Chronicles of the Court Rogue: Jealousy - Part One
Mareian felt jumpy. The tiny pirate Lupess wasn’t used to wearing fine silks and lace; she was convinced she was going to rip the delicate cloth. Sighing, she carefully leaned against the marble balcony to admire the view. Below her, Brightvale’s royal gardens slowly started to glow as the groundskeepers lit colored lamps along the paved walkways. Green and yellow seemed to dominate, though an occasional rebellious lamp of blue or red shone. Whether this was in honor of the visiting Meridellians, or some gardener’s mischief, the tiny Lupess didn’t know.
“Mareian,” Jeran asked in a pained voice, “can you please stand a little further back from the edge? You’re making my skin crawl.”
Smiling, she turned to face the tall blue Lupe who stood much further back away from the railing. “Sorry.” Jeran’s dislike of heights carried over to her being on high places as well, a trait probably encouraged by the tiny Lupess’ complete and utter lack of a fear of falling. They’d only arrived in Brightvale a couple hours earlier, and while both Lupes were tired from traveling, Brightvale’s Crown Prince Rolan had sent a message asking them to meet him here tonight.
“Sorry for the wait,” Rolan apologized as he came in through the door. “Father decided that I absolutely had to double check a stack of paperwork for his birthday celebration before he went to bed.” The yellow Kougra’s tail twitched in annoyance. “Father’s having me make more and more of the decisions lately – I’m getting the bad feeling that his birthday present for himself is going to be my promotion.”
“As long as it doesn’t give Skarl any ideas.” Jeran grinned.
“I don’t understand,” Mareian confessed, looking back and forth from Jeran to Rolan in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“Brightvale works a little different than Meridell,” Jeran explained. “Instead of the crown prince becoming king when the old royal dies, the king or queen crowns their heir and retires to a life of leisure. If I remember right, Queen Sybilla became rather famous for her cake decorating skills.”
“My family has a long history of being very ambitious,” Rolan continued. “We used to have civil wars all the time because of succession problems. Finally, one of my ancestors used his brain and crowned the next king before he died, and it’s been a tradition every since.”
“Rolan, your family is very weird.”
The Kougra flashed the Lupess a toothy grin. “You have no idea. Speaking of my weird family, I want to give you a heads up. My younger brother is probably going to try to cause some trouble. Jules is rather upset with you, Jeran; somehow he’d gotten the idea that he was going to rule Meridell after Skarl. He probably got the idea because Uncle Skarl got Meridell after King Ethan’s family all died. He’s quite upset with you for your promotion to crown prince.”
“Just how big of a potential problem are we talking here?” Jeran asked, settling into a chair.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Rolan admitted. “On his own, not very much. Jules has the bad habit of acting first and thinking second, and is usually rather predictable. Some of his friends worry me, though, because several of them have a bad mix of ambition and inventiveness.”
“I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for them,” Jeran promised. “Thanks for the warning.”
Rolan grinned, relaxing. “What else are friends for?” Changing the subject, he turned to Mareian. “I owe you a huge thank you, by the way. Those weapons you found saved nearly half the villages along the bayside this spring.”
“Weapons?” Jeran barked sharply. “What weapons?”
Mareian shrugged. “It's not that big of a deal; the thieves guilds have been using things like that for ages. I’m sure I mentioned it.” At Jeran’s flat stare, she continued, “Rolan needed something more concealable than your average short sword. It was really rather simple.”
Jeran’s only response was to drop his head into his hands. Mareian got the feeling that the giant blue Lupe was resigned to her doing odd things, and was trying to not be surprised by them anymore. She wasn’t sure if he was actually succeeding or not.
“The whole court is a little jumpy right now.” Rolan smoothly changed the subject. “Father is still going without any advisers; he doesn’t trust any of them now. We have a couple of empty title lands, and there’s the usual push and shove with the minor nobles to try to increase their holdings. Which reminds me...” Rolan pulled a scroll out of his pocket. “This is for you, Mareian.”
Mareian eyed the yellow prince suspiciously, then opened the scroll. Reading it over once, she cast Rolan a dirty look and read it over again. “Have you lost your star-crossed mind?” she demanded.
“I don’t think so. Unless I accidentally gave you my notes on the plans for this harvest’s storage; the sketches in the margins would probably be enough to have me committed. I was bored out of my mind in that meeting.”
Mareian worked her mouth, trying to find something intelligible to say. Failing, she handed the crinkled parchment to Jeran. Scanning the document, he grinned broadly. “A countess?”
Finding her voice, Mareian said hoarsely, “You’ve gone utterly mad, Rolan. You know that, right?”
“Not quite so mad as you might think,” Rolan countered. “First of all, you managed to help Brightvale more than anyone else when we were having trouble with those raiders. Secondly, I need at least one Brightvalian noble that I know I can trust when I’m King -- I have no delusions about what Father’s current favorites think of me. Finally, the land it covers originally belonged to Meridell; it’s part of the area Father absorbed when Skarl became king.”
Shrugging his yellow shoulders, he continued, “There are no towns; it’s all mines and quarries that fall under the government monopoly, so it’s not like you’re going to have to spend a lot of time managing it. My plan is that it’ll be the first step on returning that land to Meridell; having a Meridellian countess for it will go a long way in getting people to start to associate that area with its proper country again.”
“Not to mention,” Jeran said, obviously thinking quickly, “that having a title will help Mareian help move around the social circles here. That type of thing matters more in Brightvale than it does in Meridell.”
Mareian looked up at the lanky Kougra. “You thought about this a lot, didn’t you?”
The yellow prince made a wry face. “I have to. Whether I like it or not, the day I’m going to be king is getting closer, and I don’t want to get caught unprepared when some decision I make upsets the status quo.” The dry tone in his voice hinted that Rolan was planning on stirring things up as much he could.
“So what’s the plan?” Jeran asked, settling back into his chair.
“For Father’s birthday? This year it falls on the same day as the Star Festival, so we’re not celebrating in the castle.” He frowned. “I think King Skarl and Lisha are on to something, with their idea to just show up the night before the party. They get to avoid all the drama leading up to it.”
“What day is the Star Festival usually, if it’s not always on the same day as Hagan’s birthday?” Mareian asked.
“The Star Festival isn’t an every year thing,” Rolan explained. “It happens every couple of years; the University of Astronomy is in charge of the date.”
That answer hadn’t really clarified anything for the pirate Lupess, but Rolan looked too stressed for her to want to push the issue much further. Besides, she could always pester Jeran into a better explanation later. Meridell and Brightvale might share a common border, but if you grew up in the streets like Mareian did, the festivals of either country’s nobles might as well be as far away as Kreludor.
“On the bright side,” Rolan said, “being so far from the Castle might trip Jules up enough that he doesn’t cause any trouble at all. Most of his more inventive friends won’t be going.”
“You should be far more worried about something else,” Mareian informed the yellow Kougra solemnly. “Lisha’s birthday is coming and I’ve heard you don’t have a present for her yet.”
At the mention of the pretty yellow Aisha, Rolan’s whole countenance brightened. “I’ll think of something,” he promised. “I just haven’t found the perfect thing yet.”
“Well, if it’s a book,” Jeran drawled, “chances are my sister has it already.” Mareian suppressed a snicker, she doubted even Lisha knew exactly how many books she owned, between the Royal Library and her own collection.
“Nothing for her library,” Rolan agreed. “I’d prefer something that she could use here in Brightvale.”
“Really,” Jeran said in tones of great interest, “now what exactly might that be?”
Mareian stifled a giggle as Rolan's face blushed a dull orange color. “I’m still working on it.”
To be continued...