Chapter 2: Collar and Chain
The trial was a laughable affair, held behind closed doors and presided over by the Menethil king. The counsel leveled egregious charges at her, including sedition and treason, and when Rhoelyn calmly pointed out that, by definition, neither was possible against a nation not her own and an authority she did not recognize, the elderly king laughed heartily and added the charge of contempt.
That charge, at least, was true.
Afterward, she sat on the rotting cot in her cell, her knees pulled up and her chin resting on them, pondering the arrogance of men, wishing for her brother, and praying to the goddess whose light she hadn’t seen in nearly two months, whose light she may not see for years to come.
Tears, always close, threatened once more at the thought. A life sentence. Months and years, maybe even decades in the dungeons of Lordaeron. Moonless, damp, smelly, dirty dungeons and not a bath or a washbasin in sight. The priestess plucked unhappily at the dirty hem of her dress as tears dripped down her cheeks. When she allowed herself to indulge in self-pity, she lost the last of her tenuous control.
Regret washed over her, and she buried her face against her knees to muffle her sobs. What had she been thinking? She should never have accepted Morthis’ request, should have stayed in Nighthaven with her garden and her Moonwells. She should have listened when Rhese asked her not to go to Pandaria without him. She should have somehow managed to save Mishkaala and escape to find Mu Lin. She should have gone home to her brother.
“Goddess,” she whispered against her skirt, a bald and desperate plea that went no further, defied definition. “Rhese…” Rhoelyn filled her thoughts with the silver moon and her beloved twin until the phenomenal weight of her longing left her exhausted and asleep where she sat.
Thus, she didn’t know how much later it was when the echoing stomp of boots and the jangle of iron keys woke her. She lifted her head, groggy and blinking at the sudden brightness as the guard lit the wall sconce.
“Light! This place is a nightmare.” The little night elf gasped aloud at that smooth, familiar tenor, hating how her heart flopped with hope as he stepped into view. He spoke to the muscular human at his side, the chestnut-haired warrior who had been nothing but angry to Rhoelyn during their travels.
Kaerryn rolled her eyes. “It’s a damn dungeon, Leo. That’s pretty much exactly the point of the entire place. Can we just get this over with?”
When she looked over and caught Rhoelyn’s gaze, the priestess frowned and wiped at her cheeks. She shuddered at the fighter’s vindictive smile, but unfolded herself from the cot. The night elf brushed at her abused skirts, waiting, straight and proud, as the guard with the two of them dragged the key around and opened the cell.
“Leothir. Kaerryn.” She greeted them with cool politeness, like a hostess at a soiree instead of a prisoner in a cell.
Kaerryn growled, but Leo just smiled, drinking in her calm presence as he followed his companion into the space.
“Rhoelyn. My flower… how I’ve missed you.” Rhoelyn watched the mage incredulously as he took her hand and bowed before her, kissing her knuckles. When she neither spoke nor moved, he glanced up at her wan face. “Beautiful?”
The priestess jumped, extricating her hand from his grip. She managed a bland, polite smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure? I haven’t seen you in weeks. I daresay I thought you had gone back to Quel’thalas.”
“Ah,” he said softly, understanding dawning. The golden mage smiled sadly and caressed her cheek. She was just desperate enough to let him. “No, beautiful. I wouldn’t abandon you, but I was forbidden from seeing you. Repeatedly and with increasing vehemence.”
Kaerryn snorted. “It’s true. He annoyed half the city bothering people and pulling strings. It was incredibly boring for me.”
The blood elf shot her a smirking scowl, muttering. “Yes, thank you for your input, my friend.” He turned back to Rhoelyn, muttering, “She is a great bodyguard, but incredibly terrible at patience.”
The priestess slanted the woman an unfond glance from under her lashes, frowning. “I am well aware of Miss Smythe’s penchant for activity, especially violent ones, thank you.”
When she looked back at Leo, she managed to summon the determination necessary to pull away from the warm comfort – the ridiculous comfort – of his palm. Rhoelyn turned and paced away, leaving him looking bereft. “Why go to so much trouble? Leothir, why have you come?”
“For you, of course.” He followed her, daring to rest a hand on her arm with a smile. “Rhoelyn, we’re here to take you out of this place.”
“W-what?” The little priestess spun, gasping, only to find herself caught in the happy anticipation in his expression. She was very afraid of all the hope that filled her, but helpless to stop it. “Th-that… King Terenas said-”
“Shh.” Leothir gentled her, smoothing his hands down her arms. “He said your sentence was life in chains. I managed to convince him that they didn’t need to be the chains of the dungeons.”
Rhoelyn paled, then, and trembled under his touch. Even as he nodded at Kaerryn and the human rummaged in her pack, she knew what was coming, what he intended. That flood of hope turned into a drowning torrent of dread that choked the breath from her.
The slave collar the warrior pulled forth was an attempt to beautify something truly horrible. The leather was tooled with vines and flowers, dyed with the subtle colors of a dristy spring, soft lavender and rose and eggshell blue amidst a background of leafy green. The chain loop that would lay over her neck was golden and shaped like a rounded leaf. It was even lined with a soft rabbit down to ensure it didn’t chafe. Like so much that Leothir did, it was part kind and part cruel. Beautiful or not, its presence around her neck would always mark her as less than a person.
The priestess tried to take a step back when Kaerryn approached with the hated thing, but her knees gave out.
“Whoa!” Rhoelyn was saved from an undignified collapse to the floor by Leo’s grip, and he tugged her against him.
“You… you will never let me go home.”
It took leaning his ear close by her mouth to hear her thready whisper, but hear it he did. She’d lost all of her cool detachment, all of her regal aplomb, and now was just nakedly afraid and oh, so sad. He hated to see it, but he hated more the thought of losing her, of letting her go away.
The blood elf helped her to the cot, settling her there while she recovered. He knelt before her, brushing her hair back and trying to soothe her while she trembled, eyes wide and hollow. “Stay with me, Rhoelyn,” he said. “I will make you smile and laugh. I will dry every tear that I can’t prevent. You’ll never want for anything.”
Leothir wanted her to look at him until she actually did, and then he wished desperately not to see that heartbreak in her expression. She whispered, “Save freedom. You will see to it that I always want for that.”
The first tears fell, then, dripping unheeded down her cheeks. He cupped his palms on her skin, brushing them away with his thumbs. “My flower…” Leothir sighed. “Please don’t think of it like that. I can give you a way out of this dungeon. Clothes, jewels, comfort. A garden. A dozen gardens, if you want. You’ll love the manor, Rhoelyn. It’s beautiful and clean and smells like a dream.”
His ramble earned something that was a sobbed laugh. It wasn’t a joyful sound, but he tried to pretend that it was progress, his luminous green gaze searching her expression.
“It isn’t home, Leothir.” She didn’t say the rest of what she thought, ever wary of giving him too much information: It doesn’t get me back to my brother.
The blood elf rested his forehead on hers, closing his eyes. “It will be, in time. You’ll see, beautiful.”
Impatient, Kaerryn intruded, shoving the collar at Leo. “It’s not like she has a choice, so can we wrap this up?” The woman’s glare swung to Rhoelyn, daring her to protest. “Oh, sorry. Did you get the impression that he was asking, princess? Staying here to rot in a cell isn’t actually on the the table, and you’d have to be an idiot to want that, anyway. Put the damn collar on her, and let’s go, already.”
The guard’s sneering rant earned her a thunderous scowl from her employer and nothing at all from her target, an empty stare. Dissatisfied, she clicked her tongue, turning away as soon as he took the accessory. “I’ll be upstairs if you need me, Leothir. Try not to get healed to death while I’m gone.”
The sin’dorei watched Kaerryn go with a sigh before turning his attention back to Rhoelyn. “I’m sorry about her, beautiful. I don’t intend to force you, but there’s no possibility that you’d rather stay in this dungeon than wear my collar. Right? Please tell me I’m right.”
Her gaze traveled from him to their foul surroundings and back as she weighed her dignity against the expanded possibilities beyond those damp stone walls. Within the dungeons of Lordaeron, there was such a thin thread of hope… Rhoelyn once more pulled away from his touch, lowering her head as she acknowledged a hard truth.
“You are both right. There is no real choice in this.” When she lifted her eyes to Leothir’s, she had recaptured her mask of serenity. “I will come with you, Leothir.”
His smile at that was bright enough to blind, and her heart flopped at its beauty. Suddenly, she itched to lean forward and kiss him. A ridiculous, selfish itch that was more about stealing some hollow comfort than showing affection, about obscuring a smile that was wonderful and horrible at once. Her brow furrowed. Again. Always. It was all mixed up. How could she want to see him smile and hate to see him smile at the same time? How could she want to lean on him for comfort when he was part of the reason she craved comfort in the first place?
I’m so lost. I need Rhese. The thought brought sudden tears to her eyes, and she looked away both to hide them and to not have to watch as Leothir lifted the collar, leaning close by her cheek to reach around her and fasten it around her neck. His breath was warm on her skin, his hands soft as he brushed her long hair out of his way. She closed her eyes and swayed toward him, but luckily he withdrew before she touched him, leaving only the slave collar laying soft and heavy against her neck. Rhoelyn felt sick.
“You’ve made me very happy, my flower.” Leothir said it softly, reverently. Before she could respond, he surged forward and cupped her jaw between his hands, snagging her lips with his, a brief, sweet taste of his pleasure. “I’ll return the favor. Just wait and see, Rhoelyn. You are going to be so happy…”
“She’s not happy.” Leothir stretched his arms across the table top as he spoke, resting his cheek on the frosted glass. The rest of his words were muffled. “I don’t know what to do for her, Relare. I don’t know what she needs.”
His brother looked up from a stack of reports, setting them down with a frown. He brushed a hand over his short auburn hair. “What does she say? Have you spoken with her about it?”
The mage twisted his head to look at Relare, dark circles under his eyes. “I have tried. She just gives me that smile of hers that’s not a smile and says ‘What more could I want, Leothir?’”
The paladin coughed to avoid inappropriately timed laughter at his brother’s passable, high-pitched impersonation of her voice. The tight, round sounds of her silken Darnassian accent were particularly well-captured. Still, it earned him a knowing scowl from his older sibling.
“She’s not even working in her garden, any more,” Leo grouched. “Since mother forbade the kitchens from using the vegetables and herbs she grew, she says it doesn’t need her. She requested pots for every last damn plant and gave them away to… You know, I don’t even know who she gave them to. Villagers or… something. I was away. When I came back, it was all full of flowers.”
Relare’s brows raised. “Wait. She’s abandoned her garden? She loves that garden. It’s the only thing you’ve given her that she truly, without reservation, wanted. She even brought me quite a few of her freshly-grown foods.” He smiled fondly. “Rhoelyn cooked for me and my staff. Here. In the chalet. It was when you went to Stormwind for a few days.”
Leothir raised his head, frowning. “She cooked for you?”
The paladin nodded, the look on his brother’s face prompting him to reiterate, “And the staff. She’s an excellent cook, Leo.”
“I’ve never tasted her cooking.” His expression nothing short of petulant, Leo toyed with the half-empty glass of wine in front of him. “She’s never offered.”
Relare sighed and reached out to tweak his long ear. “Idiot. Have you ever asked? She brought me vegetables, and I asked her how to prepare them.” He shook his head, leaning back in his seat and folding his arms across his chest. “When do you ever just… talk to her? Listen to her?”
Leo blinked at his brother. “I greet her every morning. I check that she wants for nothing. And as she requested, I always visit her suite before I leave. Every time. Quite without fail.”
“Mmhm.” Relare stared, tapping his fingers on the table by his empty plate. “And do you ask her what she does while you’re gone? Inquire about the interests she finds here in the manor?”
His older brother winced. “Well. I get a full daily report from Baritold. It…” At the paladin’s expression, he grimaced and admitted, “…perhaps lacks… some level of detail.”
Relare shook his head, leaning forward to flick his ear once more and catch and hold Leothir’s attention. “Take her down from the pedestal you put her on because she’s beautiful and touch her, Leo. You’re locking her in a cage of glass where no one can reach her, and she can’t reach anyone else. If Rhoelyn doesn’t have you, then she doesn’t have anyone to talk to, here.”
The mage made a face, rubbing his abused ear. “Whatever are you talking about? She has a few dozen of her own people to talk to in mother’s household staff.”
Tilting his head to the side, Relare fixed his brother with a droll stare. “… who are constantly busy doing all the ridiculous things mother demands of them. When do you think they would have time for more than two words with your … ‘flower’, Leo? And you’ve exalted her above them, exempted her from any duties. Do you think that fosters goodw-”
“Oh, of course!” Leo shot to his feet, interrupting with a hopeful smile. “You’re very right, brother. Mother’s slaves are far too busy. See? This is why I come to you. Well, this and your wine. I do like this vintage…”
The paladin sighed and pressed his face into his palm, taking a minute to remind himself where to find his patience. When he straightened, he said, “What asinine idea did you just have, Leothir?”
The mage finished gulping down the last of his drink. When he set the glass on the table, his smile was sunny. “No, this one is quite brilliant. She’ll have her own staff! Companions, really. Rhoelyn will love that. Relare, you are quite the best brother!”
“S-staff? Rhoelyn will h- No, Leo! Wa-” The mage ported away with an explosive pop and the acrid scent of the arcane, leaving his sibling behind him at the luncheon table, groaning.
Relare hung his head for an exasperated moment before he pushed himself away from the table and hurried from the chalet, calling for his mount. It was probably futile, but before his brother hurt the woman he loved yet again, the paladin had to try to find and stop him. At least this time, he had some idea where to look.