Roehn wandered downstairs, and what greeted her was the exact opposite of the morning before. The grand dining hall was filled with Dragons, alongside Ilydan, Rynd and Sajyn. All conversation dropped off the moment she entered the room. Trying not to be bothered by it, she made her way over to the serving table, which had the head chef jumping out of his chair.
“Miss Leontle, please, allow me,” he said.
“It’s fine, Sajyn, I can do it,” she waived him off. “Go back to your conversation, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
The Raccoon looked hesitant, glancing toward the Dragon Lords. “If it’s all the same to you, Miss, I’d rather not get fired,” he pleaded quietly.
Sighing in understanding, Roehn pointed to the heated carafe. “Coffee, too, please,” she instructed, while handing her plate over to him.
Arcylaen entered the room, as she was crossing to the table. “There are far too many Dragons under the same roof for it to be this quiet,” he commented, pulling Roehn’s chair out for her.
“That’s my fault,” she admitted, sitting down so he could scoot her in, before taking his own seat.
“Well, from what I hear, you did bite everyone’s head off the last time you were in here,” Arcylaen agreed.
Roehn’s mouth popped open, as she glared at him in surprise. “Not everyone’s,” she admonished. Looking across the table, she found Brej watching them with amused curiosity. “I am sorry, though, Brejeir. I was completely out of line taking my frustrations out on you, when this situation is far from being any fault of yours. Just like you have no control over the fact that your brother was a complete absentee jerk yesterday.”
Arcylaen’s expression fell. “I said I was sorry.”
“Not to Brejeir,” she pointed out sweetly.
The Dragon in question gave them both a wide, toothy grin, which had Arcylaen rolling his eyes and grumbling out an apology under his breath.
“Thank you, Sajyn,” Roehn smiled, when the Raccoon brought plates and coffee for both her and Arcylaen.
The conversations had just started to pick up again, when Emmon suddenly appeared from a mysterious entrance. “My Lord, Lady Turvo is here and requesting an immediate audience. She claims it’s an emergency.”
Roehn felt her shoulders stiffen, and she wasn’t the only one who seemed to grow a little tense at the announcement. Even Brejeir’s grin completely vanished.
“Of course, show her in,” Arcylaen replied.
Emmon bowed and then disappeared.
“No one will blame you, if you’d rather not be here,” Arcylaen said quietly, reaching out to squeeze Roehn’s forearm reassuringly.
“Still not afraid of Dragons,” she stated.
His mouth quirked up in amusement, before he captured her hand and placed a kiss on her knuckles. That’s when Emmon returned with the perfectly polished Eleqwyn Turvo. Her red coils were wrapped up in a stylish do, her white and gold ensemble appeared more expensive than the subdued gems at her neck, wrist and ears. If Roehn didn’t know any better, she’d say the woman was trying to show off her ability to portray the perfect politician’s wife. Of course, she did know better, and didn’t doubt for a single second that was exactly what the woman was attempting to do.
Eleqwyn paused with unbidden displeasure at seeing the room full of people she apparently had no love for. Her gaze fell pointedly on Ilydan, Rynd, Sajyn, and finally on Roehn, where it lingered a bit longer than the others.
“Well, it’s nice to see you’ve opened your table to anyone willing to sit at it, Lords Draea,” she commented coolly.
“I doubt the dining habits of my household was the big emergency that brought you here this morning, Lady Turvo,” Arcylaen countered smoothly, his tone civil, yet devoid of feeling.
“You’re right,” she agreed. “I’m here, because my house was robbed last night.”
That got everyone’s attention, especially Roehn’s.
“What?” Arcylaen rose from his chair. “Was it the same as the others?”
“Yes, all of our Cayen relics and monies were stolen, no evidence was left behind,” the Lady answered, and despite what a haughty bitch she was, Roehn could see that she was genuinely shaken by it. “The alarms were never triggered.”
“Is your father with the authorities now?” Arclyaen asked.
“He is, but as you know, there’s very little that can be done,” she replied. “Which is why my father is calling for a meeting of the Thirteen Dragons. Consider this you summons and warning, my Lords. Things are going to change.”
“Good, they need to change,” Cylaen agreed, dismissing her threat. “Our modern world can no longer be run by archaic Rites. The old-fashioned traditions no longer have a place in today’s society.”
“Those traditions and Rites are sacred,” Eleqwyn gasped, appalled by his words.
“No, they’re narrow-minded and prejudiced,” he countered. “I will state as much at the meeting. For now, we need to focus on the robberies.”
“Why don’t you ask your Ward where she was last night?” Eleqwyn suggested snidely.
“Why would I ask her something I already know?” he returned calmly.
Arcylaen let the intended implication hang in the air long enough to have Roehn and Brej grinning like mischievous children at one another across the table. She didn’t feel a single shred of embarrassment that he’d just announced to the entire household they’d spent the night together, even if it had been mostly innocent. Then Arcylaen had to go and ruin it, by continuing with a more clinical explanation.
“For all your claim on how sacred the ancient Rites are, you apparently know nothing of how they work. I can feel Leandra all of the time and exactly where she is, that is the entire purpose of the Warden bond.”
Ah, yes. How could Roehn have forgotten? She truly had been outside of his study the night before, though he hadn’t been able to see her. She’d overheard the very same confession when he’d made it to Brejeir. The Warden bond was putting a stranglehold on her ability to finish what she’d come to accomplish. Apparently, she was no longer the only thief in town, either, but they hadn’t robbed the Turvo’s. Not really. They’d robbed her, and she would find them.
Sniffing, Eleqwyn lifted her chin, obviously displeased with that insight, because it gave Roehn an air-tight alibi. “Well, don’t blame me, I’m not the only one questioning her motives here in Skaulling, or why she would purchase the House of Cayen. Otherwise, the requests for the Warden Rites never would’ve been submitted to the Council in the first place.”
“Oh, I’m very aware of why the requests were submitted, Eleqwyn,” Arcylaen countered in a tone that clearly indicated it was not for the purpose she was suggesting. “Now, I am very sorry that your house was broken into last night. We have been following all leads that we come across, and I assure you, the investigation has not rested for even a second. We will find those responsible. That should be the main focus of the Thirteen Dragons, not the resurgence of ancient traditions no one has bothered with in over three decades.”
“There was never a need to bother with them before, Arcylaen, but apparently, that need is quite present now,” she returned heatedly.
“And a matter which I will discuss with the Heads of Houses at the meeting,” he stated firmly.
Ouch. Even Roehn felt the sting of that one, but it was obvious the woman would’ve continued her verbal campaign right into the ground, had Arcylaen not nipped it so cleanly in the bud. Lady Turvo stared him down with silent indignation for a moment, then turned on her heel and marched from the room. Emmon gracefully fell into line behind her, to see her out properly–or perhaps, make certain she left.
Cylaen sighed heavily and returned to the table. “And so it begins.”
“The meeting was unavoidable, even without the last two days’ events,” Grevys spoke up. “The fact that we’re no closer to catching the thieves now than we were after House Riescho was originally broken into, has been making the Heads antsy and questioning our ability to protect them.”
“That’s the problem,” Arcylaen fired darkly, rapping his knuckle on the table with an unexpected show of frustration. “It’s not our duty to protect them. It’s the duty of all Thirteen Dragons and their Houses to protect the combined cities of Skaulling! This lack of responsibility and ridiculous notion of entitlement the other Houses have fallen into needs to be put to a stop immediately!”
“Brother, we need to rally our allies before the meeting,” Ryver pointed out. “Find out if the other Heads of Houses are in line with your ideas beforehand, so you’re not blindsided by a twelve-to-one vote.”
“Thank you so much for the confidence, Ryv,” Cylaen remarked dryly, but nodded in agreement and finally sank back down into his chair. “That’s a good plan. Unfortunately, for all of Eleqwyn’s lack of personality, at least she’s always up front. The others may not be as forthcoming about their true thoughts or intentions.”
“Then we can’t afford to waste any time,” Brejeir said. “I’ll send our team to House Turvo to go over the crime scene and talk to the authorities. They might find something that was missed. In the meantime, I suggest you start making personal visits to the other Houses, brother, with your Ward.”
Roehn nearly choked on her eggs. “What?”
“What are you scheming?” Arcylaen asked at the same time, narrowing his eyes at his brother.
“Anyone who actually takes the time to meet and talk with Leandra would never be able to dislike her,” Brejeir stated confidently. “Except Eleqwyn, of course. Let them ask her their questions and hear her answers for themselves, so they no longer see her as an unknown foreigner and possible threat. Everyone knows her Echelonite has chosen you as its mate, so give them the respect and opportunity to put their fears at rest that she isn’t going to distract you from your duties as the Dragon’s Head, that she’s actually already on her way to making you a better leader.”
“He’s right, Cyl. Whether you like it or not, this is now a political campaign. You’re going to have to put yourself and Leandra in the public spotlight, so they can not only get to know her, but you and her as a team,” Daelyn finally spoke up. “The refurbishing projects in the abandoned neighborhoods are a great springboard, and the fact that you two began them prior to the Rites and the meeting being called, adds weight to your position.”
“I hate pageantry,” Arcylaen grumbled.
Roehn completely agreed with him on that, but the more her mind unraveled the pitfalls and outcomes of their situation, the more she realized they had very little choice. Besides, someone else had broken into House Turvo the night before, which meant there was an unknown element at play and until she could discover if they were friend or rival, she had to do everything in her power to ensure House Draea remained at the top of the food chain.
“Arcylaen, I’m not crazy about any of this,” Roehn said sincerely. “But I can’t be the reason why the other Houses turn on you. I’d rather be deported back to Meive, before I let that happen.”
The crimson underlining the gold in his eyes brightened with denial. “You’re not going anywhere,” he said with finality.
“Then, it’s settled,” Brejeir intervened, just as his phone chimed. Picking it up, he read the message and then leveled them both with a serious expression. “And so is the date for the meeting. We have seven days to convince the majority of twelve Houses that you’re still the best candidate for Dragon’s Head.”
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