Come dance with the gypsies... Circulation: 135,120,768 Issue: 263 | 27th day of Collecting, Y8
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Chronicles of the Court Rogue: Instincts - Part One


by nimras23

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Few things, Jeran thought, were as depressing as a sunny afternoon suddenly turning into a torrent of wind and rain. This morning and early afternoon had been bright and sunny, with a clear blue sky from horizon to horizon. Sometime around three, though, heavy grey clouds had rolled in and started to drop fat raindrops down onto the land below, sending squires and knights scurrying to the various huts erected in the training camp.

     Illusen had been kind enough to give them an acre in her glade for a permanent area away from towns to teach the squires about wilderness survival and how to use terrain as an advantage. Too bad she couldn't help out with the weather as well, Jeran thought while staring though the window at heavy rain pounding the wooden walkway.

     Other than today's heavy rain, Jeran loved the weeks where the more advanced squires were taken out for out-of-castle training camps, mostly because of all the opportunities to go hiking; one of the blue Lupe's favorite hobbies. On longer hikes he'd fill a pocket with Plurby Bush seeds to feed to the wild petpets in the area. Given enough time, he could usually convince the wild Albats and Zebies to eat right out of his hands, much to Mareian's delight.

     Jeran smiled at the thought of the tiny pirate Lupess who worked for him. She'd never spent much time in the country, so her trip out here last week to help prepare the camp for the squires' arrival had been an adventure for the ever-curious Lupess. Jeran had been surprised by her skill with a sling, something he'd never seen her use before. A flock of very stubborn Crokabek had taken up residence in the eves of the huts; Mareian convinced them to leave after the first couple of the black birds found their way onto the knights' dinner plates. Not only had it taken care of the Crokabek problem, they'd tasted good too.

     The sound of approaching hoof beats on the wooden walkway pulled Jeran out of his reverie. Curious, the Lupe braved the downpour by sticking his head out the door to see a very familiar spotted Uni with a small form huddled on his back. Ricky? If Ricky was here, his rider could only be Mareian. Grabbing an oilcloth cloak, Jeran hurried out to greet the tired, wet pair.

     "Ricky," he scolded, seeing the drenched Lupess, "didn't you make her at least bring a cloak?" Jeran gently lifted the shivering Mareian out of her saddle and set her on the walkway. Mareian tried to say something, but her teeth were chattering too much to be coherent; instead she settled for ducking under Jeran's waterproof cloak.

     "There wasn't a cloud in the sky when we left," Ricky argued, "and even if we'd thought of it, there isn't room in the packs. They're stuffed with letters, and Mare's carrying something for Danner from King Skarl." The Uni shook his head in a vain attempt to get his waterlogged forelock out of his eyes. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm heading down to the chow hall to pass these out, get some food, and dry off."

     Jeran shook his head, escorting the shivering pirate Lupess to the hut he, Mourvan and Danner shared. The first week was always the worst for parents sending things to their poor little darlings, out in the evil forest where they were surely starving to death. Usually all that came from it was some good natured ribbing from the cubs that hadn't gotten a package and an eruption of cookie bartering in exchange for doing the lucky cubs' chores.

     "Mmm." Mareian looked at the fire merrily crackling in the stone fireplace with delight. "Warm." Her tiny frame was a rather pitiful sight; water dripped from her black tipped ears, and her silvery pirate colored fur was plastered down to her skin from the hard rain.

     "Sweet Fyora." Jeran shoved his tiny Lupess closer to the fire. "You're soaked to the bone." Hastily grabbing a wool blanket, Jeran draped it over Mareian to help her stay warm while he searched for something dry for her to change into. It wasn't easy; women's clothing wasn't something usually needed in a squire training camp. Jeran finally settled on one of his brown wool tunics. It came down to mid thigh on him; it would be near floor length on someone as small as her; at least it should work until her clothes dried.

     "Here." Jeran shoved the brown bundle of wool into her hands. "Change into this and let your clothes dry. While you do that, I'll run down to the chow hall to get some warm food and Danner."

     The chow hall was crowded and loud. Between the heavy raindrops hitting the wooden shingles and the chatter of the people inside, the noise settled at the range of a dull roar. Jeran grabbed a plate of hot food for Mareian, and then scanned the room for Danner's blue Wocky ears. The nice thing about his height was that Jeran didn't have to look very hard when he could see over every other person. Spotting his childhood friend, Jeran caught the Wocky's eye. Jeran pointed to Danner, then to the door, motioning for him to meet him there. Danner looked more than happy to escape the loud, crowded chow hall.

     "Thank you," Danner groaned. "I was mobbed by cubs all wanting to know if they could reply to those dratted letters Ricky brought. What do they think this is, a day camp?"

     Jeran gave Danner a wry grin. The Sheriff's round Wocky face and eyes gave him a friendly, agreeable look. Often the more inexperienced squires would go to him for help instead of the actual knight in charge of the squires' training, Mourvan. Not that Mourvan was a mean person, but the powerful brown Zafara looked more intimidating to self conscious teenagers.

     "Speaking of Ricky," Danner continued, "I'm surprised he's here without Mareian."

     Jeran held up the covered plate of food he was holding. "He's not; Mare's waiting for us back in the hut, taking advantage of the chance to dry off. She's got a message for you."

     Much to Jeran's relief, Mareian wasn't shivering anymore by the time he and Danner got to the hut. The dry clothes and warm fire had obviously helped, and judging from the way she wolfed the food he'd brought, she was feeling better. She'd taken the overly large tunic and folded the front and tied it with a ribbon so it resembled the exotic dresses the ambassadors from Mystery Island liked to wear. If Jeran hadn't known better, he'd have never associated the brown wool with his normal work tunics.

     While Mareian ate, Danner read the message she'd carefully kept dry. "It's about Duke Lether; something has been stealing his Whinnies and Babaas. Whoever it is, they're smart. Taking only the best of his flock, and never a trace how they were taken."

     "Too bad for him," Mareian said. "Why is he writing about you for it?"

     Jeran rolled his eyes. "Duke Lether is far too important to have just anyone look into thefts of his property. Of course something that happens to him needs to be investigated by the Lord Sheriff himself."

     Mareian shook her head in disbelief, finishing off her roll. "There are some people who will never get sympathy from me."

     "On the bright side," Danner pointed out, "it's not far at all; and since you two are here I can drag you along for company. We can all go tomorrow morning."

     "Not too early I hope," Mareian said. "I'm tired." To prove her point, a yawn escaped as she finished her sentence.

     Danner grinned. "Don't worry; I don't want to put up with a sleep-deprived you." Picking up Mareian's now-empty plate, he continued, "I'll pass on to Mourvan our plans for tomorrow, and then hit the sack." Pausing at the door, he suddenly turned back and looked Mareian carefully up and down. "That's a nice dress," he blurted, "you should wear it more often."

     Mareian stared, dumbstruck, at the Wocky as he left, then she turned and gave Jeran a long look. The corners of her mouth twitched, then the pirate Lupess burst into laughter. Jeran couldn't help but join in; that was the last thing he'd expected Danner to say.

     "Congratulations, Jeran," a hiccough interrupted Mareian, "you've set a new women's fashion trend."

     "You know that was a life goal of mine," Jeran managed, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. His comment only served to send Mareian into another gale of laugher.

     It must have been a long day, Jeran decided later, that both of them could laugh that hard over something as crazy as Danner's comment about Mareian's improvised dress. His mouth quirked; it had been funny. Mareian had been so exhausted she'd fallen asleep, an amused smile still on her lips, long before Danner returned.

     Voices on the other side of the door gave away Danner and Mourvan's return. Jeran opened the door, motioning for them to keep quiet so they wouldn't wake the sleeping Lupess.

     "I don't envy you," Mourvan muttered. "I go out of my way to not have to deal with Lether when I can get out of it."

     Danner shrugged. "Most likely we won't even see him. It's probably some farm hand not closing up the barn right at night and the petpets are out enjoying their bolt for freedom. At least we can be reasonably sure that it isn't a hungry Lord Darigan suffering from amnesia this time."

     The brown Zafara grinned. "Have fun." Changing the topic, he motioned to Mareian. "Sure she's going to be warm enough? Ricky said she'd come in half frozen."

     "Nothing an extra blanket won't fix." Jeran pulled a second blanket from the storage bins to cover her, and smoothed the ruffled fur on her cheek. "Goodnight, Mare," he whispered.

To be continued...

 
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