The small section of shops drew people all throughout the day. To complicate matters, a food cart had pulled in, bringing more to come and go. On the up side, the food that they prepared was quite good. She took another bite of the savory meat, chewing slowly as she watched the Hierarch approach. She inclined her head, gesturing for him to join her.
He settled down beside her, under the shade of the tall tree. “It seems there’s little chance of you being conspicuous here.” He chuckled, helping himself to a bit of her meal. She nodded, looking a little uncomfortable. He tipped his head to the side. “What troubles you, my dear?”
She shook her head, lowering her voice. “There’s so many people here. I can’t get a sense of things in the throng. How do I know if there are other watchers?”
“Welcome to urban surveillance, Novice.” He grinned wide, reaching over and lifting another bite of food from her plate.
“How do I make sense of this? It’s just noise,” she sighed, refocusing on the shop across the way.
“You must learn to listen for the signal through the noise,” he explained cryptically. He watched her as she rubbed at the base of her ears, followed by her temples. He waited until she relaxed once again, his voice soft as ever. “Your gift has been delivered to the Lord Protector, incidentally.”
She regarded him a moment with a wicked grin. “I do very much hope the Warrant Officer likes it.”
“I am sure a great time will be had by all,” he chuckled. His tone grew more sombre. “I also met with the Lady Sulime,” he told her carefully.
She shifted, focusing all of her attention on him. Her tendrils twitched almost imperceptibly. “And,” she asked nervously.
“I attempted to sow the seeds of discontent. Whether they sprout is anyone’s guess.” He glanced away, his answer seeming evasive. Sellynna looked at him oddly, but didn’t press the matter. “She will remain occupied for at least four days. Additionally, it seems the Lord Protector has returned home to minister to the Warrant Officer personally.”
Sellynna’s mouth dropped open. “He will not be watching us? Wait… did you say four days?”
Borænin nodded. “We have a little breathing room, my dear.” She leaned against him briefly before resuming a proper distance. He smiled faintly. “Is something amiss?”
“No. Just nerves,” she deflected, clearing her throat. She looked back towards the shop. “The tailor is there. Inside.”
His gaze followed hers. “Alone,” he asked quietly.
She pointed to the guard at the bottom of the steps. “He’s with her again, but she is alone within.”
He took a slow, even breath. “It seems a moment of true decision is upon me.”
“Hence my nerves, Sir.” She laid a hand on his arm tentatively. “Would you like me to go with you?”
The Hierarch shook his head. “In case these Silverthorns react badly to my request, I want you to be able to flee. We have no idea what these people will do.”
Her hand moved down to his wrist. She lifted it slowly and started to place it over his hand, pulling back. She hesitated briefly before lowering her hand onto his. Borænin enfolded his fingers around Sellynna’s. She took a shuddering breath. “I have faith that you will convince them we are to be trusted.”
“Unless you have deceived me as well, and mean to harm them from within.”
“We are traitors and oath breakers, Sellynna.”
“We are. But we’ve done nothing overt yet. Should something go wrong…”
Borænin chuckled bitterly. “Nothing overt…”
She looked at him askance. “Borænin? What are you not telling me?”
He glanced at her uncomfortably. After a few moments, he sighed heavily. “I tried to tell Sulime she was in danger. That he was going to cast her aside.”
“And then what?”
“I asked her what she would do. She said ‘Whatever He wishes.’ It was an answer I was prepared for, indeed expected…but not what I hoped to hear.”
“You hoped she was possibly like us?”
“I considered the possibility,” he said glumly. “I have known her for many years. I hoped it would count for something.”
“But she only cares for his wishes. His views,” she filled in gently.
“She is entirely enthralled. So…umm…” he stalled. He looked at their clasped hands and shook his head in resignation. “I had her poisoned and locked up. Not killed. The poison will make her ill and my…uhh…agents…will keep her locked up for at least four days.”
Sellynna’s eyes flew open wide. “Does she know it was you? Does she know that he wants t-to use…me?” Her voice betrayed the slightest hint of panic.
“Yes. To both.”
“By the Shadows, Borænin! She is going to tell him and he will kill us both!”
“She will tell him, yes, but not for at least 4 days. I could not just kill her in cold blood, Sellynna. I’ve done enough of that.”
“I didn’t say you should kill her…but gods…” She raked her fingers through her hair.
“I did all this to give us this window. To convince the Silverthorns to aid us.”
She nodded, sighing. “All right. How can I help?”
“You have been helping,” he reassured her. “You’ve been keeping watch here so we can assess an opportunity. Niquisse is our point of contact. I would speak with the Lady Sulime’s counterpart again, but I know not where to find her.”
“Be careful,” she cautioned. “She isn’t dangerous, but she is frightened about something.”
“Yes. She carried herself in a very tense manner. Ear tips turned down. And if I am gauging correctly, her tendrils coiled up tightly seemed to indicate it as well.”
Borænin smiled faintly. “You miss very little, my dear.”
“It’s what I was trained for,” she countered.
He placed a hand on her knee, looking deeply into her eyes. “Many pass through that training, my dear. Few have your eye,” he said softly.
She blushed slightly, her cheeks filling with a hint of purple. “It’s nothing special. I just paid attention, that’s all. You would be amazed how many don’t.”
He could not help but chuckle. “So unwilling to accept well-earned praise.”
She lowered her head, embarrassed. “Forgive me? It is not something I am accustomed to.”
“Chin up, my dear. There is nothing to forgive.”
She leaned over and planted a tender kiss on his cheek. “For luck,” she murmured.
The corners of his mouth curled up slightly. “Thank you, my dear.” He rose to his feet reluctantly. “If you do not hear from me, come ask Niquisse what happened. Try to find the other one. She looks almost identical to Niquisse, but has a solid granite chip on her shoulder.”
“I will do my best,” she agreed. “And I will. If I don’t hear from you by morning, I will find you.”
Borænin pointed off towards the Keep. “Failing all else, beg an audience with the King.”
Sellynna placed a hand on his face for just a moment. He closed his eyes, sinking into her touch. “You won’t fail,” she encouraged him gently.
“I have failed to do this for centuries, my dear,” he whispered.
“But once you set your mind to things, you get them done.”
“Let us hope that you are right.” He bowed low to her, holding the position for a few breaths before straightening again. “If this is it, Sellynna, it was an honor.”
She rose to her feet, returning the bow. “It won’t be. But I assure you, the honor is mine.” She studied his face, memorizing every detail she could. “Go. Shadows protect you.”
He turned and strode away from her, heading straight towards the newly opened shop. Sellynna watched for a few minutes before picking up her bag and going in search of the Sulime of this Realm.
Borænin entered the shop and paused, letting his eyes adjust to the shift in light. The space was well decorated. A rich sofa lined the wall on the right with chairs flanking it. A polished wood table sat amid them, a pitcher and glasses resting in a tray on top. To the left, a long counter with stools divided the space, three worktables visible on the other side. Near the window sat a rack, empty, but obviously made to display things that were meant to hang down. One of the work tables was significantly taller than the other two, causing Borænin to wonder at the difference. He spied Niquisse, folding a bolt of emerald silk which she carefully placed on the rack. Once she had finished, she stepped back to look over the display.
“Miss Greythorn,” he called to her softly. Niqi jumped slightly, almost tripping over the small step stool to her side. His eyes went wide. “Oh!..ah…I apologize, my dear. I did not mean to startle you.”
The young Ren’dorei girl gripped the edge of the nearby counter and closed her eyes for a moment. She took a couple of slow breaths before looking back at him. Her normally pale blue eyes bore a slight tinge of purple. “I-it’s all right. L-lord Sunspine, right?” She dipped into a low curtsey, trembling very lightly. Borænin grimaced, but bowed politely. “Please,” she said softly. “Come in.”
He took only one step further into the room. “Miss Greythorn, I fear I have a confession to make.”
She tipped her head to the side. “Confession?”
“My name is not Sunspine. I engaged you previously under false pretenses.”
Niqi’s tendrils twisted around a few times as she chewed on her lip. “W-what kind of p-pretenses?” Her grip on the counter remained fairly solid, her pale knuckles nearly white.
“Well, obviously, a false name to start. The rest is rather difficult to explain,” he told her. He moved his hands together, weaving and unweaving his fingers in an attempt to direct the nerves he was unaccustomed to feeling. “So, let’s start with what is easy, shall we? My name is Borænin Greythorn.”
Her eye’s flashed suddenly before keeping to purple. “That’s…not possible. D-don’t even joke l-like that. It’s cruel.”
“I have no desire to be cruel, Miss Greythorn, but I assure you it is true.” Niquisse stepped backwards, bumping against the rack of cloth. He held up his hands, trying to show himself to be of no threat. “I am Greythorn, but not of this Realm…you might say not of this world. I come to you today on a mater of greatest urgency.”
“Not of this realm…” she whispered.
Borænin nodded. “Are you familiar with the concept of other worlds? Places much like this one, but with slight differences? Different histories maybe?”
Niqi’s focus seemed to shift, no longer directly on the man before her. “I’ve n-never met a m-more arrogant, self serving bunch in my life. Always p-profiting on the s-suffering of others.,” she quoted. “Light protect me…”
Borænin eyes widened. “Wh…what did you say?”
“Something s-someone said to me recently. When th-th-they found out my name.” Borænin furrowed his brow. “He’s n-not from this realm either.”
One long eyebrow rose up in curiosity. He shook it off, remembering his purpose. “Miss Greythorn, I am unsure of what you speak, but I am here to warn your people, and I beg for aid. I must speak to your Patriarch.”
She shifted around the rack, backing into the corner. “Why? Wh-what do you w-want?” Her tendrils twisted up into tight little balls, hiding fully beneath her long sapphire hair.
Borænin sighed, lowering his hands to fall against his thighs. “There is a man here, from my Realm. The head of the Greythorn family. He is an insane, rapacious monster, and he has set his sights on your Realm.” He grimaced, knowing now was the time for all truth. “I have served this man for many centuries. I have done great evil at his request…” he admitted, his voice tinged with sorrow. “I…I am trying to stop him. But I cannot do it alone.”
Niqi’s usual soft tones came out as barely a whisper. “And y-you want to t-talk to Forosuul Silverthorn?”
Borænin nodded emphatically. “That’s him! And the other, the progenitor, Kalithil!” His expression grew ever more intense as he spoke, take a step closer to her. “The man I serve, his name is Gilræn, but we call him the Lord Protector. Do you know this name?” He frowned, realizing that wasn’t the truth of it any longer. “Used to serve…”
She shrank back, trying to make herself as small as possible, but nodded slowly. “Gilræn is m-m-my….many times great- grandfather.”
“He is in danger, the Lord Protector often tries to replace his counterparts in the Realms he invades.”
She reached down and dug into her pocket, shaking. After a moment, she withdrew a small stone. Borænin watched her apprehensively as she held onto it, she speaking quietly. “Æl…th-there’s someone here. He wants t-to s-speak to your father. And Forosuul…he…he says he’s a Greythorn.”
Niqi looked over at Borænin to be certain he hadn’t moved. Borænin looked confused, his eyes glancing from her face to the stone and back again. “It allows m-me t-t-to speak to my husband to be when w-we are away f-f-from each other,” she explained.
“I see…his father? He is Kalithil’s son?”
She nodded slowly. “Yes, Mmmm-My lord.”
Borænin chuckled bitterly, “I am no lord…” Niqi winced, watching him warily. “I met his sister. Kal…Kali…Kalimè! That was it! We talked for some time in the tavern a few days past.” He sighed. “I gave her my name as Sunspine as well,” he muttered.
“And sh-she spoke with you about th-the family?”
“A little, she told me her father’s name. Some I already knew…it…it’s complicated.” He stepped into the very center of the shop, unintentionally standing directly between her and the door. “Please, get me your Patriarch, I will tell him everything.”
“I told Æl…he w-will tell them.” She looked at him askance. “Knew how?”
Borænin grimaced. “I had been watching, I was under orders….When will they come? I have little time,” he pleaded. His whole body radiated with panic. All calm demeanor fell away, he paced a little, wringing his hands.
“W-watching? Orders?” Her eyes darkened further at his behavior. “P-please…I d-don’t…”
“It’s too much to tell right now, please…” he begged. The girl sank down to the floor, bringing him up short. “Miss?”
She brought the stone to her face, speaking into it, her voice pinched. “Æl? F-find your uncle q-quickly please….I…d-d-don’t like this…” Her eyes never left the Hierarch, her terror apparent. “P-please don’t hurt m-m-me…”
Borænin unsure, he removed the staff from his back and sets it on the counter. “I am not here to hurt anyone…I am trying to help…”
“G-Goldeneyes says th-th-the Greythorns are horrib-ble people…”
“But…you are Greythorn” he answered, confused.
“N-not the w-w-ones he knows…he…he is f-from ss-somewhere else.”
Borænin’s face fell. “I see…” He slumped down, dropping to his knees. “This..Goldeneyes….he is not wrong, Miss Greythorn…we are horrible,” he said softly. “I am trying to change that.”
Niquisse watched Borænin, unsure. The man flopped down, sinking in on himself. She regarded him for several minutes, chewing on her lip before standing slowly. Shaking in fear, she pushed herself to move closer. Without warning, from behind Borænin, Gerald, seeing the visitor disoriented, stepped in and clubbed him with the hilt of his sword. Borænin stumbled then keeled over, unconscious.
“Gerald! W-What…” She stepped over and started to check to see if he was alive.
Gerald took her by the arm and pulled her away. “Forgive me, Niqi. But I do not trust this man and I think it best that we let the master and the Patriarch handle this.” He looked around the shop, finding some thick cording which he used to bind the unconscious man’s wrists. “Let’s wait for their help, all right?”
Niqi sank down onto the sofa and buried her face in her hands. “Just when I thought things would be better…”