Roehn forced the effects of Arcylaen’s words, of that wicked little gleam in his eye far away and stepped out of his reach. Her gaze swept the crowd, anxious that someone may have witnessed the encounter that felt a bit too intimate for such a public affair. Once again, she didn’t want to give the wrong impression. Especially to Arcylaen. She needed him to lose interest, not hold onto it. Before she could say a word, Roehn spotted Lord Haraj coming through the crowd with a purposeful stride, and a disgruntled look upon his face.
Roehn couldn’t fight the smile she gave Arcylaen, while lifting her glass in a mock toast. “Looks like your phone call is coming back to bite you in the ass, my Lord.”
Amused by the near eye roll that moved across his handsome features, she snickered into her champagne and stalked away. She wished to spend the rest of the evening alone and out from under the weight of male arrogance, but the Dragon’s Head didn’t seem to agree with that plan. After only a ten minute reprieve, he came to stand just behind her right shoulder. She hadn’t made it terribly difficult for him to find her, at any rate, having returned to her study of the plaques. She felt the most comfortable there, separated from the rest of the crowd by a row of display cases.
Too bad they don’t keep the Dragons at bay.
“Did you and the Griffin kiss and make up?” She asked, without looking at him.
“Mm,” he humphed. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but he’ll get over it.”
Roehn gnawed on the inside of her lips, debating whether to push the subject or not. It sounded as though he were referring to more than just a phone call, which had her bristling about all that arrogance again. Yet she couldn’t be sorry it was Arcylaen standing there rather than Lord Haraj. She still hoped to dissuade the Dragon’s interest, but if she had to choose between them, she much preferred getting stuck in conversation with someone who spoke directly. All of the pretentious pleasantries made her head hurt. Or perhaps that was the strain of keeping her eyes from rolling.
“Why do I get the feeling I won’t have to worry about brushing off his advances again anytime soon?” She asked.
“Soon?” Arcylaen laughed quietly, the sound deep and sensual. He waited until she was brave enough to look him in the eye, before his mouth curved ever so slightly. “I think you underestimate the whole of my intentions, Leandra.”
Impossible. He’d done nothing to hide his desires since they’d met. She knew very well what his intentions were. His words were far from being the only direct things about him, but his statement seemed to hold a deeper meaning beyond her grasp and that made her nervous. What exactly had he said to Lord Haraj to send him away so quickly? Roehn wondered if it might cause friction between the Griffins and Dragons. Not that she cared about their issues, just that she’d undoubtedly get blamed for it.
The only thing she’d studied about the Dragons, was what they held in their vaults and how clever they might be at protecting it. She wanted to keep them distant, behind the misty veil of anonymity, rather than living beings with individual faces and personalities. For five years, they’d simply been ‘the Dragons.’ One entity. One target.
Now the tables had turned, and she was the one in their sights. Roehn just needed to remember that she’d chosen to be there, because it served a greater purpose. Which did not entail cozying up with the enemy! Before she could think of a rebuttal to discourage his claim, an older Owl approached them.
The Owls covered the spectrum of academic trades from teachers and scholars to alchemists and physicists. The Echelonite napping on the older man’s shoulder was a Great Horned owl, which were known for their accolades in cultural history, philosophy and theology. Could this be her new boss?
“Lord Draea, it’s time to start the unveiling,” the Owl announced.
“Thank you, Lord Krennys,” Arcylaen nodded, answering Roehn’s question without knowing.
Lord Krennys was precisely the name of the curator she was scheduled to meet in the morning. The Owl merely gave them both a polite nod, before turning away again. Arcylaen remained for a suspended moment, his gaze narrowed on Roehn as if he were considering an important quandary. Was he still waiting for her to reply to his last statement, or was it something else? When the other hosts started entering the roped off area to begin the ceremony, his gaze finally focused on hers briefly and then he joined them without an explanation.
Throughout the ceremony, Arcylaen kept his eyes locked on hers, making it difficult for Roehn to focus on the short speeches Lord Krennys and the other hosts made. She didn’t know what compelled her to stare back, unable to look away, nor was she comfortable enough to investigate it further. Only when it was his turn to take the podium, did his gold dusted eyes leave hers to slowly skim over the crowd, which grew quieter under his scrutiny.
“Citizens of Lonnex, of Skaulling,” he began. “We’ve come a long way from where we were five years ago. Many of us couldn’t imagine standing in our heart city without the weight of tyranny holding us down. A life free of the Black Dogs of Cayen seemed too inconceivable a dream, yet here we stand. Free. Victorious. Our cities breathe with renewed life, flourishing toward a future filled with hope, rather than fear and dismay. You’re wondering why it is, then, we would choose to honor our former oppressors with their own exhibit in a museum that nearly fell into oblivion under their rule? Why would we want a reminder of the cruelty that reigned for too long and destroyed so many lives?”
He paused and appeared to be considering his next words, which Roehn found surprising. Was he just winging it? She would’ve thought he’d have a prepared speech for such a monumental occasion.
“I thought I had those answers sorted out,” he continued, looking directly at Roehn. “Then someone made me see that we owe it to ourselves not to forget. We owe it to our future generations to remember what happened, so they can prevent it from ever happening again. To allow the Black Dogs and their crimes to get swept under the rug, would be far too easy an out for them. To allow them to slide silently into the passages of time, would be a pardon they do not deserve.
“So, my friends and fellow citizens, let this not be an honorary memorial to them or a reminder of all we’ve lost,” he concluded. “But a tribute to our resilience and courage. Let it be the evidence, that no matter who or what attempts to crush us and keep us down, we will always prevail!”
The citizens erupted into cheers and applause. The passionate conviction empowering Arcylaen’s words had been felt by all. Even Roehn hadn’t escaped the effects, though for entirely different reasons. Clapping with the rest of the crowd, she watched as all the hosts pulled the curtains down together, unveiling the exhibit at last. Exquisitely crafted relics made from rare woods, gold, silver, opal and a rainbow of gemstones had the guests gasping in awe, while the velvet ropes were moved out of their way.
Only Roehn remained where she’d been, as Bears took up closer positions in the new exhibit area.
“Not interested in seeing all the artifacts you’re so determined to preserve?” Arcylaen asked from just behind her again, somehow sneaking up on her while she’d been distracted watching the crowd.
“I’ll be seeing them up close and in person first thing tomorrow,” she reminded him, disliking the way his presence could alter the very energy around her. “And I won’t have to suffer anyone’s jabbing elbows to do it.”
He chuckled, while Shursja gave a slow stretch, before sitting up. Her tail swished leisurely against Roehn’s skin, completely relaxed.
“That was quite an impressive speech, Lord Draea,” she commented, finally facing him. “I especially liked the part where you made sure the entire building looked right at me all at once, that was marvelous.”
“Just giving credit where it’s due,” he replied pleasantly. “Besides, whether you like it or not, Leandra, you’re already in the spotlight. I thought it would be easier for you to be in the right kind, before people start filling in the blanks however they see fit.”
Roehn laughed, unaware of the bitterness it revealed. “I’d say thank you, my Lord, except we both know one speech isn’t going to remedy that. Blanks have been getting filled in since the moment I arrived, including by you, so your help seems a little more self-serving than genuine,” she pointed out. “And believe it or not, I don’t need your help guarding my reputation, Meive isn’t without its share of social cliques and gossip columns.”
She’d expected him to laugh again, or appear properly scolded by her critical assessment, but he did neither. She wasn’t sure what to think when his eyes darkened and peered into her more intensely.
“What happened?” He demanded, instead.
Taken aback, her brows creased and she started shaking her head. “I don’t know what-”
“Yes, you do,” he cut her off. “I hit some kind of mark with my comment about blanks getting filled in, and while it’s fascinating to see just how clever that sharp tongue of yours can get, Leandra, you’ve been baring your claws ever since you returned from the powder room–quite in a hurry, I might add–to get as far away from whomever cornered you there. I could start making wagers, but you’re far too dignified to give me a name, so I’m going to go with the most obvious choice of Eleqwyn Turvo.”
Roehn nearly laughed again. Talk about having a bad reputation! Unfortunately, Arcylaen saw right through her to the truth. The fact that she was familiar with Eleqwyn’s name, and couldn’t mask her immediate distaste over it. His eyes flashed dangerously, and his mouth pulled taut with displeasure.
“Let’s take a walk,” he said quietly.
As far as suggestions went, it seemed sorely lacking in the choice department.
© A.C. Melody
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