A Tempest In A Teapot
Dragon patted the hand that rested on his arm and hoped that the lady forgave him his rather brooding silence. He did not consider himself a brilliant conversationalist normally, but his thoughts were occupied with a mystery he was intent on resolving. Finally reaching a conclusion he believed was correct he put it to the back of his mind.
"How does your sister?" He asked Lorelei quietly, mindful of their surroundings. The park by the college was fairly public, thus it was unexceptional for them to walk alone together there, but it was difficult to have a private conversation.
Lorelei's smile was slightly teasing as she answered his question. "She does well enough, but it is difficult to see my openhearted sister, constantly on her guard, watching for that man." She looked up at him. "Do not tell me it took you all this time to conjure up that question? Surely 'twas not so difficult as that?"
Dragon smiled in spite of himself. "No, it was not difficult. I admit my mind was occupied with a matter even closer to my heart." He told her and gestured to a bench with a questioning look.
Amber eyes twinkled mischievously as she took a seat and tilted her head back to look up at him. "What could possibly be closer to your heart?" She asked, drawing him down beside her.
Dragon did not resist the gentle tug of her hand. "For which of my good qualities did you first love me?" He queried with an air of reluctant anticipation.
Lorelei laughed. "You have no good parts." She teased. "You are wickedly wonderful through and through, to make such a whole that I could not resist you." She squeezed his hand. "But for which of my virtues did you begin to suffer love for me?" She returned.
Dragon chuckled, his rasping voice turning the sound of mirth into a rumbling growl. "Suffer is right enough, for I do suffer in my love for you, loving you against my will."
"Oh, well then, I would not have you suffer, do not love me anymore then." Lorelei slipped her hand from his in mock pique turning up her nose, though her lips twitched in betrayal of her good humor.
"Too late." Dragon rasped. He tucked a stray lock of her hair behind her ear and slid his hand along the back of her neck under the weight of the silvery gold locks. "Far too late."
Lorelei sighed at his touch and abandoned her pose to look at him. "But you are my friend, and if you go against your heart, so will I, for I will not love what my friend hates, poor heart."
Dragon shook his head. "Do not." He said. "But when did you first admit to yourself that you loved me?"
Lorelei took a deep breath. "Oh, long ago, and then denied it completely because you seemed so indifferent, and I was reminded of someone else who had deceived me thus." She laid a hand on his shoulder, half turning towards him. "But more recently, when I heard my brother and your sister speaking of you." She looked down, suddenly, unaccountably, shy. "They said you were in love with me, that you would never tell me, because I scorned all men. They mentioned a letter you'd written and then torn apart. They made me think of how intolerant my attitude was. And they reminded me of how much I had loved you before."
Dragon blinked in surprise and nodded as his suspicions were confirmed. "And for the same reason I buried my love for you conceived when we first met." She looked at him in surprise and he nodded again. "Yes, when we first met, the night I ignored you."
Lorelei scooted closer to him so that her side was pressed to his. "And what began you on your set course of grave digging?" She inquired. "Did I do something?"
"In a way." Dragon's macabre voice was tender. "I heard your father and twin speaking of you being in love with me. They said you couldn't sleep and that you drew sketches of me constantly." He looked at her. "And a talk I had with Asrai, as well as their opinion of me made me rethink my prejudices against well born women."
"Doesn't our family have anything else to talk about?" Lorelei muttered.
Dragon wrapped an arm around her and kissed the top of her head, eliciting warm shivers from her head to her toes. "Not when they deliberately staged those conversations." He told her. "I think your family, most especially your twin, has been matchmaking."
"It has all been just a little too convenient hasn't it?" Lorelei said thoughtfully. "Does this mean you don't really love me?" She asked in a wistful tone after a moment.
"Can you doubt it?" Dragon traced the line of her jaw with a blunt tipped finger, his touch gentle in spite of the callused strength of his hands. "Never doubt it, Lorelei." Obsidian eyes were warm somehow with the emotions they contained and they made her fears foolish as she met his gaze.
"No." She whispered. "I don't doubt you." Her hand crept up to his collar and her fingers curled under it, rubbing against his neck. "Dragon…" Her whisper seemed to caress his skin. "Nwyfan Reisolnt Draco."
The huge warrior smiled down at her, she was so tiny compared to him, so pale and golden. "Yes…" His brows rose inquiringly.
"Please, kiss me." She lifted her other hand to stroke his face, feeling the texture of his black hair under her fingertips.
"Just once." He bent slightly and pressed his mouth to hers, stingingly sweet, for a brief moment. Reluctantly he took his lips from hers and looked around. "We are in public, and I see your brother coming." He pointed out. The warrior frowned. "He is with a guard, and seems to be in haste." Dragon rose from the bench and held out his hand for Lorelei.
Together they hurried over to Sebastian, arriving, a bit breathlessly on Lorelei's part, just as the guard was leaving.
Sebastian looked up at them and nodded at their inquiring faces. "News." He said, his words like his movements, purposeful and swift. "Saldan is found. Crownsilver and Margaret gave him up." The two lovers were forced to hurry along with him as he headed for the palace. "And I have some long awaited business to attend to, so if you'll excuse me, I must don apparel more appropriate to the occasion."
Lorelei glanced from her brother to Dragon who looked as if he was inclined to argue. Sebastian quashed that notion before the words could leave the older half elf's mouth. "No!" He said in low fury intensified tones.
Lorelei had always believed Sebastian lacked the gentle possessiveness of their mother and the more strident claims of a few of their Sargen cousins. Her theory was dashed to pieces at Sebastian's next words.
"Briar is mine to protect now!" Sebastian stared at Dragon, daring him to challenge that. His mouth twitched into a slight smile as his eyes flickered over Lorelei and Dragon, at their joined hands and how closely they stood. Then his gaze met Dragon's eyes. "I will protect your sister, if you will protect mine." He told the warrior mage.
Dragon looked at him grimly and then down at Lorelei whose hand was trustingly clasped within his own still. "With my life." He said finally. "Go, or you will be late." Sebastian nodded and hurried off.
Lorelei looked up at Dragon with a wry smile. "So were you going to take me with you to inform Briar's family or did you want to waste the time making sure I am safely ensconced in the palace?" She tilted her head, amber eyes gleaming up at him.
Dragon shook his head with a resigned sigh. "May I at least complete a thought my dear, before you begin to read my mind?" He inquired, rasping voice dry with humor. When she just smiled up at him Dragon groaned and tugged her hand gently. "Well let's go then."
Briar curiously looked in the open doorway of Sebastian's dressing room. The prince had hurried into the room, pressed a kiss to her lips and then hurried on to the dressing room.
"What in the world are you doing?" She asked as he pulled on clothing from a closet he only opened for business purposes.
"I've a duel to fight, and I intend that everyone who sees the results sees that even if I seem to be a fool I can still be a very dangerous fool to cross with a sword." Sebastian told her as he laced up a black shirt and pulled a like hued leather jerkin over it.
"A duel with whom?" Briar asked quietly, dark green eyes glittering with suspicion.
"With Saldan." As always when Sebastian spoke of the man he purposely neglected to use the inherited title.
Briar turned without a word and left the room. She returned in a moment with several garments over her arm. Sebastian's eyes narrowed thoughtfully as she entered the bathroom to change. When she came out again she was clothed in her adventurers' garb, the black leather suede, like his own clothing, seemed to swallow what light that touched it.
She still did not speak but efficiently wound her hair into a tight braided bun at the base of her neck, exposing her ears and making her face look stark and cold. When she began to belt on her rapier and main gauche Sebastian felt compelled to protest.
"Briar, I'm fighting him. You're staying here where it's safe." He said firmly.
She looked at him and her eyes were like the deepest part of a river in the winter, dark, cold, unfathomable and emotionless. For a moment Sebastian was shocked at how she looked, he'd never seen such an expression on the face of anyone outside of Raden's service. Without another word he left the room.
Briar heard the large carved door shut behind him as he left and paid it no heed. She would simply follow him to wherever he had Saldan.
When she reached the door it would not open. When she realized it was locked her shriek of outrage more than made up for her lack of speech in the previous quarter of an hour. Pounding on the door brought no one to open it, presumably Sebastian had taken the precaution of advising the staff not to let her escape.
Fuming she paced walked through the rooms and caught sight of her old pack. A wicked grin spread across her face as she opened it and saw the coil of slim silk rope that lay in the bottom. When she'd told Sebastian that she'd run away, she hadn't gone into extreme details, like how she climbed out of her bedroom and down the wall of the keep.
Briar went to the balcony and looked over the edge. It was an awful long way down, but two floors below her was another balcony. Briar tried to ignore the sheer drop from the balcony into the waterfalls, thinking of that wouldn't aid her concentration.
Tying the knots with more care than she'd ever used before the bard dropped the coil over the edge of the balcony. Thankful she had decent strength in her arms from her years of training as a warrior she climbed over the edge and moved her ankle in a circle around the rope so she could rest her foot against the rope climbing down. Thankfully the gloves that protected her hands and wrists during swordplay were sturdy and made to grip firmly. The length of the leather protected her wrist as she wound the rope around it in a similar manner.
With great caution Briar began to lower herself down the rope. It had been with considerable relief that she'd noted the balcony below her was larger and extended further from the palace wall. She would be able to drop down on its outermost edge. It was still uncomfortable though, with the roaring of the falls in her ears and the moisture from them coating the rope, herself and everything else.
Skilled as she was, Briar was still breathing hard when her feet touched the carved stone railing of the balcony. Her relief made her loosen her grip in spite of herself and she slipped, landing ignominiously on her rear on the hard stone floor of the balcony. With a resigned sigh and a wry face made at herself she rose and untangled her wrist and ankle from the rope.
Going to the doors leading into the palace she noted that this was the balcony that was off of the library. This was great luck since the library was still relatively private and would be easy to sneak out of.
As if she belonged exactly where she was Briar entered the library and walked purposefully out of it. She was so intent on leaving she didn't notice Andreas note her entrance and look out the balcony door to see the rope dangling from the floors above.
With a smile of amusement curving his lips the crown prince of Cormyr followed his brother's lady out of the library.
Briar stopped in the archway leading to the courtyard as she saw both Saldan and Sebastian, Saldan flanked by several guards. As she watched Sebastian struck Saldan across the face, obviously challenging him.
She walked slowly closer and listened to the guard protesting. "Your Highness, duels are frowned upon, and duels to the death are illegal."
Sebastian looked at him coldly. "Then you had better have several of your fellows ready to arrest me, because he will not be alive at the end of the day."
"Please see reason your Highness." The guard pleaded. "His Majesty-"
"Go and fetch him then!" Sebastian shot back. "And you will find that for once my father and I will be in agreement."
The man sighed and gestured for one of the fellows who stood by to go and fetch the king and queen, as well as more guards. He hurried right past Briar and nearly bumped into Andreas.
"I beg your pardon," the guard began to apologize but Andreas simply smiled and shook his head.
"Bring my father, and mother. And find the rest of my family. Send the pages about to gather them up and bring them here. And send a page to Dragon's apartments for Briar's family." He instructed the guard. "Sebastian was right when he said our father would want to see this."
The guard nodded and bobbed a hurried bow and continued on his way. Andreas leant against the archway wall and taking his cue from his brother's ways, watched as Briar walked towards Sebastian and Saldan.
Saldan paled as he saw her and then his eyes narrowed as he took in the fact that he along with the rest of the court had been duped. Sebastian turned slightly and saw Briar coming towards him with the same cold look in her eyes.
"You are correct, in the fact that before the day ends Saldan will be dead." The warrior and bard said coldly. "But it will not be by your hand that he dies." Her chilling gaze met Sebastian's. "Saldan is mine."
"Briar, my Rose, let me protect you." Sebastian said quietly. "I do not want you hurt."
"Then do not stop me." Briar's eyes softened slightly as she looked at him. "He is mine to deal with. You may have Malachi."
"This isn't like dividing up the last piece of cake at midnight!" Sebastian said in frustration.
"No, we are dividing up our enemies." She returned. "Saldan is my enemy, and he has been long before he came to Aeliara. You deal with Malachi, I'll even throw in that Margaret." Briar told him. "But Saldan is mine. It is my right to deal with him, for what he would have done to me."
Sebastian shook his head. "And if you are hurt or killed?" He asked in a rough voice. "What then? How can I let you go?"
"My prince of shadows," Briar smiled so sweetly, sorrowfully. "My prince, I must do this. I will not die. I will not take serious hurt. But I must do this, I must. I have to put an end to the nightmares."
At that Sebastian's protests subsided. Understanding brightened his dark blue gaze and he nodded. "Fetch Lord Saldan a set of blades like Lady Briar's." He told one of the guards.
"As the one challenged I have the right to choose weapons." Saldan said with haughty disdain for Sebastian's ignorance of the gentlemen's rules.
Sebastian had wrapped his arms around Briar, savoring how she felt. He turned his head slightly and regarded Saldan as one would an extremely disgusting insect. "You misunderstand." He said coldly. "This is not a duel. This is your execution. You are a villain, and a rapist and a traitor to the crown."
"It will be her execution." Saldan hissed brown eyes glittering with malice.
"No." Briar said coolly. "It is yours." The guard came with a set of blades and a few more of his fellows. With great precision they stood around the courtyard, leaving space for the duelists but blocking all the exits so there could be no escape attempt.
Briar drew her blades and regarded the man who had given her nightmares for two years, no matter how beloved she was or the peace she felt in her heart. Once again, her eyes and face were cold and almost cruel with lack of emotion. "En garde!"
At some point during the fight that followed Sebastian's and Briar's families arrived. They were fairly quiet in their presence not wishing to distract Briar or give Saldan the opening for escape their arrival might present.
Mory watched from the sidelines as his niece fought his nephew and was heard to utter an awed exclamation at how her skills had improved. It was the truth. Saldan had been outclassed and outfought two years ago. Briar had honed her technique since then, somehow incorporating the smooth gliding grace of the elven martial arts to her own fighting style.
As she and Saldan fought, they each drew blood, he with a slash that sliced open her sleeve and cut her shoulder. The twin mark she put upon him was the first of a thousand tiny wounds. Briar fought with a precision and icy control rarely seen outside of the elven nation and with the passion and fury of a mortal woman bound by the movements of her rapier.
Finally it was obvious that Saldan was tiring, and growing more and more desperate as it became apparent that he could not win and that he would not lose quickly. He slashed downward with his rapier and stabbed with his main gauche.
It was a narrow miss, the dagger slicing through her vest but not her skin and his rapier cutting into the previous wound on her shoulder. But the effort left his guard open and his chest exposed.
Briar looked at him and something flickered in her gaze. For a moment she allowed herself to feel, to remember in the midst of the battle, what he had done, and the fear she had felt of all men since that time. She thought again of the nightmares and her gaze hardened once more.
"No more nightmares." She said firmly and her rapier slid up between his ribs, piercing his heart as a chef's fork pierces a steak.
Saldan's face was astonished and filled with denial that this could happen to him. He slid off of her blade and to the ground limply.
Briar automatically cleaned her blade and stood numbly for a moment. In confusion she realized someone had taken hold of her arms, mindful of her wound, but still with a firm grip. In a daze she heard low voices saying something about murder and illegal duels.
Her mind finally cleared and she blinked in amazement but then shrugged philosophically. A tiny little smile hovered over her lips as she realized that even if she was imprisoned or exiled, she still wouldn't have nightmares about Saldan again.
"No." A firm, but strangely gentle voice said. "No, Saldan was a traitor to the crown. He attacked Lady Briar and had targeted my daughter Morgana as well." Briar met the king's gaze and blinked as he smiled warmly and approvingly. "Lady Briar executed him, as an agent of the crown, she was within her rights."
At his side the Queen nodded and standing next to her sister Asrai, Morgana finally seemed as relaxed as she had been before Saldan began stalking her.
Briar's family surrounded her and she was swept into her uncle Mory's embrace. With a low curtsey for her king and queen Merrila asked in her soft voice. "Will you do his parents the favor of informing them of Saldan's death your Majesty?" She looked down and then up again. "I would have little sympathy for them but for the fact that I know how it feels to have my child disappear, and then hear through rumors that she is now dead. I was given back my daughter, my half brother Serek and his wife will not be so fortunate."
Amon nodded soberly as he looked at his crowd of children, each rejoicing in their own way that the danger was past.
The courtiers milled about the Hall beginning and disagreeing with rumors and gossiping in general about the goings on with the royal family and their fellows. It was noted that of their number several were missing and this was the subject of much speculation.
Before this speculation could reach its peak the double doors at the end of the hall opened and the royal family entered. The king and queen were the first, arm in arm, and their offspring followed behind them formally, two by two.
Among them though were two figures who were not Obarskyrs and one of which caused a great furor in the court. Rosaleen Dhu walked beside Sebastian, and Lorelei on Dragon's arm.
Amon and Sabine seated themselves and with formal precision their children arranged themselves on either side of their parents. For a moment the whispers in the court died and no one spoke another word as the king gazed over the assembled courtiers with cold eyes.
It was a mark of the king's displeasure that he did not stand up to speak to his court. "Due to several events of the past year I feel it is necessary to remind you all of a few things." Amon said, his voice carrying even to those at the back of the court. "The reason we tolerate having a Court is simply because so few of our noble families have offspring with a sense of duty and direction in their lives. So until you figure out what you're supposed to be doing you come to Court." Cold sapphire eyes scanned the courtiers before he spoke again. "However," and the underlying tone of steel was more pronounced. "We will not tolerate any more attacks on our sons and daughters, nor on their loved ones, in order to increase social or political standing. All such attacks will earn their perpetrators are the title of Traitor and a swift banishment or the Headsman's block."
Amon paused and looked at his wife who nodded and then spoke herself. "You have surely noticed that there are three who are no longer among you. One of whom belongs to a supposedly 'royal' house." She said her low tones in chilly accord with the ice of her violet eyes. "We hope it has not escaped you that The Black Rose is alive, as she has always been. The slanders and accusations leveled against her were but for show." A menacing look was directed at the crowd. "Lord Saldan of Serendal is dead, executed for treason. Lord Malachi Crownsilver is banished, also for treason. Lady Margaret DuChesney is banished, again for treason."
Gasps and murmurs of dismay, malicious glee, and astonishment rippled through the court. At a nod from his mother Sebastian stepped forward slightly leading Briar. The bards clear sweet voice said quietly as she looked at Sebastian. "When I lived I was your love, and when you loved, you were mine. One Rose died defiled, but I do live." She smiled slightly at Sebastian who somehow remembered to keep his fools mask intact. "And surely as I live, I am a maid."
With great delicacy and grace Sebastian lifted her hand to his lips and brushed his mouth over her knuckles. "And I do love, and I am yours." He said softly, not even the courtier's mask he wore could hide the adoration in his sapphire eyes.
Sabine smiled affectionately at her son and his love and then turned to her husband who was looking at Dragon and Lorelei with a gleam in his eye that Sabine found quite interesting. Before the queen could say a word Amon spoke in a sharp voice. "See here now Dragon, by what right do you take my daughters hand?"
Dragon was momentarily caught off guard but recovered enough to wink at Lorelei and turned to his king to reply. "Why in the hope that I may have your permission to court your daughter." He told the king.
Lorelei let out an astonished gasp, thinking to herself that her acting skills were certainly on par with Sebastian's. "And how is it you think to ask this?" She demanded of Dragon.
"Do you not love me?" Dragon asked in surprise.
"Why no, no more than reason." Lorelei told him saucily.
Sebastian and Briar watched, wincing as theirs and Andreas' careful plans began to unravel.
"Why then, your father and twin have been much deceived for they swore you did." Dragon said acidly.
"Dost thou not love me?" Lorelei asked archly.
"Troth no, no more than reason." Dragon shot back, concealing his merry gaze.
"Well then your sister and Sebastian are sadly mistaken for they did swear you did." Lorelei tossed her head.
"They swore you were almost sick for me." Dragon fired.
"They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me." Lorelei retorted.
"'Tis no such thing." Dragon informed her. "Then you do not love me?"
"No, truly, but in friendly recompense." Lorelei said slyly, doing her best to keep her mirth from her voice. It vanished all together as her twin finally spoke.
"Oh, come now my twin, I am sure you love the gentleman." Andreas said.
"And I'll be sworn upon it, that Dragon is in love with her." Briar added mischievously. "For did he not write the sweetest love letter, and entrust none but himself to deliver it?" She nodded at his belt pouch.
Andreas with a chuckled darted forward and undid Dragon's pouch, handing the letter to his sister.
"And here's another." Asrai giggled as she snatched a folded piece of parchment from Lorelei's reticule. "A sketch in loving detail of Dragon captioned with the words 'My beloved Dragon'. I have it on her maid's authority that she props it on her bedside table and falls asleep gazing on it." She handed the paper to Dragon who glancing at Lorelei, engrossed in her letter opened it to see exactly what Asrai had spoken of.
"Well it must be a miracle." The warrior remarked in good humor. "Our hands against our hearts." He looked at Lorelei. "Come, I will have thee, but by this light I take thee for pity."
Lorelei smiled in sweet mockery, though her eyes were soft. "I would not deny you, but by this day, I yield only on great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption." She teased.
"Peace." Dragon said tenderly. "I will stop your mouth." He bent and kissed her softly, with great tenderness.
"I'll remind you that you still have not claimed the right to have my daughter in any way." Amon said with mock sternness.
"Will you deny me sire?" Dragon asked curiously, "when 'twas you and your son who made the match?"
Amon grinned. "In truth I would not deny you, no. You may court her with my blessing."
The king glanced at his wife who nodded and her astute gaze appraised Dragon measuringly. "I could not ask for a better match, for truly who better to become the next Royal Mage than our daughter's husband?" She agreed. "Sir Dragon, will you consider that post as part of your duties when you and Lorelei marry?"
Dragon merely blinked for a moment and looked at the queen in surprise. How she could know… Lorelei's hand tightened on his arm and he looked down at her with a shrug. "I may have a bit more experience and talent in magic than I led folk to believe." He murmured to her. To the queen he said aloud. "Your Majesty, I will do my best for you, since I suspect that by the time I persuade Lorelei to marry me, I will be skilled enough for the post."
Sabine laughed and at the look of inquiry Amon shot at her she leant over to whisper in his ear. "I shall tell you anon, when we can be private, my king." She pressed a kiss to his cheek.
Dragon caught Andreas' eye as he was looking over the court and beckoned to him. "Why Prince, you seem so sad." He teased. "Good friend, take your own advice." Andreas looked at him quizzically and Dragon grinned. "Get thee a wife, get thee a wife."
Andreas burst out laughing, his sober thoughts of the courts treachery banished for the moment. "A dance!" He called to his parents. "Let us have a dance to lighten our hearts."
"And our ladies heels!" Sebastian seconded wickedly. Briar poked him in retaliation and he swung her into his arms in a playful embrace.
Amon nodded his agreement and gestured to the musicians to strike up. This was the court's cue that all was as it should be, at least with their rulers and everyone began to relax as a merry tune echoed throughout the hall.