keryn leans down and kisses her. A small zing of magical energy tingles between them, as their lips touch, a reminder that the wedding ritual still hangs in the balance. It feels like spice and honey to Keryn and makes his blood run hotter. Irana seems to feel the same as her lips part in a slight gasp and then their tongues are touching and dancing a sweet duel for dominance.
Oh, she definitely is not some pliant maiden, no, she knows how to kiss and she enjoys it. Her arms come up as well and they lock each other in a tight embrace, a lovers' embrace as they drink each other's breath.
When they break apart again Irana laughs breathlessly. "Wow, man! You sure know how to kiss!" she says, her pale skin now flushed with the heat of passion. Her hands roam over Keryn's back and then down to his ass without any hint of shyness. "I'm beginning to think this marriage might actually be a good catch." She grins up at him.
It feels quite good to be appreciated, so Keryn returns the favour. "Says the sexiest princess I've ever had the fortune to lay eyes upon." He says and it happy when she looks pleased with his choice of compliment.
Then he does what every good prince or newly-wed husband should do in this situation - he picks her up in his arms to carry her the few steps to the bed. A proper princess would have reacted with doe-eyed swooning but Irana laughs when he deposits her on the huge bed.
She stretches and lets her thin shirt ride up, revealing most of her thighs, showing off a visual feast to Keryn.
"I'm afraid I will have to ravish you now, my sweet wife." Keryn announces.
"I sure hope so." Irana replies with a glint in her eyes that is just the right mix of feral lust and playful mischief. "But you are way overdressed." She adds and pokes at Keryn's pants with her cute little foot.
She definitely has a point there, especially as Keryn's cock is quite painfully trapped inside those pants. So Keryn divests himself of the offending garment as quickly as possible. Which is not quite as quickly as he would have liked considering how stubbornly it clings to his legs.
By the time he finally stands naked in front of the bed Irana is trying very hard to contain her giggles at the display he has provided.
Keryn thinks that their wedding night is progression quite nicely. They aren't fighting, Irana is no blushing, scared virgin and Keryn is no brutal war hero. It very much looks like they are actually pretty well matched. He knows he is good looking so he isn't overly worried when Irana studies him critically.
"You know, completely disregarding my personal opinion about that stupid war," his new wife purrs, "I do have to admit all that heroing does give you a nice body."
Again she extends her cute little foot but this time to nimbly stroke his belly with a toe, dangerously close to his very hard cock. Keryn takes that as an invitation to growl and pounce on her. They roll across the bed, growling and laughing and wrestling and groping. Somewhere in the fight Irana loses her shirt as well. For a short time Keryn considers letting her win, but in the end it is he who ends up on top, his weight settling on her lithe body, their hands interlaced where he presses them to the bed above her head.
They are both panting and hot for each other. Again they kiss and then Keryn kisses and nips his way down her throat and then to her firm little breasts. She is arching up into him, slings one leg around him and draws him against her, hungry and demanding. He quickly decides that lengthy foreplay can wait for a second or third course and pushes down, entering her in one swift, smooth move. They groan in unison. She is hot and wet and tight around him and feels so unbelievably good.
Keryn looks down at her and finds her gazing right back at him, her usually cool grey eyes wide and full of passion. Then she smiles and in that moment she is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen and he knows that he will fall in love with her and there is not a thing he can do about it.
At first his thrusts into her are just shallow, but their pace quickly shifts to long, deep strokes. Neither of them is loud, but their eyes stay locked and in each other's expressions they clearly read the other's bliss. Their bodies move like they were made for each other and the buzz of the wedding ritual's magic is quickly drowned out by the much stronger magic of sex that is more than fucking.
Keryn has long since let go of Irana's hands and she has wrapped both her arms and legs around him, drawing him, almost melting them into one creature.
They build up to their climax together. Irana grows tighter as she approaches her orgasm and Keryn pulls together all self control so his thrusts won't grow jerky and short. Then her mouth opens in an almost soundless gasp, her eyes filled with such hot passion he thinks she will ignite. It triggers him as well, his world reduced to her wonderful eyes and the unbearable pleasure as he spills himself deep inside her.
He comes to his senses with the sound of Irana's soft laughter pearling next to his ear, her breath softly tickling the tips of his ears and her fingers gently carding through his hair. When he pushes up so his weight won't crush her anymore she smiles up at him, happy and satisfied.
"That was quite wonderful, my husband." She states.
"I absolutely agree, my wife." He says and smiles back at her.
Then she shifts slightly under him, tilting her hips up and he realizes he is still buried in her. She shifts again with a mischievous glitter in her eyes as new pleasure sparks in his loins.
"Shall we do it again…?" she asks, her voice a soft, deep purr.
Incapable of a coherent answer he swoops down and kisses her while he starts moving once more.
It's early afternoon of the next day when Keryn wakes up. Despite the fact that it has been a long, long night he is too used to getting up during the day now to stay asleep.
He turns onto his side and props his head on his elbow to study his new wife. There is only a slim sliver of sunlight peeking through the tightly drawn curtains, but it is plenty of light to see Irana. She is sprawled on her back, one arm flung wide, the other clutching a pillow to her head, one pale leg is uncovered and Keryn has to resist the urge to run his fingers once more over her smooth skin.
This is definitely not an after effect of the wedding ritual anymore. Any residual magical energy they would have long since used up with the generous amount of sex they've had this night. He simply desires her, which is quite unheard of in a married high elf couple. Not that either of them minds or cares about tradition.
Keryn smiles as he thinks about their wedding night. They had awesome sex, then some more awesome sex. Then they had snacks and wine which resulted in playing with their food and yet more awesome sex. Then they talked about their plans for the immediate future, cuddled some more and finally fell asleep in each other's arms.
It's hard to believe and feels a little ridiculous now that he basically ran away and joined the war to avoid getting married to this gorgeous girl. On the other hand, had he never met Roars he might have not found her nearly as attractive with all her rebellious dreams as he does now.
As pretty as she is though, watching her sleep is not very entertaining. He slips out of the bed without waking her and works his way back into those stupidly tight pants since they are the only clothing he has available.
His first idea is to simply slip out of the room as well and do what he does every day: have some breakfast and then go train with Roars. But then he thinks that she probably won't be amused, if she wakes up and finds him gone not only from the bed but from the tower as well, leaving her to deal with her troll, her brother and Keryn's family.
So he decides to do something entirely inappropriate instead. First he checks whether the door has been unlocked and opens it wide. Then he gently wraps Irana in the blanket and picks her up into his arms. She complains a little but doesn't fully wake up.
"Ssh," he whispers to her, "sleep, my love, I'm just kidnapping you."
She giggles sleepily and cuddles closer against him, already falling into a deeper slumber again.
Several Bagoth Keryn meets on his way down to his own rooms stare at him like he is some kind of apparition, but he simply ignores them. One of them is kind enough to open the door to his suite for him, which earns the servant a grateful smile.
Inside Keryn finds Roars on the couch, reading, in his usual spot. The huge beastling looks up startled when Keryn carries in his sleeping wife. It's quite amusing how his eyes follow Keryn with an expression of complete consternation as Keryn takes Irana to his bedroom. He gently tugs her in and draws the curtains closed so she will be also to sleep undisturbed. Then he goes back to the sitting room, firmly closing the bedroom door behind him.
Roars is grinning now. "So I take it the two of you do get along?" he asks, making sure to keep his voice low.
Keryn smiles back at him fondly and maybe just a little stupidly. "Yeah, we do."
"Enough to abduct her into your bed, I see." Roars smirks.
"I want to deal with her pesky, nosy family without them bothering her." Keryn says, now with a slight frown.
Roars' smile softens. "You really do like her." He says slightly surprised. "I am more and more looking forward to meeting her myself and getting to know her."
"She is a proper night elf girl so you'll have to wait until dusk." Keryn says, amused. "But then you can keep her entertained while I get rid of that troll of hers." He looks around. "Where is Dusk?"
"Getting breakfast." Roars answers calmly. "He's fine. Your brother didn't even look his way."
Keryn was a little worried that Ceriel would use the time he was locked up in the wedding suite to try something funny again. So he asked Roars to keep an eye on Dusk.
Now Roars is grinning at him. "You know, it's really amusing how much the two of you worry about each other. Dusk was twitchy the whole time, worrying that your darling wife would murder you, or something."
"That is not true!" Dusk huffs from the door, carrying in a tray laden with breakfast. "I was worried she wouldn't appreciate you like she should, master!" he explains to Keryn, his eyes carefully scanning Keryn for possible injuries.
Keryn smiles at him reassuringly. He waits until Dusk has set down the tray, then he hugs his hound from behind and kisses his neck. "She did appreciate me and was quite nice." He purrs into Dusk's ear. "But she will never replace you in my heart."
Dusk leans back into him with a small but very satisfying gasp of pleasure, while Roars makes an exasperated sound and busies himself with picking out the best treats from the breakfast tray.
"I've put her in my bed for now, though, so please don't disturb her." Keryn tells Dusk, while at the same time running his hands over the lean flanks of his hound to pacify him.
Dusk nods obediently though Keryn can feel how he tenses under his touch. "Yes, master." He says and then after a moment adds unhappily: "Will she always sleep in our… I mean… your bed?"
Keryn feels a heady rush of happiness at Dusk referring to that bed as ours. This certainly is more than he deserves and something he deeply cherishes. "No," he tells Dusk what he has already said before, "she will have her own suite of rooms. Maybe sometimes she will visit my bed, but she won't steal your spot in it."
Again Dusk nods, trying to look reassured, but Keryn can tell that it will take a while until he believes it.
The rest of the day passes quietly. Keeta comes by to congratulate Keryn on his marriage. The high elf wedding guests are all still asleep after the night long party and Keryn wouldn't have wanted to see them anyway. The only one of them he is interested in is Irana's brother and when a Bagoth servant informs him that the other elf is now awake he quickly heads over to Leathmadiel's rooms to talk to him about that troll, hoping that he will be back before Irana wakes up.
Of course they also have to exchange pleasantries and Leathmadiel inquires cautiously about the behaviour of his sister. Keryn assures him that he has Irana well in hand and that she now isn't her family's problem anymore. Which is also a great opening to send that troll back home with Irana's brother.
It all takes a little longer than Keryn expected, especially since more of the guests are awake now and he has to talk to all the ones he meets on his way back to his own suite.
So he isn't really surprised when he finds Irana awake, wrapped up in her blanket for lack of any clothing, curled up next to Roars on the couch and listening with rapt attention to the huge beastling describing sun elf customs and how beastlings there are treated no better than here.
He refills the tea cup she holds half forgotten in her hands and she smiles at him softly, happily. It feels like the most natural thing in the world to lean down and kiss her.
While she and Roars exchange beastling rebellion stories, Keryn drifts in and out of the suite, taking care of their social obligations. Questions about where his newly wed wife is he deftly deflects with comments about how worn out she is after their night together which are met with polite laughter and nothing more since no one seems to really care. Keryn tells himself that this is because these are not Irana's friends and family, but it is still rather disconcerting. It makes him realize how little high elves really care for the well being of other high elves and very different to how he plans to treat his wife.
It is probably also the reason why he takes the time to chase down his nephew Fyrien when he sees the boy glance at him fearfully and then run away when they meet in a hallway. It takes a while to reassure the scared kid that he means him no harm and then a little longer to get him to explain his sudden fear.
Apparently Ceriel has told his son that Keryn is dangerous and hates not only Ceriel but Fyrien as well and that he will feed the boy to his huge monster beastling if Fyrien doesn't hide. Keryn isn't sure whether his brother actually believes this or whether he just told Fyrien this to spite Keryn because he knows how much he adores his nephew. Probably the latter.
But he calms the boy down and explains that he is only angry with Ceriel and that he still loves Fyrien. He even manages to get Fyrien curious about Roars and excited to meet him. Keryn is quite sure Roars won't mind showing the sweet kid his huge teeth and claws. Maybe here is an elfling who is still young enough to impress on him that beastlings can be great friends and not just useful tools.
When he comes back Irana is finally getting dressed after Dusk has collected some clothes from her rooms. She looks relaxed and happy while Dusk is frowning slightly. It's clear that it will take a while before he starts to like the new wife of his master, but Keryn has no doubt that he eventually will. She is just too kind and polite to beastlings not to win Dusk's affection.
"Maybe we should get you a beastling servant of your own." Keryn suggests, guessing that Dusk will rather only serve him than both of them.
Like he has expected both Irana and Roars look taken aback at the idea. Keryn grins.
"You know, a difficult, rebellious beastling who needs to be properly broken. So you can show off that you are a good elf girl now, we gain another ally and that beastling finds a safe home."
Now Roars laughs while Irana still needs a moment to catch on and then smirks as well. "It would be most generous of my husband to provide me with a servant of my own." She coos and curtseys cutely.
Keryn captures her in one arm and kisses her once more. She laughs and smiles at him. There really is something seriously wrong with them. No freshly married high elf couple should behave this way. They really need to slow down or they will have little elflings under foot in no time and that wouldn't just be very inappropriate, it would also be rather impractical when starting a rebellion.
Irana leaves after a few more kisses and Keryn finds himself faced with Roars and Dusk, one with a dirty smirk, the other with a tiny, grumpy frown.
"I'm sure it will wear off." Keryn tries to reassure Dusk. He is relieved when his hound snorts and disappears into the bedroom. This is so much better than cowering and flinching. He turns to Roars next. "So what do you think of her?" he asks.
Roars weighs his massive head thoughtfully. "She is enthusiastic. I'll give her that." He says. "I have no idea how her courage will hold up when she is faced with real danger, pain or death."
Keryn agrees with this assessment. They will have to wait and be prepared to react to whatever happens.
"I'm sure her contacts to the beastling underground in the capital will prove useful," Roars adds, "though it remains to be seen how much of it is left after that bust up she was arrested in."
Keryn nods. "I'm guessing now that the wedding is done with I will receive summons to be audited by High Command any day now. That will give us a perfect excuse to travel to the capital and stay there for a while."
"And I'm sure we'll be able to find an especially obnoxious, difficult beastling for your wife on the markets there." Roars says with a grin.
"Yeah, you can help us pick one," Keryn grins back at his friend, "after all you're an expert in that field."
"It would seem marriage doesn't annoy you as much as you thought it would."
Keryn can't help smile at this carefully phrased comment of his mother.
They are walking among the brewery buildings. His mother is checking on various aspects of business and has asked him to accompany her so they can talk. Three days have passed since the wedding and all of the guests have departed, so she can fully concentrate on running the estate again.
It's been three days which have been markedly void of any strife between him and Irana. She has even accompanied him to the village tavern where she has eaten with him, his beastlings and Keeta. Their public show of happiness has the whole estate in confusion.
"It would seem that we simply got off on the wrong foot." Keryn tells his mother. "Now that we start to know each other we discover how much we have in common and how well suited we are to each other."
For a moment his mother eyes him doubtfully, but then a small smile appears. "I am glad, Taraskeryn. I did not enjoy the thought of marrying you to a wife you will hate."
Of course she would have done it anyway for the benefit of the estate. But her genuine care means much to Keryn.
"Thank you, mother." He says and then asks a question that has been bugging him for a while: "I know that happy marriages are rare among high elves. But from all I have heard you and father seemed to be happy? I know your marriage was arranged as well."
A shadow passes over the face of his mother, one he has come to recognize as his mother missing his father. But then she smiles with a mix of sadness and fond memories. "I loved you father very much. He was an infuriatingly stubborn and honourable elf. He was also devastatingly handsome." She gives Keryn a small smirk that she has never before directed at him. "You resemble him more with each passing year."
Keryn knows he looks good, but hearing his mother say it is strangely inappropriate and he blushes.
His mother laughs softly. "My dear son." She says fondly.
They continue in silence until Keryn has regained his composure.
"I have received word from High Command." His mother then says. "They wish to see you as soon as possible to hear your personal report on the events of that battle."
Keryn has expected no less, even though he has already sent in a written report. In fact, he has been counting on it as an excuse to take both Roars and Irana to the capital to try and meet some of Irana's friends and to give Roars opportunity for more research in the capital's libraries. Still he feels annoyed by the fact that they want to question him. He has been quite precise in describing what went wrong in the battle which resulted in the death of two fleets and the creation of a magical disaster. He has the bad feeling that there will be a lot of politics involved in his interview and he hates politics.
His mother is quite aware of his misgivings apparently. "I have already sent word that the battle has left you rattled and that you must be handled with care." She says, sounding amused. "But I would ask you to be a little more polite than 'war sucks' when you talk to High Command."
Keryn sighs. "Yes, mother." He says obediently. Of course he will try to stay civil. After all it serves no purpose to draw undue attention to himself and Roars. But being an obedient son might have some advantages, too. "I would like to purchase a beastling servant for Irana," he says, "she really needs a personal attendant."
His mother looks at him, raising a perfectly curved, thin eyebrow and Keryn is suddenly very sure that she knows exactly why Irana's family wanted to be rid of her so badly. "And does she want a beastling servant?" she asks, confirming Keryn's suspicion.
Keryn smiles at her guilelessly. "Yes."
"Hn." His mother answers unusually curt. They continue on their walk for a while. Then she says: "Considering how much money she has brought into the family I'm sure we can afford to get her a nice, sweet pet."
"Nothing too fancy," Keryn suggests, "something second hand will be entirely sufficient."
Again his mother looks at him with that quizzical expression that makes Keryn wonder if she suspects their real plans. But then she says: "Darling, your brother spends a fortune on cute pets. You really don't have to be stingy with your wife. I'll set up a fund for you to spend while you are in the capital. You really deserve to have some fun."
The thought that his brother is spending so much on his beastling pets because he actually uses them up makes Keryn's stomach churn, so he quickly changes the subject. "There is another thing I wanted to talk to you about. Since I'm going to the capital anyway I want to take Keeta with me."
Before he can elaborate his mother already interrupts him. "What would she need to go to the capital for?" she asks, somewhat annoyed, "We need her services here."
"She could apply at the Wyvern rider academy." Keryn explains. Of course Keeta doesn't even know he is suggesting this now, but then it is just a ploy to steer the conversation in the right direction. He's never before tried to be so clever but he really hopes Roars has rubbed off on him a little. "Since she isn't allowed to train here she could realize her dream there. At least she could get tested so she knows if she has what it takes."
Keryn's mother frowns. "We trained her as a strider pilot for the estate. Why didn't she ever say anything about wanting to be a Wyvern rider? That would have been very useful, too. And I do think she would do great at it."
And that is exactly the opening Keryn has been looking for. "Oh, she asked Ceriel about it and he flat out forbade it." He informs her.
His mother mutters a very un-ladylike curse. "I am getting sick and tired of hearing about all the spiteful little plots your brother is hatching." She hisses. "It seems I will have to talk to him yet again. And to Keeta. She is NOT going to the capital with you. She belongs on this estate and if anyone is going to train her it will be us."
"Yes, mother." Keryn agrees just a little smugly, but luckily his mother either doesn't notice or ignores it.
Two days later Keryn is sorting through the stuff he wants to take with him on the trip to the capital, putting everything on a pile for Dusk to pack up, when he notices Dusk's blanket neatly rolled up with his writing and reading kit in a lower shelf.
"Dusk?" He calls his hound, who is busy carefully folding Keryn's clothes and putting them in bags. "Don't you want to take your blanket and homework with you?"
His beastling glances up from his work in what Keryn interprets as confusion. "Master?" Dusk asks cautiously. "You didn't say I was coming with you."
He is right in a way, Keryn has never taken his hound with him. But things have changed between them, changed a lot. And somehow Keryn would have expected - hoped - Dusk would know that Keryn will never leave him behind again. That Dusk believes Keryn would abandon him to Ceriel's tender mercies again stings.
"Of course you are coming with us." Keryn says and can't quite keep the hurt out of his voice.
Dusk nods obediently. "As you wish, master."
That isn't quite what Keryn wanted. But he isn't sure what exactly he did want and knows even less how to phrase it.
Luckily Roars' voice interrupts his unhappy musings loudly from next door. "Dusk! Say something nice!" he admonishes the hound without even bothering to appear in the room.
Keryn and Dusk blink at each other confused, but then Dusk smiles at his master shyly. "Thank you master." He says. "I really look forward to seeing the big city. With you."
And that is exactly what Keryn needed to hear, it warms his heart because even though Roars had to tell Dusk, it is genuine.
"Much better!" he hears Roars from next door, when he wraps his hound in a gentle embrace and kisses one of his soft ears.
Travelling to the capital is pleasant and uneventful. Unlike the trip Keryn and Roars made back from the battle to the estate, this time they have chartered a private strider and have plenty of money to check into nice taverns on the way.
Dusk spends most of the trip cuddled up against Keryn with his snout resting on the edge of the travel pavilion's window, looking out curiously. It's the first time the hound has ever left the estate since he was purchased by Keryn in the neighbouring city Darsshan and before that he was locked up in the training facilities where he was placed after his creation. Everything he sees is a fascinating novelty and Keryn finds himself very much looking forward to exploring the capital with his weird little family.
When Dusk asks about structures they pass by Keryn delights in explaining everything he knows about them and in the way Dusk's ears perk up and his eyes are clear, free of fear and showing the bright mind he has never before been allowed to use properly.
Roars and Irana have packed some books and maps which they use to discuss politics and hatch mad plans, while Keryn points out the obvious flaws in their ambitious schemes.
Like the fact that High Command will certainly not ignore them if they somehow manage to take over the estate of Keryn's family to hide freed beastlings there and then start 'spreading the message' to neighbouring estates. They will send in troops to eradicate them, Keryn has no doubts about that considering High Command has no qualms either throwing away a whole battle fleet for the vain magic escapades of a few insane mages.
Irana doesn't like to hear this, but Roars is - as ever - a voice of reason and patience and suggests that they will probably be able to hide a small group of beastlings at the estate, which is at least a stepping stone.
The simplest solution would be to find a place controlled neither by the night or sun high elves. Only such territories are of course highly undesirable. And even if escaped beastlings managed to carve out a place of their own there, it would still be pointless in the long run since they can't reproduce. Only high elf mages are capable of creating new beastlings and they guard that secret jealously.
There is much acceptance of beastlings among the lesser elven races, Roars points out. And maybe there are more high elves like Keryn and Irana who feel that at least the smarter beastlings should be granted more rights. They all think that trying to give a cow beastling any freedom would be an act of cruelty since they are so dumb they even have to be told when to eat or they would starve.
Roars suggests they should attend some parties in the capital and plain chat with other high elves to get a clearer picture. They all agree on that. Charming Roars is perfect to show off as a reasonable beastling specimen.
They also plan to try and meet up with Irana's friends in the beastling underground and find out how they can help.
Then Irana questions Roars at length about the sun elf realms and is quite disappointed when Roars maintains that sun elves treat their beastlings even worse than the night elves do. They are more passionate about everything, he explains, and therefore their arrogance often manifests in spontaneous cruelty.
With all that talk about the sun elves Roars eventually starts talking about his past as well. He starts to wonder whether some of the friends he made while on the run might be still alive, wonders what has happened to the rest of his litter. Keryn can guess he is wondering whether they have manifested any unusual abilities as well, but he keeps quiet since they haven't told Irana about Roars' soulblade yet.
Keryn also feels quite tempted by the thought of creeping into the sun elf realms and looking for Roars' friends and family. A few more free spirited beastlings some of whom might even be magically talented could certainly not hurt their cause. And it would be a grant adventure. He wonders whether he might even be able to plant the idea into the minds of High Command to send him there on some secret mission which he could conveniently sidetrack for his own plans. Another reason to present himself as a good soldier when he is interviewed by High Command.
Overall it looks like their stay in the capital will be quite interesting and Keryn is very much looking forward to getting there.
The capital of the night elf realms is named Zathariol, after the night elf champion whose family first build their tower here, claimed the territory as their own and united the other noble high elf families into one nation. It is a marvel of magical architecture unmatched.
Located on the coast of the great eastern ocean, Zathariol is three tiered. The lowest tier is the domain of commerce, the great harbour, of craftsmen and barracks, and the living quarters of the lesser elven races. Above that, large islands float, on which the public and governmental buildings rise as domes of brass, glass and lights. The highest tier are the towers of the high elf families. One smaller, floating island for each of the families, the richness and age of the towers reflecting the power and importance of the family who owns it.
The tower of Keryn's family isn't on one of the biggest islands or one of the tallest or the most richly decorated. It is however very, very old and therefore situated close to the centre of the city. It is also heavily fortified since it was build in a time when the noble elves of the capital often settled their differences with battle magic and arms instead of endless political debate.
Several other estates belong to other branches of Keryn's family and they all use the tower as lodgings when they come to the capital, but no member of the family actually lives there permanently. Bagoth servants are always present and take care of the place, whether any high elves are visiting or not.
Irana points out the huge tower and surrounding buildings of her family's estate when they take a floating barge from the sprawling strider station near the harbour up to the island of Keryn's family. Irana's family is actually based in Zathariol, where Irana herself has grown up. They have made a fortune with trading, but they are a comparably young noble family so their island is floating on the edge of the city.
There is a delicate and complex balance of age, wealth and magical and military might which determines a noble family's power in the various councils which rule the night elf realms. Keryn has no clue how it works, he has never been interested in politics, but he wouldn't be surprised at all if Roars was able to explain a good chunk of it after all the reading his friend has done since they arrived at his family's estate.
Irana looks a little disappointed when she sees the sturdy, somewhat squad, thick walled tower they will be staying at, but she quickly shakes that off when she is greeted by polite Bagoth servants and no other high elves at all. It means they will have the tower to themselves and don't have to be overly carefully in how they behave and what they talk about.
Dusk clings to Keryn's side and is full of wide-eyed wonder. As a first little tour, they take a walk around the perimeter of the island and Irana tells them about the important council domes and the sparkling dome of the grand theatre they can look down upon.
While the others settle in, Keryn writes a missive to High Command, politely informing them that he is now in the city and awaiting their summons. He has decided that whatever ridiculous or infuriating stupidity they may see fit to heap upon him, he will bear it stoically to stay in their good grace and get what he wants.
He isn't really surprised when he gets back a note via messenger moth only hours later, letting him know that it will be a few days until all the interested parties will be gathered to interview him. This is what he has expected and counted on. It will give them time to do all the other things they have planned at their leisure.
They go on sight seeing trips in various combinations. Roars and Irana visit the great libraries, where they study various tomes on the history and mechanics of beastling creation. Everything they find says there has never been any kind of beastling who has displayed any aptitude for magic whatsoever. Roars is truly unique.
Keryn and Dusk use that time to stroll through the public parks on the second tier. The hound loves all the new sights and sounds and smells and with his master by his side he can fully enjoy them, feeling safe. He also very much likes to have his master all to himself for a while.
They leave Dusk at home when they attend the various parties Keryn gets invited to on the merit of him being a war hero champion. Roars talks to many high elves and classifies most of them as useless but a few as possibly sympathetic.
Roars and Keryn are both rather disgusted to learn that Keryn has become quite famous. The official news is that he has singlehandedly defeated the sun elf fleet in that battle. He is treated with awe and respect. Keryn doesn't correct them. Some part of him wants to tell them what really happened, but they would probably just think him modest and he is sure High Command wouldn't by amused.
Keryn takes Irana out to have dinner at one of the fancier restaurants in the expensive part of the commerce district. It is quite the romantic evening and ends with them standing on the wisp-lit, wide bridge connecting the harbour to the commerce district, gazing up at the sparkling lights of the domes and towers above them. It is the first time Keryn tells Irana that he loves her and she smiles at him and answers the same. They kiss on that bridge and nothing else matters.
The following night Keryn is informed by one of the Bagoth servants that Irana's brother Leathmadiel has come to visit and politely asks for a meeting with Keryn on a matter of importance.
So far Irana's family has ignored the fact that their daughter is back in the capital and neither Keryn nor Irana saw any reason to contact them. Keryn has no clue what her brother might want now, but he is curious enough to find out what it is that he see him right away.
Irana's brother wears an expression of polite concern and greets Keryn like an old friend, making Keryn wonder if he has really fooled the other elf into believing they are anything alike. Keryn offers tea and they settle down for whatever it is Leathmadiel wants to tell him.
Thankfully he does so right away without any boring smalltalk.
"Taraskeryn, I'm afraid I come bearing unpleasant news." Leathmadiel says, leaning forward conspiratorial. "It would seem you don't have as firm a grasp on my dear sister as we both had hoped."
That sounds like Irana's brother has somehow gotten wind of the fact that Irana has been trying to get in contact with her beastling underground friends again, even though it has not proven successful so far. Keryn can almost feel the hilt of his soulblade in the palm of his hand, wondering how many people know that Leathmadiel is here now, wondering how he can let a corpse disappear without a trace.
But when the other elf continues his hands relax immediately.
"She has been seen last night on the harbour bridge," Leathmadiel says, conveying news most dire in his eyes, "she was with an elf and they were kissing."
Keryn can't help laughing out loud, which completely startles Irana's brother. "Indeed, she was," Keryn chuckles, "in fact the elf who was kissing her was me."
Leathmadiel stares at him in complete consternation, his mouth gaping open slightly. Of course he would never have expected any kind of public show of affection between Keryn and his sister.
"Oh." He finally manages to say and actually blushes, deeply embarrassed.
Keryn pats his arm companionably, easily maintaining a façade of camaraderie now. "You really couldn't have guessed that." He reassures the other elf. "And I very much appreciate that you have come to tell me."
'And that I now know you have spies watching your sister', he silently adds in his thoughts. He'll be sure to tell Irana that she has to be even more careful.
Leathmadiel managed to recover his composure somewhat. "I will have the spy who reported this flayed for his incompetence." He growls. "I apologize. I see you have my sister in hand much better than anyone could have anticipated." He bows his head in a gesture of deference. "I must thank you again for how well you are taking such good care of her."
"As you can see, she quite pleases me." Keryn replies, none of the disgust he feels at Leathmadiel showing. But he uses the opportunity for a little warning. "I do find it somewhat distasteful though that you have spies watching my wife. Please be advised to withdraw them or I might take their attention as a serious insult."
Leathmadiel doesn't look pleased, but he nods. "As you wish." He agrees though Keryn expects he is lying and will just order his spies to be much more careful in the future so they won't get caught. At least now Keryn is free to kill any of them he catches.
They exchange a few more pleasantries, but then Irana's brother excuses himself with having other urgent business he needs to be taking care of. Keryn isn't entirely sure whether his warning has raised him in Leathmadiel's regard or moved him towards a 'potential threat' position. Once more he sees clearly why he hates politics.
Irana herself is out on the markets accompanied by Dusk. They head out every day, browsing wares, buying pretty little bits and pieces here and there as an excuse, while really Irana wants to be visible and accessible should the beastling underground try to contact her. It is highly unlikely that they would try to approach her at home where she is guarded be her evil war hero husband.
When they get back Keryn can see by her disappointed expression that once more no contact has been made. She is impatient, but both Keryn and Roars find it reassuring that the underground is so careful.
To cheer her up Keryn tells her about Leathmadiel's visit and his warning. Like he hoped that amuses her immensely and results in a few more kisses and them withdrawing to Irana's bedroom.
Which in turn has Dusk remarking later, when Irana is not present that they really need to get Irana a beastling servant of her own. Not so much because he minds going shopping with her, that he actually enjoys very much. But to take care of her 'other needs'. Keryn knows he shouldn't but he can't help feeling happy at how jealous Dusk is.
The next night Irana comes back from the market nearly boiling over with excitement.
"Keryn, you won't believe what I just learned!" she exclaims as she rushes into the sitting room they share.
Dusk is following her at a more sedate pace but he is grinning happily means there is no reason to worry something has gone wrong.
"Sable is up for sale!" Irana announces and looks at both Keryn and Roars expectantly.
"Who?" they ask back almost simultaneously.
For a moment Irana blinks at them in confusion and then she flails her arms. "My hare! Keryn, I told you about him!"
The only hare she has ever talked about is the beastling who was her childhood companion, her first lover and also the reason she got involved with the beastling underground in the first place. The one she lost when her father sold him because Irana was getting too attached to him. She never mentioned his name though.
"I take it that is the one your father sold off?" Keryn asks, trying to make sure he is getting this right.
"Yes!" Irana nods excitedly. "I really had given up hope they would ever find him after all these years but now… Keryn, we have to go and buy him!"
"They?" Roars interrupts, "who found him?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. The underground has finally contacted me today." Irana explains. She smiles. "They offered to help me escape from you, but I explained that you are on our side. Well… as much as I could explain out there in the open. They'll set up a meeting in a secure place and I have at least convinced them to let you come as well so they can see for themselves that you are a friend."
"That sounds good." Keryn says.
"I'm sure I can convince them properly." Roars adds with one of his most charming smiles.
"Yes," Irana waves them off, "but now we have to go and buy Sable before someone else snatches him up and I lose him again." She looks at Keryn with her beautiful grey eyes turning soft and begging. "Please, Keryn?"
Behind her Keryn can see Dusk with much the same expression. After all this will be the perfect beastling to care for Irana in every possible way.
"Of course." Keryn answers and gets up to hug his wife. "Let's go."
The slave market of Zathariol is located on the edge of the commerce district, next to the halls of the creation pits. The beastling creation chambers and training facilities themselves are located under ground, of course. The halls serve as a front to the public where beastlings are bought by the licensed traders after their training is finished or where the wealthy can order custom created beastlings.
Keryn has only been to the beastling market in Darsshan which is much smaller. Here in Zarathiol, you can find every imaginable kind of beastling for sale, all races, all purposes, all ages, all qualities. Keryn thinks it's quite a horrible place and he is glad they decided not to bring Roars or Dusk along. It's enough how Irana clings to his arm unhappily.
Since a large island of the second tier hangs right above the market there is no need for roofs. The individual stands are separated by aisles which start out wide and clean in the expensive part of the market and then get more narrow and cluttered as Keryn and Irana make their way to the cheaper part where used and older beastlings are sold. Luckily, Irana has received reasonably precise directions. There is a trader specialising in second hand house servants who is supposed to have Irana's lost hare in stock.
Apparently, Sable was in the possession of a tavern owner at the harbour for a while already when Irana's friends found him. But since Irana had been shipped off to the estate of Keryn's family they had no way of letting her know and no hope she would be able to use that information anyway. Due to debt, the tavern owner has recently been forced to sell Sable off and now Irana has the chance to get her hare back at last.
She is eager to see him, but Keryn holds her back when they get to the right section of the market and can see the stall of the servant trader.
"Just point out to me which one it is." He tells her calmly. "I'll go and buy him. If the trader notices how much you want him he'll triple the price. And we don't know how Sable will react to seeing you again."
For a moment Irana looks like she will argue, but then she nods slowly. She studies the hare beastling on offer from afar for a moment, hopefully. Then her eyes go wide and she clutches at Keryn's arm.
"It's really him." she whispers and only now Keryn realizes how nervous she has really been that her hope might be disappointed again. "The one with the tan fur and the white front." She explains without pointing. "Oh, Keryn, he looks so unhappy and worn." She then adds, sounding close to tears.
There really is only one hare there who fits that description. He is sitting on the ground like all the beastlings up for sale here. None of them are chained up since servant beastlings are created from naturally docile animals mostly and are trained right from their creation to obey, so there is no need to restrain them.
All of the hare beastling on offer here are older, but the one Irana has pointed out also looks mistreated. His sand-coloured fur is dirty and even from a distance streaks are visible which look like old whip marks. He is resting with his knees drawn up and his chin on his crossed arms atop his knees, his tall ears drooping. Even though his colouring is barely visible under the dirt, Keryn can see that he must have been a prized beauty when he was younger.
"Just wait here," Keryn tells Irana and gently disentangles himself from her, "he'll be safe soon."
Then he calmly strolls over to the stall. The trader is a portly Bagoth who is currently sitting at his small desk, apparently checking over some numbers. He looks up and blinks at Keryn owlishly through thick reading glasses when he approaches. When he recognizes Keryn as a potential customer, he quickly takes off the glasses and gets up to greet him.
"Milord, what can I do for you on this fine day?" he asks with an eager smile and rubs his hands.
Keryn smiles back at him. He is very good at lying to Bagoth. It's what he did all his youth when it was his job to keep himself and his friends out of trouble with good excuses.
"I'm looking for a hare beastling to replace a servant who died recently," he says smoothly, "something experienced, who won't need much supervision."
The trader nods happily. "Of course, Milord, I happen to have a few who might please you. If you care to have a look…?" He gestures at the small group of hare beastlings he has on offer.
Keryn makes a show of looking over all of them. Like all of their race, they are rather small compared to a high elf, they only come up to his chest. All of them are in various stages of neglect, though Sable seems to be especially bad off. He is the only with visible scars of past punishments. Finally Keryn settles his interest on Sable, beckoning him to get up and then walking around him.
"This one would match the colour scheme of the household nicely," he tells the trader, "but he looks rather run down." He traces the scar of a whip mark and feels the hare's muscles tense up and then his instinct demanding he bolt, but training keeping him in place. "Is he a trouble maker?"
The trader shrugs. "He's not made any trouble here." He says. "Has been as docile as any hare."
"Did the previous owner say why he beat him?" Keryn asks.
"No, he was in quite a bit of a hurry to get his hands on the money," the trader answers, crunching his nose up disapprovingly, "he was a rather unsavoury character, I must say. Not a respectable citizen so who knows what he did to the poor thing."
Keryn finds it rather kind of amusing that a man selling other sentients for a living would care so much how they are treated, but then maybe this is just him disliking the people damaging wares. Though he does stroke the neck of Sable rather fondly. It doesn't escape Keryn how the hare slightly flinches away, but then catches himself.
He continues checking the beastling over. "His ear has a tear in it." He then points out to the trader. It gives Sable a rather roguish look, but Keryn can already see Irana fussing over it.
"Oh, I can assure you it does no impede him in any way." The trader quickly reassures Keryn and lifts the ear in question to show him how it can still move. "As you can see the tear did not damage any veins."
Sable holds still, but another slight tremble runs through him and when the trader lets go of his ear he quickly smoothes it down with his own paws. Like with most beastlings, his ears are probably very sensitive and he doesn't like them being pawed by rough elf hands.
Now the trader is in sales pitch mode and continues showing off how awesome this aging hare is. "His teeth are all in top shape still." He explains and shows them off to Keryn, Sable submissively opening his mouth. "And once he is washed properly I'm sure his fur will be shiny again."
Keryn takes his time eying the hare with some doubt. "I guess he would do." He finally agrees reluctantly. "What do you want for him?"
"A pittance, really." the Bagoth trader grins jovially and at the same time carefully studies Keryn, judging the size of his purse. Of course Keryn has taken care not to go out in any finery, instead settling on the comfortable leather pants and a simple shirt and coat he prefers anyway. It pays of now. "Shall we say… 200 gold?"
That is actually a good price for a used but well trained beastling servant. But it is also expected that Keryn haggles at least a little.
He frowns at Sable. "That a little more than I was planning to spend," he says, "how about 150?" After all he knows, the trader must have gotten the hare real cheaply from the tavern owner.
"150?" The Bagoth dramatically clutches at his chest. "Milord, you wound me! I had to pay for his upkeep after all. I do need to make a little profit here! 180 gold would be the lowest I can go."
Keryn sighs. He doesn't feel like keeping this up any longer. "Oh well, I really do like his colouring. So we have a deal."
He and the trader shake hands and then head over to the little desk where Keryn pays.
"It was a pleasure doing business with you." The Bagoth smiles. "I hope you will find the hare a useful addition to your household."
"Oh, I'm sure I will." Keryn can't help but say. After all, this particular hare should be useful in a lot of ways. "I expect I will not need a leash or shackles?"
"Of course not." The trader looks honestly a little taken aback. "He is perfectly well behaved and docile."
Keryn turns to Sable. "Come on, then." He tells the hare.
For the first time the beastling really looks at him for a moment and Keryn gets a glimpse of startlingly deep moss-green eyes, studying him. Then the hare quickly lowers his gaze again and obediently follows. He really is a beauty, Keryn thinks, and can't help wondering whether Irana might be inclined to share and also whether Dusk might find him attractive. The mental imagine of dark Dusk with light Sable, hound and hare, it rather enticing.
Once they are out of earshot of the trader Keryn addresses the hare: "It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Sable." he says.
Immediately the beastling's head shoots up and he stares at Keryn shocked and full of distrust. After all, his name has never been mentioned. But he doesn't dare voice a question.
"Your mistress Irana has missed you very much," Keryn explains, "she sends me to buy you."
Now Sable's eyes grow huge and disbelieving, but still he remains silent. Keryn isn't surprised. In Sable's place he wouldn't trust an unknown high elf either. Luckily, he doesn't need to convince the hare.
They have reached the place where Keryn had left Irana and before Sable can really comprehend what is happening to him, Irana cries out his name and then she is already rushing towards him and hugging him.
Keryn watches with quiet happiness how Irana clings to the childhood friend she has missed so much and hopes that she will not be shoved away.
"Mistress Irana…?" Sable asks, confused with a little fear in his voice, but also hopeful.
Irana laughs, slightly chocking on happy tears. "Yes, yes it's me." She finally lets go of him enough to hold him at arms length. "Oh Sable, what have they done to you?" she then whispers, taking in his sorry state. Before he can reply anything she gently strokes his cheek. "I'm so sorry my father sold you. I didn't want him to… I… I was looking for you all this time. I was starting to think I would never find you…"
Now at last Sable interrupts her: "But it wasn't your fault." He finds a small smile for her and Keryn can see fresh tears of happiness in his wife's eyes. "And now you have found me."
"I will never let that happen again," Irana promises, "I will keep you safe now." She glances over to Keryn looking for confirmation and he nods.
Sable followed her look, clearly puzzled who Keryn is.
"This is my husband, Keryn." Irana introduces him and the hare quickly takes a step away from him, alarmed and fearful.
"I won't hurt you." Keryn tells him gently. "I want Irana to have you," He explains what must be worrying the beastling most, "I have a beastling of my own, who is very dear to my heart. I know what you mean to her and I want both of you to be happy."
Sable blinks at him surprised, but then his expression changes to one of curiosity and his nose twitches in the most adorable way. Keryn smiles as he is seized up with what he must call a healthy dose of appreciation. An interesting information to store away for later use, Keryn thinks.
"Let's get you home, where you can clean up." Keryn suggests and starts shooing both Irana and Sable out of the market.
"Oh yes, let's get out of here." Irana quickly agrees, taking one of Sable's paws in her hand, very much intent on not losing him again.
Outside the market they hail one of the many floating barges which are used to travel to the upper islands. When they are safely seated and on their way Irana turns to Sable again.
"I'm so happy to finally have you back." She says softly. "My father hid from me who you were sold to." She explains. "I never found out. I could only give your description and name to search by."
"The Bagoth family I was originally sold to wasn't really so bad." Sable tells her. "I worked in the house and they were fair enough. But there was another servant who didn't like me and he framed me for a lot of things. So in the end they sold me off again. Then I worked in a harbour tavern." He nervously picks at the tip of one of his ears. "I didn't like that very much."
Irana nods. "That's were my friends finally found you." She says. "But by then I had been shipped off to marry Keryn so I couldn't come and find you." She strokes Sable's arm gently and stops when she encounters one of the whip mark scars. "Did that tavern owner beat you?" she asks, venom in her voice now.
Sable shrugs with a small grin. "He didn't like me biting the customers when they groped me." Then he glances at Keryn nervously again, trying to gauge whether the new master will punish him for his past misdeeds.
Irana doesn't notice. "Well, I sure hope you bit them good and hard!" she growls in righteous fury.
"Indeed." Keryn agrees. "I am all for biting annoying elves."
"Oh." Now Sable's little smile turns to Keryn as well and he realizes that he'll protect this sweet hare just as fiercely as he would protect Dusk.
The rest of the trip passes in silence with Irana cuddling Sable against her side and the beastling not resisting at all.
When they arrive at the floating island of Keryn's family, Dusk is already waiting for them at the jetty, holding a wisp filled lantern to light the way for them. He is almost bouncing with excitement and Keryn smiles at him when he climbs out of the floating barge and then helps first Irana and then Sable out.
"Master." Dusk greets Keryn first, but then he immediately turns to Sable. "Hi, I'm Dusk," he says, positively beaming with happiness, "welcome to the household."
Irana looks surprised by the warm welcome while Sable is understandably wary, the fact that Dusk is a hound only adding to his worries. "Hello," he says cautiously, "I'm…"
"Sable." Dusk interrupts him. "I'm so glad Mistress Irana has found you again."
Keryn notices Irana opening her mouth to give voice to her confusion at Dusk's enthusiasm, but Keryn manages to catch her eye and shake his head no.
Dusk smoothly ignores the newly arrived hare's distrust and eyes him critically. "You look like a nice warm bath would do wonders for you," he announces, "and a good meal of course."
The prospect thaws Sable's demeanour considerably. "That does sound nice." He says with a shy smile which Dusk answers with a happy grin.
"Come on, then," he gestures the other beastling towards the tower, "I'll show you where everything is and help you." He smiles conspiringly. "After all we want you cleaned up for your mistress."
Sable glances at Irana, clearly asking permission. She nods reluctantly, looking like she would rather cling to him.
"I promise I will take good care of him and return him vastly improved." Dusk tells her solemnly and now she can't help smile at his eagerness.
Dusk walks ahead with Sable right behind him. Keryn and Irana follow at a bit of a distance.
"Why is he so excited about Sable?" Irana whispers to Keryn, puzzled.
Keryn smirks. "He hopes a beastling of your own will keep you occupied thus freeing up more of my attention for himself." He explains.
"Oh," Irana laughs softly, "did I hog that much of you?"
"No," Keryn pecks a quick kiss onto her nose tip, "but my darling Dusk is very jealous."
"At least I don't have to worry about him going all hound on Sable then and try to chase him around the tower or something." Irana says and they both snicker at the idea.
They enter the tower following their two beastlings. They have chosen the living quarters on the lowest available level so they don't have to climb too many stairs.
Keryn is wondering why his wife has a worried little frown etched into her brow and how to cheer her up when they hear a fearful yelp from up ahead and then Sable bolts down the stairs and ends up hiding behind Irana.
Immediately she wraps her arms around him protectively. Keryn is ready to summon his soulblade to defend them when he hears Roars' deep voice sounds from above them.
"It's all right. I just startled him." He calls.
Sable's fur is fluffed up and he is clutching his ears, holding them down as if to protect them, but his breathing is already calming again. "Goodness, he's HUGE!" he gasps, as Roars' massive head slowly peeks around the corner of the stairs.
Roars smiles at him, carefully hiding his impressive teeth. "Don't be afraid," he says calmly, "I'm not going to eat you."
A tremble runs through Sable, but then he relaxes visibly. "I'm sorry," he tells Roars, sounding deeply embarrassed, "when I get startled the instinct to bolt is just really, really hard to suppress."
Dusk appears next to Roars. "Don't worry about it," he says with a huge grin, "I just caught myself so I didn't chase after you. I'm just as bad."
Roars chuckles at the two smaller beastlings.
"This is Master Roars." Dusk introduced him to Sable which earns him a frown from Roars.
Before he can complain, Sable already politely ducks his head in greeting. "Master Roars."
"Stop telling people to call me Master Roars." Roars tries to correct Dusk.
The hound blinks at him in honest confusion. "But you are." He points out.
In a gesture of exasperation Roars throw his huge paws in the air and disappears up the stairs again.
"It's fine." Keryn tells both Dusk and Sable. "He'll get used to it."
"I heard that!" Roars loudly grumps from further up and Keryn snickers.
Dusk gently takes Sable by the paw and leads him further up to where the large bathrooms are. Irana watches them go and then turns to Keryn with a sigh, sagging against his shoulder. He wraps a supportive arm around her.
"Are you all right?" he asks softly.
Irana nods even though she looks anything but all right. "It's just… a lot to take in."
Keryn takes her to the sitting room, puts her in one of the large, stuffed armchairs and prepares a strong drink for her. She accepts it gratefully, downs it in three large gulps and then shakes herself like a wet dog.
"I needed that." She coughs, blinking at Keryn and handing him the glass for a refill. Then she smiles. "I'm starting to wonder how I ever got by without you, my wonderful husband." She says fondly.
"You didn't." Keryn replies with a grin and settles in a chair opposite hers after getting her a second drink. "Now tell me what bothers you."
Irana rubs at her the tip of one of her ears, a gesture which Keryn has come to recognize as her gathering her thoughts. "I really had stopped hoping I would ever see him again." She says softly and more to herself than to him. She looks over at Keryn. "He was my only real friend." She explains. "I wasn't as lucky as you to be allowed to play with lesser elves and my siblings were all grown up already."
She sips her drink slowly now. "I think my mother had me only because she felt like she had missed actually caring for any of her other children, always involved with business or social matters. So her plan was to do everything right with me, spend time with me, be a perfect mother. Only she really quickly discovered that she didn't like children all that much so the project was abandoned."
Keryn feels like he should be hugging her, but she needs to talk and she can do that better if he doesn't interrupt her. He also feels like he needs to tell her that they will do so much better with their children when they have them. But he can't really promise that since they all might end up dead before it happens, considering all their mad plans.
"I had people taking care of me, of course, but I never had anyone who cared about me until my father brought home Sable." Irana continues. "He was still really young. I think father got him custom created for me. He only received the most basic training and then he was given to me as a playmate. He was the best thing ever to happen to me."
She smiles wistfully at Keryn. "I spoiled him rotten, you know? And I don't regret it at all. We did everything together. Everything I had to learn because my tutors said so, he learned from me as well. I tried to make my tutors teach both of us together, but they insisted a beastling wouldn't be smart enough. So I just brought him along to cuddle up next to me and listen quietly so they never realized he was learning as well. He was always polite and deferential to the adults. They never had a clue that he wasn't just a pretty pet. Without him I would have gotten in so much more trouble. Being a hare he was a lot more cautious than me."
Irana keeps talking, telling Keryn about all the little adventures she had with Sable. Keryn nods and smiles and listens. He can see them before his mind's eye. It makes him glad to know that there were good times in Irana's childhood, too.
She turns the glass in her hands, clearly lost in her memories. "Then we got older and his mating instincts kicked in and I caught him looking at me in funny ways. He was scared at first, but I was thrilled. I felt wanted. It was wonderful. He was wonderful. A whole new level of fun to explore. We were happy. But I was getting careless. I was starting to treat him like my lover when we were not in private and people started to talk. Father wasn't amused. He gave me a long and stern talking to, about how I should treat my pet appropriately, how I should start growing up and properly representing the family."
Irana sighs deeply. "And I started yelling at him, telling him I loved Sable and there was nothing he could do about it. I was an idiot. A lovesick fool. I should have stayed calm and nodded my head and went on loving him in secret. I should have kept him safe. I failed him." She rubs at her eyes, fighting tears. "When I got back to my rooms he was already gone. Father had him taken away immediately, blaming Sable for screwing with the mind of his innocent little girl. I was furious. I shouted and even tried to hit father. They just locked me up and gave me sleeping potions 'until I came to my senses again'. Took me much too long. By the time I realized that I would have to pretend to be a good little girl to ever find my hare again, he had been sold and disappeared without a trace."
Keryn gets up to settle on the armrest of her chair so she can lean against him. She cuddles into him, hiding her face against him and he wraps one arm around her.
"You've seen him." She says, muffled against his side, crying in earnest now. "He must have been through terrible things and it's all my fault. How can I ever expect him to forgive me?"
Irana doesn't not notice as Dusk and her hare appear in the doorway, back from washing. She continues: "What if he only sees me as his mistress now? Or if he thinks I only want him back as a fuck toy? He's the only friend I've ever had. I love him, Keryn!"
Sable's eyes grow round as he hears her words and Keryn has no trouble reading his love for Irana in the hare's eyes.
"I think he knows." Keryn says softly. "You just told him." He gently disentangles Irana from himself and turns her head towards the door.
"Irana…" Sable says softly, now ignoring any titles. Then he is through the room in a few quick paces and draws her from the chair to hug her fiercely. She clings to him and cries and he strokes her back, over and over whispering reassurances and that he loves her too.
Keryn quietly withdraws, pulling Dusk with him, who is watching Irana and Sable with eyes a little wet too. He is such a sappy hound, really.
"That is so romantic." Dusk whispers, wiping at his eyes.
Keryn agrees. He cuddles his own beastling, and nuzzles his ears. He is very glad that his wife will be happier now. He is also very aware of the warm, soft furred frame of his hound pressing against him and the bedroom isn't far. With gentle insistence he pulls Dusk that way. He needs a moment to catch up on his master's plans, but then he suddenly is the one who does the pulling.
They topple onto the bed together, making short work of each other's clothing. Keryn allows Dusk to wrestle him down and then nuzzle and lick him all over. He has learned nothing else will get the hound as excited as being so drunk on the scent of his master.
Then he rolls them over and kneels between Dusk's legs to prepare him, while taking care not to crush his tail. He is quite practiced with that now, making sure that he doesn't hurt his hound in any way.
Dusk moans and whines as Keryn stretches him, his eyes closed tightly, paws fisting in the sheets with carefully sheathed claws. Keryn loves the way his furred chest and belly ripple as muscles tense and relax, how Dusk's cock lies straining against his belly, begging for attention. He takes his time, teasing Dusk to the edge of orgasm, fucking him with his fingers.
Finally his hound opens his eyes to glare at him mournfully. "Pleeeease…" he begs prettily.
Not an invitation Keryn is capable of resisting. Heat envelops him as he pushes inside Dusk in one smooth move. It's perfect and he stays motionless, revelling in the sensation of muscles clenching tight around his cock.
He stays that way. He firmly grips the hound's long, smooth cock and starts stroking him. Dusk yelps and twists and then starts fucking himself in time with Keryn's strokes. He looks so hot and feels so good Keryn is hard pressed to stay in control, but somehow he manages to keep up his rhythm while Dusk grows tighter around him, while he fucks himself harder and harder.
Only when Dusk comes with a howl of pleasure does he release the hound's cock and his control and starts slamming into him, riding him hard through his orgasm and then coming himself.
A little later Keryn and Dusk are sitting on the ledge of their wide bedroom window, cuddled together and wrapped in a blanket. Keryn is watching the night sky, but Dusk's attention is on Irana and Sable, who are walking hand in hand along the edge of the island below.
"Can I ask you something, master?" Dusk speaks up suddenly.
"Sure." Keryn strokes the hound's ears softly.
"I know that helping Master Roars is really important to you and… well… I know it's the right thing to do… and… I was wondering… is it very selfish of me when I wish you wouldn't…?"
Keryn blinks at Dusk in surprise. He is certainly not someone he would have expected objections from to trying to free the beastlings. "Why would you want that?" he asks, confused, "after all we are doing this for you."
Dusk wrinkles his snout. "Well, no. Not for me." He explains. "I already have everything I want." He presses closer against Keryn to show what he means and his voice takes on a mournful tone. "I don't want to lose you." He says softly. "I don't ever want to lose you and I know this is very dangerous."
Keryn feels like he is going to melt from the sweet warmth of Dusk's words. He cuddles the hound close, burying his face in soft fur.
"I understand." He replies. "But all I can promise is that I will be very careful."
Dusk sighs softly. "I guess I knew that," he says, sounding sad and proud at the same time, "after all you are a hero, master."
The night after Sable's purchase, Keryn finally receives the summons to appear before High Command.
That means it's time for a different kind of dress up. Not night elf prince with silk and velvet but night elf champion. Dusk carefully packed up Keryn's armour after the repairs on it had been completed. Now Keryn puts it back on and it feels like slipping into another self. The familiar weight of heavy leather and silver, the weave of protective magic tingling his senses.
During the time he spent in the war this had become like a second skin and he realizes with silent amusement that he misses it. Not the stupid endeavour of the war, but being out there, travelling, fighting, seeing something new every day. He is not made to stay at home and count numbers like his mother or brother, sitting on his ass feeling like he really is doing nothing at all. He needs to get back out there and he can sense the same kind of restlessness in Roars. Maybe it is a side effect of being a champion. His mother always says his father couldn't stand staying in one place for too long, either.
His warrior look seems to have the same effect on Dusk and Irana. They both have trouble keeping their paws off him, much to Roars' amusement. When Keryn escapes their attention, he takes a floating barge to the large second tier island where the impressive dome of High Command is located.
Banners of all the high elf families involved in the war effort are flying outside. Trolls stand guard, wearing heavy plate armour and displaying the huge axes and hammers they prefer as weapons. An image of martial prowess and superiority is projected here.
Keryn finds it rather amusing. None of these trolls has ever seen actual war, they are selected only for how impressive they look. Keryn wouldn't be surprised if some of them didn't even know how to use those weapons.
Roars expressed interest in accompanying Keryn, but Keryn argued against it. Better not to give High Command an opportunity to lay claim to the trophy beastling Keryn had brought home from that fatal battle. What they don't see is more likely to escape their attention.
The hallways inside the dome are wide, paved with shiny black stone, the walls of brass and dark wood, wisp lanterns float under the ceiling. Not welcoming, but impressive and quite gloomy.
A guide picks up Keryn at the entrance and shows him the way to the chamber where he will be heard. He isn't entirely sure whether he will be interviewed or interrogated, since his report was brief and concise but not exactly polite.
When he enters the chamber, he is faced with a board of five elder night elf councillors who look in equal parts grim, attentive and polite. They wear a mix of rich robes and armour pieces which is at the same time impressive and entirely impractical. Keryn is gestured to stand at ease in front of them and then the elf at the centre introduces all of them. Keryn tries to pay attention to who is who, but with their long titles, by the time the last one is introduced, he has already forgotten the name of the first.
He is then asked to recount the events leading up to the battle and the battle itself. This time, he tries to add more details and leave out how very disgusted he was by the whole thing. The councillors listen and inject questions now. Some of those questions make sense to Keryn since they clarify details, but others seem just ridiculous.
Like one of them asking him whether he is really sure that the 'magical anomaly' was a maelstrom.
Keryn asks back what the councillor would call a giant vortex in the sky sucking up everything and everyone.
He is reminded that he is the one supposed to answer question. So he says, that yes, he would call it a maelstrom, reminding himself how he really wants to stay polite and obedient here.
When he tells them how he jumped from the airship they ask how he survived the fall. He tells them that he used a spell to reduce his weight which is what grandmother has taught him.
This is followed by a lengthy argument among the councillors whether that really happened where he is expected to remain quiet. Of course it is rather unusual for a champion to be able to learn weaving spells at all. The nullifying effect of the soulblade keeps most champions from being able to be active magic users. But it is not entirely unheard of, so Keryn has no clue why they wouldn't believe him.
Only slowly does he understand that their argument is not about whether they believe him or not at all, they do. It's about what they will state publicly. And a champion jumping out of an airship and just surviving the fall is so much more impressive than one breaking his fall with a spell. It's all about propaganda.
Next up they question him about how he found Roars. Keryn keeps that tale to as simple lies as possible. He found the beastling in the wreckage of a sun elf airship. He freed Roars from the debris and now the beastling feels that he owes Keryn his life and serves him with single minded loyalty.
"Such a silly notion." One of the councillors remarks and for a moment Keryn is worried they don't believe him. "So typical of a beastling." The councillor than adds in oblivious arrogance.
They dismiss Roars as inconsequential from their minds and instead focus on whether anyone else could have survived the battle. After all they can not claim victory if at some point the sun elves present a survivor as well.
Keryn explains that only a champion or someone protected by a champion would have been able to fight their way through all the magic infused undead since only a soulblade can cut the strings of corrupted spell holding them together.
Their next question takes Keryn by surprise. What would he suggest as the best way to capture some of the undead for study. This time Keryn can't stay docile and very frankly tells them how much he thinks it would be a very bad idea not to simply eradicate the undead as quickly as possible.
He also uses the opportunity to enquire how the maelstrom is doing. He is told that it has started to close up and that they expect it to disappear in the course of the next few months. While he listens to them argue about his opinion regarding the undead, he learns that they have lost another two airships, trying to get close enough to the vortex to study it. It's plain disgusting how they throw away lives so carelessly, but Keryn keeps his mouth shut.
In the end they decide to disregard his recommendation and send out a team of mages and warriors anyway to bring back some undead specimen to the capital for study. After all they would make great shock troops if they could be controlled.
Keryn thinks they are insane and decides that they will leave Zarathiol long before that team gets back.
He still needs to come up with a reason for High Command to send him into sun elf territory, though, and maybe the study of undead is just what he needs.
"So have the sun elves started studying these undead, too?" he asks innocently. "Or did they create them?"
The councillors glare at him and that tells him the answer even before one of them speaks. "Our spies believe that they have already successfully captured a specimen for study." They all look grim at the idea.
"So what are we doing about that?" Keryn asks, trying not to sound too eager.
The middle councillor shrugs with a displeased frown. "Not much we can do." He explains. "They will study the specimen in a high security facility. None of our spies can enter there without their magic detecting them."
And isn't that a nice opening. "Why don't you send in a champion, then?" Keryn asks, "they would be virtually undetectable."
"None of our champions is trained as a spy," another councillor answers, "they don't have the necessary knowledge about the sun elves courts to pose as one. Besides, they are all on other missions, currently."
"I'm free." Keryn points out helpfully. "And I do happen to have a very loyal beastling at my disposal who is intimately familiar with the sun elf courts."
Keryn is lucky that champions are famous for volunteering for the most mad and dangerous missions or the councillors might question why exactly he is offering his services so freely after he has just so spoken out so vehemently against any study of the undead abominations. Instead they exchange a few looks he can't quite interpret.
"Your willingness to serve your people is commendable, Champion Taraskeryn," the councillor at the centre tells him in a patronizing voice, "we will take your offer in consideration."
That could mean anything, but Keryn decides that pushing for more would look suspicious.
The councillors waste some more of his time with questions about irrelevant details before they finally let him go with the order to remain in the capital in case they need to interview him again or have new orders. Keryn hopes for orders and no more questions.
He doesn't linger in the oppressive gloom of the dome. Instead he escapes to the markets in the commerce district of the lowest tier. After being such a good boy, listening to so much stupidity and arrogance he thinks he deserves a reward. In this case spending some of the funds his mother has set aside for this visit to buy some presents for the people dear to his heart.
A small, sharp dagger which can easily be concealed in a boot or the folds of a dress for Irana. A fur brush for Sable, so Dusk doesn't have to share his. A box of dried beef treats for Dusk. A leather bound notebook for Roars, so he will have a place to collect all his thoughts, plans and mad schemes.
Wandering around the market aimlessly clears his head and by the time he returns to the tower his impotent anger at the folly of High Command has cooled to dry amusement. Seeing how everyone enjoys his small presents lifts his spirits.
Later, he sits down with Roars and a good bottle of wine and tells his friend all about the meeting, including his tentative plans to go to the sun elf realm to look for the rest of Roars' litter. His friend approves of the idea, but also immediately points out a glaring problem Keryn conveniently overlooked - if Keryn and Roars go off on adventure that will leave Irana, Sable and Dusk alone at the family estate. And that is only if they somehow manage to convince Irana to stay back at the estate at all. Keryn thinks that Irana will be quite capable in kicking Ceriel's ass into next week. Only she might only get to do so after he has already harmed Sable or Dusk.
The easiest solution would of course be to kill Ceriel. Even though Keryn knows there are plenty of reasons to do so he still is reluctant outright kill his only brother. He would also need at least some sort of recent excuse to do that and Ceriel has been extremely cautious around him since he tried the trick with the potions he slipped Roars and Dusk.
Maybe it will be enough to cause some kind of confrontation between Keryn's brother and Irana which will be violent enough to spook Ceriel into fearing Irana like he now fears Keryn.
In the end they leave the matter open to further discussion with Irana herself. They will have to decide what to do if and when Keryn really does receive orders from High Command to infiltrate the sun elf courts.
"So have you had a chance to talk to Sable, yet?" Keryn asks as Roars enters the sitting room.
It is early afternoon and they have both just gotten up. Even though they do not dare to train with their soulblades here in the capital, they are sticking to their routine of getting up in the middle of the day and going to bed in the middle of the night. It gives them a chance to keep up their less conspicuous fitness training while Irana still sleeps.
"Yes." Roars plops down on the couch next to Keryn and then thanks Dusk, who serves him a mug of steaming hot tea. He inhales deeply and that eases the frown on his brow.
"And what did he say?" Keryn prods.
Sable has settled in quite well with them in the last few days. From the amount of time he and Irana spend in his wife's bedroom he assumes that the hare must have build up quite a healthy appetite during his separation from his mistress. It is plain adorable to see them cuddle and hold hands. They also talk a lot, catching up on each others lives, which Keryn finds even more reassuring.
Dusk and Sable get along quite well, Sable has quickly picked up on what Dusk's duties are and is helping with them now. It hasn't escaped Keryn how is hound sometimes sneaks glances at the hare's cute little tail when he thinks no one is watching and how he licks his snout then hungrily. Keryn isn't entirely sure which instinct Dusk is falling victim to there, whether he wants to chase him around the tower or fuck him senseless. But Dusk is much too polite and well behaved to do anything about it.
Keryn on the other hand very much plans to do something about it when Irana and Sable are done with their getting reacquainted. Sable treats him with a mix of the polite obedience expected of a good beastling servant and a cocky curiosity that Keryn finds entirely endearing. The fact that Irana loves Keryn seems to help the hare a lot when it comes to relaxing around Keryn.
That leaves Roars the only one who is still eyed with caution by the hare. Whenever possible, Sable avoids the huge beastling and neither Keryn nor Roars had a clue why. So Roars had decided to corner the hare and simply ask about it.
"Apparently Irana told him some nonsense about how I am the hero in this story and how you and Irana will help me free the beastlings. And being a smart hare he started to wonder what the fuck I had done to you and Irana to make you follow me."
Even though Roars sounds deeply annoyed, Keryn can't help snorting in amusement. "Well, you ARE the hero of this story. I thought we had determined that you were the one with the extraordinary fate?"
Roars growls at him, but then gets distracted by Dusk handing him a plate heaped with breakfast. He takes a big bite out of the roasted ham and that seems to pacify him considerably. "I explained that you and Irana are my friends and that I am not leading this rebellion but that we are in it together." He then says. "Not sure if it actually helped any, though. I think just like Dusk he doesn't fully approve of what we are doing. He'd much rather have his mistress not involved with anything dangerous whatsoever. I guess I will just have to be patient and…"
"There is someone sneaking up the stairs." Dusk interrupts him suddenly.
Both Keryn and Roars look startled at the hound, who is standing motionless, his ears perked up, snout pointing towards the doorway leading to the stairs. They rise, turning from friendly banter to lethal warrior in a heartbeat.
Keryn motions Dusk towards the bedroom, while his soulblade already coalesces in his hand. Roars pulls the dagger he always wears, not wanting to expose his own soulblade just yet. Dusk quickly obeys and then Keryn and Roars are moving towards the stairwell soundlessly. Travelling and training together has made them a good team, they communicate with a glance and a gesture.
They are both sure that it must be some intruder. The Bagoth of the tower simply never sneak. That their unwelcome visitor shows up during the day when he must be expecting all the high elves of the tower to be asleep is further evidence that he is probably planning something unpleasant. Listening carefully, they detect furtive movement a little up the stairs.
Keryn darts after that sound, there is no way he will allow them to reach Irana who is sleeping on the floor above.
He is a little surprised when the sneaking person turns out to be a diminutive Slaigh. But that doesn't stop him from grabbing the lesser elf from behind and violently shoving him against the wall of the stairwell, pinning him with one hand around his throat and the other holding the edge of his blade just below his hand against that throat.
The Slaigh yelps in surprise and pain and struggles weakly. Not like any kind of trained fighter or assassin, Keryn notes. But maybe a spy sent by Irana's brother.
"Who the fuck are you?!" he hisses angrily.
The deathly pale Slaigh looks at him with huge, dark eyes full of fear and trembles in Keryn's grip, but he stubbornly presses his thin lips together.
Then Roars comes up behind Keryn's shoulder and those eyes widen even more as he stares at the huge beastling in horror.
"Who sent you?" Keryn tries another question. "Why are you sneaking through my tower?!"
"Let me help." Roars offers.
Keryn expects him to have a sensible, brilliant approach to the problem, so he makes a startled sound when Roars bends down, grips the Slaigh by one ankle and then turns him upside down, shaking him, gently for a creature of Roars strength. The Slaigh screams in terror, killing any hope Keryn had they might settle this without waking Irana.
"Stop shaking him!" Keryn tells Roars and then starts patting the Slaigh down, looking for any clues why he has been sneaking around the tower.
He finds no weapons, but in one pocket is a folded piece of paper. The Slaigh struggles once more when Keryn extracts it and then looks at it, but the glyphs scribbled on it tell Keryn nothing. Some kind of code, apparently.
Slowly he is starting to suspect who their visitor might be when a very rumpled Irana appears from higher up the stair, rubbing at her eyes.
"What the…?" she starts and then stares at the upside down Slaigh in shock. "Juna?? What are you…?"
"You know this guy?" Roars asks her.
Irana nods. "Yes, he is with the underground. Would you please…?"
Before she can finish her sentence Roars is already gently lowering the Slaigh to the ground. He sits between Roars and Keryn looking dazed, scared and confused.
"He was sneaking around." Keryn explains. "He also had this notice. It's probably for you." He hands over the piece of paper to Irana, who is waking up rapidly.
"Juna, why the fuck didn't you just knock on the door or something?!" she berates the poor Slaigh. "I fucking TOLD you my husband is on our side!" She really gets in a filthy swearing mood when woken suddenly, Keryn notices rather amused.
The shell-shocked way Juna looks up at Keryn and Roars very much says he doesn't believe for a second that this dangerous high elf champion and his hulking pet beastling are anything but a menace to society, but he doesn't say so out loud.
Keryn hunkers down in front of. "Sorry about that." He says earnestly. "But I react rather allergic when someone could be threatening my wife's well-being."
Irana studies the note. Apparently she can read the code, as her hand suddenly flies up to her mouth and she whispers a horrified: "Oh no." Then she looks at Juna, who slowly seems to gather his wits again. "Is it true?" she demands.
Again the Slaigh looks at Keryn and Roars and then at Irana as if he expects her to keep whatever is in the note secret from them.
"Juna! For fuck's sake!" Irana growls at him. "I would tell them anyway and they might be able to help! They have captured Maroon? How could that happen?"
"Maroon, the rebel-otter?" Roars interrupts, "the one who organized the dock worker strike and robbed the treasury chest of Lord Zidanaiaro?"
Keryn has never heard of this beastling, but of course Roars would know.
Irana nods. "Yes, he's been a leader of the underground for years. I have never met him in person, but I've only heard good things about him."
"I've seen wanted posters of him." Roars sounds approving and maybe even a little admiring. "He sure has guts."
"They will be taking him to the City Guards Headquarters in only a few hours!" Juna blurts out. "And once their interrogators get their hand on him it will only be a matter of time until he tells them everything!" He hides his face in his hands, his shoulders slumping forward. "They'll find all of us." He whispers desolately. "We are starting to evacuate." He looks up at Irana imploringly. "I'm not sure he knows about you. But it will be safer if you leave now while you still can."
Irana looks ready to panic when Roars interrupts. "Rubbish." He says calmly. "Why don't you just free him?"
"Free him?!" The Slaigh looks at Roars like he has suddenly sprouted an additional head. "Fight city guard trolls? Are you insane?"
Roars grins at him showing off all his impressive teeth and looking very, very dangerous.
"He's right." Keryn tells Roars. "They have no way of freeing that rebel-otter. We, on the other hand..."
Now Roars grin gets even wider and he looks delighted. "Oh, yes! I like where this is going!"
Juna still sits on the floor, now staring up at them rather numbly. "But... but..." he sputters.
"No, this might actually work." Irana says and rubs her hands. "Where are they keeping him, Juna? And when do they plan to transfer him? And how did he get caught anyway?"
The Slaigh manages to look even more overwhelmed with Irana's barrage of questions, but he somehow works his way through them. "He was caught at a secret meeting. I don't know who he was supposed to meet, but apparently they never showed up, it was a set up. Someone must have betrayed him! Right now they are keeping him at the warehouse where the meeting was supposed to go down. As far as I know they are getting an armoured vehicle to take him to headquarters."
"So we better move quickly and ask additional questions later." Roars sums up. "I'm pretty sure me and Keryn can handle this."
Juna looks ready to faint. "No, no..." he whispers weakly.
"Where exactly is that warehouse where they are holding him now?" Keryn asks, ignoring the feeble attempts at somehow stopping them from their plan. It is a little insane, of course. But they are two champions working as a team, which is nothing simple city guard trolls could ever prepare for. It also means they will leave no magical traces which can be followed back to them. Obviously, that will point to a champion being involved, but with a little luck it will only lead to a mad chase after some none existent sun elf champion spy.
"At the docks." Juan finally gives in and describes the exact place to them.
"You will not tell anyone that we are going to rescue him!" Roars commands Juna. Keryn doesn't understand why until his friend continues: "Whoever betrayed him would probably do it again. We really don't need city guards knocking on our door, searching for a rebel-otter."
Juna nods faintly.
"I'll make sure he behaves." Irana assures Roars and Keryn. "Now go!"
Keryn and Roars waste no more time. They leave Juna in the care of Irana, ignore the disapproving looks Dusk heaps them with, shrug into armour and cloaks and then head out of the tower towards the jetty, where the island's barges are tied up. Keryn knows well enough how to steer the little floating boats. Only minutes later they are off to rescue a rebel-otter from torture and death.
It feels strange to steer their barge towards the harbour in brought daylight. Freeing a rebel-otter in a daring attack on city guard trolls is something that should be done under the cover of night. So daylight in Zarathiol has the great advantage that a lot less folk are around. High elves are asleep during the day, most business is conducted at night and therefore many lesser elves keep nightly hours as well.
The harbour isn't as quiet as the rest of the city, but still a lot calmer than it would be at night.
While they make their way there, Roars tells Keryn a few more facts about the Maroon. Like most otter beastlings in the city he was created to work in the shipyards of capital. Their natural affinity to water makes them perfect for cleaning and repairing waterships.
His rebel career began when he started organizing first the otters and then the other beastlings used in the harbour. In carefully planned actions they simultaneously stopped working to force their elf masters to give them better living conditions. The harbour strikes were a major nuisance and the elves owning the warehouses and shipyards did everything in their power to find out who was behind them. Learning that it was an otter named Maroon was very helpful, though, since otters looked amazingly alike.
Roars sounds quite amused when he describes the wanted poster he has seen of Maroon as showing an entirely generic looking otter. He guesses that Maroon has probably been hiding in plain view all this time, posing as just another shipyard worker.
Now he has been caught, though, and probably through treachery. That means freeing him won't be enough, Keryn will also have to hide him and they will need to find whoever betrayed him.
When they reach the harbour they sail the barge above the warehouse they know Maroon is being held at. Since they have no way of telling how many guards are inside and where exactly the otter is being held, they decide that the safest route of action will be to ambush the transport after they have put Maroon into the transport and are heading away from the warehouse. They know it will be a ground transport because the headquarters is one of the very few official building located on the lowest tier since the prison cells are located underground. The narrow alleys between the warehouses are in deep shadows from the islands floating above and not well lit, so an unobserved ambush should be possible.
They hide the barge on the roof of an adjacent warehouse and settle in to wait in the spot where they have a good view of the front doors.
"How do we get him out without them getting a good look at us?" Roars asks after a while. "I mean, we are not exactly average looking."
Keryn blinks at his friend in surprise. He thought the solution to that was pretty obvious. "We don't?" he answers. "We'll have to kill them. If they have cow beastlings pulling the transport, we better kill them too."
"Oh." Roars says unhappily. For a moment he is quiet. Then he adds: "Doesn't it feel wrong to you? Killing them even though they are just doing their job?"
Now Keryn fully turns to face Roars. "Yes, it isn't right," he agrees, "but if you really want to help your people gain more freedom I can assure you these won't be the only innocents who will get hurt. Didn't you kill any people when you robbed transports back in the sun elf realms?"
Roars shrugs. "Not if we could help it." He shakes his head thoughtfully. "Killing comes so easily to elves. It never fails to amaze me how you can be so cold blooded about it."
Keryn has never really thought about it, but now that Roars spells it out so clearly, he can't help but agree. On a purely intellectual level he knows that it is wrong to kill these guards simply because they are in the way. But he doesn't feel any remorse for doing so. It isn't really his place to decide this, though.
"It is your decision to make." He tells Roars. "You must decide whether you want to accept the cost of innocent lives for the greater good of your people. I will abide by whatever you want."
With a groan Roars rubs his face with his huge paws. "Gee, thanks, Keryn." He grumbles. "But you are right, of course." He stares down at the warehouse entrance in silence for a while, then he nods, clearly having come to a decision. "Let's do it. Those trolls could have taken any other job, one that does not involve escorting beastlings to be tortured and killed. They may not deserve to die for it, but it is an occupational hazard they accepted."
His explanation makes Keryn wonder whether they will have this discussion every single time they need to kill someone in order to help the beastling cause. But he doesn't argue the point. Roars probably knows well enough that there will be sacrifices.
They have to wait a little longer, but then they here the rattle of wheels on the cobblestone paving the alley leading up to the warehouse. Two cow beastlings are pulling the transport which consists of a large wooden box, enforced with steel. It could be called a coach if it didn't lack windows and had only one lockable door in the back. The transport is accompanied by four large city guard trolls, who look serious and grim.
The security measures they are taking here are quite high, considering they are on their very own turf, Keryn thinks. Maybe they are expecting an attempt to free the rebellious otter and want to discourage it from the get go.
Roars and Keryn watch as the door to the warehouse is opened and a Slaigh wearing expensive robes steps outside, accompanied by two more city guard trolls. Keryn guesses that the Slaigh is in charge of the operation as he is clearly giving orders. Two of the trolls head inside. When they return, they are dragging a battered otter who looks tiny between their massive frames. The otter doesn't struggle but hangs limply.
"I hope he is worth it." Roars whispers as they watch the otter being thrown into the wagon and the door being locked.
Then the Slaigh heads back inside the warehouse with his two guards and the wagon sets off back the way it has come, the cow beastling huffing as they turn the heavy vehicle around.
Roars and Keryn follow them, running along the roofs of the warehouses. They are much faster than the cow beastlings are pulling so they have a good pick of an ambush spot.
"Ready?" Keryn asks his friend, as they are looking down into the narrow alley where the wagon is passing with its four guards.
Roars nods. Then he jumps down, landing on all four paws right in front of the wagon. The cow beastlings jerk back in panic at his sudden appearance, he doesn't even have to roar at them. The trolls, on the other hand, are well trained and quickly draw their weapons. Roars straightens up and grins at them with all his teeth, his hands still empty.
Keryn gives them a moment to concentrate on his friend, then he soundlessly lands behind them. His soulblade cuts to armour, skin and bone with equal ease and one of the trolls collapses with a strangled cry.
One of the trolls turns on Keryn while the other two attack Roars. Their blades meet with the unexpected resistance of Roars' own huge soulblade, which appears in his paws much too quickly for them to comprehend.
The eyes of the troll who has turned to Keryn widen as he realized who and what he is facing. His mouth forms a silent 'no' and his head starts the motion of shaking when Keryn attacks. He is too fast for the troll to even bring his sword up in time to defend himself. Keryn goes for a quick kill and runs him through. He withdraws just as quickly to evade the falling troll.
Roars has by now killed one of his opponents as well. His soulblade has left a massive wound in the troll's flank, he must have died instantly. Now Roars is hacking at the troll with all his strength and the weight of his weapon, cleanly cleaving through the troll's shield. His soulblade impacts with the troll's shoulder and hacks through.
The very unfair fight has lasted not even a minute.
Keryn walks over to the two cow beastlings who are harnessed to the wagon. The huge creatures are both pressed with their backs against the wagon, eyes rolling in panic, showing the white, panting loudly. They aren't intelligent enough to understand what is happening here, it is the smell of blood and the violence which panic them. Even though they aren't intelligent enough to tell anyone what has happened either it might be possible to pick the images of Keryn and Roars from their minds with magic.
Letting his blade disappear, Keryn raises his hands in a calming gesture. "Ssh." He says softly. He knows how to handle cow beastlings, there are plenty back at his family's estate. They panic easily but are just as easily pacified. He steps close to them and firmly strokes both their necks. After a while they relax into his touch, tension leaving their bodies. Their nostrils still flare at the scent of blood, but their eyes close in submission.
Soundlessly Keryn draws the dagger from his belt, then slits both their throats in quick succession. It is a pity, but it can't be helped.
When he turns back to Roars, he is startled to see him ram his huge soulblade through the wound of the troll Keryn has killed.
"What…?" Keryn begins to ask.
Roars looks up at him with a grim expression. "This way they won't be able to match the wounds to your blade." He explains. Once more, his planning ahead proves flawless.
Keryn nods and then quickly searches the bodies of the trolls for the keys to the wagon's door. He unlocks the door and then they both peer into the unlit interior. The rebel otter is sitting on the ground, looking back at them with a healthy dose of caution. He is of the compact build usual for his race. He looks beaten up, but not seriously wounded. His arms are tied on his back and Keryn can smell the strong magic on the ropes they used.
"Come on!" Roars tells the other beastling impatiently, "We don't have all day!"
The otter isn't moving. "And who are you…?" He asks. All things considered he really does have a right to ask that of a high elf.
"We are here to rescue you." Keryn tells him. "I hope you are Maroon…?"
For a moment the otter looks like he is going to deny it, more out of habit than anything else probably, but then he nods slowly. Now he does get up, pushing himself up with his strong tail as he can't use his hands. He staggers a little, weakened by his beating. Keryn steadies him and helps him out of the wagon.
Then Maroon gasps as he sees the dead troll guards. He must have heard the sounds of fighting, but seeing the mutilated bodies is something different still. The otter looks from Keryn to Roars with a mix of horror and respect.
Deciding to give him all the shocks at once, Keryn materializes his soulblade and uses it to cut the Maroon's magic bonds. The otter opens his mouth to ask another question, but then thinks better of it and snaps it shut again. His shiny, dark eyes are full of those unasked questions, though.
"Let's get away from here," Roars says, "while our luck holds."
They lead Maroon back to where they have left the barge, darting through the dark alleys. Climbing up to the roof of the warehouse proves a problem for the otter, he leans against the wall, gasping in pain and cradling his chest. Keryn uses his one healing spell to seal cracked ribs back together and now a first smile appears on Maroon's face.
"Thank you, most strange elf." He says.
Only when they are in the barge and drifting away from the harbour towards the city centre and up to the highest tier, Keryn and Roars relax slightly.
"Right." Maroon interrupts the silence, watching both of them intense curiosity. "Who the fuck are you guys? I know you are not with the underground cause, damn it, I'm pretty sure I would have known if we had a champion up our sleeves."
"Actually," Roars says and finally his grim expression lightens a little, "make that two champions."
His soulblade flickers in his hands just long enough for Maroon to gape at it open mouthed.
"Shit…" the otter whispers and looks up from Roars' paws to his face, "you are… that is just… wow…"
Keryn answers Maroon's actual question. "You could call us new allies of the underground." He says. "Does the name Irana ring any bell?"
The otter nods and then understanding dawn in his eyes. "YOU are the champion she was packed off to marry." Now he looks even more awed. "But… you're a war hero. Why would you help us?" Then he glances at Roars again and answers his own question. "Okay, being friends with a beastling champion might be a good reason…" He shakes his head, his ears flicking in irritation. "But why would you risk your hides for me?"
This time Roars answers. "If they'd had chance to question you, you would have given away all your friends in the underground. They were ready to pack up and run give up on the whole rebellion idea."
Maroon sighs. "I guess we still need to work on the bravery part." He grumbles, more to himself than them. He looks up surprised when Roars grunts in agreement.
"Anyway, we decided you were worth the risk." Roars says. "Not many beastlings around who are willing to do what you have done."
"Thank you." Maroon says earnestly. " So what now?" He then asks. "I can't just go back. Someone sold me out and I have no clue who it was."
"I'll hide you until we can find out." Keryn supplies.
Roars rumbles thoughtfully. "We need to come up with a good reason why you suddenly have an otter when one has just gone missing." He says, when Keryn and Maroon look at him questioningly.
"We could just hide him away at the tower and let no one see him?" Keryn suggests.
"Are your sure your Bagoth servants won't chatter about him?" Roars asks back and Keryn has to admit he can't guarantee that. Roars eyes Maroon with a frown. "Keryn, what do you think of his ears?" he suddenly asks, with a dangerously cheerful note in his voice.
"His ears?" Keryn asks incredulously while Maroon himself touches his ears in confusion.
Roars nods vigorously. "Yes, his ears." He grins. "Come on, now, Keryn! I know you have a thing for ears! Don't you think they are cute?"
Now Keryn does check out the otter's tiny, round ears curiously. They admittedly are cute, but he still has no clue where Roars is going with this.
"Uh…" he says not very brightly.
"I'm sure you think they are just adorable." Roars chuckles. "After all you have always wanted a sweet, cuddly otter pet to fuck, don't you?"
Now both Keryn and Maroon catch on to what Roars is implying.
While Keryn still draws breathe to tell Roars what a stupid idea that is, Maroon speaks already. "Oh, that is brilliant!" he exclaims. "Hiding in plain view has always worked best."
Roars nods. "If we hide you and they find you anyway they'll have no doubt who you are. If Keryn puts you on display as his newest fuck toy, however…"
Keryn looks from Roars' grin to the mischievous sparkle in Maroon's eyes and feels slightly run over. Apparently it is true what they say about otters not being able to resist a prank.
"You really think that will work?" Keryn asks lamely.
"If Maroon can play his part?" Roars looks questioningly at the otter.
Keryn blinks at Maroon in disbelieve as he otter ducks submissively and puts on a slightly sulky pout. "Of course I'm an accomplished liar, master." He says, his words not fitting his suddenly husky voice and then he snuggles up against Keryn, one of his paws starting to sneak between Keryn's legs. "I'd do anything to please master." He purrs.
"Ugh!" Keryn exclaims and firmly removes that paw back into Maroon's own lap. He forcibly has to remind himself this otter is not a poor, helpless rescued pet like Dusk or Sable, but a fighter and leader, even if he does look quite cute.
"Is he always this frigid?" The otter asks Roars back in a conversational tone.
Roars' laughter can only be called roaring and Keryn has the distinct feeling that he now truly is in over his head with two way too smart, way too daring beastlings.
"I don't like him." Dusk's voice is a soft whisper, as if he worries Maroon might hear him even though the otter is on another floor, being thoroughly washed by Sable and getting his bruises checked by Irana.
The otter was delighted by the prospect of a good long soak. Being out of water for an extended amount of time doesn't exactly kill his race, but it is highly unpleasant. He promised Keryn with another seductive purr that he would be all shiny and pretty and ready to serve his new master in no time.
Unfortunately Dusk heard him say that as well.
"He is just going to pretend that he is my pet." Keryn tells Dusk gently. He is sitting on the couch and now he pulls the hound down to him and against his side and starts stroking one of his long ears.
"I still don't like him." Dusk growls. "He is filthy and insolent and… he… he smells of otter!"
Keryn somehow manages not to laugh at this very true accusation.
"Did he even thank you?" Dusk continues. "He didn't seem very grateful!"
"Yes, he did thank us." Keryn says. He is grateful himself, that Dusk is starting to shake off his scared, submissive pet behaviour. Though it would have been nice if he picked another topic to be officially offended about.
"So how long do we have to keep him?" Dusk asks, gazing up at Keryn imploringly.
Keryn sighs. "Until we can find out who sold him out or find another option where he can hide." He answers truthfully.
Dusk echoes his sigh in a much more suffering manner and snuggles against Keryn possessively. For a moment he relaxes, but then he tenses up again. "You aren't really going to fuck him, are you?" he asks with a decidedly threatening undertone.
The thought hadn't crossed Keryn's mind. He has been plenty busy with the sudden turn of events this day has taken. Thinking of shiny otter fur, compact muscles, adorably tiny ears and a seedy smirk in the corner of Maroon's short snout makes the idea attractive. Probably Maroon would bite off some important part at the suggestion. And if he doesn't, Dusk certainly will.
"Of course not." Keryn replies dutifully and Dusk relaxes against him again with a satisfied little grunt.
Keryn's life is a lot more complicated since Roars has stepped into it, but it is also a lot less dull and Keryn wouldn't want the old one back.
Almost as if his thoughts have conjured him, a Bagoth servant pokes his head in the sitting room. "Master Taraskeryn?" he asks, looking nervous and confused.
"Yes?" Keryn gently disentangles himself from his clingy hound.
The Bagoth nervously wrings his hands. "Master, two representatives of the city guard have arrived and wish to speak to you."
For a panicked moment Keryn feels the hilt of his soulblade already tickle his palm, but then he dismisses the panic as well as the urge to draw his blade. If they suspected he had anything to do with the attack on the rebel-otter transport, they would have sent more than two people and they wouldn't be asking politely.
Outside, the sun is about to dip below the horizon and the city is slowly waking up. Not the polite time for a social visit, so they probably want something urgently and have waited just long enough to be sure he is awake.
"Let them know I have just woken up, but will be with them shortly," Keryn tells the Bagoth servant, "take them to one of the salons on the upper floors and bring them refreshments."
"Yes, Master Taraskeryn." The Bagoth bows and hurries off, now a lot less nervous that he has clear orders to follow.
Keryn gets up as well and quickly starts stripping out of his armour. "Dusk, please bring me my evening robe," he tells his hound, "the one I'm never wearing."
Dusk grins happily. "Yes, master. I knew it was a good idea to bring it along!" he says and scampers off to the bedroom.
"Trouble?" Roars asks from the doorway to his room. He too, is still wearing his armour.
"Maybe." Keryn replies. Out of his armour, he starts unwinding his tight warrior's braid to change it into something that will look like he just hastily tamed his hair after getting up. "City guard is paying us a visit. Better put on something with let blood spatters." He advises.
Roars agrees with a grunt and retreats to his room again.
Moments later Dusk reappears, carrying the elaborately embroidered evening robe Keryn's despises. With wide, billowing sleeves and way too much fabric to ever move quickly in, it must be one of his least favourite garments. That it is a gift from his brother doesn't help either. But it will serve perfectly for this occasion. Dusk helps him into the robe and then ties off the various laces.
"How do I look?" Keryn asks his hound.
"Beautiful, master." Dusk replies with a cheeky little smile. Then he stands on his toes and nuzzles his neck for a moment. "Please be careful." He adds, much more seriously.
Keryn smiles at him. "Don't worry." He tries to reassure his ever worried hound. "It'll be fine."
Dusk just frowns and Keryn quickly leaves before his worries rub off on him. He has always been best at lying when he doesn't think about it and doesn't plan ahead. A Bagoth servant is already waiting for him to show him where they have parked the city guard officials.
When he enters the salon on a high floor of the tower, he find a nervous looking female high elf in dark robes with the city guard insignia emblazoned on the chest and a slightly awestruck looking Slaigh assistant, who is just turning away from the spectacular view one has from a window so high in one of the central towers.
"Champion Taraskeryn." The nervous high elf greets him, while the Slaigh bows quickly. "We are so sorry to disturb you at this early hour, but an emergency has arisen and we hope you can assist us."
Keryn makes a show of looking like he is trying to kick his still sleepy mind into gear. "With whom do I have the pleasure?" he asks. "And of course I will help you to the best of my abilities." Champions always eagerly rush forward when a task is set before them, after all.
"Apologies." The high elf ducks her head, now looking embarrassed on top of nervous. "I'm Captain Vonthadrani and this is my assistant, Lieutenant Hauren."
Keryn politely nods at both. "Please," he gestures to the couch for the Captain and settles in an armchair himself, "sit. Tell me what how I can help."
Captain Vonthadrani sits on the edge of the seat, looking like she is either afraid to dirty or bursting with nervous energy. She rubs her gloved hands over the fabric of her robe unconsciously a few times and then stops herself and visibly forces herself to calm down.
"There has been an… incident." She starts to explain. "Something has happened and a terrible suspicion has arisen." For a moment Keryn feels himself panic again, but he keeps his attentive smile firmly in place. "We hope you can help us either confirm it or put it to rest." Vonthadrani continues.
Keryn puts on a puzzled expression. "That sounds quite mysterious, Captain." He says.
"Oh, I… I'm sorry." Again the other high elf looks embarrassed. "It wasn't my intention…" She huffs in exasperation. "I really should just come out and say it, shouldn't I? We have… uh… misplaced… no… a very important prisoner has been freed just a few hours ago, right here in the streets of the capital."
So this IS about Maroon. The tickle of his blade's hilt returns to Keryn's palm, but he somehow manages to keep his calm.
"I don't quite see yet how this concerns me?" Keryn inquires politely.
"Well, you see," Captain Vonthadrani leans forward conspiratorially, "our arcane forensics team has studied the scene of the attack and they estimate that a soulblade may have been involved."
Keryn raises a curious eyebrow, while trying to calm his racing heartbeat. Of course they would have mages skilled enough to deduce this. The question is what conclusion they have drawn. "Surely you are not implying I was involved…?"
"No, no!" Vonthadrani raises her hands placatory. "Of course not, champion! It could have been any kind of rogue soulblade wielder or even a sun elf spy." She smiles winningly. "We were hoping you would agree to have a look at the scene of the attack. Maybe your unique perspective on soulblades could help us determine whether it really was one."
Keryn feels his cramping stomach relax. "I have no idea if I will even match the expertise of your forensics team, but I will support you any way I can." He offers.
Captain Vonthadrani opens her mouth to answer something appropriately grateful when she is interrupted by a shocked squeak from her assistant. Both Keryn and the Captain follow Lieutenant Hauren's line of sight. Vonthadrani gasps slightly while Keryn somehow manages to keep his reaction to none at all.
In the doorway Maroon has appeared. He is now all sleek, shiny, still damp from his bath and wears nothing but a towel slung low around his hips. He also has a rather foolish smile plastered all over his face.
"Captain… is that…?" Lieutenant Hauren whispers horrified.
The Captain looks from Maroon to Keryn and back, trying to find something to say, when Maroon happily exclaims: "Master!" and bounces over to Keryn to fling himself into Keryn's lap and snuggle up to him. Now Vonthadrani blinks in even deeper consternation and then visibly forces herself back to a more professional expression.
"Champion Tarakeryn… I… erh… must ask you: How long have you had this otter?" she inquires.
Keryn makes a show of settling Maroon more comfortably in his lap and then fondling him absentmindedly. "Oh, for a few days now." He grins at the Captain. "I'm a bit of a collector of cute pets, you see. I also have a hound and a hare."
Maroon makes a surprisingly deep purring sound and his nimble paws start to sneak under Keryn's robe.
"Eh!" Keryn smacks his ass playfully. "Not in front of my guests, you insatiable little beast!"
Maroon burrows closer against Keryn, looking contrite. "Sorry, Master." He mutters and tries to lick Keryn's hand.
Hauren and Vonthadrani exchange a long look which Keryn easily reads as 'this is so not the otter we are looking for and we better totally keep out mouths shut about before we look like complete idiots'.
"He is quite clingy still," Keryn tells the Captain in slightly condescending tone, "it takes a while to properly train them when they are fresh."
"Of course, Champion." The Captain nods politely.
"So where were we…" Keryn wrestles Maroon's questing paws down again. "Ah yes, your crime scene. If you give me a few minutes I'll settle this little rascal, get dressed and then I can accompany you."
That brings a relieved smile to Vonthadrani's face. "That would be most gracious, Champion." She says, somehow managing to bow without even getting up.
"Can I come?" Maroon whispers to Keryn, just loud enough that the two other elves will hear him. "Please, Master? I promise I will be good!"
Keryn gives a suffering sigh. "No, pet, you can't come." He firmly pushes Maroon off his lap. "Now run along, be a dear and tell Dusk I will be needing my armour and that I will take Roars along."
Maroon pouts at him, but when Keryn gives him a stern look he ducks obediently and scampers off.
"It's so hard to be angry with them when they just want to be fucked." Keryn states and Vonthadrani and Hauren do their very best to nod seriously. Keryn has no idea what they are thinking of him now, it could be either honest admiration or them considering him to be an arrogant asshole. Not that he cares. They certainly won't suspect this particular otter to be the one they are looking for.
Hopefully, when he and Roars visit the scene of the attack on the prisoner transport, they will be able to drop some more false leads.
Downstairs Keryn find Roars, Dusk and Maroon waiting for him. Roars looks mostly curious, Dusk looks deeply worried and Maroon is nervously fidgeting.
"Did they buy it?" the otter asks, now not quite able to keep up his usual confident swagger.
Keryn nods. "I think so." He snickers. "Seriously, even I almost bought it. You're really good at this."
Maroon shrugs and grins. "Years of practice. High elves are too full of themselves to notice when you are lying through your teeth as long as you pretend to worship the ground they walk upon."
He is right, of course, but that doesn't stop Dusk from glaring at the otter angrily, considering his words an insult against Keryn as well. Luckily, Maroon doesn't notice. Drama between them is the last thing Keryn wants to deal with now though he makes a mental note he will need to do so later.
He changes back into his armour and then he and Roars are ready to depart with the city guard officials to review the place where they attacked the prisoner transport.
When Keryn and Roars make their way down to the jetty of the island, where Captain Vonthadrani and her assistant are waiting, the huge beastling is stared at with a mix of curiosity and respect.
"Is this also one of your pets?" the Captain asks, sounding doubtful.
Keryn smiles politely. "He is more of a bodyguard." He explains.
Lieutenant Hauren makes a surprised sound. "A bodyguard?" He asks. "What does a champion need a bodyguard for?" Apparently he believes in the ridiculous propaganda of invincibility that High Command spreads about champions.
"Contrary to common believe, I can die just like any other elf from a knife in the back." Keryn explains patiently, while they board the city guard barge. "Roars here his quite skilled at guarding my back. He also makes a good sparring partner." Keryn grins. "He can take a lot of punishment."
Roars settles next to Keryn quietly with a grim expression, looking threatening and impressive.
"He does look quite exotic." Hauren says, obviously fascinated and not bright enough to be scared of Roars.
Keryn decides there is no harm in some pointless small talk. "I brought him back as souvenir from the war," he tells the Slaigh, "I saved his life. Even in the sun elf realms his kind is rare. They are fiercely loyal to their master. He is quite the price."
Lieutenant Hauren nods and studies Roars with open awe. "Do you pair him with your pets?" he asks. "I'm sure that would be quite hot."
Keryn feels Roars tense next to him at the suggestion so he decided to quickly squash the kinky dreams of the Slaigh. "No." he says with a smirk. "My dear Roars is too big. He'd ruin my darling pets for me with his size."
Hauren laughs at that and luckily misses the incredulous glance Roars shoots Keryn's way. The Slaigh looks like his indecent curiosity is far from satisfied, but before he can ask another question his Captain interrupts, sounding more than a little annoyed by her assistant.
"That will be quite enough, Lieutenant," she snaps, "I'm sure Champion Taraskeryn has no interest in discussing his pets with you any further."
Her Slaigh assistant somehow manages to look hurt as well as reprimanded and they travel the rest of the way in silence.
The night is full of floating wisp lights on the island they are passing and illuminated barges of various sizes. The sky is clear tonight, showing plenty of stars and a rising crescent moon.
Their barge is dipping lower now, towards the harbour and Keryn can make out the alley and neighbouring warehouses where he and Roars ambushed the transport. While this place was mostly deserted this afternoon, it is now extremely busy with city guards who have closed off the whole area. The barge is hailed from one of the rooftops and only after Captain Vonthadrani identifies them, they are allowed to land.
The Captain guides them past several sets of guards, while Hauren disappears in a throng of arguing city guard officers. Roars is viewed with deep suspicion, but no one tries to argue with Captain Vonthadrani.
Then they reach the actual spot of the attack. The corpses of the troll city guards have been covered with large white sheets, but they haven't been moved from where they have fallen. A large, slightly uneven ritual circle has been drawn around the killing zone, but whatever spells have been used seem to be completed already since Keryn doesn't spot any casting mages.
Keryn and Roars stop and survey the scene in silence. Of course they know perfectly well what happened, but they both pretend to be taking in the details.
"What exactly happened here?" Keryn asks after a while, mostly to learn how much they know.
Captain Vonthadrani sighs. "We were hoping you would be able tell us, Champion." She gestures towards the covered corpses. "They were escorting the transport. Four trolls should have been more than sufficient. What or whoever attacked them must have been exceedingly skilled."
"And who exactly was this mysterious prisoner you keep hinting about?" Keryn inquires.
The Captain rubs her hands on her robes, looking deeply embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Champion, but I'm not authorized to tell you." She apologizes. "Please just have a look at the bodies and see if you find any prove of the use of a soulblade."
Keryn shrugs and smiles at her reassuringly. So they are keeping the problem with rebellious beastlings under tight wraps. Very tight wraps, if they are not even telling one of their champions.
He heads over to one of the covered trolls. Considering where he is lying it must be one of those Roars killed. He hunkers down next to it and gently pulls back the sheet. There is no stench of death yet, but the metallic taste of blood lingers in the air. Magic runes of been painted on the troll's grey skin, probably used in the ritual that was used to determine what has happened here. The ritual that will only have produced muddled, vague impression, quickly evaporating again in the mind of the mage casting it. Soulblades are anathema to magic of any kind.
Quietly studying the corpse, Keryn makes a show of looking like he is using some kind of sixth sense. It feels weird and wrong to stare at the people they killed like this.
"Master?" Roars' deep voice interrupts his thoughts.
Vonthadrani looks quite surprised that Keryn's beastling would dare speak up, but Keryn pays her no mind. "Yes?" he asks.
"I know these kinds of wounds," Roars explains, "they were inflicted by a storm sword, a weapon favoured by the high elf warriors of the far southern reaches."
Leave it to Roars to come up with a conveniently exotic explanation.
The Captain makes a strangled sound. "Curses." She then hisses. "So you believe this might be the work of a sun elf champion?"
Keryn nods gravely. "I can not be sure, but the feeling I get from this is…" he waves his hands vaguely, "yes, I think they were killed with a soulblade."
Let them find explanations which suit their sun elf paranoia.
"That fits," she mutters angrily, "that would actually explain A LOT." She firmly fixes a polite smile to her face. "Thank you, Champion Taraskeryn, your help here may well prove invaluable."
"It is a pleasure to serve." Keryn gives the traditional reply.
Then he and Roars follow Captain Vonthadrani back to the barge.
"You must excuse me now," the Captain says to them in goodbye, "I must report in and there will be much to do."
"Please do not hesitate to contact me again if I can be of further assistance." Keryn tells her. After all it can't hurt to keep tabs on the progress of their investigation.
"I very much hope that won't be necessary and we won't have to steal more of your valuable time." Vonthadrani says and bows. "The barge will take you back to your tower."
"Are you alright?" Keryn asks softly, stepping up next to Maroon.
The otter is sitting on the wide window sill in the bedroom he has occupied together with Roars, staring out into the night with an unusually subdued expression. Keryn has quickly become used to his cheerful spirit even in the difficult position the otter is in currently.
Maroon looks at him with a small smile. "Yeah, I guess." He answers, skipping the title of 'master' he carefully maintains when any of the Bagoth servants are present. "It just… it feels wrong… to slip away like this. Not telling any of my friends that I'm okay."
Keryn nods in understanding. It hasn't been an easy decision, but in the end they really had no choice. They have no idea who betrayed Maroon to the city guard and no way of finding out who it may have been. If the rebel-otter returns, that same traitor might give him away again or might even find out that Keryn was involved in his rescue. That is something they can't risk happening. So they have decided to keep the secret and take Maroon with them, back to the family estate.
Now that High Command has finally sent word that Keryn's presence in the capital is no longer required and that they will send word when they have new orders for him, Keryn and his little family are preparing to return home.
"I feel like I'm abandoning them." Maroon sighs. "Friends I've fought with side by side."
"It's not like you won't come back." Keryn tries to console him. "Juna knows and he'll keep looking for clues who might have sold you out."
Irana's Slaigh friend has promised to keep in touch and work hard on uncovering the traitor.
"Yeah," the otter chuckles and fully turns to Keryn, "I guess it's just a bit of nerves. First time leaving this city, first time without a pack of other otters who get all my jokes…" he shrugs.
Keryn answers with a chuckle of his own, knowing exactly who Maroon is referring to. "They just need some time to get used to you," he says, "it must be weird for you to be around beastlings so stubbornly opposed to rebellion."
Dusk and Sable haven't reacted favourably to having Maroon around. They both feel their masters' safety is threatened by his presence and Dusk is very, very jealous. Keryn knows that Dusk is trying to wrap his mind around this 'freedom idea' that Roars keeps going on about, but it also clashes violently with everything he has been created to be. He isn't sure how Sable feels about it, but he is sure Irana is trying with her hare just as hard as Keryn is trying with his hound.
"Not as weird as it is for them," Maroon says, "I have a lifetime of experience with it. Usually I'm pretty good at convincing the reluctant ones. Maybe I'm not at my best currently."
Keryn nods, successfully hiding how much it still jars him to hear the otter talk like a mature leader, when he looks so adorably cute and pet like. Roars looks the part of a respectable warrior, he is so much easier to take serious.
"Anyway, I shouldn't be moping." Maroon hops of the window sill and grins up at Keryn, now even harder to imagine as a dangerous rebel when he only comes up to Keryn's chest and his eyes twinkle with mischief. "I wouldn't want to miss whatever that big cat of yours is cooking up in his brilliant, scheming head. And he also promised me adventures in far away lands."
Keryn groans in mock exasperation. "So he has been discussing the sun elf realms idea with you?"
"He sure did." Maroon nods enthusiastically.
"Well, you might actually make a great addition," Keryn muses, but then he smirks "though I'm afraid I won't be able to guarantee you regular bath times if we are on the road."
The otter has become quite fond of soaking in the bathtub for hours since he can't go out to swim in the sea. He has already inquired at length about swimming options at the family estate and Keryn has reassured them that there is a large lake and a small river cutting through the valley.
"Oh, I'm sure master will provide." Maroon purrs and blinks up at Keryn with a perfect dumb pet impression.
Keryn laughs and Maroon looks pleased that at least Keryn gets his 'otter jokes'.
The way back from Zarathiol to the family estates feels like it takes much longer than the way there to Keryn. He constantly feels the itch to do something, anything and listening to Irana, Roars and now Maroon as well discuss various plans and share past experiences makes him itch even more.
At least they have reliable information now what the beastling underground is up to and has accomplished. Not that it is a whole lot. There are several lesser elven households in the capital and on some country estates which are helping by hiding beastlings who have fled abusive masters. There are a few lesser elves who active aid the beastlings fighting for more rights in the capital itself and a handful of high elves sympathetic to the cause. But that's about it.
'A mouse fighting a bull' Maroon sums it up and they all agree with him.
In the end is comes back to the idea of finding a place where beastlings can have a land of their own. Roars says that the dry steppes south of the sun elf realms where the animal species he was created from lives might be an option since it is mostly uninhabited, but only very few beastling species could live there comfortably.
Irana has spent some time studying maps in the libraries of the capital and has more suggestions to add. Still the question of how to keep high elf authorities from eradicating such a settlement outside their control remains, since they wouldn't be able to hide it from magic forever.
Keryn has never been patient enough to carefully plan. He likes to put other people's plans in action. Sitting and listening makes him restless.
That Dusk and Sable are forced to be in the same space, since they are all stuck in the same travel pavilion atop the chartered strider's back, doesn't help either. Their silent disapproval feels thick and heavy to Keryn, while the other three seem quite at ease ignoring it.
Keryn makes sure they spend the days in taverns which offer large enough suites for them to get some alone time. Irana takes a bedroom with Sable, while Keryn stays with Dusk and Roars and Maroon share another one.
Today, they are in a large town situated on the edge of a huge forest. Keryn is sitting at the small table in the bedroom, cleaning and sharpening his daggers and enjoying the view through the open window. The sun is just rising and drenching the moss green roofs of the buildings in warm light. In the distance, huge trees tower over the town's houses like guardian giants.
Dusk is buzzing around the room, checking on Keryn's luggage, on the quality of the bed and various other things which make him look like he is very, very busy while Keryn isn't entirely sure what exactly he is doing. When his hound finally settles on the bed with his favourite brush to groom his hair, Keryn is almost done with his weapons and about to ask whether Dusk wants him to brush him. That will usually lead to love making and Keryn thinks that would help tremendously in relaxing his tense beastling.
But before he can actually say anything, Maroon saunters in, still damp from his evening bath and once more wearing nothing but a towel slung around his waist. It is a regular occurrence and Keryn still hasn't figured out if the otter's casual flirting is serious or just a natural character trait that doesn't mean anything and doesn’t require any action on his part.
This time, however, Keryn is ignored as Maroon heads over to Dusk and plops on the bed next to him, which Dusk meets with a frown.
"Damn, I wish I had such wonderful fur as you." The otter sighs.
Now Dusk's ears pull back in confusion and Keryn suppresses a snicker. Apparently, his hound is the flirting target today.
"What?" Dusk asks, surprised.
"Well, it's beautiful." Maroon explains earnestly. "Shiny, thick, luxurious. Mine only looks pretty when it's wet." He plucks on a patch of his own short, damp fur.
"Uh." Dusk replies not very eloquently, obviously not sure how to handle the suddenly charming and attentive otter.
Maroon keeps watching him, eyes shining with honest admiration and Dusk shifts uncomfortably. "I could help you brush." The otter offers hopefully.
For a moment Dusk looks like he is going to say something bristly and refuse, but then he relents under Maroon's pleading eyes and hands over the brush. "You have to be careful." He instructs the otter. "Longer fur tangles and it hurts when you pull on it."
Maroon nods and starts brushing Dusk with great care. Keryn is a little surprised to see how seriously the otter takes the task and how much he seems to enjoy it. Maybe it wasn't just an attempt at flirting after all. Dusk gradually relaxes and makes small sounds of happiness when Maroon rakes his fingers through the think, long fur in the hound's neck.
"Mmm, this is nice…" Dusk murmurs after a while.
He doesn't see the somewhat sad smile on Maroon's face, but Keryn does. "I miss this." Maroon says softly. "Grooming and caring for each other is something we always did, me and all the other otters at the docks."
Dusk looks at him over his shoulder with a slight frown. "Why didn't you ask earlier, if you could help me, then?"
"I know you don't like me much." The otter replies with a sly attempt to get Dusk to claim the opposite.
But the hound surprises both Keryn and Maroon by easily catching on to that cheap shot. Dusk looks at Maroon with aloof reproach and Keryn smiles as the otter suddenly studies his paws, embarrassed. "I may not like you that much," Dusk says gently, "but I still believe in caring for my pack." He gets up and gets another brush from his luggage, this one suited for shorter fur, and gestures with it at Maroon. "Come on, my turn to take care of you."
The otter obediently lies down on the bed, presenting his back to Dusk. "Thank you." He says softly when Dusk starts firmly stroking the brush through his short fur.
Just like Dusk, he gradually relaxes under the grooming and after a while he is purring contently while Keryn notices that his sneaky little hound isn't just brushing Maroon, he is also using the opportunity to run his other paw over the otter's firm muscles with quite a bit of appreciation.
Keryn returns his attention to polishing his daggers a second time, not wanting to disturb the tentative peace forming between the two beastlings. He is startled out of his concentration when Dusk suddenly laughs in a mix of delight and surprise. Keryn looks up to find his hound curiously fondling Maroon's ass.
"Wow!" Dusk exclaims moments later. "I can't believe how firm your butt is!"
The otter looks at him over his shoulder and smirks. "Years and years of swimming and running." He explains and then flexes the muscles Dusk's paw is still resting on, his long, strong tail twitching as well.
Dusk giggles nervously and pulls back his paw.
"You can touch." Maroon offers generously, accompanied with more smirking. Now he is definitely flirting.
"I... uh..." Dusk stammers and Keryn is pretty sure that his hound is blushing under his thick black fur. Then Dusk glances over at his master, unsure and questioning.
Keryn smiles back at him, but that apparently isn't encouragement enough as Dusk reacts with a deepening frown and then suddenly gets up and quickly flees the room. Not at all sure what he has done wrong now, Keryn looks over at Maroon, who flops over onto his back.
"Meeeeh!" the otter exclaims, deeply annoyed, and glares at Keryn.
"What?" Keryn asks back, confused. He looks at the doorway through which Dusk has just left. "What's his problem? Should I follow him?"
Maroon sighs deeply. "Now I get what Roars means." He grumbles and then puts on a fake sugary smile for Keryn. "Yes, that would be a good idea."
Keryn throws an appropriately rude gesture his way and then puts down his cleaning kit to follow his missing hound. He doesn't have to go far. Dusk is just outside the bedroom in the sitting room which serves as the centre of the suite. He is moving some left over dishes onto a tray, trying to look very busy and failing. With a soft sigh Keryn steps behind his hound and warps him in a gentle embrace, stilling his paws.
"What was that all about?" he asks and nuzzles Dusk ear just the way he knows the hound can't resist.
Dusk grumbles something under his breath and Keryn is delighted by the fact that his hound doesn't duck and grovel anymore. By now he can guess what Dusk's problem is, but saying it out loud is another important step towards more independence from his master.
"Sweety?" he gently prods, "you promised to tell me, if I do something wrong, remember?"
"I... Maroon, he was flirting with me. I think..." Dusk says and turns in Keryn's arms to gaze up at him. "And I don't know... do you approve...? Do you want me to...?"
"I want you to do what you enjoy," Keryn answers, "no more, no less."
Now Dusk huffs in indignation. "He is... kind of sweet," he explains, "but I have... I don't know... I think he is of questionable morals."
That expression is so cute and doesn't sound like Dusk at all Keryn has to be very quick to suppress his laughter. "That shouldn't keep you from fucking him." He offers.
Dusk gives him his best 'you are an impossible master!' glare and Keryn grins down at him. "But… I…," Dusk continues his objections, "what if it doesn't work out, what if we… I don't know… fight…" he looks up at Keryn with mournful eyes, "how do I know you'll be on my side…?"
"Awh, sweety," Keryn tightens his hug and kisses the top of Dusk's head, "I'll be on your side. Haven't you figured out yet I'm completely at your mercy?"
With a small, happy sigh Dusk snuggles against him and relaxes. "I guess." He mumbles against Keryn's chest.
For a little while they stand like that, but then Keryn disentangles them. "Would it help if I joined you?" he asks hopefully.
"Not really." Dusk smirks at Keryn's disappointed expression. "But I'd like you to."
Keryn laughs. "Well, then by all means, lets get back to our bedroom. We have an otter to ravish."
Keryn wakes from the feeling of soft lips, kissing his neck.
"Why are you suddenly so nice to him?" a voice hisses somewhere further away.
It takes Keryn a moment to identify it as belonging to Sable. Keryn assumes the hare is talking to Dusk, but he doesn't get any reply.
"Uh, you smell of otter!" Sable then exclaims a little louder.
A small laugh bubbles up in Keryn when he hears Dusk's answer. "Might be because I fucked one."
He doesn't get what Sable says next, because the lips on his neck draw back so the teeth under them can nip at his skin, which is quite distracting. There is really only one possible culprit. Keryn turns around and wraps his arms around his wife, who has invaded his bed. Fully clothed already, he notices, now that he opens his eyes.
"Hello, sleepy." She greets him with a smile and caresses his cheek with her long fingers.
"Hello, my love." Keryn returns the greeting and draws her down into a long kiss.
Waking up feeling all warm and relaxed after a day of great sex with an easily excitable hound and a starved, playful otter is hard to top.
Irana grins at him when they separate. "So you've had awesome otter sex?" she asks, her eyes twinkling with mischief and curiosity.
"Indeed." Keryn stretches.
Awesome otter sex sums it up nicely. Images of their activities flit through his mind. Maroon on his back with Dusk riding his cock. Dusk fucking Maroon, with the otter on his knees before him, sucking Keryn. Both Dusk and Maroon lying on their backs, insisting Keryn fuck them first, trading friendly insults.
Irana insistently poking him in the ribs drags Keryn from the pleasant memories. "I expect to hear every tiny dirty detail." She demands and then nibbles on the tip of his ear. "I also expect you to bring that otter when you come share my bed next time. I want some awesome otter sex too!"
"Promised." Keryn says and thinks that he is truly blessed with the wife and beastlings in his life.
Nearly a full cycle of the moon has passed since they departed from the family estate. Summer is slowly coming to an end and from the back of the strider they can see some of the trees in the valley are already turning to red and yellow. The floating moonberry islands will remain magically heated throughout winter, of course, so a constant flow of fresh fruits to the brewery is guaranteed, but the rest of the valley will be covered in a soft white blanket of snow soon.
When Keryn was a boy, he could never decide which season he loved more. Summer meant running around wearing next to no clothes, getting dirty and swimming, winter meant thick clothes but also the ever present toy of snow which could be moulded into all kinds of interesting things.
This year, winter means snuggling with Dusk and Irana and maybe Maroon and Sable. It means that in weak sunlight, he might be able to convince his nocturnal wife to maybe get up with him and Roars. It also means being confined to the tower even more than usual and too much nervous energy which should be spent on adventures elsewhere.
Roars comments only half mocking that this would be a perfect time for a trip to the sun elf realms, where it will cool down from despicably hot to nice and warm this time of year. The huge beastling doesn't complain about the chill yet, but knowing that it will be Roars first real winter Keryn has a feeling he eventually will.
Right now, though, he looks content, leaning back in his seat and watching how Dusk points out landmarks to Maroon and Sable.
A few minutes later, the strider docks at the station and they all get off. Dusk and Sable oversee the unloading of their luggage while Maroon is at the edge of the platform curiously scanning the village and the river.
"Master? Can I? Can I?" he asks, hoping down excitedly and pointing at the river.
It is plain scary how easily he slips into the role of cute, dumb pet when Keryn has had enough opportunity to observe what kind of sharp mind resides behind those shining eyes. The fact that the otter barely reaches up to Keryn's chest makes it hard to remember that he is a rebel leader and probably quite a vicious fighter, too. Something Keryn plans to check on when he and Roars take up their training sessions in the forest again.
"Sure, go and take your swim." Keryn gives his generous permission. After all, he has the role of indulgent pet owner to fill.
They have decided that it will be safest for the otter if they keep up the same charade they have played at the capital. One never knows what news might travel and if Keryn's stupid new fuck toy suddenly behaves like a sensible adult and is treated like one it might make people suspicious.
Maroon bounces down the steps leading from the platform to ground level and then over to the river bank, where boats and barges can dock. It doesn't take the otter more than a few heartbeats to lose what clothes he is wearing and then he jumps into the water headfirst, his body arching gracefully in the air and then disappearing under water.
At Roars mocking snicker and Irana's dreamy sigh next to him, Keryn tears his eyes away from the sight and smirks at his friend and wife.
"Otters." He says and they both nod in perfect agreement.
"I'll head over to Keeta's place and see if she is home." Roars says and picks up his travel bag. "I got her a little something. Want to see what she thinks of it."
"Uhum." Irana grins and wiggles her eyebrows suggestively.
Roars ignores her with all the royal haughtiness only a cat of his size can muster and walks away. Irana and Keryn share a smile and then they follow Dusk and Sable to the tower.
It is early in the night and they have barely stepped inside when they get apprehended by a Bagoth servant informing them that Keryn's mother expects them to attend family dinner and be social after their long absence. They had managed to avoid family dinners in the short time span between their wedding and their departure to the capital, but now it seems it can't be avoided.
"I'll see you at dinner then?" Irana asks, ready to head further up the stairs show Sable her rooms and get his hare settled in.
Keryn nods. "Yeah." He says none too happy at the prospect.
"Awh." Irana stands on tiptoe and kisses his cheek. "Don't fret, lover. If your brother misbehaves, it will give me the perfect opportunity to show him my teeth and claws."
That at least is something to look forward to, so Keryn nods with a smile and then enters his own rooms, where Dusk is already busy unpacking. Keryn's offer to help is met with a deep frown and a polite but clearly dismissive: "No, thank you, master."
So Keryn busies himself with reading the small heap of correspondence he has received while he was gone. Most of them are congratulations on his marriage by distant relatives who couldn't make it to the wedding. Some concern the guards of the estate, requests to join the guard, a request to leave the guard to get married to someone on another estate. The usual business.
A letter from a Bagoth potion merchant who had visited the estate while Keryn was gone makes him frown however. The Bagoth enquires whether his beastling pet which had gone missing during his visit has been found yet and expresses his desperate hope that his little darling will somehow be returned to him safe and sound.
Keryn makes a mental note to check into the matter. Unless the pet has run away, people shouldn't go missing in his home. Especially when a nasty, nagging voice in the back of his mind wonders whether maybe his brother had something to do with this disappearance.
His dark thoughts are interrupted when Maroon dashes into the suite, somewhat out of breath.
"I just ran into the creepiest elf!" the otter exclaims and flops down onto the couch, ignoring the fact that he is still wet.
"Really?" Keryn has the unpleasant feeling that he knows exactly who Maroon is talking about.
The otter nods. "Looks a little like you, only with a sour expression like he has a stick wedged up his ass. Long robes and all that high elf mumbo jumbo." Maroon shakes himself, spraying water everywhere. "He came at me when I climbed out of the water and made these kind of cooing noises." He continues, while Dusk frowns at the mess and then gets a towel from the bathroom to clean it up. "I stared at him kind of dumbstruck. Just managed to dodge him in the last moment when he tried to grab me."
"That would be Master Gamdriceriel." Dusk explains and puts the towel into Maroon's paws.
"Oh, thank you." The otter smiles at him brightly and starts drying himself, completely ignorant of the mess he had made and Dusk cleaned up. "Who?"
"My brother." Keryn says.
"Well, your brother is a creep." Maroon states cheerfully. "If he ever lays a hand on me I'm afraid I will have to bite it off."
"Go for it!" Dusk growls, which makes the otter blink at him startled since he is not at all used to the sweet, gentle hound showing such venomous aggression.
"Yes, he is a creep and yes, please feel free to bite him." Keryn explains more calmly. "He knows perfectly well that he is not allowed to touch my pets so I will make sure he knows you are mine."
This incident also shows quite clearly that Ceriel does not keep his hands to himself when it comes to cute beastlings in general which lends unpleasant weight to Keryn's earlier suspicion. Talking to his brother or mother won't help unless he has proof, but talking to some village folk might provide that. Hopefully someone has seen Ceriel with the missing pet.
"So I guess I'm to stay here?" Maroon asks and scans the room curiously. "Sharing a room with Roars? I really don't want to trespass on Dusk's territory unless I'm invited." He smiles at the hound winningly.
With dry amusement Keryn wonders when exactly his bed became Dusk's territory, but the hound nods approvingly at Maroon.
"Let's go to storage and get you a pallet or something." Dusk suggests. "I doubt Roars will want to share is bed with you." He smiles back at the Maroon and Keryn is quite happy to see how much he has warmed to the other beastling. "You do get kind of clingy." Dusk teases.
Maroon chuckles and then the two are off to take care of sleeping arrangements. There is still plenty of time until dinner and Keryn decides to use that to head down to the village and the guard's barracks to ask some questions about his brother and missing pets.
His inquiries turn up nothing. Since Ceriel is not exactly popular with the lesser elves of the estate, Keryn has no doubt that he is getting the truth. So either his brother has been quite careful or he really has nothing to do with the pet's disappearance.
Then it's time to dress up for dinner. Keryn stoically bears Dusk fussing over his outfit until his hound is satisfied that his master looks as pretty as he possibly can, while Maroon lounges on the couch and keeps up a running commentary on high elf fashion disasters he has had the misfortune to witness on elves coming through harbour. Even though he has been around the otter for quite a while now, he still finds it amazing how Maroon can chatter without end and still manage to be more amusing than annoying.
On his way upstairs to the family dining room Keryn thinks back to the last family dinner, not much more than a month ago, when he met Irana for the first time. Their relationship has certainly improved since then. He also idly wonders what part of his brother's body he might break this time. Hopefully none since the plan is for Irana to stage a confrontation with Ceriel.
It's not surprising that Keryn's mother is already present, sitting at the head of the table and sipping an aperitif. She smiles at Keryn contentedly when he comes in.
His nephew Fyrien is sitting beside her. This time, he does not greet Keryn as enthusiastically and Keryn can't help but wonder what nonsense Ceriel has filled the boys head with again. Upon closer inspection Fyrien appears pale and listless to Keryn and he adds this as yet another thing to ask someone about.
What startles Keryn is that both his brother's wife Rinath and Irana are there already and chatting animatedly about the stay in the capital, while Ceriel sits in his usual spot and stares at them with a dark expression Keryn can't quite place.
Rinath has a million questions about the latest gossip and fashion and Keryn is surprised that Irana can answer most of them. Apparently, she managed to somehow brush up on such trivial news somewhere in between all the rebellion planning and newly wed romance.
The thought brings back fond memories of stroll in moonlit parks and kisses under flowering trees so he steps up to his wife and gently kisses her neck. She smiles at him and leans against him for a moment before they both take their seats. Keryn notices pleasant surprise in his mother's face while his brother looks like he is chewing steel nails.
He keeps that look all through dinner, enhancing it with deep frowns and occasional silent snarls of disgust. Apparently, the fact that Irana and his own wife seem to suddenly get along splendidly doesn't please him at all. But then Keryn has to admit that nothing seems to please him currently. His brother is twitchy and drinks steadily.
Irana surprises Keryn when uses a lull in her conversation with Rinath, who is fussing over her son, to address Keryn's mother.
"I was wondering if there is anything I can do to help out here at the estate." Irana asks hopefully. "It feels wrong to just sit around and do nothing when everyone else is working."
Keryn's mother smiles pleasantly surprised. "There is plenty to do. If you are interested you can join me tomorrow and to get a feel for all the tasks involved in running the estate and we can see what suits you." She says.
Irana opens her mouth, but before she can reply anything Ceriel interrupts her with an angry sneer. "I really don't see why that would be necessary. Why don't you just keep chattering with my darling wife while mother and I do the complex work?"
A small frown appears on Irana's brow which Keryn instantly recognizes. It is the same one she had right before she threw her tea at him. But this time she doesn't get a chance to throw any food as Keryn's mother addresses Ceriel with cold crispness.
"If you were actually taking care of the tasks assigned you that would be an option, but since you seem to be busier sampling our products than producing them Methirana's help will be most welcome."
Ceriel glares at his mother, but under her cold stare he withers quickly and suddenly his drink seems much more interesting then the subject at hand. He mumbles something unintelligible which could be an insult or agreement. Keryn's mother lets it slide and turns back to Irana.
"Tomorrow, after breakfast, then?" she asks politely.
Irana smiles brightly and eagerly. "I'll be there."
It almost looks as if dinner will pass without any serious incident, until dessert is served and Rinath brings up a dangerous subject in the middle of their harmless chatter.
"Oh, I almost forgot: I saw your new hare beastling on my way to dinner. What a charming creature! Did Taraskeryn pick him for you?"
"Yes, he did." Irana says with a happy smile for Keryn. "And yes, he is entirely sweet."
Ceriel perks up from his drinking. "Oh really?" he asks with a slight slur to his voice. "I'll be happy to offer assistance in training him properly." He openly leers at Irana.
Immediately Irana's smile turns into an icy snarl. "If you so much as lay a finger on my hare I am going to rip out your balls and nail them to the tower wall." She hisses.
Ceriel looks shocked at the sudden threat for a moment. Then he opens his mouth to say something equally offensive, but thinks better of it when he notices how everyone at the table looks at him coldly and how Keryn's hands suddenly forms a hard fist like the one Ceriel met during their last shared dinner.
Rinath, in an attempt to defuse the tension, turns to Ceriel with a hopeful smile. "Why don't you ever buy me any cute pets?" she asks.
Ceriel pushes back his chair with an angry growl and then stalks out of the room, obviously fuming. Nobody notices the small, secret smile Irana and Keryn exchange. That went pretty well in showing Keryn's brother they will not tolerate him touching their beastlings.
Rinath on the other hand look rather rattled, so Irana gently pats her hand. "Why don't we go shopping together?" she suggests, "you know, girls shopping. Much more fun than with the men tagging along anyway."
"Oh!" Rinath brightens immediately. "That would be wonderful! I can show you all the nicest shops in Darsshan. Maybe not as posh as the ones in the capital, but…"
"I'm sure we'll have a great time." Irana finishes for her and she looks like she actually means it, too.
If Ceriel weren't around they'd all make a pretty happy family, Keryn thinks with a soundless sigh.
"Are you sure it's a good idea to disturb them?" Maroon is bouncing alongside Keryn with the cheerfulness Keryn has by now realized is one of his most prominent character traits. "I mean, disturbing a Slaigh is crazy, but disturbing a Slaigh and that huge kitty?"
"You don't even know Keeta." Keryn points out good humouredly.
The otter grins up at him. "Don't have to. If she is dating the kitty she must be tough as nails."
Keryn snickers. "You know, I just realized you never call him kitty to his face. Wonder how he'd like that nickname."
"Hurg!" Maroon exclaims and stares at Keryn with mock horror. "You wouldn't, master! You like my ass way too much to put it on the line like that!"
"Oh, now suddenly I'm master again!" Keryn laughs and then sticks his tongue out at the otter who reacts in kind, only that his tongue is quite a bit longer and more expressive. "That was quite amazing!" Keryn comments with a leer. "I wonder what else you can do with that."
"Master will find out if master is a good little elf." Maroon replies, his eyes sparkling with mirth.
The more time Keryn spends with the otter, the better the two of them get along. It's as if their humours are slowly aligning, like two magic frequencies tuning in two each other to create a harmony when elf mages work a joined ritual. Both Irana and Roars have commented already during their time travelling together that they will become insufferable in a few weeks.
Keryn agrees and doesn't care. The light hearted banter they enjoy is a necessary counterpoint to the many serious matters they are dealing with. Just as Roars buries himself in books to distract himself and Irana needs the soothing company of Sable.
They stop in front of Keeta's little cottage. Roars hasn't come back to the tower over night so Keryn guesses that Keeta needed quite a bit of attention to catch up from Roars' absence. They had planned to head out to the forest and put Maroon through some combat tests this afternoon, but now Roars is quite late.
"She'll be at work anyway at this hour." Keryn says and knocks on the door. "So we'll only have to deal with the big kitty."
After waiting a little, Keryn knocks again insistently. He is answered by a deep, resounding growl from inside which confirms that Roars is indeed inside.
"Come on, wakey, wakey!" Maroon calls cheerfully.
He and Keryn jump back in surprise when the door is yanked open suddenly, revealing a somewhat dishevelled looking Keeta, wearing only a much too huge shirt which obviously belongs to Roars.
"WHAT?!" the Slaigh hisses, sounding quite enraged at their appearance.
"Uh…" Maroon starts and then nimbly ducks behind Keryn.
Keeta turns her full attention on Keryn with a deep frown. "I hope you have a bloody good reason to wake us." She growls.
"Erh…" Keryn says not much more eloquently than Maroon but then catches himself and puts on a bright smile. "Actually yes, I was looking for a cat beastling. About as tall as a mountain, had a date with me and my little otter for a training session in the forest right about two hours ago."
With a sound somewhere between a snarl and a snort, Keeta stomps back into her cottage. "Roars! It's for you!" she bellows and disappears into what Keryn knows is the small kitchen.
Undaunted, Keryn enters, followed by a cautiously tiptoeing otter.
"She seems vicious." Maroon whispers to Keryn.
"She also has very good hearing." Keryn tells him with a smirk and Maroon glares at him fearfully.
Then Roars comes out of the bedroom, wearing nothing but his fur and sleepily scratching his belly, his tail swinging lazily. "Hey guys!" he greets them with a canine-showing smile. He looks calm and relaxed, so Keryn guesses that Keeta's grumpiness is more show than actual bad mood.
"Are you all worn out or are you going to join us like we planned?" Keryn asks.
Roars yawns. "I'll need some tea, but after that we can go." He grins down at Maroon, who is curiously scanning what he can see of the cottage and in the process of sneaking away from Keryn to explore. "If you touch anything she is going to hurt you." He tells the otter, fully aware how Maroon can't resist new shinies.
With an unhappy sigh Maroon folds his paws in front of his belly and follows Keryn into the kitchen where Keeta is rummaging, apparently making tea, while Roars returns to the bedroom.
"Didn't I tell you NOT to talk to your mom?" Keeta asks Keryn, with a slight bristle in her voice.
"Huh?" Keryn asks back, not sure what she is referring to.
Keeta turns to him and gestures with the teapot. "What do you think why I am home at this hour?"
"Because you are catching up with your boyfriend?" Keryn guesses.
Keeta frowns at him and then shakes her head. "No, dumbass. I don't skip work. Ever."
She is glaring at him expectantly so Keryn dutifully asks: "So why are you at home at this hour?"
Now a small grin appears on her lips. "Got a change of schedule. Wyverns are nocturnal, so training starts after sundown."
Keryn answers with a much wider grin. "That's awesome!" he exclaims happily.
For a moment Keeta keeps up her grumpy demeanour, but then she bounces excitedly. "YEAH!"
Ignoring the teapot, Keryn hugs her tightly. "I'm happy you got the job." He says more seriously. "You really deserve it and I bet you will be great."
"Thanks, Keryn." Her smile is genuinely happy and warms Keryn's heart.
She sets down the teapot on the small kitchen table and starts looking for mugs. Keryn settles at the table while Maroon is eyeing the kitchen's equipment with his paws twitching nervously to touch things that catch his interest.
Roars comes to the kitchen too, now with pants. "Oh, there is my shirt!" he says and steps close to Keeta. She looks completely dwarfed by the huge beastling, but she leans back against him when he gently sniffs and nuzzles her slim neck.
They are never this affectionate in public. Keeta is a rather reserved person. It makes Keryn happy to be allowed a glimpse of their closeness. He wants his friends to be as happy as he is.
Roars joins Keryn at the table while Keeta finally takes notice of Maroon. "So you are the otter." She addresses him directly, making him jump slightly, his paw already outstretched to pick up a small sugar pot.
He recovers quickly though and plasters on his brightest, most charming smile. "Yes, Miss Keeta." He says and bows with as much flourish as the cramped quarters permit. He wisely refrains from any compliments.
"Roars says you're a scoundrel." Keeta states matter-of-factly. She eyes Maroon critically, then picks up the sugar pot and puts it in his paw. "I'm inclined to agree." She adds with a grin.
Maroon mirrors her grin, obviously agreeing as well. Then his curiosity gets the better of him and he lifts the top to peer inside the pot. "May I?" he asks Keeta, who nods generously. He quickly fishes out a small lump of sugar, pops it into his mouth and then carefully sets down the sugar pot back on the table.
They share the tea and Keeta talks about her wyvern rider training. Keryn thinks that he has rarely seen her so excited about something. She really loves this new job and Keryn is quite pleased with himself for making it happen.
"I hope my brother didn't give you any more trouble?" Keryn asks, when she finally slows down to sip her tea.
Keeta shakes her head. "I saw him glaring at me from afar, but that's all the contact we had about it. Master Gumo, the current wyvern rider was the one who told me I would be working as his apprentice from now on." She eyes Keryn thoughtfully. "Do I want to know what you did to get me this training?" she asks cautiously.
"Nothing bad, actually." Keryn replies. "I may have mentioned to my mother that you might start looking for wyvern rider training off the estate since you couldn't get it here…"
"You didn't!!" Keeta stares at him outraged. "I would NEVER!"
"It worked, didn't it?" Keryn says, trying to placate her.
Keeta grumbles under her breath in perfect Slaigh moodiness. "Still! I'd never betray the estate. That your mother is thinking that of me now…"
Roars soothingly pats her hand. "You should be happy, really. After all, Keryn's mother obviously values you."
"Hrm." Keeta growls. "It's a question of honour! I will have to find an opportunity to explain this."
Keryn briefly considers offering to explain to his mother himself, but then dismisses the idea. He can already hear Keeta telling him how he would only mess that up as well. As if she is trying to prove him right, she puts on an indulgent smile.
"It's still nice you tried to help, Keryn." She says in that tone she uses when she thinks he has done something really stupid. "Thank you for the effort."
"You're welcome." Keryn replies with his 'insolent boy' grin. Then he turns to his two beastling friends. "So, are we going?"
Maroon immediately bounces to his feet while Roars gets up more slowly and stretches. "Sure." He says. "Can I have my shirt back, honey?" he then asks Keeta.
"No." she flat out refuses. "I want to keep your smell around a little longer."
"Fair enough." He leans down to kiss her deeply. "I guess I'll get plenty warm chasing that otter." He grins at Maroon threateningly, who smirks right back.
"You'll be sweating, panting and cursing, big cat, but you won't catch me." The otter teases.
They head out to the ruin in the woods where Keryn and Roars have always trained, already discussing and comparing fighting styles. Once more, Keryn is slightly jarred by how quickly Maroon switches from playful to deadly serious, but the effect is lessening. Very slowly, he is getting used to it.
Maroon explains that he has learned to fight with knives and daggers quite well. Larger weapons never were an options since they would have been much harder to conceal and the beastlings in the capital didn't really have access to any. Keryn and Roars agree that it is a style that suits him well anyway, as small and agile as he is.
Keryn has brought a pack with various wooden training weapons and they sort through those, each picking what suits their preferences best.
Then they go through some warm up routines and Roars is quite embarrassed when they discover that he is out of shape when it comes to some stretching. He is barely able to scratch his own back and both Keryn and Maroon mock him relentlessly. The otter is as flexible as a willow shoot and makes Roars groan just from watching him.
When they start sparring with each other, it becomes apparent that Maroon has never had a real combat teacher. He fights viciously and his strong tail gives him excellent balance, but he is lacking in diversity of moves and neither Roars nor Keryn have any trouble disarming him repeatedly. Grabbing him is much harder though; Maroon is extremely skilled at just slipping away.
When Keryn finally does almost grapple him, Maroon lashes out with his tail. The move comes so unexpected he manages to knock Keryn's feet out from under him. While Maroon apologizes profoundly and carefully checks Keryn for injuries, Roars hums approvingly. He and Keryn agree that the otter's tail is definitely an asset they need to incorporate into Maroon's proper combat training.
The afternoon passes quickly with them working out hard.
They train until the sun sets, then they go for a refreshing swim in the now rather cold forest lake and Maroon shows them why they should never mess with an otter in an underwater fight. The otter doesn't quite get how serious Roars' warnings not to grab at his tail anymore are getting. It ends with a roar that shakes the trees, startles all wildlife into silence and a round-eyed Maroon, promising to never ever touch Roars' tail again.
When they make their way back to the tower they all feel pleasantly tired and accomplished.
The next few days pass rather peacefully while they all settle back into an 'at home' routine.
Roars divides his time between Keeta, training and studying the mountain of books he has brought back from the capital.
Irana spends a lot of time with Keryn's mother, learning of the many details involved with running the estate. She has never before been allowed to put her quick mind to work on business problems, being the youngest daughter in a family with unusually many siblings. She delights in the diverse challenges. Sable acts as her body servant much like Dusk does for Keryn.
The only one who seems to have trouble finding his place at first is Maroon. Officially Keryn's pet, there is not much for him to do at the tower since Dusk has their small household well in his paws. Keryn worries about what to occupy the otter with only to once again be reminded that Maroon is not a cute pet and has been taking care of himself his whole life. Maroon quickly befriends the Slaigh in charge of the small docks down by the river and starts helping out there. He also very much enjoys doing nothing whatsoever and simply lazing and playing in the river after a life of hard labour and rebellion. Which is a much more natural occupation for an otter, Roars reassures Keryn.
Keryn himself spends a lot of time in the village and with the troll guard, talking to the lesser elves of the estate. Witnessing his brother increasingly unpleasant behaviour, he wants to know whether Ceriel has stepped on any more toes. The results are pretty bleak. It takes a lot of coaxing to get the estate's people to speak out against their young lord, but many of them have things to complain about. Ranging from small annoyances like him showing up drunk for meetings or not showing up at all, over him yelling at and threatening workers to him trying to flirt with a rather pretty Bagoth girl and getting violent when he was rebuked. It's an ugly picture.
Not sure how to approach his mother about it, Keryn is in a rather brooding mood. The weather doesn't really help either. It has started raining in the afternoon, while Keryn, Roars and Maroon were still training, and it hasn't stopped. It makes Keryn realize that they might not be able to keep up their training during winter and it frustrates him.
He is sitting on the window sill in the sitting room and staring into the wet darkness outside. He can hear Roars calm voice from the dressing room, where he and Dusk are going over Dusk's latest writing lessons. It should feel homely and warm, but it does feel confining and depressing.
Then he is jerked out of his gloomy thoughts when the door to the staircase suddenly bangs open and Fyrien dashes inside. The boy is wide-eyed and clearly in panic, his face streaked with tears, his breath fast and shallow. Keryn quickly jumps to his feet. When Fyrien's eyes find him, the boy cries out and rushes over to him. Keryn awkwardly wraps one arm around the small, trembling body suddenly clinging to his legs while his senses are trained on the doorway. He hears the pounding of larger feet and then angry yelling. His brother's voice.
Keryn quickly shoves Fyrien behind himself and his blade appears in his hand as Ceriel storms into the room.
"No!" Fyrien squeaks in utter panic and presses himself against Keryn's legs, trying to hide from his father.
"You fucking gnat!" Ceriel shouts, catching a glimpse of his son. He looks quite dishevelled himself, his robes in disarray, his face red and sweating with rage. "I'm going to flail you, you insolent little shit!"
He rushes towards them, so intent on Fyrien that he even ignores Keryn's drawn blade. He looks quite insane.
"Stop it!" Keryn puts as much volume and authority into his voice as he can muster and that finally gets Ceriel attention.
His bloodshot eyes turn to Keryn and he bares his teeth in a feral snarl. "Get out of my way!" Ceriel hisses.
From the corner of his eye Keryn notices that Roars has entered the room as well. He is in what Keryn easily recognizes as an unarmed combat stance, ready to lunge at and grab Ceriel.
"Gamdriceriel, get a hold of yourself!" Keryn tries calm reason. "What is this about?"
His words have the opposite effect of what he hoped for as Ceriel snarls at him in rage: "YOU! This is all YOUR fault!" He seriously looks like he is going to attack Keryn with his bare hands.
Calm combat readiness overcomes Keryn as he brings his blade into a defensive position. He does not wish to kill his brother in front of Fyrien, but he will if he has to.
"Get out!" he orders coldly. "Or I will kill you."
Ceriel's eyes dart from Keryn's blade to his son hiding behind Keryn and then back to the blade. Keryn can see madness war with survival instinct in those eyes, but there isn't a shred of reason. Then Ceriel turns around with a wordless scream of rage and rushes out of the room.
Knowing that Roars will guard his back, Keryn immediately turns to Fyrien, going down on one knee to hug the sobbing boy. His small body is trembling so hard his teeth are chattering as he hides his face against his uncle's chest.
"Ssh, it's all right. I'm here. You're safe now." Keryn mutters soothing reassurances.
It takes several minutes before Fyrien's sobs subside to small hiccups. Keryn strokes the boy's back and waits a little longer, before he gently disentangles Fyrien from his embrace. He wipes tears off Fyrien's face with his sleeve.
"Can you tell me why your father was so angry?" he asks.
Fyrien draws several deep breath, visibly fighting to regain proper high elf composure. He is still trembling slightly, but he feels safe enough now to look up at his uncle.
"I… just…" Then he checks himself to sort his thoughts and starts anew. "I've become friends with Zhumi. She's the daughter of one of the cooks and she helps out here in the tower so we could meet and play together without me leaving the tower."
Keryn still thinks it complete nonsense that Fyrien isn't allowed to leave the tower and play with whoever he pleases, but he is delighted that the clever boy has found a way to work around that rule.
"Father found out." Fyrien continues and now Keryn has a good idea where this is going. "He ordered me to stop seeing her. He was really angry about it. But… not like this…" The boy gestures towards the door through which Ceriel has disappeared and which is now guarded by Roars. "That was two days ago. I just wanted to say goodbye to her. Explain why we couldn't play anymore. He caught us and… he…"
Another sob shakes Fyrien.
"Did he hurt her?" Keryn asks darkly.
"What?!" Suddenly the boy's eyes go round with horror. "No, he hit me and then I ran and he chased after me… Uncle Keryn! What if he goes after Zhumi now?!"
Keryn exchanges a quick glance with Roars. Then he turns back to Fyrien and lays a calming hand on his small shoulder. "I will go find her and make sure she is all right. You stay here with Roars. He will keep you safe."
Roars moves over to them and kneels next to the elf boy, still dwarfing him. Fyrien looks up at him fearfully, but Roars gives a deep, rumbling purr. "Don't worry, little cub." He says gently. "I shall protect you with my life."
"Will you be all right?" Keryn asks Fyrien.
The boy draws another deep breath and then nods bravely. "Yes, uncle Keryn. Please find Zhumi."
Since the girl's mother is one of the cooks, Keryn guesses that she probably ran off to the kitchen on a lower level of the tower to find protection with her mother. But before he can head downstairs, he is stopped by Rinath's voice the moment he steps out of his rooms.
"Taraskeryn?" She is hurrying down the stairs from further up, closely trailed by an ugly little Slaigh girl. "Have you seen Hanathfyrien? I'm… he may be hurt."
Keryn realizes that the Slaigh girl must be Zhumi and that she, smartly, didn't run off to her own mother but to find Fyrien's mother. She looks as scared as Fyrien, but also as brave and determined. A good friend to have for sure.
"Yes, he is in my rooms." Keryn reassures Rinath.
She breathes a sigh of relief, but the stormy expression on her face does not change. She actually looks about ready to explode and Keryn wonders if he will have to protect Fyrien from her as well as she pushes past him inside his rooms.
Fyrien doesn't share his worries, though, and rushes into his mother's arms the moment he sees her. She wraps him tightly in the folds of her robe, hiding him from the world and gently cooing reassurances while at the same time trying to check him over for injuries.
"Ceriel chased him in here." Keryn offers as explanation when her attention turns back to him.
She makes a sound then which he has never before heard from this elf who he has considered somewhat shallow and airheaded. It is an enraged snarl that would do a mother bear proud.
"How dare he touch my baby!" she hisses. "Did he hurt you, Hanathfyrien?"
"He hit him, I think." Keryn says and refrains from pointing out that Rinath has pretty much ignored Fyrien's upbringing, too busy with her social connections to pay attention to what her husband puts the boy through. Instead he raises his hands in a placatory gesture. "It would seem he objected to Fyrien associating with Zhumi here." He points at the Slaigh girl, who is hovering close to Rinath and her friend, but not daring to really step forward.
"WHAT?" Rinath stares at the girl and then back at Keryn. She draws a calming breath, which doesn't seem to help much as she is still shaking with rage. "Why would he object to that? She seems to be a perfectly sweet, polite little thing!"
"Because I am not allowed to play with lesser elves." Fyrien explains, and extricates himself a little from his mother's protective embrace.
Rinath blinks in consternation and Keryn slowly realizes how little attention she has really paid to the rules Ceriel has set for their son. From the look on her face, Keryn can guess that she is realizing it too and feels quite horrible about it.
"That is…" Rinath starts and then shakes her head. "That would make sense if we lived in the city, with lots of high elf children for you to associate with. Out here where there is no one else, that is plain ridiculous." She puts on a kind smile, which Keryn is sure is just plastered on for Fyrien's benefit. "You have my permission to play with Zhumi any time you like, darling." She tells her son seriously. "And you may also play with any other well behaved lesser elf children, as long as you introduce them to me first."
For a moment Fyrien's eyes sparkle with excitement, but then they dim again and his head drops. "Father will never allow that." He whispers unhappily.
Rinath bristles like an angry porcupine. "I will deal with your father." She states coldly and with a rather final ring to her voice.
Fyrien glances up at her doubtfully. He has learned the hard way that his mother is never there to take care of him. Keryn sees clearly how that one look pierces Rinath heart and he suddenly has no doubt that she will have a lot more time for her son from now on. She kneels down and takes him by the shoulders.
"Hanathfyrien, I promise I will make sure you can play with your friends." She says calmly. "And I promise your father will never again lay a hand on you. You have my oath."
The boy knows well how serious a given oath is to any elf, so his eyes go round with wonder at his mother's sudden commitment. "Thank you, mother." He says just as seriously and manages a small smile for her.
"Right." Rinath swallows hard, obviously fighting against overwhelming emotions. She gets back up and looks back at Keryn. "Can I leave the children with you for a little while? There are a few things I need to take care of."
Keryn frowns. "Do you want me to come with you?" he asks cautiously. "Ceriel is… I think he was quite drunk. He might do something rash if you confront him."
A cruel little smile curves Rinath's lips. "Oh, I don't plan to talk to him. I plan to talk to your mother." She says coldly. "Don't worry, I know exactly how to deal with this." With regal elegance she puts her robes back into order and pushes a few escaped strands of hair back behind her tipped ears. She looks very, very dangerous.
"I'll have an eye on the kids then." Keryn confirms. Suddenly he really doesn't want to be present when Rinath and his mother discuss Ceriel.
Rinath quickly leans down to kiss the brow of her son, then she departs.
Keryn turns to Fyrien and Zhumi. "How about I show you how to cheat at cards."
It is the early evening of the day after Ceriel's drunken attack on his son. Keryn hasn't seen his brother since he stormed out. He hasn't seen Rinath either. About an hour after Rinath left to talk to Keryn's mother, Rinath' personal Bagoth servant girl came to take the children back to her. Though Keryn is curious what the two women have decided how to best protect Fyrien, he hasn't had a chance to talk to either of them yet. He hopes he'll run into one of them later tonight.
Now he is supervising the training troll guards. The rain stopped a few hours ago, but the training grounds are still a slippery, muddy mess. Perfect training conditions in Keryn's book, to teach the guards to fight on treacherous grounds. While at first they complained, now, that they are covered from head to toe in mud anyway, they are having quite a bit of fun, sliding and slipping and wrestling.
That Keryn is every bit as mud covered as they are certainly helps.
Standing on the sidelines, Keryn critically eyes the fighting pairs of trolls, trying to decide where his personal attention will be needed next, when he is startled out of his concentration by his mother's voice.
"Keryn? Is that you?" she asks, heading towards him and sounding genuinely unsure whether her son is somewhere under the mud crust.
Keryn notes that she is wearing rather plain robes and has still carefully hitched them up to avoid soiling the hem. He smiles at her. "Yes, it's me, mother." He greets her. "A good evening to you."
"And to you." She returns the greeting and frowns at him. "You must be the slimmest earth elemental I have ever seen." She states.
Her attempt at humour makes Keryn grin. He can count the times she has joked with him on one hand and one of those is only a few weeks ago. Somehow she is a lot warmer towards him since he has returned from the war. It makes him wonder if this is the case because she realized that she might lose him in battle or because he himself has changed from a somewhat careless brat to a kinder and more responsible person.
"I will wash before I traipse inside the tower again." Keryn promises solemnly.
His mother grunts in agreement. For a moment they watch the mud covered trolls spar. Keryn hopes that she has sought him out to talk about his brother. With her asking questions hopefully he will be able to point out the things he has learned and his suspicions as well.
He is not disappointed when she speaks again: "I would like to hear your account of last night's events." She says. "I have already spoken to Gamdriceriel, but I very much doubt his version."
"What did he say?" Keryn asks curiously.
"That Hanathfyrien entirely misjudged his intentions, that he never planned to really hurt the boy and Hanathfyrien is lying to obfuscate the fact that he has disobeyed his father." Keryn mother answers with an icy undertone that makes it very clear who she thinks is lying. "So what was your impression?"
Keryn can well imagine how his brother is trying to weasel out of the mess he has created. Luckily he was there and can vouch for Fyrien's truthfulness. "He was very drunk and I am quite certain he would have seriously hurt or even killed Fyrien." He says calmly. "He nearly attacked even me despite the fact I had my blade drawn."
His mother nods slowly. "I thought the boy was telling the truth."
"I hope Rinath didn't believe Ceriel?" Keryn asks, suddenly worried that Fyrien might now be in even more trouble.
"No, she didn't believe a word Gamdriceriel said." His mother laughs humourlessly. "I have never seen her so furious. She has forbidden your brother from ever getting near Hanathfyrien again without her supervision."
Keryn frowns. That will enrage Ceriel only more, he thinks. "How does she plan to enforce that?" he enquires.
His mother tiredly rubs her brow. "She is more crafty than I would ever have given her credit for. She has petitioned your grandmother to put a ward on Hanathfyrien that will keep his father at bay."
That thought would never have crossed Keryn's mind though he has to admit that the idea is quite brilliant. "And grandmother agreed to that?" he asks somewhat incredulous. His grandmother never gets involved in anything. She stays at the top of the tower and does whatever amazingly overpowered, ancient elf mages do. Keryn finds it surprising that she would even have granted Rinath an audience.
"Indeed." Keryn's mother shrugs. "It didn't take her long to come up with a usable spell. Hanathfyrien should be safe now."
They both quickly step aside as two muddy, wrestling trolls roll towards and then past them to smash into the low stone wall enclosing the training grounds. They sit up shaking their heads in confusion from the impact.
"Pay attention to your surroundings, not just to your opponent!" Keryn chastises the befuddled trolls. "That could just as well have been a cliff!"
They nod chagrined, help each other up and head back out onto the training grounds to start anew.
Keryn turns back to his mother. "I have talked to quite a few of the villagers." He says unhappily. "About Ceriel. At first they wouldn't say anything, but in the end there were a lot of complaints. It seems his behaviour has been getting more and more erratic and violent lately. Mother, what is wrong with him? I don't remember him being like this."
His mother looks out over the training grounds and into the distance. She sighs. "I'm afraid this is my fault." She says softly.
"Your fault?" Keryn snorts. "How can it be your fault when Ceriel behaves like a raving lunatic?"
"Your brother has always been… difficult." His mother explains gently. "He always was an angry child. I tried to give him as much attention as I could and for a while it seemed as if he had settled somewhat. He grew into a bright young man and your father and I thought the problems were past. Then you were born and your father died and he worked very hard helping me run the estate."
She rubs her eyes and Keryn isn't quite sure if it is a tired gesture or one of sadness. "I didn't pay as much attention to him as I should have. I let things slide. Only after you had gone off to war did I realize what he had been doing. He came to me, asking for money to buy some new pets. And I finally noticed how often he had been doing that. He was using his pets to quench his sick needs for violence and cruelty. And he had gotten so bad that he was killing them quickly enough for me to notice."
A disgusted shudder runs through her and Keryn gently lays his hand on her arm to comfort her. He actually feels more like hugging her, but that seems too intimate and would rub off his mud on her. He did know that Ceriel wasn't exactly treating his pets kindly, but he didn't really expect this. His mother straightens up and her voice takes on a cold tone.
"So when he asked me for money again I forbid him to have any more pets." She states calmly. "In hindsight it probably was a stupid idea. I should have known he would need to find another way to vent his pent up aggression. But it seemed the only right thing to do. I could not allow him to keep torturing poor, defenceless beastlings. He was very angry, but he knows well enough when my word is final."
She turns to Keryn and smiles at him sadly. "I guess that is why he took your poor little Dusk when he thought you were not coming back. A chance to grab some beastling to play with."
"That may not have been the only beastling he just grabbed." Keryn says darkly. "I have a report about a missing beastling pet of some trader who came through here a while ago. I can't prove it, but I suspect Ceriel had something to do with the disappearance."
Keryn's mother sighs deeply. "I wouldn't be surprised if you were right."
"So what are we going to do about Ceriel?" Keryn asks. "We can't just let him run amok again. Can't grandmother do something to fix him?"
He is answered with a humourless laugh. "Your grandmother's idea of 'fixing him' is to 'put him down'." His mother says.
Keryn blinks at her in consternation. "She wouldn't do that." He says.
"That is precisely what she said we should do when I talked about it with her yesterday after she put the ward on Hanathfyrien." Keryn's mother tells him. "She never liked your brother. She suggested we drown him when he was still a little boy. Said he would be nothing but trouble."
That has of course turned out true, like most of his grandmother's predictions, but still Keryn is shocked that she would so coldly kill her own grandson. His mother senses his distress and now she lays a reassuring hand on Keryn's arm.
"Taraskeryn, I have no intention of 'putting down' my own child." She says. "We will find some way to help Gamdriceriel. He is very sick, but there must be a way to heal him from this… this… perversion. When I go to the trade fair in Darsshan next week, I will talk to the school of healers there. I thought we could get this under control, but now I believe we'll need professional help."
Keryn is relieved that his mother has a plan on how to deal with Ceriel. Maybe she is right and he can become a better person like he has himself. Another part of him wonders, though, whether his brother deserves another chance. He has done things so much worse than Keryn ever has and there is the nagging feeling that he should pay for his misdeeds. Then another thought crosses his mind.
"Is Irana going with you to the trade fair?" he asks.
His mother nods. "Yes, I was planning to take her along so she can meet some of our business partners, get her feet working out trading agreements." Now she a smile reappears on her face. "She is a smart girl, Taraskeryn. A good addition to the family. And I am so very happy for both of you that you are getting along."
Briefly, Keryn wondered what his mother would think of Irana and him if she knew of their rebellious tendencies. Better not to dwell on that thought too long.
"Maybe you should take Rinath and Fyrien as well." He offers his idea. "It would be good for the boy to get out of the tower. And it Irana and Rinath could have their 'girls time' together."
An unexpected frown appears on his mother's brow. "Taraskeryn, I hope this is not some ploy to get all of us away from the estate so you can do something to your brother." She says sternly.
It must be obvious on Keryn's face that he is honestly offended by her suspicion before he even speaks because she relaxes again just as quickly. "I would only ever defend myself against Ceriel." Keryn says calmly.
His mother sighs once more tiredly. "I'm sorry, Taraskeryn." She apologizes. "I should not accuse you like that. You always were a wild little thing, but you weren't violent like your brother."
Now Keryn does ignore all proper protocol and gently hugs his mother, not caring about the mud anymore. At first she is stiff at his intrusion, but then he relaxes enough to lean against him.
"We'll get through this together." Keryn tells her softly. "We are family."
"You are right." She answers and straightens up to her usual regal posture and tries futilely to brush the dirt of her robes. Then she smiles. "I will leave you to your duties now. It would seem our guards need your attention more than I do." She says, as another pair of trolls tumbles past them and crashes into the nearby wall.
Keryn pinches the bridge of his nose in mock exasperation. "Indeed."
It's raining again. The clouds are hanging over the valley in thick clumps, dropping water in thick sheets. Even though it is only early afternoon, so little light gets through that Dusk has lit several glow wisps before he left, carrying away an armful of laundry.
Since there is four of them living in Keryn's rooms now, there is a bit more work for Dusk, but he doesn't seem to mind. When Keryn asked him whether he should give Maroon a stern talking to so the otter would help with housekeeping chores, Dusk declined with a happy smile. He enjoys taking care of them, he said. Keryn is not going to argue about things that make Dusk happy.
Keryn stands just inside the doorway, leading out to the small balcony of his suite and watches the rain fall, while chewing the last few bites of the bread and roast he's had for breakfast. At least the storm that howled around the tower all night abated in the early hours of morning.
Which gave a rather grumpy Keeta the chance to show up, wake them and demand that Roars and Maroon come and help her fix her roof. Apparently the storm tore of some branches from trees close to her small cottage and slammed them into her roof, making nice big holes for the rain to invade her home.
So now Roars is probably climbing over a wet roof, quite miserably cold and wet, hauling heavy things for Keeta since he doesn't have the first idea on how to fix a roof. Keryn feels sorry for his friend. He even offered to help as well, but was turned down by Keeta since he is neither as big nor as strong as Roars and knows even less about fixing roofs.
At least Maroon will have a great time. He loves all the rain and he is quite good at fixing all sorts of things from the years he has spent working at the shipyards.
Hopefully Irana, Rinath and Fyrien are having fun at the trade fair despite the weather. From the few times Keryn has accompanied his mother there, he remembers quite a few roofed venues so there should be plenty of things they can do.
Keryn rubs over his face. Despite the cold draft coming in through the open door, he feels uncomfortably hot. Suddenly the cold shower coming down onto his balcony looks quite refreshing. It's not something a responsible adult would do, but it's hard to resist when a trickle of sweat runs down his back under his shirt. He pulls the shirt off, drops it onto the couch and then steps out into the rain.
The cool water washes over him and he closes his eyes, raising his face to the sky. It feels wonderful, soothing his burning skin.
"Feeling hot, brother?" A voice suddenly asks behind him.
Turning around he finds Ceriel leaning against the doorway leading outside. There is a satisfied smirk on his lips that Keryn doesn't like at all.
"It's Lovers Root," Ceriel continues in a conversational tone, "quite a lot of it. Put it in your tea. I know you drink it with enough sweeteners you wouldn't notice."
Keryn stares at his brother in mute shock. Lovers Root is a very potent poison. It's used to hunt skybeasts, gargantuan monsters which lurk in the high northern mountains and sometimes come down to feed on unprotected villages.
"You… poisoned me…?" Keryn asks, unable to comprehend the fact.
Ceriel grins. "Why yes, brother. How very observant of you. I have indeed poisoned you." He says happily.
The sudden deep distain in Ceriel's face tells Keryn that this is probably a very stupid question to ask, but still it is the one that popped into his confused mind. The rain isn't enough anymore to cool his fever hot skin. It feels like he is burning up from inside. Which he is. That is the way the poison acts.
"Why?" Ceriel's laugh is short and humourless. "You fucking, insolent, useless brat really dare ask me why?" Rage is burning in his eyes and the realization dawns on Keryn much too late that his brother is truly insane. "I will tell you why! You have taken everything from me. First you stole mother's love! She loved me! I was her everything! And then you were born and suddenly I was nothing to her!" His voice gets louder and higher as he speaks.
Keryn stumbles backwards to get a grip on the railing of the balcony, pushed back by the pure hatred in his brother's voice.
"But that wasn't enough, was it, brother?" Ceriel hisses. "Oh no, you had to be extra special, didn't you? A soulblade! A fucking soulblade! No matter how hard I work, no matter how much smarter than you I am, I will always be second best, a pale shadow next to you just because by some freak accident YOU can summon a fucking blade out of thin air!"
Ceriel's face has become a rigid mask of fury, swimming in and out of focus before Keryn's eyes. He wants to say something, wants to somehow calm his brother, but his mouth is working soundlessly, his muddled brain refusing to form any words.
"But even THAT wasn't enough for you!" Ceriel's voice is shrill now. "Now you try to steal my son. You incite my own wife against me!" A hysteric giggle escapes him. "But all of that ends now! Once you are dead things will go back to normal. Mother will love me again. Wandrinath will obey. Hanathfyrien will be a good boy. And I will finally get my hands on that cute little hound of your so I can complete his training!"
"NO!" Keryn tries to lunge at his brother, but he is too weakened already and falls to his knees, panting. A furnace of pain is burning inside of him.
Ceriel laughs and steps closer, eagerly taking in Keryn's suffering, who stares up at the shifting vision of his insane brother.
"They will… know…" Keryn croaks. In his poison induced confusion, it is beyond him how Ceriel can think anyone will forgive him after he poisons his own brother.
But Ceriel snorts dismissively. "They will have to love me!" He states with an arrogant confidence that speaks volumes about how far gone he is. "I will be the only son left."
Keryn can't keep his head up anymore. The fire inside of him is eating him up, the pain becoming unbearable. He curls up on his side, hugging himself tightly in a useless attempt to regain control. He doesn't hear the rain anymore, just the frantic pounding of his own heart.
"You will die now, brother." Ceriel's gloating seems to come from far away.
Then a scream pierces through the pain and confusion.
"Master!" Dusk's voice, coloured with complete horror.
Keryn somehow manages to open his eyes again to see Dusk rush onto the balcony. He tries to reach Keryn, but is intercepted by Ceriel, who grabs him.
"Now, now, sweet little thing," Ceriel coos, "don't you worry, it will all be over soon and then you'll be all mine."
Dusk immediately pulls free of him.
Keryn draws on the last of his strength. "Run…" he tries to warn Dusk away.
His hound's gentle, brown eyes find his and go wide with fear. But Dusk doesn't run. Suddenly he bares his teeth at Ceriel in a feral snarl, his hackles rising like Keryn has never before seen on him. His growl is deep and menacing and then he throws himself at Ceriel.
To Keryn they are a blur of motion, his poisoned brain unable to process what he only half sees anymore. They grapple, then crash against the railing of the balcony. They wrestle and then one of the two fighting figures topples over the railing.
A long, long scream fades into the distance, then a dark furred face appears above Keryn. Dusk. He is saying something, shaking him, but Keryn can neither hear nor feel him anymore.
The pain becomes unbearable, the need to scream, to somehow tear himself open to let the raging heat escape.
It is a relief when darkness finally claims him, his last thought that at least Dusk will be safe now from Ceriel.
Waking up feels entirely wrong.
It takes Keryn quite a while to figure out what exactly feels wrong about it. Drifting upwards from the blackness of sleep, a vague sense of unease congeals to unexplained certainty that things are not as they should be. The first real thought is that he shouldn't be waking up at all. That sparks the question why, which is followed by the unpleasant realization that he should be dead.
Memories swim in focus.
Ceriel gloating over him. The agony of burning up inside. Dusk wrestling with Ceriel. Dusk pushing Ceriel over the railing of the balcony.
Suddenly waking up becomes imperative. Keryn can't be sure that Ceriel is truly dead. Dusk could be in danger, need his protection and Keryn promised he would always be there to protect his sweet little hound.
But wanting to wake up and actually doing it are two different things. It feeling like trying to swim upward through thick syrup. While his mind is quite awake, his body simply refuses to join in.
The first sensation Keryn grasps is of dull heat, crushing his chest. The poison probably? But why then do his feet feel icy cold?
While his eyes still won't open, he tries to speak, but all that comes out is a rough groan.
Instantly, the hot weight on his chest disappears and he gratefully draws in a lungful of cool air.
"Master? Master can you hear me?" Dusk's excited voice penetrates the haze that still wraps around him. "Master? Are you alive?"
With sheer stubbornness, Keryn forces his eyes to obey and open. He finds himself nose to snout with Dusk, who is peering at him intently.
He slept on my chest, Keryn realizes with sudden clarity and he laughs with relief. Or tries to laugh and ends up coughing hard as his throat punishes the sudden demand on it. Immediately Dusk is helping him to sit up and get into a position where it is easier to breathe. When the coughing subsides, Keryn hurt all over and feels as weak as a kitten, but there is no doubt that he is alive.
Which is emphasized by Dusk spontaneously hugging him tightly and burying his face against Keryn's chest. He feels how the hound breathes his scent in deeply and then Dusk whispers: "I was so afraid I would lose you again, Master."
Again? Oh, right. Dusk had thought he was dead when Keryn had gone missing after that battle.
Not trusting his voice, Keryn somehow manages to lift his much too heavy arms to wrap them around his beastling in a silent gesture of reassurance. With Dusk happily snuggling against him, Keryn has the time to look around and figure out where he is. He finds himself in his own bed with the curtains drawn closed, which he takes as a hint that it is daytime. He also notices that the blanket he is lying under has slipped from his feet which would explain why they are so freezing cold.
He tries to shuffle the blanket back over his feet without disturbing Dusk, but fails of course. Once glance down tells the hound what is wrong.
"Oh Master! You must be freezing!" He realizes and quickly extricates himself from Keryn's embrace to tug the blanket back over his feet. "I must tell the others that you are awake!" He then exclaims and starts getting up.
Keryn holds up his hand to stop him. "What happened?" He speaks carefully low and slowly to get the words out. His throat still constricts in pain but he manages without another coughing fit.
Only Dusk's ears and tail twitch, while the rest of him becomes still as he tries to gather his thoughts. Keryn doesn't even know how much time has passed since his brother's attack so he has no idea how much may have happened in the meantime.
"Do you remember that your brother tried to poison you?" Dusk asks nervously.
"I ran up to Mistress Grandmother to beg her for help." Dusk explains. "And she had an antidote for the poison. And she told me what I had to do."
Keryn isn't really surprised. After all, his grandmother always knows. She probably knew that Ceriel would try to poison him and had the antidote ready, sitting right next to the door when Dusk came to her. It's very creepy and he will never get used to it, but that is what grandmother is like. At least, she apparently was quite interested in keeping him alive if she prepared an antidote. Which makes him wonder whether she has saved Ceriel as well.
"Ceriel?" he asks.
Immediately Dusk's ears droop and his eyes become mournful and fixed on his paws. "He's dead, Master." The hound whispers as if admitting to a terrible crime. "I… I pushed him off the balcony. He didn't survive the fall."
It makes Keryn wonder why his brother didn't have the floating spell Keryn had used when he jumped off the airship. Grandmother had drummed it into his head when he had only been a boy, but apparently the lesson had not been extended to Ceriel. The thought that grandmother may have planned this even then is a little too creepy even for Keryn's liking.
And he has a hound to reassure so he quickly banishes the thought.
"Good." He tells Dusk, keeping his speaking to an absolute minimum.
Dusk glances up at him and searches his face, trying to determine whether his master really means it. Keryn smiles at him and nods. The hound answers with a shy smile of his own. "Shall I go and fetch Master Roars, then?" He asks. "He's right next door. He can tell you much better what has been happening."
Again Keryn nods and Dusk dashes out of the room to spread the happy news.
My sweet little hound killed my brother and saved my life, Keryn thinks. Oddly enough, he feels more amused then surprised at the idea. It is fitting somehow, right. It seems he is not the only one who thinks so or surely Dusk would have been confined or even punished already. Or maybe he hasn't been out for long and his mother simply hasn't returned yet and had a chance to pass judgement.
"Back among the living, I see." Roars deep voice interrupts his thoughts.
His huge beastling friend is smiling fondly as he walks into the bedroom and then settles on the edge of the bed. Roars' calm reassures Keryn. If there was any immediate danger he wouldn't be so relaxed.
"You gave your poor little doggy quite the fright," Roars continues, "everybody kept reassuring him that you would be fine, but I he was quite sure you would die. Hasn't moved from your side in the last four days."
So that answers the question how long he has been unconscious and recovering from the poison. Four days. That would also explain why he feels so very weak.
"Any problems?" he tries to phrase his question as short and all encompassing as possible.
Roars looks at him quizzically and Keryn points to his throat, making a small croaking sound in explanation.
"Oh," Roars nods, "let me get you a drink and then I'll tell you what you have missed."
Keryn expects him to come back with a glass of water, but instead his friend brings him a mug of pleasantly warm tea. Just the steam rising from the mug already soothes him and then the warm liquid feels like a gentle balm on his raw throat. He sighs gratefully and Roars smiles understandingly.
"So," Roars begins, "I expect Dusk already told you that your brother is dead?"
"Not much more than a smear on the ground left of him, I'm afraid." Roars continues, sounding rather gleeful. "The whole village is celebrating you as their saviour."
"Me?" Keryn asks confused.
"Ah, yes," Roars grins his most toothy smile, "your mother decided that it would be better if officially it was you who pushed your brother off the balcony with your last bit of strength. So no one can question why Dusk will not be punished."
So his mother agrees that Dusk is not to be punished for defending him. Keryn breathes a small sigh of relief.
"Your brother's wife is rather pissed at you though. Typical vengeful night elf, that." Roars adds. Then he notices Keryn's worried expression and amends: "No, not like in wanting a revenge on you. She is pissed off that she won't get a chance to take revenge on your brother, now. Irana thinks she was plotting to murder him."
Keryn has no trouble imagining that. Rinath may be a social butterfly, but at her core she is all night elf steel. Plus she has always been really good at arranging things to her liking.
"Your mother is quite sad, but coping." Roars continues his headcount. "I think she is the only one who actually misses that bastard."
Thinking back on what his mother has told him about Ceriel, Keryn can well imagine how his mother feels. He wants to go to her and comfort her, but even holding the tea mug is tiring him. He can only hope that grandmother has had the tact not to gloat about being right about Ceriel all along.
His gloomy thoughts are interrupted by a happy shout from the doorway leading into the bedroom.
And the Fyrien is dashing into the room at full speed and launches himself at the bed and Keryn. Roars plugs the boy out of the air before he collides with Keryn and firmly places him on the edge of the bed.
"Uncle Keryn is awake, but he is still very weak," he admonishes the excitedly bouncing boy, "you must be careful with him."
Fyrien visibly tries to calm himself, but he is still livelier than Keryn has ever seen him, his eyes shining and his face a healthy rose colour instead of chalk white. Keryn also notices the thick, fur lined jacket the boy his wearing and the woollen gloves hanging down from a cord inside his sleeves. Still Keryn can't help but wonder how boy is dealing with his father's death.
That worry is mostly put to rest with Fyrien next words: "Thank you for killing father." The boy says earnestly. "Things are so much better now!"
Keryn looks at Roars questioningly who in turn shrugs.
"I'm allowed to play outside now." Fyrien continues, oblivious to Keryn's worries. "Maroon showed me and Zhumi how to skate on the frozen river." He grins happily. "I crashed through the ice and the current dragged me along almost to the rapids. But Maroon dove after me and then he broke through the ice and pulled me out. He is pretty awesome!"
It's hard to imagine that Rinath is not out of her mind with the sudden escapades of her son, but apparently that doesn't keep her from allowing him to actually live.
"When I grow up I want an otter, too!" Fyrien states.
"You'll have to convince your mother of that." Roars says and affectionately ruffles the boy's hair. Keryn is quite pleased to notice that Fyrien isn't afraid of the huge beastling anymore.
Fyrien frowns up at Roars. "I will be a good master." He declares somewhat indignantly. "Not like father. I'll be fair and kind like Uncle Keryn."
Roars laughs. "You better be or I will whack you." He says kindly.
Keryn relaxes back into his pillows, feeling his eye lids grow heavy. Knowing that everyone is safe and happy takes the urgency out of recovering. Suddenly he just feels very, very tired. Roars rescues the tea mug from his hands before it can spill and places it on the nightstand.
"Come on, cub," he hears Roars voice, already seeming quite far away, "let Uncle Keryn sleep now. You can visit him again tomorrow."
The door to the bedroom closing gently is the last thing he perceives before drifting into sleep again.
The next few days remind Keryn how much he hates being sick. Not that he has ever been sick much. When he was a small boy, he came down with swamp fever which bound him to his bed for nearly two weeks. When he was a young man, he broke several ribs in a foolish, drunken brawl with three trolls and they let him suffer the pain without any healing spells to teach him to be more careful.
Now he is once more confined to his bed and it starts to feel like a prison rather quickly. Only that his jailors are friends and family who all insist they only want the best for him. Their constant care and concern are driving him insane, but there is no escaping it. The poison has greatly weakened his body and there are no magical shortcuts to speed up the recovery.
At least he has plenty of company. Dusk hardly ever leaves his side, anxious to ensure that Keryn gets as much rest and care as he can possibly bear. When Keryn isn't annoyed and twitchy, he finds it quite amusing how bossy his darling pet can get.
Fyrien visits him daily to tell him of his latest exploits in the great wide outside. Keryn is grateful that Maroon has graciously taken over the task of shepherding the children who are suddenly allowed to run wild. He offers them just the right amount of adventure to keep them occupied and still keeps them safe, Keryn realizes after listening to a few of his nephew's tales and Maroon's daily reports. Despite his playful nature, he is a responsible adult and he cares deeply about young ones, regardless of species.
Maroon is great at telling funny anecdotes and he is the one who makes Keryn laugh most often. Especially his very detailed account of Roars' first encounter with snow is hilarious. The pantomime of Roars setting a paw in freshly fallen snow and than withdrawing into the tower library in horror looks quite accurate.
The visit of Keryn's mother is much more sombre in mood. She asks him to tell or of Ceriel's death. Keryn tries to recount his brother's last words as closely as possible to make sure his mother understands just how insane Ceriel was at the end. She doesn't cry, but she does hug him close and tells him to be safe, now that he is her only son. That she is the only one who actually grieves for Ceriel makes it even harder on her.
Irana stops by regularly, mostly to snuggle with Keryn and tell him how much she enjoys doing something worthwhile for the estate. She also mentions that she is working over Rinath very carefully to maybe bring her on board of the whole rebellion idea. Keryn isn't sure that is such a good plan, but Irana insists Rinath would be an invaluable asset with all her social contacts.
But overall Keryn is bored out of his mind with lying in bed and doing nothing.
Once he is finally allowed to get up and start some light training, the speed of his recovery increases noticeably. He tries very hard to be patient with Dusk's relentless, overprotective care until Roars takes him aside and calmly explains that he is taking his penitence a little too seriously and that he is allowed to snap at Dusk and even whack him when the hound is taking his right to protect his master from harm too far.
The result is a short shouting match which ends in Dusk finally breaking down into heartbreaking sobs which he explains - under much sniffling - he has kept inside not to bother Keryn. Dusk needs reassurance about everything. That Keryn isn't angry Dusk killed his brother. That Keryn isn't angry Dusk didn't kill he brother earlier. That he is doing everything wrong. That Keryn will send him away or have him out down. And most importantly - that Keryn will die. It takes a while to put all those fears to rest, but Keryn is rewarded with a content little hound falling asleep in his arms.
With that little storm passed, they all breathe much easier again.
Winter takes a firm hold of the estate. An event which in equal parts fascinates and horrifies Roars. It is a sight to behold to see the huge beastling snuggled into a thick, fur lined coat, his massive head hidden inside a hood, a woollen scarf wrapped around his neck and lover face and with big woollen gloves protecting his paws. He insists he can not possibly leave the tower wearing any less and everybody uses the opportunity to make a little fun of him.
Other members of the household thoroughly enjoy the weather.
Keryn watches Dusk, Sable and Maroon play in the snow, pelting each other with snowballs, often joined by Fyrien, Zhumi and a pair of young troll twins the kids have picked up in the village.
Almost a full cycle of the moon after Ceriel's death, Keryn and Roars are standing on the balcony of Keryn's suite in companionable silence. The night sky is clear and full of stars.
They are watching as one of the floating islands is towed to a tower. The heat shielding of the islands keeps the plants cosy and warm and growing throughout winter. It also makes any snow that falls on the islands melt down to pleasant rain. But when the excess water runs off the islands, it freezes again to form long, sharp icicles hanging down from the edges. When the islands are towed in for harvesting, the icicles are carefully knocked off with long poles to make sure they don't grow heavy enough to break off on their own and hit people who might be walking below.
It's a sight that keeps amazing Roars. He can spend hours watching. And there really isn't much else to do, now that training has been reduced to some fitness exercises they can do inside the tower.
"I wonder what they want." Roars voice startles him from his thoughts.
The beastling is pointing to the north. Five wyvern have appeared there, flying low and in formation over the treetops, heading for the tower. Usually, wyverns are used to relay important messages or packages that are too heavy to entrust to a messenger moth. That means wyvern travel solo. Five in formation can really only mean someone important needs to travel very quickly.
"Trouble?" Roars asks, noticing how Keryn shifts into a more alert stance.
Keryn shrugs. "Possibly." He says, trying to make out who the wyverns' riders are. "Zarathiol is north."
They are still to far away to be sure, but the riders look awfully tall to be Slaigh. Night elf elite warriors then. Possibly even a champion.
"Let's meet them at the wyvern roost." Keryn suggests.
They quickly make their way down the stairs of the tower and through the village. When they reach the strider station where the estate's wyvern roost is located, the foreign wyvern are coming down on the raised landing pad. It is too small for all of them to land at once. Keryn watches as two night elves wearing the armour of High Command guards hop off their wyvern first, quickly shoo their wyvern off the pad and then secure it for the next arrival.
Then Keryn blinks in surprise as he recognizes the elf who stiffly climbs off the next wyvern. He is wrapped in a hooded coat as thick as Roars', but when he lowers the hood there is no doubt that this is one of the members of High Command Keryn was interviewed by when he was in the capital. He desperately searches his memory but can't remember the name of him.
The grim old elf glares at the wyvern like he is ready to kick the creature, making no secret of the fact that he didn't enjoy the journey at all. One of his guards clears his throat and directs the councillor's attention to Keryn and Roars. Quickly a calm, professional smile appears and Keryn schools his features to the same expression.
"Councillor," he greets the older elf with polite interest, hoping that no one will notice the lack of name, "what brings you to our humble home in such a hurry."
Roars is tense next to him, ready to strike if a threat materializes. Keryn isn't quite sure they would be able to take on the four guards. These are highly trained elves, possibly even combat mages. But they would have the surprise of two champions fighting back to back on their side.
"Champion Taraskeryn," the councillor returns the greeting and comes down from the landing pad, making way for the rest of his entourage, "there is much we need to discuss. Alas, what I have to say is for your ears only."
So not an attack then. New orders, very secret, is Keryn next guess.
"Please, be welcome, councillor." Keryn puts on his most polite and bland smile. "I'm sure you will appreciate a warm meal and mulled wine to taw your freezing bones."
A small gesture reassures Roars, who relaxes instantly and then turns and heads back to the tower ahead of Keryn and the councillor, like a good slave send ahead to ensure the comfort of his master's guest. Keryn is sure that he will also inform Irana and Maroon of the councillor's arrival.
A little later, Keryn and the councillor whose name still escapes him are seated in one of the salons on a high tower floor close to a fireplace. The councillor has peeled out of his coat and now warms his hands on a mug of mulled wine. They are alone. Even the councillor's guards have been ordered to wait outside in the hall.
Keryn expects lengthy small talk and innuendo so he is quite surprised when the councillor gets down to business without preamble.
"I'm sure you recall the attack on the capital's city guard you were asked to assist in." He says.
Immediately Keryn tenses. Have they discovered that it was him and Roars who carried out that attack? Still he manages to smile politely and incline his head. "I indeed wondered what became of the case."
"Your insights have proven invaluable." The councillor states grimly, turning the mug around in his long fingers. "You were correct in your assessment that a champion was involved in the matter."
Of course I was, Keryn thinks just a little desperately, I was.
"I can now reveal that the prisoner transported was a high ranking member of a beastling underground we have been troubled with for quite a while now in the capital." The councillor continues. "Now, you must understand how much this fact has puzzled us. Beastling are neither smart enough nor motivated enough to be such a nuisance. It is now clear that they were incited by a high elf all along. A sun elf champion, sent to Zarathiol to sabotage us."
Keryn gapes at the councillor open mouthed. It makes sense that they would come to this conclusion, but the sheer arrogance is still scary.
The councillor interprets his expression differently. "Yes, we were as shocked as you are, Champion Taraskeryn." He nods sagely. "This is of course a blatant violation of the treaty with the sun elves which states that our differences must only be solved in open war and on the battlefield while our capitals are exempt from any aggressive acts."
It's the first time Keryn hears of such a treaty and he suddenly feels like punching the councillor. They send countless warriors out to die in battle while they themselves sit at home warm and cosy, safe from any danger whatsoever? Bastards!
Oblivious to the reason for Keryn's outrage, the councillor carries on. "We immediately sent a fitting complaint to out counterparts on the sun elves' High Command. They had the audacity to deny any such action, even presented with our obvious proof! They even had a lie prepared just for the occasion. They claim one of their Champions has gone rogue and that she is the one who must be behind the sabotage in our capital. We do believe that she is the one we are hunting now, but obviously she is acting on orders of the sun elves' High Command. A Champion gone rogue!" The councillor snorts in distain. "Who would ever believe such rubbish!"
Who indeed, Keryn thinks. About as unlikely as a beastling wielding a soulblade. Or a night elf Champion helping him plan a rebellion. It makes him wonder where this rogue sun elf Champion is and if she might be a possible ally.
"I don't see where I get involved." Keryn says carefully.
Now the councillor smiles. "Now that the sun elves have violated the treaty, we see now reason why we should keep honouring it. Two can play this game." He explains. "We have decided to send you into the sun elf realm to sabotage their research into the undead specimen they have extracted from the anomaly."
So they are calling it an anomaly now. Not a freaking mistake of their overeager battle mages. Pretty much the only thing the councillor has said that doesn't make Keryn want to strangle him is that they are going to send him to the sun elves. After all, he would have gone anyway.
"I know this is very sudden and the weather is not ideal for such endeavours, but we would like you to leave as soon as possible." The councillor says. "Enough time has been lost already."
Because you were arguing over it endlessly, Keryn thinks and smiles pleasantly. "Of course, councillor, I understand the urgency."
"Very good." The councillor nods satisfied. "We have commissioned your grandmother to craft an artefact for you which will conceal your true nature so you can travel unhindered. You will meet one of our agents in Thinder near the border and pick up appropriate mounts. I trust you still plan to take your beastling pet with you?"
"In fact I plan to take two servants with me." Keryn keeps smiling. "A travelling sun elf would surely not travel without a body servant." Which will explain why Maroon is with them.
The councillor looks pleasantly impressed. "That is true. I will ensure sufficient mounts and travel gear will await you. I will also provide you with contact information for our agents in the sun elf capital. Hopefully, by the time you get there, they will have discovered where exactly the experiments on the undead specimen are being conducted."
They remain seated by the fireplace a while longer, discussing details. There are a million things the councillor feels he should helpfully point out and an equal amount of things Keryn does not mention. He squeezes the councillor for funds and equipment while planning to ignore his orders on what exactly they are supposed to do.
When he finally gets out of the meeting he feels giddy with excitement. Somehow, they will find Roars siblings, wreck havoc on the sun elf undead research and have the adventure they have been itching for all along.
Time to share the news with his friends and family.