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Order of the Sword & Rose
“Let's take a holiday. Xen'drik will be something different, something fun. Just imagine all the wonders we'll see.” the halfling thought to himself bitterly. Why he'd let his daughter talk him into this trip he'd never know. He was missing the greatest galas of the year, sitting in this wretched, steaming jungle city. One could not climb the social ladders if they were not present when elbows were rubbed and hobs were nobbed.
“Just think of all the stories you'll be able to tell when you get back home.” She'd said. “Everyone will flock to hear. It's such an exotic place!” Melinar snorted. It was a dull city, filled with dull people, living dull lives. Really, it was barely better than the ruins it was built upon; everything seemed ready to crumble down. And so barbaric, always something attacking, inside the city and out. Not that the pirates that ran the place seemed to care.
At least there were some little corners of civilization. He sighed, watching the golden liquid spin and swirl inside his glass as he spun it idly in his fingers. House Phiarlan seemed to have carved out a pretty little niche here. Some of their establishments were even fairly civilized.
“More wine for the Sir?” Piped a voice, high and sibilant.
The halfling turned to regard his waitress, a dainty little kobold clad in gauzy silks, with barely disguised disgust. Civilized as they were, their taste in staff left something to be desired. “No, thank you.” He replied, curtly.
The kobold nodded her head respectfully. “If you needs something, Trixxie will be around, Sir.”
“I'm sure you shall.” He murmured as she scurried off to check on another patron.
Despite their poor taste in staff, The Pink Conch was a rather lovely establishment. They had a selection of food, wine, and spirits to cater to practically any taste, from all corners of the world. It was well and richly decorated, and comfortable, and if they were true to their “What you see is what you get” motto, they had excellent taste in their women. It was house Phiarlan though, one could never be entirely sure with them.
A large crowd had gathered around the stage as he'd been musing over his misfortune, and a new dancer had come on. By the reaction of the patrons, it seemed she must be a house favorite. Intrigued, Melinar picked up his glass and moved closer to get a look at what all the fuss was about.
A young halfling with short, thick, flame-red hair, strode across the stage with slow, sinuous steps, pale skin almost glowing in the soft lights. She was clad in a sleeveless, high collared, dark green and gold cheongsam that reached nearly to her ankles. Gold and agate green beads glimmered from where they were woven into her hair as she passed under each light on her way to the edge of the stage. Each step revealed long, graceful, muscular legs, a tantalizing pale contrast to the dark silk that was slit all the way up to the top of her thighs. Green and gold ribbon wound its way up her left leg, from foot to calf, the ends left to flutter in the breeze as she moved. A matching ribbon was tied on her left arm.
Music started from beside the stage, drums, deep and slow, with a low, breathy flute playing counterpoint. The rhythm matched her movements so perfectly as to seem as if it were being played in time to her performance, instead of the other way around.
She reached the edge of the stage and stood there a few breaths, smiling, dark grey eyes scanning the front lines of the crowd. The flute rose to a sharp, breathy trill even as she turned, choosing her mark. Slow, measured steps, her side to the crowd so every movement showed more of that pale leg, took her to a young, moss-green haired elf at the edge of the stage. She bent at the waist, the rest of her body swaying in time to the music, and leaned over, locking her eyes on his. One graceful, long fingered hand reached out and beckoned to him. Shyly, looking to his friends for encouragement, the elf took a few steps forward.
With an impish smile that lit up her whole face, she ran her fingers lightly across his shoulder, up the side of his neck, along his jawline, coaxing him closer as she leaned forward. The beating of the drums sped slowly, almost mimicking a quickening pulse, while the flute played a soft, complex melody around it. The elf seemed almost hypnotized as her lips came closer and closer to his, when, with a quick series of rumblingly loud beats, the music stopped.
She grinned at him, face but a hand's breadth away from his, and with one liquid movement rolled back, beribboned foot kicking out and around, flicking a foot or so from his face.
The elf blinked, stunned, as the music began again in earnest. The rhythm was a primal one, the kind you could feel in your bones, that made you need to move. The flute took up the lead, spinning a whirling, building melody, both haunting and strong.
Two quick steps and a forward roll brought her back to center stage, coming up in what looked to be a fighting stance, graceful and centered. Her movements became part dance, part kata, as she and the musicians played off one another. Power, strength, and control, met grace, flexibility, and agility. Each movement was mindful, showing off body or ability.
There was something familiar about the young woman that Melinar just couldn't put his finger on. Maybe it was just an old man's fantasy, but he was sure he knew her from somewhere. He leaned over to the halfling woman next to him and inquired politely. “Excuse me, madam. Have you any idea the name of that girl?”
The woman smiled at him. “Oh my yes! Isn't she lovely? She's pretty new here, just a couple months I think, but she's such a favorite! She goes by Fireheart. Don't rightly know her real name though. I'm sure someone around here could tell you.”
Melinar's eyes widened in recognition. “Did I hear you correctly, Fireheart? That's an odd sort of name.”
The halfling woman turned back to watch the rest of the dance, answering absently. “Yes, Fireheart. That's what I said. Not strange as half the names you hear around these sorts of places.”
“Hmm. Thank you.”
An old, cold fire lit in the halfling's eyes as he wove his way through the crowd, working his way nearer to the front of the stage. Could it really be her, after all these years? If it was, maybe this trip wasn't such a waste after all.
Kerta wove her way through the steps of her dance, muscle memory almost moving her body of its own accord. The dance was cathartic. She could just give herself over to the music, to the movement of her body as it went through its paces, and let her mind think of nothing but that moment. All her worries, frustrations, the scars she tried so hard to hide, were lost to the dance. The only other place she found something similar was training with Reuken. Nothing mattered but that moment in time, that was where her focus needed to be, centered.
The last few steps of the dance took her back to center stage. She smiled and looked out over the crowd, eyes focusing on them for the first time since she looked over the first few rows to pick out the mossy-haired elf. She bowed low from the waist, fist against her palm in front of her chest. When she came back up to give them a final smile and wave, her eyes caught on a familiar face in the crowd.
Her heart skipped a beat as she recognized those eyes, so full of that ice cold rage. That rage that had haunted her nightmares since she was such a little girl. How could he be here?
The bright smile faltered a moment before she remembered where she was. Her body fought against her, every fiber of muscle and sinew crying out to flee. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath through her nose and forcing the smile back to her face. She could not run now, not here. To run would just confirm her guilt and cause a panic. No, she had to keep control. She could fall apart later.
One more short bow and a wave to the crowd, and she backed off the stage behind the curtains. Small hands balled into fists as she fought to keep herself under control, fought to keep from trembling like a terrified rabbit.
One of the other girls, a dark haired human a little newer than Kerta, patted her on the shoulder. “Great show, Kerta! I always hate following you up. I can't hold a candle.”
“Thanks. Don't say that though. You're fantastic or they never would have hired you.” She managed to get out after a moment. “Hey. Can you do me a favor? I-I'm really not feeling well. Think I'm gonna be sick. Apologize to Zaabon and Sigil for me? I'm sure Candie can pick up my slot tonight.”
The girl looked at Kerta with sympathy. “Yeah, absolutely. Feel better!”
“Sure I will. Thank you!” Kerta responded with all the cheer she could muster, and headed for the back doors as fast as she could, stopping only long enough to grab her pack from her locker.
As soon as she was outside, she let her fear take her limbs and she ran.
Kerta awoke from a light doze to the sound of footsteps outside the mouth of the little sandy cave she was holed up in. Gods, but she was tired. This was the third day with no meaningful sleep, every stolen moment of rest spent listening for the sound of someone coming for her, every dream a moment relived from her childhood nightmares.
She couldn't afford to be groggy; she'd seen the old, cold hatred in her uncle's eyes. He would do something; there was no way he would just let it go. She shuddered and stood, padding her way silently to just beyond the entrance to the cave. If anyone came in, she'd have the jump on them. The entrance was through a small tunnel not much taller than she was, with low hanging roots and snags. Anyone taller than a halfling would be forced to stoop over, giving her a great target.
Silently, she waited, sharp ears perked for any new noises. After a minute it came, a 'thunk, thunk, thunk' from just outside the opening. She frowned. Was someone knocking?
After a moment's silence she heard a familiar irritated grunt. “I know you are there,” Reuken growled. "Stop hiding and come outside."
Relief flooded through her at the sound of that voice, angry or not. She leaned against the wall briefly, easing the tension out of her muscles and taking a moment to breathe before stepping into sight.
Night had fallen since she had come inside, foggy and starless. She squinted, peering past Reuken, trying to see any signs that might point to him having been followed. The dim light in the cave made that all but impossible.
Her hair was a disheveled mess, the beads from a couple days before more tangled into it than woven. Dark eyes, usually so full of fire, were dull and frightened. Hunched over, arms wrapped around her waist, she just looked... small.
She shook her head at him and remained where she was. “You shouldn't have come,” She grumbled, irritation in her words belied by the warmth in her voice.
Reuken straightened, folding his arms over his chest, moonlight gleaming off the metal of his right hand. “Explain,” he grated. “Explain the reason behind your unannounced absence.” Despite the harshness of his voice, there is an undertone of disappointment.
Kerta hung her head, not meeting his gaze, and leaned back against the wall of the cave. “I'm sorry. I didn't think about the fact today was training.” Her voice was soft, timid and apologetic. “C-can you come in here? If someone followed you I'd rather you didn't lead them right to me.”
He lifted an eyebrow and frowned, but complied, stooping as he stepped into the cave. Roots and cobwebs brushed at his hair and shoulders.
“Thank you.” She said, voice soft and weary. “It opens up back here.”
Expression grim, he pushed ahead, following her around the corner. Just inside, it opened up into a proper stone cave, the ceiling just about a head taller than his six feet of height. The floor was soft and sandy, but bare of anything that would make much of a camp. One everglow crystal and her pack were the only things that spoke of habitation at all.
Kerta leaned against the wall at the back of the cave and slid down into a sitting position, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. The cheongsam she had worn to work two days before was worse for the wear, the dark green and gold silk dusty and stained. “I'm sorry I didn't show up. I... wasn't thinking. Been trying to figure out what to do.”
Reuken's brow furrowed again as he looked down at her. She was quiet a good long time, staring at the floor, biting her lip. After a moment, he approached, grim expression slowly fading into curiosity, and perhaps... worry? “It is unlike you to shirk training,” he said. “If you had planned to cease our sessions, it would have been wise to inform me beforehand.”
She shook her head vigorously, still looking down. After a few seconds, she shrugged slightly, shoulders slumping in a posture of defeat. “I don't want to, but I might have to.” Amber eyes narrowed. “Your posture is that of cornered prey. A far cry from the person I have seen earlier. Perhaps I was wrong, after all.”
The halfling flinched at those words, as if struck, but they made something click. After all the times she'd sat beside him when one fear or another from the past shook him, he said that? She swallowed hard and took a deep breath before looking up at him. A measure of her normal fire returning to her eyes now, through the pain and the fear. A spark of defiance. “That is unfair to say to me, when I have seen you frightened before as well, and sat by you.”
A grim smile crossed his face as she rose to his baited remark. “You have. But I seek to overcome my fear, which is why I have agreed to accept the... telepathy,” he grimaced, “in the first place. But you seek to abandon your fear and run. I speak from experience: You only delay the inevitable by running.”
She let out a long sigh, hugging her legs a little tighter. “I delayed it this long, coming here. Over ten damn years. It's not a matter of just facing a fear and getting over it. It's not as simple as fighting an enemy and once they're dead it's done. It's not that easy, Reuken.”
“So you continue to prattle,” he growled, concern giving way to irritation over her meandering. “Such words are meaningless unless I know what you are talking about.”
A little muscle in her jaw stood out as she clenched her teeth, his irritation ruffling hers. “My family is in town, at least one of them. And he knows I'm here, which means I shouldn't be.” She spat out. He raised a tawny eyebrow. “You face my foes with such courage, yet you cower at the sight of family,” He replied, tone utterly deadpan. "Such entities must be formidable indeed."
“He has the entirety of a House to call upon, that would be very unhappy to know I've been hiding all these years, so.. yes.” Her grumbles turned into a sigh. “And he's been the stuff of my nightmares since I was eight,” she added, much more quietly.
Metal shifted and rustled as Reuken slowly lowered himself to one knee, looking at her face with his head slightly tilted. His expression was unreadable, but his ears were stiff, and his yellow eyes looked at hers with understanding and... sympathy? Dark eyes turned up to meet his, and that look... Almost instantly she was blinking back tears. She knew she couldn't meet that look for long without losing her control and crying all over him. She swallowed hard and lowered her head again, an almost imperceptible shake beginning in her shoulders. "When I was eight I manifested my mark. My parents..." She broke off, a little hitch in her voice, and swallowed again, fighting back the tears. Over ten years, and she'd never spoken to anyone of her past. Questions about her history and family were always met with quick, sincere lies. She'd learned quite quickly that a good lie would stop the questions, where avoiding answering would just create more. It was so hard to actually form the words, much less say them. After a few seconds, she tried again.
“My parents brought me to my uncle's to learn how to use it. But I was stubborn and wouldn't.” She snorted a bitter laugh. “Yeah, imagine that.” Flame colored hair covered her eyes as she shook her head. “All I saw of the House was his fat, pompous, greedy ass and I didn't want to be one of those. I didn't want to be a vulture like him. When I wouldn't use it, they left me with him and went back home to the tribe. They abandoned me.” Her voice trembled with anger at that, the old wound so close to the surface. “When they left, he didn't have to pretend to be nice anymore. What do you think you do to someone who has a mark of healing, to force them to use it?" She lifted her head to meet his eyes again.
Reuken's eyes darkened at that, recalling old wounds of his own. His words were a whisper, an echo of her own. “What do you think you do to someone who has the talent of combat, to force them to embrace it?”
Her brow furrowed, eyes mirroring his look of sympathy from before. A tear wound down her cheek, finally slipping free as she closed her eyes briefly and nodded once in understanding.“I endured it from him and his daughter for months,” she continued, “until I knew they weren't coming back for me and I figured if it escalated any more, I wasn't going to survive. I ran. He caught me as I was leaving, and I had to wound him to get away.” She bit her lip again, her voice rough. “Been since then since I saw him. Figured it was over and done. Now he shows up at the Conch and sees me dance, gives me those cold eyes.” She shuddered at the thought of that cold, naked rage and hatred, those eyes that had haunted every nightmare, and wrapped her arms over her stomach, hugging herself.
Reuken looked away, shifting with awkward self-consciousness, and took a breath, as if steeling himself for some purpose. Kerta nearly jumped as he laid his hands on her shoulders, grasping them with a firm, yet gentle grip. Something in the touch, in his reaching out to comfort her, breached the dam holding back her tears and they fell in earnest. Slowly, as the tears came, the tension in her shoulders began to ease.
He took another breath and looked at her, hands still gripping her shoulders. “And you wish to leave.” His voice was flat, hollow, all trace of hostility gone.
She shook her head, her voice a whisper. “No. I don't. Not now. Before? I would have just jumped on the ship to the desert and been gone... After these past months? No. But what can I do?”
"Remain,” he replied simply. “As long as you fear him and flee from him, he will know your fear and pursue you as a predator pursues prey. To defy that fear will be to spit in his face.”
“But I can't.” She let out a long shuddering breath. “If I do, he'll reveal me to the House. He'll paint it as if I tried to kill him and fled. I know he will. He saw me and all that old seething anger was back in those eyes.”
“Call his maneuver with one of your own,” he replied. “Speak out the truth if he does so. Show your scars.” His grip tightened a little. “I highly doubt the House will approve of such actions being put out in the open. It is likely they practice such methods in secret,” his face darkened at that, “but the scandal of the methods exposed will force them into action-- perhaps action that he may not intend.”
She blinked a little and looked at him wide-eyed; the idea of actually facing down the House was a terrifying one. But, the more she thought about it, the smarter it seemed. Her expression turned thoughtful. “That...that's really a good idea.”
“And should the worst come to pass...” he exhaled, shifting slightly. “I will support you until the bitter end. It is the least I am able to do.”
Kerta unfolded her arms from around herself and lightly placed a hand atop his on her shoulder, giving him a small, genuine smile. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Reuken nodded, returning her smile with one of his own, a smile that seemed to remove years from his face. “You have aided me in my darkest times,” he replied, any attempt at neutrality destroyed by a catch in his voice. “I am merely returning the favour.”
She nodded once, her smile brightening a little at being met by such a genuine one from him. “And it is appreciated. Makes it much less intimidating to face.”
Kerta gave his hand a squeeze and leaned back a little, gently, maybe a little reluctantly, disentangling herself before pushing herself to her feet. He withdrew his hands as she rose, looking up at her for a moment before doing the same.
With a deep breath, she shouldered her pack. “Let's head back then, before I can talk myself out of it.” She paused and looked up at him a second before starting toward the entrance. “Thank you for coming to find me.”
He lifted a shoulder in a small shrug, some of that old reservation returning. “I was merely practicing my tracking skills,” he replied, deadpan.
She grinned over her shoulder at him and gave a soft little laugh, having heard that excuse for coming to find her before. With another little breath to steel her nerves, she ducked the roots in the short tunnel and headed out.
Kerta groaned and stirred from her sleep, mind frantically trying to grasp at the remainder of a shattered dream. Warm sun on soft sand, the susurration of waves, a glint of amber – the rest faded to mist as she tried to set it in her mind. Hard as she tried, she could remember nothing more; it was like trying to grasp fog in your hands.
This was the first good night's sleep she'd gotten in over a week, nightmares had been plaguing her so. Tonight, before she went to bed, she had spent hours trying to exhaust her body and clear her mind so she could sleep. She'd drilled the techniques Reuken had taught her at their last session, as well as practicing familiar ones. After that, she worked on a new routine for the Conch and tweaked her old one. The physical exertion became a moving mediation for her, and she'd gone to bed too tired to move or think, her mind calm. Finally her dreams had been pleasant ones, at least as far as she could remember.
Glowering, she propped herself up on her elbows and listened for what had been so rude as to wake her. Sharp ears picked up a low, bubbling growl that sounded as if it were coming from her porch. A voice she couldn't quite make out spoke in a nervous, placating tone. In response, the growl rose to a snarl and a deep, resonating bark.
With a curse, Kerta sprang from her bed and threw on the tunic and trousers that lay crumpled beside it. Grabbing a dagger from the nightstand, she dashed to the ladder that led to the roof and ascended, pushing the trap door open quietly. A soft breeze, pleasant and scented with the warmth of dawn, ruffled her hair as she climbed out onto the roof and padded over to the edge nearest the porch. Her outline became hazy and indistinct as she drew the remnants of the night's shadows around her. If Flea was that upset, she figured she'd be better off seeing whatever had ticked the dog off, before it saw her.
It was all she could do to stay silent when she saw who was below. A fat, balding halfling, with wispy white hair, was backed up against her door, both hands raised up in a defensive gesture to ward off the enormous grey dog that crouched before him, still growling.
Kerta lifted her head from where she'd poked it over the edge and swallowed hard, rocking back on her heels. Fear and anger warred in her belly, ice and fire. On the one hand, she was faced with the man who had made her life a hell, who knew everything she had tried to hide, and could ruin her with a few words in the right places. She'd run from him over a decade ago, and half of her screamed at her to do it again. On the other hand, life had actually been going her way for once. She was becoming something, not just a worthless street-rat or a prostitute. She was beginning to have friends (though she still didn't fully trust the idea), and something of a family. Now, here was her nightmare, right on her front porch, interrupting her good dreams and threatening everything.
She clenched her fists as she made her choice; anger was better, more productive than fear. She'd let fear control her life for too long and it was time she took control. Quietly, she stood and stalked back to the hatch, anger burning the ice from the pit of her stomach and spreading into her limbs.
As she slid down the ladder she contemplated her approach. If she confronted him angry and confident, he would feel threatened and move to find a way to gain back control of the situation, to make her fear him again. If she approached him cowed and trembling, he'd know it was all an act. Even at eight she'd had more backbone than that. Better to read the situation and find a middle ground. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes as she strode toward the front door, composing herself.
She opened the door and let her eyes widen in surprise as her uncle glanced over his shoulder at her. Part of her, a bigger one than she'd like to admit, found a great amount of satisfaction at the man's fear of the dog, though she didn't let on. Instead, she let the look of shock harden into what looked like false bravado, and crossed her arms, scowling at him.
“What're you doin' here, Melinar?” She growled, deliberately leaving off the 'uncle'.
A brief look of irritation crossed his pudgy face before he looked back at Flea, whose growl had sharpened, as if to say 'Don't even think about it, buddy'.
“I can't just be here to visit my long-lost niece?” He replied. “Would you ask your monster to go away? I am unarmed.” He shifted his hips and turned in a circle with his waistcoat open, to make his point.
“Mmm. I don' think so. Last time I saw ya, you threatened to put me in the cellar with some small, hungry, little monsters of yer own. I feel a lot better havin' Flea there, in case ya get any ideas.” She leaned her shoulder against the door frame, effectively blocking him between her and the dog. “Sit Flea. If he does anythin' funny though, don't wait for me to tell ya what to do.”
The dog sat down with a disappointed grumble and continued staring down Melinar.
“Now what was it ya really wanted?” She asked.
The older halfling turned, his shoulders tensed as if an archer stood behind him with their bow at the ready, and faced Kerta. “Still a barbarian, I see.” He sniffed. “Fine. I did not come to this stinking jungle to find you, but as fate has set our paths to cross... I feel I should make the best use of it, and have come to make you an offer. An ultimatum as it were.” His tone was light, but thick with an undertone of threat, that old icy rage flickering in his eyes. He did not like being on the receiving end of a threat, and blocking him between her and the dog had done precisely that.
“Yeah? What would that be?” She replied, not having to work very hard to put an edge of uncertainty in her voice. A little worm of cold squirmed in her belly at being face to face with those eyes again.
“You are going to present yourself to the House here in Stormreach to request training and a place in the House. In exchange, I will drop the charges that I have every right to bring against you for attempting to steal from me and kill me while you were a guest in my home. Not to mention running and hiding your dragonmark from the House for so long. When you have done that, you will come to Gatherhold to officially take your place in the House. You may take my post, traveling between the city and the tribes, as I would like to move up to a nice cushy post in Karrnath.”
Kerta quirked an eyebrow and shrugged her left shoulder, drawing his attention to the bare arm crossed in front of her. Where the mark once was, there was now a deep, old scar. She'd cut it out herself, not long after her flight from her uncle's, in the hopes she could be rid of it forever. Unfortunately that was not the case, but he didn't have to know that.
“Am I, now?”
Melinar narrowed his eyes and reached out a hand to grab her arm. A deep growl from behind stayed his hand halfway there. Kerta lifted her arm and twisted it one way, then the other, allowing herself a tiny smirk at his discomfort.
“See. Nothing there.” She said.
He studied her arm and looked thoughtful a moment, his eyes still narrowed. A little muscle in his jaw twitched as he put two and two together. A glance down at her beribboned left foot confirmed his suspicions. “It is unwise try to pull one over on me, when I am attempting to be fair.” He growled. “It is not uncommon for a mark to return, even if the limb it was on is severed. When I saw you at the Pink Conch, you had one leg bound with ribbons, and it is bound even still. I would guess it is now there, no? And that your lovely landlady also is unaware of what she harbors?”
Kerta scowled at him and said nothing.
“As I thought. Now, will you be a good little girl and do this or...”
“Or what?” She snapped, allowing her voice to waver slightly.
A small smile quirked one corner of Melinar's mouth and he shrugged. “Or I bring the charges to the House here and have you arrested and brought back to Gatherhold for your trial. Gods know you won't get a decent one in this city of pirates and scoundrels. If that's not enough, mmm, well, I know about Pauleen Fuzzfoot. That could make things awful difficult for her.”
Anger flared anew at the mention of Pauleen, who had become a foster mother to Kerta, and she clenched her fists, her eyes darkening to thundercloud grey. Beyond her eyes, however, her expression was artfully controlled, painted into one of surprise and fear. She swallowed down her rage at the threat on one of the few people she believed actually cared about her, and spoke only after she was sure she had control of her voice.
Her tone came out beaten, sullen. “Leave her alone! I'll present myself if you leave her be. I just... Can I have a couple days ta get some things figured out? I mean if I'm gonna have to leave this an' all. Not like you don't have eyes on me or somethin' if you know where I live. Can't really run off if yer watchin' me.” She sighed heavily and scowled up at him.
Melinar studied her a moment, eyes narrowed, then nodded once. “You can have two days. If you do not show up then...” He shrugged, fixing her with an icy smile. “I cannot be held responsible for what the House does with the knowledge I give them.”
She nodded, expression unchanging. “Two days then. You can go now, 'fore I figure it'll be easier if Flea jus' eats you.”
On cue Flea let out a particularly dramatic growl, bearing his huge teeth. Despite himself, Melinar jumped and edged away from the dog.
“Two days.” He grumbled, as he made his way from the porch, sparing Kerta one last calculating glance before he descended the ladder.
The dog made his way over to Kerta as soon as the old halfling was over the edge, and with a quiet whine, set his huge head on her shoulder, his tail wagging reassuringly. Kerta scratched him behind the ears and backed into the house, leading Flea inside. She closed and bolted the door and leaned back against it wearily.
Two days. That would be enough to set her plan into motion, to turn her uncle's plan against him. Surely a House of healers would come down on her side when faced with the truth. Wouldn't they?
Melinar frowned thoughtfully as he made his way back to the inn. He recognized that look in his niece's eyes. He'd seen it before in her father's. It always meant trouble. She'd seemed frightened and uncertain under all that bluff and bravado, but that look was unmistakable. She was furious, and she knew just what she was doing. What was she up to?
He'd be damned if she got the better of him this time. He would act first, and he knew just what he would do.