A Night on the Town

Lucian makes his way out of the smoky tavern into the Street of Ten Swords. Three Legged Pete's isn't known for its hospitality, but there is always a high stakes poker game there on Thursday nights - the only kind that holds any interest for Lucian. Not that he needs the money.

He chuckles at the muffled clink of tonight's take in his belt pouch as he sets out toward the castle. At that moment, a commotion can be heard from behind him, and a gruff shout echoes down the street, "CHEAT!"

Lucian sighs as he turns to face his accuser. The majority of Pete's patrons have shuffled into the street to gawk. Ahead of them, a burly man stands pointing. Lucian recognizes him from the game. It is Kaergan, a sailor on one of Amber's merchant vessels. Lucian knows him to be a loudmouth and a bully, and from the sound of things, a sore loser to boot.

Lucian laughs, "If you payed as much attention to the game as you did to Betty tonight - we might not be having this conversation Kaergan." He winks at Pete's barmaid Betty as he calls her out, and a smattering of laughter is heard from the crowd.

Kaergan takes several steps forward, the crowd slowly follows - spreading into a rough semi-circle. "You can shove yer fancy words, boy. I WANT my MONEY."

Lucian brushes the hair that has fallen into his eyes out of his face, taking a step forward himself. "Don't play the game if you aren't ready to lose. I won it fair and square - you won't see one crown of it." A street lamp shines down on him.

From the crowd a loud whisper can be heard, "It's Prince Lucian!" More whispers can be heard from the crowd as the recognition spreads. Lucian silently curses to himself. He isn't overly surprised - calling his disguise half-assed would be an overstatement. He had done little more than slick his hair back with dark grease, most of which had come out with sweat and humidity.

Kaergan hesitates a moment at this revelation, but finds his courage once more, "Tax collector's not enough? The King's got his whelps out stealing our hard-earned coin." A few nervous laughs can be heard from the crowd.

Lucian shakes his head. "You're not worth my time." He turns to leave.

Kaergan's voice is bolder, dripping with venom and mockery, "He's a COWARD and a CHEAT." He glances around the crowd before calling out loudly, "What do you expect from a WHORE'S son?"

The words are barely out of his mouth as the first of Lucian's blows rains down on Kaergan's head. His eyes blaze and his jaw is set as he strikes the man with all of his fury. Lucian follows the burly man to the ground, and with a flick of his wrist steel can be seen glinting in his palm. He pulls the dagger back, readying the killing blow, but a dark-robed figure steps quickly through the group of gawkers, and a strong hand grasps Lucian's in that instant of hesitation before he can strike.

"And yea, there was much chaos and lawlessness, and with it, mercilessness and injustice, until as the Will of Order was sought and understood, the Laws of Order embraced all. And fighting and lawlessness ceased, and there was order, and with it, mercy and understanding." The voice is a familiar mild tenor that carries easily through the sudden hush that had fallen over the dark and narrow street.

Lucian's head snaps in the direction of the dark-robed figure as his wrist is grabbed, his fury worn like a mask. In the light of the lamp that had identified Lucian, the man's robe is dark green and trimmed in gold, unmistakable as as Priest of the Unicorn. His hood is pulled low over his face, casting shadows over his face as he looks down at the prince. As Lucian sees the man's robes and hears his words, he calms himself visibly, suddenly very aware of his surroundings.

As soon as Lucian calms, the Priest releases his hand. A cascade of whispers rises, almost thunderous after the absolute silence of before. Lucian seems to come to a decision with a quick nod and gets off of Kaergan and back to his feet. He looks down and shakes his head at the bleeding man who groans slightly.

Lucian flips the dagger over his knuckles and with another flick of his wrist, it disappears once more. Holding his empty hands palm up, he peers into the depths of the priest's hood, "As you wish, Reverend.. I'm not sure that this one deserves such mercy though…"

"All, even the most lowly, deserve mercy," the Priest answers quietly, with conviction. "Just as all come to a place in their lives when they will need it."

He pauses a heartbeat, then turns to the gathered onlookers. "Why don't you all go back to your drinks, good people?" he invites them, but with an edge of command underlying his voice. He waits for them to begin breaking up and heading back to their various tasks before turning back to Lucian.

Lucian looks down at Kaergen, as the other man begins working his way towards rising. He nods silently as he considers the Priest's words, his face unreadable. He speaks in a very quiet tone that does not carry beyond the Priest and he, "All things are true to their nature.. In my experience, releasing a viper does little more than give it another chance to bite you…"

"As you say, beings are true to their natures," the Priest replies in the same low tone. "To which nature are you being true tonight?"

Lucian considers that a moment. He chuckles finally in answer. "Well said."

Muttering can be heard from the crowd as they move to disperse. At that moment a man bearing a striking resemblance to Kaergan steps forward - not quite as burly, but taller and more muscular. When he speaks there is more intelligence behind his voice than Kaergan's, but it is no less gruff. "Well that may be just fine for the rest of 'em, but I don't go to church, and neither do my boys. And Kaergen is my kin."

Lucian's companion turns to face the oncoming group, watching them advance. Lucian can hear him sigh, a weary but also a somewhat exasperated sound. Several more men step out of the crowd (five in all) as the man points at Lucian, "Prince or no, he won't be getting off that easy."

They move toward the Priest and Lucian. Two of the men carry heavy wooden clubs, one a dagger, another a chain, and the one doing the talking pulls a short sword as he approaches.

"Indeed," the Priest replies. He has not yet made a move to produce a weapon, though he does back closer to Lucian in a defensive movement. "And what mercy do you hope to plead from the King for the injury or death of one of his sons, or from the Church's Law for the injury of one of Her Priests?" he inquires. His voice is still mild, reasonable, and unafraid, addressing the most intelligent one among them - apparently the leader.

Lucian curses and draws his weapons, adjusting his position as the men move to flank them. He adopts a defensive posture but says nothing more, content to let the Priest do the talking for the time being."Attacking an unknown man in a darkened street can occasionally bring leniency," the Priest continues, "but here we have full knowledge of your actions. Prince Lucian may not be missed immediately, but I am expected and a search will be instigated when I do not arrive on time."

The men seem to hesitate a moment, perhaps taken aback by the Priest's unexpectantly calm demeanor in addition to his words. They look to the leader of the group. The leader licks his lips somewhat nervously, "Our argument isn't with you priest. Why don't you run along to your appointment?" He gestures with the short sword in his hand, and continues to move forward - more slowly now.

The Priest shakes his head in the negative, not moving away from the intended target. "I would no more leave Prince Lucian to your tender mercies than abandon your kinsman when the roles were reversed."

Emboldened by the Priest's words, those in the crowd who haven't left begin to speak up:

"You heard the Priest - let 'em go!"

"Go sleep it off Jhervis, it's not worth it."

"The King'll have your heads!"

The leader, presumably Jhervis, slows as he listens to the shouts of the crowd. Masking the fear in his eyes, he shakes his head and spits, pointing his blade in Lucian's direction, "This isn't over."

Lucian makes no move, saying simply, "I'll be glad to finish it for you - whenever you're ready."

Jhervis and the other men back up, their eyes on Lucian and the Priest. Finally, they grab Kaergan and shuffle off into the night. A few cheers for the Priest are heard from the crowd, as well as jeers for the fleeing Jhervis and his gang. Lucian re-sheathes his weapons and laughs, clapping the Priest on the shoulder. "Well done Latimer. If only you were around every time I got myself into trouble." He grins at the hooded Priest.

The Priest laughs, pulling his hood back, and Latimer grins at Lucian. "Obviously your position as a Prince wasn't helping you," he notes. "I hope you won't hold against me the fact that I didn't want to join your ignoble position right away." He turns to glance about the street, most of the gawkers gone but a few knots of loiterers here and there. "Maybe it would be prudent for us to head towards the castle, however," he adds. "And you can tell me what I just got you out of."

Lucian nods and smiles, "That bunch aren't Amber natives - I doubt they have much respect for our titles, and certainly not for our ways." He casts one last look about the crowd, apparently satisfied as he turns back toward the castle. As they walk he explains, "There isn't a whole lot to tell. I play cards at Three Legged Pete's every once in a while. Usually my disguise is a little better than this, but I guess I got a little cocky."

Raised eyebrows. "You're disguised?" his brother says, almost snickering.

Lucian smiles sheepishly, "OK a lot cocky…"

He shrugs, "Anyway, I won tonight, and I guess it just dawned on Kaergan as I was leaving that he had lost three months pay…"

Latimer glances sidelong at Lucian, but says nothing in reply to that.

Lucian chuckles, then looks at Latimer, a twinkle in his eye, "So what errand is it that would send a Priest of the Unicorn into these dangerous streets at this hour?"

"Oh, you know, the usual," Latimer answers. "Feed the hungry, bring comfort to the sick. That sort of thing. Nothing terribly exciting. Certainly nothing nearly as exciting as a high-stakes poker game. Where's your horse?" he inquires. "Or did you walk all the way out here?"

Lucian shakes his head in the negative, "I left Rogue on the outskirts. He is a bit harder to disguise than I am." He smiles. "Yours?"

"He's a few streets over, at a friend's." Latimer leads the way down the dark ways, walking with a quick and purposeful stride. Lucian can see occasionally in the light of the lanterns, the outline of a sword on Latimer's person, which he usually doesn't carry when wearing his Priestly garb. "I don't typically run into trouble down here," the Priest remarks as they proceed. "But then, I don't usually court trouble, either," he adds, with a quick grin to Lucian to show that he's joking. "I think that falls in the parlance of others."

Lucian chuckles lightly, keeping his eyes on the shadows as they make their way, "Well, like we said, all things must be true to their natures." He smiles again, "Am I keeping you from an appointment brother, or was your being expected a bluff? And a damn good one at that."

Latimer laughs. "I'm not sure if I should admit the truth. Admitting that a Priest can lie convincingly is not something one wishes to have spread around." He turns a corner, coming to a small stable from the smell of it, most likely for boarding horses while staying in town. The yard is mostly dark, but Lucian can see that while the place is kept up and fairly clean, it still bears the signs of hard times and borderline poverty that mark many of the buildings in the area. Latimer does not go to the office-like building, but instead heads right for the stable, leading Lucian inside.

Lucian chuckles as he follows, "You may be a priest, but you're still a Barimen." He smiles, "Not to worry, though. Your secret's safe with me."

Latimer doesn't answer either statement, going instead to retrieve his mare from one of the stalls far back in the darkness. The animal is as out of place here as the two Princes, for much the same reason. Latimer adjusts his tack quickly and then joins his brother, leading the horse back out into the street. "All right," he invites Lucian. "Lead on, and hopefully we'll get home in time for breakfast."

Lucian nods and chuckles, "We'd better, or I'll never hear the end of it from Lyonene for keeping you out all night."

Latimer snorts, but doesn't answer. He leads his mare and walks with Lucian, seeming lost in thought for a while.

Lucian leads the way, humming a baudy drinking tune as they go, though he keeps a close eye on their surroundings as they go. When they reach the outskirts, he whistles twice loudly. Almost immediately the clatter of hooves can be heard, getting quite loud before a shadow of movement is seen in the murky darkness. Finally, a sleek quarterhorse with a dark coat just shy of black emerges. It is Rogue, the stallion that has served as Lucian's mount for as long as most in Amber can remember.

Lucian swings into the saddle and smiles back at his brother. "Shall we?" With the slightest signal with his reins he sets Rogue down the road to the castle, humming his tune once more.

Latimer mounts and settles his robe around himself, then joins Lucian on the road back to the castle. After just a little while, he turns to look at his brother. "Your taste for danger never ceases to intrigue," he remarks out of the blue. "I've occasionally wondered what it is about the other side of life that is so… alluring," he adds.

Lucian reins Rogue into a trot next to Latimer's horse and chuckles. "On the contrary, dear brother, it is this side of life that is so alluring to me, not the other. But flirting with the thin line between the two gives you a whole new appreciation for this one." He smiles. "When your heart races, and the adrenaline is pumping through your veins - now that is living!"

"Nothing like imminent death letting you appreciate life all the more?" Latimer inquires, smiling at Lucian's enthusiasm.

Lucian nods, "The possibility thereof - exactly." He grins. "Come on, I'll give you a taste." With that he spurs Rogue into a gallop - far too fast for this moonless night. He disappears in the inky darkness, Rogue's hoofbeats and his laughter echoing back down the road.

Latimer does hesitate, but then gets caught up in Lucian's excitement and daring. He touches heels to his horse's flanks and jumps from the sedate walk first to a canter, and then to a full gallop, racing along the dim road quickly, following Lucian.

The next mile races by, each turn of a corner a nerve-wracking experience given the usual traffic on this road. But luckily they encounter no one - perhaps due to the late hour, or the lack of moonlight.

As Lucian rounds the next bend, several horselengths ahead of Latimer by the sound of Rogue's hoofbeats, there is the sound of his horse's distressed whinny of suprise and fear, followed by a cry that breaks off suddenly, and then a loud thud almost lost in the sounds of Latimer's horse's hoofbeats.

Lucian manages to breathlessly croak, "Ambush!"

The next instant, Latimer is there, having only seconds to process the word and the scene as it opens before him: Rogue off to one side of the highway, mostly a dark bulk being harried by what sounded like two very large dogs, Lucian on the ground near the middle of the road, surrounded by six smaller bulks on two legs one with a very large club raised over the one struggling to his feet on the ground.

Latimer checks his horse's speed, but does not stop, pulling the mare around sharply and riding directly toward the small group and at the man with the club. The men look over in surprise and scatter, not quite expecting another arrival, but club-wielder is not quite quick enough. He manages to get out of Latimer's direct path, but is still shouldered aside roughly and stumbles back, falling heavily. Pulling his horse up close to Lucian, Latimer pulls his sword and glances around at the group, keeping his advantage by staying mounted.

Lucian manages to get to his feet - Latimer's tactic provided a distraction and the time he needed. He still struggles for breath as he draws his rapier and main gauche simultaneously in an obviously practiced move, and he stumbles once as he backs away from the men nearest him, closer to his brother.

After a few quick words peppered with curses, the remaining five men begin spreading out in an attempt to flank the two Princes, while the sixth is struggling to regain his feet with little luck.

Lucian reacts by adjusting his position, moving out at an angle from Latimer - delaying the flank and forcing the men to spread further, and he finally manages several deep breaths. A distressed whinny followed by a loud yelp pierces the tension, and with it Lucian's blades whirl as he springs at the man nearest him.

Latimer also engages, moving along with Lucian, to cut off several of their assailants from the rest, breaking through their rough line and maneuvering his horse to keep his sword between him and them. A sharp clang and battle is engaged, Latimer trying to keep close to Lucian so they can cover each other's backs.

Lucian adjusts his tactics to match his brother's as the two wade into battle. As Lucian engages, it is obvious the bandits are outmatched when their advantage of surprise is gone.

Lucian plays the two closest to him off of each other, drawing their weapons into each other's line, which keeps either of them from being overly effective. When the opportunity presents itself, he strikes one through the heart with a quick and efficient stroke. The other hesitates for the briefest of moments as his ally falls, and he quickly joins him as he is cut down. Lucian glances over to Latimer to guage his progress as another whinny pierces the night, followed by a guttural growl.

Latimer meanwhile is making slower progress with his group, maneuvering his horse to keep them retreating away from Lucian. He has a tendency to fight defensively, and it shows in his approach to this battle. However, patience pays off, and he's able to get in a solid hit to one of his attackers' temples with a well-placed kick, dropping him like a piece of lumber. The other two, seeing Lucian dispatch his two assailants and the third on the ground, hesitate, pulling back and glancing around for their leader, unsure what to do.

Their leader finally regains his feet as Lucian rounds Latimer's horse, sword held menacingly. His face is difficult to make out in the darkness, but as he exchanges a few quick words with the other two men, his voice is recognizable - it is Jhervis. A closer inspection of the man Latimer felled reveals him to be Kaergan.

Lucian spits, "Vipers indeed! And to think I was going to spare you." He continues to advance upon the knot of three men.

Latimer is silent for the space of ten quick hearbeats after the battle slows. He looks appraisingly at the three remaining men facing he and Lucian during that time, then speaks up. "Do you surrender to the King's Justice?" he asks forcefully.

Lucian is incredulous but halts his advance.

The snarling of a dog breaks the silence once more, and Lucian suddenly pulls his dagger with his offhand and hurls it into the darkness. A sharp yelp is heard, then the night silent once more. He returns his gaze to the three men, sword held ready.

Jhervis hesitates a moment as he considers Latimer's question. His only answer is a curse as he turns and takes off toward the woods at the side of the road. When their leader flees, the other two follow suit - in different directions.

Lucian chuckles, then whistles for Rogue. As the horse canters up, it can be seen that one of his forelegs is bleeding, but a quick look shows that the wound appears mostly superficial.

Lucian comments to Latimer as he swings into the saddle, "I don't care what we do with the others, but Jhervis won't get off so easy." He nods toward Kaergan's prone form, "That one I'll leave to your mercies." With that he spurs Rogue in the direction Jhervis ran, and they plunge into the forest.

Latimer shakes his head and nudges his horse to follow Lucian. "I really don't think I'm going to let you run after him without backup of some sort," he answers as they near the trees, into which Jhervis has already disappeared. Even the starlight fails under the foliage, but some sounds of at least one person fleeing through underbrush can be heard off to the left.

The going is precarious at first, but the underbrush thins as they get deeper into the treeline - choked out by the huge canopies of the larger trees. Lucian wheels Rogue in the direction they last heard him crashing. "Come out, come out, wherever you are…", he calls as they go, mockery in his tone.

Latimer turns his mare and moves a few strides in that general direction, then stops. He pauses, cocking his head to hear better, then remarks quietly to Lucian, "Careful of the streambed yonder," he gestures towards what appears denser growth. Difficult to see in the light, but as their eyes adjust, they can see more tangled growth following a line that crosses in front of them some lengths ahead. "Probably following that to keep from making noise or to set an ambush," he adds.

Lucian nods in agreement, "Noted, brother." He and Rogue slowly approach the streambed, and begin following it. They take several steps, pause.. several steps, pause.. - searching by listening more than looking. Latimer follows, keeping an eye and ear out behind them and to the sides.

After several tense minutes of this, Lucian suddenly leaps from his saddle and tumbles into the brush. A cry of surprise rings out, followed by the sounds of a struggle, the brush shaking wildly. Suddenly Jhervis' voice rings out in fear, "Please don't kill me! Please…"

"Lucian!" Latimer's attention turns and is riveted to the shaking brush. He slides out of his saddle, stumbling slightly on the rough ground, and approaches the scene of the struggle as quickly as he can in the darkness.

His brother has Jhervis pinned to the ground, both Jhervis' club and Lucian's rapier lying just outside of their reach. Lucian has his main gauche to Jhervis' throat, and he looks to Latimer at his shout and arrival. Though he seems somewhat reluctant, he finally offers, "This has gone beyond a personal issue now. I will defer to your judgement, Reverend - what do wish to do with this slime?"

Latimer looks at Lucian, trying to see his brother's face through the dimness. "I cannot condone killing him out of hand, Lucian," he answers, his voice tight and stressed. "I can't speak for the King's or the Church's justice, but death and violence breed chaos. I would take him to to face the law. But if you were to kill him now, I couldn't stop you."

Lucian looks back at Jhervis, considering for an uncomfortably long moment. Finally he speaks, "After you are cast into the Labyrinth of the Weregild House, you will wish you had met your end here tonight." With that he reverses the dagger and strikes Jhervis with the pommel, rendering him unconscious.

There is a brief silence, and then Lucian retrieves his sword and slings Jhervis's still form over his shoulder. He smiles over at Latimer. "Let's pick up that other sack of crap and get back to the castle."

Latimer nods, looking relieved. He helps Lucian throw the unconscious form over the pommel of Rogue's saddle, then finds his own mare and heads back to the road. Kaergen is still on the road, his confederates apparently having departed for good, still too dazed to put up any fight. Kaergen gets tossed over Latimer's saddle, and the brothers are set to go. "Hm," Latimer observes as they make ready to continue their journey. "I often go fishing, but I've never come up with a catch quite this large."

Lucian chuckles as he mounts up as well "No, I would imagine not. Although these are two fish that I would have preferred not tug our line." He shakes his head and shrugs, looking over at Latimer with a grin, "Well, I promised the trip would be thrilling."

Epilogue

Jhervis and Kaergan were turned over to the civil authorities for prosecution. It was decided that there was no need to publicize Prince/Reverend Latimer's role in the events of that night, and the men were tried for attacking Prince Lucian.

Both men were found guilty and were in fact sentenced to being cast into the Labyrinth of the Weregild House. Their sentences was carried out without delay. The two members of Jhervis' gang that escaped that night were never found - it is presumed that they fled the city.

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