A Yurble stole my cinnamon roll! Circulation: 96,497,777 Issue: 189 | 6th day of Hunting, Y7
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Chronicles of the Court Rogue: The Bargain - Part One


by nimras23

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Sir Jeran of Meridell sighed. The day was shaping up to be one of those days. He gestured towards the report that Sir Danner, the Lord Sheriff of Meridell, had given him. "Are you sure of this source?"

     Danner scowled. "I'd not have given it to you otherwise."

     Smiling half-heartedly at his friend, Jeran replied, "I know you wouldn't." He shook his head and sighed. "It's just not enough for us to get through two wars and a rather extensive famine. Now we have to have some unknown people plotting to overthrow the king."

     If they," he gestured at the squire training grounds, "have managed to infiltrate the castle, we don't know which of the knights or the guard can be trusted. If anyone's going to be able to investigate this, we need to know for absolute certainty that they aren't part of the conspiracy; and they are going to need a rather wide array of unusual skills."

     Danner looked thoughtful. "I may have just the person."

     

*****

     Of all the places in Meridell, Mareian decided, the castle dungeon was not one of the highlights. Oh it wasn't unbearable, the straw was clean, and there was even a window, granted it had bars; but she could have happily spent the rest of her life not knowing what the inside of it looked like. How was she supposed to know that the purse she had lifted had belonged to the Lord Sheriff's sister? It hadn't even held all that much, the pirate colored Lupess thought grumpily.

     The door leading outside the dungeon opened, and all the guards leaped to attention. Apparently some high-to-do visitor was entering. Perhaps, she thought amusedly, it was the Lord Sheriff coming to give her a hard time about his sister's purse. As personal as the matter may be for him, there was a limit to how long someone could be held for pick pocketing. She wrinkled her forehead; if only she could remember how long that was.

     

*****

     "Danner," Jeran asked as they entered the dungeon, "is a thief really the best you can come up with? First off, I doubt they'll be very trustworthy; secondly, if they've already been caught, they must not be very good at it."

     Danner glanced back at him, "Oh, she's good alright. Just not very big; the Elephante guard who caught her had to carry her over his shoulder to keep her from escaping." He paused, "Of course, while she was being carried here, she managed to pick him and two others clean. But we managed to get most of their stuff back to them."

     "Most of it?" Jeran asked. "When could she have gotten rid of the rest?"

          Danner answered him with a shrug as he stopped in front of a barred cell containing a small, almost tiny, pirate Lupess with black tipped ears. Looking the captive over, Jeran decided that he could probably hold his arm straight over her head, without touching even the fur at the tips of her ears. Despite her smallness, she radiated self assurance. Steel grey fur was offset by a cream colored blouse, and hazel eyes matched a rumpled brown skirt.

     "My Lord Sheriff," she replied, half-curtseying toward Danner, then looked around her cell; "I'd offer you a seat, but the accommodation seems to be lacking." Turning her full attention back to Danner, she asked him, "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

     Danner pulled up a stool stored by the door of the cell and sat eye to eye with the tiny Lupess. "We have a job for you," he drawled conversationally.

     One of her eyebrows arched, "A job?" she asked disbelievingly. Gesturing towards Jeran she continued, "Something that a knight can't do, or something that you can't trust a knight with? For surely you wouldn't have an illegal job for me, being Lord Sheriff and all. Therefore either you can't trust the knights due to corruption," she narrowed her eyes, "or because of security."

     Jeran was careful to not let any expression show on his face, but inwardly he was surprised. She was quick, very quick, to be able to piece all that together so fast from such little information. Unfortunately, her ability to put all that together also enforced the reason why they had to go outside the court to find someone to investigate. If she could put it together, so could whoever was threatening the king.

     The tiny Lupess crossed her arms, "Why?"

     Danner grinned, "Because you are a sneak. And we have some sneaking that needs to be done."

     A black tipped ear twitched, "And why should I help you?"

     Danner actually smirked. "You mean other than you stealing my sister's purse? I was hoping you'd ask." One of the guards handed him a thick folder. On the top of it was written 'Mareian Mahkra' in bold letters. He continued, "Why should you help us? Let's see; 73 incidents of jewel theft, 122 of breaking and entering, 30 indictments of smuggling, and 205 counts of pick pocketing… Do you really want me to continue?"

     Mareian turned to glare at a blue Lenny in a cell further down the row. "Snitch," she muttered darkly.

     Jeran started to flip though the rest of her records, impressed despite himself. "Is there any crime you haven't committed?" he asked dryly.

     "Treason," she replied promptly, then shrugged, "I've never committed barratry either, but that's probably from a lack of opportunity. A ship is kind of hard to fit into a pocket, let alone its cargo." Her eyes narrowed, "What's the job?"

      "Its right up your alley," Danner purred, starting to explain.

     

*****

     The Lord Sheriff was insane, Mareian decided. There was no other word for it. Nobody could work off so little information. All she had to go off of was the words of one Lenny, who had died shortly after alerting the Sheriff of the plot. How did someone so thick make it to the rank of Lord Sheriff anyways? At least the knight seemed to have some idea of what they were asking.

     "Let me get this straight," she asked, settling down onto the straw, "you want me to find out about a plot to remove Skarl from power, but you can't tell me who they are, where they are, or how they are going to do it?"

     The Lord Sheriff smiled at her, "I have every confidence in you. Because if you fail…" He shook the jail keys ominously.

     

*****

     Jeran looked at her sympathetically. Danner was asking an awful lot of her, especially as she didn't really have any choice in the matter. She would help them, or Danner would never let her out of the dungeon. Reluctantly Mareian agreed to help them, not that it surprised anyone. As she rose, Danner pulled out the key to unlock her door.

     "Thanks, but no thanks." She pushed firmly against the cell door and it swung open smoothly. Jeran hid a grin while Danners eyes bulged. "It made you feel better," she said sweetly.

     

*****

      Mareian slipped lightly out a side door of the castle with a small sack of her belongings and a big mission. She was surprised yet relieved that the Lord Sheriff hadn't insisted upon sending some awkward squire or knight to watch over her. Not that he needed to, he'd shown her a rather impressive reward poster with her picture on it that would be posted all over the kingdom if she didn't come back. Granted, the reward for her return was flattering, but to wave it in her face like that was a bit over the top in her opinion.

     "Where to start…" she murmured to herself. She needed to find someone who knew the local gossip, and with an open nature. Searching her brain for someone who fit these qualifications, she landed on Friar Asquith. As long as he had cards in his hands, the blue Bruce Friar would jabber all day long. An added bonus was the Friar tended to hang out around food, and the prison meals she'd been getting lately left much to be desired.

     Friar Asquith was delighted to see her. "Nothing," he declared, "would make me happier than playing the noble game of poker against such a pretty lady as yourself." Mareian unleashed her charm on him. After an hour of play, he'd have told her anything, and after two hours, he'd have given her the world if she'd asked. Other players joined in, giving Mareian the chance to discreetly question them too.

     Late that evening she retired, richer in both information and money. She had one more stop before she reported her findings back to the Lord Sheriff though, if anyone knew anything about Meridell and its politics it would be her brother Khalyen, the head of the Thieves Council.

     Silently, she slipped between the trees that hid the secret entrance to the thieves' headquarters. Most people thought that the only dwelling in Illusens Glade was Illusen's humble hut. Few knew of this building, cleverly hidden amongst the trees and rocks. Even though it was quite late, there were plenty of people inside. Night time was when work starts within those halls.

     "Ah, Mareian!" an older woman's raspy voice called out; "I hear you've been paying a visit to his most honorable, the Sheriff! And just how did you manage to escape?"

     Smiling she turned to face her graying shadow Zafara friend. "The usual way Mavude," She widened her hazel eyes innocently and spoke in a breathless tone. "Your Lordship, I'm sure you can see how this is a mistake. Someone as small and cute as me would never steal." She batted her eyes intently.

     Mavude laughed coarsely, slapping her knees. "Oh Mareian, you'll go far!" she cackled. "Mark my words, you'll go far!" Becoming more serious, Mavude inquired, "You'll be wanting to know about your brother?" At Mareian's nod she continued, "He's in his study. Be nice to him, he's worried greatly about you since your capture."

     Slipping through the crooked hallways, Mareian opened the door to her brothers' study. He was seated with his back towards her, weighing jewels on a small scale. The well oiled hinges had made no sound, so she used the opportunity to have a good look at him while he was unaware of her presence.

     It was hard to tell that they were brother and sister. While they shared the same iron grey fur, Khalyen towered over a foot above her; his ears and tail were tipped with white, opposed to her black, and his piercing black eyes made his gaze seem like he saw right into your soul. Leadership had steadied him, she decided, but she missed his light hearted jokes about the world. He had no time for such things now.

     "If I desired your place," she spoke softly, "I would already have it." He jumped, nearly knocking his chair over and scattering jewels across the table.

     "Mareian!" In two great strides he covered the distance between them, picking her up in a great hug. Laughing, she returned his hug. He set her back down, and she shut the door to his study. Cocking an eyebrow he asked, "So this is to be a private audience?"

     "I don't have much time," she said by way of explanation, "but I need information." Settling down in his chair, Khalyen was all business.

     She briefly outlined her agreement with the Lord Sheriff, then asked for any information that he may have on rumors against the king. "You're in luck," he told her, "I do know something."

     Rummaging through some parchment, he pulled out a map. Drawing his finger along the boarder between Meridell and Brightvale, he pointed to two villages. "Unauthorized bandits have been working the roads between these two villages. A big Gelert is their leader, he goes by the name Jasagh, but that's most likely an assumed name. They say any profits they make go to the oppressed citizens of the cruel king. Sounds like something straight from a faerie tale; rob the rich, save the poor, and someday when their leader becomes king, those who supported them before will become the new class of nobles."

     Pausing, he added, "not that anyone keeps their promises to that many peasants." He shrugged, "I would have taken care of them already; except with the famine we've just gotten over, I don't have the manpower." He pulled out a quill and circled the two villages and drew a line over the road the bandits hit the most often, then handed her the map. "You can keep this; be careful and good luck dealing with those nobles."

     Returning to the castle, Mareian debated how she should report back to the Lord Sheriff. She had no desire to return to his office by the dungeons, and entering through the main doors would mean being asked questions she didn't want to answer. A pair of Blumaroos carrying a large ham provided her answer. Following them, she slipped into the castle through a kitchen back door. Because of the Kings nearly continuous eating, there was constant traffic from the kitchens to the outside. The kitchens led to a large dome roofed hallway, which she followed. As it was nearly midnight, most of the rooms that the hallway led to were empty, though light shone from under a doorway at the very end.

     Approaching the lit door, Mareian put her ear against it, listening for signs of people. A voice boomed, "Jeran, could you compile a list of knights we know are trustworthy?" she grinned broadly. Luck was on her side; the Lord Sheriff was speaking on the other side, apparently to the Kings Champion. As far as she knew there was only one Jeran; over a certain age she amended, it was a very popular name for male cubs born after the wars.

     Waiting until there was a lull in their conversation, Mareian swung open the door. The sight that greeted her was classic. The Lord Sheriff had been on his way to sit down; her unexpected appearance made him miss the chair. Leaning against the desk was the same blue Lupe who had been down in the dungeons.

     So he was Jeran, the Champion. Somehow she'd thought he'd be bigger. She purposely ignored the fact that he was nearly a full hand taller than her brother, and almost two full spans taller than herself. Her unexpected appearance seemed to amuse him; or perhaps it was the Lord Sheriffs sudden tumble away from his chair.

     "Civilized people," Danner growled as he got off the floor and sat firmly in the chair, "knock."

     "Civilized people," she cooed back, "use chairs." This time, there was no mistaking the blue Lupe's snort of laughter as he circled around to the back of the desk to sit in his own chair.

     Hastily recovering his dignity, with the exception of his still bottle-brushed tail, the Lord Sheriff inquired, "Found anything yet?"

     

*****

     The steel Lupess smiled brightly with wicked eyes. "Oh we both found something today, My Lord. You discovered the floor, I discovered unauthorized bandits pillaging on a road."

     Fighting the urge to chuckle openly at her statement, Jeran instead asked, "And what's the difference between authorized bandits and unauthorized bandits?"

     A look of annoyance crossed her face. "Authorized bandits know who safe prey is, and have permission from the Thieves Council to work a certain area. No one minds if some overstuffed merchant who sets his prices too high gets knocked out for a couple hours and relieved of some of his more expensive items."

     Her eyes narrowed, "Unauthorized bandits, on the other hand, tend to take out royal messengers or other untouchables. They also tend to trespass onto other thieves' territory. The last thing anyone needs is a territory war between opposing thieves' councils."

     Jeran blinked in surprise, he'd never considered the politics of Meridell's underworld. Though now that he thought about it, such a world's politics were probably very murky and intricate.

     Walking across the room, she spread a marked map on Jeran's desk and continued, "they are working on a road between Brightvale and Meridell. They don't seem to pledge allegiance to either state's Thieves Council though. On Brightvale's side they simply pillage wealthy people for their gold. On Meridell's side however, they call themselves 'liberators', and say they are fighting against the tyrant king."

     "If it's one group with separate tactics for different countries, they have to be organized," Danner growled. "Organization suggests they have a leader."

     Mareian made a sour face, "They do, a Gelert who goes by the name 'Jasagh', though whether that's his real name is anybody's guess."

     "Did you get a description of him?" Jeran asked.

     "Not from the same source, but Nigel of Meridar claims that he was robbed along the road that they've hit the most. He described their leader as a tall Gelert with a goatee and a heavy cloak that hides most of his features. It's a species match."

     She shrugged, "That's all I could get first hand. There are some second and third hand accounts that describe either a Skeith or a Gelert, both with a heavy cloak that hides most of their features." She smiled wryly, "Perhaps heavy cloaks are a new fashion, but it's probably for a reason; no one in their right mind wears heavy cloaks in the middle of summer."

     Jeran scowled, her description matched something he'd heard once, only he couldn't remember what. Maybe he'd remember if he saw this leader for himself. "Is there any way you could get me in to see this leader?"

     She looked him slowly up and down. "You're rather well known, aren't you worried that he'd recognize you?"

     "There's a reason I'm in full armor at every formal event, and it's not comfort." The memory of all those hours spent in full armor make him wince. "By wearing it at every public appearance, they recognize me by the armor, not the face." She nodded, looking impressed. He glanced at her slyly, "I'd say it worked; even you didn't recognized me until you heard Danner say my name, and you're probably one of the most observant people I've ever met."

     The Lupess chuckled at the compliment. "That, and the fact that I'm not usually invited to very many royal events." She pursed her lips. "There may be a way, but I'd have to talk to my brother first. If I approach this Jasagh as an envoy from the Meridell's Thieves Council, he'll probably speak to me, if only to try to gain converts."

     "What does your brother have to do with that?" Danner asked suspiciously.

     "That's none of your business, now is it My Lord? I'll meet back with you here tomorrow."

     

*****

     The Lord Sheriff's madness must be spreading, Mareian scolded herself. All she'd agreed to do was find information, not waltz into the middle of the conspirator's camp. With the King's Champion no less! At least he was good with a sword if there was trouble, or so rumor said.

     Fortunately Khalyen was willing to go along with her scheme, in a roundabout kind of way. "You want to what?" she sputtered, setting down her mug of mulled cider.

     "It's not that difficult, Mareian. They are breaking the rules on my turf; therefore I should be the one leading the envoy."

     "If it were just that, I'd agree with you," she snapped. "You're forgetting about the Lord Sheriff and his interest in it. If you go in there blazing who you are, you'll be arrested!"

     He blinked in surprise, "The Lord Sheriff is going in there with you?"

     "No." Mareian hesitated; for some reason she didn't want to tell him of the Champion's involvement, "One of the knights."

     Khalyen snorted. "Probably some squire, who's just learning the difference between the blade and the hilt of his sword."

     "No, he's a full knight," she started to protest.

      He held up his hands in truce, "A compromise? We two and your knight go as the envoy. You'll be the speaker, and we'll just leave me as a bodyguard along with your little friend." She made a face at him. "If things get out of hand, I'll be there; but hopefully you'll be able to handle it on your own. Agreed?"

     What could she say to that? Besides, she was tired and once she got Khalyen to agree she could go to bed. Stupid conspirators, she thought grumpily as she slipped into her bed; stupid Sheriffs, and stupid over-protective brothers. Soft pillow. At least the pillow was nice to her.

To be continued...

 
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