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A note from Bjorne

Not Friday, I know. Found out today, my kids were exposed to covid along with my ex. They're going to quarantine there. I'm not too worried, they're both young and healthy little twerps and it's only an exposure, not a confirmed case.

That being said, my plans for at least the next few days, up to a week, just got wiped out. So I'm probably going to write to pass the time. So expect another bonus chapter or two on here or on The Druid Flame | Royal Road. Maybe both, I've already have a few rough drafts for this I can touch up and post.

 

Enjoy!

Saena, City of the Kingdom of Stilyra- Mid Winter 15 years AR

  The cost to rent the best two bunkhouses in the slave yard that was large enough, pay for security, and the best food they offered had cost Jon 10 gold for three nights. He could have gone cheaper but most of these people were going to be his subjects. Even if they were used to rougher conditions, he didn’t want to subject them to that if he didn’t have to.

  “So are we really doing this?” Andrew asked with a worried tone as they left the area of the yard for ‘stored’ slaves and went to a warehouse that held Saena’s slave market. Jon knew by now that most cities had one but Saena had one of the largest in the isles from what the slave handler that took in his slaves had said. The only one bigger was in Port Everlight.

  “Think of it this way, fucking better us buying them than someone else. And by us, I mean Jon,” Aethred said as they walked inside. It sounded like a failed joke to Jon, even Aethred was uncomfortable with the situation. Then again he was annoying and loved pranks but he wasn’t coldhearted.

  Inside, Jon was both disgusted and surprised at what he saw. It looked like a livestock barn to his eyes. There were stalls with bars lining both sides of the aisle with a dozen or so slaves in each. In total there were probably 300 slaves in the building. Considering these were just the ones for sale and not the ones owned was sickening. The only silver lining was he imagined it being far more destitute, with people chained or stripped bare. There was of course the smell but he’d learned that was fairly common in cities.

  “Okay. Ummm…” He looked around and then looked at Karli and Roland. He’d brought both of them with to help him understand the process. Karli had been recently enslaved and Roland was a veteran of sorts. He’d had four different masters in his time, not including Jon. Between the two of them, he hoped he could get some pointers and get it over quickly. He looked at Roland who started talking without being told, knowing what Jon wanted.

  “Each pen has a different owner but one owner might own multiple pens. Not sure how it is here but in Nola, you just looked an' asked questions. When you done found someone you liked you find the owner and negotiate,” Roland explained before turning to Karli, “Lass, I know you’re new to this but stay close to master. Been sold a few times, a slave wandering round here without their master is likely to get thrown into the criminal pen till it’s sorted.”

  “Criminal pen?”

  “Where criminals recently sentenced are sold by the city. In Nola, they had a separate one for us debtors. But they’d stick wandering slaves in the criminal one, don’t wanna risk putting a violent criminal in the same pen as a bunch of folks who are just bad with coin or had a run in with bad luck," Jon nodded it made sense but he doubted it was to protect the debtors, he couldn’t help but feel it was to protect the profits. He was also really glad he didn’t have any of the criminal variety already, the count was willing to pull a con but he apparently didn’t want to go too far.

  Roland tapped him on the shoulder, “Ah master, don’t overlook the criminal pens. I remember a fella that was in them when I was in the debtor one. Said he were innocent-”

  “Wouldn’t they all say that?” Aethred asked.

  “Well, yes but thing is, he were a blacksmith that were accused of burning down another blacksmith's shop, fire killed the blacksmith and his apprentice. He done said he had nothing to do with it. Now I don’t know if he were innocent or not but I do know that workin’ metal takes a lot of fire.”

  “So there may be people falsely accused in there?” Jon clarified.

  “Yes master, besides that I remember another fella that done killed his neighbor. Nicest man I ever met and a good carpenter, he killed the fella because he came home to find the man in bed with his wife. Good bit is, those ones are usually on the cheap side.”

  Jon just nodded again, he would look into it. If he found someone like the blacksmith he’d probably consider it because they needed skilled workers but the murderer? Well if it was as Roland said and the man snapped after finding out his wife was having an affair, maybe.

  They made their way through the pens. Jon had a hard time looking at the people behind the bars which only seemed to encourage some of them. He didn’t know if he looked like a kind master or a naive one they could run from. They could just do it to anyone, just to get out of the pens, he just kept on. The back wall of the warehouse was filled with two large pens that had a solid wall between them. A couple of members of the city watch were standing nearby.

  “No negotiating, price is the price,” one of them said and pointed to a piece of slate with information written in chalk, divided into three columns. One had a number, the second listed a basic profession, and the last a price. A second slate had the same information but also listed crimes.

  “So we just ask for a number if we want to see them?” Jon asked, the man just stared.

  “Milord, I believe that is correct,” Aethred answered. Calling a noble ‘my lord’ was common enough but it had been the first time Aethred had said it. Before he could even question it the guards stood a little straighter and one spoke.

  “I apologize, young master. Did you happen to say something?” Aethred repeated the question while Jon stood on. It was also an offense punishable by slavery to impersonate a noble, so this was one of the last places someone would try it. The fact he actually was a noble meant he didn’t have to worry about it. Using his title was still strange to him.

  “That’s a good load there! Toss ‘im in here with us milord,” One of the criminals yelled out and reached his hands through the bars. The hand and his eyes directed at a certain redhead. Tira noticed and walked up to him and shook his hand, “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, names Willard or as they know me now, number eight.”

  Jon looked up at the slate, number eight was a farmer being sold for 15 silver and was a convicted rapist. Willard pulled on Tira’s hand but she didn’t budge, Jon looked at her and she seemed to be amused by the man's attempt. She knew what a rapist was but only someone suicidal would consider raping a lycan. A point Aethred decided to let out.

  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. She’s courting a Thane and she’s a lycan,” Aethred said in a serious tone but started laughing when the man yanked his arm back in the cell. Tira decided to prove the last part by taking her wolven form. Which only made the criminals pull further away, the rapist twisted through the group to get to the back.

  “A Thane buying slaves, ptoo,” a woman on the debtor side said and spit on the floor, “Either your a fake or your some fool that just inherited his da’s title. Either way, hope the royals take you to court and scold ya like the fool you are. Slaves in Ederath?! Ptoo.” She spit again.

  A guard made to strike at her through the bars with a staff when Jon walked closer. The woman was around forty with blonde hair and judging by the two blonde girls behind her, it wasn’t just her that was sentenced.

  “How’d a northerner end up in here?” Andrew asked as he looked at her. She just glared back at him.

  “How’d a northern noble end up owning slaves?” she retorted, turning her attention to Jon.

  “I was tricked by a southerner,” Jon decided on just telling the truth. Well, most of it. In any case, she snorted at the answer and the nearby guards shifted, “I sold him some valuable information and we signed a contract saying he’d pay in goods. These were the… goods he paid me with... What number are you? And guessing those are your daughters?” Tira looked around at hearing her old name, Jon had to keep from smiling at her. He thought it was cute when she did that and suspected that’s why she continued to do it. She hadn’t been called ‘Daughter’ since they left the den.

  The woman just scowled at him and after a moment, held up four fingers and waved to the two girls behind her who held up five and six. She was listed as a merchant and they were listed as merchant assistants. They wanted 12 gold for her and eight gold for each of her daughters. Jon dug into his pouch and held up the coins, which the guard then took. He opened up a chest and shuffled through some papers and found the three he was looking for. Rather than do anything with him he just set them on top of the chest.

  “Are there any other’s you wish to see milord?” Aethred said keeping the act up, which was simply addressing a noble with respect. Something Aethred struggled with since the first time they met Ser Erik. Jon was slightly impressed by how convincing he was but knew Aethred, his friend was probably hurting himself to keep from laughing. There were jokes coming eventually.

  The four of them started going through the list in earnest. Jon also had Aethred go with Tira to find any northerner or anyone else they might need from the front. While Andrew and he worked from the back. It was a tedious process and he considered buying them all but it would drain a lot of coin. It’d be better to get his land built up and use his income to buy and free slaves.

  There was a bit of every profession there but the vast majority worked in fields or other forms of hard labor. The second most common were prostitutes or at least as close. Some had been trained to please their master and no one else. The others were loan-girls, they were meant to be bought and leased out to brothels to ‘keep the clientele happy with fresh meat’ as one of them explained.

  The women of ill repute were followed by the less specialized fields. Those were the ones that processed raw materials for artisans. Like a beekeeper who gathered honey to be made into mead by a brewer. Jon bought the beekeeper, he liked mead and he knew it was popular in the north.

  Finally, there were a handful of skilled tradesmen making up the least populous tier. These were the ones that he was looking for, people that could turn make things worthy of selling to both his people and to traveling merchants. He knew a little bit about how it could affect a village, the toys and games he'd made had brought in a small but respectable sum to Terra.

  Jon walked the length of the building and then returned to the back. Where he bought four more people from the debtor side, a seamstress who bought silk and other expensive fabrics on credit only to have her stock destroyed by vermin in her storeroom. Then a family of farmers who had taken a hefty loan to purchase more land, only to have a few bad harvests send them into debt.

  From the criminal side, he ended up buying two. A young husband and wife had killed several people by poisoning. They’d been experimenting with fermenting wine but rather than buy grapes or fruit they picked berries and sold their drink at the market.

  They both grew up in the slums of the city and had little to no knowledge of surviving in the wilderness or identifying edible plants. As a result, the berries in question turned out to be toxic and they’d killed people by accident. One of the guards let him know that even the reeve of the city believed them but that only saved them from execution.

  The reason he bought them was that he felt sorry for them but they also explained the process of making wine, which he knew. They were mostly on the same page and the differences weren’t dangerous. As long as they stuck to honey and non-poisonous plants, they seemed like they could be a good fit if they chose to stay.

  From there he went along the line and started negotiating for the others he’d thought would be useful. To his credit, he only bought a single prostitute. He already had a small group from Nola that agreed to travel with them after they were freed. He didn’t know if they’d keep to their previous profession, so he bought an older prostitute that had worked as a madam. If there was going to be a brothel open on his lands, he’d rather have someone else run it.

  To speed up the process he also gave Aethred permission to negotiate on his behalf. They actually had to get a signed piece of paper from one of the guards to do it. So it wasn’t as if he was lording over his friend, granted he told Aethred ‘no pranks’. Aethred then went to work with Tira being his extremely useful assistant, both her beauty to distract and the fact she was a lycan to intimidate. It was a good pairing as they started to make quick work of negotiations to purchase the northerners and Elvanni they’d found.

   Jon also noticed they were buying a few other races he’d never seen before. Three people that looked like they were scaled-down humans, they stood at half his height. Then six men and two women that were only slightly taller than the first but more stocky. Each of the men sported long dark beards and the women had feminine faces with sideburns.

  He’d heard of them before, halflings and dwarves. He didn’t speak with them but he assumed Aethred had found some reason to buy them. He heard the dwarves were skilled miners and the halflings tended to be crafty, but that was just from stories.

  The last foreigner was obviously a woman by her figure and looked like a lycan but with a smaller, lighter build. Her facial features were different, slightly more gentle, and with smaller teeth.

  Altogether she looked like a fox but he'd never seen or heard of someone like her before. Then again, there was plenty out there that he didn't know, so he just shrugged at the sight and went back to his task to get done as quickly as possible. He wanted to get out of there as more slaves were brought in, the first batch all had blond hair.

  Once the professional human traffickers got wind of his coin and what he was looking for, they sent their subordinates to fetch slaves that weren’t on sale. Mostly northerners, races not native to the isle, or redheaded women. Jon was annoyed at the latter but Aethred for once wasn’t the culprit it was Tira.

  Aethred grinned and waggled his eyebrows at Jon but Tira explained, her mother had red hair too and after seeing a woman that reminded her of the woman that had committed suicide via basilisk, she had Aethred start negotiating for redheads as well.

  It wasn't that she was trying to replace her mom but she figured if everyone blonde was likely from the north. Then people with hair like hers had to come from the same place too, even if it was a long time ago and they had spread out.

  She was also the one who picked out the fox-person, she liked the woman’s fur. He caved on the fox out of curiosity and, to Aethred’s amusement, didn’t have the heart to send the other women back. He just hoped they wouldn't try to take advantage of Tira's compassion.

  In the end, he needed to go to the Merchants guild to take out coin for the nearly 500 gold worth of slaves he’d bought. In total it had slightly more than doubled the number of slaves he owned, for a grand total of 324 including a batch of 20 foreigners.

  “You alright?” Tira asked as they walked to the slave yard while petting the smaller canine woman’s fur, who looked terrified as Tira was in her lycan form at the moment, “Her fur is very soft, fe-”

  “Course he’s not alright. That boy you’re calling a Thane isn’t a noble of Ederath. No ruler of my lands would be stupid enough to think he can own another,” the merchant woman interrupted from behind, her insult angered Tira. She showed her annoyance by barring her teeth, “Oh don’t start that, I grew up in the land of wolves. Think I’m scared of a redheaded furball?”

  Now it was Jon’s turn to get annoyed. He walked up to her and looked down at her. Her daughters immediately dropped to their knees to beg for his mercy. That hit him hard as his shoulders drooped along with his glare as he took a step back.

  “Be nice to Jon, he’s going to free you,” Tira stated as she put her hand on his shoulder. That got the slaves' attention.

  “I doubt that, don-” the woman started up again.

  “She’s telling the truth... See... Prince Erik just gave me a title and a plot of land in the northwest of Ederath…” Jon started to explain the situation to his new 'property'. Everything from the count scamming him to his plan to free them in Vanheim to the fact they were free to go but any that wanted to could settle his lands. He teared up a bit looking at them, he’d already had this conversation once with his slaves from Nola but by that point, Karli and Roland had already spread the news.

  This time, he got to see their faces the moment they heard he intended to free them. Some faces brightened and they began to smile while others started to cry. There were a few of course that didn’t seem to believe him but he didn’t blame them. They very well could have had masters that promised to free them in the past.

  The only one who didn’t react was the fox-woman. When he looked at her, she stood straight and looked him in the eye for a moment before dropping her gaze to stare at his chin. He didn't like people being afraid of him... As for the merchant woman...

  “Can’t do anything if your lying but if you're just spittin' dung, say it now. My lasses don't need more false promises... If you ain't lying and free my daughters and I’ll do whatever you ask. I’d flip up this dress and let you each take a turn. Shove it in my ass if you need, if it meant they'd lose those damn collars,” she said with a stern look in her eye that made Jon think she was completely serious.

  “I will, you have my word but as for… I mean I’m…”

  “He means he’s a virgin and you’re scaring him,” Aethred quipped. Jon turned to glare at him but it was surprisingly helpful, as it ended the awkwardness of the moment. Tira hit him anyways. When he protested, she pointed out it was what Erin would have done and he shrugged. After promising to explain more when they left Saena, the group dropped off the slaves and headed into the city.

  Jon still cringed at the idea he’d spent several times more coin than the entirety of Terra but in the end, he felt okay with it after seeing their faces. Even the ones that didn’t believe him, because they’d be free by the end of winter and in the early spring, he’d be on his lands. He realized something as he thought about the future.

  “Shit, what are we going to name it? The village I mean,” Jon asked his friends, he really sucked at naming things. He thought hard about how to name something, trying to trigger a vision but had no luck. He shook his head, an archive of names to pick from would be too easy.

  "Shouldn't you name it?" Andrew asked, Jon was the noble after all.

  “Well, we want it to be beautiful, impressive, something big, and draws attention. Tira’s ti-” Aethred started at the same time as Andrew, and Jon knew something like that was coming.

  “No.”

  “Erin’s mouth,” he tried again.

  “No,” Jon laughed confusedly. Did Aethred just call Erin's mouth beautiful and impressive? Nah, probably just the big part.

  “Hild.”

  Jon waited for the ‘tits’ part but it didn’t come. In any case, he didn’t want to be reminded of his dead mother every time he heard the name of their new home. He might still have a monument built though. In any case, the answer was still, “No.”

**********

  “Gods, that’s a relief,” Jaesmin said when she heard the news about Jon and Tira. Erin and Willow set their drinks down and looked at each other. Jaes ignored their strange looks for a moment, taking a sigh of relief. The news had taken a weight off her shoulders, and well, she was slightly drunk.

  Still, she continued to feel anxious about seeing Jon even though her own news wasn't as cruel anymore. He was still her friend and she hadn't seen him in months.

  Jasmine pushed the hair out of her face and looked at the suspicious stares from the two women sitting across the table from her. Rather than explain she finished off her drink. It was late afternoon, so it was a bit early to get drunk but it was a special occasion. The Badgers of the Dain were back together even if for a short while!

  “Jaesmin met someone too,” Cara broke the news for her when she didn’t answer. Jaesmin tried to kick her betraying friend under the table but missed. She tried again as Willow snorted and got up to go get another drink laughing about ‘fucking younguns’. After Cara scooted out of her reach Jaesmin tried but failed to read Erin’s face.

  “So, who is he? What’s he like?" Erin said with a harsh tone.

  “Ummm…" She couldn't still be mad, could she? She even said Jon was sleeping with Tira, well sleeping not 'sleeping'.

  “This is on your tab. Now drink and leave her alone," Willow came back and set a fresh mug down in front of each of them.

  “Why?" Erin asked.

  “Because your brother's rich," the smirk across Willow's face grew as she looked at Erin but Jaesmin slumped her shoulders at the reminder, she'd been looking forward to surprising them with how much she'd won in the arena but it was coppers to silver compared to what Jon had now.

  “No I mean why drink and leave her be, I just asked a questioned," Erin asked which caused Willow to change her expression, she was still smirking but it looked more sinister.

  “Erin, let me tell you something. You know what us grown folk thought of their little relationship? The lycans called it puppy love the rest of us called it kids being idiots. Or we just joked about Jaesmin being a burr stuck to Jon’s fur and Jon being a moron with women. At least the first one is fixed. Don’t think the second one ever will though," She stated in a lecturing tone that lost a bit of its effectiveness as she slurred her words.

  “A burr?" Jaesmin couldn't help but ask.

  “You were stuck on the idea of the two of you. Whiiich, I get. Tough situation and you ended up traveling with this lot…." Willow said but her tone changed quickly, she was really drunk and seemed to have gotten caught up on something running through her head, "I remember you in Everton when we first met, you were quiet, shy, a little snobbish. Now you're studying magic and breaking monsters to pieces in an arena. Big change! Good for you!"

  “Willow your drunk, this doesn’t have to do with anything," Erin said to Jaes' detriment. She was bringing the conversation back around.

  “Yes it does, they tried it out and it was an awkward mess. Now Jon became friends with a lass and started to like her before he ever even saw her properly. He’s happy, let him be and if she’s happy let her be!" Back to drunken lecturing Willow.

  “What? No, I just want to know who this guy is. I’m guessing it’s someone I’ve never met,” Erin said. She was less aggressive and was whinier this time like she was begging Willow to let her continue the interrogation.

  “So you're worried about her?” Willow asked after a moment. When Erin nodded... “good point… Jaesmin, who is he?”

  “His name's Arn, he’s a lycan mage at the academy,” Cara said bluntly but had a slight smile on her face as she played with an empty mug.

  “Cara!” More kicking, more missing.

  “What, you're not saying it. He’s nice, handsome, smart, tall,” Jaesmin glared at her but was forced to nod at the description with a huff.

  “You realize you just described Jon," Erin said.

  “If he can have a type then so can I," Jaes said, she like tall and handsome, Jon liked redheads with green eyes. Her mind flashed to the thought of her mother. It made her sad and amused at the same time, but what would she have done if she knew her daughter had courted not one, but two heathen suiters.

  “Fair enough but enough of that, we’ll meet him eventually. He's coming right? And where the fuck are these friends of yours, you said you were bringing- *pop*... Oh hey Solara, liking the dress… Been waiting for you to show up because I’ve got a questi- no got two questions for ya, is that okay?” Willow rambled and slurred as the fae looked up at her giggling. Jaes had learned that although Fairies were not pixies, they shared a little of their cousins' mischievousness. For Solara that meant messing with drunks, “Okay first, do you remember Tira? The red-furred lycan girl you almost got into it with in the forest? She’s really not that bad, we’ve been traveling with her for months... She wasn- wasn't herself, wild magic was still partially in control of her head. Plus she had nothing to do with the death of your ki-kin. Whew, glad I practiced that. Is it alright if she’s around you and Jaes?”

  Jaes looked over at Willow, she'd rehearsed that? All she did was ramble but then again it had Solara laughing hard. The fairy flew up and whispered in Jaesmin's ear. After a moment she relayed the message.

  “She says if Tira does anything she’ll kill her but she can come as long as I’m alright with it. So yes,” Jaes decided it quickly, she didn't want to overthink it. She really hoped the naked werewolf girl wouldn't start anything, she believed Solara would keep her word though.

  “Good enough, now second question. Can you drink? Wine, mead?” Willow asked, sloshing her drink back and forth.

  “You want Solara to drink?” Cara asked confusedly. Jaes wasn’t too keen on that idea either.

  “Why not, she’s little but she’s older than all of us I bet. If she can drink she probably knows how much she can handle. It comes with age.” Willow leaned back and stretched, making any woman that could see envious and more than a few men take notice, only to suddenly lose interest at the sight of the fae.

  “If it comes with age, then why are you drunk,” Cara pointed out.

  “I know my limit… I’m just choosing to ignore it thank you very much. So can you?” Willow took a drink as Solara looked up at her and nodded, “Great, gonna go find her something to use as a mug.”

  “This is bad…” Cara muttered, the fae on the table turned to face her and crossed her arms, “Not you Solara. Talking bout Willow.”

  “She’s been in the Dain for months and been on the road for weeks, she can blow off some steam. We did,” Jaes shut down Cara’s protests. After arriving in Saena they were introduced to their new friends and after introductions, they all went out for drinks. Which resulted in an incredibly fun night.

  “Wow… you really have changed,” Erin said while staring at Jaes dumbly.

  “It’s the Academy, you study till your head hurts and then drink till it doesn’t,” Jaes smiled at the voice and tilted her head back to look behind her.

  “Hey Freya, bout time you got here!”

  “You alright… she alright?” Freya asked no one in particular while pointing down at Jaesmin. Jaesmin was a little tipsy but she’d been worse.

  “She’s celebrating a bit, haven’t seen each other in a long time and Prince Erik himself just promised her he’d look in on what happened to Leo,” Erin said. Jaes watched her eyes go from one of her new friends to the next and stopped at the one she was looking for, “Well that and she came clean about what’s going on. So you must be Arn?”

  “Erin,” Cara left out the ‘be nice’ but even after, how many had she had now? Four or five pints, Jaes could practically hear it. Or was she on number six?

  “Yes, Cadet-Magus Arn Karson. A pleasure to meet you,” Arn said with a polite bow, she smiled at him and winked before turning back to Erin

  “And so your not singling him out, Erin. That’s Freya, Dani, and Stoki. This is Erin and… Willow left?” Jaes looked around to realize the oldest member of their group had disappeared. She reached over and took Willow's nearly full mug. She'd call that one six, she still wasn't sure.

  “She went out the door to find Solara a cup and probably find Jon and the others,” Cara reminded her before leaning in towards Solara, “You promise you won’t kill them?”

**********

  Jon’s hands were a little sweaty as he followed a drunk Willow to the Tavern. Willow had given him the news that Jaesmin was ‘shacking up with some lycan mage’ but the mage wasn't 'dicking her yet'. Which he took to mean she had started seeing someone else too but wasn't sleeping with him... yet?

  “Now Tira, remember-” Aethred looked worried as well, they all were at the prospect of the two former enemies, that started a short but brutal war in the middle of the forest, reuniting.

  “I know, be nice and no killing fae unless she starts fight,” Tira said causing a few passerby’s to look suddenly concerned as they heard.

  They walked into the tavern and Willow ran to the counter holding out a copper thimble in her hand and waved them over. Jon had already spotted the group but went to the bar first to order a drink.

  A loud catcalling whistle came from across the room and Jon looked over to see a shorter man he didn’t recognize looking at them, he quickly averted his gaze when Jon met his eye. He looked away as Tira started giggling.

  “I know I shouldn’t listen, Jaes and Cara are whisper-yelling at a man named Stoki. He sounds scared, he didn’t know us. Says I’m sexy,” Tira explained the conversation that her lycan ears could pick up but Jon’s couldn’t yet. She looked over quickly, “Now the lycan is telling them I hear, is the one that is shacked up? With Jaes?”

  “Dunno, is his name Arn?” Willow asked between ordering more drinks and passing multiple mugs to Jon. Jon was just glad Tira hadn't said the second part.

  “Is it?” Tira asked in a normal tone, looking across the room at the others. A few other patrons looked unnerved. It looked like she was talking to herself, “Cara says yes. Hi Cara! and hi Arn, I’m Tira.”

  They finished getting the drinks and started moving over to the table, with two waitresses and the barkeep bringing up the rear with even more drinks. Several customers looking at Tira with either startled expressions or like she was a side of pork.

  “We getting drunk tonight?” Aethred asked as he set down the drinks he was carrying.

  “Very,” Jaesmin said with a smile and wrapped Aethred in a tight hug, which he returned after a moment. She then moved to Andrew, Tira, and finally Jon. Cara was following right behind her.

  “Willow told you?” Jon asked.

  “Yup, and she told you?”

  “Ah, yeah, she did,” Jon said and rubbed at the back of his neck, "Umm... should we ta-"

  “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jon, that’s Arn. Arn this is Jon. No hard feelings and if there is, go somewhere else cause we’re drinking,” Willow said

  “I can agree with that! Freya by the way, and that’s Dani and Stoki. Stoki say hi,” Freya said and grabbed a drink. Stoki gave an awkward wave while Dani smiled brightly.

  “Oh and tall and beautiful is Tira, tall and sweet is Andrew, short and dumb is Aethred,” Erin finished the introductions. Aethred just rolled his eyes at the insult, it wasn't her best work.

  “I still can’t believe that’s you!” Jaesmin said excitedly while turning back to Tira. She looked back at her friends to explain, “Her training was messed up and she had a hard time retaking human form, so I've never seen her like this! Gods, you are beautiful.”

  That was the cover story they decided on months ago, or rather Prince Erik decided on it. They wanted to keep it under wraps that Tira was a werewolf that was converted to a lycan. Mainly for her safety.

  “Thanks, you dress like me and you look good too,” Tira said with a wink. It was directed at Arn though, the lycan mage nearly spat out his drink. Jon got it, he'd thought about how Jaes may look under her clothes before but he was more than content with what he had now.

  “Hells, find me a decent lake that doesn’t have basilisks and monsters and I’ll give it a try,” Willow said while leaning back in her chair, which caused her chest to stretch the fabric of her tunic. Jon laughed into his drink at the men at the table looking, then realized he was too, “Jon, any word on a map of your lands?”

  “Lands?” Freya asked, she sounded confused, “going from killing werewolves to buying fields?”

  “Oops, I didn’t mention it yet,” Jaesmin said looking awkward. She took the mugs out of each of her new friends' hands and placed them on the table. They looked back in confusion before she continued, “This is umm… Jon Halladson, Thane Jon Halladson.”

  The reason she took the drinks was made apparent because of what happened at the mention of his title. The single word caused all four of Jeas' and Cara’s new friends to snap to attention and salute. Jon was honestly taken aback by it as Jaesmin looked at him sheepishly. It wasn't like she'd seen how much he hated the customs and courtesies herself but before she left camp he mentioned it in a letter, “Ah… please don’t do that, we’re trying to relax.”

  “Yes thane,” They said in unison while relaxing slightly, they cautiously picked up their mugs and started drinking again.

  “Hahaha,” Familiar laughter filled the room, Jon turned to see Finn and Neera walking up, “Better get used to it kid. Your subjects will be bowing or kneeling to you every time they see you.”

  “Well, except that one merchant lady,” Andrew said picking up his mead. Aethred burst out laughing.

  “We’re not talking about her right now,” Jon said and the table got quiet except for Aethred giggling. Jon sighed, an act that three of them noticed. Jaesmin’s friend acted like soldiers meeting a lord, which was the truth of the matter and their combined glares at his friends were making them quiet. They didn't go quiet because of fear. They glared back, even Andrew. Why would you back down from someone giving you the stinkeye after staring down werewolves deep in the Dain? Jon was about to step in and say it was alright but-

*pop*

  Solara appeared above the table. Her hair was disheveled and she was naked while carrying a tiny dress. She landed and stumbled over to Willows cup with a thimble in her hands before tossing the dress away to fill her cup to the brim with wine.

*pop**pop*

  Two more fae suddenly showed up, Solara held up her cup to them. One took it and took a large drink before passing it to the other. The three sat down naked in the middle of the table and quietly passed around the drink. Their tiny mouths moved but they didn't make a sound.

  “Pffft! HAA!” Freya suddenly burst out laughing, “We need more thimbles!”

  “I’ll go,” Stoki offered, smiling and shaking his head.

  "Grab a few, their friends could show up at any time!" Willow yelled as other patrons looked on and quietly decided to drink elsewhere, much to the barkeep's annoyance.

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Bjorne

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