by John D. Lees
The eshu stood before the Count of Greystraights, bowing her head slightly as his eyes bore upon her from the shadows. The commoner was shorter than most of her kith, with a roundness of limb and form one could not find in the noble sidhe and a raw sexuality which almost matched that of the satyrs. She was dressed in the silks common to many of her kind, brilliant colors and rich soft textures that stood out proudly against her mahogany skin. When she spoke however, it was with the vibrant soothing tones of her kith: strong and certain, like her words.
"I would request of your Lordship the Right of Safe Haven."
The noble's face was still partially hidden by stygian shadow. His characteristic posture was very un-aristocratic, often described by the members of his Court as the 'Unseelie Slump'. The Count's right hand laid aside his face, but of that portion of his body she could only make out the barest outline. His garb consisted of a rich black doublet upon black cannons, both with silver and white trim. On his chest was his banner, the silver dragon rampant between six silver stars - two of which were larger than the others and slightly offset. For that symbol among other reasons, the local commoners knew the Count as 'the Black Dragon'.
"Safety from what?"
It was desperation which brought her there, but the service she had pledged herself to would not allow her to come out and reveal her plight. She simply smiled innocently.
The Count waited, then he spoke: "You do not wish to say?"
The eshu smiled more broadly, it was a pleasant and warm gesture, and her voice, contrary to her heart, was almost completely without guile. "Must I say?"
There was a long pause before the lord replied. "In this place you do."
The woman sighed. She knew that it was a more than a mere possibility she would be forced into this position. Castle Packard was known for its intrigues. She knew that the Lord here, Dartmouth of Ailil, was known for his undisguised joy in the participation with such amusements. So she tried another path, for her mentor had once told her: 'where innocence fails use guile'.
"My name is Cheraya."
"Pleased to meet you gentlewoman," the Ailil Lord's dry voice was more a statement of his annoyance at her fruitless attempt to dodge his question than anything. He repeated once more: "State your purpose."
The eshu's voice was steel-hard. She knew however she had little time. "If the Right of Safe Haven is extended to me I shall tell you what you wish to know."
Dartmouth leaned out of the shadows. For the first time, he was completely visible to the commoner. As all sidhe he was a man of great and dignified beauty. His face was almost as dark as her own, and while the ears were more delicately pointed and his body more trim and athletic, he did not seem to be much taller than most mortal men. At his brow was a circlet, a simple braid of twisted silver with a large polished stone in the center. His short hair held no gray though indeed he was a grump, and his eyes seemed to be black within black. "You are a brave one." His tone had come alive; there was interest in that tone, here was life and vibrancy. Cheraya tried to look away but found herself pinned by those black eyes. The eshu stared at the Count unbent by his focused attention and repeated her statement. "If you wish to know why I am here you must extend to me the Right of Safe Haven." Her voice however no longer matched the resolve of her face, trembling slightly before the sidhe's rapt attention.
In the distance the sound of a horn echoed through the Castle's open gates and drifted even into the great hall itself. Silence stretched. Cheraya simply stared at the Count, whose own gaze drifted to the door behind her leading to the Castle's Gates.
Dartmouth's mouth twisted into a wry grin. "One of my kinsmen you think?" Cheraya shrugged. Another note from the horn drifted into the Great Hall, this one sounding almost desperately close. The Count continued. "So close to your own arrival..."
The woman shrugged again.
"Do they hunt you?"
Dartmouth leaned forward, his eyes alight now, and so much more unsettling for the commoner. This was a master of manipulation in full action. "For sport?"
The Count leaned back in his chair, watching the eshu's face. "And your footsteps took you here?"
The sidhe's voice softened slightly. "I know of the gifts of your kithfolk Gentlewoman Cheraya and I have come to trust them. I admire that reckless abandon in which you find yourselves embroiled so often." The Ailil paused a moment, staring at the commoner. "You will tell me of your reasons for seeking my protection then if I give safe haven to you?" Cheraya looked at the door.
"Yes, they are close woman..." the Count hissed, lips curled into a smirk. "Decide what you will, but decide. Your steps have brought you here, remember that and trust in your gift." The sounds of boots on the mosaic made the decision for her, but just as Cheraya opened her mouth the Unseelie lord added a new wrinkle. "Swear that you will tell me all that I want to know Cheraya. Need I add Truthfully?"
The woman grimaced as she finally spoke the oath, but even as she spoke it she knew that this too was the proper course of action. Oaths were powerful things, especially those sworn in a Freehold. Promises bound by the Dreaming itself. Often the speaker would even be guided to say things they had not intended. Many blackguards swearing false oaths had been defeated that way as their very words changed.
And thus, in the manner of such things, Lord Dartmouth heard from the lips of the Commoner woman: "I swear that I shall truthfully tell you Lord Dartmouth of Packard all you wish to know in return for safe haven in Castle Packard. As the stars are my guide I swear this to you now, lest my feet never again wander and I should root here unmoving from this very spot."
Dartmouth smiled as the door to his Great Hall opened.
And Cheraya heard the following oath from the Count's lips: "I shall take up the burden of your safekeeping Cheraya from one night hence. As Packard is my comfort and the truth my savior, I shall provide this service for you and if I fail to do so I shall turn over this Freehold to whomever you choose."
The oaths done, Cheraya turned. But it was not a finely dressed nobleman, or even a Troll hunter which entered the chamber. Rather it was a single redcap garbed in what might have been the tattered remnants of a traditional jester's suit and fine leather boots shoved on his feet. In the hands of the ghastly grinning kithain was a fine horn.
"My Count!" the redcap said with a lopsided yellow grin, doffing his dark crimson hat with a spray of red flecks on the floor. Bowing deeply he began to titter.
The Count smiled as he announced his liegeman. "Allow me to introduce my Fool, Morice." He allowed the Fools baroque appearance to sink in a moment before he continued. "I had heard that a passing commoner was being hunted by a pack of nobleman. Then you appeared on my doorstep and I bade my Fool to play the role. Which he has as well as any I must say. Very good Morice."
Cheraya staggered backward slightly as Dartmouth's dry laughter mocked her. She watched the redcap fool of Packard doffing his fine leather boots carelessly. His jester's cap flopped about as he tugged the final boot off and tossed it into a corner where the Boggan seneschal collected it.
Then came a new sound: A reedy thin note in the distance drifting through the Great Hall. Dartmouth's chuckling subsided and an irksome look passed over his face. The Fool however began to laugh harder, a deep black guffaw that chilled the eshu's very soul. Cheraya looked up as the hideous sound emerged from the redcaps lips, taking in the look of annoyance on the Ailil lord's face. The eshu did not take advantage however, she did not mock as she had been mocked. In a soft voice she merely breathed what she knew had been inevitable. "They come."
After a moment, the Count made a quick chopping motion with his hand that brought the fool's laughter short. He stared at the eshu rising to her feet. "Who is it Cheraya?"
The eshu shrugged, too exhausted to care anymore. "Sir Vylldov and his host."
The Count's right eyebrow spoke volumes as it arched high. Vylldov of Gwyndion was a nobleman of great distinction, tales of his prowess had made their way to Pitchdrakken even though Vylldov's demesne lay in Philadelphia, in the Kingdom of Apples. Dartmouth looked at the eshu woman with new respect.
"Go," Dartmouth commanded, "my seneschal Trenton will take you to the Servant's Wing." The sidhe Count stared at his fool. "Meet the good knight at the gate Fool."
"Send a Fool to meet a fool?" Morice asked with a rasping chuckle as he left dancing a jig. The Count of Greystraights could hear the horn sounding again, much closer now. He placed his hands together and stared hard at the eshu woman he had just dismissed.
With some urgency, Dartmouth's seneschal Trenton Mothwing scrambled to Cheraya. The boggan made no noise as he quickly offered the young lady his hand. Cheraya allowed herself to be led, but as she did the brown woman stared deeply into Dartmouth's eyes. She saw the Ailil wink at her just before she was wisped into one of Packard's many secret passages.
Dartmouth watched from his slump as the lithe sidhe Knight entered his Great Hall behind the grinning Fool. The sidhe's glinting armor reflected off the gaslights, and despite having obviously ridden hard, the Gwyndion Knight maintained every inch the imminently noble appearance so common to his kith and House. Long silvery blond hair fell down the knight's shoulders and his chin was held high as though daring all who could see. Dartmouth knew that some others saw in him what he disdained in the seelie Knight, and the thought sickened him. Behind the Gwyndion came three other sidhe, similarly dressed but not as noble in appearance.
The Fool's voice boomed out loudly as they all came to a short sharp stop in front of the Unseelie lord's chair. "His Lordship Dartmouth of Ailil, Count of Greystraights and Master of Castle Packard." The Fool bent over and with a flourish of his red cap he flicked a trace line of crimson dots over the lead Knight's boot. "May I introduce Sir Vylldov ap Gwyndion and his fellow hunters."
"A pleasure Sir Knight," Dartmouth said from the shadows, "welcome to you and your fellow hunters to my Freehold."
The Knight sneered at Dartmouth, his fine features twisted by his evident feelings for the Unseelie lord. "I have not come to bandy with you Lord Dartmouth. I come in search for a commoner, one I believe is here."
Dartmouth smiled. "Why?"
The Knight's eyes narrowed. "Pardon me?"
"You heard me Vylldov," Dartmouth warned, his voice chilled. "Allow me to repeat: Why?" The unseelie knew well that he did not specify which statement he wanted Wyldoff to expand upon, but that was part of the fun of watching the other sidhe squirm.
"I have followed the commoner for some time Lord Dartmouth," the knight annouced with a sneer. "I know the signs. My charge is here."
Dartmouth smiled. He knew that the Gwyndion, with their talent for knowing when someone lied to them, were canny when it came to parsing their own words. "You are certain of this?" Vylldov simply nodded, then added imperiously, "I have a writ."
"A writ?" inquired the Fool. Vylldov pointedly ignored the commoner while the other sidhe in his party speared the redcap with angry glances.
Dartmouth's response was slightly amused. "Is it for me?"
Dartmouth moved his hand in a loose circular motion. "Then it is for..."
"The girl," the blond Knight confirmed.
"What girl?" Dartmouth inquired, a wide smile on his face. Vylldov had not mentioned a girl - only a commoner - and the canny Ailil was not going to fall for that one. He knew that most Gwyndions were les than bright for the most part, but it was increasingly apparent that Sir Vylldov's reputation came more from his sword than the region of his helmet.
"Cheraya, the eshu commoner which I been sent to find. She is here, I know this, and my writ gives me the right to take her back for Justice."
"May I see the writ?"
Dartmouth's smile grew as he repeated himself. "The Writ? May I see it?"
Vylldov started forward but the Fool trundled in between the two sidhe and extended his hand to the Gwyndion Knight expectantly. Evidently unhappy Vylldov regardless turned the tightly rolled parchment over to the Fool, who then turned to his Master. With a flourish, the redcap lifted the scroll over his head and knelt presenting it to Dartmouth with his chin against his chest and eyes cast downwards.
Dartmouth gingerly removed the scroll from the Fool's hands, having to pry a bit to get it loose. "Your Pardon Sir Vylldov, Morice does take his job so seriously." The Count turned the scroll over in his hands caressing the smooth red spindle as he drew it out for perusal. He read over it quickly and smiled.
"As your lordship can see," the sidhe said quickly, "the writ specifically grants me the authority to take the woman and whatever she is carrying into my custody. Wherever she might be found."
"A very official missive my dear knight," the Count observed dryly, "signed by no less than the Queen of Apples herself... with the royal seal as well..." He stopped for a moment. "Morice, what Kingdom does Greystraights reside in?"
Morice smiled. "The county as well as the duchy of Pitchdrakken reside in the Kingdom of Grass your Lordship."
Dartmouth stared at Vylldov with sarcasm in his wide eyes.
The Gwyndion Knight's words were icy cool. "Wherever she may be found Lord Dartmouth. That is quite explicit in the writ."
The dark-skinned sidhe smirked, then handed Morice the Scroll by the red knob at the end of its spindle. "Yes it does Sir Knight. And should I find myself or my Freehold in the KINGDOM OF APPLES I shall surely comply forthwith."
The Knight's snarled reply was hot with anger. "You would ignore the writ of a Queen!"
"Not at all. However since I, and my Freehold, reside in the KINGDOM OF GRASS, I shall take the good Queen's writ in a purely advisory capacity."
The Gwyndion's anger was rising, and the Count could see it. With a look of pure hatred he spat. "Damn you Ailil."
Dartmouth's smile evaporated. "Be not too hasty Sir Vylldov. You have come to my Castle and made demands upon me. You have presented a writ, which you know does not extend to this place, or even to this very Kingdom. And yet you have the temerity to condemn me?"
Vylldov's face hardened, his anger blunted by what could have only been confusion. "Circumlocutions. I would expect no less from an unseelie such as yourself."
"And I expected no better from a seelie." Dartmouth charged "For all your talk of nobility you have none." Stepping to his feet the Count approached the Gwyndion. "A singular lack of respect to a nobleman of greater rank in his very Freehold. A sham perpetrated with the signature of a Queen, which is itself a traitorous act as it makes a monarch into your unwitting accomplice. And now you condemn me simply for my court affiliation. You Sir Knight have overstayed your welcome. Begone from Castle Packard lest I show you the error of your ways."
Morice was grinning and seemingly for the first time the assembled noblemen from the Kingdom of Apples noticed several of Dartmouth's liegeman who had slipped into the Great Hall. Watching them with cold eyes, Vylldov and his comrades knew that the tales of Dartmouth's Dragoons, which were told even in their kingdom hundreds of miles away, were completely true.
"I-" the Gwyndion hesitated. "I believe that an apology is in order Lord Dartmouth. I have come here in good faith I assure you. My cause is just, the need great; not just for me and my court your Lordship but for all of the nobility in Concordia."
Dartmouth nodded. "Fine. Then you may stay in my Castle if you wish Sir Knight."
The others looked at Vylldov with questioning looks. No one breathed for a moment as the Ailil Lord's mood suddenly changed. Vylldov waited. The Gwyndion knight's eyes narrowed as he stared at the Count.
Dartmouth's face dropped. "What? I admire effort, especially when it is not my own. You have evidently tracked your prey down for some time. Who am I to turn you away?" There was a pause. "But I will give you fair warning Sir Knight. You violate my hospitality even once more and I will be well within my rights to act on all of the other slights." Vylldov nodded stiffly.
"In return, for being such a good sport, I will make the following bargain: If you feel that the woman for whom you seek is here, I will shutter this place up for two more nights. The Castle was created by a Nocker Master Artisan and once I seal this place, it is proof against any attempt to get inside or outside."
"What guarantee do I have your Lordship," Vylldov inquired, "that she will not slip out from one of Packard's famed secret passages. Or even into the Dreaming itself."
"You have my oath. Shall I give it to you?"
The Gwyndion hesitated.
"You think some trickery on my part?"
"I would not charge my host with such," the Knight carefully answered.
"You learn quickly then Gwyndion Knight." the Ailil retook his chair. "my oath then?" The Gwyndion nodded, and he heard from the lips of the Ailil Lord: "I swear, by the honor of my Household and the trappings of my title, if that which Vylldov seeks is truly here I shall deliver it to him within three days. If I stumble in this thing, I shall fall, taking my title and household with me to be distributed as Sir Vylldov ap Gwyndion sees fit." The Gwyndion smiled as he made one condition: "My people have a task to perform, please allow them to leave the castle before you seal it."
The Black Dragon dipped his head congenially. "Of course."
Cheraya waited in a chamber of red and gold. After the boggan Trenton had showed her there, she waited for a time. Then disaster struck and she heard the sounds of silding metal grating against one another. A passing servant informed her it was the sound of the Castle sealing itself up. Desperately, the eshu maiden checked with her own eyes. Metal shutters at every door, metal bars at every window. A trap. It had all been nothing more than a trap. The eshu maiden cursed herself for a fool. How could she have come to the den of this lion? Dartmouth had a reputation throughout the Kingdom of Grass as an Unseelie of the worst type. He had been denounced by more fae than she could count. Who had not heard of the 'Black Dragon' even a kingdom away in Philadelphia? He was even more famous (or infamous) than the Duke of Pitchdrakken in who's territory they laid. And yet... It had been an act of desperation; she had no choice in the matter. Vylldov and his lackeys were nearly upon her. They had tracked her unerringly throughout the Kingdom of Apples and she was only halfway to her final destination. She could have located a Commoner Freehold to hide within, but that would have only exposed more of her people to his relentless and violent search. Dartmouth's Castle Packard was well known and the people within would be free from the sidhe. Her steps had led her here, the fabled sense of direction and timing of her kith - paths filled with danger and intrigue but usually fruitful in the end. She had bargained that Dartmouth would not know of her and simply allow her to mysteriously slip away after a brief respite. Maybe the hounds would back off from entering the den of one of their own.
Obviously that was a misjudgment on her part.
Cheraya stared at the door. How easy would it be to escape? A wily Nocker Artisan had designed the Castle Packard in the days of the Interregnum, and the legends of its secret passages - even passages that led directly into the Near Dreaming itself - were commonplace. Even as she stared at the door, the eshu could feel a presence in the room with her.
"Now my dear," the voice of her 'benefactor' drifted across the room, telltale and urbane. The words and voice were softer than they had been in the Great Hall, and more chilling for all that apparent friendliness. "Tell me if you would what this is all about?"
Cheraya turned to see the Lord of Castle Packard standing at the opposite end of the room from the entrance, his back to the window that showed only the high outer castle walls behind him. He was dressed as before, only now the diadem on his brow was gone, and the front of his tunic was open.
"Did Sir Vylldov not tell you all about it your Lordship?"
"No my dear," Dartmouth answered, "he did not tell me why he hunts you. I think he does not trust me."
Dartmouth's face tightened slightly. "You do not trust me."
The eshu's response was immediate and certain. "No!"
"Because of who I am?"
Cheraya nodded her head. It was embarrassing to say it, but it was the truth. And that was what she had vowed to speak to the Count. "Yes."
"I am unseelie my dear, this is true. I do not subscribe to your Summer Court's darling little static fictions of honor. I have my own. My own codes and my own values which I cleave to much better than you realize. It makes me a bastard sometimes darling, but at least I am not a hypocrite."
"Those who follow your Seelie code do so rigorously my dear. They follow the letter of their code, but not it's spirit. It allows them to use vagueness and loopholes to punish the innocent so long as their casual acts of cruelty masquerade as honor and faith to their cherished 'principles'. Look at the Accordance war my dear. It involved those in command, the Seelie by and large, doing very naughty things. Things I took no part in and paid the price for my honorable accord. All In the name of their honor, in the name of their Justice. Well my dear, seelie Justice has arrived on a white charger and his name is Vylldov. Now answer my question."
Cheraya hesitated a moment, but she knew what she would have to do. But the words stuck in her throat. How could she have done this? How could she have allowed the Unseelie Lord to extract that oath from her?
"I have something they want."
Dartmouth smiled as crossed his arms over his chest. "A very nice beginning Cheraya, and I am sure it is entirely truthful. Shall we prance about some more my dear? Or will you give me what I wish to know voluntarily? Would you like some pointers on this or do you just want to stumble about until I order some very specific questions?"
Cheraya looked at the Unseelie. She knew that he was better at deception than she. Probably better than she would ever be, and for that she was actually thankful. "I have a document from the time before the Accordance War, something which has great value..."
Dartmouth's eyebrow arched slightly. "And this document would be?"
Cheraya's voice was small as the words escaped her lips. "The Declaration of Sovereignty." Dartmouth smiled. It was a wolfish grin that told the eshu the Count of Greystraights knew precisely what she was referring to. The Declaration of Sovereignty was an unfinished document, started in 1970 before the Accordance War actually began. The leaders who worked on the Declaration had every hope that it would be the document reflecting their desired aims, a statement of fundamental principles which could serve as a rallying point for the beleaguered commoners. Before it was finished, there was a call for an armistice - one that turned out to be nothing more than a ploy. The Beltaine Massacre wiped out most of those who had come together to fashion the Declaration. It stilled the voices of some of the greatest thinkers and leaders of the day. The War began in earnest then, and the Commoners had little time for such things as Declarations: Nor did they have the voices of their greatest leaders with which to articulate one.
"You have it here?" he asked.
Reluctantly, the girl opened her pack. she knew that she was caught, she knew that she was doomed. With a heavy hand she retrieved the scroll from her pack. She twirled the black knob of it's spindle "I never swore that I had to hand this over..." she murmured.
The Count nodded. "Nor would I expect you to."
Cheraya looked at the sidhe and quickly put her burden away.
The Count watched her out of the corner of his eye. "How did you come to find this... document?"
"A group of us...acquired the notes made by Muhtadi the Scribe. He was killed on Beltaine along with most of the others, Rikard and the rest..." the eshu sighed. "We found them and we... made use of them. This is not the only one. It is the first draft. My packmates took the second draft and headed somewhere else."
Dartmouth's eyes narrowed as he rose to his feet. "I see, so you headed into different directions? I would assume that you sent off at least one of your compatriots with hand-inscribed copies of the Declarations as well yes?"
The eshu nodded. She had not said that, but he had not specifically asked her if there was more than one copy. she remained true to the dire oath.
"Very good. This way you spread them out as much as possible. But the documents themselves are very important. From what I understand the first draft is the better of the two." The Count smiled. "Of course having never read them..."
Cheraya turned to the sidhe, tears in her eyes. "There is a storm coming Lord Dartmouth, a storm which will bring a new conflict. We need this statement of principles, this tie with the past and promise for the future. Who knows what it will do... It could even head off the conflict."
Dartmouth shook his head. "It will not Cheraya, and you know better."
"I remain true to my vows, others have said it could." Tis much was true. She remembered the doe eyed Imonia of Crickhollow, not as much preaching as praying for the Declaration to bring sanity rather than madness to the commoners and sidhe alike.
"It will not. Trust me Cheraya. What you carry will turn into a rallying cry. The past it will recall is not just the words of your dead leaders but the manner of their deaths." He stared hard at her. "It was written by those who died on the Night of iron Knives. Even now, three decades later, the names of those who died on Beltaine inspire hate, and you carry their final words - their revolutionary cry."
The eshu nodded. She understood. She believed as the Ailil did. But she also knew that fundementally, it was right. A War was coming, and the Declaration would provide her people with the fire they needed to win it. There would be no Accord. There would be no David this time.
"Will you take it from me?" she finally asked, her voice hardly above a whisper.
When he spoke, Cheraya knew that the Count was once again on the far side of her chambers. But his words drifted over her, reverberating off the lush walls of her cell-like room. He had apparently left through the same secret passage from which he had entered; but his words lingered. "Why would I do that my child? Dinner tomorrow night begins at dusk, I shall send Trenton for you. Until then..."
The eshu's sleep took a long time to arrive.
Vylldov watched the Count from the corner of his eye. Dartmouth ran what appeared to be an orderly household, despite some of the rumors that he had heard of late. The dining area was clear and sumptuous, a picture out of Edwardian England, from the thick green velvet curtains to the delicate bone china plates. Vylldov sat in the straight-backed chair and regarded his 'host' with some care: Dartmouth was an Ailil, and they were well known for their subtle machinations. The Oath which Dartmouth had sworn was a powerful one; and Vylldov found that he was waiting for the Unseelie to violate his word. Still, it was said well beyond Pitchdrakken to 'Beware the words of the Black Dragon...'
As it was, the Count was now all smiles, and it was apparent in his manner that he was waiting for something. Vylldov hoped it was not something that would interfere with his hunt. The Eshu was damnably clever, but Vylldov knew he could always get back on her trail. The commoners were always so sure about their limited abilities. Still, the Gwyndion had sent the other three to secure a writ from the local Duke. That would be enough he thought to make the demand for the damnable commoner formal enough for this Ailil fop. He did not like to have the writ gone however, even though the others had sworn on their lives to protect it and accomplish their mission.
"What will we be dining on this evening Count?"
The Unseelie smiled broadly. "Crow I think."
Vylldov's eyes narrowed. Behind Dartmouth, an eshu woman entered the dining hall, the Count's boggan Seneschal steering her by the arm. Vylldov smiled broadly as the eshu saw him and paled with horror. The satchel she was lugging behind her was clutched that much tighter and Vylldov knew that his true prey was in sight as well as the messenger.
"As promised, I have delivered her to you my good Knight."
Vylldov smiled. "Excellent Lord Dartmouth. I knew you would see things my way!"
Dartmouth smiled as he gestured for the eshu to sit at his right hand side. "Why would you think that Vylldov?" He asked mildly. "I simply said I would deliver that for which you seek, not that I would allow you to take her. She is under my protection."
"You must be joking!"
The Count's tone was menacing. "Vylldov I do not joke about such things. I made a solemn oath to this child. An oath that will protect her... for the time being."
"Then you have not delivered what I seek," Vylldov replied.
Dartmouth made an obscure gesture. "In your opinion."
"If you seek to do nothing more than torment me Count," Vylldov stood in his chair as his words reverberated off the very china, "then I shall wait outside."
"Surely you think me a better host than that Sir Vylldov."
"Your duties as host have come to their end as far as I am concerned Lord Dartmouth." The Gwyndion placed his hand on the hilt of his blade. "And I for one shall no longer suffer your ignoble behavior. The woman is my charge, my duty and I shall take her from here with all she carries, per the writ which I have brought with me."
Dartmouth merely smiled.
As the two nobles disagreed, Cheraya recoiled from the Gwyndion's angry words. She did not know what to do. There were guards outside of the dining chamber, Trenton had made sure to let her know that. If she ran, she would merely be caught. Instead, she decided to join the fracas. This was her they were battling over after all... "What right do you have to stop me Sir Knight?"
The two sidhe stopped. Dartmouth seated himself as though he had scored a victory and allowed the Gwyndion to look the fool. With great aplomb, the blonde hair and fair-faced sidhe bowed to the eshu. It was as though he regarded her as a sentient living thing for the first time.
"My dear goodwoman, you have been a rather praiseworthy charge. Your route to this point has had me hard at your heels. Your steps and your interesting choice of hiding places have provided a constant challenge."
"You say that as though you meant it." Dartmouth observed dryly.
"I do your Lordship," the Gwyndion knight sat down, his heated words somehow a distant memory now. "The lady had me stopped more than once as she crossed through the Ohio Valley." "The Monastery at Crickhollow." Cheraya breathed. "How many of my fellow commoners did you slaughter there?"
"It was a hard fought battle young lady," Sir Vylldov acknowledged. "Your compatriots suffered for the loss, but I must say that I have as well."
"I lost three of my own number that day," the Knight reminisced, "three who had served me well." The Gwyndion placed his hand upon his breast. "I pride myself on following the Escheat goodwoman. I do not kill my fellow fae unless there is no other option. No matter how wrong headed or traitorous. But they simply gave me no other way."
"Traitors!" Cheraya's shriek made even Dartmouth wince. "You think them traitors! They died for what they believed Sir Knight. They held to their freedom and allowed themselves to fall on the fields of battle."
Vylldov simply shrugged. "The fortunes of war.."
Cheraya shook her head. "All we seek is our freedom. A respect for our liberties and a way to maintain our dignity. Your kind abandoned us for centuries, hiding away as banality ate our very souls. Is it any wonder why we have chosen this route? That which I carry is only a document of words."
"I must disagree," Dartmouth observed, "it is a document of ideas. Powerful ideas."
"Traitorous you mean," the Gwyndion observed dryly.
"Are not all great ideas rebellious at their core? Are they not all then traitorous by some extent?"
"You talk of this thing as though it were a chess piece," Cheraya snapped, "it is not. It is the lives of the leaders who died on Beltaine. It is the spirit of their resistance to you and your oppression."
It went downhill from there...
Once in her chambers, Cheraya fell onto the lavish bed and cried into her pillow. As she sobbed she heard a sound from behind, a scratching on the window. Looking up, she stared at the window, and saw a black figure outlined there by the bars and the moonlight. "That could have gone better."
It was Dartmouth. Cheraya still felt the crushing anguish of her upcoming failure, but she was not going to show that sadistic nobleman her pain. Angrily, she brushed the tears from her eyes.
"What do you want?"
"You left my table angry," the Count replied as he stepped out of the shadows. With a gesture, the gaslight next to the bed flared into life. "I do not wish to see any leave my table in such a state,"
The eshu backed away. She could not understand this mercurial Ailil. His words to her before were unsettling, but it seemed as though he was going to let her go. Then came the dinner and a confrontation with the hunter who had been pursuing her since Philadelphia. Now he seemed almost amiable again.
"Why would you care?"
"I would care because I am the Lord here," the unseelie sidhe explained with an absent gesture of his arm that seemed to indicate the entire Castle. "This place is mine, the responsibility to care for those within her walls are likewise mine. And I would not want one such as yourself to suffer."
"But you brought me to that dinner. With the very sidhe bastard who has been hunting me!"
Something in his tone seemed to indicate innocence, although Cheraya just assumed it was more practice than genuine emotion. She went on: "And you have trapped me here. Against my will I might add."
The dark-skinned sidhe shook his head slowly. "I have saved you, and you know it. Vylldov and his fellows were practically upon you Cheraya. I have simply provided the best protection possible for you my dear."
The eshu exploded with his calm rationalizations. "Something tells me that I was better off there than I am with you!"
"You are under my protection still."
"You said I would be protected from one night hence. That would be tonight right?"
"It might be."
"What do you mean it might be?"
The sidhe smiled. "Just as I said. It might be, then again, it might take longer."
"I don't understand."
Cheraya smoothed her face again, she was still crying despite her best efforts, but he would not see the tears upon her face. "Why are you doing this?"
"You think this a game for me?"
"In a way it is, but then all politics are games Cheraya."
Incredulous, the eshu stared at her jailor-host. "Then it really is a game for you?"
"Of course," Dartmouth nodded, "that does not make it unimportant. In fact, this game we are playing now is far more important than most people's 'reality'."
"I don't understand that either."
Dartmouth's face seemed to brighten. He held out his hands. "What do you carry wilder?"
"The Declaration of Sovereignty," the exasperated eshu pointed towards her pack at the door.
"We went through that already."
"Is that all?"
"What do you mean?" she cried desperately, "I don't understand!" It was frustrating to her because she knew he was pushing for her to see something. She knew that, but she was not doing to do what he wanted her to do. It made her feel stupid and she resented it. Dartmouth sat down at the edge of her bed, his voice filled with passion. "You are carrying a symbol. More than that, the Declaration is a relic of some sorts: A key to freedom for some, an object of hatred for others. You and your fellows saw it's potential, as do those where you pass through. Already there is talk of it, and I have heard things that indicate you have been showing it freely along the way. The nobles like Vylldov see it as a challenge to their way of life at a time most desperate for them." The Count sat down on the bed next to the girl and stared at her with his dark penetrating eyes. "It is not simply a document Cheraya. It is a piece of Kithain history. It is possibly a piece of the future to come. In the game of politics it is all those things and more. Who knows what will come of it when you are finished child? So which is more important?"
The eshu stared at the sidhe, her eyes exasperated. "But why do you care?"
"Let us say that the game will soon become more interesting."
"That is hardly an answer."
"True," the Count acknowledged frankly, "but I do not know if you would like the real answer."
The eshu stared at him. It was obvious that he was not about to tell her what reasoning he had for not stopping her already, despite his terrible oath. She could not imagine how, but she knew that somewhere within the oath was duplicity of some sort. Tales of Ailil wiliness were hardly unwarranted.
"You should read that document Cheraya," the Count told her as he crossed the room and opened the door of her chamber. "I think you might understand then."
With a sigh, Cheraya watched as the Count left. Then the eshu staggered back and across her bed to the nightstand. She checked the scroll, making sure it remained in her satchel first then physically removing it. The black spindles creaked as the first words of the document emerged: 'When in the course of Kithain events, it becomes necessary...'
It was at that point that something caught her eye: a fluttering of the curtains near the barred window. The Count had entered by the secret passageway and exited from the front door. Apparently leaving the secret passage open. As the eshu's senses picked up, she knew that the next steps of her journey lay in that direction. Quickly she gathered up her things and with arms outstretched searched for cool air to guide her to the secret doorway.
It was often said that the pathways of the eshu were rarely the most direct, but often the most interesting. Cheraya had come to rediscover that adage as she made her way through the winding bowels of Castle Packard. Somewhere after the third dead end the makeshift torch gave out and she was forced to guide her way by feel. Only once did she sense something nearby, and then it was nothing more than a cold wind in the passage that smelled vaguely of blood. All in all however the eshu was sure that there was a way out, and that eventually her gift would help her find that exit. All the while, she was well aware that this was the Count's doing. But was it simply his way of showing mercy, or some other facet of his game? Eventually, the commoner found herself at the base of another set of stairs. By that time she had gone up and down so many that she did not properly know where they might lead, but when she saw what appeared to be unbroken sky halfway up the turns, she redoubled her efforts.
The sky beckoned her, a moon shining brightly down upon her as Cheraya finally emerged from the bowels of Castle Packard. But even as he head emerged from the passage, she knew that she was not where she had originally thought or hoped she would be.
The hollow wind tore at her silken dress as Cheraya turned slowly around. The roof of Castle Packard was much like the rest of the place: gothic and dark, slightly foreboding and hardly featureless. In fact, from where she was standing the roof looked like an amalgamation of boxes, with surfaces - some flat others at sharp angles - and a sudden drop off every end. Below her, the Castle was eerily silent. She could see the great metal plates which had emerged from hidden tracks to seal off the doorways behind steel. She marveled at the ingenuity of the Nocker artisan who had built the place, even as she cursed him.
Cheraya blinked as the face of the sidhe hunter greeted her from the other side of the Castle. He was dressed now as he had been when she saw him before she had entered Packard itself: the armor which was his stock and trade practically lit up under the moonlight. For a moment, he looked as surprised as she.
Then the sidhe smiled, showing perfect white teeth.
"What will you do now Sir Knight?" Cheraya asked as the Gwyndion closed on her. "There is no way off for either of us."
"I will not release you until you are in the Queen's custody at Caer Pallisades commoner. Once I have you, I shall never let you go."
At the mention of Queen Mab's court, Cheraya started backing her way towards the edge of the rooftops, scrambling over the angled rooftops. "You'll not take me back alive Vylldov."
"I would not care one way or the other goodwoman. I am after the Declaration. I was always after the Declaration. You and your friends at Crickhollow and the Redberkley Mound were just in my way. Go ahead, I'll just take the thing back and leave your corpse behind with this unseelie fop."
Cheraya stopped and drew her curved knife. She knew at that moment that dashing herself upon the ground below the Castle would only make Vylldov's job that much easier. If she had to she would make him pay for his 'prize' with blood. It would probably be all her own, but there would be a story in the telling in her next life, and hopefully far fewer sidhe to worry over.
The nobleman smiled as he approached. Cheraya could see the look in his eyes and knew that he was excited; aroused by the fact that he was about to kill the woman he had been tracking for so long. His faith and honor were even intact, because he was doing nothing less than fulfilling the royal mandate of his mistress. She could see the flash of his silver blade in the moonlight, and the ornate golden hilt, she could see the murder in his eyes like a whore's kiss: consuming but devoid of any real emotion.
"Nice night aint it?" A flash of light drew both of their attentions to a small outcropping of shingles. By the ugly green glow near his mouth, they could make out the outlines of the bandy legged Fool of Packard. After a moment, the flare ended, and both of the other fae could see the end of the Fool's cigar glowing in the darkness.
The Gwyndion hesitated a moment. "Where is your master Fool?"
At first the voice was muffled, distinct, but muffled. "Lagging behind I'm sorry to say..."
Then the Count hauled himself from a trapdoor not too far from the very edge of the rooftop. "I simply forgot about the passages that had been blocked by the Shutters. I hope the goodlady will accept my apologies?"
Cheraya nodded quickly as she continued to hold the knife out at the Gwyndion sidhe. The Fool gave a snort and blew out some greyish-green smoke that the others could mercifully not smell. The end of the cheroot still glowed green.
The Knight's voice was harsh. "You still do not claim to protect the commoner, do you Dartmouth?"
The Count of Greystraights smiled. "Of course. I said that I would, and I am. Which was why Morice was here, in case you decided to lay hands on her while I was still en route."
"The Fool against me?" Vylldov barked.
"He is much more formidable than he seems," Dartmouth observed.
Cheraya coughed, uncertain whether it was the smell of the cigar or the cloying stench of blood which seemed to dog the Redcap wherever he went. By now though, neither of the sidhe were paying her any attention.
"Oh by the way," Dartmouth added, "Morice has something for you."
Vylldov scowled as the redcap pulled something from behind his back and tossed it casually to the sidhe: A tightly rolled scroll with black knobs at either end.
"As you may have guessed, your companions will not be joining you," Dartmouth's face was lit with mischievous joy. "Morice had them for diner."
"They was lovely," the Fool observed dryly patting his stomach, "especially the redhead. A nice delicate flavor from that one. The others were tougher and needed a little Bar-Be-Q."
"You ambushed them?" the Knight snarled.
The Count looked askance. "I had things to attend to at home Sir Knight, my Fool attended to your friends all by himself."
The redcap belched. "Actually boss, I had a little help from the corby." When his Master looked at him with annoyance, the Fool replied defensively. "What can I say yer Lordship? you know I hate to eat alone."
Even Cheraya shuddered at that.
The Gwyndion knight, tore his horrified gaze the Fool of Packard and hefted the scroll in his hands. "Who is to say that the Duke has not already added his signature to this Document?" he barked, "then the right to the girl is mine legally."
"Don't matter one way or the other," Morice observed. You never wanted her. You just said so yourself."
The Gwyndion's face darkened. "Shut up!"
"The infamous temper of the griffon Morice. Take notes."
"The woman and the Declaration she carries are mine!" the Knight snarled, his anger coiled spring like in his belly. "You swore an Oath!"
"And I have carried it out," the Ailil replied, drawing his own blade. The sword was thinner than that of the knight's, but a trifle longer. The twin dragon's which made up the hilt seemed to be coiled about one another for the length of the grips, their heads coming out in a graceful curve, then back together to shape the guard and their tails wrapped about a clear gemstone on the end to form the pommel.
"You have not Ailil," the Gwyndion contended. "You have not, and the Dreaming shall judge you!" It was well known that the Dreaming often took such matters into account - the Fior for instance, in which the aggrieved parties fought over a legal point in trial by combat. It was said that the Dreaming had its own way of meting out justice.
"Are you so sure of that?" Dartmouth inquired, his words a taunt.
The Gwyndion angrily threw the scroll down onto the rook whereupon it rolled into one of the nearby gutters. His eyes were pits of fury and his hands shook with rage. "Sure enough to dispose of dead weight. And of you unseelie bastard."
Dartmouth smiled as the two came together. Traditions of sidhe dueling generally involved an oath of some sort at the beginning of the battle, a kind of unspoken agreement between both parties of the parameters of the conflict.
This was not that kind of duel.
Dartmouth cursed as the Gwyndion's blade sliced through his tunic, bisecting the Dragon image of his House over his chest and drawing blood from the tender flesh beneath. His own return cut was deflected by the knight's armor, managing to cut away a few links of the silvery chain. As the two sidhe traded blow after blow, the commoners watched.
"What if he looses?" Cheraya asked, delicately standing next to the redcap as he watched indolently. His stench was bad up close, but not overwhelming.
The eshu blinked, she had thought it obvious. "Your Lord."
Morice smiled. "Always a chance of that."
Cheraya seemed somewhat taken aback by that as the Gwyndion drove his blade into the roof tiles and the Ailil kicked him over. "He seemed very confident in your abilities."
The redcap removed the smoking cigar from his mouth and stared at the eshu, his ragged teeth twisted into a leering grin. "That's cuz I'm better than he is babe."
Cheraya looked back at the fight at that moment, trying to think of who she should hope for: the unseelie she did not trust whatsoever or the seelie she trusted to kill her if he had the chance. It was a difficult choice: sure death or sure torture and more mindgames. The next few blows however told the tale.
Dartmouth had his back to the edge, and the knight was driving him further in that direction step by step, blow by blow. As much as the Count had in guile, the Knight matched him with speed and strength. In his day, the Count of Greystraights and Lord of Castle Packard might have fought better. But he was no longer that fae.
With a grunt, the seelie knight struck the Count's blade from his hand. The dragon-hilted sword turned end over end and embedded itself in the side of a chimney. By then, both were breathing hard and all but exhausted. As the unseelie stumbled to one knee, the Gwyndion raised his blade over his head for the coup de grace.
Then the Ailil looked up and rasped, "I told you this was my fight Morice!"
As Vylldov twisted his head slightly, Dartmouth grabbed the other sidhe by his heel and jerked hard, upending the Gwyndion and sending his blade clattering into the gutters. As the two began to wrestle, hovering over the edge, Dartmouth managed to free a knife from his boot and buried it in Sir Vylldov's shoulder. With a cry of pain and rage, the knight bucked Dartmouth off but lost his balance and fell over the edge.
Cheraya screamed and Morice barked laughter. As the two commoners rushed forward however, they noticed that the well-armored knight was still dangling from the edge of the roof by one hand, the other hanging useless beside him with the knife blade still lodged in his shoulder.
The redcap turned casually to his liege. "He aint dead boss."
"I know that Fool!" Dartmouth hissed as he rose to his feet. The Ailil Lord had suffered the worse in the duel, made obvious by the cuts and bruises all over his body. But he still had the unflappable nobility of his kith.
Cheraya's voice was filled with concern. She knew the knight had tracked her, but she also knew he was fae, and there were things one fae did not do to another. "What are you going to do?"
Dartmouth looked down at the knight dangling over the edge a moment, then at the side of the building as though measuring the drop. His eyebrows knit together a moment, then he braced himself and grabbed the Knight's wrist with both hands. Morice watched from the sidelines, and held back Cheraya as she stepped forward.
"I did not ask for quarter," the Knight gasped, his fingers obviously starting to give way as Dartmouth's double handed grip on his wrist became the sole means by which he remained safe.
"I know." The Count grunted as Vylldov gripped his hands in desperation. But the thick gauntlets did not allow him purchase. "Swing your legs," the Ailil commanded.
The Knight swung his leg over and began to gain some momentum. Once, twice, then Vylldov almost managed to get a foot on the gutter when Dartmouth abruptly let him go. End over end the Knight tumbled cursing the Unseelie before he glanced off a gargoyle on the way down and apparently lost consciousness. The rest of the fall was most unimaginative and finished with a predictable ending.
"I'd give it a three fer the sloppy dismount," Morice announced as Cheraya choked back bile. The eshu's eyes were filled with tears and her stomach became queasy as she stared at Dartmouth.
"He might have survived had he had hit that gargoyle down there just right," The Count observed rationally, "so I had to make an adjustment." The Fool shrugged as his Lord went on, a trifle mollified. "Thank the Fates he was dumb enough to fall for that 'let me pull you up over the ledge so you can bash me about again' stuff. How even mortals could classify such drivel as entertainment I shall never understand. Serves him bloody right."
"But why?" she asked again, still evidently traumatized by the knight's demise.
Dartmouth blinked innocently. For him it was more than obvious. "Otherwise he may have survived. I could not have that on my conscience could I? I mean the lame 'look-out-behind-you' stunt was the oldest and dumbest trick I could think of... he didn't deserve to survive after he fell for that one."
Morice ducked his head over the edge and licked his lips. "Hey boss, you think the pantry could spare any noodles to go with Mr. Spaghetti Helper there?"
Cheraya threw up.
The eshu was two nights out of Packard before she took the Count's advice and removed the scroll from her satchel. She idly picked at the red knobs for a moment trying to think of what seemed wrong then just went ahead and just read the darned thing.
It started off quite boldly:
- 'The Following Writ hereby grants the authority to sir Vylldov ap Gwyndion, or any nobleman in possession of said document to..." At the end it was signed 'Her Royal Highness Queen Mab of the Kingdom of Apples' and undersigned, 'His Grace Vochfort, Duke of Pitchdrakken'. The eshu read the words for a moment without understanding, the shock of the thing adding to its horror. It took her several minutes before she could even move. Then she immediately began throwing her meager possessions into the satchel and headed out the door.
The eshu stood before the Count of Greystraights, bowing her head slightly as his eyes bore upon her from the shadows. The commoner was shorter than most of her kith, with a roundness of limb and form one could not find in the noble sidhe and a raw sexuality which almost matched that of the satyrs. She was dressed in the silks common to many of her kind, brilliant colors and rich soft textures that stood out proudly against her mahogany skin. Her voile was a bit disheveled and her hair had not been drawn back in the customary bun in which she most often wore it, but the fire was still in her voice.
"I want it back."
The noble's face was partially hidden by the inky black folds of shadow but his characteristic posture was very un-aristocratic, the 'Unseelie Slump' seemed to be his normal posture. The Count's right hand laid aside his face, but of that portion she could still only make out the barest outline. His garb consisted of a rich black doublet upon black cannons, both with silver and white trim. On his chest was his banner, the silver dragon rampant between four silver stars. In his hands was a scroll with black spindle knobs. Finally, the figure wrapped in shadows broke his silence.
The Count handed it to the eshu. "Of course, what took you so long?"
Cheraya unrolled the top, made sure of her charge and then spoke her mind. The words were hot, nearly as hot as her ears. "I thought better of you my Lord."
"Really?" the Count inquired, his voice sarcastic. "Tell me how awful I was."
"Hardly awful your Lordship, it was more... mischievous than anything else."
Dartmouth's eyebrow arched. "There's no need to be insulting my dear child." His tone was a trifle hurt.
"I am not a child your Lordship," Cheraya replied, "and you are not the evil man most think you are."
"Try not to let that get around."
She stared at him, as if she saw him in a new light. "You have honor."
"Of my own," Dartmouth agreed.
"Which I follow rigorously," Dartmouth admitted. "Of course, you'll not find it calcified on the lips of some troubadour. It is my code."
The eshu's head tilted to one side. "What tenant did Vylldov break?"
"He came here hunting a kithain goodlady," Dartmouth replied curtly. "He came here with a writ he knew was no good and he made demands of me in my own Freehold. Of course, being on the side of the underdog generally, I was already predisposed to help you. Those things just sealed the good Knight's fate."
"You bargained him for me."
Dartmouth shook his head slowly. "No, I told him that if what he wished was in this Freehold, I would deliver it to him. And I did. When I made the oath, I thought it was just you and that the scene at dinner would be enough to satisfy the damnable thing. Then when you told me what you carried I knew better. I tried anyway because it was still possibly all he wanted."
"So how did you give him what he wanted?"
"The scroll that Morice tossed him when we were on the roof was precisely what he wanted: the Declaration of Sovereignty. I gave to him that which he sought. He chose to throw it aside of his own free will. I was after all under no compulsion to tell him I had provided it for him yes?"
"How did you get it from me?"
Dartmouth smirked. "Morice did, in the tunnels. He can have a very light finger that one."
Cheraya remembered something of her trip through the darkened tunnels. The presence she felt then which had been accompanied by... "But he stinks of blood."
"Yes. Nasty habit that, now you know why he was not at dinner. Among other reasons of course."
Cheraya turned to go. "Was I ever really under your protection my lord?"
"Until Vylldov ended up on the lawn - yes."
"Why until then?"
"I said I would guard you...." he prompted.
"From one night hence," Cheraya finished. "But it was still dark outside when he hit the ground. Why should your protection have ended there? Why were you so coy as to how long you would extend it despite the oath you swore?"
Dartmouth's grin deepened. "No my dear. I said 'Knight' not 'night'. Knight as in K-n-i-g-h-t. As in the next to lowest rank of noble." The Ailil's use of a homonym was not technically a default of his oath. Like most things, oaths were not always exactly what they appeared to be. "As in one Sir Vylldov ap Gwyndion. You heard what you expected to hear my dear. That has always been something on which I have counted when I deal with others."
Her eyebrow arched, a habit she had picked up from him. "You did not have to you know, you could have done far less."
The Unseelie lord nodded. "I could have set a date, held you there or even just kept him off you inside, then let you both go. Yes I agree."
"Why didn't you?" The eshu sensed the uneasiness of the Ailil as he thought about his answer.
"As the mortals saw: He pissed me off. But he vexed me after I had already made the decision in any case." Dartmouth smiled at her. "I may not have killed him, only detained him. Suffice to say that I root for the underdogs and the rebels. You happen to be both. It makes no sense otherwise does it?"
"Unless you believe in what the Declaration stands for and wanted the commoners to see it..."
Dartmouth's wry grin turned slightly lopsided. "I would be a fool to admit to that goodlady. As unseelie as I am, the assorted nobility would flay me alive for that - those of my own court would no doubt have been the ones to set the fires alight. But I have adequate cover now: You had been extended a serious oath by me. The Knight in question attempted to assault you in my Castle, and I dealt with the situation as I deemed appropriate. He never even asked for quarter, you heard it yourself."
Cheraya arched her eyebrow, biting back another comment about his mischievous side. "One more thing if you would my Lord." The Count nodded. "Have you ever hunted anything?"
"I mean one of our kind."
Dartmouth seemed to take some pride in her inclusion of him in her kind. "Every Highsummer Festival, you are of course invited from now on."
"Then what was the difference between Vylldov and you?"
Dartmouth smiled broadly. "My prey gets a pot of gold if they escape and are usually armed with shotguns. Plus I never hunt innocents."
She smiled at the image. It somehow fit what she understood of his code. "What do I get?"
"Well, for the moxie to come back and the guts to try this stunt in the first place," the nobleman said, taking a pendant from his neck: a black dragon rampant on a black shield. "This is my personal symbol, note the extra stars which distinguish it from that of the rest of my House. You may use it if you ever have the need. It may help you sometime in the future, it may not. Your fortunes now ride partially with mine." He then added in a much softer voice as she walked away staring at the Dragon pendant, "And mine with yours..."
And she lived happily ever after (for the most part)...
...Cheraya accepted the lemonade with grateful thanks. The balefires of the Freehold were burning brightly now, brighter than anyone had ever remembered seeing them before, casting her mahagony skin in a pale glow. Outside, Winter raged, but there was hope.
"Tell us the story again!" one of the childings cried, "Tell us again how you escaped with the Demarcation!"
"The Declaration," one of the nearby not-quite-wilder's corrected.
"Yeah! Declaration!" began the chorus.
The eshu grump fingered the trinket at her side and then began her tale....
"Once there was a Maiden, from a far off land, who was saved from a seelie Knight by an unseelie Dragon.