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Returning to Brightlodge after a successful quest was always cause for celebration and, naturally, celebration was made easier when generously paid for with the spoils of battle…which was the main reason Sterling had even bothered to volunteer to purchase everyone’s supper. It wasn’t that money was an issue—he’d never wanted for it before—but there was a certain noble sense of achievement that came from using money he’d earned himself to make his friends happy. In fact, as he looked over them all from the rim of his drink, he couldn’t help the rush of warmth and pleasure he felt towards them all—though the warmth may have been the liquor’s fault.

Winter and Evienne had dragged Inga and Rook out to dance with them and the four of them were making quite the spectacle of themselves—arms and legs flying as they each attempted their own versions of “dancing”. Leech and Tipple sat together at the bar, eating and drinking together while Leech chatted nonstop; Sterling personally found it rather brave of Tipple—not many people could eat while listening to Leech’s cheerful rant over various “squishy bits” or discuss his need for new test subjects. Repressing a delicate shudder, he turned to see if any of the other Heroes still occupied the pub. Several of them had decided against coming for various reasons and Malice had spent all of five minutes inside before wishing them all death and torment and then left the pub (cursing in pain under his breath all the while). Last Sterling had seen, Shroud had also been a part of their party but it now appeared the assassin had gone off to do…whatever it was Shroud did when he wasn’t with the others.

Sterling had just about given up his search and was thinking about the night to come and about inviting the rather shapely serving girl—the girl had been making eyes at him all night and, really, who was he to disappoint such a sweet girl?—back to his rooms when he spotted a solitary figure standing alone on the back patio. Glory? It appeared so and she most certainly looked like she needed a bit of cheering up. Well, that won’t do at all! Flashing the serving wench a bright smile and a wink to let her know he’d be back, he strolled out onto the patio.

“Take heart for Sterling is here to make all of your troubles vanish!” he said cheerily, only half teasing her as he leaned against the patio’s railing. “And what ails you, fair maiden?” Had he been speaking to just about any other Hero, he might have considered flinging his arms about them and resting his head on their shoulder in a melodramatic display of support; as it was…his cousin would have probably shoved him over the banister.

Glory was silent for a long while, staring out at the river before them in that unflinchingly austere manner she addressed the most stubborn of problems with. Her wine-coloured lipstick had smudged off on her tea cup long ago, but she still stood as proud as a princess, making the appearance of one seeming to be carved from marble look almost fashionable. When she drew breath, he expected an acidic remark about peacocks and feathers sprouting from his arse, but all she said, in a distant tone, was: “If a fool like Wendleglass can name himself king, then why can I not be a person of fame and power?”

Her eyes bore into him and it took a moment for Sterling to realize she was referring to the incident all those months ago in Grayrock where he’d denounced her temporary mayoral run. He honestly wasn’t certain what to say to her; anyone with at least one functioning eye could see that Glory was intelligent and ambitious—a dangerous combination, especially for a woman—and that she lacked any sort of patience. It wasn’t that he thought she couldn’t do it; it was that Glory was highly volatile…and she’d thrown the previous mayor out a window, but that was beside the point.

After a moment of hard thought, he tilted his head slightly and replied, “Being a king would be awfully dull, don’t you think?”

“I am up for the challenge,” she said fiercely, her grip tightening on her tea cup.

Sterling paused, momentarily wondering why he wasn’t giving up to go speak to that lovely serving wench. He was just about to, or so he told himself, when curiosity prompted him to ask: “Would you wear a crown, dear Glory?”

It was Glory’s turn to pause. “…perhaps.”

“Certainly not one in gold, I hope; it would clash terribly with your complexion.”

“Of course not!” she agreed, raising her cup to her lips. “Much too gaudy.”

Exactly, he thought. Besides, he had something better in mind.

~ * ~

Glory was not accustomed to anyone banging frantically at her door in the wee hours of the morning. If Brightlodge was under attack again, she would be exceptionally displeased. Stumbling towards the door in a manner she’d never admit to later as she wrapped a robe over her shift, she hurried to unlock the door and fling it open. Sterling stood there, looking a touch surprised that she’d actually bothered to open the door but not nearly concerned (or armed) enough for the town to be under attack. The only thing off that she noticed was that his hands were tinged green and she hoped he hadn’t tried to flirt with Ma Makewell again.

Tired and rather perplexed (they weren’t meant to be meeting with the other Heroes until noon, after all), she started to say crossly: “What exactly are you—”

He cut her off by pulling something green and white from his pocket and setting it on her head. Her annoyed protest died in her throat at the child-like smile he was giving her and Glory surreptitiously glanced at the nearest shiny object to see just what he had done to her. She felt even more confused, if that were possible, when she saw that the object he’d crowned her with was wreath of flowers and ivy and, almost idly, she wondered where he found apple blossoms at this time of year.

“Not that I am not…flattered,” she said dryly, “but what are you doing?”

“You already are,” he replied simply.

“What?”

“A person of immense power…”

She felt her hard expression begin to soften and tried desperately to keep any sort of affection from showing on her face.

“…and,” Sterling added, continuing on, “if you need me to demonstrate the surety and firmness of my convictions towards you—”

Scowling, Glory slammed the door in his face at the innuendo and shouted, “Go back to bed, you pompous peahen!”

But she smiled to herself when she saw her reflection once more and didn’t throw away the flowers.