Things didn´t get much more humiliating than this, Anomen thought as he knocked upon his Lady´s door. Still, there were times in a mans life when a little humiliation was preferable to the alternative. Especially when the alternative was a lot of humiliation.
”Yes?”, came the soft answer from within.
”It´s me”, Anomen said, breathing deeply. ”We have to talk.”
”Don´t want to!”
”Look, it´s very important. I swear it on my honor as a knight. Please?”
”Keep on begging!”, came the amused response. ”It´s funny!”
Anomen slowly counted to ten before continuing. ”Pretty please?”, he tried.
”Nope, still not good enough. Keep going.”
”Pretty please with sugar on and a cherry on top?”
”Oh, all right. Come in then.” The lock magically clicked open and Anomen, Warrior Priest of Helm, entered with trepidation greater than he had ever felt going into battle.
The room was brightly lit by a cheerfully burning fire, its furnishings somehow more feminine than the ones in Anomen´s own. His eyes went irresistibly to the large, soft bed. In the center of the yellow bedspread was the creature that currently haunted his worst nightmares and frequently caused him to break out in a cold sweat. The tiny Faerie Dragon was lying on its back, gossamer wings carefully spread out beneath it, diligently polishing the glittering scales on its stomach with what had once been Anomen´s best shirt. It pretended not to notice him.
”Now, see here”, Anomen tried, wondering how he was going to put this. ”I don´t really like you. Correction: I REALLY don´t like you. If it were up to me I´d probably just stuff you in a bag and drown you in the river like the pest you are.”
”This is supposed to come from a priest?”, the dragon murmured. ”I´m shocked, really shocked.” It finished with its belly, wrapped the tattered shirt around its bottom and started rubbing vigorously. Anomen felt his teeth clenching. He´d really liked that shirt.
”The thing is, it isn´t up to me”, Anomen said. ”I don´t have to like you and you don´t have to like me. But I love the Lady Cailiana. Don´t you?”
The familiar twisted around and angrily got to its feet. ”How dare you?”, it hissed, all its sharp little teeth bared.
”I dare because I love her with all of my heart and soul. For her sake I would do anything. Even try to tolerate you. If you love her you should do the same.”
”Why?”, came the sullen answer.
”Because this – rivalry – between us is hurting her. If you keep upsetting me, making bad things happen, you are going to make her unhappy. I don´t think you want that.”
The familiar flicked its forked tongue consideringly in and out, multicoloured eyes swirling.
”She is my Mistress”, it stated simply. ”She is kind and soft and cuddly and she smells nice. I want her to be happy. I want what´s best for her. And let me tell you, you´re not it. You´re not nice. You´re loud and you talk about yourself all the time. You ask for her advice and get angry if you don´t like it. And you smell real bad.”
Anomen felt as if he had been hit in the stomach with a sledgehammer. This wasn´t what he had been expecting. Horrifying as it was to admit it, the beast was partly right. He hadn´t always been the paragon of virtue and chivalry he strived to be, much as it hurt to realize it.
”I don´t smell bad!”, he said automatically.
”My sense of smell is forty times better than a human´s. Trust me, you smell like old socks. Can I call you Socks?”
”Do it and die. I really mean that. But as for the rest, I have changed. I can prove it - if you give me a chance.”
Puff gave him an amused glance. ”Well, well”, it said. ”I never thought you´d get around to asking me.”
”Why, for my permission for you to court my Mistress of course! That was what you were asking, wasn´t it?”
Anomen opened his mouth to protest vehemently, then thought better of it. ”I guess”, he reluctantly admitted, words sounding as if they were being pulled through his teeth.
”Very good”, the Faerie Dragon stated in a businesslike tone of voice. ”You can try. Tonight you will take Cai out on a date. You will do anything within your power to make her happy, won´t you?”
”Of course I will! Anything she wants, she gets. Anything.”
”Excellent! I´ll hold you to that, you know. Give her whatever she wants tonight and you have my blessing. Disappoint her, and our truce is over.”
”Yes. I have to check on your performance, don´t I? I must know firsthand if you are the right man for my Mistress. If you are worthy of her. So I´ll go along with you, invisible. Don´t worry, I won´t mess things up. In fact, I´ll help you anytime you like.”
Anomen hesitated. It all sounded at bit too easy. But then again, what else could he do?
”All right”, he agreed, hoping he wasn´t signing his death warrant. ”But if things turn out all right, you back off. No peeping in the bedroom window. I want to give my Lady the night of undying pleasure she deserves, and I will not have you watching.”
”That´s a very silly point of view, you know.”
”It´s only mating, nothing wrong with that. Faerie Dragons do it all the time. I could tell you some great stories. Or I could stay in the background, singing. I have a really pretty voice.”
”Fine, be that way. Just give her what she deserves.”
The Faerie Dragon held out its small paw. Anomen gingerly took it between his thumb and index finger, shaking on the deal. As he did, he wondered if he was going to survive this.
The House of the Setting Sun was rightly known as the finest establishment of entertainment in all of Athkatla. There was music played by firstclass bards and dancing to go with it. The food was the stuff of legends, melting in your mouth and sending impulses of utter bliss to the hindbrain. The wine was excellent, the service swift and efficient. There was a permanent enchantment on the ballroom that made the ceiling look like a starry nightsky and the walls like drifting clouds. Anomen didn´t even notice, and he might as well have been eating dried adventurer´s rations. All of his attention was focused on his Lady. If she smiled, his heart leapt within his chest. If she gave the slightest frown he hurriedly asked her what he could do to please her. Some more wine, perhaps? Fresh fruit? A change of music? He hadn´t realized that by ”giving her whatever she wants”, Puff had meant keeping Cai in a perfect mood all evening. It was getting to be at bit strainful, but he was a knight after all, and couldn´t go back on his word.
”Anomen”, the blond Sorceress was saying, ”do you know what I think I would like?”
”No, my Lady?”, Anomen answered, quickly snapping to attention and dreading her next words. So far she hadn´t wanted anything too difficult, only expensive. He wasn´t sure how long his luck was going to hold though.
”Well, I´ve known you for some time now”, Cailiana said with a smile. ”I´ve come to care for you, and I would like you to be happy. But you are so very serious and grim sometimes. Even tonight, on this perfect night, you seem awfully tense. Now, I know you´ve been through a lot lately. And yet, for once I would like to see you relax, just happy and laughing.”
”You truly wish that my Lady?”, Anomen said, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. ”Right now?”
”Well, yes. Is there something wrong?”
”No, no. Nothing wrong. It´s just…My Lady would you excuse me? ´Twill be be but a moment before I return to you.”
”Of course, Anomen. Go ahead.” The Sorceress smiled again and then turned her attention to the stage where a dwarf was singing comical folk music and juggling axes. Anomen got up from the table, looking slightly glassy eyed and almost ran into the gentlemens cloakroom.
”Puff!”, he said under his breath as soon as he had found an empty corner. ”Get out here and give me some help!” He felt the sharp claws dig into his shoulder as the familiar landed, and then it was suddenly visible again. It was grinning widely and wagging its tail.
”Having trouble already?”, it asked innocently.
”Yes, I am and you know it. She wants me to laugh and be happy.”
”So I can´t just do it like that. I´m a priest of Helm, you know. Serious is part of the job description. And my father never was the happy, jocular type either. What am I supposed to do?”
The Faerie Dragon was purring by now. ”Why, Sir Anomen!”, it said. ”Is that a request for my assistance?”
”Yes! Yes, curse you! Yes! Do what you like as long as it helps me fulfill her wishes.”
”As you wish!”, Puff said. It twisted its long neck around, looking the cleric straight in the face, its snout mere inches from his nose. ”Now, this won´t hurt a bit…”
Anomen suddenly had a very bad feeling about the dragon´s priorities. Then the familiar opened its mouth. As the sweet scent of lilacs and vanilla hit his nostrils all anger and resentment instantly vaporized, changing into fuzzy feelings of love and joy. A goofy grin slowly spread across his face and he started to giggle.
Cailiana was started to get slightly worried. Anomen had been gone for rather a long time now, and while he could certainly take care of himself it wasn´t like him to just rush off.
Unless he suddenly got cold feet, she thought morosely. The priest had been acting odd lately. What if he didn´t love her anymore and was simply being too noble to dump her? What if there was somebody else? He was an attractive man, after all, and heir to an old family. Suppose he´d decided not to get tangled up with a Bhaalspawn on the run from an insane wizard? Could she really blame him then? Well, yes, she could. But she wouldn´t try to hold him against his will. Even if it would hurt.
Then, Anomen was slowly walking towards her, grinning like a madman. If his gait hadn´t been so steady she would have been certain he had sneaked out to have some hard liquor.
”My Lady!”, he said, and then started to giggle. ”My – hee hee – Lady, I have returned.”
”I´m glad”, Cai responded, not knowing what to make of this strange behaviour.
”So am – haw – I, my Lady. Verrry happy! Happyhappyhappy! Joyjoyjoy!” He suddenly grabbed her in a bearhug, swinging her round and round as the other diners looked on curiously.
”Anomen!” Cai laughed, hugging him back. ”I can´t breathe. Put me down, will you?”
”Yes Lady. Ho. Ho. Ho.” Anomen then seemed to lose his concentration and began singing an old childrens skipping song in a very loud and very offkey voice.
Cai wasn´t certain what to think, but it had been a lovely evening so far, and if she didn´t want them to get thrown out for causing a disturbance she knew she had better think of something fast. Luckily, she had an idea. ”Come on, Anomen!”, she said brightly. ”Let´s dance!” She then pulled the once again giggling knight after her out on the dance floor.
Anomen didn´t quite recall the events of the last few minutes. The last thing he could remember was that wonderful smell, and then he had felt as if he was wrapped tightly inside a floating pink cloud. It was with no small amount of fear that he took in his new surroundings.
”Ah, - My Lady?”, he asked. ”Where are we?”
Cailiana gave him a very strange look, as if he had just grown horns and fur like a goat.
”We were about to have some fun, or so I hoped”, she said. ”Don´t you want to dance anymore? You seemed pleased enough about it a moment ago and this group of elven bards is said to be very good. Backwoods Boys, they´re called.”
Anomen desperately looked for a means of escape. As the son and heir of a powerful family, he had of course had dancing lessons. He had in fact managed to wear out four different dancing masters, all of them ready to tear their hair out in exasperation with his ever present two left feet. After the time he broke her big toe, even patient Moira had steadfastly refused to partner him.
”Damned if you do, damned if you don´t?” a quiet voice whispered in his left ear and he heard the soft flutter of invisible wings. ”Want some more help?”
Anomen wanted to refuse. He really did. But if he did, he would have to disappoint Cai, and he couldn´t afford that, not now. Reluctantly he gave a short nod and shuddered as the tingle of the Faerie Dragons spell swept over his body.
The music started, and at first nothing seemed to happen. Cailiana watched him expectantly and Anomen wondered if he was going to have to make a run for the hills. And then he felt his legs start twitching, jerking and finally twirling. It was all he could do to keep up as his suddenly dancing proficient lower extremities carried him spinning and leaping all over the floor. Cai was clinging hard to him, just barely managing to keep up, and other couples had to dive for cover in order not to get stomped into the floor by Anomen´s rapidly blurring feet. The cleric had rather sickly smile on his face. At this point sparks were flying from his heels and he feared they might go through the floor at any moment. What if he wouldn´t be able to stop? What if he was cursed for life? What would people say? ”Oh, that´s Cor Delryn´s boy. The dancing knight. Always knew he was mental.”
It was at that precise moment that Anomen´s aching legs came to a screeching halt. However, his upper body did not, causing him to topple forwards like an avalanche, pulling Cai down with him. As he raised his still spinning head from the floor, he didn´t dare meet her eyes, certain of the condemnation he would find there. And yet, her breathless laughter seemed genuinely pleased.
”Oh, Anomen!”, she exclaimed, hugging him tightly and planting an eager kiss on his gaping mouth. ”That was so wonderful, it felt like flying. Let´s do it again! Please?”
Two hours later the knight and the sorceress wearily climbed the stairs of the Copper Coronet, tired but happy.
”My love?”, Anomen said as they paused outside Cailiana´s bedroom door. ”Are you happy? Did you enjoy the evening?”
”Of course I did, you silly man”, Cai said, caressing his cheek and sending small shivers down his entire body. ”You shouldn´t even have to ask.”
”As a matter of fact, I think I did have to ask. Just to be certain all proprietis had been observed. My love? Are you…That is, would you like to try to make the evening even more memorable?”
Cailiana´s blue eyes darkened to an almost black as she took his hand and opened her door.
”And I here I thought you were supposed to be the wise one”, she whispered and pulled him inside.
The stars were starting to fade far above the roofs of Athkatla when Sir Anomen Delryn was next able to form a thought more coherent than ”Wow!”.
”Love?”, he whispered. ”Satisfied?”
”Mmm”, Cai murmured. ”Never get enough of that. Wish we could keep it up forever.”
Anomen felt his body´s instant response to her innocent statement. Blissful as the night had been, there was a limit to his stamina and he had to resist a sudden impulse to groan loudly.
”Be right back”, he whispered, pulling on his uncomfortable pantaloons and slipping quietly out the door. There was a spot of slightly guilty silence emanating from near the stairs.
”I know you´re there”, Anomen stated flatly. ”You might as well show yourself:”
Puff popped back into visibility with a feigned yawn.
”Didn´t we agree on no peeping?”, Anomen asked mildly.
”You only mentioned the bedroom window”, the Faerie Dragon said, licking its nose. ”Never said anything about the keyhole. Did you know you have a really big bum?”
”My ’bum’ isn´t the issue here”, Anomen growled, pointing at his groin. ”This is. What did you do to me?”
”Oh, THAT? Nothing much.”
”Nothing much? Ten times in a row? You call that nothing much?”
”But you did say you wanted to give her a night of undying pleasure. And SHE said she wished you would never stop. I just wanted to help. It should wear off in a day or so.” The familiar grinned, rainbowcoloured eyed glittering. ”Just think of it as an early wedding present!” it said.
Anomen sighed and went back inside. There were some battles you could never win. That didn´t mean you couldn´t enjoy the benefits of defeat as much as humanly possible.
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