The Conclave of Consequence, Chapter 49-50

Lord Keanorin has some people missing. Two elves have a chat with the Hunter.

 

Chapter 49.

The Conclave.

The Conclave votes had started out as Narbeth expected, mostly votes up and down reiterating the issues of the last Conclave put on the list by people trying to assess how the winds were changing. With some exceptions, the votes were rather predictable with the conservatives and old sticks sticking to their positions and the more forward thinking pushing their new agenda, with some commonality over things like motor vehicles where even a majority of the old sticks, or their families thought of them as a good thing. As the Conclave ended for the day, Aeson Keanorin stood up and said, “I want to file sanction against Lord Qinvaris for violating the Conclave.”

“How so, Lord Keanorin?”
Lord Qinvaris has made off with my sons and nephews in an attempt to influence my votes in the Conclave.”
“That is a very serious charge, Lord Keanorin. Do you have any evidence?”
“It is known that House Qinvaris has filed a Letter of Intent against my House and has falsely accused my brother.”
Gander stood up and said, “I would not make that accusation, Lord Keanorin. My people have been rather busy of late discovering that any accusations against your brother are probably based on fact and we have quite a bit of evidence that your brother has committed a lot of crimes. We are still looking for all the survivors and I hope to have a writ against your brother all too soon, calling for his arrest. I have already taken Taerentym Carran’s statements as well as others and I have, among other things, an elf slicer identified as belonging to Tarranth Qinvaris. Since many of the families that your brother destroyed are now citizens of the Republic there may be extradition papers coming from the Embassy. In any case, your brother is in a great deal of trouble.”

“As for the Letter of Intent, Lord Keanorin, Lord Qinvaris only stated that he will declare war on your house if your House takes action against his,” Narbeth said. “If your sons were abducted and taken elsewhere, that helps you and doesn’t hurt you, because if they are someplace else, they could hardly be taking action against House Qinvaris. In any case, witnesses say that your sons and their friends fell in with a crowd of like minded boys from the Fellowship in the Lower City and ported someplace. It may be that your boys took a little vacation and are in, say, Oceanside or Ishendell, with new friends and things to provide distraction. I imagine that they will return all too soon.”

“The boys were on a task. They wouldn’t just up and leave.”

“With their uncle, perhaps? I would be very careful right now, Lord Keanorin. In any case, none of Lord Qinvaris’s people or relatives were seen assaulting or making off with your sons and their friends.”

“I will retract my accusation until further evidence becomes available.”
“Justiciar Zylsalor, if you would, see what further evidence you can find regarding Lord Keanorin’s sons. With that, I conclude this day in the Conclave.”

Galan joined Narbeth and said quietly, “What an idiot. He’s lucky that his boys were made off with and should want them down there on the beach someplace and out of his uncle’s hands. He should be making the case that his brother is a rogue and that he knew nothing about his brother’s activities, not supporting Richard’s accusations. At this point his brother is pretty much done in any case. I wonder what he is hiding.”

“That is a very good question. Get together with Gander and see what he has.”

The Portal Service.

“Did Jorge say why he wanted to meet with us?” Adiun asked.

“I think that I will let Jorge explain.”

“I tried to trace the portal and the portal is inactive,” Aimer said. “I’m going to use the ancient portal at the estate to force the portal active and get a trace. It’s definitely one of the portals that was disconnected and moved, from where it was supposed to be and it was one that was logged as dangerous after the fae that Adiun sent didn’t return.”
“So he couldn’t Jump out,” Adiun said. “We were still getting started at that point and I didn’t know about supressors. Did Jorge say anything about a suppressor?”
“Not to me,” Tathaln said. “I got the impression that he was infiltrating into someplace and didn’t want that spilled, so he wanted us to “find” the portal and our lost boy. That way, Jorge was never there and we found what we found in our normal tracking down what happened at the portal.”
“I’ll prep some returners,” Wyrran said. “We’ll send them through and then a team using both the portal and a one way port, with guns. We’ve already dealt with that bandit band at one of the other dangerous portals. Machine guns suddenly appearing and opening up in the middle of your camp really tends to shake somebody up.”

“We shouldn’t need those here, Tathaln said. “Here’s Jorge.”

Jorge was let into the meeting room and said, “I see that you are all here, except Jorge, that is.”
“He’s doing something for you,” Tathaln said.

“Yes he is. I apologize somewhat, but things are moving quickly and I am still catching up. In any case, I wanted to discuss what you will find at that portal. Have you traced it yet?”
“It’s inactive and disconnected,” Aimer said.

“That isn’t a surprise. I expect that a certain elf did that after the Portal Service fae showed up.”
“Whoever it is must have had a suppressor.”
“Yes they do. The Portal Service fae wasn’t the only fae to poke in there and not come out. The difference is that the Portal Service fae had a perfectly legitmate reason to be there and be doing what he was doing, so the character who killed him was an idiot. He was lucky and you were busy. Here are the pictures of what we found, with the exception of some things that you will want to discover by accident. Can you get a trace?”
“I can use an ancient portal to force activation,” Aimer said. “I’ve done that before and I would have done that already except that the ancient portal is at the estate and I wanted to be here for this before performing the trace.”

“Will there be issues with hostiles,” Tathaln asked. “You apparently went in and out without any problems.”
“The big hostile is busy performing another task at present. There are some guards, but you have a perfectly legitmate reason to track down the portal and there are rules about stolen portals.”
“There certainly are. The Portal Service was fighting that before I took over and my uncle has put the Portal tampering and theft rules to a vote, so they should become law. The murder of Portal Service personnel in the course of their duties is something we really want to discourage.”

“The thing now is timing. I’m hoping that you can go in while the big hostile is still occupied, raise a stink, let the guards kick you off the property and come back after the big hostile goes home with writs and the rest of it.”

“We will need to get a transporter there to move the portal once we know where it is,” Wyrran said with a grin. “Since we didn’t know that the portal was on private property when we went in, we didn’t ask Traelion for a writ. I screwed up and I apologize, Jorildyn.”

“That’s quite all right, Wyrran,” Jorildyn. “You had no way of knowing that the portal was not just another one lost in the wilderness.”

“Will you have people watching us, Jorge?” Trathaln asked.

“The first visit, no I will not. The second visit yes, I will have you covered. The second visit, I suspect, is when things are going to get hot. The only question I have is if the big hostile aborts what he is doing now and returns home when he discovers that you have probably discovered what is there, or if he pursues what he was doing.”

“Wyrran, why don’t you put something together for tomorrow and Aimer can perform the trace with you after this meeting,” Tathaln said. “I’m truly curious what you have handed us, Jorge.”

“I think that you will like it. On the other hand, somebody in deep trouble will get in deeper trouble. When the time comes for the second visit, I will make sure that I loan you my Inquisitor. He’s been rather bored, because people have been cooperating.”

Jorge left and Tathaln asked, “Any ideas where the portal is?”
“I bet that when I do the trace, the portal will be on the Keanorin estate,” Aimer said.

“Why?”
“A long time ago an elf named Feredir Keanorin came to the board with the Darkmage and wanted certain private portals shut down. He returned several times wanting portals shut down, including the private portals of House Trisxina. House Trisxina’s estate was next door to the Keanorin estate, we know what Jorge is looking for and there have been rumors going around about the Hunter going after Lord Qinvaris. If there were devises on the Keanorin estate, Jorge probably wanted them dealt with before something bigger started.”
“Having devises and knowing about it is still a capital offense.”
“It is, isn’t it? Let me go and get the trace done. This should be interesting.”

There were grins all around the table as the meeting broke up.

The Conclave.

The mermaids were performing a dance as Glynnii watched and sighed a bit. She would never have the time to practice the skills that it would take to reach this level and she would never be a mermaid herself and so would never develop the muscles for it. On the other hand, she had bought one of the suits for herself and one for Navarre and the trip to Oceanside was coming up. Lori Swam over and said, “you look rather sad, princess.”

“I was just telling myself that I would never be a true mer dancer.”

“I suppose not, though you could cheat a bit and gain the tail.”
“In my case, that would be inpolitic. I was rather wild when I was young and there still is a bit of a scandal about that.”
“I suppose that I will be living the same sort of thing down for a long time. I hate to say this, but I was known as the hoyden of Zirgoccol.”
“But you and Chald love each other so much!”
“That was the problem, I think. I wanted to be what my mother expected and hoped at the same time that Chald would drag me under. I played around, hoping that Chald would get jealous and do what we both wanted, but he loved me too much to risk that my mother would do the same thing to me that, in a fit of pique, she did to my sister, who I think she thought would come and beg forgiveness. Instead we all made a mess of things for a very long time. It finally took Roger and Nalaea for me to see the error of what I was doing to myself. I finally pushed and managed to get Chald to drag me under. I will never be the dancer the girls are, but we can watch and enjoy watching them enjoy themselves. Of course we both have husbands and the girls are on the hunt.”

Glynnii laughed. “Did I tell you what my girls did for the day of flowers?”
“No, you haven’t. It must have been amazing.”
“It was, even if they were bending the rules more than a bit. They made a huge cake castle with flowers. The thing was amazing and tasted good as well.”

“I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t try for a sea theme.”

“There was another girl from a House connected to the Shanelis who had just gone through transition and they traded with her for their themes. The mermaid had a wonderful presentation as well, even if she was rather underdressed.”
Lori laughed. “How did she get away with that?”
“She was underwater, didn’t say anything and let people assume that she was wearing a suit. So nobody noticed, or at least said anything about her really being a mermaid and she had the water all day. My mother would have had a fit. But then she would have had a fit over almost all the presentations. The Conclave last year was actually rather dull, except for the Qinvaris girls, who went all out. This time all the girls did, making the whole thing amazing. Of course Paeris wasn’t visiting this time, the Emperor isn’t dead and we aren’t crowning a new emperor while the Darkmage was charging up the street.”
“You were part of that.”
“Yes I was, too my sorrow. Most of that was as a messenger and front for my mother. I was rather upset when she decided to take a way out and blamed my brother for that somewhat. After a while, I started to realize that I didn’t want what my mother did and then you all came and my life became something worth living again.”

“Have you managed to convince your husband to go down to Oceanside?”
“It was his idea in the first place. After the Conclave tonight, my kids are on their own, and my husband and I are going for a Swim. After all, you can do everything in those suits.”

“That sounds like a wonderful evening. Who are those two sourpusses?”

“Thalia and Lielatha Zylvyre, two companions and sycophants of my mother. I imagine that they are rather upset with me right now. I was supposed to be a power player in their schemes this time around and this time, I just don’t care. It doesn’t help that their daughters went and found husbands far away from them that they do not approve of.”

“So, they are making the same mistake that my mother did. Hello Thessa. Glynnii, this is my niece, Thessa, who is apparently serving today.”

“Yes I am, Aunt Lori. Here are your drinks.”

“How did you get dragged into this?”
“I did this at home last year. I like these outfits and I get good tips. The money comes in handy and mother thinks that working keeps me out of trouble and since she is underwater and daddy is working, that is a good thing. I need to pick up my next order.”

Glynnii and Lori laughed as the girl ran off to her next customer.

Lielatha looked at Glynnii and Lori and said, “I think that we have lost the princess.”

Thalia looked at the ladies chatting away at the café and said, “She’s been talking to that mudsleeper more than she has been discussing what we should be doing and what her girls did for the day of flowers was just scandalous.”

“Yes it was. If it were the day of deserts, it would be a different story, but the way they baked the cake themselves and the cake was tasty destroys the purpose of the day of flowers. The girls are supposed to show their artistry, not their ability to bake.”

“How do you know that the cake was tasty?”
“I sampled a piece, or two.”

“Did they catch you?”

“Who is they?”

“That dragon, his goblin friend, that new character or the dragon’s wife.”

“Why, it doesn’t really matter.”
“It does if we are the butt of jokes. I don’t know what Eithriel was thinking, spreading those horrible stories around.”

“We can cut her off.”
“That won’t work. She has spies, count on it. We need to keep an eye on her and the Justiciars anyway. She can always say that she got her material from old stories in her House journals.”

Gitrid Flatsword watched his two favorite ladies as they walked down the Imperial Way. He hadn’t believed Tom, Naexi and Eithriel when they all said that they hadn’t gone over the top where certain ladies were concerned, until he had seen things for himself. They truly were the sniping, backbiting self indulged ladies blaming everybody but themselves for their problems that the scripts said that they were. On the other hand, Princess Glynnii and her girls were turning out rather remarkably and the cake for a flower demonstration was an act of tasty brilliance. Gitrid followed along as the ladies rather loudly sniped at everything they saw.

House Keanorin Estate

Fenian Sarrie rode on his morning rounds of the estate. His misgivings hadn’t diminished and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was seeing the calm before the storm. The Lord was still at the Conclave and his brother and the boys had still not returned. Suddenly there was a noise in the hunting preserve, followed by still more. He followed the noise, discovered a portal in the woods surrounded by trespassers, all wearing the uniform of the Portal Service, except for one who was wearing a mage’s robe and Portal Service coat in the still cold air. Fenian called out, “Now what’s all this then?!”

Some of the portal service people put what looked like the remains of a body on a board and four of them marched the body back through the portal. The mage turned on Fenian and said, “Who are you?”

“Fenian Sarrie and I am head guard of this estate you are trespassing on.”

“What estate is that?”

“House Keanorin is the land you are trespassing on. Who are you?”
“Master mage Wyrran Xyrhyra operations director of the Portal Service and do you know how this portal came to be here?”

“No, I do not. Is there a problem?”
“Very much so. First of all, when we sent a portal service fae to check the portal, he never returned. That was his body that just went through the portal. Second, this portal is supposed to be in the Lower City, one of several that the Portal Service is still looking for. I am afraid that this is an illegal portal and I will have to send a crew to retrieve it. Is there a road that can handle a truck or am I going to have to send a wagon to get this portal to the road?”

“You are going to do nothing but clear out unless you have a writ or the Lord’s permission to be here.”

“Is Lord Keanorin in residence?”
“Not at present.”

“Could you send a message to Lord Keanorin asking him to come so that I can make the arrangements?”

“Aye, I can do that, but you need to come with me to the gate and then go.”

“We cannot exit through the portal?”

“No one has used the portal before and I didn’t know that it was here. This is the Lord’s preserve and nobody is allowed to use it.”

A young fae joined them and said, “Wyrran there are vaults here.”

“Vaults, Magpie?”

“Ancient vaults like we found down in the Empty lands. You know what we found there.”

“Guardsman, we have potentially a very serious issue here. I will need to speak to your Lord here as soon as possible.”

“He’s where you need to go, so the sooner we start marching the sooner you are speaking with him. First, you need to shut down this portal so that I’m not chasing trespassers out.”

“Very well. Jorge, shut it down. Lock this portal down and put a Portal Service lock on it so that only somebody from the Portal Service can activate it again. If this is what we think, we don’t want this portal operable.”

A young half elf went to the portal, connected a devise to it and all the lights went dead. “Shut down, Wyrran. Now we walk, I guess. Boys, pack up your gear. We’re going to need the wagon for this one anyway.”

Wyrran turned to Fenian and said, “Guardsman, we will be returning with a writ and a Justiciar. Tell your Lord that explanations will be required and he will have to answer some questions. If those vaults contain what we found in the Empty Lands and have been discovered in other locations, your Lord, or somebody here on the estate will be in real trouble. At the very least the Portal Service will want an accounting as to how our Service fae was killed. I owe his family that.”

The Portal Service folk more or less followed Fenian all the way down the horse path to the gate and Fenian saw them off. Eroan looked at the crowd and said, “That was an interesting bunch. Who were they and where did they come from?”
“They are the Portal Service and somebody put a portal back in the preserve. I heard it activate and there they all were, monkeying about. Apparently the Portal Service is tracking down portals that they lost and this was one of them. I’ve tossed them out, but their boss said that he will be back with a Justiciar and a writ. There was a body of one of their people, a fae who Jumped in.”
“The Hunter likes to play with fae that Jump onto the estate. The local fae know better.”

“The Portal Service hires fae, apparently, and this fae was just checking the portal. I need to send a message to the Lord. The boss seemed to think that there was something bigger than a lost portal and I think that we will be seeing a Justiciar all too soon.”

Fenian went to compose a message and send it through the small portal. This was trouble they did not need.

Chapter 50.

The House Einelis Estate.

Nueleth sighed as she tied her horse at the post and went inside. Sunflower looked at her and said, “What’s wrong?”
“It’s more of a matter of what isn’t wrong. I need to speak to Tanyl as soon as possible. I don’t have a lot of time and he needs to know what is coming.”

“I’ll go get him and Tinesi.”

Sunflower disappeared and returned with Tanyl and Tinesi about a hundredth later. Tanyl looked at Nueleth and said, “What is wrong.”

“Lord Qinvaris has filed a Letter of Intent against House Keanorin and its allies saying that if House Keanorin took any actions against House Qinvaris, House Qinvaris was going to declare war and destroy House Keanorin and its allies.”

“Why is Lord Qinvaris doing this?”
“Our House oracle set Feredir Keanorin on the task of removing Lord Qinvaris from the game.”

“I’m going to assume that Lord Qinvaris is aware that Feredir is coming after him and was trying to make a rather forceful argument that he should back off. That explains some traffic on the road.”

Traffic?”
“There have been a lot of Qinvaris trucks about, including some moving large strange machines, large artillery Projectors and other things. It looks as if Lord Qinvaris is serious. I think that I need to talk with my father and Aunt Isarrel. What is Paeris doing?”
“I’m not sure. He’s up to something, but this has probably messed up what he was doing.”

“Ok, I’m going to Jump you to the portal, we’re going to the gates, getting me a portal key and then making some stops. How long do you think that Feredir is going to wait?”
“Not very long. Of course, he should wait until the Conclave is over.”
“Apparently, he’s not going to. Tinesi, keep Rolin in the woods at all costs. If you feel it necessary, Jump down with him to the Republic and join Anemone and Delseran there. Nueleth if you could start the season cleaning of some offices, I would appreciate it.”

Nueleth grinned. “I can do that. In fact the cleaning has already started. What will you be doing?”

I’m going to see if I can put a lid on this before it blows up all over the Empire.”

 

Waystation 0235 – Horse Post Road 23-The Qinvaris Estate

The Hunter checked his weapons for what would probably be the crowning hunt of his life. He performed a final swipe of the stone on Cutter, his elf slicer and the edge was ready. He did the the same for his other weapons and placed them one by one in his harness. Then he put his overtunic on the harness and left the slot for the common room. After he obtained his meal and sat down, two disiguished elves sat down at the table and one said to the other, “He is everything that they said he was, ‘thanar.”

“Isn’t he though, Vesstan?”

“Who are you?”
“Two elves that feel that a doomed elf shouldn’t eat his last meal alone.”

“I could kill you both for that.”
“You’ve been using waystations and you don’t know what would happen if you tried that, Feredir? The lady over there has a button and we all go sleepy. Then she comes out with that projector that is under the counter, if there isn’t a shotgun, some restraints and a slave collar. You wait for the House Glynynore adjudicator to show up and issue a writ. Then it’s off to some unpleasant thing that Folwin or Lester comes up with. Since you already killed one of Folwin’s riders, he’s not very happy with you in any case.”

“I’m still moving about.”
“He’s waiting for the review and he knows exactly where you are. He’s also Dan Qinvaris’s potential brother in law and the Qinvaris have laid claim to you.”

“He will make an excellent hunt then.”

The elf shook his head. “Vesstan, do you have any idiots like this in the guild?”
“Not like this. Situational awareness is taught and tested. Feredir, Dan has been trained by me, who was the guild’s top operative and others, including my daughter. I would not take him lightly. Dan’s brother Tarranth has also received training from me. In any case, you have to get to them first and my daughter is part of their party. In any case, you should gauge your opponent before entering into deadly conflict and if your plans need the element of surprise, then you need to rethink that when you have lost it.”

“Let’s see what his plans are.” Esgalwathanar held up some sheets of paper and put them on the table. “Maybe we should help Feredir here a bit. I think he’ll need all the help he can get. Look at this. This is his plan for assaulting House Qinvaris. There’s just one problem here. This is House Qinvaris the last time you assaulted it. Did you not think to look for changes?”

“The front of the House did not seem to have changed,” Feredir said rather glumly.

“The front hasn’t. But your assault didn’t come in the front the last time and the front was pretty unassailable without being exposed and seen on the street. The back is rather different. For instance, Rosa imported plate glass from the Fellowship and glassed in the handy niche that the guild used to enter the house. It’s now a wonderful parlor. Of course breaking the windows will make all sorts of noise and the niche is covered from some expansion built to the kitchen. I do hope that you haven’t given this plan to your nephews and told them to assault the House while you infiltrate the estate.”

Esgalwathanar looked through the papers. “Since you are here, that looks as if that was the plan. There are so many things wrong with that. For one thing, the boys are there, and you are here. That is if the boys are there. They may have gone to a nice beach someplace. There’s no way for you to know, is there? Vesstan, do you think that Feredir here would give the landdragons any trouble?”
“Which ones?”
“Vinny and the others.”
“Not at all, unless they try to eat him, which they won’t.”

“What about Chompers and his family?”
“They haven’t trained with me yet. We have some of the younger members of the family scheduled but Resod gets them first.”
“That will be painful.”

Feredir glumly ate his meal as the pair ripped his plans to pieces while chatting endlessly, comparing his and his nephews to others and having his skills come up short. As he finished his meal, he said, “Why did you do that?”

Esgalwathanar looked at him and said, “We wanted to show just how unprepared you were. You don’t even have the correct estate marked on the map. The estate you have marked is the Farm offices for House Qinvaris with some of Dan’s greenhouses and Tarranth’s barn of ancient Imperial artifacts. The true estate is next door. Rosa just had it prettied up for the end of the Conclave party she is holding there. So you may smell wet paint. Of course you actually have to get there, you will be on a horse and the Qinvaris guard uses GPs here. You are lucky and the guard is lighter on this side of the estate than on the other. I would stay on the Post roads as much as possible. You can expect to arrive about the time of Rosa’s little party that she is holding this evening, so all your targets are here. On the other hand, they are probably expecting you. You will have to trust in your nephews causing chaos, but I wouldn’t expect too much from that as they may not show up or won’t be able to make enough fuss to get noticed, Vesstan, since Feredir here is finished, let’s pay for his meal and leave him to his long day. Feredir, I think that we will see you again this evening. I wouldn’t be too late. With the Conclave ongoing, most people close things up fairly early.”

The pair stood up, went to the counter and left. Feredir followed them out and went to collect his horse. He rode off toward the Qinvaris estate and helpfully the Post Road was marked for horses and motor vehicles, so he stayed on the horse roads, having them mostly to himself. Trucks, busses and other vehicles could be seen using the other road. As midday approached, his peace was disturbed by two young folk also riding the same path. “Jimmy, we’re going to be late!”
“Princess, you wanted to go this way. You also insisted on riding today.”

“Are you sure we are on the right road?”

“I think so. I think we are almost at the market. We have been following the signs. I said that we should use the portal.”

“I wanted a ride, for the exercise.”

“We are on the right road. Here’s another rider. Sir elf, is this Post Horse route 23?”
“Yes it is.”
“See princess, we are on the right road and there is the sign for the market, right where it is supposed to be.”

“You two don’t seem to be from the Empire. Why are you here?”

“This is Princess Talissa of Dolmon.”
“And this is Jimmy, my servant. Thank you for your help, kind sir. Jimmy gets us lost sometimes.”

Feredir looked at the pair and thought that is was the girl who managed to get the pair lost, with boy being the long suffering servant to his spoiled charge. He looked at the pair and said, “Where are the rest of your party, princess?”
“Ahead, at the Qinvaris estate. I decided to ride rather than using the motor car like Jimmy wanted. He’s rather lazy.”

“Perhaps your servant is concerned for you.”

“He said that he had heard about a potential pair of rampaging landdragons about. I doubt that Lord Qinvaris would tolerate landdragons.”

Jimmy sighed. “I spoke to the farm manager and he said that two estates next to the market had some livestock taken and that landdragons do occasionally enter onto the estate. Apparently they nest in the large empty woods and come out if prey gets low. I wasn’t too concerned about them, but still, we are out here alone and there was that last landdragon we met, not too far from here.”

“That was Lord Qinvaris’s landdragon, Chompers. He wouldn’t have eaten us. Lord Qinvaris said that he just chases people out of his woods. Jimmy I think that this is the turn off. Sir elf, would you like to join us for lunch?”

“I must continue on.”

The princess rode ahead and Jimmy said, “Thank you for telling the princess that we were on the right road.”

“She must be quite a task.”

“She is at that. I am usually not with her by myself, but she was determined to ride and I am small and light, so I can keep up with her. That means that she can’t run away from me. I must go.”

Jimmy spurred his horse a bit to rejoin his charge as the Hunter laughed and rode on. About a twentieth later he heard a familiar voice. “Jimmy, I’m hungry!”

It had started to rain and the Hunter didn’t see the pair. Jimmy replied, “Princess, if you hadn’t transformed, you wouldn’t be like this.”

“There was that pair of landdragons.”

“That was some fae playing with a glamor.”

“Fae that Jumped away. I’m hungry, get me something to eat.”

“Princess, the horses have run and there aren’t any animals here.”
“I think that I smell that elf we saw earlier.”
“Princess, I have told you before, you can’t eat people!”

“Well, then you eat the elf and I eat his horse. I will share the horse as the elf looked pretty stringy.”
“Princess, I won’t eat people either!”

“Some rampaging monster you are.”

The Hunter’s horse started to get very nervous, as if the gelding smelled something that really frightened it. The horse kept turning its head when the Hunter was slack on the reins and the Hunter looked behind him just as the horse decided to run. What the Hunter saw convinced him that running was the right thing to do, as two landdragons had emerged on the road. The horse and his rider had gotten a fair distance off the road when the horse decided that he could run faster without the Hunter on his back and started to buck the Hunter off. Since the Hunter had chosen that moment to check behind him, the stupid horse managed to relieve himself of the Hunter, who rather unprepared for that, hit the ground rather painfully. As he started to get up, there was a landdragon there who said quietly, “You better run before the princess smells you.”

The Hunter thought that the landdragon’s advice made perfect sense and ran a bit shakily. As he ran, he heard Jimmy steering the princess in the wrong direction. About a twentieth later a guard station emerged out of the mist with three rather familiar horses in the front with the guard’s horses. The princess was saying, “We’ll leave the horses here, sergeant. We wanted to help the elf whose horse got away from him, but he ran away for some reason. We need to port to the estate now.”

The Hunter entered the guard station and there were Jimmy and the princess, a little wet, but seemingly normal. The princess saw him and said, “Good, you are all right. We brought your horse here. Sergeant, this is the elf who fell off his horse. We need to get going now, bye.”

The sergeant looked at the rather bedraggled Hunter and said, “What happened to you?”

“You have landdragons out there.”

“Landdragons that we don’t know about?”
“They may have been the princess and her servant.”
“Those two? I really doubt that. The sergeant looked at a poster on the board and looked at the hunter. “If I were you, I would get back on your horse and get back to the Post road as fast as you can.”
“Why?”
“You look like the elf on that poster and if that is you, I would not want to be here on House Qinvaris property. That poster has probably gotten around and the boys, they like their bit of fun and Alinis handing out the prize makes it worth quite a bit of effort.”

The hunter looked at the poster and the prize was a thousand silvers and a kiss on the cheek from Lady Alinis if somebody should bring in his hat, this day.

“A hat?!”

“Apparently the lady doesn’t care if a head is in the hat. In any case, even if you are not the elf in that picture, I would get back on the Post road and stay there. The boys around here like Alinis and even if she has tied on to that fae prince she found, they will want that kiss. Of course I heard that the fae prince went to the Republic and isn’t a bad shot himself.”

After a rather terrible half twentieth where at least ten invisible shooters had taken shots at him, he was back on the post road, minus hat. As he rode down the road, exhausted and getting wet, a figure in the distance waved his hat and grinned. His buddies waved what appeared to be wooden sticks, but probably were some sort of gun. The lot of them disappeared in the mist.

Tarranth turned to Fire and said, “You weren’t going to let anybody else get that kiss, were you?”
“Of course not. This is a nice hat, anyway.”

“Yes it is. I think that he’s about to hit your trap.”

“This is going to be interesting. I wonder what impact using that House ring as the center will have.”

“Great grandfather suggested it, so we’ll go with it. He probably has iron on him.”

“I’m counting on that.”

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