Chronicles of the Court Rogue: Jealousy - Part Three
And we're back in the library, Mareian thought, rolling her eyes. Why was everyone's answer when looking for a place to think the library? What was wrong with a nice pub? The pirate Lupess supposed it was one of those mysterious questions that she'd never know the answer to.
Rolan had rather curtly dismissed everyone else in the library so they could have time to think and talk about the theft of Brightvale's relics. That was one of the differences between the two countries’ princes. Jeran would have brought everyone back into his office; Rolan simply cleared out the first room he wanted. Idly the pirate Lupess wondered if Rolan even had an office of his own to use.
“How many people have access to the keys?” Jeran asked the brooding yellow Kougra.
“Just members of the immediate royal family.” Holding up the keys he'd used to open the vault, he continued, “These are Father's. My aunt also has a set, but she'd certainly never steal them.”
“Maybe you should check and see if your aunt still has her set,” Mareian said. “I doubt she uses them often, and she might not have noticed if they went missing.”
Rolan nodded. “That's a good idea. I just don't understand why someone would steal them. They're enchanted so you can't break them down, and they're too recognizable to sell. They're not really all that powerful as magical objects. The crown is supposed to be the mate of Meridell's royal signet rings, so no one can lie to you. The sword will never go dull, and the scepter is just a magic wand.”
Mareian saw Jeran unconsciously rub his thumb over his own enameled ring. It was one of Meridell's signet rings; her brother Khalyen had the other. Luckily, no one so far had voiced any questions on how Jeran, who wasn't a descendant of Meridell's royal family, had gotten it. Mareian intended it to stay that way.
“Maybe,” Mareian said, an idea striking her, “they weren't stolen to be used. Maybe they were stolen so they won't be used.”
Rolan looked at her in confusion, “What do you mean?”
“Didn't you say the only thing they're used for is for the coronation of a new king?”
Jeran nodded, following her line of thought. “You think someone took it so Rolan couldn't be crowned?”
“Jules.” Elyjah spoke for the first time. “I know he's furious about not getting to be king of Meridell, maybe he's trying to keep you from becoming king of Brightvale as well.” The brown Yurble frowned, crossing his arms. “First place I'd look would be his apartment.”
“We don't have any proof,” Jeran said. “We can't do anything with a bunch of guesses.”
“First things first, I suppose,” Rolan said. “Let's go see my aunt.”
Princess Annis was a very dignified looking blue Acara. Though a bit of grey was starting to speckle around her regal eyes and ears, her brown eyes held a twinkle of mirth that her brothers Skarl and Hagan lacked. Mareian found herself reassured that at least one of the older royal siblings had managed to keep their sense of humor. “Ah, Rolan,” the blue Princess greeted him, “my favorite Kougra nephew.”
Rolan gave his aunt a wry grin. “I'm your only Kougra nephew.”
“That just means you didn't have a lot of competition.” Gesturing for them to sit in the rose-filled garden, she gave the group a hard look. “I doubt you brought all of these people here simply so they could meet your aunt.”
Rolan quickly filled her in on what had happened, though leaving out their suspicions of Jules. The Lady sat deep in thought for a moment before nodding. “I spend much time in my garden. It wouldn't be too difficult for someone to come into my rooms and remove my keys if the palace guards trusted them.” She cocked an eyebrow. “And although you didn't say his name, I know you're suspecting your brother. Jules is much like his grandfather, and I wouldn't put it past him. You and I are the oddballs in this family, Rolan, with our lack of ambition; never forget that.”
Turning, the blue Acara looked at Mareian curiously. “Who are you, dear? I don't think I've ever met you before.”
“This is Mareian.” Rolan introduced her. “I told you about her; she's the one who helped with the raiders.”
“And our newest countess,” Annis interrupted. “Yes, I remember. For some reason, dear, I always pictured you as a Gelert.”
Mareian grinned. “Well, you were close, my mother was a Gelert, but I take after my father.”
“I suppose it was your name. I once knew a royal Gelert named Mareian.” The Acara laughed. “But now I'm showing my age. She was Queen of Meridell, years and years ago.”
Mareian smiled and inclined her head to the lady, not knowing what to say. She knew whom Lady Annis was referring to, and it wasn't a coincidence that the former queen and the pirate Lupess shared the same name; Queen Mareian was her grandmother. Jeran must have noticed her sudden stillness, because he hastily covered the quiet moment. “I don't suppose we could see if your keys are gone?”
“Of course.” The Acara led them into her rooms to a box of many small, locking drawers. Taking a small key from her pocket she opened one of the drawers, only to find it empty. “You were right,” she said, “the keys are gone.”
Jeran watched Rolan pace back and forth in frustration. The blue Lupe had managed to convince Rolan that the library wasn't the best place to hold a meeting, and they'd moved to a large room with a circular table. Mareian had curled up into one of the chairs, her black tipped tail curled around her legs and feet, obviously deep in thought. He still hadn't managed to figure out how she could sit like that and not fall out of her chair. Elyjah sat across from her, twirling his ear with his finger, and muttering to himself.
“I think we're looking at this the wrong way,” Mareian said. The other three turned to look at her in surprise. “Elyjah, how hard would it be to copy the crown?”
The brown Yurble furrowed his forehead, thinking. “It wouldn't be easy. The style of cut on the gems hasn't been used in centuries. Let alone mimicking the crown’s details and the dents it's picked up over the years.”
“So we'd need a very skilled craftsman,” she mused, “who would probably have to work from the original?”
“I can't think of any other way to do it; there are too many little things right on it for it to have been made from just descriptions and drawings.”
Mareian nodded. “I think I know who made it. She can tell us who ordered it, and then we'll have our thief.”
Rolan looked at Mareian in awe. “Mareian, be my queen.”
“Hey!” Jeran protested.
The pirate Lupess rolled her eyes. “Rolan, Lisha would kill you.” The pirate Lupess turned to look at Jeran. “I don't suppose you remembered to bring your street clothes? I think it's time you and I went for a little walk.”
“I'm coming too,” Rolan said.
Mareian looked him up and down slowly. “I don't think that would be a good idea. You're too royal.”
Rolan gave her a flat look. “I'm a yellow Kougra. You don't get more common looking than that.”
“That's not what I meant,” Mareian explained. “You walk like a prince. You hold yourself like a prince. You talk like you're giving orders. You'll call far too much attention to us.”
“Mareian.” Rolan crossed his arms. “It's my responsibility. I'm coming.”
“This is a very bad idea,” Mareian muttered under her breath an hour later. Jeran stifled a laugh. It had taken Rolan four tries to dress to Mareian's satisfaction. She was dressed in her familiar tattered cream colored blouse and brown skirt. Jeran curiously wondered if she only had the one outfit, or if she had several identical ones for her street work.
The irritated Lupess pinned her ears at the Kougra. “Can't you slouch or something? You look like you're about to be inspected.”
“What?” Rolan didn't look very comfortable in his plain peasants’ clothes. Other than being made of a slightly finer material, they were similar to Jeran's grey work pants, leather vest and rough spun wool cloak that the blue Lupe used when he went along on Mareian's excursions. Jeran, though, was used to wearing such work clothes. Rolan looked like he felt he was dressed up in a costume.
“Just... do what Jeran does.”
Great, Jeran thought, no pressure there. Though he did have to admit that Mareian had a point; he’d spent enough time out working in the fields as a cub to learn how to walk, talk, and act like a 'normal' country person. Rolan never had. The Kougra didn't stroll, he marched. His shoulders were always held back, and every word that came out of his mouth was always pronounced correctly. Jeran got the feeling that the yellow prince was going to be in for some culture shock this evening.
Slipping out through a back door of the castle, Mareian's posture abruptly changed. Her shoulders slouched forward, and the hood of her cloak covered nearly all of her face. Her gait changed too, from the small smooth steps she used in the castle to a more rambling, rolling gait. Ruffling the fur on her face, she turned to Jeran with a grin. “Ready t’ go, m'Lord?”
Jeran laughed, he'd forgotten the rough peasant accent she'd had when she first started to work for him. He couldn't even remember when she'd stopped using it; he supposed she'd just gradually picked up the accent the nobles used over time. Hearing it in its full form brought back the memory of a tiny, dirty pirate Lupess glaring at him from a jail cell. A lot of things have changed over the past year, he thought, looking fondly at the same Lupess thief who was now leading the way down through back alleys.
“Are you sure you know where you're going?” Rolan asked, sometime later as they walked in the dark.
“Rule number one,” Mareian said, “never admit that you're lost in a dark alley.” Though she spoke to Rolan, her attention was on the other side of the street. Cocking his ears, Jeran heard why, footfalls on both sides of them. Too hurried to be someone out for a stroll, and too quiet to be someone hurrying to be somewhere else on time.
“Want me to handle them?” the blue Lupe asked, reaching under his cloak to his short sword.
“No, I can take care of this,” Mareian said. Throwing back her hood, she raised her voice. “As much as my friends would like to play with you all, I don't think we need the trouble it would bring to either your master, or my brother.” She turned around to face the now silent shadows.
“Miss Mareian.” Jeran heard his Lupess' name whispered back and forth, then the sound of retreating footsteps.
Rolan stared at the pirate Lupess. “Who are you?” he finally asked, somewhat stupidly.
“The same person I've always been, Rolan.” Flipping the hood back over her head, she continued down the dark street like nothing had happened.
“We should have brought Elyjah,” Rolan muttered, pulling his cloak tighter around himself. “He's the one who knows about metals and gems.”
“We're a big enough group already,” Jeran disagreed. “And if something happens, he wouldn't be able to take care of himself.”
“What about Mareian?”
“She's more capable of keeping herself out of trouble here than either one of us.”
Mareian stopped and pushed open an unmarked door. The inside led down a rather rickety flight of stairs to a dark, smoky room. It seemed to be a pub of some sort, with tables of different sizes scattered about and people in heavy workman's clothes sipping drinks, chatting and laughing. “There she is,” Mareian said, motioning slightly to a red Mynci sitting by herself.
Mareian came up and sat across from the Mynci. “Long time no see. We've missed you in Meridell, you know.”
“I hear they've missed you too,” she replied, “turning traitor.” Motioning to Jeran, she said, “I didn't actually believe it, until I saw you come in with him.”
Jeran was startled; Mareian had never said anything about her coming to work with him causing trouble with some of her old friends. Though now that he thought about it, it was easy to see why it would. But her brother had given his blessing; it had mostly been his idea – though the current King of Thieves didn't want his little sister to know.
Mareian shrugged, twitching an ear tip to show she didn’t really care. “It pays well. Like I'm assuming a recent job of yours did. Something big, heavy, and with a lot of green glass.”
The Mynci laughed. “That was a nightmare job; every detail had to be exactly right. You're right, though, the pay was worth it.”
Mareian grinned. “It's beautiful. I can see why you came here, with commissions like that. I don't suppose you could tell me who you made it for?”
“Why not?” The Mynci looked at Mareian thoughtfully. “I certainly owe you one, and it's not like I care for the arrogant twerp. It was a green Zafara nobleman. I don't know his name, but he always wore an outlandish purple hat with this ugly red feather in it. There can't be two people fitting that description, even in this town.”
“Thanks, you've just made my day.” Mareian slipped a silver coin into the Mynci's hand. “Since that was more than what you owed me, I’m sure I owe you that too.”
Rolan managed to hold his silence until they got back outside onto the dark streets. “Jules,” he snapped. “It has to be. He always wears that ridiculous hat when he goes out.”
“The question is,” Mareian said, leading them back to the castle, “where did he put the real relics?”
To be continued...