Chapter Four: The Trial of Julius Zamon

It was a rather exhausted Harley Hufflepuff that made his way through the front door of Ravenclaw Manor, waving half-heartedly to the few servants mulling around at that time of the morning as he beelined straight for the Tower.


A few moments of quiet thought in front of Kormir had turned into assisting the Priestess of Kormir with carrying a rather heavy looking bundle of books halfway across Divinity’s Reach and then getting himself dragged into assisting with a few other things around the Temple until almost dawn. Now he was finally home and hopefully he could get a quick shower and a catnap before having to go to the training fields and kicking Lex’s skinny ass halfway across the camp.


This whole past week had been insane. With Ra getting ready for the trial itself, looking over statements and witness testimony, evidence...The poor boy had barely left the library except to head into the Ministry when he had to and Harley had barely seen him. It wasn’t too rare for that to happen so Harley had been put on errand-boy duty for the Lord and Lady Ravenclaw for the week...hence why he had gotten abused by Dwayna’s Faithful. What he was worried about was the fact that he had also rarely seen Reth at all this past week and every time he did it seemed like he was in pain for some reason that he wasn’t willing to share. Probably got his ass kicked by the wrong guy again.


Shedding his armor in his room, Harley took a long moment to stretch out the kinks in his back, happily hearing the cracks and pops of abused muscles before walking back out his bedroom door wearing only his usual slacks and sleeveless shirt. He knew Ra would have to be awake soon so that he could do whatever was needed to prep for the trial. Hopefully his Raven wouldn’t be too grouchy this morning. Having a grouchy and gripey Ra Ravenclaw after him in the morning never made for a good day.


The blond barely stopped to knock on the door before he pushed it open, muttering under his breath about pretty bastards that slept like the dead. “Ra? C’mon, we gotta get ready. I gotta get to the training fie--” The words froze in Harley’s throat as if someone had used one of Selena’s Water magic spells on his vocal chords.


There was no possible way that this was happening. He wasn’t seeing this.


Every morning Harley saw the same thing. Ra usually bunkered down in his sheets and blankets like some sort of baby bird in a nest. This was not ‘baby bird’.


A shirtless Ra, from what he could see, was laid out flat on his back on the bed. The sheets had twisted around his legs and the bed’s...other occupant. Alexander Reth was using Ra’s chest as a pillow, one toned arm resting on Ra’s firm stomach, the other tucked in at his side.  


It was rather easy to see that neither of them were wearing any clothes and considering the smell of sweat and other things Harley would really rather not think of at the moment that were circulating in the room...nope. The blond Guardian turned on his heel and walked back out the door, shutting it behind him as quietly as he could before heading back into his room and the shared bathroom set behind their bedrooms.


He moved as if on automatic, stripping himself briskly of his clothing even as a feeling of numbness slowly took over each of his senses. He couldn’t see, he couldn’t think, he barely felt like he could breathe. It wasn’t until the blond was already in the bath full of steaming hot water that he realized he was shaking, he could barely keep hold of the cloth in his hands.


Ra had slept with Lex. His friend, Lex. His only friend that wasn’t in any way connected with his guild of four. The friend that didn’t judge him on being a Sworn Shield and a former street urchin...his first kiss from another man. Lex had slept with Ra. Ra, his charge and best friend for so long it was hard to remember a time that they hadn’t been joined at the hip. He had always assumed Ra was straight, especially considering the talk the two of them had had when Ra was only sixteen. That talk had been the nail in the coffin for Harley’s hopes but he had been content being the raven-haired man’s friend. Obviously Ra was not straight. He was at the very least heteroflexible, if not bisexual. That information, and Ra’s choice of bed partner, told Harley in every term he could think of that the blond was not the Ravenclaw heir’s type. Which meant that he had no chance, had never had a chance.


Harley tugged his legs closer to his chest, wrapping his arms tightly around them as he laid his head on top of his knees and allowed himself to cry as a few more cracks crisscrossed his heart. The tears felt hot and uncomfortable on his face but at least he could get it out of his head. He could get Ra out of his head...and eventually, maybe his heart. The water was lukewarm as the tears finally faded and Harley went through the motions of getting himself cleaned up, drying off and stuffing himself into his underclothes as well as his training armor.


Steeling himself as he left his hair loose down around his face, feeling it brushing against his neck and across the top of his shoulders, Harley walked back to Ra’s room and pushed the door back open to see them both still asleep, cuddled together as sweetly as could be.


A look outside told him he had been in the bath for nearly an hour since the sun had gone a decent bit higher into the sky. Harley stepped closer to the bed and tapped Reth’s shoulder. “Lex.”


The brunette grunted, burrowing himself deeper into Ra’s chest as if to get away from Harley’s poking fingers.


Harley sighed, shaking his head. Big dope. He didn’t want to wake up Ra but… “Come on, Lex, wake up.” He muttered, poking him a bit harder before deciding to poke the brunette in the side.


Reth swiped out a hand as if to shoo him away but those gluey baby blues were opening and focused on Harley before those very same eyes widened in abject horror. “Harley…”


Oh so he didn’t even get his nickname now. Harley flicked the stray strand of blond hair out of his face. “Come on, you were already supposed to be heading to the training field with me and Ra needs to get ready for the trial. Go grab the bath, the servants have probably already switched it out.”


Harley’s brunette friend nodded as if unable to really comprehend what the blond was saying but he eventually got out of the bed after untangling his feet from the sheets, thankfully preserving whatever bits of modesty Ra had left when it came to Harley and rushed into the adjoining bathroom so Harley could get started on waking Ra.


Upon closer inspection of the bed’s now-only occupant, Harley raised an eyebrow. “If you’re awake, get up. I’ll be waiting on Lex to get to the training fields while you prep for trial.” Harley knew the blue-eyed Lord would  be able tell something was wrong but at the moment Harley felt too emotionally raw to care. What he wanted was to go to the training field and brutalize a few people. Lex might or might not be on that list.


Harley left the room, leaning back against the wall to wait for the brunette. When the messy-haired young man finally came out of Ra’s room, dressed back in his armor with bow and quiver stuck to his back, Harley led the way down the stairs and out into the street without saying a word. That answered Reth’s quiet question of, “So...exactly how much trouble am I in?”


A silent Harley was a dangerous Harley, as many people tended to find out the hard way.


Reth tried to stay as quiet as possible on their way to the field before he sighed and grabbed Harley’s shoulder, gesturing to their usual food cart where they would grab pastries and coffee before training.


Harley shrugged the other’s hand off of him, muttering something about not being hungry. He knew that if he ate something right now he would probably just throw it back up.


Alexander Reth felt a deep sense of chill building in his stomach. Harley hadn’t been like this since his nineteenth birthday and Ra had been ignored for days afterwards. At least he was still...somewhat talking.


“Come on, Ley, tell me what I did. Whatever it is, I’m sorry…”


Harley’s eyes narrowed before he turned back to the street and kept walking. “I need to go beat up something. Now.”


….oh those poor, unsuspecting trainees. The Ministry and Seraph weren’t going to have any trainees willing to stay after going through their paces with Harley Hufflepuff in a mood.


The Ministry guard sped up his steps, stopping Harley from continuing his walk. He flinched at the glare thrown his way by his best friend, knowing that the look could have been much worse. “Get out of the way, Alexander.”


“Oh so you’re using my full name, now? Look, I’m sorry but I’m not sorry! all happened so fast and he was flirting with me and then we were kissing and he invited me to stay and we’ve been seeing a lot of each other this past week…I know he’s your friend but…”


The wince that came across Harley’s face brought Reth up short, staring up at his taller friend in shock. Oh gods...this wasn’t about him sleeping with his friend and sworn lord, no. This was having his best friend outside of his guild sleeping with the man that he was pretty sure Harley was in love with.


“Oh, Grenth take me now. Harley, I…” This quiet, icy anger made so much more sense now. If Ra was the one that Harley had talked about the few times they had decided to bring up their love lives, or lack thereof...Oooh he was in so much trouble. The two had promised to tell each other if they started something like this. He hadn’t held up his promise to Harley...or given any real thought to Harley’s offer not that long ago...oh gods he had screwed up so bad!


Harley didn’t even let him finish. “Just forget it. He can do whatever he wants, you can do whatever you want...I,” Harley’s voice cracked at this point but he soldiered on. “I don’t care. So long as you’re both happy, I will be. Just...It’ll take a minute.”


Reth would have preferred receiving a sword to the gut then seeing the look on Harley’s face. Harley was invincible. The man could carve his way through anything with nothing but a shield and a sword or mace and barely break a sweat. He could drink Logan Thackeray under the table and ask for more takers with that big grin on his face. He’d helped so many of their Seraph friends through heartbreaks, sexuality realizations and marriage proposals that the man could have been a matchmaker in another life. At least he knew enough about all of that not to let his friends and acquaintances screw them up too badly. But...Reth had never seen his friend, his first kiss and the man that helped him realize he was gay, look like that...and it hurt like nothing else to know that he was the cause.


“Does he make you happy?” Harley asked, staring at him with those wet, molten gold eyes that would have made a Dwarf proud.


Reth nodded, that tightness in his chest getting worse. “Yes. This week has been...everything I hoped it would be and...I want to be with him. If he’ll have me.”


The blond nodded, running his large hand through that thick, loose hair before sighing. “Then I’ll make sure he knows that if he asks. You don’t have to worry about me.” Harley’s entire form shuddered for a second like he was going to collapse but he pulled himself back together and once again it was like looking at a human forged out of Deldrimor steel. “Come on, let’s go.”


Of course the Seraph and the Ministry were out a few trainees and even officers before the end of their time on the training field, many of them paying the price for Harley’s emotional suppression coming out in the form of extreme violence.


Reth wanted to return to the barracks to get cleaned up and into his more formal armor for the Ministry trial later while Harley returned home to do the same but the blond dragged him back to Ravenclaw Tower with him. Neither of them ever having been very shy about their bodies with each other, Harley and Reth put themselves through another bath, Lex loosely braiding his friends damp hair and watching him dress in his Ravensworn armor before heading down to the Tower’s library-study-common room to look for Ra. Harley didn’t want to see the dark-haired man right now but it appeared he had no real choice. But when they got there, the raven-haired young noble was not there.  Harley paused, thinking.  Where could he be?


“Maybe he headed up to the Ministry early?” Reth offered, looking up at Harley, who shook his head.  


“Nah, Ra hates that place too much on a normal day to be up there this early.” Not to mention, Ra hated being up at the crack of dawn.  He was a night owl, not a morning songbird.


They headed down the stairs together, sorta discussing the new recruits (or what was left of them), when laughter reached their ears, coming from the main library.  There were three libraries in the Ravenclaw Manor.  The largest was also Lord Ravenclaw’s personal study.  The second was open to general public, even the servants.  The last was up in the tower shared by Ra and Harley, and was usually Ra’s office space.  


Upon entering the largest library, they found the source of the noise.  Ra Ravenclaw, fully dressed and bathed and sipping a cup of tea, was reading over a large stack of papers on one of the comfy couches, sprawled across the entire thing.  The one across from Ra was occupied by Glinda Gryffindor and Selena Slytherin, both sitting upright and sipping their own tea, apparently sharing a joke which Ra didn’t find funny, or wasn’t paying attention to.  


Harley cleared his throat.  The girls looked up and greeted the men, but Ra didn’t even look up, let alone acknowledge that anyone was there.  His sapphire eyes stayed glued to the parchment in his hand.  Reth shot Harley an apologetic look before he walked over to Ra.  Ra looked up from his papers, a warm smile gracing his lips as he and Reth shared a brief, sweet kiss before Reth snuggled into Ra’s lap and Ra returned to his papers.  


The blond took his usual seat in the armchair in between the sofas, hearing the clink of his armor even as he relaxed in the chair.


Selena couldn’t seem to take her eyes off of Ra and Reth before Harley offered her a small smile. “Sorry if we’re late. Lex here decided he was going to get in the way of me and a trainee.”


Reth laughed from his spot in Ra’s lap, still feeling the phantom pain from the introduction of mace to chestplate. “Oh you mean the, and I quote,”


Both men spoke at the same time, smiles on their faces like this morning’s drama hadn’t happened at all. “The bitch that doesn’t know any better.”


Glinda blinked, glancing at Ra. It was strange that he hadn’t said anything yet...she was used to him not being able to comment when someone used one of ‘his’ lines. Did something happen this morning that she didn’t know about? Well, other than the obvious of Ra having slept with Ministry Guard Alexander ‘Call me Lex’ Reth...Harley’s best friend outside of their little group and constant drinking buddy/sparring partner. Had Harley walked in on them or something?


Well, having his two best friends sleep with each other probably would hurt, especially since she was pretty certain that Harley had a larger crush on one than he had on the other...Oh well, the boys would handle it in their own time. Now she just had to keep Selena from making a scene.


Harley, of course, would not hesitate to remind Selena that the two heirs were loosely betrothed in an agreement of ‘If the children turn this age without becoming married to someone eligible, they will wed each other to join the houses’. He’d attended the same lessons they had when it came to some of that double-talk. The fact that Ra had been seeing Reth pretty frequently over the past week told him all he really needed to know about how serious this was going to turn out to be.


Reth, noting Ra’s rather tense posture, sighed and shifted his body against the other’s sprawled form to whisper in his ear so the other’s could not hear them. “Ley and I talked and everything is fine. I’m sorry I had to leave this morning...”


At this point Harley decided to ball up a napkin and toss it at Reth’s head, watching the soft cloth lay itself out over the top of the man’s messy head before he blew out a breath that only fluttered one side up out of his face and let loose with a snicker. “Oh ha ha, Ley. Jerk.”


“You know you love me.” Harley grinned, sticking his tongue out at the other before Reth was able to slide the napkin off of his head and toss it back at him, watching it flutter uselessly to the floor. “Ha! Failure.” The blond grabbed the napkin from where it fell on the ground, settling it on the small coffee table.


Reth snuggled deeper into Ra’s arms, trying to nudge the raven-haired youth into the conversation. “Yes, yes, I know. Not all of us can be such perfect specimens of hulking, non-Norn manliness like you now can we?”


Harley couldn’t help but laugh at that one, noting that Selena and Glinda were laughing as well. “Now now, you, good sir, are taken. You can’t talk about me like that anymore.”


The brunette let out a small pout and snapped his fingers. “Damn. No more messing with the Seraph and the rest of the Guard so that they never know what’s going on.”


“They never know what’s going on anyway.” Glinda, Selena, and Harley all said as one.  Even Ra joined in on that one, his eyes never left his parchment, and his voice was a blank monotone.  


From the looks on Selena and Glinda’s faces, that was the first thing they had heard from Ra all morning. But the Ravenclaw was already concentrated on his papers. He had made a rather large dent in that humongous stack of papers but there was still a ways to go and only a few more hours until the trial itself was supposed to start.


Harley could tell that Ra was ignoring him, he had been on the receiving end of the Silent Treatment ™ more often than he could count for one reason or another. He just hoped that they were able to reconcile whatever was wrong before the trial started...he wouldn’t put it past Zamon to keep something in his sleeve to trip them up.




Less than an hour before the trial was set to begin, Harley stood up from his seat and helped the ladies out of their seats with a slight smile from each.


Reth watched him easily pluck the both of them out of their seat with one hand each and muttered, “Show off.” The brunette made to get off of his comfortable perch, and he promised he hadn’t been about to fall asleep with Ra’s fingers carding through his hair, but Harley’s hand in front of him made him smirk and accept the hand and the help up until his feet were firmly on the ground, turning on his heel and offering a hand to Ra so that he could do the same.


Both of the heavy armor members of the small group had noticed Ra’s inattention towards Harley but they assumed that once they actually got set into the trial he would stop with the cold shoulder treatment. Reth pressed a kiss to the hand that had been placed in his own before helping his lover out of his graceful slouch in the comfortable sofa.


Harley led the way down the stairs out to the carriage waiting for the five of them, courtesy of Countess Anise...Apparently they couldn’t be trusted to show up on time and not find trouble on the way.


Unfortunately only four of them would fit in the carriage itself so Harley forced Reth to join them inside the safety of the horse-drawn carriage and took a seat next to the driver as they wove their way through the city towards the palace and the halls of the Ministry.


Upon arrival, Harley dismounted from his perch, gently pulling open the door and kicking down the footstand so that he could help the ladies out first as he was trained to do. The group of five easily ignored the footmen and guards that littered the entryway into the Ministry area, Harley falling a step behind and to the right of his friends, watching as Reth did the same.


The brunette had to officially break off from them as they hit the meeting halls, moving to take his place along the walls with the other Ministry Guards.


The Guardian kept pace with his friends, eyes flickering over the area as a whole, keeping an ear towards the conversation as Ra stepped towards Anise and offering her a warm kiss on the hand.


“Oh dear Ra, I haven't had this much fun since I discovered the agriculture minister was stealing truffles.” Anise fluttered her eyelashes flirtatiously, giving the dark-haired youth a knowing look that said she knew everything that had been happening since they had last parted and that she expected details to be forthcoming.  Harley knew Ra well enough, however, to know that he would never reveal details of his own love life without exacting a severe price from another for it.  In this case, if Anise wanted to know about Ra’s change in lover, she would have to surrender a memory or secret that could damn her.  Or Logan.  Or the Queen.  Or all of the above.  


It also was clear that, while aware of the details of how and what had happened, Anise was blissfully unaware of whom Ra had chosen, or she would have just outright said something to him.  Ra and Reth had agreed that, outside of the Ravenclaw Mansion, they would not show any affection, only professionalism, until after the trial.  If any word of Ra dating a witness got out, then any testimony Reth gave and the credibility both men had would be thrown out.  Hence Ra’s silence and indifference towards Anise’s subtle hints.  

“I remember that blustery old fool. He swore that his pet pig had dug them up by accident.” Logan muttered from his place off to Anise’s left, nodding to Harley in acknowledgement.


Anise gave a soft laugh, covering her mouth with her black-gloved hand. “The tricky part was telling him from his pig.” Anise turned back to Ra.  “Now then, my young friend, are you ready to present the case?”


Harley had to stifle a soft snicker at the thought of Ra not being ready for something, specifically not something as important as this. Glinda and Selena seemed to share this sentiment, even Logan covered his mouth with his hand to try and cover the slight chuckle that tried to come out.


Ra merely rolled his sapphire eyes in annoyance, and flipped his head, that raven’s wing of black bangs coming back down to settle across his eye in that flawless way that only he ever seemed to be capable of.  “I've gone over everything a dozen times. Unless something goes horribly wrong, we'll get our man.”

“Well, Minister Caudecus is waiting. Signal him when you're ready. Good luck, and may Lyssa bless you with unparalleled eloquence.” Countess Anise offered a small smile, taking a few steps back to get a better view of the proceedings at large.

There were quite a few people in attendance today, more than Harley was used to seeing at least. He sincerely doubted anyone here was hoping to see justice dealt, most people probably wanted to watch a Minister get slapped.

A scrawny young man, probably no older than Harley himself but thin as a rake with an oversized moustache on his face, cleared his throat to try and get the crowd’s attention. “Hear ye! The trial of Minister Julius Zamon is hereby called to order, Legate Minister Caudecus presiding. Who stands for the prosecution?”

Ra stepped out from the circle of his group of friends, tall and confident as always. “I do, your honor.  We have acquired evidence proving Minister Zamon conspired against the citizens of Divinity's Reach. He abused his authority to commit thievery, murder, and treason.”

Harley could practically hear the awe and undivided attention Ra was under at the moment from the courtroom at large. He couldn’t blame them...even knowing that Ra and Reth were an item, he couldn’t really take his eyes off of the dark-haired young man.

Ra’s hands clasped behind his  back, those sapphire eyes refusing to remove themselves from their point of concentration: the accused. “We will present incriminating documents and sworn testimony from respected members of the community, including the sister of the accused.”

Minister Caudecus looked a little pale, even for a usual day, and Harley could see sweat dotting along the odious man’s forehead. “The prosecution seems to have prepared quite a compelling case. Minister Zamon, can you refute these dire accusations?”

Zamon scoffed, looking perfectly unaffected by anything that was going on, his muscle-bound brute at his elbow like always. “Refute? Why bother? My Lord Caudecus, in accordance with the most ancient tenets of Krytan law, I invoke my right to trial by combat.”

There was a light in Caudecus’ eyes that Harley didn’t like. His hand went down to his waist, fingers brushing over the hilt of his sword to reassure himself that if anything decided to go straight to Grenth in an iron maiden and set itself on fire, he would be prepared. “This court accepts your invocation. By law and custom, you may choose a second to fight with you in the circle.”

A greasy smile crossed Zamon’s face as if that had been the plan all along…and the four friends didn’t doubt that it very well could have been. “Thank you. Legate Minister. I choose my retainer, Eitel the Unlovable, as my second.”

Yep, something was definitely going on. Zamon was a veritable milquetoast of a Lord, let alone a Minister...there was no way that he could have known about or thought about utilizing such an outdated law.

The clearing of Caudecus’ throat cut through the buzzing of whispers that went up from the general populace of the hall at the request and allowance. “The prosecution must also nominate a principal and a second, or forfeit the case.”

Yep, there was a definite dash of worry in all three sets of eyes, though Harley would have bet some good amount of gold that Eitel was too dumb to understand fear. Going up against one of the Heroes of Shaemoor was not something to take lightly, especially when the assumption would be that he would request the Seraph Captain to stand as his Second.

Ra heard the hisses aimed at him from every side. Logan, Anise, Selena, Glinda, Faren...everyone but Reth and Harley were trying to poke at him to make him choose them as his second.

“I will be the principal, Legate Minister. My second will be my Sworn Shield, Harley Hufflepuff.”

The silence from those surrounding Ra and Harley was almost deafening to the point that everyone in their circle heard Harley mutter, “Birdbrain say what now?” Those golden eyes looked for Reth, catching those blue eyes with his own with a questioning ‘what?!’ that Reth could only shrug in answer to.

Harley sighed and stepped out, away from the wall their friends made in the crowd to stand beside Ra, sliding his shield onto his arm on reflex.

Minister Caudecus pasted on a smile that would only have fooled a complete moron. “An...interesting choice. For the record, let it be known that this duel will continue until both members of one side surrender or are defeated. If Lord Zamon proves victorious, he is innocent. The case is thrown out and these charges against him may not be brought again. If you win, then Zamon is found guilty of this crime.”

Ra nodded his head, fingering the scabbard at his waist. “I understand.”

“When you are in position, the trial by combat shall proceed. Good luck to you all. May justice prevail.” Minister Caudecus took his seat, fingers steepled in front of him to watch the proceedings like the rest of the people in the hall.

Harley watched Eitel and Zamon shift into the center of the room, the norn cracking his knuckles and trying to look fierce. Harley had honestly seen more terrifying looks from Ra when he was woken up in the morning. “So, what’s the plan?” Harley asked, glancing at the shorter male to try and get an idea of what was going on, only for Ra to disappear from his sight. “...guess there is no plan. Thanks, Ra.”

Harley readied his sword in hand, gripping it tightly before deciding to just do his typical thing and rush on in headfirst.

Eitel was at least mostly skilled, but had none of the training that the Seraph or any traditional soldier would have had to go through. The man had obviously only trained in an off-the-cuff style that left him with far too many openings.

Harley’s problem was the magic emanating from Julius Zamon. The bastard was an elementalist and was battering his shield repeatedly with blasts of wind and ice, trying to trip him up with fire ringing around his feet. The two of them at the same time was proving to be irritating.

The blond growled, twisting his body around to use Eitel’s hulking form as a shield, knowing that Zamon wouldn’t have enough control to try and stop a fireball mid-cast and watched the pain in Eitel’s eyes once the searing pain hit his spine right before Harley used his shield to do a firm introduction of chin-to-shield and knocking the big brute out cold, only for him to be hit point-blank with a Water Blast to the chest. The blond barely kept himself from falling onto his ass, bringing up his shield to try and protect himself from as much of the elements bearing him down. He was definitely gonna be bruised from that later.

Zamon’s eyes gained a wild gleam from where Harley was standing, knowing the look of a man who was about to do something unquestionably stupid before he unleashed a Static Field on the floor. The sudden electricity dancing against his armor made Harley grunt, falling to his knees at the pain that made spots dance in front of his eyes.

Through his pain-glazed gaze, Harley could see a familiar black and blue blob appearing to Zamon’s left before Julius Zamon’s laughter rattled off into silence with the sickening noise of a sword being shoved through someone’s chest. The magic lightning died off as soon as Harley hear that noise, telling him that Zamon was dead even before he heard the sound of the body hitting the floor like a sack of bad potatoes.

“Victory is declared! According to the dictates of Krytan law, Minister Zamon is found guilty.” Minister Caudecus grouched, forcing himself to raise his voice so that the hall could hear him, glaring death at the two young upstarts that had killed a Minister, even during a sanctioned battle.  

“Minister Caudecus does not look happy.” Anise muttered to her female friends, not trying to hide the glimmer of glee in her eyes at the thought of someone being miserable. It always tended to make her day.

Logan grunted, arms crossed over his chest. He hadn’t liked that battle at all, even if the outcome was a good one. “He doesn't like anything to infringe on the rights of ministers. Trial by combat took the judgment out of his hands.”

Countess Anise couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at Logan. “Did it? How do you think Zamon knew about the ancient law in the first place? He's no historian. If Zamon won the battle, he'd be declared innocent--no more investigation. Now he's guilty, but he's also dead. No loose ends. Never underestimate Minister Caudecus…”

“At least we know the identity of Zamon's backer now…” The brunette Captain ran a hand through his thick hair, sighing in despair. Everything was so cloak and dagger right  now…

Harley was on his knees, using his shield to keep himself from collapsing as his body began to recover from having his nerve endings fried by lightning. Inwardly he was cussing up a blue streak in his mind, trying to keep his teeth tightly clenched so that it didn’t come out. He couldn’t use that kind of language in the Ministry Halls.

The  blond could see familiar shoes in front of him and his amber eyes followed the shoes up to even more familiar eyes, giving the dark-haired young man a very unimpressed look that was bordering on anger. He could understand the other giving him the silent treatment for beating up his boyfriend but disappearing on him at the start of a fight that could be life or death, without telling him any sort of plan?  That borderlined on attempted murder.  But that anger fell rather flat when Ra reached down a hand to help him up, that beautiful smile on his face that some would swear was reserved for a very specific few people. “Thank you, my Harlequin…”

Harley took the other’s hand, using the slighter man’s weight as a walking stick to get himself up onto his feet. “Ugh, be glad you are a prettybird.”

Ra could only smile and offer his usual imitation of a dove’s mocking little coo before clapping Harley on the shoulder (which earned a pained groan and a hissed curse of something akin to blasphemy) and led the battered Sworn Shield back to their small group that had moved back to the entryway of the Halls so that they could leave.

“I was genuinely hoping for a conviction based on a preponderance of the evidence... but this works too. Come on Harley, let’s go celebrate the induction of my newest Seraph…” Logan wrapped an arm around Reth’s shoulders, rumpling the steel-brown hair playfully while Reth couldn’t help but grin at Harley.  Harley had been worried about Reth losing his position as a Ministry Guard but this definitely worked out. “I definitely can get behind that. Lead the way, oh Captain Do--Logan…” Damn those three! One of these days he was going to call Logan ‘Captain Douchebag’ and not be able to take it back. He could practically feel Glinda’s grin behind him.  Well, he would just have to drown his range of emotions from today in the celebratory drinking to induct his best friend as a Seraph and -

“I’m afraid, my dear Captain,” said that smooth, satin voice Harley knew and loved so well, “that your celebration will have to wait.  Alexander and I have a meeting of rather large importance.”  

That sure took the wind from Harley’s sails.  He rounded on Ra, trying to remain calm.  “Oh?  What meeting would that be, flirtybird?”

Ra smiled sweetly, and raised a hand to Reth.  Reth disentangled himself from Logan and walked over to Ra, smiling at him.  “Oh, just a meeting with my parents.  They returned from Ebonhawke today, right when the trial began.  It’s a… rather delicate meeting.  In fact, I’ve sent a carriage to pick up Alexander’s parents in Claypool.”  

Of course.  Hard to remember something you were never informed of.  He let his breath out as he spoke.  “The betrothal talks...”   Which meant he had to be there, since he was Ra’s Sworn Shield, and all that.  Damn Ascalonian traditions.  Damn them to Grenth.  He sighed.  “Well, if we are gonna do this, then let’s do this.  Come on, flirtybird.”  


Once Harley had put the carriage away and returned, he was stopped by the royal mail carrier, who handed him the family’s correspondences.  Harley thanked the boy, and walked into the mansion, sifting through the letters.  

Junk from Faren. Junk from Yasmina. Official letter from the orphanage, that had to go to Rowena. Letter for...Harley? The blond paused, taking note of the letter in his hand. Who in the name of the Six would be sending him letters? Harley sighed, pocketing the damned thing to look at later before placing each letter in its designated slot for the different members of the family.

Harley waited by the door, keeping an eye out the window before noticing a carriage coming to a stop in front of the manor. Unable to help the moment of excitement, Harley opened the doors leading into the main parlor and was at the opening of the gate before the carriage had come to a complete stop.

Julianna and her husband Richard Reth had seen Harley many times over the years and the slightly plump woman had the same bright blue eyes of her son while his hair had definitely come from his father. Thankfully for Ra, baldness did not run in the Reth family since Richard’s was still as thick as it had been when he had been a younger man, or so Julianna assured anyone who asked. “Harley, darling!” Julianna chirped in her usual way, letting the blond grasp her by the waist and spin her around effortlessly before allowing her booted feet to hit the ground, her skirts swishing around her feet. She had put her better dress on for this visit into Divinity’s Reach and Harley could tell it was one that she had made herself in it’s pretty plum fabric and had pulled her hair up into a messy bun, her black curls still a riot that refused to be tamed.

Richard’s greeting was less enthusiastic, but no less genuine as he clasped Harley by the shoulder with a smile on his usually severe face. Long years of work as a lower-level merchant had eventually allowed him to become someone of renown for not backing down and driving a hard bargain. “ is good to see you. We never see the two of you at home anymore…Trust me, Julianna never lets me forget it.” He stage-whispered, dodging a half-hearted swat from his wife as she huffed and took Harley’s arm so that he could lead their way inside the house.

Unfortunately for Harley, Julianna had to decide to ask a question he had been dreading right as they were heading into the main parlor to meet with the rest of their waiting party.

“So, Harley, did you finally ask my son to marry you? Melandru knows you two have been dancing around each other for years at this point…”

Harley felt his face become a bright and furious red, clearing his throat. Thankfully Richard came to his a fashion.

“Now Julianna, you know that if Harley and Alexander got married that Divinity’s Reach probably wouldn’t last long. Best that he finds a husband that will be less inclined to get him into fights and almost getting arrested…”

The  blond took a deep, hopefully calming, breath before forcing his attention towards the Lord and Lady Ravenclaw as well as Ra and Reth. “Lord and Lady Ravenclaw, may I present the parents of Alexander Reth, Julianna and Richard Reth of Claypool. Julianna, Richard, it is my honor to introduce you to Lord and Lady Ravenclaw as well as Ra Ravenclaw, their son and the man that is wanting to become betrothed to your son.” Harley gave Richard a very pointed look at this, praying that he would be able to reign in Julianna a little matter how impossible that task sometimes seemed.

Julianna seemed to deflate a little bit at hearing this and Rowena looked highly concerned at what she had heard but brushed it off with her usual grace and gestured for the both of them to sit, stopping Harley from leaving the room with a sharp ‘Sit’ in his direction before pointing him to the armchair next to Ra and Reth’s loveseat and the sofa holding Reth’s parents. Doing as he was told, Harley took his seat and giving Reth a rather pitying look.

Thankfully Julianna didn’t try to offer any apologies for how they were initially introduced but just kept trucking on...and that was one of the things that Harley honestly loved about the woman. “So, Ra, how long have the two of you been seeing each other?” She honestly wanted to know since Harley hadn’t said anything up until then and when Alexander had sent them a letter saying that a carriage would be by to pick them up today so that they could attend his betrothal talk...she had prayed that it would be Harley.

“A little over a week now.” Reth threw in his two copper, “But of course between spending so much time together over the information for the trial, and knowing what Harley has told me about feels like it has been so much longer.”

Rowena threw her blond almost-son a rather severe look, raising an eyebrow at his widened, innocent eyes that wouldn’t have fooled her in years. It obviously hadn’t fooled Ra either.

Thankfully Harley managed to keep the conversation going and keeping Reth and Ra from just spending the whole time gazing into each other’s eyes. By the time he was done boasting up everything he knew and respected about Reth, Ra’s father was seeming more open to the idea of marrying his son to the eldest child of a merchant.

Rowena finally got tired of the consistent talking and fixed her husband with a stare of her own before muttering to him so that only he, Ra and Reth could hear hear, “Honestly dear, you were going to let him marry a vassal if things with Slytherin didn’t work out, how is a merchant’s son any different? Just sign the papers and let’s let these boys enjoy their evening.”

Harley never understood how a relationship could be toned down to the point of making it sound like a business agreement but he figured everyone was pretty well happy with what was going on as Rowena offered to let Julianna and Richard to stay for dinner and also to stay in the guest wing for the evening but the Claypool residents said that the walk back to Claypool would be good for them and they had already made plans with their younger children back home.

Reth and Harley kissed the elder couple goodbye and Julianna gave Ra one of her signature hugs before tutting, patting his face. “We’ll have to fatten you up a little, darling. You are absolutely gorgeous but a man needs to be more than skin and bones. Come along, Richard.”

Harley had to hide a laugh in his hand, turning away from his friend to clear his throat as Julianna and Richard left. Lord Ravenclaw sighed and shooed them all out of the parlor, stating that he was going to his study and leaving the three young adults alone even as Rowena left as well.  Black, slender eyebrows raised in relief, and a small smile graced his lips as he wrapped an arm around his betrothed’s waist.  “Well, I’d say that went far better than I’d expected.”  

Harley snickered, and even Reth started laughing.  “Yeah,” the brunette said between gasps, “that went very well. And Ra, don’t pay attention to a single word my mother says about you needing to fatten up.  I love you just the way you are.”

Ra let out a genuine, heavy sigh of relief, “Oh thank all six Gods at once!”

Harley smirked. “But Ra, how will you ever explain to your boyfriend’s mother why you aren’t gaining weight, no matter how much fattening food she serves, and how will you keep from packing on the pounds?”  He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.  “You wouldn’t dare refuse food from a hostess, would you?”

Ra’s fist landed hard in Harley’s stomach, which, the blonde decided, he had kind of earned.  The fact that it felt as if he had been poked in the stomach instead of punched was irrelevant, it probably made Ra feel  better at the very least. “Oh, I have a potion for helping with such things, Harlequin,” Ra said, his eyes looking up to the ceiling.  “And as for an explanation… I imagine I’ll say something about my metabolism…”  

The blond watched, amused, as his brunette friend wrapped those slender arms around the neck of his betrothed to tug him down into a short, sweet kiss. “Don’t worry, love. I’ll help.”

Harley let out a false gag at the sound of his friends voice, covering his mouth as if he was trying not to let his breakfast make a reappearance. “Aaand the less I know about that, the better. I’m going to my room. You two try to keep it down, okay?” Harley waved the two off and headed into his room, laying out on the bed to sleep after ridding himself of his armor and placing it in it’s designated spots.

Hopefully next week would  be less stressful and dramatic…

(Hello there, readers!  We hope you have been enjoying the story so far!  If you have any feedback, we'd love to hear from you!  Thanks so much for taking the time to read thus far, and we will see you all in the next chapter!  -NTSD)

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