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Hard Priorities

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Until Jorge showed up to do whatever it was he felt he had to, there was no point in staying awake. Ezran had gone back to bed. Aanya had also found the nearest cot.

 

The Katolin King had trouble staying asleep, waking up every so often. The visions from Zym were peaceful, but a little disgusting. “Never going to forget the feeling of a juicy bug bursting open in my mouth”, he thought, working hard to suppress the need to heave.

 

It was good to see Rayla and Callum, to know that they were doing alright. Seeing them together, her sleeping on his shoulder, made him feel lonely. In some odd way, it even made him miss his parents. There were similar, blurry scenes of them in a very far corner of his mind.

 

Eventually, he resolved to get up. When he stepped outside, he realized that it was noon already. Where was the Eveneran idiot?

 

“Well!”, He was greeted by Solveig in the courtyard, “Sir, I am affronted at our friend’s lateness. We hurried out here for his sake at a disgusting hour and now he’s a no-show!”

 

“Maybe it was all bluster?”, Ebro offered, joining them.

 

It was a point worth considering. Jorge might have made idle threats to poke the Katolin bear, to see what came of it.

 

They shared lunch, over which Solveig told them a story from his past, when he was but a messenger - then with two eyes. He had been ordered to to hire a prolific bounty hunter named Kel Ortis only to find that she’d settled down with her husband at a farm.

 

“If anyone had told me that two people so rough and uncivil would play house, I would’ve laughed them out of mine! The funniest part is, they seemed really happy. Had just gotten there. Imagine this massive guy, bent over a kitchen table that’s a good four sizes too small for him, sipping tea and reading a book on planting crop! And her, equally massive! She gave me a whole spiel about changing her ways and wanting to be a good mother!”, he scoffed, “Feels like if I ever went back there, I’d find a dozen kids the size of horses, and horses the size of houses! Damn shame, too, she was an amazing mercenary. Feel like she could take on half the bruisers over there by herself.”

 

“I, uh, heard of her. Think she went back to her old job. Didn't go so well. By the way, I’d rather you not call them that”, Ezran said, “They’ve stopped calling us `Abusers` since the joint burial.”

 

“Openly, maybe”, Solveig growled, “But we’re still scum to them, mark my words.”

 

Corvus stepped behind Ezran and bent to whisper in his ear.

 

“We have a big problem.”

 

Ezran excused himself and led Corvus to his makeshift office.

 

“Majesty, Viren is back. He’s found the nearest larger town, Taelin, and has started recruiting people to a `revolt of the concerned` as he calls it”, the tracker said without preamble.

 

His King frowned. “So, why don’t we send the crown guard to arrest him?”

 

“Well, the problem is he’s managed to garner actual support. A lot of the families there live in Taelin because their family was stationed here, with the Standing Battalion.”

 

“So they’re very happy with my choices right now, I’m sure. Arresting Viren would probably look like I’m trying to shut up a critical voice.”

 

Corvus nodded. Ezran sighed deeply. Right now, he wished he could be with his brother and Rayla. “What do we do?”

 

“I’m probably not the best person to ask. I don’t know a whole lot about non-violent crowd control. Opeli might be more helpful, here. I can send her a raven?”

 

Ezran shook his head. “I chained her to a four-legged snail, remember? She’s not going to give me the best advice right now.”

 

Corvus smirked. That was an amusing way to put it. “Giving the other three council members equal rights really did annoy her. She’s used to do what she thinks is best, as long as it’s in one or another rule book.”

 

The king nodded. “The best way to keep her from giving me trouble was to give her more. But yeah, I lost a competent advisor for it. Maybe Aanya has a good idea, though. She’s dealt with civil war. Thanks for letting me know, Corvus, I'll get back to you.”

 

The tracker nodded and departed.

 

Ezran went to get Aanya and explained the situation.

 

She nodded along, then said, “Yes, I remember the man. Good with his tongue, too. He did a bunch of parlor tricks to scare us into war. Looks like he’s still at it.”

 

“I’m pretty sure he was the one behind the attack, too. Nobody else I know has that much power”, Ezran said.

 

“You mentioned that in your letters. Hence; Looks like he’s `still` at it.”, Aanya replied, “The way I see it, you can’t let this spread. He has a strong message. `Ezran sends his soldiers to die with no plan and no strategy. He is collaborating with elves who want to kill us all.`”, she crossed her arms, “You see the problem?”

 

“Yep”, the Katolin king said, “It sounds true. All my people see is the fact that I just got a lot of their family members killed and have nothing to show for it other than not-war. Which probably doesn’t feel right to most of them. Most people still think elves are evil. What do I do though?”

 

Aanya sighed deeply. “You have a few options the way I see it. One. Kill them all. From your expression I can tell that’s about as appalling to you as it is to me. Two. You send your bannerman Corvus to speak against Viren’s point. Three. You go yourself, leaving the peace project here in… my hands, perhaps? I would do it. Hm. Four. You do nothing and watch how the situation develops.”

 

Ezran mulled it over for a bit, pensively scratching Bait’s head who enjoyed the now rare bit of attention.

 

“I think I should go. Sending Corvus is one thing, but if I can show my face there myself, that should make a good impression, right?”

 

“Sure; Keep in mind the impression it’ll make here, though”, Aanya warned, “I have no rapport with the elven commander yet, not in the same way you do. Giving back the dragons was a stroke of genius. I was honestly already doling pieces out to my court mages. Oh!”, she slapped her forehead, “That reminds me! You know how we had that hunch that maybe it wasn’t moonshadow elves out for our blood? I asked one of my mages to do some stuff that detects magic in the the place where we defeated ours. They came back with dark, not primal.”

 

Ezran’s face lit up.

 

“Great idea! I should’ve thought of it!”

 

Aanya waved a dismissive hand, “It was a stroke of luck. I didn’t know they could do that, found it out by accident, reading about… never mind. Point is, Jorge is super wrong and we now have proof. Where is he, anyway?”

 

“Good question. I expected him this morning.”