I sat on my bed in my apartment and looked at the breastplate that was lying on my lap. This thing was a pain to polish, and it hadn’t been touched in more than three decades. It was part of the ceremonial armour of a Kelmar Clanlord. It was made of mithral and decorated with gold and precious gems. In the centre of the chest was a large golden bas-relief of an eagle holding a crackling mithral lightning bolt that was thrust through the centre of a bisected, faceted emerald. The pinions of the eagle’s wings reached the edge of the armholes and the crown of its head was just below the bottom edge of the neck hole. The eyes of the eagle were set pair of faceted sapphires and then rest of the armour was done in a similar style.
Three hours later, in mid-afternoon, after I finally finished polishing my whole ceremonial outfit and making sure that it was all ready to display I picked up a towel, my special cleaner for getting the last traces of black dye out of my fur, and my full grooming kit. For the Duke’s Banquet tonight I wanted to show everyone that I was no mere Kelmar Warrior, but instead a nobleman equal to all in the room other than the King of the Northern Midlands Thomas Hassan V. As I arrived at the bathhouse I saw Finbar and Danielle sitting close together giving each other a bath.
“Hey Finbar. You like your new sword?”
Finbar waved a wet hand from the bath. “It’s the finest I’ve ever had!”
I ducked under the spray of water from the ferret’s hand and then said, “I’m glad you like it Finbar. I made that one forty-five years ago when I was only a Blademaster of the Bronze.”
“You really are a great weapons maker Oberon.” Finbar answered.
I simply nodded and then found a deep part of the pool and dove into the water in a smooth dive. Try as I might I couldn’t prevent myself from creating an enormous splash before I swam a fair distance before surfacing.
“I thought that all cats disliked water.” Danielle commented. “You seem to love it.”
I looked over at her as I treaded water. “I’m a tiger and they are well known for enjoying water. Indeed if I didn’t have this collar,” I pointed at the collar that I was wearing around my neck. “I would probably spend most of my time here during the summer in an effort to keep cool.”
“What does the collar do?” Finbar asked. “Cool you off?”
“Yes. Otherwise I would easily overheat from my thick fur. Snow Tigers are a cold weather animal.”
“Thick fur is great in winter but really nasty in summer. All you can do is get it clipped down.” Danielle added.
“As I told Misha the first time I had a problem with it. I have my dignity and I refuse to walk around looking like some shorn hairless cat.”
Finbar laughed at that. “I’d pay to see that!”
“The barber who tried to pull that off would learn what my claws are for before he would even get a chance to touch my fur.” As soon as I finished my initial dip I began to scrub my fur vigorously with the product that I had procured to clean my hunting dye from my fur, but I couldn’t seem to reach all the way around my back.
“Hard to reach between the shoulder blades isn’t it?” Finbar commented.
“A little.” I replied.
“Need some help?” The ferret asked politely.
“Certainly. I think I missed a spot back there the first time I tried to get all of my hunting dye out of my fur.”
“That’s more than a little spot, it’s a big spot.” Finbar said as he grabbed my stiff scrub brush and began to scrub at the offending spot. I chuckled and handed him the cleaner that I used to get the dye out of my fur.
“This is the cleaner that I got with the dye to take off that black when I don’t want to look like a massive black cat.”
Finbar took the bottle from my hand, sniffed the contents before I felt some of it being applied to my back between my shoulder blades. “What is this stuff?”
“I don’t really know, but it does remove the dye. Do you know of anything that is more effective?”
“We use a dye in the Longs that comes of a lot easier” Danielle explained. “It comes off with simple soap and water.”
“How does it wear when you are out on a long range patrol in inclement weather?”
“It tends to come off with water, but it is easy to reapply it.” Finbar pointed out.
“And it comes in many colours – black, brown, green, white,” Danielle added.
“I like black, and this dye is very durable in the worst conditions.”
“Black is so boring!” The ferret joked. He scrubbed harder on my back before he finally said. “This stuff is TOO durable. It won’t come off!”
“Put on some more of that cleaner, it should come off easily, and remember that some of those black marks are my natural stripes.”
“It still needs a lot of scrubbing.” Finbar grunted.
“Well I had to get something, and this dye was the best that I could find on short notice.”
“There HAS to be something better,” Finbar commented
“I can try and see what I can do to help.” I replied and flexed a good deal of my upper body musculature to make my heavy pelt stop moving around so much.
“You need to talk to Pascal the Alchemist. She will be able to find something that you can use.”
“Something that is both durable, and easy to remove?”
“She makes the dye that we use already.”
“But you said that it washes out easily in the rain.”
“She can make something longer lasting! Pascal is one of the finest alchemists around.”
“Ok I’ll drop by her place sometime. That is if I can find it.” Finbar chuckled for a moment
“I have to warn you – she does look a bit odd.”
Danielle opened her mouth to say something but Finbar stopped her.
“Best you find out for yourself. It’s hard to describe.” I nodded and then collected my things and went over to my towel and began to dry my head and body with it.
“You look like a drowned rat with you fur all bedraggled.” Finbar joked. I managed to grin before I dropped the damp towel on the floor and shook my head to get some of the water out of my headfur and ruff. Spraying a small shower of water droplets everywhere. It took m a good while to get just my head, neck, and shoulders dry when I spotted Finbar and Danielle emerging from the bath pool.
Danielle kissed Finbar on the muzzle and said, “That was fun” In a coy tone of voice.
Now that I was at least a little dry I moved over to the bench where I had piled my things and picked up the small, sheathed dagger that I had brought with me and strapped it to my left forearm. With that taken care of I was about to grab the wooden box that contained my grooming kit when I heard Danielle say something
“You’re ruff is uneven. You need to comb it out.” I grabbed the grooming kit and took it with me over to one of the mirrors in the corner of the room an looked into it before I growled in irritation
“Just what I need now!”
“You need a barber!”
“I can take care of it myself.” I grumbled as I opened my grooming kit and pulled out pair of scissors and a comb before I began trying to get my fur straightened out and even.
Danielle shook her head. “Men should never cut their own hair. You may be good, or even great with a sword, but a pair of scissors and a comb is beyond your ability.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“All the men I’ve seen who try and use scissors on themselves have done poorly. And it doesn’t look like you are doing any better.”
“Well all the same I don’t trust barbers, and I never have.”
“I’ve never like the idea of letting a stranger with sharp tools anywhere near my neck.” Finbar said.
“See Danielle even Finbar doesn’t like barbers.”
“He is suspicious of EVERYONE.” She said. “Now give me that comb and those scissors before you do more damage to your fur.”
I reluctantly handed her the expensive tools and got down on my knees, since there was no way that she could reach my head and neck otherwise. For some reason I trusted her, maybe because we were going to be colleges and maybe because Finbar trusted her. “You’re lucky that I trust you Danielle even though I haven’t known you for very long.
She worked quietly and quickly getting the fur on my head and my neck into the kind of shape that I could only dream of achieving.
“Thank you for that service my friend. I won’t forget it.”
“Always glad to be of service to a friend Oberon.” She replied.
I stood up retrieved my tools from her, placed them back into their box and collected the rest of my things and head for the door.
When I got back to my quarters I ran a thick brush through the rest of my fur ensuring that it was all in relatively good shape. Once I was satisfied with the condition of my fur I began to get dressed. The first thing that I put on was my soft silk and leather under tunic. This soft red garment protected me from my armour and looked good at the same time. With it properly in place I laid myself back first against the open backplate of my armour and leaned against it while I carefully fastened the golden clasps to attach the cuirass to the backplate. When it was finally in place I stood up and looked at myself in a mirror. I was the perfect picture of a Kelmar Clanlord the only things that I was missing was my cloak, my forearm bracers, my coronet, my command baton, and most importantly my weapons belt. The aforementioned belt was laying on the bed where I had placed it after I had finished polishing the metal plates that had been sewn into the leather, and the scabbards for my weapons that were attached to my belt. I had to take a moment to fetch the Claw of the Dragon from where it was currently sheathed in its utility scabbard in my forge. When I got back I checked the state of the pommelstone, and the hilt fixtures before I began to go over them with a soft oiled cloth to get the mithral to shine and to display the ruby at its full glory. When I was satisfied I carefully sheathed the weapon in it special jewel encrusted scabbard. I checked the other two weapons. I was just in the process of grabbing my cloak, placing it on my shoulders, and attaching it to the shoulder clasps when there was a knock on the door. I quickly moved to the door and opened it looking down a little because I already had a pretty good idea of who the person knocking on the door was. “Misha, Caroline, why don’t you come on in while I finish putting the finishing touches on my outfit.”
“What…Who?…You are dressed like southern royalty.”
“Oh this old thing,” I tapped my cuirass with my left hand. “I’ve had it since my father died thirty years ago and I became the Clanlord of the Sundering Stone Clan.”
Misha just shook his head but Caroline spoke up,
“Oberon that isn’t just some ‘old thing.’ Kings are the only ones that wear stuff that beautiful.”
I raised an eyebrow before I told her, “Each of the Ten Great Clanlords has regalia like this for formal occasions.” As I was telling her that I grabbed my heavy, ornate, swordbelt and strapped it around the waist point on my cuirass.
Caroline nodded. “You are going to be the hit of the party! Everyone will be looking at you.”
I grumbled slightly before I quickly grabbed my small jewel encrusted gold and silver coronet, placed it on my head between my ears before I picked my command baton off of my desk and said. “Well let’s get moving. We don’t want to be late for the banquet.”
“You do realize that you are liable to be dressed better than the Duke himself.” Caroline asked me.
“What do you mean? He doesn’t have something like this?”
“Thomas will be dressed up fine, but I doubt he’ll have that much gold and silver on his clothes.”
“So what you’re telling me is that I should dress down for this banquet a little.”
Caroline shook her head vigorously. “No! I think you look very handsome as you are.”
“Good. It took me five hours to get all of this ready for tonight. Do you know what it is like trying to polish mithral armour?”
Misha tapped the left side of my breastplate with a claw. “I would be very careful where you store that. Mithral is very rare and very valuable.”
“It’s been hidden at the bottom of my travel chest for more than thirty years along with the rest of my official regalia.”
“Then it’s been hidden for far too long. You need to flaunt your Clan’s name and symbols.” I smiled and then held out my jewel encrusted ivory, silver, and gold baton to Misha and asked, “What do you think of this Misha?”
He laughed. “That looks like something a Seuilman Emperor would use.”
“It’s the command baton of a Kelmar Clanlord. This particular one was made when I became a Clanlord. I also have my father’s and my grandfather’s batons.”
“Impressive” Caroline answered as Misha handed the baton back to me. “That is a very impressive piece of art.”
I followed Misha and Caroline through the twisting corridors of the Keep until we arrived in the Palace of the Duke in front of a large door where the banquet was being held. The door was being guarded by a pair of guards in full dress regalia and a crier who was announcing the names of the guests as they stepped into the banquet hall.
“You look incredible Oberon,” Misha commented. “Not a single tuft of fur out of place anywhere.” He turned to the crier and said, “Sir Brightleaf and Lady Caroline.”
“It took me an hour to bathe and get all of my fur into place, I even had to get some help from that sarcastic ferret Finbar and his lady Danielle.”
“Sir Brightleaf and Lady Caroline,” The crier announced to the crowd already in the hall. He then turned to me and asked me what my name was.
“Lord Adòn Naharél Sahana’Haudorn Kelmar Warrior and Clanlord of the Sundering Stone Clan.”
The crier looked me up and down and then dutifully announced my name and titles to the assembled people in the banquet hall.
Misha and Caroline both laugh at the Crier’s exasperation. “Your name confused him!”
“Well among you I only use the name of my former Soul Guide. What I told him was my full name and rank in Kelmar society.”
“Ah. Still it is quite the impressive title,” Caroline says as the three of us stepped into the large room. I steeled myself for the curious gaze of those in the room and then remembered that I was not just a simple Warrior but a Clanlord of my people and a Nobleman of the highest order. I stepped forward with an easy assured gait of a man who is in full possession of his fate and bows to almost no one. I could see that most of the people’s attention in the room was focussed at me, and I remembered then what it had been like to be respected by hundreds of junior Clanlords in the Clanlands.
“You certainly did make a great entrance.” Misha commented.
“I had a lot of practice back home in the past Misha.” I replied as I took my seat at the banquet table.
Caroline and Misha both sat down in empty seats on my right. “This will be a fine feast. The Duke lays out a fine spread.”
Across from me sat an entire family, a large brown bear morph, a spotted cat of some type and three children.
Misha looked at the family and then said, “Oberon I would like you to meet one of your fellow Longs Scouts. This is Meredith and his wife Elisha and their two kids Sally and Silma.”
I stood and bowed to them slightly. “It is an honour to make your acquaintance sir.”
Both Meredith and his wife stood up. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” He said and bowed. Elisha curtsied to me while her husband want on “Misha has told me so much about you in the past few months.”
“I hope that in the future we can work together.”
“I look forward to it.” Meredith answered.
I looked at the two girls as they sat beside their parents. “Your children remind me of my nieces.”
“Thank you.” Meredith answered.
Silma looked up at me and smiled before she said “Wow! You’re almost as big as Daddy!”
I looked at both of the little girls and smiled with my ears and replied, “You know I wasn’t always this big.”
“Wow! Do you have sharp teeth?” Silma asked. “My dad has sharp teeth too1”
“Yes I do have large teeth. They may even be bigger than your father’s teeth.”
Elisha laughed. “Now don’t bother Oberon too much dear,” she said to her daughter.
“Oh don’t worry about her. I like children, the gods only know how long it has been since I’ve been around them for any length of time.”
She smiled. “Family makes life worth living.”
“My father used to say the same thing close to forty years ago.”
“It’s still true. It’s always been true.” Meredith commented.
As he said that the first serving lady came up behind us and placed the first platters of food in the middle of the table, several more platters soon followed the first platter. “Smells wonderful.”
“I agree that is a wonderful smell.” Meredith added. “I am so hungry I could eat the whole thing myself!”
“Will there be enough for the two of us Meredith?” I asked him in a joking tone of voice.
“Plenty of food,” Misha answered. “There is always plenty of food at this table.”
“Well let’s get to the eating part. As my father used to say, there is not time like the present.”
Meredith grinned revealing a muzzle full of large sharp teeth. “A man after my own heart!”
“He was killed more than thirty five years ago. I still miss him, even now so many years later.”
“Well,” Meredith said. “Let’s enjoy this feast in his honour.”
I used a fork to pull a large hunk of steak from a nearby platter before I pulled out my jewelled by-knife from its place beside the Claw and began to cut the steak into smaller pieces. “How long have you been here Meredith?”
“My whole life.” The bear morph answered. “I was born and raised here in the valley.”
“This must’ve been a nice place to grow up.”
“It was a great place to grow up, and it’s a good place to live. We never lacked for things to do and places to go.”
I nodded my head and began to eat, though my table manners weren’t the best any more. The simple reason for that was because I couldn’t close my lips over my food. I swallowed and took a sip of the wine before I said. “This is an excellent wine.”
Meredith started to eat the food. “The duke always has good food and wine. Thomas really knows how to stock a table!”
“The last time I had wine this good was back when I was in my homeland eating at my own table with my vassals.”
“That is a high compliment to the Duke.” Misha answered.
For some reason this party was only causing me to recall the past and what I had lost. As I sat there thinking about it I felt a couple of tears run down my muzzle.
“What’s wrong?” Misha asked. “You all right my friend?”
“Sorry I was just thinking about the past Misha.”
Misha nodded. “Tonight is for the present and all your friends here now. Enjoy yourself.”
“I will try my friend.” I replied before I began to eat again.
Two hours later when we had finished the main part of our sumptuous feast and were just nibbling on various deserts and tasting wines a group of musicians began to set up in a corner. Once they were set up they started to play a number of highly intricate dance pieces from down south in the Midlands and several couples went out onto the floor in front of the musicians, and began to dance.
After several minutes Caroline came up to me and held out her hand and said “You owe me a dance sir.”
I looked at the elegantly dressed otter morph before I stood up, held out my own hand, and replied “I would be delighted my lady. Though I am not really all that familiar with the styles of dance that you have here.”
“No need to worry. I’ll show you.” She grabbed the hand that I had been holding out to here and began to pull me towards the floor where all of the other people were dancing.
I followed her with as much grace as I could manage, while at the same time remaining conscious of the position of my weapons and my cloak.
Caroline laughed. “You’re light on your feet, you’ll do fine. Just follow my lead.”
“I certainly will Lady Caroline.” I responded as I endeavoured to follow her lead.
The otter started to move with the music, slowly at first, but then with increasing speed and fluidity. “Move your feed like I’m moving mine. Just move slowly and gracefully.”
I followed her lead carefully and watched her feet with a swordsman’s eye. “These moves look a bit like something a fencer would use in combat.”
“It is like fencing, sort of. Two people are in a back and forth dance together if both activities. It’s just that in courtly dancing there are no weapons involved”
“Other than if one of the dancer’s is wearing weapons.” At that very moment something came up behind me and tripped me. Causing me to fall over with a metallic crash on the floor. I didn’t even have time to let go of Caroline and she ended up sprawled on top of me.
Caroline pulled herself out of my arms and picked herself up and asked. “What happened? What did you trip over?” I slowly picked myself up rubbing the base of my tail with one free hand and softly muttering curses under my breath. On the floor there was a large metallic fox lying on the ground right where my knees had been. “What on earth is that thing?”
“Madog. I see that you made the party!” Caroline said to the metal fox.
“You mean that this thing is alive?”
“Oberon I would like to introduce you to Madog the automaton. He is made of metal but he is as alive as you and I.”
I looked at the metal fox and held out my right hand, my left was still rubbing the base of my tail where I had crushed it against the floor and my armour. “I am very pleased to meet you Madog, though I think that it could’ve come in a better way.”
“Hi tiger! Big cat, big heart. Bad dancer.” The metal fox pronounced as he shook my hand with one of his metal forepaws.
I grinned at the fox before I said, “See Caroline, he knows that I can’t dance in your style. Give me a nice Kelmar War-dance and I will show you that I can dance, but these dances of yours are tying my legs in knots.”
“Madog is no great dancer either. He’s more liable to EAT the dance floor then to dance on it.”
I looked at the fox for a moment before I asked, “What does a creature like that eat to begin with?”
“He’s an automaton. Completely made of metal and magic. The result is that he eats anything that he wants to but he loves gold and silver the best.”
I looked at my armour and my weapons before I said, “Well he can’t have my armour, but if he drops by my forge tomorrow he can have a few scraps of metal that I have lying around that I don’t need anymore.”
“YUM!!” Madog exclaimed. “Me not eat big cat’s armour even if it is tasty!”
“Thank you very much Madog, this armour is very old and made with gold, mithral and inset with jewels. You would probably enjoy it very much, but I like my armour the way that it is right now.” I pulled a silver coin out of one of my belt pouches and tossed it to the metal fox, who caught it in mid air and ate it in the twinkling of an eye.
“He is a good and kind soul,” Caroline explained “but beware. Madog is VERY powerful.”
“I should think so, since he cause me to fall on my tail.” I replied as I continued to rub the last of the pain from my poor abused tail.
Caroline grew serious. “No. I am dead serious. He can easily beat any Keeper in a fight. I’ve seen him defeat moondogs with no more trouble then you have with killing lutins.”
“What are moondogs?”
Caroline shook her head. “Vile things that look like a wolf, but they use fear to kill. They can cast fear onto a person that is so strong that their victim literally dies of fright.”
“Well there aren’t all that many things that I fear anymore. I’ve spent too many years fighting, and seen too many awful things for it really to have much of a grip on me anymore.”
“You would fear them. They project fear like a dragon breathes fire, and they are just as deadly.”
I grunted slightly to show that I would believe it when I saw it. As I did so a huge lady came over to us. She was at least six feet tall and she had a body that would put more than one princess with the finest breeding to shame.
Caroline bowed to the lady. “This is Lady Aldemar.” She said to me.
I bowed my head to the lady and offered her a couple of complements on her appearance and her dress, though I couldn’t keep my wandering eyes off of her amazing body.
She bowed to me in reply and then said, “Sir, if you would do me the honour of a dance?”
“I certainly would my lady, though I warn you that I really am not all that much of a dancer.”
She stepped forward and took my hands softly before she quipped. “I hope that you are better on your feet this time.”
“I’ll do the best that I can my Lady, though I can promise you the world.”
“You are too humble” she said. “You cats are all light on your feet. I’m sure that you’ll do fine.”
As we made our way around the floor the good lady pointed out a few of the other notables in the room before some other lady took my hands and usurped me and pulled me into another dance. After what seemed like hours I finally managed to free myself and get back to my table where my half-full goblet of wine was still sitting at my place. I grabbed it an attempted to assuage my built up thirst with a swift drink of wine. Just as I tossed back the last of the wine a large dark furred horse morph came over to the table and looked over at Misha, Caroline, and I as we paused from dancing to get a drink.
Misha and Caroline both stood up at the same time and bowed slightly to the newcomer. “Lord Thomas” Misha said in a serious tone.
I looked into the dark eyes of the horse morph and bowed low, much lower than I had for any other person that I had run into tonight and said, “My Lord.”
The stallion returned our bows before he spoke. “Misha, Caroline.” He turned and looked at me for a second. “You must be this Oberon person that George been telling me about.”
I kept my head bowed as I replied. “That is how people here in the Keep know me, though in my own land I was known as Adòn Naharél.”
“Adòn Naharél look at me please. There is no need for you to keep your head bowed like that in front of me. I am deeply honoured to meet you.”
I raised my head and looked into his dark brown eyes with my own glacial blue eyes and said, “I am glad that the people here have taken me in Your Grace, elsewhere I have never really been accepted because I am an outsider, a foreign man with foreign ideas. But here people have treated me as a normal person and not an outsider, even though there have been times when I have tried to act like an outsider.”
Thomas nodded his head “There are no strangers, just people that you don’t know yet. We are all family here at Metamor.”
“Your paranoid staff hasn’t made it easy for me to greet you my Lord.”
“Unfortunately I need to be more concerned with my safety than I used to be. During the Yule attack assassins came very close to killing me.”
“I can understand that my Lord. There have been several times in the past when I have had the same problem myself. Though, I usually deal with assassins myself.”
“Not everyone is so proficient with a sword as you are.”
“That is true. Most people that I have run into in the past thirty years don’t have my kind of experience, or training with weapons.”
“George and Misha both speak very highly of your fighting skills. They also tell me that you might be joining Misha’s special scouts.”
“Yes they have offered me the position as soon as I come back from a little vacation. I am looking forward to this opportunity that they are presenting me with. Hopefully Misha can find a place where my skills will be most useful.”
“I’m sure that you’ll do fine. George and Misha say you’ll do fine and I trust them both.”
“I’ll definitely do better than I did when I first arrived here. I went out for a little stroll, without anyone’s authorization, and got myself into more trouble than I could deal with by myself.”
Thomas nodded his head. “That is understandable. We all make mistakes and do things that we later regret.”
“Speaking of things that we regret I also regret my actions in the past month or so, though the lutins are now justifiably terrified of me. It took a mere cub to snap me out of my murderous actions.”
“Sometimes it takes the young to show us adults how foolishly we are acting.”
“You can say that again your Grace. Back when I was a child in my father’s city in the Kelmar Clanlands I did the same thing to more than one crusty old warrior who’s mind had snapped under strain of nigh endless warfare”
“We are also under constant attack here, but we have tried to retain our sanity.”
“That is one lesson that a child taught me, a child who incidentally was the reason that I got stuck here in the first place.”
“That would be Guy? That fanatic that was in my own court a while back?”
“Yes. For some strange reason he now considers me to be his Papa, and he doesn’t like it when I leave him with Father Hough.”
“It seems that you both have gotten a second chance at life. Starting over here at the Keep.”
“Yes it seems that your Grace. I just hope that I can also find someone that I will be able to spend the rest of my life with, or otherwise it will be a long lonely life for me.”
“How long do your people live?” Thomas asked. “I’ve heard they have long lives.”
“Well right now I am seventy two years old and I can expect to live for a least four hundred years if I take good care of myself. The oldest man in my clan before we were wiped out was five hundred and ninety-two.”
“Five hundred years?” Thomas exclaimed, clearly surprised. “That is amazing.”
“Well I should consider myself lucky if I reach that age, considering how I treat myself now.”
Thomas laughed. “I will be lucky to reach a hundred years.” He commented.
“At least you should be able to find a mate without as many problems as I would have. After all you won’t outlive everyone here, their children, their grandchildren, and great grandchildren the way that I will.”
“Can’t you return to your own people?” Thomas asked. “Gain a wife there?”
“You mean go back to my homeland looking like I do know. If they didn’t kill me for knowing who and what I am, they would definitely kill me for looking more like an animal than a man.”
“You might be surprised how they might take you being an animal morph. But you said that you are hunted by your own people? Why? Did you kill someone?”
“Well the answer to that is complex, but the long and the short of it is that I was, and still am a Kelmar Clanlord. There was a time, more than thirty years ago, when I commanded an army of more than fifty four thousand Kelmar Warriors in battle. But those times are long gone now.”
“Oh? Time changes everything Oberon.”
“Yes. Now I live here among new friends, no longer in charge of armies, but instead a simple soldier like those that I commanded at one point in time.”
Thomas patted me on the shoulder. I am very glad to have you among us. We need your help.”
“What would you need with a washed up old former mercenary and battle commander like me?”
“You are hardly washed up. George and Misha both speak highly of your skills! And if someone wants you dead then you must still be dangerous to them.”
“The reason why someone wants to assassinate me is because of my Kelmar Rank, that of a Clanlord of one of the Ten Great Clans of the Clanlands. I also possess one of the Ten great Treasures of the old Kelmar Empire.” I touched the ruby set in the hilt of the Claw of the Dragon. “This sword is three thousand years old and is one of the greatest treasures of my people.”
“At this distance from your homeland the assassins will have a hard time coming here. And with the curse I doubt that most assassins will be willing to stay very long.”
“I have already had to deal with two teams of assassins and the longer I stay here the more at risk the general population of the Keep will be in.”
Thomas shook his head “I doubt that. Nasoj has been trying to have me killed for years and we will soon learn how to deal with this new threat too.”
I bowed my head to him and then looked out the window above us before I said, “My Lord I hope that you don’ mind if I leave this party in a short time. I have some things that I would like to take care of tomorrow and I want to get them done early.”
Thomas put both of his large hands on my shoulder and looked me straight in the eyes and without any hesitation said, “As your host my good Clan Lord, I insist that you stay here and enjoy yourself.”
“If you insist my Lord King, then I will of course accede to your will.” I told him politely as I looked around before I snagged a drink from a tray that a passing pageboy was carrying in his hands.
Misha and Caroline both laughed at that. “That was a hard order to get you to follow my friend!”
I turned to them before I asked, “What else do you do at these parties besides eat, drink, and dance badly?”
“Well, we make idle gossip with people that we barely know.” Misha joked.
“Why would you do that? There are a lot of things out there that are much more interesting than talking to someone that you barely know.” I gestured with my hand to indicate the countryside north of the Keep.
Misha laughed. “This is a dinner party, not a hunting party Oberon. Not everyone wants to go out into the woods.”
“Well maybe it’s been so long that I…”
A tall female white and black spotted snow leopard morph in a tight dress walked up to us and took my hand in hers. “Would you honour me with a dance?” She asked me in a clear dulcet voice.
“I looked the lady up and down before I nodded my head and replied “I would be delighted my lady.”
She tugged on my hand and quite firmly pulled me onto the dance floor.
I followed the lady out onto the floor, guided by her hand and began to dance with her. “What is a pretty cat like you doing at this little get-together?”
“My name is Lady Kristinai Belancourt,” She said before she bowed to me.
“My name is Adòn Naharél.” I said in reply before I returned her bow.
“It’s a pleasure. I hear that you are the head of a clan? I’ve never had the honour of dancing with a clan lord before.”
“My clan has been dead for thirty yeas My Lady. But come that is a gloomy subject for such an enchanting you lady.”
“You certainly look and act the part of a rich clan lord,” she said. “And that is all that I need to know. Besides which you are such a good dancer!”
I laughed. “You should have seen me a week ago, dressed all in black and stalking lutins like deer.”
“Black and white are the right colours for both of us!” She laughed
“I dare say that they are. What do you do around here?”
“I am a lady of Duke Thomas’s court and an arcane sorceress.” She explained to me. “I enchant many things.”
“Are you familiar with weapon enchantments?”
“I’ve occasionally done a weapon or two,” she answered.
“You should come down and take a look at some of the weapons that I make in my forge at some point in the future.”
She laughed. “I’ve had a lot of invitations, but none so unique as that. Though I have heard that you are a fine weapons smith.”
“Well you are a charming young cat, and how can a tiger like me pass you by without being even a little curious?”
“Now you’re just flattering me, but I would love to see your forge sometime.”
“I don’t mean it as flattery my Lady. You are, by my estimation, one of the most beautiful ladies here right now. How I managed not to see you until now is quite beyond me. But if you want to see my forge you can come by in three weeks. Before then I’m going to be out in the forests east of the Keep getting some time in with my tiger form.”
She smiled and I could see from her nose and the insides of her ears that she was blushing. “Thank you for the complement. I will make a point to visit your forge in three weeks time.”
“Do you know where you can find me?”
“This is Metamor Keep. All I have to do is want to get to your forge and I will arrive there!”
“Maybe you can come with me on a wild hunt at some point in time.”
“A wild hunt? You mean hunting as a full animal? Sounds interesting.”
“I’m looking forward to it. If you think that I am big now, you should see me as a full tiger!”
She giggled. Now you’re boasting. But you’re already a big boy. I can hardly imagine you getting bigger.”
“Misha only comes up to my elbow when I am in full tiger form and he is in his fox form. He said that he thinks that I weigh more than eight hundred pounds when I am a full tiger.”
“A snow leopard is a lot larger than a fox.” She points out.
“But you aren’t quite as big as I am are you?”
“No, but we are a lot larger than a fox. More your size.”
“Well even if you are smaller than I am I have to say that you are rather pretty in your own way.”
“Thank you. I do try to stay fit and in good shape.”
“Have you ever seen a fat feline Keeper before? I haven’t.”
“Only the tomcat in the bakery.” She answered with a laugh. “Though I don’t really think that he is all that fat. But he certainly is a little on the portly side.”
“He’s a domesticated feline morph. I’m talking about a wild feline morph like us.”
“Good point. We wild felines are all too rare here.”
I chuckled at her comment and continued to dance with her until the musicians packed up their instruments for the night.
“Looks like it is time to turn in for the night my Lord Oberon.”
“Would you mind if I escorted you to your room my Lady Belancourt?”
“I would be delighted sir.”
I took her arm in my own and left the room. As we walked through the halls of the Keep we weren’t really bothered by the absence of lights since we were both feline nature and had eyes that could quite easily penetrate the gloom of the dark hallway.
Five minutes later we arrived at a door and she stopped and looked at me before she said, “Well thank you for a wonderful evening my Lord and I hope to be seeing you soon.”
“It was my pleasure my lady.” I replied. I was about to turn and head down the hallway when she reached up and grabbed my head-fur.
She pulled my head down to her level and kissed me square on the muzzle. “Don’t you forget that, or this.” She said before she nibbled my left ear gently and kissed me again.
“There is little chance of that my lady.” I told her before I watched her walk into her room. This was something that I wouldn’t soon forget.