His castle for a horse
Warnings/notes: Morrolan, Kragar, drabble-ish, ooc.
Disclaimer: The wondrous world of Dragaera was created by Steven Brust. This ficlet may or may not be AU and contradictory to certain revelations about Kragar made in Dzur.
written at 12th june 2006, by Misura
Kragar has never liked horses. As far as he's been able to determine, the feeling's mutual, and had he been nobly-born, that would have been a problem. However, Kragar used to be just another Dragon, one of many, and so nobody takes any special notice when he signs up for the infantry, where nobody'll ever expect him to get along with horses.
For a few centuries, he's happy just using his own two feet to get to places, and if more often than not, they're places where there are complete strangers wanting to kill him, that's just a risk of the job. The pay's not too bad, and he stops noticing the taste of the food after only a year.
Next, before he knows it, Things Happen, and he suddenly finds himself kicked out of the House of the Dragon without so much as an apology for the inconvenience of totally screwing up his life. He becomes a Jhereg, just because if there's one House that stands for everything Dragons shouldn't do, it's the Jhereg, and Kragar's not petty enough to want revenge, but he's pretty pissed off all the same, and he figures that he might as well try and make a living for himself. The alternative would be to throw himself on his own sword, and after all the time he's spent keeping other people from gutting him, it seems a shame to do it himself.
Over the next few years, he discovers that some parts of his life don't seem to have changed all that much. There's still complete strangers wanting to kill him, only now they come at him from behind, instead of from the left, right and front. He learns to guard his back, and doesn't worry about it too much. The difference between someone trying to kill him for money and someone trying to kill him because of who pays him doesn't seem all that big.
The other thing that hasn't changed is that he still doesn't have to come near any horses. He learns to teleport from an eccentric Hawklord who owes him a few favors and who seems to think his being a Jhereg is all very interesting, but not in any way shameful, a view that Kragar finds novel enough to not take offense at.
Had anyone not a Dragonlord, a Hawklord, a Jhereg or an Easterner asked him, then Kragar might have confessed that, after a few centuries to get used to the idea, being a Jhereg's not all that bad, actually.
"I had intended to go horse-riding this afternoon," Morrolan says, and Kragar is willing to bet that half a minute ago, Morrolan's plans for the afternoon actually didn't include any such activity, but he also knows that if he points this out, Morrolan's just going to sneer at him some more.
"Vlad sends his apologies," he repeats, thinking of the five-hundred Imperials Vlad is paying him for this. It's a lot of money for three hours of work, because even if most assassinations take less than half that, there's still all the time spent on researching and investigating the victim's habits and blind spots.
Still, Kragar thinks he'd have demanded a lot more if he hadn't known Vlad's plans for the afternoon, which don't include horse-riding, but do include spending some time with the woman who'll either turn Vlad into someone who's a little less tense, or someone who's ready to do something stupid and reckless. Kragar is betting on the first, because contemplating the second makes him a little sad.
"As well he should," Aliera puts in, looking haughty and like she'd like to kill him, if only she wasn't so reluctant to get her blade dirty. She's worse than Morrolan, really - at least Morrolan has got some sort of pretense for treating Kragar like dirt.
"I assume you've got a horse I can use, then? I'm afraid I'm a bit too tall for whatever animal you got for Vlad." Kragar imagines Morrolan owning a pony, one of those scraggy, stubborn things that Easterners use to travel through the mountains. It's an amusing idea, until he recalls that Morrolan's got several hundreds of Easterners living here, to make up his coven of witches.
Morrolan looks like Kragar's making things difficult for him on purpose. "I am sure my stable-master will be able to find you a suitable mount. Let us go, then."
Kragar makes no effort to be polite and bow a farewell to Aliera, or at least wish her a pleasant continuation of her day. He feels her gaze prickling in his back, in that spot right between his shoulderblades where you can trust an amateur to aim for. If she'd been a Jhereg, he'd have worried a little, but as it is, he simply ignores her.
Half an hour later, Kragar still hasn't been thrown off or bitten or otherwise harassed by the horse that Morrolan's decided to be 'suitable' for him. Morrolan's own horse is a few inches taller than Kragar's, naturally, allowing Morrolan to stare down at him while asking questions about Vlad's most recent report about the security of Castle Black.
Kragar tries to keep his answers short, polite and to the point. Short and to the point, because he doesn't want this conversation to last any longer than it has to, and he's sure that Morrolan feels the same way. Polite, because Morrolan's still a Dragonlord, and Kragar might beat him when it'd just be ordinary sword against ordinary sword, but he's pretty sure that he doesn't stand a chance when it's ordinary sword against Great Weapon, on top of which he's 'just' a Jhereg now, so Morrolan might decide to chop off his head simply because he feels like putting up with Kragar's company isn't worth keeping Vlad as his security-consultant.
Most of the questions are requests for clarifications: what's this number based on? What's that advise based on? Who told Vlad about the spare key to the dungeons that Morrolan keeps in his bedroom? How did he find out about the secret passage-way that leads from Aliera's quarters to a hidden door that opens directly on the courtyard? Very few of them are questions that Kragar hasn't asked Vlad about himself, or suggested that he put in his report.
After Kragar's answered the last question, about Aliera and that-secret-passage-way-that-a-Certain-Someone-always-uses-to-sneak-into-her-rooms-without-Morrolan-needing-to-see-and-get-outraged-at-him, Morrolan keeps silent for a while, leaving Kragar to feel smug, because when he gets back to the office, he can't just take Vlad's gold, but also tell him 'I told you so' now. It's rare for Kragar to outsmart Vlad and actually get to gloat over it, because rather a lot of the time, Vlad not heeding him leads to Vlad nearly getting killed, and Kragar's not enough of a Dragon anymore to kick a man when he's down.
"You seem content, being what you are," Morrolan says. It might be a simple statement, or maybe an accusation. It doesn't sound like much of an insult, so Kragar feels obliged to make a reply. He's a Jhereg, after all. Jhereg know what good manners are.
"Vlad's not too bad, for an Easterner." Vlad's only going to live for a century, at most, if he's lucky, and Kragar only met him when he'd already lived over a fifth of that period. Sometimes, Kragar wonders why he bothers making the effort to keep Vlad alive; what's the use, when Vlad's going to die in a mere fifty years anyway? For a Dragaeran, having known someone for that long's barely enough to refer to that someone as an acquaintance, let alone a friend.
"And how many Easterners do you know, to make that statement?" It takes Kragar a few moments to realize that Morrolan's tone of voice indicates amusement. Not so much at Kragar's expense, but more as if Kragar has told a good joke. It unsettles Kragar a little, because it's been a long time since a Dragonlord has talked to him like that, and he's disturbed at the memories it brings back, and at the part of him that wants to forgive all of Morrolan's past sneers and insults, just for this one instant.
"I think I've killed a good few of them," Kragar says. He's not so much kept this a secret from Vlad as that he's simply never seen a reason to tell Vlad about his time as a Dragon. "Back when."
Morrolan sighs. Kragar tells himself it's absurd to think that Morrolan seems a little jealous. By all accounts, Morrolan's seen plenty of fighting, if mostly during the last years of the Interregnum, and after that in small campaigns against people like Fornia, minus the concealed Great Weapon at stake.
"Their tempers are as short as their lives," Morrolan says, and he sounds more like he's thinking out loud than that he's talking to Kragar, so Kragar doesn't comment that yes, that does describe Vlad rather well. "Once, I knew the faces of every member of my coven. Now, I try to remember their names, and their traditional festivals, so that I may appear to properly appreciate their efforts on my behalf."
Kragar begins to seriously wish he had the guts to teleport out of here and back to Vlad's office. He's come here to be interrogated, not be reminded of the fact that Dragonlords, too, are capable of having weaknesses that aren't flaws, and feelings that aren't about killing people. Besides, what's Morrolan trying to pull, anyway? Kragar's not going to buy this act any more than he's going to buy Cawti's act about how she doesn't give a damn about Vlad anymore.
"I didn't come here to listen to you whining at me about how your life sucks worse than mine," he says, because either Morrolan's faking all this sentimental nonsense, in which case Kragar feels he's got the right to be rude, or Morrolan's being completely honest, in which case Kragar feels he ought to return the favor. Besides, it's true. He's here because of five-hundred Imperials. There's only one profession in the Organization that requires its practioners to listen to their customers' woes, and if Kragar could have chosen between that and killing himself, he wouldn't have needed to think about it for even a split second. He'd be safely dead now, and spared this embarrassing conversation.
Predictably, Morrolan has drawn Blackwand even before Kragar's finished his sentence. He's not quite crude enough to press the blade against Kragar's neck - Morrolan's a Dragon, after all, not a Jhereg - but Kragar wouldn't bet his soul on his chances of being able to duck quickly enough to keep his head on his shoulders when Morrolan decides he'll look better without it.
Kragar swallows and reflects that if Blackwand -had- been pressed to his neck, that action would have likely killed him. He forces himself to stay calm, or at least look like he's staying calm, and wait for Morrolan to politely inform him what Kragar can do for him.
"Perhaps," Morrolan says, "you would care to withdraw that statement?"
Kragar thinks of five-hundred Imperials, and Vlad being on a date right now, wining and dining the woman he loves. He thinks of Aliera sneering at him, and how she's going to react if Morrolan comes back alone and informs her of the reason for Kragar's absence.
"Perhaps," he says, "I would not."
Morrolan licks his lips. If he'd been Vlad, that would have indicated a hint of nervousness. Displayed by a Dragon with a drawn weapon, Kragar'd sooner interpret it as eagerness though, a hunger for the spilling of blood. He recalls Vlad telling him how it felt to walk into that room full of Morganti weapons.
"In that case, it seems we must fight," Morrolan declares, sheathing Blackwand, dismounting and drawing a fairly ordinary sword all in one smooth motion. His face is lower than Kragar's now, but somehow, it doesn't feel that way to Kragar. "You have a blade with you, I believe?"
"Yes, I've got a sword," Kragar says, not mentioning the daggers he's kept hidden in various places, or the fact that Morrolan can plainly see that Kragar's got a sword. Unlike daggers and knives, swords are not easy to hide. He also doesn't mention that there's no 'must' about this, because Morrolan's a Dragon, and Kragar isn't anymore. His horse, amazingly, keeps standing still as he gets off.
"I will, of course, revivify you, should you lose." Morrolan makes a small bow, barely worth the name.
"Thanks." It doesn't occur to Kragar that Morrolan might be lying. "Who should I ask for if I want to get you revivified? I don't know how to do that spell myself, you know." In fact, Kragar will consider himself lucky if he can get back to Castle Black within the hour. He doesn't know the place well enough for a teleport, and he hasn't been paying all that much attention to their route.
"I'm sure my cousin will be happy to lend her aid," Morrolan says, testing Kragar's defense with something that might be called an 'attack' by a Teckla. "You may ask the Lady Teldra to guide you to her."
"Great." Kragar aims for Morrolan's left-shoulder and gets blocked. Dodging Morrolan's next attack, he wonders if Vlad will pay him extra for this. Probably not. "I'm sure Aliera'll be delighted when I tell her what I need her help for."
Morrolan chuckles. "I hope you will not allow this to keep you from doing your best to give me a bit of sport. Because, I assure you, this would greatly displease me."
Kragar tells himself one last time he hasn't missed talking to people who talk about fights to the death as 'a bit of sport' and actually mean it, and attacks once more.
"You look like you had a good time," Vlad tells Kragar, later that evening.
Kragar doesn't tell Vlad what he's thinking, which is that Vlad looks like he had a lousy time. He might ask Vlad about how things went tomorrow, when Kragar's a little hung-over and Vlad's all awake again, thanks to some sort of herb-tea he offers to share with Kragar every once in a while. For the moment though, the agreement is that they'll get drunk together and try not to bring up any sensitive topics of conversation. At least, Kragar will try to do this. Vlad has all the sensitivity of, well, an Easterner when it comes to subjects Kragar doesn't want to talk about.
"The food was very nice," Kragar says. Morrolan insisted he'd stay for dinner, and Aliera had sent word that she'd dine in the privacy of her own rooms, so Kragar didn't quite see a good reason to refuse.
"Hm." Vlad nods and sips his drink. "Teleports always make me too sick to enjoy it." Vlad drinks some more, then thinks some more, and Kragar just knows what he's going to say next. "Would you care to do this again next time? I'd really like to keep some time free for uhm private stuff."
"If she doesn't like you now, she's not going to change her mind tomorrow," Kragar wants to say, but doesn't. He's never understood Cawti all that well, so he just hopes for the best and allows Vlad to buy him drinks every now and then. "For a thousand Imperials, I'll consider it," he says instead.
Vlad sighs. "For that kind of money, I could have you assassinated."
"Yeah, but then who'd clean up after you, and make sure you got the right kind of information?" Kragar grins. "Admit it, Vlad, you need me."
Vlad sighs again, deeper this time. "Six-hundred."
"Deal," Kragar says.