Chapter 9: Ignorance is Not Bliss
Fayrial growled under her breath as she strode quickly away from Leothir’s suite toward the kitchens, pressing her hand to her head. The oblivious lordling wanted a “light dinner”, not realizing that his companion hadn’t eaten in the better part of two days, and it made her want to either shake him or punch his smug, clueless, pasty little bloodelven face. She fisted her hand by her hip, her expression thunderous, until she rounded a corner and nearly careened right into his brother.
“Ah!” The night elf stumbled back, pressing a palm against the decorative paper on the wall as Relare stepped back as well, holding his hands out. She quickly recovered herself, bowing her head. “Master Relare. Please pardon me.”
Relare smiled softly, a little bit sadly, as he put his hand on his hip, his armor gleaming. “Fayrial, when will you stop addressing me as ‘master’?”
She pressed her lips together, daring to shoot him a stern look. “When I am rid of this collar, Master Relare, and not a moment before.”
He sighed and nodded. “Very well. I intend to keep asking, though.”
“Do as you wish,” the former sentinel groused, her gaze darting down the hall past him. “If you’ll excuse me…”
With a nod, Relare stepped aside, commenting, “Of course. I was just on my way to get Leo.”
Faye paused and turned back with a wince, shaking her head. “No, I don’t think you want to do that just now, Master Relare. He… Rhoelyn is in his room with him. He asked not to be disturbed save for with the food I’m to bring.”
The paladin tilted his head at her. “Rhoelyn? That’s not their usual little ritual, is it?”
Try though she did, the night elf couldn’t keep her lips from twitching down. “No. It isn’t.” That she said no more was telling, and perceptive Relare’s eyes narrowed on her face.
“What is it?” He asked softly, glancing up and down the corridor and stepping closer to her. “You’re more surly than usual, Fayrial, and that usually means someone is being stupid. Considering that you just came from Leo’s suite, I can guess who.”
The slave pressed her lips together, her frown deepening into a scowl. “I’m quite sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, Master Relare. Now please let me p-”
She cut off when he pressed his hand against her arm, looking down at the contact. “Faye.” He was prepared when her expression darkened into a glare, but he left his hand there to keep her attention. “Faye, I know something is going on. There’s a buzz around the manor; I just haven’t gotten all the details, yet. Save me some time and save my brother some trouble, and just tell me.”
The former sentinel pulled away from his hand, taking a couple of steps back. In silent, moderately hostile contemplation, she stood there, still and watching him as she considered his request. Finally, she pressed her lips together and turned away, beckoning Relare to an open side door into a small workroom. She led the way, her teal braid swinging with her gait, until they had relative privacy, the door clicked shut behind them.
“Okay,” the blood elf crossed his arms, watching her seriously. “What’s happened?”
Fayrial sighed and leaned against the wall to tell him about Emeria’s orders and the priestess’ caning and subsequent deprivation and imprisonment. She conveniently failed to mention how inspiring the rest of the slaves had found her quiet endurance of that trial, but she did end her story with a growled, “And I-… well, let me simply say that when I glimpsed her just now, she looked feverish and flushed. She has had no food or water for two days, and your brother… that is- Master Leothir has no idea.”
Relare scrubbed his hands over his face and then through his cropped hair, shaking his head. “That… Light, I knew mother had her harsher moments, but she…” He took a deep, steadying breath, his gaze falling to the floor in some combination of sadness and shame. “I had no idea she was capable of such cruelty. She knows how much Rhoelyn means to Leo, and still she ordered her beaten and locked up?”
The slave in front of him pressed her lips together, watching him with no sympathy whatsoever. “Ignorance is not bliss, Relare Duskfall. It is dangerous in our world. You should understand that Emeria is a tyrant, not a benevolent queen.”
He was silent for a long moment, pressing his fingers against his temple as he tried to reconcile her assertion with the mother he knew and loved. Finally, he raised his luminous green eyes to hers, his mouth pressed in a grim line. “Has she… does she treat all of you like that?”
Faye considered exaggerating, but in the end she shook her head slightly. “No. That was extreme, even for her. Canings are rare enough and usually short. She especially dislikes your brother’s kal’dorei mate, and I am sure we can guess why. However, she is fond of the chains and uses them liberally, even on those who … are claimed by others.”
“How rude,” Relare tsked, frowning as he turned to pace a couple of steps away in the small room. He paused and looked back. “Thank you for making me aware, Fayrial. I’m not sure I can do a lot against that sort of behavior, but I can try.”
The former sentinel gasped, surging toward him and shaking her head. “Don’t you dare. If you confront her about this, just who do you think she’ll take out her ire on? Rhoelyn will pay for anything you do; we all will pay. And more, the priestess will be upset if your meddling lets your brother know. She has worked hard, suffered much, to avoid placing herself as a needle in their relationship. I’m not even certain why, but that is of great importance to her.”
Blinking, the blood elf stepped back from her vehemence, his armor hitting the wall. His fist clenched and his brows drew down. “You want me to do nothing? Fayrial, you know I don’t believe in any of this. You’re not slaves or inferior creatures. You are kin, and we are stupid for alienating you instead of embracing you. That my own mother believes such old-fashioned and short-sighted views is bad enough, but now you want me to know of her cruelties and just… just turn a blind eye?”
Relare shook his head, grimacing. “I can’t do that. I don’t want to just stand by and let it be wrong forever.”
“Then do not.” The former sentinel folded her arms across her chest, all of the force and bluster of what she should still be evident in her no-nonsense expression. “But be smart. If you want to change things, Relare, you will need power. The power to end the war and change the decree. The power to supplant your mother as head of this house. The power to change this world. Until you have even one of those things, you’re no help to any of us.”
Her words, harsh and unflinching, had him clenching his fist and pressing it against the wall, his thoughts racing. She was right. And he was close. He thought of Swelltide, his own personal army poised to strike a decisive blow against the Sunbane leadership and end the war. He thought of Leothir, content to let his mother rule the house while he played soldier and traveled the world. His brother would take his place if he knew…. Yes, there were paths between what he had and what he wanted, and Faye was right. It was past time to fight, and power enough to help them – to help everyone – was either in his grasp or not far beyond his reach.
Relare nodded to himself, watching his mother’s slave reach up and wrap her hand around the cursed collar at her neck, tugging. Faye gave him a dark smile, one fist still clenched by her side. “You see it, now,” she said softly, her canines sharp and fierce. “We play our part, Relare, but we are not slaves.” The proud warrior stood straight-backed and tall, her gaze intense, and repeated what was recently said to her: “We are the children of the stars… and we will not be cowed.
“So what part will you play, second son of a tyrant?”
The blood elf met her determination with his own. “Wait and see, Faye. I’m done being useless to you.”
As he turned and opened the door, Faye nodded and said more softly, “I look forward to it. If you prove yourself worthy, I may even stand beside you.”
“Fayrial Dawncrier,” he paused and turned back to her in the doorway, bowing his head respectfully. “I look forward to the day that we once more get to fight side-by-side. As it should be.”
“Hm.” When the night elf pushed past him, she dared to trail a hand across his arm and meet his gaze boldly. “As do I. In the meantime, I will continue to curse you as I do all of your kind with the title of ‘master’.”
Relare grinned and chuckled as she hurried away down the hall, mumbling quietly, “I suppose that’s fair.” He turned back toward his brother’s suite and strode off with new purpose.
Some time (that was significantly less than two hours) later, the auburn-haired paladin dozed on the couch in his brother’s sitting room, his cuirass and gauntlets draped across a chair. He waited patiently, only cracking open an eye when Fayrial slipped into the room with a platter laden with food and drink and scratched at the bedroom door. Though he raised his head and stretched, the night elf ignored his presence in the room.
“Master Leothir, your dinner,” she pronounced quite loudly, intending for her voice to carry through both the wood and whatever might be distracting them on the other side. Her gaze slipped sideways to glance at Relare as she waited for his response, and a minute ticked toward two.
When the portal cracked open, Leo stepped out in his breeches and little else, his golden hair loose around his shoulders. His brother smirked as Faye grit her teeth and handed him the dishes. He could tell that she was trying not to let her eyes stray to the reddened scratch marks on his toned chest; they were enough to make even the stalwart and worldly warrior wince, probably attempting not to imagine how they got there. Possibly worrying about a scenario of reluctance that Relare knew Leo could never be guilty of in a million lifetimes.
“Ah, thank you, Fayrial,” Leothir said. He had half-turned back into the bedroom before he noticed the person on the couch over her shoulder, but the mage paused with a pointed glare for his brother and a snapped, “Go away, Relare. Swelltide can wait; we just got back.”
The younger sibling just grinned breezily and settled back onto the couch with a yawn, intoning, “Oh, don’t worry, Leo. This isn’t about the campaign. I’ll wait. Right here. Where I can hea-”
Leo tsked and rushed over, setting his burden on the table and clamping a hand over the bigger blood elf’s mouth. “You are quite out of line, brother. What do you want? I am busy.”
Relare’s chuckle was muffled, but then he sobered and sat up, shaking his mouth free of his sibling’s hand. “I want to see Rhoelyn, Leo. I need to speak with her.”
The mage cursed, smacking his forehead into his hand. “Relare, do I need to spell out for you just what we’re doing while we’re busy? I assure you, it is entirely unsuited for company! Brother, really, sometimes you are-”
“No!” Brushing his hands over his face didn’t help the younger blood elf avoid blushing, and he chuckled with self-conscious mirth. “No, of course not. And please, don’t tell me anything more. But I heard she was ill, and I want to help. If she can’t heal herself, then maybe I should look her over.”
“You are most definitely not looking her over in her current state, brother,” Leothir muttered possessively. He waved a dismissive hand. “She says she just needs food, and that is here. If you weren’t loitering on my couch, I could have already given it to her.” His lips twisted into a devilish grin as his eyes narrowed at his brother, a dare not-so-hidden in them. “Or would you like me to tell you exactly what my plans are for some of it? If it’s bedroom advice you’re looking for, Rel….”
The paladin smirked and ignored his deepening blush to reach out and slug Leothir on the shoulder. His smaller brother stumbled back a step, rubbing his abused flesh as Relare said, “As much as I value your dubious and debauched wisdom, Leo, I think I’ll pass. Give me just three minutes with her. Please. And then I’ll leave you both alone to… Well, I’ll leave you both alone.”
After a moment’s stubborn contemplation, Leothir relented with a sigh, his shoulders rounding. “Oh, very well. You can talk to her while she eats. I admit that I’ve been somewhat worried about her fever. She seems weak.”
With a little smirk, he rubbed at the stinging nail-marks on his chest. “Well… slightly weak, at least.” Leo gathered their dinner and turned back to the door, saying over his shoulder, “Give me a moment to speak with her and make sure she’s presentable. I’ll call you in.”
And with that, he disappeared into the bedroom, carrying the food tray and the pitcher and cups. Relare had enough time to pace across the room three times before his brother’s voice called, “You may enter, now, Rel.”
As the paladin strode across the room, his gaze fell on Rhoelyn with new awareness of why she looked slightly wan as she sat in the upholstered chair beneath the window, tucked into Leo’s tunic for decency. The little priestess looked over at him and flushed slightly darker under his examination, tugging the fabric lower over her thighs and forcing her gaze back to Leo as he complained.
“Really, my flower. How could you let the cleaning staff snag your gown away? You’re quite trapped here without your clothes.”
She winced for more reasons than one, Relare thought, watching her expression and seeing hints through what she carefully wore there for her mate. “I am sorry, my dawn. It was ridiculous of me not to notice, of course.” He saw the playful grin that she forced for his brother, and he couldn’t help the little furrow that deepened between his eyes. “I was more focused on the time when I wouldn’t need it than when I would…”
Her distraction worked, and Leothir grinned and leaned down to give her a quick kiss. “Well. Perhaps I will keep you prisoner here that way a bit longer.”
He didn’t feel his brother’s glower aimed at his back, and by the time he turned, it was replaced with a bland smile.
“Alright, you two. Try to control yourselves until I leave, if you would. I don’t think I want to know any more than I already do about your… more intimate moments,” Relare joked lightly, pulling up a stool beside Rhoelyn’s chair.
Before he sat, he grabbed the cup of water off the table beside her and shoved it into her hand, gentle but unsubtle. She smiled gratefully and took a dutiful sip, her relief showing nowhere but in the depths of her fever-bright eyes. The paladin sighed without sound, knowing that she was too good at hiding for his brother to stand a chance of seeing through her.
That had to change, for both their sakes.
Still, Relare concealed his thoughts almost as well as Rhoelyn did, instead just reaching out to press the inside of his wrist against her forehead. Her temperature was high, but thankfully not ragingly so. He brushed her hair back from her temple with a gently glowing hand, leaning forward to look carefully in her luminous blue eyes. As he examined her, he found the answer to the most pressing question in his mind, and his eyes widened.
“Light, Rhoelyn. How on earth did you get so… so spellburnt? Your mana is practically at a boil, half-formed into some sort of Light-imbued spell that can’t escape.” He grasped her hand, confusion wrinkling his brow. “That’s why you haven’t been able to heal yourself of this illness.”
The priestess blinked in surprise for a moment before lowering her eyes as she set the cup of water back down. “I’m afraid I simply do not know what happened, brother. I had… I had very odd dreams in the night, and when I woke…” She shrugged slightly, looking back up at him uncertainly. Though there was clearly something she wasn’t saying, Relare found he believed her confusion to be genuine; the night elf really didn’t know how she’d gotten mired in a partly-formed spell.
He sighed, this time more audibly, and managed a little reassuring smile with his nod. “Well, you wouldn’t be the first to be prone to spellcasting in your sleep, though you’ve really managed something large and impressive, here. I’m just relieved you’re not more ill from it.”
The paladin patted her hand, power flaring in his eyes as he concentrated. He could feel his brother’s gaze on him as he worked, the mage quiet but worried. “I think once we dispell this, you’ll feel much better.”
“Thank you, Relare,” she said softly, closing her eyes and lowering her guard to allow his magic to mingle with hers. It didn’t take long to unravel the spell and release her mana, though it was built up so badly that it wafted free of her in visible waves as she shuddered. Leothir knelt beside his lover and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, holding her tight against the uncomfortable sensation until finally she relaxed against him, sighing with relief.
The paladin pressed his hand back to her forehead before echoing her sigh with his own. “Much better,” he said with a smile, leaning back to look over the night elf and his brother. “How do you feel?”
Rhoelyn smiled, suddenly sleepy and a bit droopy. Her mate supported her, his hand skimming comfortingly up and down her arm. “I will borrow your phrase, Relare. I feel ‘much better’.”
“Good,” he nodded curtly, standing to once more grab her cup of water and shove it at her, this time along with a piece of bread. Again, she took both with a grateful look that had depths that Leothir missed. The mage just chuckled at his brother’s pushy behavior.
“I’m worried,” Relare continued. “I want you to let me know the minute this – any of this situation plagues you again, Rhoelyn.” The paladin gave her an intense stare, a meaningful edge to it that she caught easily. He could see when she realized just how much he knew.
Rhoelyn started and paled a bit as her eyes widened, and then she looked down and away, avoiding the paladin’s emerald gaze. He knew she’d caught his intent by the way she stuttered, “O-of course I will. I… wouldn’t wish to worry you, Relare.” Her glance flicked to Leothir. “Either of you.”
Her mate frowned and brushed her hair back behind her ear, his expression tender. “As you shouldn’t, my delicate flower. You can rely on us, and you can trust my brother as much as you’d trust me. Let us both help to care for you.”
Leothir had no idea just how appropriate his words were, hence he was surprised when her eyes suddenly shone with tears. She glanced back to Relare to hide her reaction, lowering her head on the pretense of taking a bite of her bread.
Relare nodded, the smile he leveled on the little night elf kind and sympathetic. “I don’t want to risk this happening again, Rhoelyn. I’ll have my paladins replace mother’s guards from now on. They’re… better equipped to handle things if you have any more issues.”
“That’s a magnificent idea, brother. They’ll be able to dispell it if she tangles her mana, again. Mother’s guards are notoriously backwards at spell crafting.” The look the mage gave his brother was almost as grateful as the priestess’, and Leo patted her shoulder, exclaiming, “You’re quite the best, Rel! Thank you.”
For her part, Rhoelyn just sniffled, moved deeper into tears by both his kindness and her expansive relief. She managed to hide how choked up she was by speaking around a dainty bite of bread as she murmured, “I am eternally grateful, Relare. You… you are a wonder.”
Leo smirked and slanted a glance her way, skimming along the surface of the undercurrents of the conversation. “Now, now. If you speak like that, my flower, I might get jealous. He isn’t quite that amazing. He snores, I’ll have you know!”
Relare gasped, grabbing his brother’s ear playfully and giving it a rough tweak. “I most certainly do not, you rotten little twit!”
“You do.” The older sibling asserted, grimacing and shoving at his stronger brother’s hands. “Last time we were in the field, you kept me up half the night with your caterwauling.” He gave a conspiratorial wink to his mate, adding, “The night watch came bursting into the tent at one point, certain we were being murdered most foully.”
As Relare growled in mock insult, he was pleased to note that Rhoe giggled, wiping her eyes dry and enjoying their antics. She looked tired, but only that, her pallor and clouded gaze both gone for good.
“You, brother, are really asking for latrine duty next time we go back to camp,” he asserted with a pointed finger, holding his glare for only a moment before the horrified look on Leothir’s face ruined his act.
The other blood elf gasped out, “You wouldn’t actually… Relare, it’s feces in th-!”,
The paladin interrupted by bursting out laughing, and soon Rhoelyn was giggling with him as Leo sputtered.
“My dawn…” She finally reached out to the mage a minute later and rested her hand on her lover’s arm to soften the sting of their teasing, quieting to an amused smile. “I am hungry… and tired. Perhaps we should let your brother get back to his day.”
Relare chuckled. “I know a royal dismissal when I hear one.” He leaned down to plant a quick kiss on Rhoelyn’s cheek, plucking a slice of cheese from the plate and shoving it into her fine-boned hand beside the bread. Then he grabbed a second chunk before he turned and wandered back toward the door, popping it in his mouth.
“Goodbye, you both. Will you please try to stay out of trouble for once?”
Leo chuckled and called after him, “That’s rich coming from you.”
“Even richer when you try to deny it, brother!”
As the paladin pulled the door shut behind him, he heard his brother snicker and admit quietly to Rhoelyn, “He doesn’t actually snore… unless he’s drunk.”