Going incognito is never a Rosebud’s known trait, and it shows. From Guinny’s story about my idiot dad going to war with that stupid jewelry to her coming to that dingy bar wearing the most lavish thing one could wear (albeit it’s her least grandeur robe), one could see that this family is keen to be seen. I hate to admit this but as Guinevere mentioned, that extends to me despite the fact that Vermillion’s Nest isn’t necessarily a flourishing guild where people can easily request jobs. We are more selective with our jobs due to this town’s… politics.
Take Khov Ravanthas earlier. They are arguably one of the biggest guilds in town who deal with a lot of trades and ‘security’ businesses; saying that they are shady is an understatement. But they are also well-connected with this town’s politicians so they can get away with most everything as long as they don’t do anything reckless. That’s why I know they won’t hurt either me or Guinevere in the daylight earlier because that would turn into a big scandal that cost them a lot of gold.
Also even if they want to, they don’t have the connection to the Underkins to clean up their mess; the sewer outcasts who helped me earlier and even more before. People who were once citizens of Shellshore, pushed to the underground for survivals. I never went deep down there, only several times to meet Io’lia —their leader— for business reasons; and I don’t think I can survive fighting there, let alone living and creating a society. They are the one to go to when you have to deal with the dirtiest of the dirty in Shellshore. That being said, I can say they are the most respectable people in this accursed town, one of the small amounts of people who would look me on eye level. One thing I never experienced back in Wheldrake as a highborn woman.
Back there people would look up to me in envy. Well-dressed, well-educated, and well-prepared for the highest bidder, something every women of Wheldrake should be envious about. Rosebud family boast a proud history of mercantilism, we sell every good we can within our networks from all across the realms for generations and the best goods they are about to sell in my generation is their daughters. The Rosebuds rarely have many children, mainly because most of us are stingy as fuck and less children means less inheritance to be split around and making the family ties close. My dad himself only has one sibling: Uncle Connor, Guinevere’s dad who died several years after she was born. Each of these men only has daughters.
For a lot of time, the talk is always about finding the right men for me and Guinny to lead the family.
Guinevere found the right men, and I find myself sitting on her rented room wiping my armor from the bloods I spilled earlier. Blood I spilled because of the incompetence of every men under the roof of Rozenville Mansion.
“Seriously, are you okay, Alicia?” Guinevere asked me again as she sat on her bed.
I threw the bloody rag I held to the corner of the room and muttered: “I’m okay”.
“Six years, Alicia. We haven’t met for that long and all you do is being a constant pain,” she said in a voice louder than her usual.
“Yes, and you should be glad I inflicted most of the pains on those thugs chasing you,” I replied in an equally loud voice. Why did I do that again?
“Oh thank you for doing your job, I guess.”
“Spare the sarcasm for me, princess.”
“No I won’t, I have to take that role from you after you left alongside with all the roles you left behind, princess!” Guinevere’s voice getting louder, she stood up and walk towards me.
“What role? The role of being traded goods to secure future businesses with whatever that Engelbert family is?” I stood up and speak even closer to her face that resembles mine, staring at me on equal height.
“Do. Not. Patronize me. I’m here to retake what was ours and I have done more on our family name more than you have ever been. I don’t have to take ANY of these from you.”
I took a step back and sit on the chair I was sitting on before.
“I’m sorry Guinny,” I replied. “You were right, my attitude was uncalled for. I just didn’t expect any of these, I didn’t expect you.”
Our grey eyes met.
“I miss you, Guinny,” I sighed heavily.
“I miss you too, Alicia,” she replied and hugged me tightly. “Life seems to be even rougher on you since you left.”
I laughed as she let go. I hold on her cheek, smiled and said: “Quite the contrary, it’s been good. More battle maybe, but you know that’s where my place is. How about you? That man treat you well?”
“Engelbert treat me well, Alicia. It’s too bad you left before we were married, I really want to introduce you to him. You two might get along well even though he’s not much of a fighter like you, he’s more an equestrian and mathematician.”
I groaned a little.
“What else did I miss?” I said after realising Guinevere stare at me, visibly annoyed by my groan.
“I’m also a mother now, Alicia,” she replied.
I can feel my heart sunk a little.
“His name is Alastair Rosebud, and he’ll be four this spring,” she continued.
“Rosebud?” I can’t hide my surprised voice.
“Yes, Alastair Rosebud. Engelbert insisted for me to keep my family name and for our sons to have it too, while our daughters to have his’,” Guinevere said excitingly.
I shrugged. “Must be good to have options, good for you both,” I spoke aloofly.
Guinevere suddenly stood up and walked away.
“Your hatred for my husband is unbelievable Alicia.” Guinevere’s voice shook as she talked. “He knew I didn’t want that marriage, he knew it’s all for our family’s business and politics but he tried his best to compromise with their will while making me as comfortable in the accursed situation.”
Guinevere turned around, her almond-shaped eyes are wet with tears yet to fall as she stare to my eyes, straight to my heart.
“You know who I needed back then? YOU! But were you there? No, you are somewhere out there fighting all your beloved battles. It’s your life, you can do as you please and I can’t be happier for you, but please remember that the steps you took was not without consequences. Maybe not for you, but for someone else, for me.”
She then turned around and ran. I stood up and chase her, but her steps are as fast as a steed. I might be a better fighter in my family, but she’s the one with light feet and this armor isn’t helping. I’m running out of breath, my chest hurt and I feel like my lung is burning. Of course I knew leaving her was a very selfish move, but what can I do if I can’t stand the sight of seeing her marrying someone else?
What can I do if I
have to hold that feeling since forever I knew her?
What can I do if I can’t express it because she’s my cousin?
What can I do if I’m afraid of what lies ahead if the feeling’s mutual?
What can I do if I knew she love me back in a different way than I love her?
What can I do but run?
Run chasing her who disappears from my sight, tonight, and many years ago.
The snow fell slowly from the sky as the sun setting down. Yellowish gleam color the white that covered the city as I lost Guinevere again.
The strange growl rang in the sky again as I blew the copper whistle. I whispered another request to the Underkins, and the sewer seems to be a little busier than the usual for the whole afternoon. I stood alone in the room where Guinevere was, my eyes stroll along the table, the bed, and the opened chest looking for clue of her possible whereabouts.
There aren’t anything special, mostly just clothes and some paperworks for the transferred goods between towns with all the numbers I seriously doesn’t care about. I knew I shouldn’t be worried, she’s had this tendency of walking away every time the emotional pressure gets a little too tense and she’ll be back in no time.
But it’s one thing to wander off on her own at Wheldrake’s highborn neighborhood and another thing to do it in Shellshore.
I heard a knock on window and someone opened the windowpane while I turn myself around. Someone sat there, a lanky high elf with one pointy ear while the other one seems to be sliced off in a fight somewhere and ended up looking like a regular human ear, not high elf’s. His receding messy white hair is tied on the back of his head and he’s wearing a tight dull black leather armor suit.
“Io’lia,” I greeted him. I’m a little anxious because I only asked for help from the kobolds and they brought me their leader in full getup. It’s not normal.
“Alicia,” he replied. “The woman that you are looking for is in Omario’s office. He looks rightfully pissed about you killing his entourage. In few moments, someone will knock on this door ”
“They came for a fight, they knew what they’re about to face.”
“Nay, Alicia. They came to intimidate a rich woman to submit to their ludicrous business deal, not to be slaughtered by one of the city’s guild leader.”
“Who was there to provide security. Are they dumb or what?” I said crisply.
“They are not overburden with intelligence, let’s agree on that. But we also know that they are dangerous people with blades and you don’t want any harm happen to that girl. So let’s make a deal,” Io’lia told me with a smirk on his face
“You in with them?” I hissed with my hand gripping the hilt of my rapier.
“Nay, come on. You’ve been a reasonable partner for years, why would I do that?” he replied with a laughter. “But I know one thing: I can see someone who needs my service when I see one.”
I lowered my guard. Io’lia stepped closer, knowing I’m ready to hear his proposal.
Not long after, the Yuan-Ti banged at the door. Without many exchanges, they escorted me to an office building by the edge of the market district. It’s a two-story building without any signs showing what kind of office it was. But those who know, know that this is the personal office of one of the Khov: Omario the Wood Elf. Each of them have one separate office for their more specific business. As I walked in, one of the Yuan-Ti forcibly removed my belt, taking my rapier and the knives that hanged there.
The office room I walked into was quite spacious had it not filled with piles of papers, books, scrolls and files that piling until they almost touch the roof. They are bonds. Of the three, Omario is the one who’s main income came from being a loan shark.
“Welcome, welcome, Miss Alicia,” Omario sneered with his light airy voice. The wood elf sat behind the table in a comfortable leather chair, he wore a set of matching yellow suede suit without any shirt underneath, showing off his fully-tattooed body. Guinevere sat silently on the chair next to him. Our eyes met for a second and she turned her face away. I bit the corner of my lips.
“Cut the chase, Omario. What do you want?” I snarked.
He stood up, circling around his table with his palms rubbing onto each other.
“Omario know you have a peculiar last name, but I never thought you are actually related to the Rosebud family. What are you, the far cousin? One of the family consorts? Whatever, all I know is, I have the lady of the house and you need to pay. Omario also have that giant ruby necklace thingie you need to pay as well.”
Omario sat on the table, crossing his legs and clicking his boots that was plated with steel on the heels and toe. He giggled a little and look me straight in my eyes.
“Yes, an exclusive partnership with Omario for security; paid by monthly fee and thirty percent of the gross income from the trade route, how about that?” the wood elf cackled.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed? This deal is so offensive even the lady behind you could kill you.” I peeked over his shoulder and Guinevere looked amazingly pissed.
“It’s take Omario or leave Omario, Rosebud,” he shrugged.
I raised my eyebrow and tilted my head.
“Not the Khov? Omario only?” I asked.
“Omario only,” a smile crescent from his one cheek to another. Some of the Yuan-Ti in the room cackled.
“What happened to them, if I may? I believe the Rosebuds wouldn’t want a backdoor deal and get on the bad side of the Khov,” this part is true; as much as I dislike them, their connection around the bay could mess businesses up, no matter how big your family is.
Omario moved his shoulder in an aloof movement. “They don’t, won’t know anything. Like how they don’t know I was the one sending the attack on the caravans. This business is strictly between you people and Omario.”
“Building a new band, are you?” I muttered.
“A band of one, sooner or later they will be goner,” Omario replied with a glee
“Oh will they?” a deep grunt voice spoke from behind my back as the door got kicked open. Omario’s slanted eyes widen as two figures, one tall and one short, barged in. It was Hjalldor and Ammir, the other two Khovs with their bourgeoisie glory.
All the Yuan-Ti look confused and Omario leaped back in panic. Hjalldor run forward trying to catch him but Omario managed to slip away and jump outside the window. The dwarf grunted and ran outside without saying any word, a big hand pat me in the shoulder and I turn my head to see the tall grey tiefling next to me. His all-black eyes stare at me and he grinned, showing his gold-plated teeth and fangs.
“You,” he yelled to one of the Yuan-Ti. “Give the sword back to the lady.” He didn’t look away from me as he talked; I stare at him back, looking for any weak point to attack if shit happened. One of the Yuan-Ti came closer and put my belt back again even without me requesting it.
“Thank you for sending your agent to inform us. Let’s pretend tonight never happened, now take the girl and leave,” he continued his sentence.
“I still have business with Omario,” I replied.
“So am I, and I always put myself as my priority. Now leave, you can deal with what’s left of him later after I’m done with him.”
I stare at him, I know the only way to prolong this is only with a fight and I’m already at a major disadvantage now.
“Guinny, let’s go.” I said to Guinevere with my eyes still glued to Ammir. “Don’t argue, just leave with me.” She didn’t say anything; she just stood up and pulled my hand to walk out from that office.
“I’m sorry Alicia,” Guinevere said as we stroll down the road on the marketplace, heading back to her room. “I’m sorry I mess everything up, now there’s no way we can get the Flora back from…”
“From Omario, no you can’t,” said someone with a familiar voice who walked toward us. At first he looked like a Yuan-Ti, but as he came closer, the illusion that hid his look suddenly faded away, revealing an elf with history of the realm written on the wrinkles of his face. Io’lia.
“Who is this, Alicia?” asked Guinevere.
“A shady character you might need to guard your caravans in the future. He also has your Flora.” I stare at the elf in front of me and throw a bag of gold coins in his direction. He catched the bag, took two gold coins and threw the bag back at me.
“This is for the Kobolds that ran around the town,” he said while showing the two coins he took. “At this rate, you will spend more than you receive from this whole quest, I don’t need to take more from than what I get now.”
“What does he mean, Alicia?” Guinever asked again.
“This is Io’lia, he’s the leader of the Underkins. You already met them when they disposed the body earlier today. I promised him he’d have a chance to negotiate a future security deal with the sitting Lady Rosebud in exchange for some info about Omario and help me to bring two most important roses in the house to safety,” I replied.
“It will be a fair deal, milady.” Io’lia smiled and took The Flora from the purse on his waist and putting it on her hand. “To fight against bandits and thief, you need to be guarded by the best of them.”
Guinevere nodded. “Fine, we can talk. Alicia seems to trust you, so I have no reason to give any doubt.”
“Since that’s settled, please give my payment to him Guinny, whatever the amount you plan to give. I’ll be leaving now and Io’lia will take care about everything from here and out,” I soothed while walking away from her.
“Alicia, where are you going?” she said while trying to take my hand.
“Home. My job is done.”
“Come with me to our home, Alicia.”
I turned around.
“It stopped being my home six years ago, Guinevere. I have mine here now, in this town.”
“Can I at least visit you every once in a while?” she asked.
“You know, if you ever change your mind the house is always open for you. You don’t even need to deal with the pressure of finding husband to get married again, now that we have the new Rosebud heir.”
My chest felt a little heavier.
“Was that your goal?” my voice trembled.
“We all fight our own battle, Alicia. With our limitations, with our sacrifices.”
I close my eyes and turned around, walking away.
I notice the stare from everyone when I walked in to the Vermillion’s Nest lobby with a gloom on my face. Fahreed opened his mouth but before he managed to say anything, Mama Yashira put her hand on his shoulder, stopping him. I went pass though everyone, including Marv, and went straight to my personal quarter.
I close the door behind me as I enter my room. I took off my outers and armor, throwing it to the corner of my room and making clanging noise. Not long after I changed to my shirts and loose pants, someone knocked at my door.
“Get in, you’re late.”
The door creaked open revealing that tall man with long hair.
“I’m sorry, Alicia,” Davey apologized sincerely.
“You could’ve told me.”
“Would that make it any easier?” he asked.
I said nothing, I just dragged him in and kicked the door closed. Before he can react, I pulled his shirt and let my tears drop on his chest. Davey fell silent and wrapped his arm around my shoulder that felt a little weaker than usual that night.
I opened my eyes. I heard Marv barked behind me while Davey tried to shush him, he whisper something that I can’t hear. I close my eyes again, pretending to sleep but I kept my ears open.
“…she’s sleeping soundly, Marv. Don’t bother her,” I heard his voice clearer now that I’ve fully woken up.
“Don’t you think it’s funny, Marv? I always spent my night here doing nothing but hugging her to sleep like an emotional support dog, while you’re the actual dog here. I guess that means we’re both a woman’s best friend,” Davey giggled while Marv barked slowly.
I don’t know how, I fell asleep again not so long after.
Some people use bells to meditate, I knew monks who use small drums to focus their meditation to, and I’ve seen some wizards muttering chants in their meditation. Me, I have my rapier and whetstone.
With my eyes half closed, I breathe rhythmically alongside the shrilling sound of the stone grinding the steel. The sound echoes in my head, syncing in with the sound of my breath and the beating of my heart. As time passes, I don’t see anything anymore nor I can hear, the only sense I have is… feel. All the voices are visible while the images I see can be heard, and I can smell things happening from miles away.
Meditation to instinct is like whetstone to blade, and I need to sharpen both.
I opened my eyes; I know two pairs of puppy eyes are staring at me since minutes ago, one is owned by a golden spaniel and the other is owned by a human-shaped overgrown puppy.
Both slept on my leather sofa and don’t seem to have any plan to move despite I know they have woken up for hours.
“Guys,” I said as I put my rapier into the scabbard, “I know it’s winter and cold, but could you both act less like a hibernating bear and more like… your actual species?”
Marv barked, run towards me and jumped and start licking my face. I laughed a little, pick him up and walk toward my sofa that happen to have a living, breathing thing sit on top of it.
“Before you say anything about me staying over, no it’s not Marv again that hold me back,” Davey said while pointing his fingers at the dog I cradle. “It was me who fell asleep on your sofa because I ponder too much on whether I want to face the winter weather or not. Marv only jumped and sleep on my chest because he’s trying to warm me up.”
Marv barked in agreement.
“I can’t believe you two at times,” I shook my head while putting Marv on the floor. “Thanks for not stealing my blanket again, though.”
Davey shrugged and smirked. He rose up, tilt his head, and stare at me.
“You’re going somewhere?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m going back to Wheldrake for Yule.”
“I’ve been away for more than half of a decade, Davey,” I replied with a little smile. “I think going home once wouldn’t hurt at all.”
“This seriously doesn’t sound like you, but okay. Are you bringing Marv too?”
“No, you take care of him and this room for a while. I’ll be back in a week or two, so don’t mess things up and yes that means you can sleep over as long as you like until I get back.”
Davey raised one of his eyebrows.
“Just don’t do any weird conspirations in my facilities,” I spoke directly to his face.
Marv barked in agreement with me. That’s the first one in a while.