Chapter 2: Chasing the Culprits

The next morning, Harley was forced awake by the sound of a horse drawn carriage pulling up to the estate, the sounds of footsteps, and the doors opening.  Then the voice made him fall out of bed in shock.  

The voice was female. Delicate, refined, and proper.  

No, he thought, racing to his window. It can't be- fuck it all, of course it was.  The carriage bore the royal insignia.  It was Queen Jenna!  Why on Balthazar’s scorched earth would Queen Jennah be here? His eyes scoured the yard even as he poured cold water from the pitcher at his bedside into the medium porcelain bowl, dousing the rag left on the rim of the bowl, wringing it out before running it over his face and bared torso. He couldn’t see Logan but that didn’t mean the man wasn’t there...wherever Jennah was, either Logan or Anise were never too far behind.

Harley turned, grabbing a fresh shirt and trousers from the chest at the foot of his bed. He had just stepped out of the clingy smallclothes he wore to bed when the door opened without so much as a knock, revealing Ra on the other side. Harley felt a dose of shock for a moment before he jumped to the side of his wardrobe, turning the air blue with his words. “Godsdammit Ra, fucking knock!”

Hidden by his wardrobe, the blond rushed into his clothes, tucking his pale purple shirt into black trousers and finally stepping out from behind the wooden furniture that held his more formal clothing with a soft glare towards his blue-eyed friend. “Well? Do you know why the Queen showed up? I hope my fuck-up yesterday didn’t warrant a Royal Execution…” he muttered, doing up the tie in the front of the shirt as he grabbed his favorite black vest to wear over it. He could and would change into his armor later.

“Of course I know why she's here,” the younger man said, examining his fingernails as he leaned against the doorframe.  “She's here to see me. I invited her, remember?”

That's when Harley noticed Ra’s appearance and his jaw dropped.  Why in Lyssa’s wardrobe did he look so rugged? Dressed in riding boots, khaki slacks tucked into the boots and a sapphire blue blazer over a white shirt and black tie.  He held his horse whip in his hand, black leather gloves draped over his arm.  Ra’s hair was styled to perfection, and his eyes were sparkling.  Seeing Harley’s look of confusion, Ra frowned and rolled his eyes.  “Three days ago, after my meeting in the Ministry, I invited Queen Jenna and Countess Anise to join us -myself, Glinda, Selena, and you, to be exact-  and go riding in the country.  Then return here and join us for tea before heading to today’s meeting with the Ministry.”  Ra looked deep into Harley’s eyes, making the bigger man feel a strange burning in his loins.  “Do you remember that?”  

Harley, racked his memory, seeking the conversation Ra was referring to.   He sorely hoped Ra was lying.  Then the memory came back to him, and he glowered at the now smugly smirking Ravenclaw heir.  “I hate you.”

“Lies and slander, my dearest Harlequin,” the too-beautiful young man replied, laughing merrily.  “Now, get changed properly, and then we shall go downstairs to greet our guests.  Glinda and Selena should be arriving soon.”  

Ra waited outside of Harley’s room while his friend and companion changed yet again into his proper attire.  Then, the two men descended the stairs to the main hall, and turned left, entering the large library.  There, the four women were waiting for them.  

Queen Jennah, seated on the loveseat across from Glinda and Selena, was a beautiful woman.  She stood about half an inch taller than Ra, and had long, beautiful dark brown hair, chocolate colored eyes and olive toned skin.  She always seemed to be smiling.  Standing by the door was Jennah’s bodyguard and master exemplar of the Shining Blade, Countess Anise.  Wearing her heeled boots made Anise equal in height to Ra.  She had sharp, aristocratic features, porcelain colored skin, bright green eyes, and long, flowing dark red hair.  Both Jennah and Anise were properly dressed to go riding, and both turned their attention to the doorway as the two young men entered.  

The moment Ra Ravenclaw entered the room, the perturbed look  that had been on his face due to Harley forgetting this appointment vanished, and was replaced with the most killer, dashing smile he could muster.  Even though the smile was not directed at him, Harley felt his heart yearn to be on its receiving end.  

“Jennah,” Ra exclaimed, moving over to her side and taking her proffered hand, kissing it before she stood, and embraced him, kissing each other on both cheeks.  “Welcome to my family’s home.  I hope that my servants have seen to your every need?”

Jennah smiled warmly up at him.  “Yes, Ra.  I have been very well attended to.  Thank you.”  

“We both have been well cared for, Ra.  Your staff is so devoted to you and your parents, I’m utterly impressed,” Anise chimed in.  Ra turned to face her, his smile changing from merely charming to romantic.  “Why Anise, what a joy to have you here as well.”  

Anise embraced the Ravenclaw as well, accepting a rather more intimate kiss on the cheek from the young man and looking rather smug about it herself, her face also flushed slightly as the full effects of Ra’s charm practically hypnotized her.

Flirt...was the only word that crossed Harley's mind as he remained near the entryway of the parlor, offering Glinda a small and apologetic smile. She had guessed correctly the night before that he had forgotten about this little trip out into the countryside.  Harley leaned closer to Ra and whispered in his ear, “Hey flirtbird, weren’t we going to go rescue those hostages this morning?”

“Think of this as a chance to perform some reconnaissance,” Ra muttered back.  “Our planned riding route will take us past the farmhouse in question, so we can subtly surveil the site before we charge in after our tea this afternoon.”  

“Too damn smart for your own good.” Harley’s parting shot was muttered before the blond turned back toward the entryway, bowing to the visiting ladies as respectfully as he could. He had changed into a pair of pale gold riding pants tucked into his favorite black boots that came up to just below his knees, a white shirt and a black blazer. His hair had been tugged back into a loose braid tied with a black strip of thin leather. The blond Guardian’s throat was highly grateful for the fact that he had decided to not wear a tie like Ra but then again, he was a lower caste than the other so it wasn’t expected of him. “Your Majesty, Ladies, it is a blessing to be graced with your presence this morning. Please pardon me while I go check with the stableboy about our horses.”

Outside at the family stables Harley checked to make sure that there were snacks, wine skins and some suitably inconspicuous defensive items and even distraction gear. Smoke bombs that blew up in brighter colors than the usual black and could do unusual effects to someone unfortunate enough to breath it in would hopefully come in handy.

The stable boy was a pretty redhead with pale skin, a lithe form that was almost colt-like with his young age and the freckles splattered against his face. Harley waved him off with a nod of thanks and a laugh at the young one’s spunky teasing as the redhead left for the cantering yard to give the stubborn mare new shoes. Hefting up Ra’s black saddle onto his favorite black clydesdale, cooing at the beautiful male with his shining coat speckled with copper and white in patches along his coat that matched it’s thick black mane. “That’s it, good boy.”

Reaching into a bucket hanging along the wall Harley pulled out two shiny yellow apples and handed them to Ra’s horse as well as one to his own. Harley had been as proud as could be and ecstatic when Lord Ravenclaw had gifted him with his own horse, similar to Ra’s Nyx. Coat the color of her name with stark white socks and a white braided mane. “Here you go, beautiful girl.” The two horse's eagerly munched up their snacks from his hands, tickling his palm with their lips that brought an unmanly giggle from his lips.

“I wish you spoiled me like you do these horses.”

The sudden voice at his ear brought Harley as stiff as a board, twisting in place to give whoever it was a good talking to about sneaking up on people in a stable before Honey, the little traitor, tripped him up and his tangled legs brought his surprise visitor crashing into him and they both landed in a heap in the entryway of Honey’s open stall. It took Harley a moment for his brain to catch up through the pain and the lack of ability to breath that a familiar black and blue-clad form with wide sapphire eyes was on top of him..and the dark-haired man was kissing him. Harley tried, he tried dammit, not to enjoy the moment. His eyes yearned and burned to close, to wrap his arms more firmly around the other and to take that tempting mouth passionately  with his own but he dared, he could not.

His arms had come up to protect the other falling with him when they had started the trip to the ground so Harley could feel the other’s narrow waist under his hands before his brain and breath finally well and truly caught up to him. Harley sat up, wincing when his forehead and nose collided with Ra’s, creating painfully eye-watering results. Unable to really see through the tears blurring his vision, Harley glared at Honey and Nyx, who seemed to be snickering as best as horses could. “You two are in so much trouble…” he muttered, forcing himself up onto his feet and absent-mindedly tugging Ra up as well.

“I am so sorry, I have no idea how that even happened, I mean it was an accident, you scared me and…” The blond was rambling in a way that was reminiscent of when his voice had begun changing eight years ago. “Wait, what do you mean I don’t spoil you? Seriously?” His vision was finally starting to clear from the tears and he could see a brightly red-faced Ra in front of him. Harley knew his face wasn’t that far away from a fetching shade of red himself  but still. Who knew when the other four busybodies were going to join them out here and he still had to tack Selena and Glinda’s horses. A quick look around told him that Audrey had already tacked them up. When in the hell had that happened? Nevermind. It better not have been when he was distracted or he was going to probably strangle the little cutie.

Turning to the wall of tacking equipment, Harley found his own horse’s saddle and decided to concentrate on getting her decked out after getting flicked in the face with her tail. “Oof. Really, woman? Last time I give you apples for a while…” What the hell was going on? First Ra walked in on him while he was changing, and that never happened and now this. He sincerely hoped the other was just being a flirt and expanding his repertoire of flirtybirdiness.

Ra seemed a little discomforted by what had happened.  He couldn't seem to find the words, his movements were flustered, and the redness of his face was still rich.  He settled for turning away from Harley, and said to the wall, “I… came to check on Nyx.”

Harley heard footsteps, but didn't look up from his task of tightening the saddle onto Honey’s back.  He knew it was Ra standing beside him now, stroking Nyx’s muzzle.  He knew because he could smell Ra’s personal brand of cologne.  He couldn't bring himself to look.  

“I'm sorry.”

And Ra was gone.  

But that smell, that feeling that always permeated a room whenever Ra was wouldn’t go away. He could still feel the warmth plastered to his front, that slender waist under his hands and the unexpected heat of those wonderfully soft lips against his own. Gods be good, he couldn’t forget the soft scratch of Ra’s goatee against his chin. A low groan escaped from the blond, laying his forehead against the silken hair of Honey’s coat even as Nyx demanded equal time, nosing him insistently until Harley had no choice but to reach up an absent-minded hand and run it gently over the dark clydesdale’s nose. “Good boy. Come on…” He murmured, walking away from the horses to begin leading Selena and Glinda’s steeds out into the sunlight and waiting yard.

Harley had to admit that even though he somewhat detested Selena, her horse was absolutely gorgeous and a treat to work with. Glinda’s consistently tested Harley’s patience. The damned dark brown horse wouldn’t sit still for love or money. No small wonder she had named the thing Blitz.  That, and Blitz had a bad habit of spooking at the tiniest things, unless Glinda was nearby.  Harley couldn’t even pronounce the beautiful thoroughbred’s name that followed after him with wide, affectionate eyes but he knew she was a complete sweetheart.

Harley assisted  both girls into their saddles, making sure that they were as in place as they could be with no loose connections or bolts. “Oh, Glinda, Audrey put this in on the saddles last night.” He pointed to a saddlebag closer to the front of the saddle. “They’ve been retrofitted to fit most smaller weapons and hide them with glamours. Just in case…” The blond Guardian gave her a teasing wink. “Guess we’ll have a place to hide you if anything goes wrong.”

Glinda stuck her cute little tongue out at the big blond man before bopping him playfully on the top of his head with her dainty little hand.  

Harley stumbled back in exaggerated pain, hand to his head. “Oh! You wound me, my lady! Please, forgive this humble servant his misdeeds and allow him in your company without the pains of this world!”

Jennah giggled on top of her own beautiful, perfectly-maintained stallion. Her dainty fingers ran through the strong steed’s perfectly white mane, watching the two with bright eyes. They were so adorable! Her warm brown eyes shared a look with Countess Anise and the red-haired woman hid her smile behind a gloved hand.

Even Selena couldn’t keep a small smile off of her face, primly seated sidesaddle as she watched Harley’s large form lead out his own horse and Ra’s. Nyx seemed to be acting the part of an attention hog that morning because he would not stop nibbling on Harley and headbutting the boy to keep his attention on him. Harley grumbled under his breath, reaching into the pouch on Honey’s saddle to grab an apple. He deftly sliced it into six pieces and gave each horse an apple slice, firmly placing himself in each horse’s affections by another margin. Even Jennah’s strong stallion seemed to love him now. Of course Anise’s bloodbay was a  bit of a harder sell but an apple was a sweetening point for any horse.

Harley finally decided to just buck up, mentally yelling at himself to get on with his day and helped Ra into his own saddle, offering the dark-haired man the same smile as always before going through the checks he had done on Selena and Glinda’s saddles on Ra’s, Jennah’s and Anise’s.

Anise smiled coyly at him, running a gloved finger along the wayward curl of blond hair that refused to get out of his face. “Such a dutiful valet. Ra, you really must let me know where you found the time to train him so well.”

“I believe his patience was the deciding factor, Countess.”  Harley answered, finishing his checks on her saddle before offering her a disarmingly charming smile. It had none of Ra’s class, sophistication or innate sexuality but the boy’s smile tended to leave the one on the receiving end with a feeling of warmth in their if they had been given something special. “But I am sure you knew that, Countess. Ra’s patience is only second to his stubbornness.”

Jennah let out a louder giggle, covering her mouth with a white-gloved hand as she sat side-saddle in her white riding skirt and trousers. “Ooh, I do like this one. Ra, shame on you for keeping him from me! Your valet is simply delightful.”

Harley couldn’t help the slight blush coming onto his cheeks, clearing his throat and heaving himself up onto Honey’s back.

“Oh there goes the pink, Glinda. Want to make it red or are we going for purple today?” Selena quipped, the good day giving a twinkle to those beautiful eyes. Harley couldn’t help but be happy when he saw her in a good mood as it happened so very rarely these days...especially when it wasn’t at his expense.

“Purple, of course.” Glinda grinned, straightening up in her saddle from where her eyes had been fervently following Harley’s traversal of the courtyard. “He turns such a wonderful shade of purple, Jennah, you really must see it!”

“Well with two such beautiful ladies and a handsome man with him, I am sure the poor Guardian has his hands full.” Anise’s eyes were firmly on Ra’s form, watching him carefully. There seemed to be something odd between Ra and his valet...but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. It felt like something was being repressed and yet ignored AND grudgingly accepted at the same time. It was maddening!

“It appears you may get your wish, Selena. The three of you as well as the Countess and our fair Queen travelling with us, I do believe my face will maintain a permanent hue of violet throughout the day.” Harley, gods be good, was actually quipping as well. It was strange, feeling such a good mood after the way everything had gone yesterday. The blond didn’t notice the redhead’s eyes on him as he nodded to Jennah. “Everyone ready?”

It was a surprise that everyone was ready to go and that there were no extra guards joining them...but then again, not many wanted to tangle with Harley even outside of his armor and the others were certainly no slouches with Countess Anise thrown in.

Selena rode a little closer to her redheaded friend, taking particular notice of how those beautiful golden eyes followed Harley’s form up ahead. The Queen seemed intent on making the boy look at her while they talked and Anise was not taking no for an answer from Ra, it seemed. Both boys were suitably distracted, good. “So how hard did you have to keep yourself from asking Harley to stay the night last night?” She asked, concern and amusement well blended in her tone as they rode through the streets towards the city gates.

Anyone who didn’t know Glinda as well as she did would have missed the look that flashed through her eyes before that bright, blinding smile came onto her face. “I don’t know what you mean, dear Selena. Why on earth would I ask Harley to stay with me? He was needed at home and we all needed our rest.” She did not deny that it had definitely crossed her mind to ask him to come back and check on her before he went to bed himself but she couldn’t have justified asking him to traverse through half the city just to check on her.

Any chance of conversation was lost as soon as they crossed outside of the city gates Glinda grinned. “Race you to the bridge!” Before anyone could say anything she was off and away, her horse’s name definitely a deserved one.

Harley couldn’t keep the grin off of his face, even with the irritation in his voice as he hollered at her. “Get back here, ya damn pixie! We’re supposed to be riding together!” He took off after her like a rock loosed from a catapult.

“And they’re off…” Selena sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose as Jennah and Anise giggled beside her.

“Lyssa grant me patience.” Ra shook his head, covering his eyes with his hand before spurring Nyx forward. “Come on, we better not let them get too far ahead. Lyssa only knows what those two would run into.”

“Knowing their luck they would find a hidden cache of dwarves that have somehow managed to remain hidden from the whole of society for centuries and are taken in as pet humans and we would never see them again…” And there went Selena’s imagination. The girl was an impassioned storyteller once you actually got her into a topic she enjoyed but no one outside of her friends ever seemed to witness it.

Of course once the four more sedate individuals reached the end of the bridge, they could hear the impassioned arguing echoing from their two foolhardy riders.

“Just admit it, I got here first!” Yep there was Glinda.

“No way! First you cheated and then you tried to pull me out of my saddle!” Harley...had Glinda really tried to pull him out of his saddle?

“Now why would I do that? Besides, all is fair in love and war, Harley-kins!”

“I am pretty sure I do not want to ask which one applies in this situation.” Anise smiled, which widened when both Gryffindor and Hufflepuff blushed twin shades of crimson before Harley cleared his throat and settled himself into his saddle more firmly before his right hand covered his heart and his head bowed to Glinda.

“I bow to your vast experience, milady-”

“Good, you sh--”

“-in cheating.” His gloved finger poked her right in the rib and she squeaked, trying to scoot away from the blond before turning her attention back to the others with a huffy ‘hmph’.

“Yes, they are always like that and no we are not able to get them to stop.” Ra muttered, feeling a curiously strong burn in the back of his throat that led all the way down into his stomach. It was as if he felt sick but he couldn’t describe why. He had watched Glinda and Harley act like this with each other for, no, what happened in the stable--wait, nothing happened in the stable. Nothing. That burn intensified from his stomach to spread into his chest when that damnable blonde gave him a heart-stopping grin that was all boyish charm and mischief.

“Well, let’s go!” Harley laughed, in a rare fit of good cheer and this time he and Glinda weren’t the ones to start the misbehavior.

Jennah shared a look with Glinda before the dark-haired Queen grinned a smile that explained to Harley just how the Queen had such loyalty from her people. So many would do anything, be whatever she asked, just to see that smile on her face...he couldn’t help but make mental parallels to Ra when it came to that. “Well Harlequin, let’s see how you handle yourself against a Queen!” The beautiful woman spurred her horse forward at a speed that almost gave Harley whiplash before both he and Glinda took off after her like small children.

The remaining nobles merely sighed, following after their friends just close enough to keep an eye on them but far enough away that hopefully no one thought they were part of the daily dose of craziness. Anise was slightly put out that her Queen, of all people, was flirting with a valet from one of her Ministry houses, especially since rumors were still circulating about her relationship status with a certain Seraph captain. Then again, Anise could see the appeal.

Harley slowed his horse’s canter, noting the location of the farmhouse they had been informed of that held the hostages and bandits. It didn’t look like much from the outside but it would be easily defendable. They would have a hard time getting in there without some sort of strategy...unless Glinda went all Primordus on someone again. Glancing around, Harley saw Ra’s sharp sapphire eyes on the house as well, no doubt already planning a strategy -or twenty- to get in.  

The queen finally slowed to a stop, reaching the apple orchard just outside of the farm’s main gate. “Yes! And it is a win for the Queen of Kryta!” Jennah laughed, sharing a friendly high-five with Glinda before sticking her tongue out in a fairly un-queen-like way towards Harley. The blond bowed his head in defeat, shaking his head in amusement. His face was flushed from the laughter and exertion and those golden eyes were fairly sparkling like a freshly polished golden ring. Glinda and Jennah both looked like they weren’t far behind but Harley was fairly certain they would be taking it slow on the way back.

But he had spoken too soon when Bolt suddenly reared back, whinnying and kicking his legs in a panicked way that Harley had rarely ever seen before. A flash of black crossed Harley’s vision and the blond had already thrown himself out of his saddle and tossed an axe in the general direction of the flying menace, catching the large bat square in the chest. Unfortunately the damage was already done and Bolt had once again lived up to his name and taken off into the distance, tossing Glinda out of her saddle like a ragdoll and into Harley’s waiting arms.

With no comments made, Harley hefted Glinda onto his own saddle so that he could check her ankles and hands for any injuries. Those large hands were surprisingly gentle and thorough, fussing over the tiny redhead. “Any pain? Dizziness? How many fingers am I holding up?” He held up three fingers and the Gryffindor Countess gave him a look. Harley responded with a look of his own and she pouted. “Three.”

“Good girl.” He muttered, sighing before tugging on the end of his braid. “Hopefully I’ll be able to come out later and find Bolt, if he hasn’t made his way back home already.” Knowing the training those horses had to go through, he wouldn’t be surprised if the damned thing was already waiting back at the gates of Divinity’s Reach to go back inside. Harley retrieved his axe from the bat it had skewered and set it back into it’s hook at his waist after clearing the blade of the blood smeared along it.

“Come on, let’s head back.” Without thinking, Harley hefted himself up into his saddle, fixing Glinda at the front of it so that she was safely held between the handle and Harley’s body. The poor girl had to sit side-saddle with her legs thrown over his to be able to sit comfortably but...well, considering her reddened face, the girl wasn’t about to complain.

The chatter was amiable and happy on their way back to Divinity’s Reach for tea, although Harley’s mind was running through options for attacking the farmhouse and freeing the hostages with minimal loss of life later on that day.

“Harley!” Jennah’s voice broke through Harley’s mind and the blond blinked, glancing up at the others...who were all now staring at him.

“Huh? What’d I miss?” He muttered before glancing down at Glinda, whom Anise was pointing at with a small smile that just screamed of amusement. Glinda asleep. Her pretty red head was using his chest as a pillow, snuggled into his front like he was some oversized resting chaise. Harley couldn’t help the fond smirk that stretched his lips, his free hand coming up to brush some of those stubborn red strands away from her face before concentrating on the others. “Don’t wake her…” Harley advised them, letting Honey continue forward.

Selena shared a look with Ra, shaking her head and muttering ‘clueless’ to herself as they all traveled back into the city.  Ra just rolled his eyes in exasperation, trying not to look hurt or jealous, though he could not understand why he should even care, let alone feel any such thing.

Harley kept up a consistent humming under his breath, a song that sounded familiar to everyone in attendance. “Tir na Nog” hadn’t been sung by Glinda in a long time and it was obvious that Harley at the very least missed her singing. Once they reached the palace, attendants helped them off of their horses while Harley worked as carefully as he could to get out of the saddle and not wake up Glinda. He mostly succeeded, climbing down from his horse with the girl in his arms bridal style before he began trying to wake her up. “Glinda...come on, Glitter, wake up.” He murmured, jostling her in his arms as he followed behind the others into the palace. He hoped he would be able to just lean against the far wall and ignore everyone, he didn’t know how much highborn talk he could handle today.

Glinda whined, trying to burrow deeper into his chest before his quiet chuckling, and the subsequent vibrations against her ear, finally managed to force her awake. Dammit, she had been comfy. Bright gold eyes looked up at Harley in question, as if wondering what was going on, before she realized that he was carrying her. In his arms. In the palace. And she had fallen asleep on him.

“May I put  you down now, milady?” Harley asked, that teasing note ever present in his voice before he placed her on her own two feet. The girl fairly took off towards Jennah and Anise, jabbering at the both of them in her traditionally adorable way as they asked her if she was feeling alright, gentle ribbing coming through over her using her friend’s valet as a pillow…

Unfortunately, Jennah wouldn’t hear of having Harley just lean back in a corner. No, of course the Queen “Call me Jennah”, dragged him over to join them at the table. “Glinda, I do believe you, Countess Anise and I should get together sometime and dress young Harley here. I am certain the three of us together would make him irresistible to the court as a whole. What do you think, Selena? He is going to have to join you all in the parties soon, will he not?”

Servants milled by, pouring different teas for the preferred cups and laying out trays of cream, sugar, honey and biscuits as well as small sandwiches. Harley honestly felt like he was going to break the damn tea cup, it was so brittle and pretty. He didn’t tend to do well with pretty things...his innate clumsiness broke it more often than not. Taking a sip of the tea in his cup he held back a grimace and placed it  back in it’s saucer. He had no idea what that was but he didn’t like it.

Ra gestured to one of the servants and shared a soft word with them before the serving girl nodded and scampered off with a flushed face and a spring in her step.

Selena did not seem to like that idea at all but she offered up a small smile. “I don’t know, Jennah. Harlequin isn’t allowed to go off on his own--”

“Without adult supervision.” All three of them chorused, smiling at their consistent joke towards their beloved shield. Harley merely made a face at them and decided to try adding a little honey and some of the rough-looking amber crystals to his tea and stirring it up quietly. He had learned long ago to not make noise when drinking tea.

Jennah and Anise shared a laugh, shaking their heads in good humor. “Oh that is precious. Does he really  cause that much trouble?” Anise asked this as if she didn’t already know.

“Oh everywhere we go, Anise… and then some.” Ra smirked at his blond friend, enjoying the pouty glare the Guardian sent his way. “Don’t give me that look.” Ra admonished, raising an eyebrow at Harley as the other’s pout deepened. “Put the pout away.” In answer, Harley just deepened it further, wide gold eyes staring at Ra like a lost puppy denied a treat with that quivering lower lip, even going so far as to slouch in his seat and crossed his arms over his chest. “Hmph. You know I’m right.” Damn those pretty eyes and far-too-distracting mouth. Damn them to Grenth.

Anise couldn’t resist reaching over and running her fingers through the blond bangs, surprising him out of the pout. “Oh, so adorable, little pet. Might want to watch that pout of yours, a suitably inclined person might find their way to kissing it away.”

The mention of kissing brought that morning to mind for both Ra and Harley and the two of them steadfastly pushed it out of their minds. Harley straightened up in his seat and decided to try and pay attention to what was being said...even if it was just Glinda and the other girls talking about what to stuff him into when they went shopping again.

Of course, for Jennah and Anise, shopping meant having the local shopkeepers bring clothes to THEM to try on instead of the other way around...honestly that would probably make it a bit more fun. But more fun for whom was the question since Harley knew he would be miserable if someone tried using him a life-sized dress-up doll.

But he knew there was nothing for it. If Glinda asked him to, he would do it. He would bitch and whine and complain the whole time, but he would do it. After a few more hours of small talk, Harley and the others got back on their horses and finally managed to get back to their own homes so that they could get changed for their evening entertainment.

Harley and Ra dropped Selena and Glinda off at their estates, informing them that they would be back to get them later before heading to their own residence with no small amount of haste.  No one bothered them in their trek up to their rooms and the two separated without speaking to change.  Once in his armor, with his weapons in hand, Harley stepped out of his room just as Ra did the same.  Ra had changed into a more sensible outfit for entering combat, but still looked like he should’ve been Lyssa’s male counterpart.  

Harley didn’t know what in the name of Tyria was going on with his friend at the moment but he didn’t care. The only thing that he could do was just continue to stand by him and hope that the other talked to him about it at some point.


At sunset, the four met up in Glinda’s courtyard to plan their attack.  Like the two boys, the ladies had also changed into more sensible attire to run through the country fighting bandits.  Harley sorely wished that the two girls would stay behind (for that matter, he wished Ra wouldn’t go with him either), but he’d pretty much given up arguing the point, since it never did any good.  Once all gathered, Ra presented what he had learned.  

“I didn’t sense any magic-users,” he explained, calmly, “but there are a lot of bandits.  While we were having tea, I had one of the servants bring me the architect’s records and I found the schematics for that home.  There is a basement in the cottage that acts as an escape route in case of emergency.  I would imagine the bandits are using the cave network to get around Queensdale with little or no hassle.”  

“Then we should waste no time!” Glinda declared, with a rather mocking military salute and a peevish grin at Harley.  The Guardian merely rolled his eyes.  

“So when do we leave?”

The four spun around and let out a universal groan of discomfort.  It was Faren.  Typical.  The lustful Lord gave a dashing smile and said, extravagantly, “It’s time we made those louts pay for ruining your party, dearest Glinda.  I’ve brought my sword, sensible shoes, and my fighting coiffure.” His smile turned slightly seductive.  “What more do I need?”

Before Harley could stop them, all three of the nobles had offered their opinion of what he might need.

“A brain?” Ra sneered.  

“Common sense?” Glinda chimed in.  

“How about we start with an invitation, of which he has none?” Selena growled.  

Harley let out a long sigh, and hung his head.  Nope, none of the three had forgiven Faren.  For that matter, neither had he, but he wasn’t about the make a scene now.  They were in a rush, after all.  “Come on, you three,” he said, hoisting up his shield, “let’s go.  We are wasting time.”  

They made their way out of Divinity’s Reach on foot, heading through Shaemoor towards the farmhouse and hoping to all six gods that Lord Faren had not followed them out.  They were sorely disappointed.  Faren trailed behind them by a couple paces, his fencing sword drawn, making little simple thrusts, swipes, and parries, and muttering little comments under his breath to an invisible bandit.  Much like a four year old with a toy sword would do in the market with his parents.  It might have been adorable had it been anyone other than Faren, the Boytoy of the Ministry.  

Once they arrived at the foot of the hill upon which the farmhouse stood, Ra turned to the others.  “So here’s the plan.  Glinda and Selena, I’d like-”

“Where do you want me?” Faren cut across Ra.  Ra’s lips were pressed together as he glared at the fop.  Harley knew he had to move fast or Ra might do something bad.  Before he could, however, Ra’s mouth had opened and he said, before anyone could stop him, “Your job, Lord Faren, is to lead the charge.  You just go in there, sword flailing, and keep them busy and distracted.  Then we will join you.”

Faren laughed.  “I knew you’d recognize my talents, Ra!  I won’t let you down.”

Ra rolled his eyes in disgust.  “Great.  Have fun storming the farmhouse, Faren.  We’ll be behind you by a good fifty kilometers.”  

Harley sighed, and said.  “Don’t listen to him, my lord.  This is far too dangerous for you to even be here, but since you are here, just do me one favor, ok?”  

Faren smiled.  “Sure thing, old chum, what can I do for you?”

Harley fought a smile at seeing Glinda pantomime dying by Selena’s imaginary spells behind Faren’s back.  “Stay close so we can protect each other.”  

Faren laughed again.  It might have been a likeable laugh.  If it wasn’t Lord Faren.  “Oh, don’t worry about me, Harley my man.  Swordmaster Bongo the One-Eyed told my parents I was the best student he’d ever seen.”

An awkward silence followed this statement.  That is, until Harley saw Ra’s face.  The smaller man looked as if he’d just watched someone be sick.  Then he mouthed, with obvious contempt and disbelief, “Bongo the One-Eyed!?” Then he slapped his palm to his forehead and clearly began praying to Lyssa for patience.  The girls were trying so hard not to laugh.  Harley himself was struggling not to let the giggles that had overtaken him at the scene before him burst out.  Faren looked so serious that is might have been adorable.  Had it been anyone other than Faren, that is.   

Harley gestured for the others to follow behind him, forcing himself to concentrate on the task at hand. Rescuing the rest of the kidnapped citizens was far more important than roasting Faren over a verbal spit.

It only took them a moment to reach the farmhouse, the blond’s eyes falling shut as he tried listening for anyone actively in the room just beyond their ears. “Nothing. Either they’re being quiet or no one’s there.” Either way, they had to be careful.

“Are you sure it’s safe here? We left a lot of wounded behind. They could talk.”

Well that voice certainly sounded nervous. Guilty conscience?

“They’ll keep quiet. Everyone knows what we do to a snitch.” Ugh. Now that particular woman sounded excessively creepy.

Seeing the locked and probably bolted door, Harley couldn’t help but smirk and glance back at Ra. “Guess it’s time for a little shock and awe…”

“Harlequin…” Ra glared at the other man, wondering what the hell the blond was about to do.

“Well we have two choices. One of the ladies can blast the door down with magic or I can barrel in and knock out the bastards in the room.” Harley didn’t wait for the smaller man to respond before he was up on his feet and stood a few paces away from the door. “Glinda, feel like adding a little oomph?”

A bloodthirsty grin came onto the pixie’s face before her staff glowed white, bringing a distinct crackle to the air around Harley. Yea, he would knock the door in and the electric charge around him would cause a rather unpretty and painful effect on anyone he ran into. A heavy boot impacted against the door’s hinges, knocking it completely open and tearing a hole in the weak, scorched old wood of the farmhouse wall from the electricity crackling on Harley’s armor.

A few quick swipes of his shield sufficiently knocked out the two bandits in the room, crumpling them to the floor. “Okay, everybody’s dead!”

Faren bounced into the room behind Harley, practically humming with excitement as the five made their way down the stairs into an empty basement. It looked like things had been moved from here but nothing he could do about investigating that now.

A quick glance around the dark and cool area let him take  notice of a rather large hole in the far wall leading out into what looked like a large cave and rickety wooden railings everywhere. “You all stay back for a minute. I’ll motion when it’s safe.”

The blond didn’t wait for them to respond, shifting forward out into the open area. The change from rock to wood under his feet brought a low groan from the wood and he winced, knowing that getting anywhere with any amount of stealth would be impossible here.

“Ah, there they are!” Harley cursed lowly and roundly, glaring at Faren...who had somehow managed to sneak around him and stand out in plain view of the impromptu wooden tower created that held what looked like multiple cages from trappers.

“Intruders! Man the turret!”

“Fuck.” Harley’s emphatic cursing brought him to tighten his hold on his shield, glancing behind him to ensure that the other three were at least in a safe distance before he dragged Faren behind him, using his shield to deflect turret fire. “Glinda! Selena! Light ‘em up!”

Harley banged down on his shield with his sword, the resonating sound bringing up a glowing shield of golden energy as he moved forward, trying not to listen to Faren’s words behind him.

“If these scoundrels bleed on my fine apparel, I’m sending them the cleaning bill.”

“What are YOU doing here, silk drawers?” One of the bandits jumped up onto the railing of the wooden bridge, aiming her dual guns at Faren before the blond Guardian was able to knock her off balance with the impact of his sword against her knees and she toppled over the edge, a sickening crunch echoing through their ears as she hit the rocky ground below. Harley’s heart nearly dropped down into his stomach once he caught sight of Machinegun Kelly. “Shit. Shitshitshit.”

“Do you think anyone will question if Faren somehow...miraculously...disappeared after our gun-toting friend?” Ra drawled near Harley’s ear, watching Faren dueling like a flailing child with one of the bandits just ahead of them. Damned bastard had bolted out from behind Harley’s protective shield and the two elementalists were raining down fiery hell on the others.

Harley was tightening the straps of his shield on his arm, distracted, and therefore did not think before the words left his mouth. “If you time it with the turret firing no one would know the difference.” It took the blond all of half a beat before his eyes widened and he glared at his dark-haired lord. “Really? No, no, you can’t kill Faren. Remember, we are socially and economically ruining him and watching him deteriorate.”



“But your idea is-”

“No, Prettybird.” Harley cut the other off, cuffing him lightly on the shoulder with his gauntlet before turning his attention back to the fight. ...except there wasn’t one. “It appears the girls got a little overzealous.”

The five residents of Divinity’s Reach began the task of unlocking the cages, allowing the captives out one cage at a time. One of the servants, a young female, was practically on her knees, praying to them in thanks. “Thank you so much, all of you. I will never forget this.”

Harley hoisted her up onto her feet, nudging her after the rest of the group that was starting to make their way out of the cave system. “You’re still in danger.”

Ra gestured for the woman to follow him, leading the way back towards the main group that had traveled ahead. “Gather with the others and head down that tunnel. You can escape through the abandoned farmhouse.”

“And if you know any fair maidens, be sure to tell them who rescued you: the dashing Lord Faren...and his friends.”

“...No, there aren’t any more turrets, Ra. We’re going to have to figure something else out.” Harley didn’t even need the dark-haired Mesmer to say anything when the other gave him that look.

The girl reached into her apron, tugging out a sheaf of parchment. “Before I go, take these. I lifted from the bandits when they were manhandling me. They mention some kind of leader in Divinity’s Reach. Is that helpful?”

Ra took the papers in hand, a slow smile coming onto that handsome face as they walked. “It is indeed. Thank you.”

“Now please, go. We’ll make sure you get out of here safely.” Harley could see Glinda and Selena near the front of the procession, leading the way out. He wasn’t happy with the two of them being in the front lines but there was still the greater danger of more bandits coming into the central tunnel than of them coming back to the farmhouse.

“Excellent work, my friends!” Faren came up behind the two of them, wrapping an arm around each of their shoulders and seemed to miraculously miss the action of their spines stiffening in disgust. “Now, let us depart from these dank surroundings! They aren’t fit for shining beacons of heroism like ourselves.”

Ra let out an exasperated sigh. “Lyssa please, take me now…”

Harley shrugged Faren’s arm off of his shoulder and threw his own arm over Ra’s slender shoulders, tugging the other away from the damned touchy-feely fop. “No, you are not allowed to die yet, damn Prettybird.”

Ra immediately answered with his traditional pigeon cooing, making Harley smile and squeeze the younger man just a bit closer before letting go. “Come on, I’m getting a bad feeling about how easy this feels.”

The three lagging behind worked their way around to the front, taking note of sounds ahead in the tunnel. “...of course.” Harley grunted, glancing back at the people behind them as they began to panic.

“Everyone, keep calm! Just stay together and keep moving!” Selena called back to the rescued party, noting the villagers and nobles alike in various stages of emotional overwrought. The Slytherin Countesses voice seemed to be just what they needed, quieting down slightly for a moment before the sight of bandits shadowing their exit sent them back into a herd of bleating sheep.

“Think we’re gonna let you out of this cave alive? Not a chance!” One of the bandits leapt towards Selena, only to be knocked away by a simple wave of the dark-haired woman’s staff and a blast of Air magic sending him barreling back into his compatriots like a game of human bowling.

Glinda took up Harley’s urge to shout and bounced up into the air, “Strike! Good one, Selena!”

The coolly beautiful countess gave a small curtsy in thanks, that wicked grin on her face a little out of place with her usual demeanor.

Thankfully dealing with the remaining few that had maintained consciousness were easily taken care of as they led the rescued villagers and nobles out of the farmhouse.  As they reached the landing and the entry, they were greeted by several Seraph soldiers, led by Captain Douche-Thackaray, Captain Thackaray.  Harley sensed Glinda tense next to him, her smile almost faltering.  

“Captain Thackeray! We’ve had the MOST marvelous adventure! My friends and I defeated these delinquents with panache AND aplomb. You’re just in time to celebrate our victory.” Faren was a puffed up little peacock, standing in front of Logan and a scattering of Seraph soldiers.

Logan seemed to be in some shade of shock before his training kicked in and he concentrated on the other four that were making sure everyone was getting out of the farmhouse and reporting to the Seraph in case they needed medical attention or help getting home.

“I’m...amazed. Then again, I should have known that the Heroes of Shaemoor wouldn’t let your kidnapping go unanswered.”

“No one hurts our friends without answering to me.” Glinda huffed, tossing a lock of stray red curls behind her shoulder before turning her attention to one of the captured children who was trying to show off her dolly.

Ra was still beside Harley, looking over the papers in his hands. “This letter was found in the bandit cave. Someone in Divinity’s Reach is pulling their strings.”

“No common thug would use such expensive parchment. There’s a papermaker at the trading post named Cin Fursarai--terribly prickly man but I bet he could identify the design.” Faren interjected himself back into the conversation, standing close enough to Harley to make the blond Guardian’s hand twitch towards his sword. He really just wanted to bash the bastard’s pretty face in. It wasn’t nearly as pretty as Ra’s but then again no one could be as pretty as Ra.   

“Logan, I’ll go talk to the papermaker. We need to get that information without anyone realizing that the Seraph are aware of a traitor in the city.” The blond stepped closer to his brunette friend, watching the other’s eyes try and fail to pull themselves away from Glinda, who was still entertaining the small girl by making the girl’s dolly dance around the room on it’s own, much to the small child’s laughter and amusement.  Glinda was very good with children, that was for sure.  Logan finally managed to wrench his eyes off of Glinda (with great difficulty and pain, Harley noted) and turned back to the blonde.  “A sound plan,” the captain said, calmly.  “I’m grateful for the help, but be careful.  Whoever is behind this plot is obviously playing rough.  Once you have the information we need, I’ll be in the Seraph headquarters waiting for you.”

Harley nodded in understanding.  Glinda beamed, and said cheekily, “Don’t worry Logan.  Harley will be fine, he’ll have us with him, so -”

“Actually,” Ra cut in, “He won’t have us, Glinda.”

All present turned to face him in shock.  Harley recovered first.  “And why is this?”

Ra smiled that damned-too-beautiful half smile of his, and rolled his eyes in amusement.  “There is a major Ministry meeting tomorrow, and we are all required to attend.  I don’t know how long it will last, but I doubt it will leave us any time to assist, since you shouldn’t leave off asking the papermaker any questions until we are done.” He sighed, dramatically.  “I guess… Harley will just have to handle this one on his own… without parental supervision!”

The girls (even the little girl beside Glinda) let out a collective, dramatic gasp, all covering their mouths in false horror.  Ra seemed very pleased with himself.  Harley glowered at the object of his heart’s desire,  and said cooly, “Very funny, Ra.”

Ra smiled, and added, “Don’t worry, Harlequin.  We will make sure we are all present in the Seraph headquarters in order to hear you report on what you’ve learned.  And we will be able to assist with any further investigations thereafter.  So you only have to be without someone to hold your hand this once.”  

Harley rolled his eyes before taking the parchment away from Ra and tucking it into the storage pouch at his waist. Sometimes he seriously wondered about these nobles. The lack of anything to really do seemed to mess with their heads. Deep down, he knew Ra was much busier than most nobles in the Ministry (the price of being Jennah’s favorite), but that was different, and didn’t really count that much.  Technically.  

Logan clapped Harley on the shoulder, sharing a commiserating grin with the blond. “Good luck with Fursarai.”

“Indeed! He’s as cordial as a skale with a bowel disorder.” Faren added his unnecessary two copper in, straightening out the imaginary mess that had apparently become of his hair.

“Oh you aren’t coming, Lord Faren?” Harley asked raising an eyebrow. He was feeling particularly catty right now for some reason.

“I would be of little help. You see,, might have...threatened him before. It’s a silly story, but I imagine he’s displease with me, so I will be sitting this one out.”

Harley actively took a step towards Faren, both eyebrows raised and that impish grin on his face that never boded well for any that were on the receiving end of it. “Oh, I have got to hear this. Do tell, Faren.” He could see the other trying to decide whether the potential embarrassment was worth Harley’s undivided attention...until the larger man gave a small pout and blinked wide, golden eyes at the unprepared Lord. “Please?”

Glinda was nearly beside herself with the little girl, doing her absolute best to not laugh her ass off while trying to keep the little one entertained. They had to keep her with them until her parents were found but the girl’s current state of dress did not give them any clues as to her parentage or station since the item was ripped and dirtied beyond repair. Ra was busy placating  the emotionally charged former captives, but Harley knew he was listening in.  Ra loved getting dirt on other nobles, things he could use to get his way in the Ministry.  

“Well...I used his paper to send an anonymous letter to a lovely young lady. Somehow it ended up in the hands of her fiance. The man talked to Fursarai, who subsequently ratted me out.” Faren looked very sheepish about it, but not repentant, that was for sure. “He -the fiance- he… talked to Fursarai, who then ratted me out.”  

Harley heard a derisive snort of suppressed laughter, and glanced back to see Ra, busy counting out money to pay for the servant’s needs to be fixed -ever the philanthropist- with a sardonic smile on his gorgeous face.  “I imagine you had some strong words for him afterwards, did you?”

Faren flushed crimson.  “Well yes!  After what the lady’s fiance threatened to do to me, wouldn’t you?”

“No!” chorused the three nobles, in unison.  Faren looked a little startled, but continued.  “So anyways, I… kinda told Fursarai I’d have him tied up and thrown to… to the bears.”  He then saw the looks of disbelief and scepticism on the others’ faces and must have mistaken it to be horror, because he hastened to add, “No need to worry, my friends, it was all bluster, of course!  But he did seem to take it quite seriously.”  

At this, Glinda couldn’t hold her giggles in any longer and fell over on her side, positively howling, which immediately got the others in the room laughing as well.  Harley, chuckling slightly, put a hand firmly on Faren’s shoulder and said, through his own laughter, “My… my lord, you are a… unique… collection of… of very bad ideas, that’s for sure.”  

Ra, who was leaning on the doorframe for support, snorted with derisive laughter again, and choked out, “That’s putting it mildly, my Harlequin!”

If Faren had retorted something, Harley wasn’t sure.  His brain had temporarily disengaged and he was lost in his thoughts for a moment.  Had Ra -the Ra Ravenclaw, Duke of Ebonhawke and Minister of Kryta, his sworn liege- really just called Harley ‘his’!?  No, surely he’d misheard.  But.. if he had…


He started, returning to the present.  All three of his friends were staring at him, two with concern and one with disbelief.  Glinda touched a cool, dainty hand to his cheek.  “Are you alright? You looked lost for a second.”  

Harley forced a laugh and gently batted away Glinda’s hand, which was now feeling his jugular.  “I’m absolutely fine, I promise you.  At any rate, we should head back before anyone starts to worry.”  

The others agreed, and after bidding farewell to Lord Faren and Logan (who had agreed to make sure that the sex addict made it home safely and in a timely fashion with no trouble at all),  the four returned to their homes to rest and prepare for the next day’s adventures.  

Track This Story:    Feed

Write a Review

out of 10


Get access to every new feature the moment it comes out.

Register Today!