Chronicles of the Court Rogue: Treachery - Part Four
Morning, in Mareian's opinion, came much too early in the
day. Morning should happen closer to noon. Of course staying up past midnight
talking to Jeran didn't help.
"Morning, Mareian," Ricky greeted her.
"You," Mareian accused, "are much too cheerful
for this early in the day."
The spotted Uni pawed his forefoot. "I," he said
smugly, "went to bed at a decent hour. You never do."
"I think," she grumbled as she climbed onto his
back, "our definitions of 'decent' are different. Decent is staying up all night
and going to bed around six in the morning."
Ricky snorted a laugh and stepped briskly out
onto the cobblestone road. "So where are we going?"
"Bendolyn Glade, there's a Gelert Jeweler I want
to speak with before I start talking to people in the castle this afternoon."
"And until late this evening no doubt," Ricky
added. "Mareian, sometimes I think you need a keeper to stop you from working
yourself into the ground."
"Isn't that your job?"
"I think I need a raise," the Uni grumbled good-humoredly.
"You're a handful, and I don't even have hands." He paused. "Did you
bother to eat breakfast?"
"I wasn't hungry."
"Mareian," he said firmly, "first we're stopping
so you can get something to eat, and then we'll go to Bendolyn Glade."
"Yes, Ricky," Mareian said meekly.
Ricky, Mareian decided, had the soul of a bully.
They'd met when she'd first moved into the castle; she'd gotten lost in the
training yards and he'd taken it upon himself to help her learn her way around.
Usually when she needed to go somewhere, he'd just 'happen' to be available
to give her a ride; until Mourvan had finally just reassigned Ricky as her mount.
She did feel better once she had a full stomach.
Of course, a simple pastry probably would have worked just as well, but the
spotted Uni glared at her until she'd eaten a full plate of food. Privately
she admitted that Ricky was probably good for her, but did he always have to
Bendolyn Glade proved to be a small mining town,
surrounded by a thick forest of pine trees. Unis pulled carts laden with lumber
or uncut gemstones past Mareian and Ricky on the muddy road.
"Why are there only Unis on the road?" Mareian
whispered to Ricky.
"We're the only species that can pull those carts
through the sticky mud on the road." Ricky explained, "You'll find Kaus sometimes,
but the mud is hard on their cloven hooves." He turned his head to look back
at Mareian with a grin, "Sometimes there's an advantage to not having hands;
we can't handle swords, but we can move stuff no one else can and we can outrun
just about anyone."
Mareian nodded, that made sense. Looking around
from Ricky's tall back, she spotted a worn sign advertising a jeweler shop,
"Let's get this over with. I want to get back to the castle as soon as possible."
Looking around the road to Illusen's Glade, Jeran
looked for signs of the thieves headquarters he knew was there, somewhere. He'd
never been able to find any before, and today was no different.
"Good morning, Jeran," Illusen greeted him from
behind. "Looking for the thieves guild again?"
"Am I that obvious?" the Lupe asked, taken aback.
The earth Faerie grinned. "Not really, anyone
who knows it's here, but not exactly where in here, tends to look for it whenever
they pass through."
"Do you know where it is?" Jeran asked curiously.
"Of course, I grew it for them." Illusen smiled
at Jeran's startled look. "I'll let you try to wrap your head around that before
I say anything else about the thieves guild. Do you mind if we go into my house?
It's freezing out here."
Illusen's living room was much warmer than the
snow covered woods outside. "Let me guess," Illusen said, "you're here to talk
about the escape of a particular royal Gelert?"
"Taking psychic lessons from Mareian?" Jeran
"She does have a disturbing knack for guessing,"
Illusen said with a smile. "I don't have much more to tell you about the lock
than I could tell her; Two was unlocked by the key."
"Could someone make a duplicate key?"
Illusen shook her head, "Not these ones, the
spells are too complicated."
"Illusen, you're leaving me with some really
bad conclusions here," Jeran complained. "The only thing that could leave is
someone in the castle either letting Jasagh out, or deliberately looking away
long enough for someone to steal the key, release Jasagh, and put it back."
He winced. "Either way we have a traitor."
"Well, you'd better find which one it is, and
who did it quick; or else people will start making their own guesses, and that's
dangerous," Illusen pointed out. "I know for a fact that Mareian's already been
blamed for it at least once."
"She has?" Jeran asked in surprise. "Who would
blame her? She never had the time."
Illusen smiled. "Not everyone is as logical as
you, Jeran, and in a close knit community like knights, suspicion is going to
fall upon the most odd-out person; in your case, Mareian."
"Who accused her?" Jeran could think of all sort
of unpleasant tasks for that person to do for the next ten years or so.
"Maybe you should check your hospital for that;
Mareian probably didn't take it too well," Illusen said with a feral grin. "I
don't know who it was; I only know what Mavude overheard and chose to pass on
Jeran sighed, "Finding this traitor isn't going
to be easy, they've obviously spent a long time working towards this." Running
his hand through the hair between his ears he conceded, "You're right; Mareian
is the only obvious misfit."
"I may have something that can help you," Illusen
offered, handing him a worn wooden box. "When you wear it, it should tell you
who's telling the truth, and who's lying."
Jeran looked at the box. "What's the catch?"
"If they think it's the truth, it won't show
up as a lie."
Opening the box, Jeran gaped in amazement, "Illusen,"
he sputtered, "this is a royal signet ring! They've been missing since... since
King Ethan's family died of the plague!"
"Amazing," Illusen drawled, "you did pay attention
in history class after all. Here I thought you and Danner were too busy plotting
up pranks to play on Professor Bromer." Jeran blushed under his fur; he'd hoped
Illusen had forgotten about that.
Motioning to the ring, Illusen explained calmly,
"A princess left that in my possession, in case of need. I think right now you
need it more than I do."
"How does it work?" Jeran asked, examining the
"All you have to do is wear it. If anyone is
telling the truth, or what they believe to be the truth, they'll look normal.
If they're lying, you'll see a red haze around them." Illusen grinned. "If you'll
put it on now, we can practice a bit so you can get used to it."
"Well, that was a complete waste of time," Mareian
muttered as she and Ricky entered the main gates of Meridell Castle.
"Not entirely," Ricky disagreed. "We did find
out Lord Lether was indiscreet twenty years ago."
Mareian snorted. "Ricky, you gossip worse than
"It's a vice of mine," the spotted Uni admitted
"At least we know that he isn't Jasagh; that
might count for something."
"And I know you got at least one decent meal
this week," Ricky added. "While it's nice that you're so light to carry, I don't
want you starving to death."
"You sound like my mother."
"You don't even remember your mother," Ricky
"Well, if I did, that's what she would sound
"I certainly hope so," he retorted as she slid
off his tall back. "Hey Mareian, I'll talk to you later. I need to go meet up
with Mourvan; we're helping young Baron Aafees learn how to ride.
"And don't forget to eat lunch!" Ricky yelled
back as he ducked through the door to the arena. Mareian chuckled, if Ricky
had been any other species he probably would have been a chef, she decided.
Heading back to the main castle complex, Mareian entertained herself with a
mental image of Ricky happily bossing around a full kitchen staff.
Mareian's daydream was interrupted when a pair
of rough hands grabbed her and slammed her against the stone wall of the castle.
Mareian glared at the blue Krawk who pinned her up against the wall.
"Can I help you?" she snapped irritably, her
arms and back burning as the rough stones of the wall dug into her.
A spotted Nimmo came up and smiled awkwardly
at Mareian though several missing teeth. "Afternoon lil' Miss, Himself is wantin'
to talk to you, don't ya know."
Mareian chose to ignore the Nimmo, instead she
asked the Krawk, "At the very least, could you lower me so I'm not three feet
higher than normal?"
"Trying to bargain with him will do no good,"
a low husky voice said from a dark niche in the wall, "the Krawk can't understand
you. I trust you're doing well?"
Mareian's gut froze, she knew that voice. She
turned her head to watch Jasagh walk from the shadows to her. "I'd be doing
better, she said tartly, "if you'd let me go."
Jasagh gave a low chuckle. "Not yet," he countered.
"I certainly don't want you to leave until I've had my say."
"I really don't think you'd have much to say
that would interest me."
"What would you say if I told you were serving
a false king?" he continued as if she hadn't said anything. "Why does a Brightvalian
sit on Meridell's throne?"
He leaned forward, a mad gleam in his eyes. "Skarl
will tell you it's because Meridell's royal family all died in the plague. But
what would you say if I told you the two youngest princesses survived?"
Mareian felt her whole body turn to ice. Forcing
down all emotion, she replied coldly, "Then they would have taken the throne
if they'd survived."
"What if Skarl hadn't let them?" he pressed.
Mareian's pride flamed, but she quickly suppressed
it. "Then they didn't deserve it," she spat.
Jasagh's hand moved so fast, Mareian didn't see
it until after he'd slapped her. "Princess Shanna was my mother," he seethed.
"Never insult her."
"Everyone knows Shanna was the youngest Princess,"
she argued. "You said two survived. If they want it, the elder should challenge
the king. Not," she said bluntly, "you."
Grief passed across the royal Gelert's face,
"My mother is dead," he replied shortly, "and my aunt is dead as well."
"As fascinating as this family history is, it
doesn't explain why you're talking to me." Mareian really didn't want to talk
about the former royal family with Jasagh.
Jasagh seemed almost glad to go along with her
change of subject. "I want you to work for me," he said briskly.
Mareian stared, "Excuse me?" The Gelert was obviously
crazier than she had thought.
"Name your price, Lupess. I want you to work
"Name my price?" she repeated, appalled.
"Gold?" he offered, "Jewels? The Duchy of Murron?"
"Your head," she snapped. Putting on her sweetest
expression she asked in honeyed tones, "Can you arrange that for me?"
Jasagh's face contorted in anger, "You spawn
of a," he started, and then paused and looked in alarm as voices approached.
"Let's go," he barked to his henchmen. The Krawk dropped Mareian roughly to
the ground as he spun and followed Jasagh into the shadows.
To be continued...