The people of Serenity Home work hard and diligently as war approaches. Though winter has settled severe, frigid, and deep, somewhat harsher than usual, the lands around the town live a milder cold. In groups and individuals, the peoples of the town work day and night.
The people of Serenity Home must know her allies, though, and respect them..
The tall, slim figure walked with quiet, serene dignity and very much ignored the people staring and ogling at her, for she was a creature of long, slender arms and legs in elegant dress skirts that reached down to her high pumps and swept behind her. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, nor did she think they were beneath her. She merely chose not to partake, or blush, for she knew precisely what she was, and how striking a figure she posed. And she chose to be quiet, and quietly, dignified about it, rather than flaunt her beauty; a beauty that comprised of rather alluring soft-eyes with flowing, silky black hair, and long, not-too-overtly curving figure, rather appealing breasts, and long, smooth, beautiful horns..
Of all the possible ways she could have gone, she had opted for ‘demure’..
“Yes”, she had thought. “Demure and dignified feels ‘right’ for me.”
Among all her kind, even Perigren Ostlanna Temez had bowed to her cool, silent, and serene aura, for where Temez had been beautiful and ravishing in a quite exhilarating way, she had been.. well.. cool, silent, and serene!
Or demure and dignified, as she herself preferred to correctly and accurately define herself.
Hence, she walked through the overcrowded town, and ignored the stares, even though it was the first time she had come out of the town’s temple since their arrival.. One would have expected anyone else to have looked around and perhaps gone sight seeing after having been stuck in a temple for weeks on end, but no. She had come out of the temple and as if on a mission, she had started for a very specific place in the town with slow, measured steps, as her high pumps click-clacked to her steady pace..
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart opened the door of the sheriff’s office upon hearing the polite knock.
One would also think some underling or guard would have reached for the door. But the sheriff did not have any ‘underlings’ and would likely have scoffed at anyone who would ask him why he didn’t. As for the guards, they were either at their appointed posts, out patrolling, or at lunch —a timing picked with care, and precise deliberation on the alluring young woman’s part.
“Good day, Lady Constance.”, the sheriff said politely and stepped aside for the alluring young women to enter. “Please. Take a seat, if you will.”
“You know my name.”, the young woman, Constance, said, not taken aback, precisely, but pleasantly surprised.. and pleased.. as she came in and sat in the rather blocky chair right across the small table where the sheriff himself took his seat.
“The young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas had introduced you and your kin, upon your arrival.”, politely reminded Sheriff Standorin. “I remember all your names.”
“Ah. I see.”, Constance said, with the slightest disappointment, though the fact that said introduction had been very brief and that there had been over a hundred of her kind there at the time, did not escape the alluring young woman.
“How may I be of assistance? I hope your stay here will be as comfortable as possible, though I must admit, Serenity Home Temple was never build to guest such a crowd over an extended period of time. If there is anything I could do, however, please feel free to inform us. I shall pass them up to the mayor.”
“Thank you for your sincere concern, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall convey this to my brothers and sisters, though I suspect their first and greatest demand will be..”, she said with a barely discernable, resigned blush and finished. “.. candy.”
“Ma’am?”, Standorin asked, a bit baffled.
“We.. never lived a childhood, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. And now, my kin are like children when it comes to games and food. They refuse to eat their broccoli but want only candy. Something that was never given to us in Hell.”, replied Constance, looking very slightly embarrassed.
“I see.”, said the sheriff, with a professionally straight face, and not because he was trying to avoid a snort, but because he was being professional. Sheriff Standorin never laughed at people who came to his office. Period.
“But this is not the reason why I have come, as busy as you are, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I have been assigned to you by Perigren Ostlanna Temez, the leader of the Escape, as a liaison between your office and my kin, to better know our Mortal neighbors and to help assist them in any way possible. In the light of the coming war, I believe a certain acquaintance might be in order. Getting to know one another would surely help better coordinate strategies, both in theory and application, and certainly help to get to know and understand one another. Capabilities and capacities unknown, after all, are quite useless, if they are unknown to our Mortal neighbors, wouldn’t you agree?”, she said in her demure and serene voice.
Sheriff Standorin frowned just a bit.
“Such coordination would indeed be beneficial.”, he agreed carefully.
“Very well. I shall arrive here at dawns, henceforth, and leave one hour before midnights to join my brothers and sisters for our daily prayers.”
The sheriff’s frown deepened.
“I would gladly guest you here. However, we do not really have the appropriate facilities to entertain a lady such as yourself.”, he said.
“I shall not be here for entertainment, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall be here to liaison and to observe. And should my advice be inquired, to offer, in the best of my capacity.”, replied Constance.
Standorin sought, very hard, to find a polite way to reject, or at the very least, to dissuade the alluring young women, but he just couldn’t come up with anything plausible.
“Do not despair, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall not distract your men. We, all of us, have taken a blood oath upon our lives; to fight and to bleed, and should it be necessary, to die to attain our Ascension. Tried though I have, I just can’t seem to find another practical way to know our Mortal neighbors. If it will make you feel slightly at ease, if at all, what I see, hear, and learn shall go only to Perigren Ostlanna Temez. It is she, who will decide what to relay to the rest of my kin, as to what is important and relevant, and what they must know about you and yours and what they are protecting, Also, methinks, for the people of this town to attain a certain familiarity to seeing our kind to defuse any future misunderstandings, particularly under the stress of war, when it arrives. We shall keep our numbers a secret, however, for obvious reasons. Only Serenity Home Temple Guardians, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel, your mayor, Arthandos Yuleman, and you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, shall know this.”, she explained calmly.
Standorin fumed a bit.
“Oh. I was also told to give you this.”, she said and produced a rather heavy pouch and placed it on the sheriff’s desk.
The pouch clinked.
The sheriff looked down at the pouch but did not touch it.
“What is this?”, he asked.
“A debt paid in full.”, Constance replied.
Standorin cocked an eyebrow.
“Some months ago, you chastised one of my kin, a Merisoul Xyrotwu, in this town. I was told the incident happened during a celebration but she was unable to settle her debt. She asked me if I would be kind enough to cover for her, thus I have..”, she said with a very small, demure smile.
Unbeknownst to the sheriff, and as small and brief as it had been, this was, in fact, the first smile Constance had displayed in a very, very long time.
“I.. see..”, the sheriff said, then pulled a thick notepad out of his shirt, flipped through its pages, found the one he was looking for, then wrote; PAID IN FULL.
He then pulled open the drawer of his desk and took out an old, brass stamp, and punched it twice on the page, ripped the bottom half, and placed it next to the heavy pouch.
“The receipt.”, he said shortly.
Constance stared at the torn piece of paper, then looked up at the sheriff a bit confused.
“What shall I do with it?”, she asked.
“Keep it.”, he said, still silently fuming.
“Yes. But what shall do with it?”, the alluring young woman repeated.
“It is the thing that proves Miss Merisoul’s debt has been paid in full, should anyone demand to know.”, the sheriff explained.
Constance stared at the big man, very much confounded, now.
“Word is not enough, among Mortals?”
“Sometimes it is. But words are not always definitive nor may they always be binding among mortals. And words unknown to others can not bind, particularly where laws are concerned. Laws, Lady Constance, deal with what is substantial. A receipt, such as this one, can be shown to any law enforcement officer who is unaware of your word, and be accepted.”, Standorin replied, a tad curtly.
“I see.”, Constance said. “Perhaps your laws are a good place for me, as a liaison, to start. Is there more of such laws and if so, where may I learn them?”
To give the sheriff credit, he did not sigh nor fume anymore. Slowly, he moved his chair back, got up and walked over to one of the many shelves, and pulled out a heavy, worn, and battered book that also had some long-dried and faded bloodstains on its spine. Apparently, one town sheriff in the past had made good, alternate use of the thick, heavy book by means of applying the law in a very literal sense.
Again, he did not give the book, but placed it on the table, next to the pouch, and the receipt.
“This book contains the King’s Laws pertaining only to my office; the Criminal Law. You may find similar books that deal with commerce and judicial matters in both the temple library or the town’s public library. For laws that are specific to Serenity Home, you may find in the mayor’s office.”, he explained.
Constance’s brows frowned very slightly.
“Very well.”, she said. “I shall study this book, and further study the other books that deal with your laws. After all, I may not liaison what I do not know.”
Gracefully, she rose from her chair and bent, very slightly, and without any implications or flaunting, reached down and took the small receipt and the heavy book, and started towards the door.
Standorin followed her and opened the door for her.
Constance paused at the door, just for a moment, and very slightly turned to the large man.
Standorin also paused.
“I can sense your distraught feelings, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Have I perhaps done you wrong that I am not aware of?”
The sheriff stared at the very alluring young woman for a long moment as if trying to read her, or perhaps comprehend her. To give him further credit, never had he stared at the beautiful woman’s long, even horns, nor had he.. checked her out. With professional diligence, he had looked at her face, and only at her face..
“I apologize if I have given you any offense, Lady Constance Alure Smithen. It was never my intention. I am the sheriff of this town and for quite many years. Unlike the temple, this office rarely deals with the good in men. I might go as far as saying, I have seen every kind of foolish things mankind has had to offer, and rarely do people willingly come here, to my office, without some sort of private agendas. I feel a certain compulsion to remind you, and yours, that in this office, I don’t play games..”, he said, though not harshly.
Constance calmly looked at the sheriff.
“..and I do not like being ambushed.”, he finished.
Whatever crossed the alluring young woman’s head, she never showed it.
With her usual calm, cool, and dignified serenity, she gave the sheriff a very brief nod.
“I see you are a man of integrity, burned and scarred. I apologize if I have given you the impression of deception or possible subterfuge. Much like your kind have common traits, so do we. But much like your kind are also individually unique, so are we. As for me, I am precisely how I seem and have little use for deceptions, less so for lies. A mind cluttered with lies is a distracted mind.”
She paused for a brief moment, perhaps unsure whether to say more or not. She must have decided to go for the former because a decisive frown appeared on her beautiful face.
“About the ambush, it was done with deliberation on my part, but not with ill intent. I had to see if you truly were as intelligent as I surmised you were. Some of my kind told me to just reveal my.. certain aspects.. as men are often fooled and enthralled by them. I argued against it because I thought it to be too demeaning on your part.. and mine. I am the elected liaison, yes. But I would rather there be some mutual respect, than be seen as a mere, succubi half-born, for that is precisely why we were made, and also the precise reason why we escaped and what we left behind. I shall take my leave, now, and study the laws of Mortal crimes and the measures taken to prevent them and come morning, I shall be here to liaison.”
With that, she left, click-clacking calmly and demurely through the crowd of staring and ogling townsmen.
✱ ✱ ✱
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart stared after the tall, beautifully alluring woman as she swayed, gracefully, through the crowd like she had an invisible bubble around her. Where she went, people parted!
He shut the door with deliberate calmness.. then blew from his nose.
“Interesting.”, said a growling voice, and Aager Fogstep came down the stairs leading up to the roof of the sheriff’s office.
Standorin didn’t say anything for a full minute. Then he fumed again and growled in his own deep, rumbling voice.
“You would think so..”
Aager snorted. A something he would never have done before.. Inshala!
“She wants something.”, he said.
“Yes. I have been at this job long enough to recognize that.”, Standorin said.
“So she’s the new liaison, then?”, Aager stated, more than asked.
“A liaison is a good thing. Inshala performs a similar role among the druids of both Ritual Forest and among what remains of High Woods. They argued who would lead until they heard we’d arrived. Or rather, until they heard she’d arrived. They flocked around her, causing her to shy and causing me to very nearly killing them.. The idiots!”, Aager continued. “I suppose she will also be a liaison between us and the ogres, should they accept our offer to join us..”
“..As opposed to taking this opportunity for some long awaited payback!”, the sheriff finished.
“Well. We certainly didn’t treat them with courtesy. Not that they always behaved themselves. Though I must admit, the way my Inshala speaks about their chieftain, or Mother Ganiste, as she calls her, I would think she is exceptionally intelligent and..”, Aager said.
Then saw the young man in his black leathers was actually serious.
“Her words, sir. Not mine. Though I have yet to see her be mistaken when she looks into the souls of people.”, without any implications.
“Interesting.”, Standorin mused, giving the young man a side-long glance. “I wonder what she saw in you?”
“Never asked.”, Aager said simply.
The sheriff turned and stared at him, both eyebrows cocked!
“I was afraid, I might not like what she had to say about me.”, admitted Aager.
“No.”, said Standorin said sternly. “I think you were afraid you might like, what she would say about you.”
“Or that.”, Aager shrugged again. “I shall be at her side and keep her safe.. and happy.. for as long as she’ll have me. I am content with that.”
“You seem more than content, Master Aager. And from the way she appears now, as opposed to what she was, some months ago, I’d say she is more than content as well.”, Standorin said with light amusement. Then he paused for a short moment, then asked. “Perhaps she is expecting?”
“Great Heavens, man, a child!”, the sheriff said with an exasperated tone.
Aager did not reply for a long while.
When he did, his voice was muted.
“We.. haven’t gone there yet..”
Standorin just stared at him.
“We just.. cuddle.. I mean, she curls into this little ball when she sleeps and asks me to hug her, so I do. She wakes up with the best and happiest face I have ever seen, so I keep on doing that and likely keep on doing that because that happy face is worth the world to me. It’s a face to live, to fight, and to die for..”, Aager explained quietly.
“My man. You have missed your calling. You should have been a poet!”, Standorin said seriously.
“But.. why have you not explained.. things to her? She deserves to know the truth, man.”, the sheriff said with a somewhat fuming tone.
“What she deserves, is more than me, sir. Willy-nilly, she chose me. At the moment, she wakes up very happy. At the moment, that happy face fills me with joy I have seen in no other, and certainly never in my life. I feel drunk every morning! When she figures she wants more, I shall submit to her wishes, as I have before.”, the young man in dark leathers replied gruffly.
“You are killing me, young man!”, he said, totally exasperated now.
“Well. I would say that’s a good way to go, wouldn’t you agree?”, Aager grinned at him.
The sheriff sighed again, then returned back to the matter at hand.
“We have got to find a way to keep her out of our hair.”, he said with a scowl.
“Why? If you don’t mind me asking.”, Aager said looking at the sheriff.
“Master Aager.”, the sheriff said suddenly fuming again. “Perhaps you have lost all your senses, on account of your merry disposition..”
“..But did you see her? Honestly see her?”
“Yes. I did, sir. More so than you, I believe, from my inevitable vantage point!”, Aager replied with a straight face.
“Just exactly what do you think will happen when she comes in here? We don’t really have a shortage of young bachelors, you know, and seeing as how busy as we are, we don’t need distractions, either!”, the sheriff blazed.
“I doubt Constance has that sort of entertainment in mind, sir.”, Aager mused quietly. “She seemed much like an alpha lioness who would ignore the unproven cubs. Not when there’s an alpha lion in the den!”
Standorin gave him a very sour look.
“That would be Lady Constance, if you will, please, and I don’t need that sort of distraction either, young man!”, he said, gritting his teeth. “Not now. Not ever.”
“No sir. I am afraid it’s just Constance. ‘Lady’ means absolutely nothing for her or her kind. Not until you sit down and carefully explain it to them. As a matter of fact, they might even take it as an insult for denying them of who they are or refusing them their right to exist as they are by quantifying them into something acceptable in your mind, rather than theirs, no matter how polite you thing you are.. Also, ‘never’ and ‘ever’ are a long time in Mortal time, sheriff, but mean very little to them. This I learned the hard way, and it almost broke me. I wouldn’t advise you the same kind of landing, sir. It hurts!”, replied Aager, and a bare tint of something wintery appeared in his voice.
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart stared at Aager for the young man had just confirmed something he had suspected for some time.. Ever since he had returned from the Ruins of Themalsar. More distinct with the appearance of the little girl, Inshala. But there was something else going on here.
True, the young lady had a way with people, and apparently, more so with Master Aager, here, as she had not quite attached herself to him, so much as given herself, truly, unequivocally, and selflessly to the young man, and in her unique, incomprehensible way. And she had done so not by bewitching, nor enthralling, but.. blooming? Sheriff Standorin couldn’t quite understand. Suffice to say, the chance in the young man was.. more!
As to what that ‘more’ was, or what it entailed, he didn’t know. But there it was..
“What do you advise then? Let her just flaunt herself here?”, Standorin asked steadily.
“I do not think she’s got ‘flaunting’ in mind, sir. She wants something, flaunting just isn’t it. One thing she said in particular, caught my attention, though.”
“The thing she said about all her kind having common traits, but also being individually unique..”, Aager said thoughtfully.
Aager stared at the sheriff for a moment before speaking.
“She wasn’t just quoting a cliché when she said that, sir. You were the sole recipient of the part about being individually unique.. while telling us something about her kind. I strongly believe, in her own way, she was complimenting you, sir..”
Standorin breathed from his nose.
“Just what I needed.”, he growled. “Being the subject of some young girl with an infatuation! Just which part of my behavior did she think was ‘nice’?”
“You are missing the higher point here, sir.”, Aager said with a slightly amused tone.
“Do tell, Master Aager. Seeing as how much you are enjoying this!”, the sheriff scowled.
The scowl bounced right off the young man like dry peas off a wall.
“I believe she was indeed the perfect choice among her kind to serve as a liaison, yes. And is likely very patient, observant, and intelligent. But she came here at a time where she would most likely have found you alone. Coincidence? Perhaps? But no one comes here willingly, to begin with, and certainly not during lunch hours as they will be told to go and come back during hours.. politely.. You thought she ambushed you on a political matter. True, that certainly was an ambush, but it wasn’t her ambush. I suspect that was Perigren’s idea. Constance, on the other hand, could have come here at any other time, but she chose to do it when you’d be alone, because everyone else tends to go home or to the inn for lunch, leaving you to guard your own office! Had I and Inshala been a regular couple with regular hours, not even I would have been here.”
Standorin thought about what the young man had just said for a few minutes before nodding in acquiescence.
“I felt something similar.. long ago..”, he said quietly. “When I was a young and foolish boy.”
He looked at Aager and pointedly said, “I would rather what I tell you stayed with you.”
Aager didn’t dawdle.
He simply nodded.
“Had a spat with my father. He wanted me to become something I didn’t want, so I ran. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be an adventurer. So I became exactly that; a young and foolish boy with no destiny, only young and foolish daydreams. I did a lot of jobs during that time. Caravan guarding mostly, and even bounty hunting. A job not as fun and exciting as those hotheads in Palantine make it sound. Apprehended many felons and fugitives. Most came quietly. When ambushed or disarmed. Some didn’t though. The level of stupidity in men is truly astonishing —something I learned early in that job. In the end, I found out that I was fine with apprehending, not so much with being forced to kill an idiot.. Then, one day, some of my co-hunters warned me about some people who were looking for me, and that they didn’t seem to have good intentions. Suffice to say, I ran. Not really something I am proud of, really, but as I said, I was young and foolish back then. But my pursuers just wouldn’t give up! I don’t really know for how long I ran, really. I believe it was closer to four months. I must have been through every hill or forest from the north of Ritual Forest, all the way down to the south of Palantine City. I was so bloody scared because I was always just barely keeping a day or two ahead of them. It was like they enjoyed the chase more than to actually wanting to catch me. Finally, I decided to confront them and die on my own terms. So that final day, I carefully traveled one way, then doubled back and traveled in another, in the hopes of splitting their numbers. I remember, how proud I was of that plan. More so because the silly plan had actually worked! So I ambushed one. Again, not something I am proud of. We fought, and that day I learned the value of starting at a young age. After nearly two hours of swinging blades at one another, I finally downed him. Disarmed him, to be more precise. As much as I hated these people, I hated killing more. Yet, there he was, on the ground, weaponless, and just grinning at me. And let me tell you, he was one of the ugliest man I had ever seen and that grin of his.. was just evil! Then I heard a bow twang and an arrow very nearly caught me on the hip. And for your information, being shot in the arse is as degrading as it sounds. I was so disappointed because the ugly man had played me all along. He’d just taken his time until his partner had arrived and I’d fell for it. Then, to my greatest surprise, I heard a woman’s voice. ‘Had your fun, did you Moorat? Grow up, already!’ —her exact words. Turns out, they were the Senior Rangers of Serenity Home and had come looking for me to inform me that my father had passed away some six or eight months ago and that he had paid the rangers to find me in the hopes that I might come back home.. Ironic, isn’t it? Yes. One of those rangers was Moorat himself, Bremorel Songsteel’s ranger master and the other was no other than his elder sister, Limnia Karya.. my Limnia Karya; Udoorin’s mother and the most beautiful, cool-headed, luminous woman I had ever met..”
Standorin didn’t say anything else for a long time, again.
Then he sighed.
“The feeling I spoke of. The one I said I felt only once before.. It was something I felt during those four months.. the dire sense of being hunted!”
✱ ✱ ✱
How did the esteemed sheriff take the news?”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez asked when Constance Alure Smithen walked in, with her cool, serene pace..
..into one of the dormitory rooms in the Serenity Home Temple.
“I told you he was a capable man. Smart and scarred. Knew it the moment I saw him, dear Temez. He saw right through your ambush and did not appreciate it. But he agreed to it, I believe, though he will want to resist it for some time. Deep down, he knows this liaison job is a good offer, if not a good idea, particularly in the long run. It was the ambush part that he found quite distasteful. We should have asked the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood to have proposed the idea.”, Constance said calmly.
“No, dear Constance. that young man has done more than enough for us by providing a secure sanction, as it is and has many, many Mortals to look after, not to mention, he has to care, show affection, and spare time for his own woman. We must pick up and carry our own weight now, hence the ambush was inevitable. We couldn’t have opened it to a debate. He is a sturdy, reliable man who also sees us as a security risk, however, and possibility a potential threat. We do not need him to like us. But we do need him to respect us. If he does, so will the town and the elves, because they respect him and do not question his honor. When the war starts, that is when we must not be a distraction to the Mortals. Nor should they mistake us for foe and fire upon us. That would end quite horribly.. for them, and for us. And we need to find homes. And real jobs. We gave an oath and that oath is binding.”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez said quietly.
“You already have a home, dear girl. Why don’t you take your leave and go to your boy?”, asked Constance kindly.
Temez didn’t reply immediately.
When she did, her beautiful face was flushed with self-loathing and shame.
“I.. must earn my place in this Mortal world. And I must make sure my brothers and sisters are safe. That is what my oath entailed. That is the promise I gave to my sister and my BFF, Arezme Ara Serraphyn, and I will keep to my promise.”, she said, her words seething. “The Mortals must acknowledge us and include us in their fight. We must be part of their survival. That is how we will earn our place among them.”
“I do not question your reasons, dear. This path we walk will end with the loss of many of our kin.”, Constance reminded her.
“We are already dead, Constance. All of us are. That was decided before we were conceived. Now, some of us have the chance to die of old age and pass our heritage, without the shame, to our children, should we have them..”, Temez replied, still burning. “I.. wish to return to my boy so much, it is killing me alive, Constance. What I did to him.. was evil.. I must cleanse myself of this sin.. I must..”
“Yes, dear. All of us must. Why don’t you go down to the crypts and pray for Darling Demos, a bit? Praying always seems to help and it is nice and quiet there. Of all the half-borns, you can not break, dear. Not now, not ever.”, Constance said, as she bent down and embraced her sister-kin and whispered. “They all are playing like children now, and like children, they only want candy. Should you break, all that is gone, and we are left as broken demon-borns, again.”
The door to their dormitory opened and an extraordinarily handsome young man, a half-born, with pale hair and impressive, curving horns stepped in and spoke with a cool, rusty voice.
“Hey, Temez. Constance. How did it go at the esteemed sheriff’s office? Did we time it right for you?”, he asked with a brilliant grin.
Constance gave him one of her rare smiles —a very small one.
“You did excellent work Hal Mali Volent. Your ability to guestimate time was excelling, as always. No one was there.”, replied Constance.
“No. She was observed by another.”, said a small, somewhat vague voice from behind Hal Mali Volent, and a boy that seemed no more than six or eight, dragging what appeared to be a stuffed imp, walked into the dormitory.
“Dar Derune, sweetheart? What are you doing here?”, asked Temez leaving the embrace of Constance to kneel down before the boy, and gave her own hug to him. “Where’s Berete Hamna Vir?”
“Here..”, sighed a depressed voice followed by a girl with sharp features; sharp red lips, high cheekbones, a bold nose, a sharp, pointy chin, sharp amber-like eyes, and even sharper horns and a slim, curling tail. “..I told him to wait while I prepared some food Mortals call sam-wishes! Derune, love, you mustn’t wander off like that. We agreed on this.”
“Yes. We agreed and I apologize, Hamna Vir. But they had to know. The Winter Knight was there, up on the roof. He saw our serene Constance, and came down the roof and warned the esteemed sheriff. Then they talked about you, Constance. They still are and the Winter Knight is telling the esteemed sheriff about your private ambush, as we speak.”, the boy said with a similar vague tone.
A hush settled in the room as several whispers passed back and forth.
“The Winter Knight.”
“The Winter Queen’s hatchet man!”
“Will he interfere?”, asked Constance with consternation.
“Unknown.”, the boy replied quietly, as though he had been caught in the act by his tutor, and was admitting his to misdemeanors.. “But doubtful. We have done nothing to rile Her and both of our goals coincide at the moment. She might send Her knight against some of our kind, or She might not. The Queen of Air and Darkness does not like some of us for our unique skills.”
“Are you among those, she does not like?”, hissed the sharp girl, Hamna Vir.
“Yes.”, the boy replied vaguely.
Hanma Vir’s sharp features turned shaper and her hiss became vicious.
“If the Queen of Air and Darkness sends Her hatchet man on my Derune, I will summons demons, right here, right now, and right in the middle of this town. They will rampage wild and vile and slaughter the lot of them!”
“Vir. Please.”, said the handsome young man, Hal Mali. “We gave our oaths to the Senior Temple Guardian, Thomas Dimwoon. We may not break that oath.”
“We have the right to defend ourselves and our loved ones. Our oath does not take that right away from us!”, hissed Haman Vir, again.
“Chill, girl!”, they heard a voice, and yet another half-born quietly walked in, this one, a particularly bewitching girl with glowing red hair, mesmerizing eyes, pretty little horns and distinctly curving figure wearing expressly fashionable.. almost see-throughs and a credit to her name; Cee Lingerith Demelze!
“Ow, Constance is back! Nice..”, said the girl brightly. “Did you get you, your esteemed sheriff, yet? That was quick. Way to go, girl!
“No, Demelze.”, she said with a resigned voice. “I just got the job and will start tomorrow.”
“Did you show him your breasts? You have lovely breasts!”, Demelze said with a mischievous grin.
“Things don’t work like that here in the Mortal world.”, Constance tried to explain.
“I think it does. There are a lot of children in this temple that Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood looks after. I have been staring out the windows of the temple and I see many more children there. Tells me these Mortals do appreciate pretty breasts.. among other things..”, Demelze objected, smirking all the while.
Constance sighed again.
“Trying to explain things to you is like trying to teach an imp to jump hoops; pointless, and equally hazardous.”
“That’s vile, Constance. Take that back, right now!”
“You are a bit hyped today, Demelze.”, Temez said. “Would you like to come with me down to the crypts? It’s nice and serene down there. Should help cool your bosom. It does mine. We need to think about how we want to find the lost Orken army that the esteemed sheriff asked us to find. I believe I have an idea, but I will need your abilities.”
“Oww.. do I finally get to burn something?”, Demelze said happily.
“Not quite. Hal Mali, dear. I will need your expertise also.”, the leader of the Escape asked the handsome young half-born.
“Of course, Temez. Anything to help.”, replied Hal Mali.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez turned to the sharp girl, Hamna Vir, and the little boy. “You mustn’t look and listen to private conversations, dear. As much as I appreciate the help and the information, we do not want to raise the ire of the Queens. If the Winter Knight is here, there must be a Summer Knight too, now. Or will be soon. Alright, love?”
“Alright, Temez. But only because you asked nicely.”, replied the boy softly.
“I always ask you nicely, Derune.”, smiled Temez.
“You ask everyone nicely, Temez. But when you ask me nicely, that nice becomes my nice. I like to think my nice is a special nice.”, said the boy, Derune, and a shy smile appeared on his vague face.
“Your nice is always special, darling.”, Temez replied with blurry eyes.
Everyone stared down at the broken boy.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez, Constance Alure Smithen, and Cee Lingerith Demelze with tear-stricken faces.
Hal Mali Volent’s lips were tightly pressed together.
Berete Hamna Vir’s sharp features melted, and a lost expression appeared on her face. She stared at the boy with the kind of love only an elder sister could show to her little baby brother, though they shared no blood. But deep inside her eyes, demons, live and hungry, appeared.
Too bad the Erinyes, Auntie Irine, their defacto maker, was dead because, at that very moment, there was enough emotional rage to have killed her trice over for the things she had done to the little half-born boy, Dar Derune..
✱ ✱ ✱
INCOMING!”, one of the younger guards yelled gleefully as they all lined up in the small courtyard behind the sheriff’s office..
“..and she is one, buxom, chick!—”
“—Do show us exactly how educated and civilized you are, by referring to a young lady as you have, Guard Anderson..”, rumbled Sheriff Standorin as he too, stepped into the courtyard. “I am sure it will make us all look high and smart in front of one of our deadliest allies!”
The young guard, Anderson, shut up.. abruptly.
“Gentleman.. and ladies.. Today we are going to be meeting with one of the half-borns, assigned here as a liaison between our department and their people. Must I remind you that as ‘buxom’ as she may appear, kindly put by young Anderson, here, she is not here for entertainment, and seeing her as such will end in one of three ways; you making a further fool of yourself, running laps around the town until dusk, and/or your demise. Do I make myself clear? And do wipe that grin off your face, Mr. Harian. Must I also remind you all that there’s a war coming our way and that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ anymore? Elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, half-borns, townsmen, or refugees.. are all of ‘us’, and the only ‘them’ is the true enemy coming our way. Our job is to sustain, coordinate and show said people exactly that.”
“Admirably put.”, said a cool, calm, and serene female voice, and Constance Alure Smithen entered the small courtyard with her tall, barely swaying walk. She was wearing another long dress skirt today, though it was closed at the throat, less revealing at the bosom, and did not sweep behind her. It did have a long cut on either side of her skirts, though her long legs were hidden under layers of filmy, semi-transparent fabric. And she held a near twenty-feet long polearm ending in two, fork-like blades, one slightly longer than the other; a pike!
Sheriff Standorin mused at the beautiful young woman and her pike, then at his guards.
“Lady Constance Alure Smithen.”, he said in a declarative and somewhat stiff tone. “Our liaison between her people and the Sheriff’s Office. She is here to observe and if need be, advise us in varying matters to the best of her capacity.”
“Thank you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, for your warm welcome.”, Constance said in her demure voice and nodded at the secretary fuming sheriff then at the town’s guardsmen and women, sending a slight ripple down her long, black, silky hair.
“Perhaps the liaison can demonstrate her skills in her pike!”, came a voice from the guards; the young Mr. Anderson!
To give Sheriff Standorin credit, he did not scowl, nor did his eyes blaze at the misbehavior of his guardsman.
“By all means, let’s.”, he said cooly. “Make room for Mr. Anderson, here, and our liaison, Lady Constance.”
Guard Anderson stepped out of the line as the rest of the guardsmen and women spread in a wide circle.
Constance stared at the scene with a very slight frown and a confused expression on her face.
“Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart?”, she inquired politely.
“A challenge has been offered, Lady Constance. You against Mr. Anderson, here.”, he said in his very neutral voice.
“A fight? Is this perhaps part of being a liaison? If so, I was not made aware of it.”, she said, and her frown deepened just a fraction more and the cool, calm look she gave the sheriff was of.. disappointment, perhaps?
“It is not. But I suspect they want to see what you are capable of. Had you come here unarmed, such a challenge would not have been offered. But willy-nilly you did come here and with a deadly weapon. Town guards do not openly carry such weapons, Lady Constance. The ones we do carry are to help us subdue and apprehend felons. The only reason we all are carrying swords at the moment is due to the upcoming war.”, Standorin explained, again in his neutral voice.
“I.. see..”, Constance said cooly. “An appt explanation saying I brought this upon myself.”
The sheriff did not reply and the half-born did not wait for one. With the same cool, serene demeanor, she stepped into the circle and took her place before the young guard, Anderson.
“I have studied your customs carefully, ere I came.”, she said in her calm voice as she carefully sized down the young man holding a thick club in his hand. “Shouldn’t there be some betting afore we begin?”
An awkward silence settled in the courtyard.
“Can we?”, asked one of the sturdy women.
Standorin’s face went red.
“By all means do. Miss Daniella!”, Constance replied. “But a pike versus a stick, methinks, would make a poor bid.”
And with an incredible swing of her pike, she lopped the thick club Guard Anderson was holding, right off the middle!
A general gasp rippled through the guardsmen and women.
And bets started passing hands!
“As I said. A pike versus a stick is not a challenge. Do draw your sword, young bantam. I believe you wanted to see a ‘buxom chick’, ere I came. Well, this is your moment, though I find your metaphor quite inaccurate, faulty, and improper; I will not grow to become an egg-laying, flightless bird. Our kind does not lay eggs. We conceive and give birth very much like your females, though exponentially more painfully.
Guard Anderson turned to look at the sheriff as if to get his consent to draw his sword. But when he saw his stony face, he understood, he was on his own and he’d made one wisecrack too many. His face turned green as it dawned on him; he had offended a political office by offering physical violence.. and as a town’s guardsman, he was now drawing his sword at an unoffending, but highly offended, guest!
He gulped and stepped forward, his sword at the ready.
‘Die by your dignity.’, was all he had left for himself, possibly not at all in a metaphorical sense.
“Lady Constance.”, he said with a barely audible voice. “I whole-heartedly apologize for my misdemeanor. I am an Arashkan refugee and have a younger sister I must look after.”
And swung down his blade.
“Foolish enough to speak out of turn, wise enough to recognize his mistake and apologize.”, Constance replied..
..and caught the blade between the fork of her pike, twisted sharply and against grasping direction, and send the sword stabbing into the dirt, some twenty feet away! Seamlessly, and with feline agility, she spun her pike, quite unlike a martial artists quarterstaff, and with increadible speed, considering how long the polearm was, and jabbed the butt end into Guard Anderson’s midriff, drawing a loud ‘Ohmff!’ out of the young man, hooked him high using her dashing momentum, and with a wide, graceful arc, slammed him down, flat on his back, and with a terrifying aerial screech, landed on top of him, her long, shapely legs sticking out of the sides of the slits of her skirt, and held the young man down as if kneeling for a prayer!
She wasn’t rushed, she wasn’t breathing with exertion, nor had she even broken a sweat.
She just knelt there, carefully jabbing the young man’s chin and throat with her knee, and keeping a steady pressure.
The guards stared at the scene, quite dumbfounded and thunderstruck.
“I believe the show’s over.”, Sheriff Standorin rumbled. “Everyone to their posts. Miss Daniella, do slap Mr. Anderson awake and send him in the general direction of the town’s gate. I believe he has a long day’s run waiting for him to get his stupidity out of his system.”
The guards quickly dismissed themselves and the young, sturdy woman walked up to the tall, kneeling half-born woman and the unconscious Mr. Anderson.
“My Lady. If you will?”, she asked politely.
Constance slowly rose from the unconscious young man and cooly nodded at her.
Daniella smirked at her and whispered, “Lady, I don’t know what just happened, but it was awesome!”
Constance arched her brows with mild surprise.
“You think so? I tried very hard to subdue than to kill. Your Criminal Laws in regard to your office seemed to prefer it.”, she said, carefully studying the young man.
“I apologize on behalf of Mr. Anderson. I too am an Arashkan refugee, but my family and I were able to escape by ship before the docks were overrun. Anderson, here, wasn’t so fortunate. He ended up watching his parents and his elderly grandmother getting slaughtered by the Orken. All he could do was to grab his twelve-year-old sister and run, which is why he does stupid things without thinking; he feels shame and thinks he has something to prove..”
“I understand, Miss Daniella, for shame is something I feel and know quite intimately.”, Constance said thoughtfully. “Please tell Mr. Anderson when he wakes, that I shall hold no rancor against him and that perhaps he could bring his sister to the town’s temple. My kin and I are stationed there and play games, have a lot of fun, and we have candy.”
Daniella grinned wider.
“What girl could refuse such offer, Lady Constance; fun games and candy!”
Constance walked over to the sheriff, who was stiffly holding his ground, though he very well knew, he had just messed up, by proxy.
“I believe an apology is in order, Lady Constance.”, he said gruffly.
“You may save your apology, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, for I came here in peace but was offered violence. I carry a pike because it is a weapon I am trained in, and very much for the same reason your guards carry swords. Now, I believe my work as a liaison here is done for today, and already. I shall be in the temple, and down in the crypts praying for the soul of Darling Demos and shall further contemplate on the sins of foolish men.”, replied Constance cooly and breezed away.
Standorin just stood there.
Verbally slapped and stupefied.
For he hadn’t just messed up, he had dropped the ‘political ball’..
..and felt very much like his young and foolish days.
He seethed and fumed certainly, but not for a moment did he try to justify his own stupidity.
Standorin Shieldheart was like that.
Harsh but fair.
He ran up to the cool and dignified young woman and stood before her.
Constance also stopped and stared at the flustered sheriff. She did not arch her eyebrows, she did not size him, up or down, nor did she give him the silent cold stare.
Quietly, she waited for him to speak.
“I.. “, Standorin stammered. “..mishandled this whole situation because I was frustrated. I very much agree a liaison between the two people is an excellent idea. I.. just didn’t appreciate the way it was slapped into my face. My reasons for my frustration may have been acceptable had I handled this a bit more maturely.”
“The idea of a liaison was not mine, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I was chosen for this job for my abilities to calmly assess any given situation and help defuse unnecessary aggressions. I tried to imply this to you less than twenty hours ago. I also told you, quite clearly, that I do not do lies. Yet, you chose to punish me, specifically and individually, by putting me in a situation where I was forced to display aggression, and still, I have thus defused it to the best of my abilities, and without bloodshed; I could have countered that boy and cut him forty-eight different ways, yet I chose to merely disarm and subdue him, something I would have had the flesh flogged off my back, had my old mentor seen this! I am trained to recognize the emotional nuances of Mortals, but it is possible I am missing some local customs here, hence I am tempted to ask; do you treat all your women like this, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, or is your unreasonable and quite injudicious behavior limited to allies who were not forced out of their destroyed homes, but came to help you willingly at the cost of being hunted down and killed by their former masters?”
Standorin felt sick.
“I.. am..”, he began again, less with guilt about his political blunder, but more with shame because what the young woman had said was precisely what he had done. He had tried to take out his frustration on her. “Look. I am not a man of grace. You must have noticed that. But perhaps I can offer you an apology by some means you may find acceptable. Something that may be appropriate to your station and your, individually unique, person? Everything you said was true. Except the part about how I treated women or my allies.. I.. would very much appreciate it if I was given the chance to fix my blunder.”
Constance Alure Smithen stared at the sheriff for the duration of consideration. Then, a very small smile appeared on her pretty lips.
“Pick me up at eight!”, she said.
“Umm.. What?”, Standorin stammered.
“And do wear something that isn’t armor or work-related.”, she added with another smile and walked away, leaving a totally destroyed sheriff behind..
✱ ✱ ✱
I can’t believe you!”, exclaimed the ravishing half-born, Demelze. “You went there dressed up all pretty, and ended up beating some stupid bantam? Did you at least show him your—?”, she began, awfully frustrated.
“—No.”, finished Constance. “And I shall not. Not until the time is ripe, and not until he decides to be the only one to want them. That will be the ripe time!”
“What is wrong with you, girl?”, Demelze asked, with a freaked-out tone.
“Did you, Hal Mali, and Temez work out a solution for the lost Orken army?”
“Yes and no. Don’t change the subject Constance!”, Demelze said fiercely, causing the tall, serene woman to sigh again.
“Cee Lingerith Demelze. You must understand, we are no longer Hell’s sluts. We no longer live to attain that end, because that end was never ours. That was Auntie Irine’s wish and look what that bought her; to never be more than her own Master’s favored whore and to buy her own death at the hands of her own creation; Merisoul Xyrotwu, her Mortal friends, and getting mashed under a bug. Willy-nilly, we are free now, my dear Demelze.. We have a chance to be more than the price and the role that was placed upon our existence. And more is better than less because being just that always made us less. Perhaps you believe I do not enjoy what you very much do. But you could only be so wrong. What I am, however, is not my only trait and I shouldn’t be defined solely by being the scion of an incubus; always and only seeking flesh pleasures.. Thus we were looked upon in Hell, were we not? Remember how many times those vile demons pushed their wills and their bodies against ours, and without so much as a bother? I remember you enjoying the moment in wild abandon. I also remember your face once they were done with you. I know because it was the same face I had when they were done with me, my dear. I never want to be seen as such again. Not in this Mortal world, and not ever, do I want to see your beautiful face, marred and mutilated by absolute, abhorrent, and loathsome shame. Just like I never want my sisters and brothers to witness that face etched on me ever again. Hence, I do not want the Mortals to see me, or you, as a mere flesh toy; never to ask or wonder what you or I feel, or what you or I think, but to only want, want, want, and want only what our flesh and skin has to offer. Yes, that is pleasurable. But what I want, I want from only one person now and not from two, or five, or a hundred faceless men who will never ask nor remember my name but merely use and discard me, and the knowledge that the only thing they will remember about me was how soft and succulent I was, hurts! For once, we have a chance where we shall be asked whether we hurt, as opposed to, ‘did it hurt?’ No, baby girl, I now want that one person to be uniquely mine, and I want to be uniquely his. That is who I will show and give freely what I have and so should you, because as fiery as you are, you, my dear sister-kin, are also the most passionate amongst us and I envy you for it. Do you understand this?”
A long, painful silence ensued after that.
“Yes. I understand this.”, said Demelze mutely. “But.. my flesh burns with wont. I.. need..”
“As do I. Let’s go down to the crypts and pray for Darling Demos. Praying always helps. Then I need to prepare for a date.”, said Constance kindly.
“You have a date?”, Cee Lingerith Demelze blurted.
“I have a date.”, nodded Constance calmly.
“Well, why didn’t you say this from the get-go, girl! Tell me. Tell me all about it!”, Demelze fried with delight.
“You must.”, whispered Temez sternly, down in the depts of the Serenity Town Temple’s crypts. It was cold, and there was slushy snow outside. Here, it was merely cool, calm and a certain serenity spread from a particular tomb. The one at the very end of a long line of nearly five hundred years of past Senior Temple Guardians.
It was odd.
That being ‘great’ had little to do with wars and warriors but with life and those that cared for it.
“No. I do not want to.”, Constance replied, very nearly losing her cool, serene demeanor.
“Please, Constance. We must do this for them and he is the key to the Ritual Guardian!”, Perigren frowned.
“You already know her. Even played games with her, did you not? You, her, and Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel, a mere few days ago.”, Constance objected with a frown.
“Yes. I did. But that was games. We have not been formally introduced. And this is the way to get to know him and mayhap get him to know us, love us, care for us, and respect us..”, Temez replied earnestly.
Constance looked down at Temez.
“That is scheming, that is!”, she said disapprovingly.
“No, my dear. This is forming connections with the Mortals. If he likes us, it will make him that much harder to come after us, should the Queen of Air and Darkness send him upon us.”
“Should Mab sends him upon us, what he feels will mean very little, love. That is what being Mab’s hatchet man, means.”, Constance said, her frown deepening.
“True. However, he is also a Mortal and willy-nilly, he has a heart. He might not refuse or refute the call of his Mistress, but he will at least feel uneager to raise his hand against us. And being the Mortal that he is, it is possible he might use his cunning to wiggle his way out of a possible execution order!”, Temez replied even more earnestly.
“You think the cold-hearted Winter Knight will ‘like’ us and go up against his own Mistress at the expense of his own possible demise for the sake of some half-freak such as us? Temez, dear, you are holding on straws.”, Constance said to her sister-kin, but not unkindly.
“Straws are all I have, Alure. Please. Do this for us. You are The Liaison!”, Temez said with muted desperation.
She paused for a depressing moment. Then said, even more quietly.
“I wish my merry soul were here. She was always so much better at this than I ever was.”
“That is true, dear. And I will not gainsay you. But as much as we followed you to the Door because of how much we loved and respected her, we followed you.”, Constance replied as she reached down at the beautiful antler girl, Temez, and caressed her soft, tanned hair. “She was the spark. You are the flood, Perigren Ostlanna Temez. And you can not despair.”
Then she took a deep breath, making her bosom even more distinct and appealing.
“I shall do this for you. And for my kin. But I shall need a gift.”
“Yes. A gift to be given to the Winter Knight.”
“I doubt he will accept gifts from us, dear Constance.”
“The gift is to him, but not for him.”, the tall, serene girl replied.
“Ow? Oww..”, Temez said and her beautiful features lit with a happy cast. “That is cunning, that is.”
“I sort of liked it. Now, I would like to go and wash. I have a date.”
“So I heard. Well done, love.”, Temez said with brittle elation.
“Soon, dear. This war will be over soon, one way or another. Then you too can go to your boy.”, Constance said kindly and hugged her.
“I will send Hamna Vir and Dar Derune to do your hair. Hamna is the best with hair and horns, and Dar loves yours.”, Temez said with a better smile, once they parted.
“Would you?”, Constance asked a bit girlishly.
Temez smiled again and nodded.
Constance did not go immediately though. She looked, carefully, at the leader of the Escape.
“Dar Darune loves my hair. This is true. But he loves you whole, dear.”, she said softly.
“And I, he. But Dar has to grow yet. And in time, he will get over me and discover who truly loves him, and will eternally live, and mindlessly die for him.”, she said quietly.
“Yes. Hamna Vir..”
Temez nodded again.
“Come on, love. Go on and get cleaned up. And send your dress to Hal Mali so he makes sure it is clean and pressed.”
“Will do, will do.”, agreed, Constance, and left the cool, soothing darkness of the crypts under the temple.
Temez frowned with fear.
A date with the Sheriff of Serenity Home Town. This would either go very well or end quite horribly.
But Perigren Ostlanna Temez trusted Constance because.. well.. Constance Alure Smithen always lived up to her name. And she had seen how she’d looked at the esteemed sheriff when the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood had introduced them all to him.
True. Many of the other girls had looked at the good sheriff. But they had done so as they would have checked out any strong, healthy, male specimen. Constance, however, had looked at him with another kind of wont. The kind that she could not readily definite, but was right at the tip of her tongue, and it seemed somewhat akin to her own longing. And a bit like how the young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood and his Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel looked at one another when they thought they were alone.. Which was possibly one of the reasons all the half-borns felt.. happily sedated here in this temple; the existence of a living, breathing, and ongoing love between those two —as creepy as that sounded! But that look had been closer to someone else’s look. The wonting, and happily exhilarated eyes of the little girl, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, the Ritual Guardian, had given when they had been playing that game of catch against the obsessively competitive girl, Lilly Venom and her succulent man, and when the game had ended and the little girl’s ‘hubby’ had arrived; the Winter Knight himself.
The convoluted and intermixed irony in that hurt her brain!
Perigren Ostlanna Temez sighed.
They needed that same little girl now. And her wast knowledge of herbs and plants.
And she wondered, what her merry soul, her BFF, was doing at that very moment.
Temez thought she’d give anything to have her here now so she would tell her she was doing good and right for her kin.
✱ ✱ ✱
Standorin Shieldheart had just returned to his office for some final orders and to make sure everything was as it should be and that the town was faring well and not on fire.
He noticed the notes left on his desk and bent down to skim through them.
“A note on the standard confirmation of logistics moved up the river for the Arashkan militia stationed there from the ferriers. A note from Ranger Master Davien asking me what to do about the bandits camped east of Stinking Shacks. Dammit, man, just tell those idiots, they can either join us and fight the Orken and take whatever they can loot off the enemy at the end of the war, or kill them already. We don’t have such leisurely time for some lowly bandits who milk people at a time as dire as this! Hmm.. a note from the mayor demanding to know about the quarter of a harvest of sugar canes sent to the temple on my request —what the.. I made no such request and what is the heck is Thomas going to do with all that sugar cane, anyway?”
Then it dawned on him.
“Candy!”, he fumed. “But why did he put such a request on behalf of my office? He could have asked the mayor himself.”
Then it dawned on him. Again.
“Lady Constance!”, he said fuming some more. “Why would you not ask me and do this on my behalf so arbitrarily?”
“She didn’t. I did, sir.”, came a growling voice and Aager Fogstep came down the stairs from the roof. “By the way, the watchtower erected up on the roof is almost finished. At least that is what the carpenters and the construction crew are diligently assuring me. It should give us a good view of the town and with the use of flags, we should be able to direct the guards and the militia on the ground without needing to shout across town.”
“That’s good news. Now tell me about this order.”, said the sheriff.
“Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel came in earlier with the order, sir. For reasons I can not fathom, she seemed rather pleased with herself. Perhaps she expected me to object. I said I would give the order, which sort of disappointed her, only if she told me why the order was being addressed from this office, as opposed to being sent from the temple! She scowled at me and said, the need for the sugar canes was not directly related to the temple but with the newly appointed Liaison and the allies she represents. I told her I would put in the order when the said ‘newly appointed Liaison’ came here and asked for it herself, in her official capacity, rather than sending temple lackeys!”, Aager replied with a straight face.
Sheriff Standorin snorted.
“That was not nice, Master Aager. The ranger lieutenant is a good person and has high standing with the temple.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I am not a good person and don’t really care nor need any standing with the temple. I couldn’t speak for Lady Inshala, though, who is a good person and has extremely high standing with the temple.”, Aager smirked, then added. “You look dashing, sir. Never seen you out of armor before. Is that a new shirt?”
The sheriff glared at him.
“I… am… *muffled noises*..!”
“I am sorry, sir. Didn’t quite catch that.
The sheriff glared and him some more.
“I am going out.. on a *more muffed noises*..!”
“Come again, sir?”
“Dammit, man, a date! I am going out on a date!”, the sheriff very nearly spat.
“Ahh. I see. With whom, if you don’t mind me asking.”
He was going to be seen with his date in public soon enough and the word would spread like wildfire.
“Lady Constance Alure Smithen.”
“Ow? I got the impression you didn’t want her around. My bad.”, Aager said, his eyes quite mirthful.
“I didn’t ask her out.. But I’d messed up so horribly this morning and was trying to defuse a possible political fallout and she ambushed me, again, with a date, no less! I am so out of my debt, here.”, he admitted dejectedly.
“Want a stab of advice, sir?”, Aager asked honestly.
The sheriff grunted.
“Do you find her appealing, sir?”
“How do you mean?”, Standorin frowned.
“It isn’t a very complicated question, sir. Do you find her appealing?”
“Of course I find her appealing. She is a very cool-headed, calm, and immaculate young woman, and not in a dispassionate way. She is also very smart and always thinks before she speaks. A quality I find admirable in any man, let alone any woman.”
Standorin frowned a bit more.
“She’s.. pretty..”, he admitted grudgingly.
“You are a bit stingy on words, sir.. You can’t be thus miserly when it comes to women, you know..”
“My Limnia never—”, he began.
“—was and never will be Constance, sir. And neither could Constance ever cast a shadow over Lady Limnia. You can not, however, bring the past into play in this matter. And neither should you ever compare. That’s not only unfair to the deceased but unwarranted to the living. I never knew Lady Limnia, but I have watched you many nights, here, lost and alone in thoughts over her. And I watched Udoorin as well, and what that cost him. Leave her where she is, and treasure her as she is. And if you and Constance are agreeable, treasure Constance, now. You have lived the past long enough. Perhaps it’s time you lived the moment. And maybe even the future.. You, being seen with her kind, is a good step towards a steady, peaceful and harmonious town. Consider it as a sacrifice on your part, if you must. But I doubt it will stay a sacrifice because they have taken a blood oath. She will give her all, at all times for that oath. You are a decent man, sir. You made a decent man out of a Drashan cut-throat who actually cares for the people of a town he wasn’t even born into. She is a girl who escaped from somewhere far worse. She knows ‘bad’ in a sense where we need to use words like ‘intimately’, ‘infinitely’, and ‘ultimately’. Hence, she also knows what she must avoid. Take her out to dinner, then take her on a walk around town. Should be safe enough. You made it safe enough! That way, you won’t constantly be under public scrutiny, at least. Ow, and, give her this..”, he said, just as there was a small knock on the office door.
Aager didn’t pause but was at the door before the knock had ended. He opened the door and someone the sheriff couldn’t see was whispering softly at him. The man in dark leathers nodded once at the person standing outside and a pair of very skinny arms entangled themselves around the scary man’s neck for a long, passionate moment, then she was gone.
Aager stood at the door for a moment, staring after the little girl.
‘The wonderful, Lady Inshala!’, thought Standorin, as Aager quietly closed the door and returned back to where the sheriff was standing and gave him a bouquet of very lively-looking roses!
“What’s this?”, Standorin asked with one cocked eyebrow.
“A gift from my Inshala. She brought them for you but felt too shy to enter and face you, so she gave them to me. She told me to tell you that you are supposed to give them to Constance when you went to pick her.”, Aager smirked at the sheriff.
“How did she know about it? Who else knows? Does everyone know? And where in the blazes did she even get roses in the middle of winter?”, Standorin asked confounded.
“Didn’t ask, sir. You just can’t ask some things to girls. It is their prerogative. Not ours. Suffice to say, she knows, but I doubt anyone else does, and she will not repeat it. My Inshala has never quite grasped the concept of gossip.”
“I shall be a laughing stock and a merry source of amusement for the town.”, growled Standorin darkly.
Aager Fogstep looked at the sheriff for a moment.
Then went brutal on him..
..right for the jugular!
“Would you have cared, had she been Limnia, sir?”
Standorin stiffened as red, ugly blotches appeared on his face.
“That.. was uncalled for, Master Aager.”, he snarled.
“Yes. It was.”, agreed, Aager. “But so is the fact that you think being seen with Constance will somehow degrade your standing with the town, without giving it a moment’s thought on what she might think on this matter. Considering she is the Liaison, now, and must come here, be here, and work here, day and night, making her seem as your mistress, and consequently destroying her own standing with the town, and her station as a Liaison!”
Standorin fell silent.
“She is a woman, sir. And a quality one. Treat her like one. Share the big things in your life. And share the little ones. And let her treat you like the man she thinks you are, because, sir, she was assigned as a Liaison, certainly, but she was not assigned to you in person. That is a choice she made herself. Like I said yesterday. She is the alpha lioness. And an alpha lioness will only go for the alpha lion. That is base attraction. To her delight, the person she chose just happened to be the alpha lion.”
Aager grinned at the sheriff.
“That said, I am off. Inshala and I start for Oger’s Foot in a few days and have some preparation to make. Hopefully, and soon, I will finally get to meet this Mother Ganiste she speaks so fondly of.”
✱ ✱ ✱
Good evening sheriff.”, said the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, from where he stood, atop the stairs and right in front of his temple.
“Good evening, Thomas.”, replied Standorin amiably, though with a slightly flustered face.
“That’s Senior Temple Guardian Thomas for you, sheriff.”, smirked a soft, feminine voice; Bremorel Songteel, from where she stood, arms crossed and leaning against the temple’s double doors.
“The robes are still on!”, Bremorel explained, still smirking.
“So, it is.”, the sheriff said slightly fuming.
“You can’t take what’s ours, sheriff.”, said Thomas solemnly. “Everyone under my roof gets to stay under my roof.”
“Yes. What he said.”, Bremorel smiled broadly.
“Eh? What?”, asked the sheriff with a confused expression on his face. “I was only going to ask for—”
“No means, no, sir.”, Thomas said. “If you want her so desperately, you are just going to have to get a writ from the mayor himself, and with the consent of at least three other council members.. Or a popular vote cast among all the council members.”
Standorin just stared at Thomas.
Bremorel snorted, but only because she was trying very hard not to laugh out loud.
“Is this some sort of a prank?”, the sheriff asked, his face flushing even more, though with anger now.
“This is the Temple of Light, sheriff. We don’t do pranks here.”, Thomas replied sternly.
For a moment, a very short and savage moment, Standorin became the young and foolish man of his youth and was just about to barge into the temple, right over Thomas, senior guardian or not!
“That was not nice, dear Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood.”, a cool, serene voice was heard and Constance came gliding out of the temple. “You knew he came for me.”
“Dammit.”, scowled Bremorel. “And we had just started having fun!”
“Ahh. Constance. You are glowing this evening.”, smiled Thomas.
“You think so?”, she asked with a surprisingly girlish voice and spun around showing off her new skirt dress.
“It is lovely, my dear, and it compliments you.”, replied the young temple guardian. “You can ask Morel for confirmation if you like. She is much better at accuracy than I am.”
“Very true, on both accounts, Constance. You look awesome, girl.”, smiled Bremorel.
Sheriff Standorin, on the other hand, had kept his silence, possibly because he was dumbstruck.
He just stood there, not quite ogling, but unavoidably staring, at the tall half-born, as the words, dignified, regal, and very lady-like, skimmed past his mind, for many young women tended to reveal their.. uhh.. attributes.. Constance had gone quite the opposite direction and done her revealing by hiding said attributes; her dress skirts were long and down to the floor, even though, from the click-clacks, she was wearing high pumps. It was a very dark maroon-colored dress and seemed to be tailored from velvet that wrapped tightly around her slender throat, her long arms, her appealing bosom, slim waist, and long, shapely legs, and was carefully and not-so-overtly embroidered with gold threads. Much like her earlier dress, there were two slits running down the skirts, though there was no gauzy fabric this time. Instead, she had worn stockings a tone or two darker than her own pale skin. Her charcoal-black hair was also running long and straight, shading her face, and down her breasts and back, revealing her small, elf-like ears, though there was a single, thread-like, very carefully braided strand of her hair, not unlike a cat ladder, climbing down the right side of her very slightly blushing face, as her very soft, very alluring eyes seemed to glow with happiness and the only cosmetics seemed like the bright red application on her lightly smiling lips.
Constance looked memorably beautiful, and she had done nothing to hide, nor cover her long, slender horns.
“Good evening Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”, she said politely and started down the stairs.
“Good.. evening, uhhmm, Liaison Constance..”, Standorin stammered.
“We will be leaving now, dear Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, and thank you Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel for the sugar canes, though I suspect a pandemic of sugar sick boys and girls will infest your temple soon enough.”, Constance said demurely.
“We’ll make sure they chew on the sugar canes only after they have finished their cabbages and their broccoli.”, chuckled Bremorel.
Constance gave her one of her rare, brilliant smiles.
“I shall expect you to return our girl before midnight, sheriff.”, Thomas said firmly, though the crack at the side of his mouth said otherwise as he took Bremorel by the hand and disappeared into the temple.
“Yes!”, Standorin heard Bremorel say. “The kids are out! We have a whole night free to ourselves!”
There was a moment of awkward silence as Standorin stood, not knowing what to do.
“Shall we?”, asked Constance.
“I suppose so, but I must admit I didn’t—”, began Standorin.
“You look quite dashing tonight, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”, said Constance.
“I.. Do you think so?”, the sheriff asked a bit flabbergasted.
“I see, so.”, replied the tall, young woman. “And where shall you take me?”
“Uhhmm..”, Standorin began again, then paused before continuing and his frown had returned. “Look. I am just going to have to ask if it is alright with you.”
“I wouldn’t know if it’s alright with me, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. You haven’t asked your question yet.”, replied the girl calmly.
“Very true.”, Standorin agreed. Then he took a deep breath. “Just what is this?”, he asked honestly.
“What is what?”
“This. What are we doing, Liaison Constance.”
“It could be one of two things, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. One is, where you take me out to a nice dinner that involves a dim setting with candle lights followed by a slow-paced stroll around the town, or the woods, where we can have a few private moments to talk about you and your responsibilities, and myself and my responsibilities and how to better improve our relation regarding each other’s department and you pay-off for your morning’s blunder. The other option is where this is not a pay-off nor is it a task and you take me out to a nice dinner that involves a dim setting with candle lights followed by a slow-paced stroll around the town, or the woods, where we can have a few private moments to talk about you and your life, and myself and my life and how to better improve a mutual relation, together.”, she replied serenely, though Standorin sensed a bare trepidation in that calm voice and he was surprised for it.
And then it all came to him.
This young and beautiful woman was exactly that; a young and beautiful woman.. going out with a total stranger in the hopes that it would turn into a nice, memorable, and perhaps even a fruitful date and that was as far as her calm went. The rest was just as unknown to her as it was to him and she was terrified of it. More so than he was, because he was a ‘Mortal’ and dating was a natural, and even expected thing among Mortals.. as opposed to her kind, who had never lived a single date in their lives nor did they quite know what it even was. True that she was here in her Liaison capacity, or rather, it had been because of that capacity they were here now, but at that very moment, she wanted to be only herself, as Constance Alure Smithen and dearly hoped he would ignore the fact that she wasn’t quite human but a succubi half-born that possessed horns, treat her gently, kindly, perhaps even affectionately, and that he be just himself as a man and as Standorin Shieldheart only..
“It..”, he began. Then paused to clear his throat, and began again. “It could be a date. But I must warn you. I haven’t been on a date for a very, very long time.”
“It is alright, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I haven’t been on a date at all. If this will be a date, it will also be my first and I have no idea what to expect, nor what to do. I was told many things I should do, or be doing, from both my brothers and sisters and Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel, though when she said I should ‘make you sweat’, I do not believe she meant in a sensual way. Apparently, there is some sort of history between the two of you. Suffice to say, I am in your tender care, sir.”, she said with hopeful serenity.
“There is no history between young Morel and me, other than me having thrown her to jail for aggravated assault some six or seven years back.”, fumed Standorin.
“Aggravated assault. I know what this is. It was in the Criminal Law book you gave me.”, Constance said.
“You.. you actually read it?”, the sheriff asked somewhat surprised.
“Of course I read it. If I am expected to know about what you do, I should come armed with knowledge, and not just a pike.”
“That is a very long, and very boring read! I am not sure if I myself read the whole thing..”, exclaimed Standorin.
“It was rather entertaining, I think. The mind of Mortal criminals is amusing. I cited some of the laws pertaining to robbery and the use of drugs to my kin —because of our fondness for candy. It caused quite a bit of hilarious outbursts. The ones pertaining to rape and assault, however, did leave us in dismay, as we found the consequent reprimands and punishments rather petit and diminutive.”
Standorin frowned a bit.
“Perhaps we can start with names, then?”, he offered.
“Names? Am I perhaps not pronouncing yours correctly? Is this perhaps the reason for your dissatisfaction with my assignment?”, she asked a bit perturbed.
“Eh? What? No!”, Standorin stammered a bit more. “What I meant was, since we agreed this could be a date, you should call me Standorin.”
“Mortals cut and dissect names right and left, a matter that leaves us perpetually dismayed, for names hold power.”, she said a bit distressed.
“Maybe. I don’t know.”, Standorin said. “But Mortals, as you like to call us, do not refer to one another by their full names at all times. You may look upon it as a personal favor if you will and call me Standorin. Or just Stan. That’s what the few friends I have, call me.”
“I.. see..”, said the young woman. “I suppose you should call me Constance. Or Alure. But I would very much appreciate it if you didn’t cut my names in half. That is.. quite disorienting for my kind.”
“Perfectly acceptable, Lady Constance. I had arranged for the dining room prepared for us in the town’s guest house. Or rather, some busy boy and his happy little wife had it prepared for me. He certainly seemed mirthful when he told me about it. And.. uhhmm.. I believe these are for you..”, Standorin said a bit flushed and handed the bouquet of roses to the young woman.
“Ow! Mortal Roses! How very exquisitely beautiful and lovely, Sheri— Standorin Shield— Standorin—”, she stammered, confused and glowing with a beautifully bright blush and paused..
..for a long, deplorable sigh.
“Thank you.. Stan..”