Marcus found himself in a daze as he took in all the sights and sounds of the Gold Market. Being his first trip to Korvosa, he made mental notes of all the wares on offer. While not as widely arrayed as the Bazaar in Magnimar, he concluded that the shops were well organized and most of the goods were at least well made. The city had a reputation of presenting itself well, and it showed prominently here. It wasn’t long before he felt a familiar tug on his arm.
“Come on Marcus, we’ll do market research later, we’re late for our date with Queenie,” Shayliss said with a smile. Marcus tabled his list and followed after his girlfriend. Shayliss’ sunset red locks acted as a beacon to guide him through the sea of people that ebbed and flowed throughout the marketplace. They soon emerged out of the Gold Market and into the Docks, where the rebuilding efforts had yet to fully reach. Indeed, the Shingles still loomed over the entryway into Bridgefront, as if a monument to that turbulent past. So long as poverty and misfortune plague the most vulnerable, the Shingles will be there to take them in… Marcus thought, remembering Queenie’s words from the other day. Why his cousin wanted to meet them here was a mystery. This part of the city looked quite unlike the “Jewel of Varisia” Lea raved about. Indeed, it looked more like the Underbridge area of Magnimar, minus the shadows. One thing did catch his eye as they approached: the climbing. Everyone, from old man to young child, clambered up the rickety and haphazardly placed rope ladders and plank bridges that crisscrossed sagging rooftops and rusted scaffolding. Gaps in the shoddy masonry that looked far too small for passage had creatures of all manners and sizes squeezing in and out of it. And to Marcus it looked more like a living organ than a structure, pumping its inhabitants in and out of crumbling walls. Waiting among the tangled rat’s nest of rope and stacks of rotting wooden crates was Queenie, who flashed a smile nearly as wide as the brim of her outrageous hat.
“You’re late, cousin.” She hopped off an old wine barrel and slid down a nearby rope to greet them on the ground level. “Not that it matters, the city isn’t going anywhere. Did you enjoy your walk over?”
“It was pleasant enough,” Marcus said, still focused on the surroundings. “But I’m confused why we’re meeting here of all places.”
“Well, this is the easiest path to where I’m taking you lovelies today. Come, you’ll understand once we make the climb!”
With that, Queenie handed Marcus a nearby rope and started to climb. For someone so lithe, she scampered up quite easily, or so Marcus noted. Before he could give that further thought, Shayliss nudged him a second time to help her up. Instinctually, he began to comply, but stopped midway.
“Actually, why don’t you hang on me instead?”
“If you insist, Marcus,” Shayliss replied, cocking an eyebrow as she draped her arms around his neck. Marcus muttered a few words in the arcane tongue, drawing familiar glyphs with his free hand in the air. Shortly after, a quite hum of energy surrounded the pair, as they began to ascend into the air. This display did startle a few of the passersby below them, and in one case Marcus could swear he heard rather vulgar muttering from an old beggar as they passed by a decrepit wooden terrace. They soon caught up with Queenie, who had been chuckling to herself.
“Your namesake was also a Mage?” Shayliss asked him.
“No dearie, but he did have a way of leaving lasting impressions, his death in particular.”
“By your namesake, if memory serves correctly,” Marcus added.
“Best not get on my bad side then,” Queenie quipped, giving Marcus a playful nudge to his ribs. “Enough of the history lessons, we’re almost there, so let’s pick up the pace!”
Marcus marveled as he watched his cousin dash and leap about the labyrinth of passageways and structures, as he did his best to keep pace. At times, he and Shayliss had to land in order to fit through a passageway, other times he had to fly over to meet her on the other side. Finally, Queenie stopped by a heavy iron door of a rather large penthouse building that was on the edge of the Shingles.
“We’ve arrived my lovelies,” Queenie said, turning to face them with a wide grin. “Behind this door is where I hold my court, so best behaviors.” She gave a sly wink as she went to work on the lock.
“Are you following this,” Marcus whispered.
“Not in the slightest, but it seems fun so just go with it,” Shayliss whispered back.
“Welcome to my court in Old Korvosa, the True Jewel of Varisia,” Queenie proclaimed as she swung wide the double doors. As Shayliss and Marcus stepped past the threshold and past the hanging tapestries, their eyes gazed upon an open air courtyard with a spectacular view of the city and the bay. The salty sea breeze catching upon silks of dazzling colors before mixing with spicy incense that burned in nearby braziers. Throughout the amphitheatre-shaped space were a wide array of eclectic furnishings from throughout Varisia and beyond; from Chelish paintings to Vudran rugs and Andoran wines to Elven baked goods served upon Dwarven silverware. Towards the balcony and under a baroque archway that framed the sea scenery, a single chair with plush crimson cushions stood as the only chair in the space. There were lounge couches and the like strewn about, but no singular chair. Clearly, Marcus thought, it serves as the ‘throne’ in this courtly space. Indeed, it was even slightly elevated by a few stairs, mimicking the actual throne room he had seen the day before. There was even a space for minstrels to play in one section of the venue.
“Isn’t it wonderful Marcus? It’s like something out of a fairytale!” Shayliss said, her eyes beaming.
“Before or after something terrible happens to the hero?” Marcus replied, inspecting a nearby tapestry.
“You’re such a dork sometimes,” Shayliss said, as she plopped down onto one of the fainting couches and gazed up at the bright blue sky.
“I’m glad to hear you like it,” Queenie said, as she cast her arms wide and gestured about. “Everything you see here has a story on how it came into my possession. From would-be suitors trying to win my affections to items commandeered on my behalf for offenses made upon my name. You won’t find a more lavish, fashionable place in the entire city.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” a young woman’s voice called out. “The Farimas have quite the menagerie in their courtyard, one that rivals the Lord Mayor of Magnimar.”
Queenie’s warm smile vanished as she spun about looking for the source of the interruption. It took Marcus a moment to determine the source as well, his half-elven eyes finally locking onto a familiar shadow just behind the throne.
“I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed,” Queenie said as she inched towards the throne, “you’ve got a lot of nerve coming back here, after what you did. Why are you in my court?”
“It’s our court,” the voice called out, as it shadow shifted up and Lea came into view, “though we can argue semantics later. I’m here on Warden business, I’m here for Marcus.”
“Well, you can have him back tomorrow; he’s visiting family today,” Queenie said, turning away to face Marcus and Shayliss.
“I wasn’t asking permission Qu-”
“Your Highness!” Queenie stamped her foot. “Making demands now are we? You are your father’s daughter after all. You used to spend all your time bemoaning his boorish ways, yet here you are. Tell me, are you his favorite now that you’ve come to heel?”
“You’re wasting your time Ileosa. It’s clear that you’re upset, so I’m going to overlook what you’ve said until we discuss it later,” Lea responded, taking a few more steps into the light. The paladin wore a loosely tied crimson shirt with a black and gold studded leather vest, a large belt fastened at her waist, form fitting black leather pants and matching boots. At her side was a longsword. She looked the part of a fencer rather than a knight, though Marcus did think it suited her better than the dress she’d worn the night before. She approached in much the same way she would enter battle, confidently and with purpose but no plan.
“Turning the other cheek?” Queenie sneered, still facing away from her. “How ‘chivalrous’ of you. Did they beat the morals into you in Lastwall? You were such the naughty little girl when you were last here.” She tilted her chin towards the Sandpointers. “Do they know about the mischief you caused? The lying, the cheating, the brawling?”
“No, she-” Marcus started before Shayliss elbowed him.
“We don’t recall, is what he means,” Shayliss interjected as she gave Marcus a ‘stay out of it’ look. This further puzzled wizard as he pondered the accusations his cousin had laid at his companion’s feet. As he thought Lea spoke up once more.
“I only mentioned home in passing, we’ve had other more pressing matters to attend to,” Lea looked about the room, her brow furrowed for but a moment before she returned her attention to Queenie. “I was never good at doing the things we used to do. That life wasn’t meant for me, no matter how many times you tried to make it so. I was being called, to something greater and I wanted you to come—“
“Don’t you dare!” Queenie’s voice boomed as she whirled around, “You abandoned me here! You knew what you were doing! You planned your little Great Escape and didn’t even have the decency to tell me where you’d gone!”
“I didn’t have a choice!” Lea shouted back. “My father had forced my hand, and I had one window to leave, it happened so fast and I couldn’t get you without getting discovered. Besides, you never came! You say I left you behind, but you were the one to always cut and run while I was left holding the bag.”
Marcus was thoroughly confused as he sat next to Shayliss, who at this point was riveted to the argument that was unfolding before them. He tried to ask her what was going on, but she held a finger to his lips and pulled his arm close, her gaze glued to the quarreling pair. Resigning himself to the situation, he stared blankly at the drama.
He wasn’t listening, in fact he was now blocking out the words instinctually, a habit he’d picked up during his stay in the Korvus household, when Das would get loaded and start to rant. Instead, he focused on their movements, the graceful poses they would strike when pontificating to each other, and the effects it would have on the other’s stance. It was as much a battle as any other he’d been involved with. At times, Lea seemed to have the upper hand in the argument, her words cutting into Queenie and leaving her staggered as she struggled to respond. Other times, Queenie would say something that caught Lea off guard and she would press the advantage.
Shayliss would whisper things at times, though he also didn’t listen to that either. He could feel her excitement, though. Her pulse quickened, as if keeping pace with the intensifying argument. As the voices grew angrier, she tightened her grip around his arm, like a child holding a security blanket. It was pleasantly distracting.
Suddenly, the squabble came to a halt with a loud slap that echoed in the court. Shayliss gasped and Marcus snapped his attention back to the pair. A stunned Queenie was silent; her hand clutched her left cheek. Tears were in her eyes and her head hung low. Lea had gone over to the ‘throne,’ grabbed something from underneath the cushion, and shoved it into Queenie’s hand. Tears also welled up in her eyes, like the banks of a dike swollen with rainwater, threatening to crest.
“I did love you, but you could never see me for me,” Lea said. Her voice quivered as she spoke. “No matter what you said, what you did, I loved you.”
“You said you’d never hurt me,” Queenie replied, still holding her cheek, “that you would be my Sabina forever.”
“I tried, but that was never enough. I could never match the Sabina of your dreams. You loved that story more than anything, or anyone.”
Oh, Queenie’s another of Lea’s girlfriends, Marcus realized, and they’re both still hung up on each other. That explains a lot. I should go. But Shayliss’ grip kept him rooted.
Lea drew a deep breath before continuing. “When I started changing, you knew. You knew
things had to change. We had to leave the fairytale behind. I wished dearly for you to see, to come with me. I waited, and you never came.”
“You could’ve fought it,” Queenie glared. “You didn’t have to listen to those voices. We could have gone to Riddleport like we’d talked about. The bards would have sung of Ileosa and Sabina once more. You threw the dream away.”
Marcus could not imagine any circumstance under which someone would willingly go to pirate-infested Riddleport. But he’d always been more sensible than his peers.
“You can’t change your destiny,” Lea was saying. “I was destined to become this; to fight evil and do heroic deeds under my own name, not someone else’s. And now something threatens to harm all that I hold dear in this world, and my companions and I are the only ones that can stop it. Bards will write of my tale one day, if I’m successful.” She shot a pointed look at Queenie. “What will they say of Ileosa Endrin?”
Silence choked the room for what seemed an eternity.
Finally, Lea turned to Marcus and Shayliss. “The Queen is tired, this audience is at an end for today. Kindly follow me, I will take you back.”
As she strode past them, Marcus caught glimpse of the tears streaming down Lea’s face. Quickly he and Shayliss followed behind, leaving Queenie alone in the courtyard. He thought about saying goodbye, but it seemed inappropriate. So he gave her a little half wave instead.
The awkward silence carried them most of the way down. Once they reached the ground level, Shayliss broke the tension, “Are all lords’ and ladies’ lives as fabulous and dramatic as that?”
Marcus shot a surprised and appalled look at his girlfriend, who beamed a sheepish grin at him. Lea stopped and turned to face the pair, tears stained her cheeks.
“Not to that extent, Ileosa and I were on a different level,” Lea said with a strained smile. “Look, I’m sorry you had to see that, and I’m sorry I didn’t warn you about—”
“Are you kidding? That was better than any play or book!” Shayliss exclaimed, “The passion, the drama, everything!” Shayliss grabbed Lea’s hand and squeezed it tight as she smiled widely. “You’ll tell me all about it sometime, won’t you?”
“I-uh,” Lea stammered, her face turned a tinge of pink as she turned to Marcus, with an expectant look in her eyes. When Marcus failed to register more than a confused shrug she continued, “O-Once we have a bit more free time, uh, sure.”
Lea quickly wiped her cheeks, took a deep breath as she turned back to Marcus, “Do you mind teleporting us back to the castle? After all that, we’re in a bit of a hurry now…”
“Sure…,” Marcus replied, “just, uh, give me a moment while a make the circle. When it’s activated, make sure to hold on to me tightly.”
“Not too tightly,” Shayliss quipped.
“Right…” Lea cocked an eyebrow at Marcus, who just shook his head and bent down to draw the circle. After a few moments, the circle around them began to glow and hummed with arcane energy. After the final incantation, the trio felt a slight tug as reality shifted from the sparse alleyway on the docks to the Castle’s front gate. There was a bit of a stir from the guard post but Lea waved it down.
The trio then proceeded into Castle and once inside Lea turned to Shayliss, “This is where we part ways. Do you mind letting Ameiko know we’ve returned? She hates it when I don’t check in.”
_Shayliss nodded before pulling Marcus in for a kiss, “Don’t be too late coming back now!”
With that, Shayliss gave Marcus a rather handsy smack on his rear that made him jump reflexively. She proceeded down the opposite hallway, turning back briefly to flash a grin. He sometimes forgot that she was almost as young and hot-headed as the teenage paladin. This was not one of those times._
Marcus tried to fight the reddish glow forming on his half-elven face by clearing his throat. Lea gave a small chuckle as she said, “Now then, to Warden business?”
“Yes, to Warden business.”