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"You think the Council is doing good work, then?"


Merrick craned his head back over his shoulder to say this. He and Tabby had made their way up to Merchant Street, past the temple of Ailvogyl, and there was heavy traffic on the wider cobblestone streets. The watchmen had been forced to walk single-file, keeping close under the buildings, to avoid bumping into pedestrians. Carts, and the occasional carriage, trundled by closer to the center of the street.


Tabby shrugged, then sidestepped a burly man in a cook's apron. The man nodded at them, and tipped his smoke.


"I don't know what the Council does," he said. "I don't muck in business that isn't mine, and I don't pretend to know the ways of people higher than me. They're better than kings. I know that."


"I think it depends on the king," Merrick said.


"All kings are the same."


Merrick let the comment lie, and they continued in silence for a few moments, picking their way carefully upstream of the flow of traffic.


Tabby said: "You know anything about the Council?"


"I might do. I try to keep an ear to the ground about what goes on in the upper city. Why, you want to know something?" Merrick looked back at him.


"Well...yes..."


"Oh? Out with it."


"What do they talk about? I mean, what do they do? Do they play with lives, like they say? Do they decide what people come over rich or poor every day?"


"What? Of course not." Merrick stopped. "Who put ideas like that in your head?"


Tabby shrugged, embarassed. "Just talk. Sometimes I hear things, at the taverns. I hear rumors."


"Some rumors are true, don't get me wrong. But that-" Merrick shook his head. He started walking again. "No. The Council makes decisions on laws, taxes, who to trade with...city decisions. You understand?"


"I...think so," Tabby said, and Merrick reflected that the young man was bright enough, but ill-educated in the cogs and gears of society.


"Good. Anyway, of the seven, I've spoken with two in person..." Merrick stopped.


"Sir?"


"You ever seen that church before?" Merrick pointed at a squat two-story building sandwiched in between a house of rented rooms and a grimy pub called- according to the sign- the Seven Stars.


Tabby read the sign on the building with careful concentration. "Church of the Blue Moon? No, sir, can't say I've ever seen it before. Do you know it?"


"No. No I don't." Merrick frowned at the building. "Odd name for a church."


They were on the border between the business district and old town. Beyond the block of flats lay the famous five-way crossroads so often spoken of in songs and stories of the city. Even in the pale light, the line of trees marching north into Moore Park was beautiful. On a clear summer night, with the iron streetlamps along the boulevard all lit, it seemed like something out of a dream. Poets had fallen prey to it for years uncounted.


"Which way now?" Merrick asked.


Tabby rubbed at the stubble under his chin, considering. At last he said: "Up to the river, if that suits you, sir."


"Suits me fine. Lead on."





Wekli pushed open the door to the roof and stepped out. It was colder up top, and a sneaky, snaky little breeze tugged at his hair, trying to pull it out of the leather thong that kept it from his eyes. From here, he could look out across the whole of Manderia, spread out against the place where the river opened out into the Salten Sea. Tiny ships with tall sails stood in the harbour to the east. To the west, the line of buildings ran unevenly toward the dome of the old library. Wekli's eyes, sharp hunter's eyes, followed the path from the library to the temple of Gore, from the temple to the Guild of Mages, and from the guild to where the buildings marched, step-like, up to the upper city and the palace. Wekli, though not a Rogue, had joined their conflicts and cast his lot in with them, and they in turn had shared many of their secrets. He knew the secret paths across the rooftops, and how to find them. An adventurer with a little courage- and a good running jump- could reach almost anywhere in the city from the rooftops. Wekli was agile, and strong despite his small frame. He had climbed many trees and mountains in his days. He had no trouble.


Today, though, he only wanted to sit and think.


And was surprised to find someone else in his sitting place.


Lunice turned to look at him, and smiled wanly.


"Hello there, man."


He came and sat beside her. "Hello, elf."


"Dirty pig."


"Prissy wench." He kissed her. "Or maybe pretty wench instead,"


"Mm? Well, this pretty wench will pay you back for the compliment later." She slipped an arm around his waist. "Hope you didn't want to be alone up here."


"I did, but I'd rather be with you up here."


"Good, because you don't have choice in the matter."


"What about you? I didn't interrupt, did I?"


She cocked an eyebrow. "Love, you can interrupt any time you want. I was just thinking."


"What about?"


"Nosy little human, aren't you?"


"Mm-hmm."


Lunice sighed. "I was thinking about home..."


"You mean An Chathaire?"


"Yes. The Houses. Politics. I wonder what's happening up there. I've had no news for months, and I can't contact anyone without starting the chain that will drag me back. I'm not ready for that yet."


Wekli looked down at the city, then back up at her. "I know we've talked about this before...but if you want to go back, you know I'll do anything I can to help. I don't want to stop you from going back to your people. I can wait for you as long as-"


"Shut up." She raised his chin, put a finger to his lips. "I won't hear another word of that from you. I wouldn't give you up for all the gold in the Seven Kingdoms, much less a nest of pampered, powdered, prissy prigs with fancy swords and wagging tongues." She kissed him long and slowly, taking her time with it, making sure she had his attention. She pulled away and ran her hand back along his hair.


"One day," she said. "I will go back, and present you to the King and Queen as my mate- not as my servant, or my travelling companion, but my mate, and let the prigs say what they like. If I'm sent into exile, at least I'll have you with me."


Wekli smiled, but the smile felt forced, and it didn't stay long. "I still don't feel right forcing you into something like that. I'm disrupting your whole life, getting in the-"


She grabbed his chin again, this time with fingers that hurt. She turned his head until he was looking directly into her eyes. "Listen to me. You are NOT disrupting my life. I love you, and everything I do, I choose for myself. Do you doubt that? Now I've had just about enough of this self-deprecating nonsense from you, and if I hear it again, I WILL give you something to worry about." She put her forehead against his. "Understand?"


He looked down. "Yes, Lunice."


She put a single finger under his chin this time, and gently lifted it until they were looking at each other again, "Good."


She took her hand away, and put it around his waist again. "So. I've had my great unburdening. What did you come up here for?"


"Well, I needed a break from teaching guild apprentices how to use a bow without putting someone's eye out..."


"Mm-hmm. And what else?"


"Nosy little elf, aren't you?"


"Absolutely, and I'm a head taller than you, so shut it. Honestly, what's troubling you?"


Wekli tucked his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. "I don't know. Just wondering what we're doing here, I guess. I mean...it made sense when we first came here, we were in a hurry, wanted somewhere safe. But what we're doing now...Merrick's plans, the guild, the whole thing. When you spend enough time out in the wild, sometimes you can smell a big storm coming, even when the sky looks clear. There's just a feeling, a not-quite-right feeling, like everything's getting ready to explode. That's how it's starting to feel here. I think there's big trouble coming, and I think Merrick's a part of it. And...well...I don't shy away from trouble, but I'm not even sure what we're doing here. I like Merrick, but I'm also a little afraid of him. He's strange, I don't know how to explain it. I want to trust him. I want to. But I don't know anything about him! Neither of us do."


"Yeah," Lunice said, but she wasn't looking at him.


"We had some trouble with that boy, that Ganthor boy, but that was nothing. Whatever's coming, whatever I can almost see on the horizon, it's a big storm. Worries me."


"Why?"


"If I'm going to be in a fight, I need something to fight for. I need to believe in what I'm doing."


Lunice nodded. "So do I."


"So what do we do?"


"I don't know..."


Wekli put his arm around Lunice. They hugged each other, like children.


------
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.


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The following comments are for "Manderia - 15"
by Beckett Grey





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