Synopsis: A fast-paced story about a youngster who loses everything and everyone he holds dear. Through the only family that still remains with him, his uncle, he gets to choose to dedicate his focus and attention to blacksmithing rather than to fall into depression and street life...
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So, I ended up in a private room after all.
It was a fancy room, as expected at that price. The accommodations included a canopy bed and a dining table, but also a couch, tea service and even a little balcony, screened from neighboring rooms but overlooking the woods behind the building.
Furthermore, instead of the standard one girl that came with a private room, we had two, like would have come with a private bath. That was due to my presence. Double occupancy was costing Serera more, but it came with double the service.
I sighed at the pretty blond’s mildly seductive glances and touches as she pulled a chair out from the dining table to seat me. Serera chuckled at me as her partner did the same for her.
The private room attendants in this wing didn’t wear traditional Dorian costumes like Laneia or the manager. Instead, they wore fully modern, surprisingly conservative nightgowns. The green-haired girl helping Serera was in a royal blue ankle-length gown that only became daring at her bare arms and a neckline that plunged far enough to reveal the band of her matching bra. The blond wore a long-sleeved gown that was very modest above the waist, but only knee length and slit up one thigh almost to the hip, allowing just a teasing peek at the garter belt straps securing her stocking on that leg.
Both looked very elegant, in a boudoir fashion way, frankly.
The two girls shifted smoothly into the role of restaurant servers. Serera received a menu from the green-haired girl while the blond went to a side-table to prepare tea.
It’s not unusual for the host to decide the meal in Dorian restaurants. As Serera studied the choices, she noted, “You seem dissatisfied, dear.”
I shrugged. “It’s just that I specifically chose against hiring the girls or taking a private room here. For ethical reasons, I consider fairy-touched girls off-limits. I feel like I’m taking advantage of a victim.”
She humphed, then turned to the girl waiting for her. She told her, “The soup, the horned rabbit dry-pot, the lamb fries savory plate and have the chef choose the dessert.”
She turned to me and asked, “Will that do for you, Your Highness?”
“Lamb fries,” I responded with an ‘ew’ face. That’s lamb testicles, you see. Serera handed the menu over to me with a wry smile.
It looked like today’s soup was spring vegetables, and the rabbit was fine, but I definitely needed a different savory course. I was underwhelmed by the choices.
“We can have the chef send a selection of cheeses and charcuterie, Your Highness,” the girl suggested.
“Sure,” I nodded, and handed the menu to the girl. She accepted it while giving me a smile, then left the room to place the order.
While the blond served us tea, Serera noted, “To be clear, I didn’t send you here to partake of the girls. I only occasionally play with them, myself. This is simply my preferred place to stay when I report to His Majesty. Sleeping in that rabbit warren of a palace is unpleasant for a sylph. Besides, I felt this would be an ideal spot for your baths.”
She tipped her head. “As I understand it, it would be unusual for a vampire to feed two nights in a row anyhow. Isn’t that right?”
“It is,” I admitted.
“I know vampires need it for their magic, though. Is there any benefit in you feeding before the duel?”
I thought about my desire to explore the abilities of the blood ball and the core, to find out whether I could increase those abilities simply by feeding. And, of course, I had gone through no less than three combats since the morning. Because I had just fed, it wouldn’t have been enough to put me into blood hunger even before I learned how to condense blood. However, it had put a dent in my blood supply.
“I would benefit some from it,” I agreed.
She turned to the girl who had just returned the teapot to its place. “Come here, dear.”
The attendant complied with a smile. Serera took her by the hand, then slipped the other hand onto her exposed thigh to caress it. “How do you feel about it? Her Highness has misgivings about playing with the girls here.”
“It’s not unusual, My Lady,” she answered. “There are customers who share her feelings about that. That’s why the House employs girls like me as well.”
“You’re not one of the fairy-touched?” Serera asked.
“No, ma’am,” she shook her head. “But Melsa– the other girl– she is.”
She turned to me. “Your Highness, I personally don’t think you would be taking advantage of her. I’ve known Melsa since she came to us. She’s much better now. She’s even making plans for what she will do when she leaves here. Working here is helping her.”
“That’s good,” I told her, “But I’ll pass.”
“Would you like for me to attend you, Your Highness?”
For a moment, that magic-hungry bit inside me was yelling, Yes! Please!
But, I decided against it. “I will properly appreciate it when you serve my dinner, but I will stand by my decision against anything more.”
I just didn’t feel comfortable with going back on what I had said. I hadn’t said, ‘no fairy-touched’, I had said, ‘not in this place’. It’s probably something I got from the old Tiana, but keeping my word has become important to me.
Serera and I chatted while enjoying the tea, and the conversation continued over the dinner that eventually arrived. Mostly, the conversation involved me recounting my flight here. She confirmed that “Möemnen Gentle Hands” was a dryad, based on my description of her powers, but she’d never heard of her, so she likely was a commoner. She did know of a green man who might have been the one I had run across, but I didn’t know his name, so she couldn’t be sure it was the same man.
“It’s quite a coincidence, running across two of the same rare kind like that,” I mused. After all, green men are male dryads, in effect.
“Not as much as you might think,” she said with a shake of her head. “You were keeping to high-altitude valleys and specifically sticking to green places away from water. Greater fairies prefer dwelling within hills and rarely interact with strangers. Sylphs prefer crags and grottos where the wind is good. Nymphs prefer lower altitudes and naturally, naiads weren’t in the mix if you were avoiding bodies of water. The dryad tribe was your likeliest encounter.”
“I was just passing by, when I ran into that green man.”
“But much of the land you were flying over was natural dryad territory too.”
In the Royal Knights, they trained us in analytical thinking, since crime investigation is a big part of the job. I realized what she was saying. I was seeing what our instructors call a ‘false correlation’. Encountering the same fairy tribe twice wasn’t a true coincidence; actually, it was a more likely event than I had realized.
By the way, we were having this conversation while Melsa, the green-haired attendant, was sitting in Serera’s lap and feeding her. It was kind of distracting. Her gown had slipped off one shoulder, so half her low-cut lace bra was on display.
Me? Roan, the blond-haired girl was dutifully standing by, clothes properly in place, while I fed myself. I would have felt ridiculous letting somebody feed me like that.
A knock on the door interrupted our dinner conversation. I thought it would be the savory course, which I wasn’t looking forward to. My inner Robert was already cringing at the thought of watching Serera enjoying slices of some poor lamb’s balls. Roan went to slide the door open, to reveal one of the staff escorting a lesser fairy wearing a one-piece jumper with an official appearance. It even had an aiguillette and epaulets.
The staffer gestured for the lesser fairy to enter. She strode into the room and went down to her knees facing me, then dogeza’ed briefly before rising back up into a seiza.
“I come from the High Forest bearing a message for Her Highness, Princess Tiana from Her Highness, the Lady of the Valley.”
With that, she held up a scroll tube to me on her open palms. Once I accepted it with a mystified frown, she stated, “No return message is requested, Your Highness. May I take my leave?”
I nodded. “Yes. You may go.”
Once she departed, I unwound the string holding the cap, pulled it off the tube and removed a roll of paper tied with a silk ribbon. After reading it, I gave Serera a sigh and a wry smile.
“It’s all approved. Lady Feraen and I shall arrive at Mid-Evening at the Royal Sword Grounds. Prince Gelon will be present.”
“About two hours from now,” Serera nodded. “Are you okay with me serving as your second?”
“I would be grateful.”
In a somewhat delayed reaction, both attendants gasped. Roan moved up and put her hands on my forearm, asking, “Your Highness, you’re fighting a duel?”
Patting her hand, I smiled and said, “I’ll be fine.”
“Overconfidence could kill you, child,” Serera chided. “Despite her faults, Lady Feraen is a fairy knight.”
Melsa’s eyes grew wide. “You’re fighting a fairy knight?”
I tipped my head. “But I’m a fairy knight too, you know?”
Both of them grew confused. Melsa responded, “The manager told us you were a vampire.”
“Nobody explained to you about me? But you’ve been calling me ‘Your Highness’…”
“Because Lady Serera was,” Roan answered.
“Well, I’m indeed a vampire from my father, and I am a princess of Faerie through my mother. The Fairy King is my grandfather.”
Do you know what ‘pokan face’ means? Huge round eyes and slack jaw? That’s what I instantly got from both these girls. I could hear Serera stifling laughter.
I guess they had assumed I was the princess of some minor kingdom. There’s a whole gaggle of such places scattered throughout the Dragonsbacks, running between Relador and Hamagaar. It’s a region at least the size of Central America, but with at least four times the number of countries. Some of them might as well be the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, just a castle town surrounded by farmland hiding in some inaccessible valley. Lots of opportunity for the existence of royals that these girls had never heard of.
I patted the still anxious Roan’s hand again. “Don’t worry. I’ve beaten her before. Twice.”
“You do understand that Feraen was faking being so insulted she needed satisfaction? That child demanded that duel because she is still plotting to kill you, Your Highness,” Serera warned. “I say again, Overconfidence could be fatal.”
I sighed. “Yes, I already understand that. And just because I’ve caught her off-guard twice doesn’t mean I can pull it off a third time, right? I promise to fight her seriously.”
Serera looked at me speculatively. “You intend to fight her without your armor, I suppose.”
I blinked. “Obviously. It’s still in Copen, unless someone has confiscated it.”
I was worried about that, actually. Not so much about my armor, but about the mithril sword and mage’s fan and other things that I had left with it? Had that traitor duke found some excuse to sieze it? Or was Ged protecting all of it as he had promised?
The helpless feeling that those thoughts gave me infuriated me. I pushed it out of my mind and changed the subject.
“Do you think the king will listen to those nobles who want to turn me over to Lord Parna?” I asked Serera.
She looked surprised. “Aren’t you trying to get to him because you believe that he’ll protect you?”
I shook my head. “I have actually no idea how he feels about me. My duty is to ensure he knows that it’s Parna and not King Owen who is trying to kill me.”
She tipped her head. “That’s all?”
“My duty is to protect my king. I must prevent Parna from tricking my grandfather into making the wrong person his enemy.”
“And what do you plan to do after that?”
I gave her an uncertain shrug and a complicated smile. “I’ll have the freedom to figure that out once I’ve done my duty.”