by D'Artagnon

Chapter 14 - Under a Sliver'd Moon

Mitch drove us out to Barnie's Burger Barn, which on a summer Saturday night in Canterbury was a sure bet to be booming with kids out of dates, parents bringing the little ones out for homemade ice cream, old folks out remembering when they were young, and all the hot rod guys in town showing off their rides. The playground out behind the burger barn was full of excited kids chasing down errant fireflies and each other with equal abandon. If they only knew what went on one hill away through the woods. We got out, had a meal (jokingly calling it Juan's last supper), and relaxed until the moon showed over the eastern hills. A scant crescent shape lifted and cleared the thick trees, lending a bare glow of reflected sunlight.

That was basically the signal. So, we started for the forest, enacting the Wyrd as we went and becoming our true fae selves. A full grown unicorn and two of the younger ones paced us. Croaker was bearing up strongly as we approached the entrance. This might be the last time he got to see anything. I guess that kinda put even the simple things, like trees, into a kind of perspective. Had it been me in his shoes, I doubt I'd be so calm. His eyes met mine and he smiled. I felt my stomach tighten. I had just brought this kid some hope. I damned sure wasn't going to just let him go down the hole. I was ready to fight.

We came to the boundary of the freehold, the twin white birches. Kay Neth placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed as he passed to go in before me. The smallest of the unicorns danced into the freehold with my Kay. But even as Kay Neth entered, another familiar face came out.

"Milord, yer people await ye within, to stand to yer call," Capricus said, bowing low. He stood and glanced at Caspian with a friendly smile. "And I see ye have brought the old war dog wit' ye. How are ye's, Caspian, my old friend?"

The clasped wrists briefly, clapping each other on the shoulder. Both smiled broadly and seemed happier than ever to see each other. I hoped that one day Croaker would great Kay and I that way. Like old friends who still feel close despite the press of years.

The drapes at the entrance rippled and opened wide. I glanced at Croaker and slapped him solidly on the back. He grinned back, but it was so much easier to see his growing concern, to feel his anxiety in his barely trembling shoulder.

"I'll not leave you, Croaker. You don't face this alone."

"I know, My Lord. But if we don't succeed, it's my soul that gets scattered to the four winds."

"I'll not let that happen."

Kay began his introduction, and this time it was far more subdued. This was a part of the formality and order of the trial court. Status here wasn't something you claimed and displayed with deeds and stories of past honorable acts. Here, status was something that only the Countess could dole out, and I only hoped, for Croaker's sake, that she didn't hold my recent showing-off stand out in her mind.

"By your command, Countess, I present to you Sir Robyn the Blue of Cerulean, his loyal thanes Reeve Caspian, Capricus of Seaborne, and, at your command, Croaker." Kay bowed with a flourish towards the Countess and the four of us entered, the adult unicorn and the juvenile one marching to either side of Caspian and Capricus, behind myself and poor Croaker. A change entered over Croaker as we came through the freehold entrance and into the hall. His spine went stiff and straight as steel, his face became stone, impassive, and his shoulders pulled back. He was going to face death proudly and with his head held high.

The court hall was full, and twice as large as it had been before. The rafters were almost packed. The Countess's dais was resplendent with candles of many hues and scarves hung in a separate pattern from the night before. And she wasn't alone at the dais. Standing beside her, along with twenty Sidhe warriors in full plate armor, was Sir Grahame. Her full retinue of couriers, pages, servants and heralds stood close at hand to her commands. There was polite applause from the right side of the hall as we entered, and I noticed that there were nearly 200 Satyrs in attendance.

My Army, my Cavalry and my Navy were now represented here. Kay stood to my side as I strode to the center of the hall and marched myself boldly to the foot of the dais. I bowed low to Donna Trag, sweeping my arm out grandly as I did so. The rest of the party also bowed, even the unicorns.

Donna Trag stood up suddenly, her hand going out to receive Grahame's support. She strode forward, through her own defensive lines and stood to within an inch of me, while I was still bowed low. I didn't dare to look up until she commanded me to. This was a power trip game for her and she was making it plainly clear that no matter how much popular support I suddenly had she was still the power here. She was still calling all the shots.

"Robyn," she said, without preamble or even acknowledging my title. Her tone said it all. She was in a right fit mood. "I feign would have words with thee now, in private, before any further court formalities commence. Sir Grahame will keep watch on the accused, which you have brought before me. You're retainers can remain as well to…"and she paused as I looked up to her face. "Humph, to maintain guard on him."

"As your Excellency commands," I said, bowing again. She strode to the left, into a side chamber, ordering three Sidhe to guard the door and not to open it until she called to them, no matter what was heard within. I followed her keeping my motions small and non-threatening. This was definitely not the time to be seen leading a palace revolt, especially since I didn't want the palace or the lands it controlled anyways.

Once we were in the chamber she slammed the door and barred it. She turned at me and assumed human guise.

It was an unexpected move, but one I guess that made a lot of sense, and I quickly copied, reverting to Robby just as she had reverted to Sylvia. This left her head and shoulders taller than me, and stronger in all the ways that girls grow when they outpace boys during puberty. Again, she was playing the dominance card, as was her right. I didn't like it, and I wasn't sure what she wanted, which only added to the tension. I forced myself to take a deep breath and release it slowly.

She fixed me with a withering gaze almost at once. The mood in this small chamber was ugly indeed, but there was not enough room in here to swing a sword. This was to be a war of words and wits. One I couldn't afford to win, but couldn't outright lose either.

"You of course recognize me," she began. "I felt we needed to clear the air about a great many things, before we started the trial."


"First, that little stunt of yours, at the Y," she paused, letting a mocking quality enter her voice before continuing on in short, measured tones, "I'm not going to hold that against Croaker. That's just between you and me, but since he's hanging out with you these days, I'm assuming that he's in your camp now."

"He is part of my motley."

"Fair enough. You speak for him?"

"As do all of my motley." Well, it was the truth. Caspian would stand to my side, as would Capricus and I know Kay Neth was already willing to put everything on the line this time.

"What are you seeking for him? Leniency?" Again her tone was pseudo mocking. I didn't rise to it. "He has committed an act almost as criminal as actually Undoing another changeling outright in bringing Iron into my court. I don't even allow my own knights and nobles to carry iron. Why should I have any mercy?"

"Sylvia, I am gonna level with you, right now, about a lot of things. First off, Croaker did bring Iron to court and used it in a duel. That's fact and no one will dispute that. If you want to punish him for that, it's your right. But you need to know that there is more going on than just one Redcap taking a terrible risk."

"What are you talking about?"

"Korbesh is a traitor, one that has designs on your throne, and he was willing to use Croaker as a means to an end."

"What end might that be?"

"He wants the Tear. He wants the last road back to Arcadia."

"Which you have, and protect well."

"Which none of us can use. Even I am only beginning to remember and discover its powers." I shook my head, trying to get the words necessary to explain to her better what was in my mind. "He's got broad plans for it. Perhaps he knows of a power within this crystal that I don't. If so, then none of us knows for certain what he stands to gain. At any rate, he's guilty of arming Croaker, and possibly all the Redcaps with Cold Iron."

"You have proof of this?"

"I'd say frisk the Redcaps, but they'd probably been ordered to leave the evidence at home."

"We'd have sensed the Iron, wouldn't we?"

"Croaker said that the Iron blades were tempered in changeling blood, making them undetectable." She blanched at that thought. Can't say that I blame her. The amount of water necessary to temper a simple knife is considerable. To have enough in blood to temper as many blades as there were Redcaps would require a few full grown Trolls and every drop in their bodies.

"You will get your chance to call witnesses and present evidence of this in full court. I'll save that for then. I do want to express to you my misgivings about this show of force of yours out there. I do not appreciate unsworn knights parading their thanes about like this, especially since you have so many thanes and so many commoners which have flocked to your banner."

"Sylvia, I am going to tell you something straight from my mouth to the Dreaming itself. You are ruler here. I do not want your throne, your lands or your title. The fact that so many of my followers are here is not a sign that they want to oust you and the last thing I want is to try to pull some kind of move on you." A loud bark of lighting split the air overhead, leaving a faint ringing in the air around us, permeating the freehold.

"Okay, I take you at your word, Robby. I've got too many other problems right now to deal with to worry about some mad Satyr legend trying to usurp me while I'm off handling things."

"The dragon?"

"We," she sighed, "we think it's holed up at Lake Barstow."

"It sent me a personal message. It's fought me before and it's looking for a rematch. I was told that it would continue taking changelings until I faced it down. With your permission, I may have to lead a raid against it."

"Robby, I'm gonna tell you this right now. That dragon has already wiped out a lesser freehold in my territory. It went through twelve of my Trolls and Sidhe warriors without taking so much as a nick." She glanced at her feet before continuing. "I don't think I have the power to stop it. Not alone."

"I have a plan. But I want to make a deal, right now."

"Oh do you?" she said, cagily. It was make or break time for me. "What've you got?"

"If I can take out the dragon, permanently ban it from your territory, whatever it takes to get rid of it, will you spare Croaker?"

She leaned against a small table in the room as she looked at me. The wheels were turning, but she wasn't frowning. I hoped it was a good sign.

"I was kind of hoping you'd offer me sex in exchange for his life. I'd almost have taken you up on such an offer, too. I could use a little release from all this tension. I like your idea better, though. I'd have to make it look like punishment."

"Like facing a dragon is something any of us want to do?!" I snapped back, heavy on the sarcastic backspin

"We'll do that in the trial. I still want to hear about this conspiracy in open court, though."

A loud knock sounded at the door, and she grumbled loudly. She walked up and barked back "I thought I told you I didn't want to be disturbed."

"Your Excellency, this is most important," Grahame said, his voice sounding excited.

"Not now!" Sylvia bellowed back in Donna Trag's voice.

She turned back to me and was about to speak, when the heavy bar over the door lifted out and fell to the ground, rattled by a powerful shock. Sylvia and I instantly assumed fae mein. I drew Sky Fire and ignited the blade. Whatever came through that door was in for a rude awakening.

The door was rocked by another massive shock and it ripped against its hinges and fell over towards us. Donna Trag had her weapon out as well and as the dust cleared, we both stood shoulder to shoulder, ready to defend ourselves.

But Donna suddenly dropped her weapon and prostrated herself. I looked at our adversary and didn't recognize the Sidhe elder that stood before us. I felt the raw power emanating from this grump, but wasn't sure exactly how to act.

"Well, Robyn, it is so good to see you again, my champion." The old woman looked to Donna Trag and said "Arise Countess. I would speak with both of you, and all of your nobles. Something must simply be done about this dragon running loose in my kingdom."

And that's when it hit me. I was staring at Queen Mab, ruler of the Kingdom of Apples.

Now normally, I'm a good boy. I'm one to follow the rules (well okay, mostly). When my advisors said not to go over Donna Trag's head, I listened. Yet here was the queen, and I hadn't sent any kind of message to her. And she had called me her champion, which was a serious kick up in base pay from knight, let me tell you. But it all didn't make any sense. According to Kenny, she never left her Caers, and even when she did, it was usually with a great deal of advanced notice. I mean, who ever heard of a queen just up and moving. The whole instrument of her government would have to go with her as well.

Still, that kind of political and military power at her command was considerable enough that I wasn't about to question her motives, at least not openly. I doused Sky Fire and replaced him on my hip, following the queen back into the court room, her own bevy of Sidhe knights stationed around the room in shining silver armor with green pennants and sashes.

Her Majesty took the dais and assumed the Countesses throne, bidding me to stand near her. Sir Grahame shot me the dirtiest look I'd seen from him yet, but I did nothing to indicate I had noticed. I was just going with the flow. Although I gave a rather questioning glance to Kay Neth, who only shrugged back. He had no clue either. I'd have to seek the answer to the mystery of the queen's timely arrival upon another occasion.

Donna Trag stood beside the queen as well, on the left side. I wasn't sure what kind of insult was going on, or even implied by that positioning, so I merely kept my autopilot mouth on "Closed," and paid strict attention to what was going on within the court.

First thing I noticed was that Korbesh was highly worried. He clearly presented the appearance of someone quite conflicted. I smiled inwardly at his discomfort. Perhaps my standing to the queen's right side was a good thing for Croaker. Still, everything depended on the outcome of so many variables. And I had the feeling that everything we had prepared for tonight was about to get tossed out anyways. For the queen to be out here in the bowels of the empire spoke volumes as to the importance of her mission.

"All will come to order!" she commanded, her force of voice alone strong enough that I felt totally compelled to her will. "There has come to mine attention, a situation of such gravity and horror that I can scarce believe its purport. I shall call upon witnesses and demand the satisfaction of my curiosity. This I do for the good of all the kingdom, mortal and kithain, friend, foe and gentle creature of nature alike."

"First I call to Caspian, thane and Reeve to my champion," she paused and let her hand and gaze indicate me, "Lord Robyn the Blue. Caspian, stand and deliver, good Troll!"

"I am present to thy wishes, My Queen," Caspian said, standing forth.

"Explain whence thou came unto thy knowledge, the first report of this creature in my Kingdom." Caspian then laid out how Kenny and I had first seen the Dragon come to shore, how the very air was charged with dark Glamour and the ferocious presence of the thing. She next demanded that Kay Neth explain as well, and then called for my account. You've already read it, so I'm not going to repeat it here. Just add in a bunch of wherefores' and thence's and thusly's and you'll get the general idea. During all of it, a small changeling with a big, wide nose and a long stemmed pipe sticking out of his mouth took meticulous notes, scribbling away on a long parchment scroll with quill and a bottle of ink.

It didn't take long for the three of us to conclude our reports, and she called on a few other changelings at court to give accounts of their own encounters with the beast. Five others had seen the creature and lived to tell the tale. Two others were recovering from the torpor of the Mists beside the freehold's sacred balefire. We had finished the entire discourse and answered all of the queen's questions before an hour had passed.

"Lord Robyn, stand forth," Queen Mab commanded. I immediately stepped down from the dais and bowed low before her. This time I took special note that she called me Lord Robyn, a term only those who were my followers and fellow Cerulean exiles used. To the rest of the court, I should simply have been Sir Robyn. I caught the subtle difference but could not be certain what it meant. Kay would, I'm sure, but events were moving in ways that might prevent me from speaking with Kay for a bit. At least not in person and with some degree of secrecy.

"I am You Majesty's to command," I said, awaiting her acknowledgement before standing upright again.

"Arise, my champion. I am told that there is a case before this court involving a most serious offense. That offense being the use of Cold Iron in an Oath Duel. And that you were the party that was most imperiled by the use of the Iron, yet you stand here tonight in defense of the accused, the Redcap known as Croaker. Are matters as such?"

"They are as you have said, Your Majesty."

"How very curious a state of affairs indeed! I would hear the circumstances."

"Would Her Majesty permit me to use the full accounting of open court to explain much of these events to the fulfillment of her curiosity?" For those of you who don't speak royal Sidhe court bullshit, I'd just asked her to let me tell it my own way, with her authority backing my ability to call witnesses. I was about to take my bid for Croaker's life before the highest authority in the Kingdom. The least she could do would be to let her will guide the truth out.

"The court is yours, Lord Robyn."

"I humbly thank thee, Your Majesty. I shall briefly confer with my advisors and then call the first witness."

"Very good," she replied, and signaled an attendant to bring her some wine.

I took to the table where Kay, Caspian, Capricus and Croaker sat. A chess board was out, halfway through a game, it seems. Croaker looked horrible. His visage of stone slowly melting under the circumstances of the evening and the incessant movement of time. Kay spoke first as I approached.

"Excellent timing, Beloved. Korbesh can't just up and leave without the queen's permission now."

"Thanks. Croaker, I'm going to call you as first witness. With any luck, we can slam dunk the whole thing without even having to call anyone else."

"Aye, 'tis fairly bold and brilliant of ye, milord," Capricus grinned, bringing a flagon of ale to his lips. "Ye get to be accuser and defender at the same time with both of ye speaking a'fore all at court at once. That's sure to get the facts out quickly."

"I have to agree," Caspian said, moving a pawn forward and capturing one of Capricus' bishops. "Checkmate, by the way."

"Wha? Ohh, splendid! Didnae even see that possibility. Yer reputation fer battlefield craft is as solid as ever, me friend."

"Guys, can we focus a little here. If it goes south, I want you guys to move into defensive positions around the throne and block the entrance. Capricus, make sure you're people know we aren't going to kill anyone unless we absolutely have to. If they make some kind of break for it, I want the queen to have the right of judgement."

"Aye, milord. I shall tell all the thanes and common folk of your orders."

"Caspian, if Grahame jumps in on Korbesh's side of a fight, he's your responsibility. Kay Neth, Croaker and I will deal with Korbesh directly if it comes to that."

"Let's plan on it not going that far," Kay said, winking at me in the candle light of the hall.

"Just making contingencies. I plan on making this a quick session before the queen's bench. We've still got a dragon to chase down."

"Are you ready, my champion?" the Queen called out. I turned and bowed before her. As I swept back up, I turned half from her and looked towards the rest of the court, roughly facing Korbesh. He stared back at me with a feral hatred barely contained in his huge twisted mouth. I grinned back at him, lowering my eyes and my horns in his direction before I spoke.

"Your Majesty, I call upon the Redcap known as……Croaker, to stand and give thee testimony as to the crime of carrying Cold Iron into a freehold, employing same Cold Iron weapon in an honorable duel, and the attempted Undoing of myself and possibly the most noble Countess Donna Trag."

"Croaker, stand forth!" the Queen commanded.

"By your command," he said, coming to stand before the dais and dropping to one knee before her. The Sidhe knights defending the royal personage made a visible show of reaching for their swords and loosening them in their sheaths. I'm not really sure just saying that comes across with the kind of menace it should. Imagine if ten tall, sleek, decathletes, coated in battleship plate armor, armed like a mafia soldier in a gang war, were staring you down, looking for something to give them an excuse to kill. And Croaker was currently unarmed, Magnum Denti hanging at my side, under Sky Fire.

"Speak thou the truth and the truth only. Answer questions put to you as best you can."

"By your command, I will," Croaker said, and a minor ringing sounded through the chamber, signaling his honesty to her power over him. It's hard to explain, but it was basically binding himself to her command.

"Lord Robyn, ask thy questions of this witness."

"Thank you, Your Majesty." I bowed again. I turned to Croaker and put on my stern face. "There was a duel between you and I four days prior to this night, yes?"

"There was."

"And in that battle, to which many here are witnesses, you drew forth and hurled at me a dagger of Cold Iron, did you not?"

"I did hurl a dagger of Cold Iron at you during that battle, yes."


Croaker looked down at the floor and then brought his head up proudly. "At that time, I wanted to kill you."

"Even if that killing was to the point of Undoing a fellow changeling?"

"At that time, yes."

"Do you still wish to Undo me now?"

"No, milord."

"I see. I must ask you questions related to that duel. Can you answer these questions?"

"As best I know, I will answer them, milord."

I walked around so that I could look at Croaker and see the Queen's face. Her expression was intensely interested. By her side, Donna Trag looked on similarly interested, but her gaze occasionally would shift to Korbesh's side of the chamber.

"First of all, I must ask how it was that you could bring Iron into so close an assemblage of the many kiths and not have that blade's presence felt?"

"A process in the making of the blades was employed whereby the blades were tempered in …..tempered in fae blood, milord." A murmur of alarm and disgust ran through the crowd. Several people gasped in surprise and others were plainly outraged, calling out for Croaker's head right then and there.

"If I might have order!" I shouted, and the murmurs quieted. "I apologize for the disruption, Your Majesty."

"Please continue, Lord Robyn."

I turned back to Croaker and glanced past him to Korbesh. His gaze on me was pure hatred. Almost as a taunt to him, I reached up and stroked the Tear at my throat. My other hand patted Sky Fire on my hip. The implication was obvious. I was basically telling him I knew what he wanted and all he had to get it was get past my blade.

"Croaker, as to the matter of this blood tempered blade, do you know whose blood was employed to such grotesque ends?"

"No, my lord. I do not know how or when the blades were forged, nor whose blood was used to temper them."

"You talk about this matter as though there are more Cold Iron blades tempered in changeling blood about. Is this true?"

"Yes, milord. Many such blades do exist, although I don't know the exact number. I have beheld at least six such, including the one I carried, with my own eyes." Again the crowd was in an uproar. I allowed it to continue for a few moments, taking a carefully covered gaze out the corner of my eye at Korbesh. His eyes were getting shifty and he was listening to his advisors, who carefully whispered in his ear. He was almost to the point of panic, which is right where I wanted him. See, court and fencing are very much alike. Those with skill in either arena are at their best setting traps and letting their enemies walk into them. Kinda like I was doing with Korbesh.

"Ahem!" I began, pitching my voice high above the lowering hubbub of the court. "We shall come back to the issue of this continuing threat to the County and the Crown and all free commoner fae in a moment. I am still interested in a few matters about the duel. Now, at the time of the duel, had you any prior notice about my appearance at court."

"Not you specifically, milord."

"But some sort of warning was given?"

"I was told to be sure that I had the Iron dagger with me. That I'd need it that very night."

"To what end?"

"That a time of reckoning was coming. That one day the knives would be used to Undo the unworthy."

"This sounds like violent revolution and overthrowing nobles. Is that what was in the minds of those with these blood tempered Iron blades?"

"That was our purpose, my lord."

"And were you organized?" This time I let my unfiltered gaze settle on Korbesh, and almost at once he looked away. His face was a mask of stone, but something about his body language told me he was shittin' kittens about the testimony. If it weren't for the royal personage behind me, he likely would have bolted for a door and escaped. Even now, he was waiting, hoping that his former motley-mate wouldn't rat him out. It wasn't looking good for his side, though.

"We were. The other's still are."

"And who, in the opinion of you and these others, were the unworthies?"

Croaker inhaled and sighed loudly, the corners of his grotesquely oversized Redcap lips nearly touching at his chin as he frowned. Still, he squared back his shoulders and made to speak when Korbesh stood, his chair scrapping loudly against the inlaid tile floor before falling over. The noise broke the focus in the center of the room and both I and Croaker looked back in surprise.

"You want to know who the unworthies are, Lord Robyn the Blue? Oh, I'll tell you. The list starts with you and you're damned Cerulean exiles!" The other assembled Redcaps of Korbesh's retinue stood up as well, drawing arms in open court. "It includes that bitch Donna Trag and that hag Mab! All of you shall feel the wrath of the shadow cult! All of you! But you most of all Robyn, and you as well traitor! You and all your allies shall taste Iron's black kiss and be no more!"

"Cease him!" Mab spoke almost at the same time that I was in motion. I dropped Long Tooth in Croaker's hands as I ran at Korbesh, Sky Fire practically jumping into my hand, igniting before I even realized it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kay Neth rushing to my side, his weapon in his hand. Caspian was in the center of the room, keeping "guard" on Croaker and his eyes firmly on Sir Grahame, who merely locked eyes with my reeve Troll. That stand off was a mutually assured samurai situation. The first one to twitch would set them both off after each other.

"We'll meet again, Robyn! Count on that! You will meet the same delicious fate as your parents!" And he grinned widely, displaying his array of huge, flat, grinding teeth. "As for you, Croaker, my son…..I curse the days that you were born and that I lit your fire in your bitch of a mother's womb! May you rot in the fires of oblivion on a Cold Iron skewer! When next we meet, one of us gets Undone!" Glamour built up around Korbesh and his entourage, even as I approached. Before I could get into range to let Sky Fire taste his flesh, the Glamour flashed and popped and sizzled, the sparklings of fairly lights shifting up the spectrum into a blinding flare of incandescent energy, brighter than the sun. Several of the more experienced cantrip casters around us were trying to counterweave whatever Korbesh was brewing, but he was beginning to break free of even their most concerted efforts.

"Korbesh!" I screamed, realizing I had to attempt to distract him in some way, give my thanes and casters a chance to stick the Redcap rebel to the ground. His gaze shifted to me, and I decided that what I felt for this miserable excuse for a changeling required something personal, honest and formal. An oath. Not just any oath, though, but one as binding in hate as Kenny and I were bound in love. The Oath of Crossed Blades.

Where two now stand, there will be one.

I swear enmity unto thee until the setting of the last sun.

May my heart cease to beat and my hand lose its strength should I ever show favor to thee,

And the bones of the earth are my witness.

Korbesh laughed at me as I recited the oath and the light intensified. There was a loud sound like ripping fabric and then a sound like water sucking down a bathtub drain. Then silence. When the dazzling light faded and cleared my vision, Korbesh, along with his group of over thirty Redcaps, was gone.

"He flicker flashed the whole lot of them?!" Kay Neth cried out in open awe. Tension in the room lessened somewhat, but remained heavily in the air. Grahame and Caspian still stared each other down.

"What has happened?" the queen demanded.

"Korbesh has fled rather than face open charges of sedition, treason, arming changelings with Cold Iron, conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to usurp against the county and the crown, Your Majesty." My answer was said with cold vehemence. "And I have sworn to put him under stone, Undone for good."

"Clear the court. I shall have a council of the nobles and Lord Robyn's thanes at once. Clear the court!"

"Your Majesty, with your permission, I would like to order my warriors to search for Korbesh before his trail goes cold," the countess spoke, bowing.

"Of course, Donna Trag. See to the security of thy domain and then join us in council. I will hear all that must be heard on this matter and pass judgment, then we shall see as to this matter with the dragon loose in my kingdom."

The council meeting went on for several hours, during which time we resolved three main issues. Donna Trag commanded her nights and nobles to take active measures to defend her subjects. I gottah admit, I had no clue there were so many of us changelings out there. For you norms (and not so norms) out there, be warned. The supernatural world is barely a sink of the fangs, a slash of the claws, or just a stab from the enchanted stroke away. Everything that you take for granted in your world might be just a hairsbreadth from the world I live in.

Next, we dealt with Croaker's situation. I laid all the charges and the evidence I have out for all the nobles and we basically discussed it. Queen Mab declared that we were in a state of national peril, just a step below outright war with Korbesh and his troops. Mab and Donna Trag both gave their parole and pardon to Croaker. They praised him for resisting Korbesh's efforts to turn him into an assassin, as well. He was accepted as a loyal thane under my control.

The last thing that was settled, however was pertaining to my status. This part dragged on the longest. Mab instructed me, after hearing about the dragon's message to me, to take whatever actions were necessary to preserve the realm. I didn't want to step on Donna Trag's toes. I didn't want the other nobles to look at me like an interloper, or some Johnny-come-lately, heavy handed, my way or the highway type savior. But Mab gave me authority, in their presence, to take all necessary actions in defense of the realm.

The looks I got were tougher than shoe leather, sharp enough to cut glass with a glance. I felt like a first class, grade A, number one pain in the ass. This is why I hate politics. After getting granted this authority (which I pretty much already had as Mab's Lord Champion), I set out to get an idea of the forces I could call on. Had Mab not been there, I probably wouldn't have gotten very far with them. And then, after I told them of my plan to beard the dragon in its own den, they all sighed in relief. Hey, given their situations, I'd rather the little shit who thinks he can take on a dragon all by his lonesome was gonna do it himself, too. If I die in the attempt, at least any survivors would be able to tell the rest of them about the dragon somewhat, and if I succeed at it, then at least their people and their resources are still strong, still intact, and their political situations don't really change.

How Dad figures out how to read people and tell politicians how to tell people what they need to hear is beyond me. I'm just glad that none of them forced me to take any of their "specialists" with me. I don't know if I could trust to have any spies at my back while I'm facing down the big wyrm.

At any rate, I was just glad to finally leave that meeting without having developed any more enemies. Now all I had to do was tackle a giant, fire-breathing lizard in its own home. I bade Mab farewell, she wished me luck on the hunt, and we went home to Kenny's house, each secretly wondering what the future may hold for us.

As we were leaving, Donna Trag caught up with us, and I bowed before her, and presented her with my blue lightsaber. I told her that while I could not bind her to my banner, and I could not bind myself to hers, at least we could work together, and I would not interfere with her county rule. The Dreaming fairly sparkled with tiny bell sounds as I handed the saber to her. She accepted with a smile and agreed that after this crisis was over we'd have to formalize our relations more. I thanked her and then excused my party. Juan, Mitch, Kenny and I left as a group, leaving Capricus to organize the defense of the Satyr lands along the coast and special instructions to defend the caern at Black Rock Jetty. We left tired and worried and, well, at least a little satisfied about things to come.

And a little apprehensive as well. Time was running short on my intended plan to go after the dragon. I just wanted to get some rest so that when the time finally did come, I'd be ready. I just hoped that I wasn't about to get my friends and my lover killed as well.

That, and the hope that I wouldn't be plagued by nightmares of hot, sharp, hard, powerful sudden death in a single reptilian laugh. "Atlantis was fun; let's do it again." Right now, I'd almost trade my whole magical existence just to be a normal kid again. Almost.

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