22 - The Harbinger

...Writing this, I realize I've shifted into telling it directly from Ebrellin-i's tongue instead of adapting it as I'm used to. It's strange writing directly from his voice, and...I feel a little weird afterwards. Maybe I can ask Rachella about it. I'm not sure if I want to show her and Camden this, though. Not the prior writings, at least, and what I've yet to record of the Peacock King's words to me. I...

...I just don't want to get him in trouble for the children. Other things I know he's guilty of, and I can't say he doesn't deserve punishment, but...well, it's not my place to say what the Law is. It's my Father's place, and I feel very uncomfortable putting my feet anywhere near those shoes. If I had the choice, though, I wouldn't tell a soul about the children.

I can feel Ebrellin-i looking at me as I think, likely wondering what I'm thinking about. I look back up at him. He cocks his head, then sips from his teacup. There's a silence between us as we each wait for the other to speak.

"That...that was a very well-told story. I was impressed." I see his eyes light up at that. Good. Maybe it'll forestall anything else we could discuss about his story.

He smiles with not a little pride. "Of course. The Poet King is my brother, after all. I should hope he carries some of the same family traits as I do." There's so much smugness in his voice that for a moment, I can't even ask the question.

"He's your brother?" I try to pull my words together. "But...but when you speak about him, you're so..." I don't want to say, exactly, but he seems to know what I'm getting at. He smiles wistfully.

"We are siblings, after all." He looks up at me. "Do you have brothers, Lotus?" He sees my resultant expression, and chuckles. "Yes, well, then you know that brothers fight, but they love each other, yes?" He sets his teacup on the tray. "I'm very proud of Elete. He's brought much honor to my family. Everyone has his flaws, is all." He brushes the issue aside with a flip of his hand. "You have other questions." And he looks as if he knows exactly what they are. He waits patiently for me to speak them. I sigh a little inside.

  This conversation makes me more and more uncomfortable. I don't really want to know more things that I don't want to repeat to others. "I..." I look away. I really don't want to ask. But I can't just hold the conversation from advancing forever, and I might as well just get it over with. "Well, knowing that story, I still don't understand why you said there's an exception for you in the Law. I...I don't have a problem personally with your children's parentage and all that. But since you've gone and said it..."

The Peacock King nods, knowing I would ask this. He prompted this, after all. He takes a sip of his tea before going on. "I am an exception, Lotus. I am half-Dragon." He raises his eyebrows, watching for my reaction.

I give a simple blink, freezing as I raise my teacup to my lips. He laughs.

"It used to be quite well-known, but no one likes to speak of it now, just as no one speaks of the Jherent O'Radia's own lack of total humanity. Many don't like to acknowledge the advantages that some key figures in the arena bear in their blood, but nevertheless, they are still there. And in this case, it is a crucial advantage. It makes me compatible with Hespiredes in a way that very few other men could claim, and it makes her children safe." He spreads his hands. "If investigated by the Law, I could make this claim, and I'm sure after some investigation, I would be found innocent. But the hassle...and the time involved...I have a Kingdom to run, Lotus, and those like Hespiredes to care for. Let the Law chase down criminals, and not pursue those who are just trying to get a day's work done." That said, he cups his hands around his tea, raises it, and takes a sip. It's as if he's closed the entire argument.  "There now, Lotus. Does that answer your question adequately?"

I nod. "I...I don't really know why what I think is so important to you, Sire. I am but a humble servant. Nothing that I say is of much consequence to anybody." It never has been, really, even before I took on the servant role, and the roles before that. I sip my own tea and stay quiet. Whatever story he gives me, it doesn't matter, in the end. I can write the words down, sure, but it's really just for Gerald to turn in. People will listen to him. At least, when he gets out. If...

I look up at Ebrellin-i. His head is cocked, his chin resting on his knuckles as he regards me. "...Not of any consequence." He inhales slowly, his fingers curling in front of his mouth. His eyes search me a little harder than I'm comfortable with.

I keep forgetting about that extra eye in his crown.

His brows draw together. "There's more to what you say than this subject, isn't there? There's something else that makes you worry over not being listened to. What are you worried about?" He turns his attention to his tea then, waiting for my answer. When he breaks eye contact with me, I find myself incredibly relieved. It was like being stuck in a trap.

I can still feel his regard, though. His mind's focus is pretty intent on what I'm feeling right now. I need to be careful. And the most foolproof way of doing that is to just tell the truth. I take in a deep breath, then exhale. "I...worry over the matter of that Poet that you had to imprison, Sire. I don't want war between Kingdoms. And most of all I don't want him to be hurt. He was only doing his job...and doing no harm in that, or at least, much less harm than he could have. I...I just hope you're fair." I look him in the eyes. It's something automatic, meant to convince someone that I'm very serious about what I'm saying. With him, it's a mistake - it's just another moment for him to search me, pin me.

Thankfully, there's nothing for him to find - my words are the truth. I have that working for me, at least.

He nods, puts his head down, hand on his chin. He considers my words while staring into his teacup. I wait for him to speak. After a few minutes, he looks up from his tea. "I wish no harm on a man who simply does his duty, nor do I wish harm on my brother. It is only when I am provoked that I consider a strike. My most fervent wish in this matter, Lotus, is that I am allowed to show leniency. Trust that I know well how to handle a situation such as this, and I will not fail you as your ruler." He cocks his head. "Does that alleviate your fear?"

It can't, not entirely, but if the King is so ready to favor Gerald...maybe something can be done for where my brother is. After all...this is the Peacock King. Cade, whoever he really is, can't control what the monarch here does and what decisions he makes. Right?

I smile. "Thank you, Sire. It's a relief to hear such open words from someone of your rank, to someone of mine. I..." I look down. "I hope we return home soon, Sire. I only just became able to call it home, and already I miss it."

He smiles, closes his eyes and lets that soak in. "Words that I like to hear. We've one more night here, Lotus, and then we journey back. Hopefully you can spend the time with your new friends, yes? It's good to make friends inside the Law, you know." He pats my hand. "Come, let us finish our lunch, and speak no more of issues that have been laid to rest at this hour. Yes? It's bad to dwell on issues. So, if you please..." He holds my hand now. "Do not speak of these matters outside of my company, Lotus. That is my command."

It wrenches at me a little, a quick twist in my chest that I don't expect. A direct command from the King. An order. Within his empire, and within the contract that I serve him under...I am bound.

No worries for him now on whether I'll give away his secrets. I can't speak about any of this to a blessed soul.

* * *

I scan the sky automatically for a falcon as I approach the camp the Armed have made, but I see no sign of Rachella's friend Tambor'n. I catch her eyes next, and the question I planned on asking regarding the bird's whereabouts is cut off before I can make it - Jenny looks over the hills just as Camden outright curses.

I jump, while Rachella frowns for just a moment and then, realization passing over her face, sighs. Camden only continues to come up with curses that are more and more complex while he mounts his horse and rides off, motioning for Jenny to follow. Rachella only watches, an "oh no not this again" expression on her face. As the riders pass the carriage, I see the Peacock King peek out through the door after them.

Rachella sighs, her palm spread over her face, fingers splayed over her forehead. She looks like she's suffering a very familiar, very annoying pain.

As Camden approaches the hill, he waves for Jenny to stop. She waits at the crest of the hill, watching as his form disappears over it from my vantage point. I wish I could know what she's seeing. Or, for that matter, what's going on.

Rachella shakes her head, gives a final sigh, then looks up, hand dropping away from her face. "We have a visitor, Lyric. Maybe...no, stay out here. You should be out here for this. Just...don't let him see you if the King comes out and joins us. We need to speak to him first...make sure he doesn't give you away." She sees the confusion written on my face. "Lyric...he's another of us. Coming for Lord knows what reason...we should have sensed him sooner. Maybe it's the unfamiliar lands here interfering. He certainly couldn't have been sent this fast...so who knows why he just decided to show up here out of nowhere..." She shakes her head again. "Go into the woods. I'll say you're gathering firewood. Keep an eye on this area from there and come out if the King stays in the carriage. That should be safe enough..."  With that said, she turns her attention to the horizon, then sighs again and begins to prep the campfire area for the night. I decide that's my signal to go.

I have a pretty good vantage point from inside the woods, inside far enough that the shadows hide my form from onlookers. I lean against a maple tree and watch as two horsemen come back over the hill to greet Jenny. It's distant, but I can see that one of them, the one who isn't Camden, makes a half-bow from his saddle and lifts his hat in a strangely gentlemanly salute to Jenny. She responds by turning away and riding off towards camp. I see Camden raise his hand, hesitate, and then ride forward, gesturing for the visitor to follow him. It could have been anything, really, but I swear Camden was about to hit the new guy in the back of the head, for whatever reason.

At the carriage, Camden signals a stop. Jenny has already wheeled her horse around a few feet beyond them, waiting, sitting upright and at attention. The carriage door remains closed. They speak to the King from one of the windows for awhile. The angle's all wrong for me to see what the Peacock King's reaction is to our new visitor. It's a long time that they talk there.

The visitor slumps in his saddle as time goes on, looking more and more dejected as they speak. Finally, Camden executes a very formal bow, considering it's being done from a saddle. The visitor echoes it, though his is less crisp, more flamboyant. Jenny also bows, then rides towards our camp. The carriage remains closed as Camden and the visitor also make their leave.

I see Rachella turn back towards me once, then straighten up and regard our visitor on his approach. I decide to head out of the woods now, since the Peacock King hasn't decided to join us. I pick up a few sticks, remembering that my excuse for being out here is to gather firewood. As I approach, the three who've ridden up dismount. Camden starts giving the visitor a dressing-down before the boy's bootheels even hit the ground. Jenny only watches, her expression serious, her bow in hand. I can't tell if her expression is genuine, or if she's secretly amused by all of this. Rachella is obviously not amused by anything right now, and her fear of whatever's to come is ever-so-slightly visible to me.

Camden looks over at me just once when I arrive at the campground, then directs his attention back to the visitor. The visitor...I look him in the eye just as he looks up to give me a glance-over.


It's my turn to cover my eyes with my hand and shake my head. Oh Lords of the heavens and earths. You can't be serious. "...You rode through the Peacock King's territory on your own? You?"

"See?" Camden's tone is biting, stronger than I expected from him. "Even he knows what a stupid, null-brained, pig-headed, arse-faced stubborn little git you are for riding your way hell-bent to destruction through enemy territory what is your Father going to say--" Camden cuts himself clean off, his mouth clamping shut with an audible click of his teeth. The visitor looks at him with mild shock, but it's pretty obvious nothing about his dressing-down has sunk in. At the mention of his Father, he even sneers just a tiny bit. The Sherriff closes his eyes, looks away, fingers splayed on the bridge of his nose and over his forehead. I see his mouth move then, as if he's addressing someone else who isn't there, but with no voice to it. For all I know, he's praying.

I see Rachella back away, one bootheel sliding back through the dirt underneath it, before she grabs my arm firmly to tug me back as well. Jenny's already at a healthy distance, likely expecting a scuffle to break out. Camden's head snaps up, his eyes flash open, and he looks straight out ahead as his hand darts to the hilt of his weapon.

Our visitor's face pales. It's possible, through what I see in his blue eyes, that he might just be taking it seriously now. I doubt it, though. He never has. Rachella's eyes are wide - most of what I see now is the whites. Jenny's expression...is just a cold, cutting smile.

I think that's the worst sign of all.

"...I'll permit you to draw your weapon in the woods." Camden turns away, his hand still on the hilt of his weapon. He begins to walk straight back to the spot I was hiding at before. Our visitor follows, but only after Jenny prods him in the butt with the toe of her boot. He looks like he might actually be in shock. He advances, Jenny directly behind him, probably to make sure that he doesn't take off running away. I've seen him do it before, you know, and in much less dire circumstances than this. Rachella follows close behind Jenny, and after a few moments, motions for me to come. I raise my eyebrows. She waves me close, and then whispers into my ear.

"It'll be much more humiliating for him if you see this too. Camden would agree. Just stay quiet, and whatever you do, stay well clear of Camden."

I raise an eyebrow. "What about Jax?"

She replies with a look that's half pity levied at Jax and half pity levied at me for even asking that. I understand.

Jax's voice carries through the woods as we walk. "I...I don't have my Arms yet." He was about to say more, but then the trailing whine in his voice cuts off abruptly. Jenny stops in front of us. It's because Camden has wheeled around in his tracks, looking down through his wire-rimmed glasses at Jax.

"I must commend you for your bravery, jherte Jax. You've advanced alone through enemy territory with nary a weapon of any true capability nor a thought in your blessedly empty head. Truly the Lady of Divine Fortune really has blessed you with all the luck in the world. And now, now that you have arrived here, surely some circumstance will arise to give you a defense against an Armed combatant. After all, that must have been your assumption when you first headed off on this foolhardy expedition." He snapturns to face into the woods again and begins walking without waiting for a reply from Jax. As if there could be any reply to that.

Well, I have to give it to the idiot. He follows without any more whines, and doesn't drag his heels on the way. He does, however, pick up a sturdy-looking stick that lies across the path.

Once we reach a clearing in the woods, Camden walks across it and stops at the other end. He gestures for Jax to stand to his left with a snap of his arm. Jenny stands somewhere behind Camden, out of the range of combat. Rachella stays near the entrance to the clearing, and pulls my arm so that I stay behind her. I have a fine view from this vantage.

Camden's eyes narrow. His hand has never left the hilt of his weapon. He looks up at Jax. "And do you know why, you insolent wretch of an unworthy trainee, the reason is that you've been allowed to endure this here, instead of out in the open, where others can see it?" While waiting for a response, he looks at Jax with such disdain that he rivals some of the Peacock King at his most aristocratic.

Jax just blinks with an expression that might just redefine the word 'blank'. Can I write that? I'm not sure if I have the authority. ...In any case.

Camden sighs, his expression getting the barest hint of weariness to it. "Even with such a great offense committed against your name, our names, and your Father's name, it is foolish to tack humiliation onto the names of our Armies by letting the Enemy witness your castigation. That is the only reason for the reprieve you're recieving. It is nothing. That. You. Have. Earned." And with that said, Camden draws.

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