Chapter 2:

Men of Title , Women of Concerns

Gloria Regali


Sir Percival Ffoulkes, 5th Viscount of Belmont, was a man who was always slow to react. A thinking man, as a boy he often found himself in situations where he was on one side and someone ready to bash his skull was on the other. He never liked violence, in his opinion it made weak men weaker and strong men vulnerable to overindulgence. He preferred to use his head to get out of situations which were difficult, not wishing to begin a fight which may cause more fights, or enact someone's overdeveloped desires for revenge. Bookmark here

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Percy didn't think revenge was ever an answer. Bookmark here

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And fighting most certainly was not. Bookmark here

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... in most situations. Bookmark here

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Perhaps it would be more correct to say that Percy did not believe in starting fights, only in ending them. Bookmark here

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And so, faced with the dilemma of poor, foolish Thomas knocked out cold on the floor, and a big man with a grudge and a desire to knock his head in, Percy decided the best course of action was to end this before it got too noisy. Or bloody. Or generally bothersome. Bookmark here

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As such his actions were decisive and swift. Using his cane he knocked out the man's knees, dodging a hard swipe from the bear before ducking away and using the cane to hit him on the back of the head. Quick. Simple. Efficient. Bookmark here

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There was, of course, the problem of the other two men, who stood growling. More bears. Percy sighed. "Gentlemen, surely we can--" Bookmark here

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The smaller of the two lunged and a Percy stepped back, catching his wrist and turning him around with it, causing the man to howl in pain before Percy threw him at the table. He proceeded, as physics would dictate, to smash straight through the opposite window and onto the street. Percy hoped it was only these two, they were clumsy and far too arrogant to waste time in anything critically thought out, and as a result were easy targets. No sooner was the first man through the window than the second, armed with a now- empty brass tankard, came at him with an interest of using the weapon as a shield for his knuckles. The punch nearly caught Percy in the ribs, but instead hit his arm, causing the Viscount to wince. Bookmark here

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"Hardly fair, my friend." He tutted, batting away the tankard when it came next and using his cloak to wrap over the man's head. As he flailed and tried to regain his sight, Percy threw him against the wall. A groaning heap sank to the floor. Bookmark here

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What, however, Percy hoped would not happen, came true. The men at the far side of the tavern had seemed, up to this point, simply as curious onlookers. However, with the big man down, Percy soon found himself facing not one, or even two-- but five big men who wanted a little bit of that overdeveloped sense of revenge. Bookmark here

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Percy was quickly realizing that where this had simply begun as an extraction of a drunk, albeit idiot friend, had turned into his most hated thing in the world. A barroom brawl. Bookmark here

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"Damn." Bookmark here

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The four men weren't small, and though Percy was six-foot-two, they made him look like a dwarf. Not only in height but in pure muscle. Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered there was a woman in the room, and bloodshed was not something he wished to inflict on some poor woman who had stumbled into a fight. Bookmark here

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No killing. Bookmark here

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His fingers itched for the sword tucked in his cane, but he ignored it, instead changing his hold on the item. Hard way it was. Bookmark here

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Mentally, he was naming the men as he planned how he would fight. The man with the mustache and a nasty snarl was 'George', he was large, but around forty-five Percy concluded. The next was an evident Agaran native--if the tattoos were anything to go by--grinning a little too widely at the prospect of beating him, his hands busy winding a rope around his knuckles. 'Bull' Percy decided, his neck and head blended into one and his nostrils seemed eternally flavored in anger. Then there was a smaller man, who Percy nicknamed 'Malcom'. Young and a little cocky, he looked like a Malcolm, that was his only reason. The other two might have gotten names but Percy didn't have the time as Bull and George ran at him. Bookmark here

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Thomas groaned on the floor, the sounds of crashing doing nothing to help his throbbing headache. He opened his eyes, trying to clear the blur in his vision. All he saw were three shadows and a colorful dancer in gold brocades... no... not a dancer. He blinked. Percy. Outnumbered three-to-one (one of the shadows was on the floor next to Thomas), Percy seemed to be dodging and hitting back with more ease than Thomas ever remembered seeing him use. He tried to get up, but the world spun. Bookmark here

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Oh yeah. He'd been drinking before this. Bookmark here

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"Shhhhh, lie back. You hit your head on a table." A gentle voice told him, and he couldn't tell if he imagined it or if the dark haired woman with a smile was actually there, but he listened. "Get your bearings first." She said, and then was gone. Bookmark here

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Percy growled lowly as he found himself caught between George and Malcolm, the latter holding his arms behind him. He'd not given the man much credit earlier, but somehow he'd managed to get behind him and catch him by surprise. That alone was worthy of recognition. Pity they were on opposites sides of this, or he might offer him a job. Bookmark here

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George smirked, raising his fist. "I'm gonna enjoy this." Percy flinched, readying himself for a blow as his mind raced with new pathways of action. Bookmark here

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His hand lunged but stopped an inch from Percy's nose, before suddenly crumpling to the ground with a grunt. Behind him, wielding Percy's cane, was the woman, her eyes going from George to Percy. Percy stared at her, shocked for a moment before rearing his head back into Malcoms stunned face. The man yelled, cradling a broken nose, which the woman wasted no time in drawing Percy's sword from the cane hand holding it in Malcoms face. Bookmark here

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"Stand down." She warned boldly, impressing Percy with her steadiness. Malcolm looked around the room, and realizing that he was the only one left conscious, he nodded. She breathed a sigh of relief, smiling widely at a still- stunned Percy. "You certainly know how to draw an audience." She teased, putting his sword back and handing him his cane. "Come on then, let's get your friend out of here before they wake up." Bookmark here

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Percy nodded, gathering his cloak from the man it had once wrapped around, a solid knock on the head given to the man so he wouldn't cause trouble. He walked to the bar, where a small man looking stunned and upset stared at him. Withdrawing a pouch from his pocket, Percy set it on the counter. "For the damages." He said, looking at the broken window, three broken chairs, a broken table, a frightened prostitute, and eight men all on the floor. "And uh... there's thirty extra to pay for my friend's... debt. If you'd be so kind as to give it to them." Bookmark here

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He then returned to the woman who had stood Thomas up, and wrapping his cloak around his friend he helped the still dazed Thomas leave the tavern. Bookmark here

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Once outside, he saw Glover, finally running up. "Too late, Glov you missed all the excitement. Be a good man and get Sir Thomas to my carriage." Bookmark here

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"Right away, sir." Glover replied, his quiet response visibly taking the woman aback. Glover then hoisted Sir Thomas on his shoulders and carried him down the street. Bookmark here

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Percy groaned, rolling his shoulders and clearing his throat as he assessed the damages done. His cheek throbbed and his knuckles hurt, as did his stomach, arm, wrist, and a few other minor things, but it was nothing too serious. He'd heal relatively quickly in comparison to some of the men inside. A minor inconvenience to his life. Bookmark here

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The feeling of eyes on him drew his attention to the woman, who he gave a bashful smile. She smiled back, amused. "Forgive me, madam." He said, charm oozing from his voice. Bookmark here

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This seemed to amuse him more. "For what, sir?" Bookmark here

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"For everything witnessed in there." He gestured to the door. "You came in innocently, though I must say your timing was excellent. You saved me from a broken nose and black eyes." Bookmark here

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"Well your nose is a little crooked, he might have fixed it if I'd let him get there." She joked, causing Percy to widen his eyes in horror. A chuckle bubbled from her. "A bad joke. Sorry." Bookmark here

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Percy shook his head and cleared his throat. "Nothing to forgive... though may I know the name of my savior?" Bookmark here

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"Marian Lockwood." She answered with a sloppy curtsey. "And you are?" Bookmark here

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He bowed, hand over heart and grinning as he answered: "Percival Ffoulkes, Viscount of Belmont. At your service, and in your debt." Bookmark here

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Marian nodded. "Well I'll keep that in mind if I ever need your service, milord." She answered, the carriage rolling up with Glover driving. Bookmark here

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"Can I escort you anywhere, Miss Marian?" He softly asked, looking around. "It's unsafe at this time of night for anyone to walk in this part of town alone." Bookmark here

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"I'm not alone." Marian replied, gesturing to a wagon down the street. A boy was on the box, talking to a girl in the bed behind him. "I was looking for a room for us. We're refugees from the south, you see..." Bookmark here

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Percy grew concerned. "But why are you here? You should be in the merchant's quarter at the very least." Bookmark here

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"Everything is full. Trust me, I tried, but it was no use. Apparently the war finally ending has meant that a lot of families from all over have come to greet their soldiers." Marian replied with a sigh, then she smiled. "We'll be alright. Something will turn up, it always does." Bookmark here

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Four children, he could count. Two girls. Two boys. All under eighteen as far as he could tell. He looked at Marian who looked far too young to be mother to all of them, realization dawning. The South. Two Realms existed there: the realm of Prince Melot, and Arhynvale. Realm of the elves. Bookmark here

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He was surprised it hadn't hit him before this moment. Bookmark here

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The Viscount grew quiet, thinking in silence for a moment before he nodded. "Yes, it has hasn't it..." He watched as Marian looked at him puzzled, and smiled. "Don't worry, Miss Lockwood. I happen to know somewhere you can stay." Bookmark here

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The Parliament of the Imperial seat was set in old tradition, which had only expanded more and more with every conquest of land over the last two hundred years. Politicians to the core, Parliament was half out for the people and half out for itself, mediated only by the Empress, Grand-Duke Melot Pendragen, and Chancellor Leopold Belgrade. A nighttime meeting was far from unusual, as oftentimes things ran over in politics and laws, it was half expected at this point for the lanterns in the Parlimentary House to be shining in the windows until the sun brought back its own light. Tonight, was no different. Bookmark here

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Mens voices hummed in argument, debate, and various propositions, the acquisition of Agar something which proved to be more difficult than Melot had wished. While in his plans things were simply a matter of integration into economy and government while still hoping to protect the culture of the Agarians, the nitpicking of certain men who wanted to be greedy was beginning to get on his nerves. Bookmark here

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He sighed, running a hand through black hair to avoid that hand to knock out the lights of Baron Orzeny. He looked at the clock:  11 o'clock, and by the darkness it was indeed evening. A puff of air passed his lips, and he adjusted in his seat, picking up sheets of paper whose words apparently had no meaning to his mind. Bookmark here

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He wanted very much to go home. Bookmark here

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"Your Grace." Count Pilafi caught his attention, his deep voice something hard to miss. "There is another matter we must conclude with before we end this session."

Ending the session? Melot looked again at the clock, then dropped his gaze to the pendulum—no movement. Apparently, the clock had stopped some time before and no one had noticed. What time was it anyway? "And what is the matter you wish to discuss?" Bookmark here

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Pilafi smiled, and the sight of his teeth grated on Melot's already raw nerves. He was too awake for it being whatever god-awful time it was. "Who shall be placed in charge of the new acquisitions. It would be unwise to allow Agarians to rule the new conquests, they are a more brutal people who have many laws in place which do much to suppress their people. If they are given any modicum of power, what stops them from still ruling as they have done without a single care of what the Empire wants?" Bookmark here

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Melot realized why the man grated on his nerves. He was arrogant, and his thinly veiled question was not fooling anyone. "Her Imperial Majesty is working with Her Highness, Princess Anais, to establish a compromise. She agrees that for now Agar should come under Avalonian supervision, but hopefully they can eventually transition into their own powers... eventually. But that is hardly my place to say in full." He rattled off his practiced response, ready to defend it with another scripted one: 'Her Majesty has not shared her plans in full with me.' Bookmark here

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A complete lie, if Melot was being honest. Bookmark here

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"I do hope I'm not interrupting." The great doors opened and the voice which came in was familiar, Melot breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that either Yvaine was here to end this miserable torment, or to set everything to rights and send everyone home till morning. The mask was as ever in place, and she looked as if it was an afternoon in the garden, perfectly preened as always---though what she was doing awake was anyone's guess. The representatives bowed as she passed, and she waved them down. "Sit down, I'm only here to see if you gentlemen have finally come to a conclusions so you may go to sleep at last." Bookmark here

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She sat in her reserved chair on a dais, tilting her head in Melots direction. The room was now more tense than before she'd come in, but they tried to appear relaxed. "We were indeed coming to an end." Melot replied, looking at the men gathered. "The last question was merely inquiring if you'd selected a governor of Agar." Bookmark here

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The Empress hummed. "Of course." She replied flatly. "I suppose you gentlemen want to know which of you will be taking over in place of the royal family?" The men murmered in agreement. "The answer is none of you." Bookmark here

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Silence. Melot felt a flash of gratefulness that they finally were quiet.

"You all serve a place in my realm, my lords, and I need you here in Avalon. Your provices and duchies would feel your absence severely, and then I'd have to replace you anyway--" She sighed and laughed. "So, I have chosen a person who has until yet been outside of your spheres, and you will be introduced to them tomorrow. Agar must be handled carefully." She turned meaningfully at Count Pilafi, and Melot could feel her glare at the last word. Apparently she'd been listening. Bookmark here

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"Until then, go to bed. Politics can wait until morning, good sirs. For now your wives require you... especially you, Baron Trent. Priscilla came personally to fetch you, you know." Bookmark here

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Teasing snickers could be heard around the room toward Baron Trent. Bookmark here

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"I thought I'd never get out of there." Melot mused aloud to his sister as they walked to the Imperial Quarters. Though he lived in a home of his own, it was some hundred miles away, and when he was visiting he was given honors of being close by. Her chiefest counselor. Bookmark here

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The Mask chuckled. "And here I thought you were a night owl." She joked, observing how he ran a hand over his face in exhaustion. "Maybe I should set a rule that Parliament and Council meetings never run into the night. Tired men never make good decisions." Bookmark here

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Melot nodded. "You should, but then--" A yawn. "Some of those decisions are amusing." Bookmark here

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The Empress followed him into his quarters. "You'll have to forgive me, but we need to talk before you go to bed. It's necessary for tomorrow." Bookmark here

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The room was dark, and in the darkness, she found a chair to sit in, fingers reaching up and untying the porcelain that hid her features. The Darkness was her veil now, and her posture was more relaxed, lazily watching as Melot began to unwind. Bookmark here

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"Well?" Bookmark here

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Yvaine, that was how he thought of her in these moments. His little sister. Trying too hard to shoulder a burden which should have been his, but through circumstance had fallen in her hands instead. She would have led a happier life if it had been like that of either of his younger siblings. But instead she was always tense, always trying to be a perfect ruler... Bookmark here

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"I'm worried." She said quietly. "What if Gilfred isn't well suited to this job? He's still young, and he's just finished a war." Bookmark here

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"It'll get his mind off it." Melot answered with a glass of wine between his fingers. "And it will help you to relax a little about everything if someone close to you is watching Agar. For now, anyway." Bookmark here

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Yvaine nodded, then sighed. "I see him like a son, Mel. He's been gone for years and now—I don't think he will necessarily like it. Can't we come up with another option for now? He's barely been home, and Niela says--" Bookmark here

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"Well, we can delay it. Just a little." He replied, studying her shaded form. "You're worried about more than him it would seem though." Bookmark here

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From her pocket, Yvaine withdrew a letter, handing it to him. "The Nar are sending a new diplomat to fill the shoes of Ambassador Fawn. Llewellyn Mer—know anything about him?" Bookmark here

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Melot hummed. "He's like us. Arhyn. He was a soldier who became one of the most powerful men in Narelan. I'm surprised he's taking a step down to be a liason between King Padriac and us. At the very least, he'll be interesting... and maybe we can kill two birds with one stone. It's said he's quite charming." His smirk was enough to make her groan, and she stood up and reached for her mask. Bookmark here

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"And here is where I go to bed before you sound too much like Count Pilafi and his numerous suggestions I remarry." Bookmark here

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"You'd shut up a lot of people if you remarried, you know. Even more a powerful man from another country." Bookmark here

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"And here I thought you were on my side." Bookmark here

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"I am." Melot answered genuinely. "But don't close your mind to the idea." Bookmark here

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The mask returned to its place, and the tenseness to her shoulders. "I'll consider it. Goodnight, Melot." Bookmark here

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"Goodnight, Yvaine." Bookmark here

Gloria Regali


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