Faren stared down at the lifeless body of Leske, the man who had once been his friend. Rica had to have known. She had to have known Leske was Jarvia’s right-hand man, or at least that he was working for her. There’s no way Rica couldn’t have known. She was from Dust Town. She’d been on friendly terms with Leske. Hell, if it hadn’t been for the whole noble hunting thing, they might have gotten married someday.
Yet, she hadn’t said a word. She’d let her little brother blindly walk into a dangerous situation and kill his best friend. That wasn’t Rica, that wasn’t the older sister he knew, so what changed?
He must have told Rica to keep her mouth shut. If Faren had known about Leske, he wouldn’t have charged in, swords out, he would have tried to find another way.
Faren clenched his fist.
Barkspawn was beside him emitting sorrowful whines and gently bumping his master with his head.
Morrigan and Shale had kindly given Faren some space even if they both thought it a waste of time.
That left Zevran standing awkwardly on the dwarf’s other side. He could tell his warden was hurting, but he didn’t know what he could do. Comfort and sympathy weren’t his thing. Such feelings were beaten out of you when you were a Crow. Yet Faren needed something, anything, and Zevran had no idea what it was or if he could even provide it. Under ‘normal’ circumstances, he’d make lewd jokes and sexual innuendos until Faren laughed or dragged him off to his tent.
This was different. His usual methods would not be appreciated and possibly make Faren angry, which Zevran didn’t want.
He tried to think what would one of the more touchy-feely members of their group do when Faren finally spoke.
“I need to speak to Harrowmont.” Faren looked up to meet the elf’s gaze and his eyes held a raw anger Zevran had never seen before. “And I’m going to need your help.”
Under cover of darkness and Zevran leading the way, the two made it into Pyral Harrowmont’s bedchamber without being spotted. With cat like grace, Zevran was by the bed. He shook the sleeping dwarf roughly, and when his eyes shot open, clamped a hand over his mouth.
“No cause for alarm, your lordship.” Zevran’s voice was smooth. “Warden Brosca just wants a word with you.”
Faren moved so Harrowmont could clearly see him. He held up both hands. “I’m truly sorry about this, but I can’t let Bhelen or any of his men see me with you. Please, we mean you no harm, I swear by the ancestors.”
Harrowmont’s gaze flicked from Faren to Zevran then back to Faren. He gave a slight nod.
Cautiously, Zevran pulled his hand back allowing the dwarf lord to sit up. He didn’t stray too far incase an alarm was raised.
“You have five minutes to pique my interest.” Harrowmont warned.
Faren delved right in. “I’m going to pull my backing from Bhelen."
“You’re a castless and Bhelen says he’ll do great things for them. I assumed you’d be shouting his praise at the top of your lungs.”
Faren told himself not to be annoyed by that. It had been partially true at first. “I’m supposed to be on his side, but he’s done nothing except spin me lies and with hold information. He forged documents claiming you offered the same piece of land to two Houses.” Faren still blamed himself for not realizing something was off until after he’d handed over the papers. He’d stolen them back and Shaper Czibor had confirmed they were fake, but the damage had already been done. “Who knows what else he’s lied about. I can’t see how a man like that has the people’s best interest at heart.” Zevran forced himself not to snort. Lying is what nobility, expressly royals, did, but this was Faren’s decision to make. He knew what was going on better than anyone. “He even dragged my sister into it.”
Harrowmont furrowed his bushy brow. “Your sister?”
“Rica, the castless who bore his son, Endrin. If I get you the kingship, you must swear to me to do right by her.”
“King Endrin was my dearest friend. I’ll do anything I can for his grandson and the mother.” He held out his hand. “I swear upon King Endrin, may he find peace with the ancestors.”
Faren took his hand. “I’ll find Bronca and convince her you’re the better man.”
Zevran slowly opened the bedroom door and peeked out into the hallway. Empty. Which was no surprise considering he’d mentally mapped out the palace and the guardsmen’s routes. It was all too easy; an amateur assassin could have snuck in without detection.
He momentarily debated on giving the head guard pointers on beefing up security then remembered he didn’t really care.
He glanced back over his shoulder. Faren was still fast asleep with Barkspawn sprawled out at the foot of the bed. He highly doubted the dog was actually sleeping, but the creature had no desire to wake the warden simply because Zevran was sneaking out.
Speaking of which, he better get a move on.
Zevran slipped between the door’s small opening and closed it silently behind him.
Without making a single sound, he made his way down hallway after hallway keeping out of sight of the guards. Not that he necessarily had to.
Faren, Morrigan, Shale, Barkspawn, and Zevran had all been invited to stay the night at the palace before trekking into the Deep Roads in search of, what Zevran fully believed, a dead woman.
He had every right to wonder the halls, but he highly doubted Prince Bhelen would want his liquor cabinet, okay, it was probably more like a whole room…or two, raided for his best stuff.
Hey, they were venturing into the Deep Roads for a woman that was most likely dead and seeing if that magic anvil thingy was real all to pretend to put some spoiled brat on the throne when they were actually going to put the old man on it so the dwarves would finally, FINALLY help with the Blight. The least Bhelen could do was supply them with a liquid pick me up for the trip…a lot of liquid pick me ups. Even if they planned to betray him in the end.
All this hubbub over who’s fat ass got to sit on the throne reminded Zevran of Antiva royals, thought not nearly as bad or bloody. Sad.
He entered the liquor room, which had way more than just booze in it, but liquor room was more fun in Zevran’s opinion, and found the cabinet that contained the rare bottles locked. No surprise there.
Contrary to popular belief, Zevran did know how to pick locks, he was just oddly really bad at it. He pulled out his tools and started to work.
A noise caught his attention. In one swift motion, he grabbed a knife from his belt, and twisted to throw it. Arguing royals tended to bring assassins which tended to make Zevran a little to edgy.
Rica stood in the doorway looking very surprised.
Zevran relaxed slightly. “My apologize, beautiful Rica. I hope I didn’t scare you.”
She shook her head. “I grew up in Dust Town. It takes a lot more than that to scare me.” She walked towards him. “I’m just shocked it was one of Faren’s friends I found.” She took a small ring of keys from her dress pocket. “Throwing a party before you enter the Deep Roads?”
“Something like that.” He watched her unlock the cabinet. “Why does the prince’s consort have a set of keys?” Couldn’t she just snap her fingers and get whatever she wanted brought to her?”
A hint of blush crept across Rica’s cheeks. “I might have pinched them by accident.”
Zevran cocked a blond eyebrow at that. “And how does a lovely rose like yourself know how to do that?”
“Faren.” She opened the cabinet doors to reveal several bottles cradled carefully in racks. “I was on my way to put them in a plausible spot when I happened to spot you.” She moved aside to give Zevran access.
He glanced inside scanning each bottle carefully. Legacy White Shear. Mackay’s Epic Single Malt. Antivan Sip-Sip. He plucked that one giving Rica a curious look.
She shrugged. “Bhelen believes we should integrate with the surface dwellers more. He has a specific merchant bring him goods from all over Theda.” Rica gestured to the cabinet. “Lock up when you’re done and meet me in my room.”
Zevran gave her his sexiest grin. “A secret tryst? I know I am marvelous to gaze upon, exotic fruit, but has Prince Bhelen already failed to.” He trailed off when he saw the deep scowl on her face. With that look, it was easy to spot the family resemblance.
“I thought you were with Faren.” Her voice had gone icy, the same way Faren’s did on the rare occasion he was mad. “Are you cheating on my little brother?”
The elf held up his free hand to stop her. “The warden and I…it’s complicated. I like to tease, so I apologize if I offended you.”
Rica snorted. “I’m not offended. If neither Faren or Bhelen were involved, I’d take you up on your offer, but they are, so you better keep your flirting to yourself. I want to have a serious discussion with you about Faren and before you say anything, it’s not concerning the relationship between the two of you.”
Rica’s bed chamber was plush and full of feminine smells that assaulted Zevran’s nose when he entered. It was a nice change of pace from the normal overpowering smells of body odor.
The mistress was already there sitting in an overstuffed chair pouring something into two tumblers. She gestured to the other matching chair and Zevran sat.
“Dwarven whisky.” She said handing him a tumbler. “It has a proper name, but who honestly cares.” She held up her glass.
“To your son’s health.” Zevran said clinking his glass to hers.
They both took a big drink. Zevran was glad he had a tolerance for alcohol or else that one drink would have knocked him on his ass. Dwarves really knew how to make booze. Rica gave them both refills.
“My brother.” She started, putting the bottle down. “Means to world to me. The only person above him is little Endrin. My heart broke when he was taken to join the wardens, but it also sang for him because he was free…sort of. He was too kind and gentle to be in Dust Town. He always tried so hard to help others and was always looking out for me.” She gave a mirthless laugh. “I’m the older one, but he took care of not only me, but our mother. He’d do whatever the Carta asked of him, no matter how sick it made him.”
Zevran had seen all of that in his travels with Faren. He’d helped Wynn find closer. Brought Alistair to his sister (even if she turned out to be awful). Saved Conner’s life without sacrificing others. Cheered Leaine up about herself. He’d even given Zevran a chance when he, himself, didn’t think he deserved one, both in life and…whatever was going on between them.
“He’s not really warden material either.” The elf said taking another drink.
“No, he really isn’t.” Rica met his gaze. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you. Faren puts on a brave face, a very brave face, but he’s hurting. He just plows forward without thinking of himself, pretending he’s fine, and I’m worried he’ll keep pushing himself until he breaks. I don’t want him to lose his gentle heart.”
Zevran leaned back lazily in his chair. “So you decided to omit the information that his old friend was working for Jarvia? Betrayal, that’s good for the soul.”
Rica froze. All the color drained from her face.
“Faren knows. He figured it out for himself.”
She hung her head. “I had no choice. Bhelen ordered me not to tell.”
“I would have done the same thing.” He stood up. “I do blame you for adding to his distress.”
The dwarf’s head shot up. “But you just said.”
He gave her a hard look, a Crow look. “I’m not a very nice person.” In the blink of an eye, his jovial smile was back. His stance carefree. “Don’t worry your lovely little head, my dusty rose, everyone of us keeps an eye on dear Faren. It’s like one big, mismatch, dysfunctional family.” He tossed back the rest of his whiskey. “I had a feeling that’s what you wanted to tell me.” He placed the glass gently on the table. “Thanks for the drink.” With a wink and a cheeky grin, Zevran left with his liberated bottles.
He didn’t need Rica telling him to take care of Faren. He was already doing that. He may not fully understand what was going on between him and the warden, but he did know he’d never recover if something were to befall the man whom spared his life and offered to give it back.
Faren was awake when Zevran returned. The warden was leaning on the bed’s head bored trying to read. At first, he’d barley known the alphabet, but with Wynn’s help, he was making great progress and wanted to read every book he could get his hands on. Zevran may or may not have bought an erotic novel and slipped it into his bag.
Barkspawn had curled up at his master’s feet, snoring.
“Have fun acting shifty?” Faren asked with a slight smile.
Zevran gasped acting horrified. “Shifty? Me? Good sir, I am deeply offended you would even suggest such a thing. I’m as innocent and pure as the snow.”
“Old dirty snow.”
He shrugged making room in his sack for one bottle then moved on to Faren’s for the other two. “The best kind, isn’t it?”
The dwarf watched but made no sign that he cared.
“I ran into the dusty rose.” Zevran said stripping before crawling into bed.
It took Faren a moment. “Oh, Rica.”
“We had a lovely little chat, shared a drink, and no death threats.” He wrapped an arm around the dwarf’s broad shoulders and shifted to be as close as possible.
Faren leaned into him. “If a fight had broken out, my gold would be on her.”
“Hurtful, very hurtful.”
“You’ll get over it.”
“No, not this time. I’m deeply hurt. I might actually cry. Where’s Wynn’s bosom?”
Faren had buried his face in his book laughing.
After making an exaggerated show of looking around, Zevran said. “She doesn’t appear to be here.”
“You’re not crying into my bosom.”
“There you go again, hurting me with your harsh words. You’re so cold, my dear warden.” He wrapped both arms around Faren. His cheek resting on the top of his head. “I insist you read to me to make up for your harsh, unfeeling actions. Your baritone will sooth the wounds you so carelessly inflicted.”
Before Faren could point out the obvious flaw in that logic, Zevran ‘shush’ed him.