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Herrin grimaced as the cold water ran down his back.

“Well, alright,” he said, avoiding Tryls’ gaze. “But do me a favour, old chap, and don’t jump to any conclusions before I finish…”

He pulled his shirt off and started scrubbing at the grime on his arms.

“It was five years ago, in one of the pearl-houses of Haripialla,” he said. From the sharp intake of breath, he knew that Tryls was familiar with their reputation. He continued quickly.

“I was there on business, you understand – not as a customer, well not exactly, although of course the ladies there all knew me, one way or another… Anyway, as I was saying, I was there on business. Legitimate business. As a bodyguard, of all things. There was a certain nobleman, you see, a lover of the… particular delights of the pearl-house, but one who was rather unloved himself, so as a security measure when he attended he wore a mask, took three masked attendants, hired four ladies in four rooms, and nobody knew which one he would be in and which would be the attendants. I can hardly say that it was the hardest job I ever took, or the least rewarding, and it paid quite well too.”

He paused and glanced at Tryls. The elf was barely looking at him, instead concentrating on removing the grime from his hair, but he returned Herrin’s glance and nodded for him to continue.

“Well, there I was, enjoying my… work… you know, when all of a sudden the windows smashed to pieces and somebody crashed in on a rope. I, of course, leapt to my feet to protect the particular pearl I was, ah, being attended by, and grabbed the nearest large object to do so with.”

He paused and smiled to himself. “It was quite a fight, I must say. It had been some time since I had been really challenged and here was somebody who could, you know, almost challenge me. Of course, the assailant was armed with a sword and I had only a statue of the Myammë-”

“And you had everything hanging out,” a voice came from the door. Mirra stood there grinning, holding two more buckets of water. “I should have known you’d get onto this story.”

Tryls stood and bowed to her. She put one of the buckets down and swatted her hand in her direction. “Quit the bowing and ducking, elf,” she said. “You’re not my servant.”

He smiled slightly. “I beg to differ,” he said quietly. “My family has served yours since time immemorial.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Ugh. Get me back on this throne and that’ll be the first thing I change. You’re going to be my equal.” She put the other bucket in front of Herrin and patted him on the shoulder. “Unlike this poor deluded fool, who’ll always know I can best him.”

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: Another installment of the tale – which began with Herrin’s Escape, for anybody just joining me.)