By Chance Met
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Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: A chance meeting heralds the convergence of two heretofore wildly divergent fates. From the moment he laid eyes on the handsome Lord of Ilmaren, Naeth Orosse fell head over heels in infatuation with him. And after that first meeting in the middle of a tavern brawl in the dual-gendered realm of Ylandre, Reijir Arthanna did not forget the orphaned youth who came to his aid unasked. When fate brings them together anew, Reijir becomes Naeth's guardian, which proves both blessing and bane when their mutual attraction is guilelessly nursed by one and distrustfully downplayed by the other. Between attempting to ignore Naeth's artless overtures and suppressing feelings he had long disavowed, Reijir has his hands full. But more than a title and duty were forced on this enigmatic cousin of Ylandre's king. A less than benevolent past has left its imprint on Reijir who is as known for his cynical outlook on life as he is for his exotic features and proficiency between the sheets. Convincing him to risk his heart in love is a battle more experienced Deira than Naeth have waged and invariably lost.
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: December 2011
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [388 KB]
Reading time: 238-333 min.
Ylandre, in the 2986th year of the Common Age
"I'm sorry you must pay so high a price, brother."
The newly named heir apparent of Ilmaren half turned from the window and the view of the spacious courtyard fronting the great Arthanna manse. Reijir looked at Keiran questioningly, raven eyebrows rising.
"Why apologize for a deed you didn't commit?" he asked.
Keiran shrugged. "Because Aba never will."
Reijir snorted and shook his head. He looked out the window again, his studied indifference belying the welter of confused emotions Keiran could sense underlying his calm. The older Arthanna son stifled a sigh.
Veres almighty, Reijir had just attained the age of consent and was still five years short of his majority. He'd only started to live--really live--and all of a sudden their sire had yanked the figurative rug from under him and ensured a lifetime of unrelenting duty and service to their fief and its people.
Keiran waited several heartbeats before continuing. "You'll suffer more for this than I," he said.
Rejjir glanced back at him, frowning. "Will I? You know Aba intends to contract you before summer's end. Is being forced into an unwanted union no hardship for you, Kei?"
"It's a hardship for anyone, but I've expected it all my life," Keiran pointed out. "You haven't. And even less are you ready to be stripped of what you do want."
"What do you mean?"
Keiran took a deep breath before speaking. "Aba never approved of Darion. He's barely tolerated your affair with him as it is. Think you he'll stay his hand now that you'll succeed him?"
That made Reijir turn around to face him, his eyes widening with consternation. "What could he possibly do to take Darion away from me?"
"That I can't say," Keiran said. "But he spoke with Darion yestereve after he informed me that he intended to name you heir."
Reijir stared at him. "How do you know?"
"Right after we talked, he ordered his steed readied. I wondered why--he rarely goes riding nowadays. So I told Ruomi to go after him. He followed Aba to Balas, Rei. To Darion's house."
"And only this morn did he bother to tell me of his decision." Reijir's eyes suddenly flashed with angry fire. "Deity's blood! How I long for the day when we shall both be truly free of Aba and his tiresome interference in our lives!"
Keiran bit his lip then murmured, "I'll be free of him. But I fear you won't. Not completely. He made sure of that when he bypassed me in your favor." He smiled sadly at his brother. "You'll always have to choose between duty and happiness for the one will not always come with the other."
Reijir's mouth tightened. "Perhaps. But at least I shall be the one to make those choices, not he." He looked out the window, gazing in the direction of Balas, one of the villages that nestled among the low hills to the north of Ilmaren's capital of Althia. "But now I think I had best pay Darion a visit." He turned eyes darkened with apprehension on Keiran. "What did Aba do, I wonder?"
"Likely he attempted to persuade Darion to end your affair. What other reason could there be for that visit?"
"Likely you're right. And if he succeeded..." Reijir drew a deep breath. "What then will I do?"
At times like this, Keiran was reminded of just how innocent his brother still was despite the yearlong liaison that had introduced him to love and only lately initiated him into the word of carnal pleasure. He reached for Reijir's shoulder and gripped it.
"You'll do what you've always done, Rei. Pick yourself up and move on."
"If I can."
Grim-faced, Reijir turned away and strode out of the study. Keiran gazed after him with a heavy heart. Many minutes later, he looked out the window and saw his brother walk out to the courtyard below where a groom had a steed ready for him. Reijir looked composed as he almost always did, but Keiran was not deceived by that calm facade. He watched Reijir mount the sleek beast and ride out of the keep.
Keiran murmured a silent prayer, hoping against faint hope that fate had not conspired against Reijir and a chance at true happiness.
* * * *
Rikara, in the 3006th year of the Common Age
Naeth tucked stray strands of umber-hued hair behind his ear as he quickly wiped a tabletop of spilled alcohol and food crumbs. He looked around, checking to see if there were other tables to clear and clean, before returning to the back room to wash used tankards, glasses and plates. He sighed when he saw the number of dishes piled up in the sink.
He supposed he should be grateful that Camrion had invested in a basic plumbing system for his tavern's washing needs. Naeth could only imagine how it must be in other establishments dependent on the public spigots and deep wells outside. Not to mention the questionable state of the cleanliness of their glassware and dishes.
That was probably one good reason why the Vomare's clientele was a hair's breadth more genteel than those of its neighbors. That its proprietor also took pains to keep the lowest of the riff raff out of his establishment was another. Thus there were not as many frays on the premises on any given day, and Camrion had to eject rowdy patrons perhaps only once an evening four or five nights a week. That was quite a feat when compared to the multiple near destructive brawls that regularly occurred in other barrooms.
Nonetheless, the Vomare was the last locale in all Ylandre one might have expected to find young Naeth Orosse. For that matter, the seedy south district of Rikara was no place for gently bred youngsters of the gentry. Troublesome enough during the day, the district was downright perilous come nightfall for the naive and unarmed.
Naeth became acutely aware each and every night that he did not belong in the district and should not have come here at all his first day in from the fief of Losshen. But an orphan of next to no means did not have much of a choice, and Naeth could only count himself most fortunate that nothing horrid had happened to him when he sought help from an old friend of his father's.
"A fire!" Camrion had repeated with horror when Naeth recounted the circumstances of his entire family's demise. "Merciful Veres. I hope they didn't suffer too much. And you? How did you escape?"?
"It was such a hot night, I went out to sleep on the porch," Naeth mournfully explained. "Next I knew all the houses on the street were aflame. The fire spread so quickly, many of our neighbors were trapped in their homes."
"Yes, this past summer was unusually hot," Camrion agreed. "Everything would have been as dry as tinder, even the houses." He sighed regretfully. "So, what about you? Why did you come to me?"
"Adda oft talked about you," Naeth answered. "He said you were one of his best friends and that you both made a promise that you would look after each other's families in case you--well, in case."
"We did promise," Camrion admitted. He shook his head. "We were so young then. As you can see, I'm just a simple tavern owner. What did Jiron wind up doing?"
"Adda taught at our town school."
"Ah yes, he was always something of a scholar." Camrion smiled reminiscently. "I did wonder how we ended up being friends." He sighed again. "Well then, I suppose there's always room for another helper. Mind you, it'll be more than serving customers and cleaning tables. You'll have to help in the kitchen, too, and with the washing up as well."
So here was Naeth, doing odd jobs at a Rikara tavern. It was not what his parents would have ever expected him to do. But then they had not expected to die so suddenly either, leaving their youngest son alone and without resources beyond an old friend from days gone by. And in any case, it was far more respectable work than toiling in a brothel for instance. Now if only Camrion's mate Lemael were as sympathetic, but one could not have everything.
Naeth came out of the back room, carrying a tray of clean tankards. He arranged them on the shelves under the counter. A rush of fresh air and sounds from the street outside heralded the arrival of newcomers, and Naeth glanced at the tavern entrance. He stared at the party of Deira who strode into the Vomare, stripping off their gloves as they did.
Though hardly dressed for a formal night out, judging from the quality of their attire, they were countless cuts above the Vomare's other patrons. And the way they carried themselves--such assurance came not from the mere knowledge of being of a higher class but from the actual daily experience of it. Naeth realized even without knowing their identities that these Deira were not ordinary well-born enyra or True Bloods, the de facto ruling class. They were bluebloods from the highest echelons of Ylandrin society. His conclusion was borne out by the elliptical gold earrings they wore on their left ears, adorned either by sapphire, emerald or creamy milkstone.
He thought in passing of his suncrystal stud--emblem of his minority--hidden in the depths of his closet in the tiny attic room Camrion had provided him three floors up. Camrion had advised Naeth not to reveal his social station. The earrings of the common folk, if they could afford them in the first place, bore no stones, gems being the exclusive domain of the aristocracy and gentry. Though Naeth's parents had been lower caste sedyra or Half Bloods who'd worked to support their family, his sire's antecedents had been respectable enough to merit him inclusion in the minor gentry.
Naeth watched the bluebloods take over a table, unmindful of the sidelong glances and curious gazes aimed at them. There were four of them, all arrestingly handsome, strong looking, sinuous of build and taller than the average Deira. Two were dark-haired, one was quite fair and the fourth had a head of bright red-brown tresses. Of the dark-haired pair, one bore a marked resemblance to the mahogany-haired Deir leading Naeth to suspect they were close kin. The other was of such striking countenance Naeth had to remind himself not to stare too closely at him.
It was his first sight of a Deir of Khitairan descent. Thus the noble's forest green eyes with their distinct slant at the outer corners were more than enough to rouse and keep Naeth's fascination. The rest of his features were no less beauteous. The delicate lines of his cheeks and jaw were offset by his steely eyes, a patrician nose and a firm, finely-shaped mouth--all framed by gleaming jet black hair shot with strands of midnight blue. Naeth's eyes were drawn to the sapphire in the center of the earring that adorned the blueblood's left ear.
The youth briefly pondered which aristocratic rank was conveyed by a sapphire then dismissed the thought as irrelevant and continued his appraisal of the noble's face and form. A most attractive Deir, he decided, his cheeks warming slightly as he went on to imagine what the noble's attire covered but could not quite conceal.
Befuddled by his nigh instant reaction to the Deiran lord, Naeth sidled over to Camrion who was busy filling tankards with ale.
"Why are they here?" he asked, pointing his chin in the aristocrats' direction. "Don't the bluebloods go to the west district for their entertainment?"
"Slumming," Camrion replied, eyeing the nobles with anticipatory pleasure. He would make a nice profit tonight. "There are certain pastimes available only in these parts that the aristocrats occasionally seek. Like cockfighting and boxing matches. I wager they came from the cock pit down the road." He loaded a tray with the filled mugs and handed it to Naeth. "Tovan's gone out to piss. Tell Wilfur to stop flirting with the customers and get back to work. And bring this to the table beside the bluebloods." He grinned when Naeth's eyes widened. "There, I've given you a nice excuse to have a closer look at them. Now go!"
Naeth gulped and went to do as he was bid. After calling the flirtatious Wilfur's attention, he gingerly carried the drinks to the aforementioned table. Fearing he would be distracted and wind up spilling the ale, he took care to serve it first before chancing a peek at the nobles. The mahogany-haired Deir happened to look up and notice him. He gestured peremptorily to Naeth.
"You! Four ales and a meat platter," he ordered.
At the same time, the almond-eyed noble looked at Naeth as well. He gave Naeth a quick once-over in the manner of one who routinely assessed the attributes of other Deira. Naeth froze momentarily under that verdant gaze.
One of the patrons he had just served nudged him and said, "You'd better get a move on, lad. These high-borns don't like to be kept waiting."
Startled back into action. Naeth hastened to fill the order.
Camrion was just as quick to prepare it, and it didn't take long before Naeth carefully bore four foaming tankards to the nobles along with the laden plate of assorted meats and other savories that were the traditional accompaniment of alcoholic drinks. Very few asked for the platter-sized dish though as it was quite expensive even in a cheap tavern. Naeth was conscious of the envious stares that followed him to the aristocrats' table.
He arrived to find a card game in progress. He gulped at the impressive pile of bank notes stacked in the middle of the table. As he served the nobles their ale and set the heaping platter down, he could not help hearing snippets of their conversation.
"You have a knack for choosing winners, Rei," said the Deir who had ordered their refreshments to the exotic-looking noble. "Three in a row! How you do it is beyond me."
"Perhaps it's some special Khitairan talent for communicating with beasts," the light-haired one teased. "You certainly looked each cock over a long while before placing your wagers."
"It's called examination, Rys, not communication," the aristocrat named Rei pointed out. Naeth felt a flutter in the pit of his stomach as he listened to the Deir's low honeyed voice. "And you'd have made a nice little bundle, Ash, if you'd simply followed my lead."
"I'll remember that next time," Ash conceded good-naturedly. "Though it never ceases to astound me that someone as rich as you is so careful about choosing which cock to back."
"That's why he's one of the wealthiest Deira in the kingdom," the fourth Deir put in. "And why you'd be the poorest if I didn't rein you in."
"Fie on you, Dan! I'm not a prodigal," Ash vigorously protested. "But I do like to let go once in a while. And in any case, even if Rei were loose with his money, it isn't as if Ilmaren will be bankrupted any time soon. Hey, boy, keep your elbows to yourself!" he abruptly exclaimed when Naeth hit his shoulder when he leaned over to scoop up the money set aside as payment for the food and drinks.
Naeth sucked in his breath. "I'm so sorry, Dyhar," he stuttered. "I didn't mean to--that is--"
"It was an accident," Rei mildly interjected. "No need to glare the child into conniptions." He looked squarely at Naeth. "I believe you're wanted," he said, gesturing toward the bar.
"Oh, y-yes, my lord," Naeth stammered, the sudden heating up of his face telling him he was probably blushing to the roots of his hair. "Thank-thank you. And I beg your pardon, Dyhar," he addressed Ash. "I truly do. I--"
He stopped before he strangled on his words and made a fool of himself even more. With a diffident bow, he wheeled around and hurried away, conscious of the nobles' amused laughter behind him.
Camrion raised inquiring eyebrows when Naeth returned to the counter. "The bluebloods needling you?" he asked.
"Nay, I hit one of them with my arm," Naeth explained. "He wasn't too pleased. Never have I seen such a glower before!"
"Be glad that's all he gave you," Camrion said. "Some high-borns would sooner knock you flat than wait for an apology."
Naeth winced. "He might have if the other--the black-haired one--if he hadn't stayed him. He was kind enough to defend me."
"The outlander?" Camrion looked the Deir over appreciatively. "Exotic-looking, isn't he?"
"I don't think he's an outlander," Naeth said. "The others spoke to him as if he were one of them. They called him Rei and, oh, the one I hit said that even if he were a spendthrift, it wouldn't matter because Ilmaren wouldn't be bankrupted by it."
"Ilmaren!" Camrion stared at him then jerked his gaze back to the foursome. "And they called him Rei? Why then, he must be the Herun of Ilmaren!"
"The Herun of Ilmaren?" Naeth repeated in awe. "That Deir is a fief-lord?"
"That's right. Reijir Arthanna his name is. And he's cousin to the Ardan, too." Camrion softly whistled. "Maybe they all are. You said they talk as if they're related."
Naeth nodded. "They're very familiar with each other." He repeated what he had heard of the nobles' conversation.
Camrion's eyes gleamed with pleasure. "Well, well, I never imagined the Vomare would ever be graced by one of the Ardan's kin, let alone four of them! We must make sure they enjoy themselves enough to return! Stay by them, lad. Try to anticipate what they want."
He happily shoved Naeth in the direction of the bluebloods' table.
Naeth stifled a sigh of exasperation as he stationed himself as inconspicuously as possible near the nobles. How did one anticipate the wants of folk one did not know? He tried to keep an eye on them without appearing to do so. But he only proved he was neither a good actor nor an accomplished spy when the nobles glanced at him a number of times, knowing smiles curving their mouths. Naeth felt the color rise in his cheeks each time they looked his way and silently cursed Camrion for putting him in such an embarrassing position.
He resigned himself to simply being on hand should they order anything else. Which they did as the evening wore on. Naeth was amazed at the amount of ale they consumed--not to mention the throat-scalding liquid that passed for whisky at the Vomare--and all the while remaining reasonably sober.
By now, many of the other tavern denizens were in varying states of intoxication as evinced by scattered hiccups and snores from different tables, escalating arguments in slurred voices, and the occasional body toppling to the floor. Several thoroughly sozzled customers were unceremoniously hauled off to the hay-laden corners of the crowded room to sleep off their drunkenness. After helping Wilfur heave a particularly hefty Deir into a corner, Naeth had to wonder at the bluebloods' capacity for drink. Managing to listen in on their talk once in a while, he could detect little evidence of inebriation in their speech.
Oh, they were now a little looser with their laughter and all had shed their cloaks and unbuttoned their asymmetrically sleeved tunics to the waist to reveal high-collared shirts and close-fitting jerkins. Finely tailored long breeches and dress boots completed their attire. Naeth gulped when he finally noticed the sheathed daggers strapped to their belts. Saints above, what manner of Deira were these who took their pleasures while armed for trouble? On second thought, it occurred to him that they were merely being prudent considering the district they had chosen to take their pleasures in for the evening. He started when he realized one of them was hailing him.
Oh Veres, it was the Ilmaren fief-lord. He felt his cheeks heat up under Reijir Arthanna's gaze.
It turned out they wanted one last round of drinks before they called it a night. Camrion gleefully complied.
"We've made more off them tonight than in the last three nights combined!" he crowed as he arranged the foaming mugs on a tray. "Let's hope they decide to come back and soon!"
Naeth tightened the black riband that kept his short braid from unraveling then hefted the tray and bore it the aristocrats' table once more. He had just placed the tankards on the table and was turning to leave when the one thing he'd been hoping would not take place did.
Several Deira at a nearby table rose to their feet and ambled their way toward the nobles. They were quite unwholesome to look at and even less pleasant to smell. And they appeared to be spoiling for a fight judging by the hostile scowls that further distorted their rough features.
Gardon and his cronies, Naeth realized with a twinge of apprehension.
He doubted there was a more quarrelsome group of toughs in the district, and he heartily wished Camrion had kept them out of the Vomare tonight of all nights. He did not return to the counter but waited a few feet away, worrying what the gang would do.
Gardon suddenly leaned down between Reijir and Dan, planting a big, fleshy hand on Reijir's just as the fief-lord had been about to pick up his winnings. He grinned at Reijir, offering him a whiff of fetid breath and a glimpse of stained teeth.
"You don't need that, Dyhar," Gardon drawled, winking at his companions who had moved to surround the table. "That's just a drop in the bucket for rich fellows like you, ain't it?"
Reijir looked disdainfully at Gardon's hand then followed the length of the Deir's arm to his face, his expression growing colder by the moment. By the time he deigned to look straight at Gardon, his eyes were positively glacial.
"Unhand me," he said, his voice low and laden with ice and steel.
Gardon blinked at him, obviously taken aback by the Herun's chilling demeanor. But puffed up by drink and the presence of his gang, he quickly recovered and leaned down farther, forcing Reijir to pull back slightly to avoid his noxious exhalations.
"Ooh, unhand me," he mimicked Reijir. "How very classy of you."
He glanced around at the other aristocrats. When they only glowered at him, he snickered loudly, apparently taking their lack of active retaliation for fear.
Looking back at Reijir, he said, "You're lovely for an outlander. Kind of my type. Tell you what, if you make it up to us, we'll let you keep half of your winnings. Ah, don't be scared," he chuckled when Reijir pulled his hand away in obvious distaste. "We won't muss you up too much. If you cooperate, maybe we'll just let you suck us off. You've got a sweet mouth to go with those bonny eyes."
Naeth nearly gagged at Gardon's proposition. Holy Saints, but the fool was really pushing his luck!
"Aw, that's not fair, Gardon," one of the thugs protested. "I was looking forward to shoving my pole up that pert arse of his! Not often we get Khitairans in this part of town. Least, not beauties like him."
Gardon guffawed. "Well, that will depend on his lordship, hey?" He cupped Reijir's chin and leered at him. "What say, my pretty? Ever been diddled by a real Deir? I'll be gentle if you ask nicely."
One moment, Gardon was grinning salaciously at the Herun. In the next instant, he was staggering back, blood streaming from his nose. Naeth gaped in disbelief. However the Herun had delivered the blow, it was so swiftly executed it had been little more than a blur to him. Gardon's cohorts stared as well, mouths agape in shock.
"I think you broke my nose!" Gardon screamed, a hand clapped over the injured part.
Reijir smirked. "Don't worry," he quipped. "A misshapen nose can't possibly make you more hideous than you already are."
It took Gardon a minute or so to work out the Herun's insult. When he figured it out, his face turned crimson as a beet, and with a roar, he lunged at Reijir.
The bluebloods exploded into action.
Patrons scrambled for cover as fists flew and feet lashed out in a full-scale brawl. Naeth quickly retreated behind an upturned table, wondering how to put a stop to the fight. He leapt out of the way when one of the ruffians crashed into the table, the force of his collision nigh splitting it in half. The Deir slid to the floor, eyes open and unseeing. Naeth stared at him in horror. He hastily crawled under another table as the fray came perilously close to where he was standing. From the relative safety of his position, he anxiously watched the action play out.
Even to his inexperienced eyes, it was clear the bluebloods had the upper hand. They fought with a conciseness and soldierly grace that bespoke years of training and deeply ingrained discipline. He winced when the fair-headed blueblood rammed his fist into his opponent's throat, hard enough to crush his windpipe. The Deir stumbled back then collapsed a few paces from Naeth, his face turning an ugly purplish grey as he struggled for breath. Sickened by the sight, Naeth scrambled out from under the table. Getting to his feet, he looked around to see who was still standing.
He caught sight of Reijir Arthanna just as the Herun slammed a foot into a thug's belly. When the Deir doubled over, the fief-lord grabbed him by the hair and forced his head down even as he brought his knee up to all but smash the scoundrel's face in. The Deir slumped to the floor as gore began to obscure his features.
Naeth forced down the bile that rose in his throat. This isn't the time or place to be sick, he told himself.
A ruffian earlier downed by the True Blood named Dan staggered to his feet. Naeth gasped in disbelief when he yanked out a long-bladed knife.
There was an unspoken rule in the south district that one did not use such weapons within the confines of the taverns and bawdy houses--the measure reduced the number of fight-related fatalities in this violence-prone section of Rikara. Flouting it could lead to the lynching of the miscreant concerned.
The mahogany-haired noble shouted a warning as the armed thug rushed Reijir, slashing the knife back and forth in an attempt to slice him up. Reijir lightly skipped back then ducked under a wild swing. Naeth watched in amazement as, in one fluid motion, the Herun came up, twisted out of harm's way and, grabbing his foe by the hand that wielded the knife, brutally wrenched his arm back. The Deir bellowed as the limb was yanked right out of its socket. He fell to his knees, his arm dangling uselessly at his side.
It was then that Naeth noticed Gardon creeping up behind the Herun, a thick, broken off plank of wood from one of the splintered tables in hand. Naeth did not pause to think but snatched up a tray and dashed toward the pair. He brought the tray down as hard as he could on Gardon's head just as the latter was about to bash in the Herun's.
The tray was not heavy, and the blow only stunned Gardon. But he could not help howling upon impact. Reijir whirled to see him clutching the top of his head and turning to lay a murderous glare on Naeth. Reijir grabbed Gardon by the collar and swung him around to face him. Before Gardon could react, Reijir punched him hard. He collapsed in a heap, a frightful swelling on the side of his jaw joining up with his disjointed nose to further disfigure his unlovely face.
Naeth stared down open-mouthed at the gang leader, fright over his brush with violence inducing him to gulp down air in erratic gasps. The sight of Gardon advancing on him with homicidal rage had stripped him of whatever courage had impelled him to come to Reijir's aid. If the Herun had not helped him in turn...
Naeth bent over, braced his hands on his knees, and willed away the urge to pass out.
When he became aware of his surroundings once more, he realized the fight was over. Gardon and his cronies littered the floor in various degrees of insensibility. One lay dreadfully still. Tovan and Wilfur and the other helpers dragged them one by one to the entrance and tossed them onto the street outside. Camrion's spouse, Lemael, was righting tables and clearing away the inevitable debris left by a fight. And the patrons who had chosen to wait out the brawl were already settling down once more at the undamaged tables.
It was just another night in the south district.
Naeth straightened and moved to help his fellow workers. He almost caromed off Camrion when the tavern owner hastened to the bluebloods as they did up their tunics.
For Deira who had just engaged in a vicious brawl, they looked remarkably composed and unbelievably neat and untouched. But for their slightly tousled hair, the faint sheen of perspiration on their faces, and the occasional smudge on their clothes, one would have thought they'd done nothing more strenuous than taken a brisk walk down the lengthy main street of the district.
Curious, Naeth followed Camrion and came up behind him in time to hear the Deir embark on a litany of apologies to the nobles.
"My lords, I beg your pardons!" Camrion entreated, his visions of future patronage by these moneyed Deira evaporating into the miasma of vomit and stale alcohol that permeated the room. "I shouldn't have let Gardon into the Vomare knowing what a hothead he is! But he swore not to make trouble and--Ah, I'm truly sorry!"
The four looked at him in surprise. "Wherefore the apology?" Rys asked. "This wasn't your doing."
"Truth be told, we were getting quite bored," Ash drawled as he drew on his gloves. "It's good to know there's excitement to be had in this establishment after all."
Camrion stared at them. "Then-then you aren't angry, my lords?" he stammered.
Fastening his cloak, Reijir Arthanna snorted. "Angry because you couldn't keep scum out of a south district tavern?"
Looking beyond Camrion, he spotted Naeth. He crooked a finger at Naeth and motioned to him to approach. Naeth did so with wide eyes and shaking knees.
"My thanks," Reijir said with a small smile. "You probably saved me from a cracked skull earlier."
Naeth blushed under the Herun's surprisingly kindly regard. He had not thought such hard, knowing eyes could also be gentle. "He-he didn't fight fairly," he mumbled. "Sneaking up on you the way he did."
The nobles laughed.
"There's no such thing as fairness in a brawl," Dan pointed out with a grin. "Best you learn that soonest."
"Y-yes, Dyhar," Naeth stuttered.
He flushed even deeper when Reijir pressed something into his hand, as much undone by the touch of the Herun's fingers as by the gold piece he found himself holding. Gold and silver coins were wholly the province of the very rich. Everyone else dealt in bank notes. Saints! He had the equivalent of a fortnight's pay in the palm of his hand.
"Thank you, Your Grace!" he softly exclaimed. "But there's no need to compensate me for only doing what was right."
Reijir eyed him curiously. "You didn't grow up around here, did you?"
Naeth was taken aback. "Er, nay, Dyhar."
"I thought not. Your speech is different." Reijir's forehead creased slightly. "It's much too refined for this section of Rikara."
"Oh, well, um, my parents were teachers."
"Ah, that explains some things. But not all. Watch your back, lad," Reijir cautioned, pointing his chin at Gardon as the semi-conscious ruffian was none too gently ejected from the premises. "Siding with me has likely made you unpopular with that sorry excuse for a Deir."
With that, he turned away and strode out of the tavern with the others.