Two dead Teckla
Warnings/notes: Morrolan/Vlad, minor Loiosh/Rocza, ooc, TWT.
Disclaimer: The wondrous world of Dragaera was created by Steven Brust.
written at 26th august 2006, by Misura. Edited 23rd October 2007, with a huge thank-you to Seran Hawthorne for pointing out I'd consistently misspelled Rocza's name.
Jhereg - of the flying reptile-variety, I mean, not of the two-legged and belonging to the Organization-variety - have some very elaborate courtship-rituals that you may or may not find fascinating. I very much doubt that I'd ever developed any interest in the whole matter if it hadn't been for Loiosh, but hey, when you're a Dragaeran with several centuries to keep yourself amused, I guess lots of subjects suddenly start to look really attractive to study.
Morrolan, just to name an example of your average Dragaeran, probably owns at least three books on jhereg-romance, and he's likely read all of them, too, simply because of the principle of the thing. (That is: because he'd feel embarrassed if someone asked him something about a book in his library, and he'd have to admit to not having read said book. And yes, it would seem easier for him to just limit his collection to books about things he really wants to read about, but, well, being a Dragonlord, the easy way's not an option.)
One of the many charming ways in which a jhereg can say 'I love you' is by a gift of dead teckla. Or any other kind of edible prey. In an ideal romance, it's an exchange; the male gives the female his dead teckla, the female gives the male hers, and they enjoy a nice, candlefree dinner together. When things don't work out as ideally, someone goes hungry - which is nicely symbolic of one thing or another, I'm sure.
Like with humans, accepting a dinner-invitation doesn't mean accepting the person who did the inviting as your life-long mate, partner and lover. But of course, also like with humans, many optimistic souls do interpret a 'yes' to some free food in that way. If you ever acquire a jhereg for a familiar, you might want to explain the concepts of 'the opposite sex' and 'playing hard to get' to him or her; if you can make your lectures memorable enough, it'll save you a lot of sleepless nights spent comforting your confused, heart-broken and/or just pissed off familiar later on.
(Not that I'm ever going to admit it to his face, only every now and then, I feel like Morrolan's actually lucky, getting a big stick for a familiar. Granted, it's a soul-eating, Morganti big stick, but at least it's not going to whine at him about being lonely, misunderstood and sex-starved.)
Loiosh, by the way, claims that it's no more than fair that I've stayed up several nights to listen to his romantic woes, and the many elements that have convinced him that Rocza is his destined other half. After all, he points out, there's been plenty of times when -he- stayed up to listen to -my- woes, romantic or otherwise. I guess he has a point, although naturally, this is another one of those things I'm never going to admit out loud. Besides, I'm human, and he's not, so my problems are more important than his. Opposable thumbs are all very well, and I wouldn't want to miss them, but the fact remains that Loiosh can solve a lot of his problems by hissing loudly and looking dangerous, or even by being less of an idiot about females, while I - well, maybe I've been an idiot a few times. Not that often, though. And with most of my problems, my not being an idiot didn't help all that much.
For starters, it didn't keep me far away enough from Morrolan. Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say that getting close to Morrolan was bad for me, as such - if only because there's always the chance that he'll be reading this at some point, and thus saying that getting close to him was the complete opposite of a good, sensible thing for me to do would definitely be bad for me. (I'm tough, but not tough enough to deal with a genuinely upset Dragonlord who makes me wish he'd kill me for having hurt his feelings.)
Getting close to Morrolan did make my life -and thus, by extension, my problems more complicated. Gone were the days when I could wander the halls of Castle Black with everyone pretending not to notice me; instead, everyone suddenly started -looking- at me. (It probably doesn't sound like a big thing, and I did get used to it in time, but the first time it happened, I couldn't stop thinking I had gotten blood on my clothes - or something like that. In view of what I'd done before, it actually was a valid concern, even if I'd checked for tell-tale spots before leaving what is so charmingly called 'the scene of the crime'. It took several glares and a sneering assurance of cleanliness (if not fashionability) by Aliera to calm my nerves down enough to get to work.)
Of course, since I was still only an Easterner and a Jhereg, albeit one with a modest title, very few people also addressed me. Which, let me tell you, is really a great way to make a man get paranoid; nothing sets me on edge like getting stared at and not spoken to. If I'd been a Dragonlord, I could have beaten them up for it, but then again, if I'd been a Dragonlord, there wouldn't have been a problem.
At first, Morrolan, being the nice, sensitive guy that we all know he isn't, found the situation amusing. He told me I was overreacting. Loiosh told me I was oversensitive. Aliera topped both of them by saying I was, get this, having hysterics, since I obviously couldn't handle her cousin's, and I quote, for lack of words of my own, 'superior techniques and expertise'. (In case you're a bit slow or, like me, somewhat confused: she wasn't referring to his skills at cross-stitching, if you get my point.) Between the three of them, they managed to get me pissed off enough to get me through the first two weeks without causing any major incidents, because I was too busy stewing about the injustices they'd done me to pay much attention to anyone else.
Once the novelty had worn off a bit, Morrolan was still amused. Loiosh still felt I was oversensitive when it concerned answering questions about 'Eastern specialties' - I'll be damned if I know what those were supposed to be, only several younger and stupider Dragonlords appeared to be convinced that 1) I knew what they were, 2) Morrolan knew what they were and 3) that they were the sole reason for us having hooked up. Aliera, after ignoring both the fact that we'd locked the door and Morrolan having told her he didn't want to be disturbed for the next few hours, walked in on a scene she didn't really care for and packed her bags to temporarily relocate to Dzur Mountain. (She still spent most of her days and evenings at Castle Black though, so aside from a glare or two, I barely noticed the change.)
I think it was in about the fifth week that Morrolan invited me for dinner at Valabar's. I suspect, but never got around to confirming, that this was his idea of a 'private dinner for two'. Valabar's is, obviously, not quite a place for privacy, but it wasn't in the great hall of Castle Black and it wasn't in his personal rooms, so in a sense, it was as close as he could get. I mean, if he wanted something more formal than a quick bite in between spell-casting and other strenuous activities, and something a little bit more intimate than a banquet with dozens (if not hundreds) of other people, then he could have done worse than Valabar's. In fact, the only immediate drawbacks I could see when he invited me were the teleports - one to get there, and another one to take us back to Castle Black. Of course, I could also go back to my own home afterwards, but ... even Loiosh didn't suggest that.
The food, of course, was great. I'd received some slightly troubling news from Kragar earlier that day - when you're in the Organization, it's generally not a smart idea to stay away from your home-turf for too long, unless you're really high up or, like Kiera, make your home wherever you happen to be at the moment, without anyone giving you any trouble about it. Anywhere else, I'm sure, my appetite would have been ruined, no matter -who- was glowering at me from the other side of the table. Since this was Valabar's though, I promised myself I'd think about Kragar's (or, to be honest: my) problems first thing in the morning. Morrolan would understand, or else would simply have to accept he wasn't my first concern. (Yes, I do believe I had drunk some wine at this point in the evening. Say what you want about Morrolan, but his wine-cellar is excellent, and hanging around Castle Black all day to be looked at and asked very personal questions was made much more bearable by a good drink or two.)
Morrolan was in a nice kind of good mood, by which I mean to say that he seemed happy, without the prospect of getting to hack someone to pieces to make him so. I hadn't seen much of him that afternoon, so it was possible that I was witnessing the afterglow of some particularly bloody duel. But I didn't ask, and he didn't tell, so we could both continue to be happy and enjoy our meal, while chatting about witchcraft and other Eastern topics.
We managed to keep it that way - pleasant and light - all through dessert. However, by the time the klava was being served, Morrolan shifted on his seat a bit and turned from an amiable Dragon into a serious Dragonlord with a Great Weapon. If we hadn't been at Valabar's, the sudden change would have been enough to make me draw and jump for the nearest cover. As it was, Loiosh just hissed a little, and I sat up a bit straighter, raising an eyebrow to silently ask Morrolan what was going on.
"It has," he said, "been brought to my attention that your prolonged absence from your office in Adrilankha has caused certain people to presume beyond that which is permissible for them to presume." He looked dead serious, so I refrained from commenting on his phrasing. Loiosh, remarkably, did so, too.
"Ah," I said. What I wanted to say was: 'who has told you something I only heard about myself this morning?' or a slightly less diplomatic version thereof. I mean, I knew Morrolan had a good network of spies, but this was either absurd or creepy.
"May I assume that, now that you are aware of the potential problems your staying at Castle Black may cause, you will tread more carefully in the future?" Morrolan asked.
"Sure," I said. Loiosh snorted.
"Good." Morrolan reached for his cup of klava and went back to looking as harmless as an armed Dragonlord can possibly look.
"Since you're that concerned, I guess you don't mind me spending some time here in Adrilankha, to straighten a few things -and persons- out?" I figured I might as well try to get at least -something- out of this, aside from the discovery that Morrolan's information-network was truly formidable.
"If you wish." Morrolan shrugged. "There seems to be no pressing need at the moment, though I am sure you would know more of such things than I would. I have no doubt that Kiera's list was both accurate and complete, but one never knows. I might have missed one or two underlings."
"Excuse me?" I didn't think I wanted to know. No, scratch that, I was -sure- I didn't want to know. I didn't know what Kiera had been thinking of, blabbing to Morrolan about what was, literally and figuratively, nobody's business but my own. I didn't know how she'd been able to get into Castle Black, or why Morrolan hadn't tried to kill her on sight for entering his home uninvited. Unfortunately, I did have some idea what kind of 'list' she might have given him. Kragar had provided -me- with one, too, naming the persons who were talking loudest about trying to profit from my 'prolonged absence'.
"As part of the blame for your not being there to deal with them in a proper and prompt fashion is mine, it seemed only just to make amends." Morrolan gave me a slightly puzzled look. He'd obviously noticed I was unsettled, but (typically) didn't have a clue why.
"Really, boss, I'm jealous. The most I ever got from Rocza was half a dead teckla, and that was only because she wasn't hungry enough to eat it herself anymore. And here you are, getting what, half a dozen dead Teckla? Just like that." Loiosh gave Morrolan a look that I interpreted as approving. I don't know how Morrolan interpreted it, or even if he noticed. He appeared to be busy stroking Blackwand, which wasn't exactly something I wanted to see or think about too much.
Not that I wanted to think about what he'd just said.
"I don't think I want to know the exact number," I told Loiosh. I meant it, too; if they ever arrested me for Morrolan's not-so-little stunt, I had absolutely no intention of being able to say that no, I hadn't had anything at all to do with the sudden deaths of twenty-four people. (And in case you're curious: yes, that is the correct body-count. Morrolan told me on an evening when I was too drunk to tell him not to and, for some reason, didn't want to go to bed. Loiosh tells me it was very amusing to watch.)
Morrolan, obviously, won't ever need to worry about being arrested for butchering a few lowly Teckla or Jhereg. It's one of those very unfair things in life, though I guess he makes up for it by letting people duel him, and never cheating in either swordfights or cardgames. (In a duel of sorcery, you can't really cheat; you can only be smarter than your opponent.)
"I'm ... not ungrateful," I said. I wasn't. I was seriously pissed off at lots of people, like Kiera (for sticking her nose where it didn't belong), Morrolan (for being a Dragonlord) and Kragar (for not having been more careful with that report), and I wanted to hit someone, but ungrateful, I was not. In fact, I had every intention of showing Morrolan just how much I appreciated his intervention at the earliest opportunity.
"Uhm, boss, are you thinking what I think you're thinking?" Loiosh didn't sound happy. He was, as it happened, one of the very few people I wasn't specifically pissed off at, so I tried to calm down and give him a polite, reasonable answer.
"That depends on what you think I'm thinking." I foresaw this conversation could get very silly, very soon, so I added: "I'm not going to do anything hasty or stupid." Famous last words, but hey, they were true this time. Besides, Morrolan could always revivify me if things went wrong.
"Yeah, but is he going to want to, if he's the one who killed you?" Loiosh asked.
"He killed some people for me, I'll kill some people for him. How much fairer can you get?" I reasoned. "And at least I'm not going to use a Morganti blade. I only want them to be unable to duel Morrolan, after all, not permanently out of the way." Looking back, I think both me and Loiosh knew I would never kill someone just because Morrolan had done something to get me mad at him. Especially not since I wouldn't get paid for it; a Jhereg's got to have some principles, too.
Still, the fact remained that I was very angry, and that most of the people Morrolan dueled were Dragonlords. Not all of them were guests of his - a good thing for me, since I only wanted to annoy Morrolan, not offend his honour and wind up getting my soul eaten by Blackwand. However, there's no such thing as a nice Dragonlord. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say all Dragonlords are arrogant bastards, whose idea of 'fun' is a bloodbath. Thus, I think that if I'd gotten the opportunity, I might have gone through with it and killed someone to pay Morrolan back for going honorable on me. (I'm pretty sure he had a great time, and did what he did as much for pleasure as for honour, if not more so.)
Likely, I'd have wound up in a world of trouble afterwards. Probably, Morrolan would not be able to see my side of things at all. I definitely wouldn't need to worry about being gone from home for too long anymore - which actually might have been an advantage, and a reason to go through with it.
In the end, I didn't do anything. I stayed at Castle Black for another week, was surprised to find out Morrolan still hadn't grown tired of the sight of me by then, and politely requested a teleport home, which he obligingly provided. Loiosh happily and brazenly launched into his campaign to win Rocza's heart again, I stayed up late to provide wisdom, advise and sympathy, and every once in a while, Morrolan would send me a note requesting my presence at Castle Black.
(I never talked to Kiera about the matter of the report, though I did find out why Morrolan had listened to her at some later point. Kragar swore it had gone straight from his desk into the sealed message-tube I'd received, with the seal unbroken, so I decided that Kiera was simply too good a thief for him to catch and dropped the subject. I think he noticed, and was a little offended by it, but since Kiera could only steal things that she knew to exist, I felt he deserved at least a bit of blame.)