Chronicles of the Court Rogue: Jealousy - Part Six
Despite the clear night time sky and bright full moon, Jeran could hardly see. The thick branches filled with leaves managed to block out the silvery light of the heavens, and the blue Lupe didn't have his Kougra friend's night vision. There were times when his Lupe sense of smell was useful; this wasn’t one of them.
“Here it is,” Rolan whispered. “I knew there was a small path hidden around here somewhere. We should be able to follow it all the way to the ruins.”
Jeran shook his head, batting away a poking branch. So far tonight he'd managed to catch what seemed like every twig and branch in the whole forest in his ear. Knowing my luck, I'll have either pierced them with a sharp branch, or have them rubbed bald by morning, the way my ears keep catching everything. Jeran grinned to himself, imagining Mareian's reaction if that really happened.
“What's so funny?” Rolan gave him a sideways look. “You're grinning like Lisha when she finds a new book.”
“It's a long story.” Jeran wasn't sure he could even explain what was funny in the first place.
The small trail did make things easier; the number of poky things assaulting his ears as he walked went down dramatically. Idly the blue Lupe wondered if this small trail was all that remained of the main road that had led to the castle before it had fallen into ruin, becoming only a small road for explorers and hunters; or if it was a game trail that had come about generations later. He'd probably never know, but it gave him something to occupy his mind with as he and Rolan walked in silence.
“So, Rolan,” Jeran asked, “what happened? I'm assuming Wellford wasn't just abandoned.”
“Civil war.” Rolan paused to climb over a tree trunk that had fallen across the trail. “Twin brothers; both claimed to be the eldest. They tore the country apart for years. Eventually, their younger sister ended up taking over while they were fighting, had them both arrested and became queen all on her own.” The yellow Kougra shot him a wry grin. “I don't think either one of the brothers had counted on her getting involved.”
“Well, it ended the war, I suppose.”
“Pretty hard to keep fighting it when all your nobles are so sick of you that they pledge allegiance to someone else and stop sending troops. Especially when you're in jail. Since Wellford was destroyed, she built her new castle where Brightvale Castle stands now. Part of the barracks we use now was the old outer wall in her time.”
Jeran shook his head. He was glad Meridell didn't have a long history of problems with royal succession. Meridell's founding royal family, the Sommers, had ruled fairly peacefully though the generations until the death of King Ethan. Prince Skarl of Brightvale had only taken the throne because everyone had thought the whole Meridellian royal family had been wiped out with the plague. It wasn't until recently Jeran had learned any better. He wasn't sure how many knew there were still people directly descended from the Sommers royal line alive; he figured it was probably less than he could count on one hand. However many or few there were, though, he knew Skarl wasn't one of them.
The blue Lupe snorted softly to himself. Brightvale had too many royal children who wanted to take the throne, and Khalyen, Meridell's biological heir to the throne, had told Jeran point blank “better you than me” when Skarl had decided that Jeran should be the next king after the blue Skeith. Mareian was just as bad as her brother, saying that ruling a kingdom sounded like her worst nightmare, though Jeran thought she'd make a very good queen.
Rolan reached out and grabbed Jeran's elbow, derailing the Lupe's train of thought. “We're here,” he whispered. “Keep your eyes and ears peeled; Jules might have left someone to guard.”
Forcing his attention back to the matter at hand, Jeran cautiously followed Rolan as the Kougra worked his way around the ruined castle. The yellow Kougra had obviously been here before, which made exploring much easier. Rolan stopped, nudging Jeran to get the Lupe's attention. “Over there,” he whispered, pointing to a pile of rubble. “Looks like the guard isn't very attentive, he's asleep.”
Straining his eyes, Jeran could just barely make out the outline of a dozing Bori, sitting crookedly against the pile of rubble. His pirate coloring blended into the aged granite; without Rolan's Kougra night vision, Jeran probably wouldn't have spotted him until he was right up to the Bori.
“Think he'll be much of a problem?” Rolan whispered as they crept quietly closer to the sleeping form.
Jeran gave a critical look to the sleeping Bori. Pulling his dagger from his sheath, Jeran hesitated, giving the snoozing guard a good look, then rapped the Bori in the head with the pommel. “Not anymore,” he said, keeping his voice quiet. “He'll be out at least until dawn.”
“I've got to learn how to do that.” Rolan looked at Jeran in admiration.
Jeran shrugged; when you were raised by a doctor you tended to pick up such talents. “Think our friend here had any companions?”
“I doubt it; otherwise there'd be two of them bickering.”
Jeran looked around the ruins; at least they were out from under the trees now. He may not be able to see as well as Rolan, but he wasn't in any danger of tripping over small bushes or rocks anymore. “I don't suppose you have any ideas on where the relics might be hidden around here?”
The yellow Kougra shrugged. “My best guess would be in one of the more intact buildings. I don't think they'd be left out in the open -- not only might some exploring kid come across them, but too many petpets might carry them off. After all, they are shiny.”
“That could put a kink in our plans.” Jeran grinned. “Jules really did hide them here, but some Albat took off with one of them and stowed it for winter.”
Rolan gave him a sour look. “Don't even tease about that; you're going to give me nightmares if we don't find them tonight.” Leading the way to one of the more intact walls, he pulled aside the bushes blocking the way to what had once apparently been a door, its wood now long ago rotted away.
“I hate Spyders.” Rolan grabbed a branch to sweep down the clinging webs. Clearing the way down the overgrown hallway, sweeping the webs out of the way the yellow Kougra continued. “They're such nasty, annoying creatures.”
“You do know that Lisha thinks they're cute, right?”
The painstakingly cleared of webs hallway proved to be a dead end, leading only to a mound of rocky dirt choked with overgrown weeds. As the night wore on, Jeran and Rolan ended up separating, working towards each other as they shifted though the piles of rubble and the halfway fallen ruins.
Jeran began to wish that he had brought Mareian along; an extra pair of hands would have been a big help. Finally, after shifting through a pile of stones that didn't look like they'd been touched in centuries, Jeran felt the slight hum of magic. Digging deeper, he uncovered a wooden box just big enough to hold a sword, a scepter, and a crown.
“Rolan! Over here.” Using his dagger as a lever, Jeran popped open the box. Three relics identical to the ones he'd seen in the vault. The blue Lupe grinned; their guess had been right after all.
“Good job.” Rolan congratulated him, crouching next to him. The yellow Kougra opened a durable leather sack and placed the box and its contents into it. “There, that doesn't look like we're smuggling back in incredibly ancient and valuable relics, does it?”
Jeran snorted a laugh. “No, there's nothing suspicious about the two of us sneaking back into the castle with a big bulky sack thrown over your shoulder.”
“Was that sarcasm?”
Jeran gave his friend a flat look. “Forget the sack, maybe roll it up and stuff it in with the relics so they don't clink around.”
“We're not going to disguise the box?” Rolan looked extremely unconvinced.
“Who's going to be looking for it?” Jeran shrugged. “If anyone asks why you're carrying the crate, tell them it's for Lisha or something. Let's keep this as uncomplicated as possible.”
Rolan was silent as he led Jeran back to the small dirt path, the wooden crate tucked under his arm. Finally he asked, “Since when were you an authority on how to sneak things into the castle?”
“Since I've been spending a lot of time with Mareian.”
“That would do it.” Rolan grinned. “She's one woman who enjoys her job a little too much.” Adjusting his grip in the small crate, the yellow Kougra said with a hint of wistfulness, “I wish there was someone like that in Brightvale; we've got a lot of the same problems as Meridell.”
“She's busy.” Jeran made a face at Rolan’s laugh. “My turn to ask a question.” Jeran paused to duck under a branch before it got his ears. “What are we going to do with these when we get them back to the castle?”
“I’ve got an idea,” Rolan said, “but I’ll need to talk it over with Mareian and Lisha first. For it to work, we’re going to need their help.”
Jeran hoped to be able to discuss it with Mareian and Lisha as soon as he and Rolan got safely into the castle, but it wasn’t meant to be. Lisha had retired to her bed hours before. Rolan carried the crate to the privacy of his room, while Jeran headed off to find his own bed.
Entering the common room of the wing reserved for the visiting Meridellians, Jeran found Mareian. It looked like she’d tried to wait up for him, but had fallen asleep on the couch. A book lying awkwardly on the ground suggested she’d been reading.
Kneeling beside the couch, Jeran gently shook her arm. “Hey,” he said, “you know, there are more comfortable places to sleep than that.”
Hazel eyes fluttered at the sound of his voice, not quite enough to wake. Carefully supporting her head, Jeran scooped up the sleeping pirate Lupess and carried her to her own – and probably far more comfortable – bed. She woke up a little bit as he was leaving, her alto voice mumbled though her sleepiness, “Any luck?”
“We found all three,” he reassured her. “They’re safe with Rolan.” He wasn’t sure she’d heard him; she was asleep again almost as soon as she’d asked the question.
At least she hadn’t asked him what the plan was. Jeran supposed he’d just have to wait until tomorrow when he, Rolan, Lisha, and Mareian could sneak some time together and figure out what they should do about a certain traitorous Zafara.
To be continued...