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Daughters of Fate (Chapter 22)

Rise the storm.  Roar like a lion.  Fly like a dragon.  And be the light of this world. 

Proverb 7 

Chapter 22 (40th of Taru-Des in the year 6198) 

From his perch on the balcony, Anthony kept a watchful eye on Reane as she mingled around the floor of the palace’s cavernous main ballroom. They’d already spent time in several of the smaller halls, but as the hours wore on, Reane and Sheala had moved to where the big fish were.  He tried to stay out of the view of the other guests, feeling that the patch over his eye was drawing attention. 

“I really don’t understand those two,” he complained to Brentai as Reane worked with a new group of potential targets. 

Swirling a glass of wine in his hand, Brentai smiled. He kept his attention on Sheala, who relegated herself to working more one on one. “It’s a complex friendship. They’re really two of a kind.” 

“But this is madness. If one of them gets caught, there’s no way to escape. Neither one of them blends in very well.” 

“The night is still young, my friend. As it progresses and they feel that the chances increase of meeting someone the other already has, they’ll move to more escapable positions. You should be so lucky to get the chance to see one or both of them get out of real trouble. They’re both bright women. Quick thinkers on their feet. They’ve done this many times.” 

Anthony noted how gracefully Reane’s hand moved as she picked a coin from the purse of one of the men she was conversing with. If he had not done his own share of picking pockets over the years, it would have been all but unnoticeable. All the while she kept everyone’s attention distracted with flourishes of her other hand. He admired the way she moved. The way she was so nonchalant about what she was doing. She fascinated him, and it showed enough that Brentai noticed. 

Reane’s First Mate turned his back to the gala below and leaned against the marble railing. “You know, Reane would kill me if she found out I told you this. But I think she’s taken a liking to you.” 

”What?” As the words settled into Anthony’s mind, a thought of Daphney raced into his head to push out what he was currently thinking. He remembered the gentle girl he had left behind. The way she smiled. The way she cared so much about him and how he cared so much about her. “No, I don’t believe that.” 

“Come on. I see you looking at her. It’s also more than a passing glance that you often give to her.” 

“I hardly even know her,” scoffed the rebel. “She doesn’t know a thing about me.” 

“Yeah, I know. And you’re the kind of man she always seems to fall for. One that’s a mystery. And believe me, my friend, you’re one hell of a mystery to her. She gives you looks I’ve learned to recognize over the years. I’m telling you its love.” Brentai took a drink of his wine. 

“Well, I mean she’s an attractive woman and all. And she’s intelligent. But, she’s … well …” 

“Well, what?” 

“She’s a pirate,” Anthony blurted out. “A smuggler. A common thief.” 

“Reane’s no pirate. And she’s far from common.” 

“You know what I mean. She doesn’t seem to fight for anything other than to save her own skin. And money.” 

“Don’t we all?” Brentai probed. 

“I’d like to think that I don’t. I’d like to think that I’m fighting to make a difference. Besides,-” 

“Uh-oh,” Brentai sat down his glass, half full, on the balcony railing. “I know that tone. There’s someone else, isn’t there? You’re going to break poor Reane’s heart.” 

“She’s just a friend,” Anthony sighed. “Alright, more than a friend. But Daphney’s kind and sweet, and at least I know that she believes in the same things I do. At least I know that she cares about things other than money. But, even she and I can’t be together. There’d be complications.” 

“Listen,” he retrieved his glass, “perhaps it’s not my place, but like I’ve said, I’ve seen the way you look at Reane.” 

“I do kind of wish that Daphney was a little more like Reane,” Anthony replied with sheepish words. 

“Is that an admission?” 

Anthony shook his head. “I don’t know. Please, whatever you do, don’t tell Reane any of this.” 

“Why? What are you afraid of?” 

“I just need some time to work these things out. I want you to promise. And you’ve proven to me that you can keep a promise. Like I’ve said, there are complications. Things you don’t know about.” 

“My lips are sealed. But give Reane a chance. She’s really the best thing that could happen to any man. But most are just too blind to see it. Beneath that flamboyant exterior lies a very lonely woman. Perhaps you can give her a cause to fight for?” 

“It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Sheala kept her speech slow and clear, allowing the gentleman before her to take her gloved hand and kiss it with gentle grace. As he did, she used a light touch of the other to find the man’s purse and relieve him of two coins. She smiled graciously as she moved them through the slit in her dress and then into the purse strapped and hidden beneath. 

The man looked into her eyes. “I have never been to Rumar, but if all the women are as beautiful as you, Duchess, I soon will be.” 

Sheala forced herself to blush. “You are far too kind.” He didn’t understand the extent of his kindness, especially when it came to being a willing dupe. 

“There is someone I would like you to meet.” The gentleman she had been talking to nudged a fancily dressed man next to him who was conversing with several others. That man turned at the prodding. “Reginald, this is Eluna Tarasque, the Duchess of Rumar.” 

Reginald spoke, “Charmed.” His hands were decorated with large golden rings and he had the scent of heavy perfumes about him. The odors nearly choked Sheala. 

“Reginald is the resident winemaker in Fimmirra.” The gentleman whispered into her ear. “He makes a brew that anyone would kill for.” 

Sheala giggled playfully and Reginald laughed too as he picked up on the words. “Yes, well I don’t like to brag.” Music began to drift across the ballroom and Reginald held out his hand to the fake Duchess. “May I have this dance?” 

Sheala smiled, took one glimpse at the bulge of the man’s purse and accepted, allowing him to lead her out into a crowd of dancers. 

“Tough luck old chum,” Reginald called to his friend as the two moved away. 

He conceded with the gracious bow of a true gentleman, “My loss.” 

Sheala tried to keep pace and step. She never was a very good dancer, but she put on a convincing show for Reginald as the two moved with fluid elegance across the floor. Moving past with a partner of her own, Reane gave her a wink of recognition. 

The Captain of the Oracle grew flustered as her partner was constantly holding on to her hands. She would smile when he was looking at her, but mutter and frown in frustration the second she knew he was not. 

Reginald spoke as he and Sheala continued their dance. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you on the Islands before. Do you come here often?” 

“With Lord Hedric’s ships in the waters?” Sheala played along as she loosened the strings to the man’s purse with the hand that was supposed to be on his waste. She tried to work and keep her story straight at the same time. “Travel is dangerous, and Rumar is not exactly an ally with the Empire. Nor an enemy. But for an affair such as this? How could I not make an appearance?” She slipped the first of the heavy coins into her palm without even the slightest hint of what she did. 

“Yes. His ships have been a great nuisance in getting my wines to customers across the sea,” Reginald continued their small talk and banter. 

“Oh, come now. You seem to have done quite well for yourself.” Another coin went into her palm.  By its weight alone, she could tell that it must have been Dwarven Gold. 

“Only because my wines are so grand to the taste that a limited supply commands a huge price.” 

“Do tell.” Sheala kept him talking as she slipped another and then another coin into her palm. “I shall have to taste these wines for myself. They sound like national treasures.” 

Leaning in, Reginald replied, “I would be honored to have one of your beauty partake of my creations.” 

“You are such a charmer.” Sheala warned herself not to get too greedy as she emptied the current haul from her palm into her stash. There were just too many coins to avoid the temptation, and she found herself going back for more. Besides, she told herself that this was all too easy. 

Then, from behind her, a loud voice carried over the crowd and the music. “Announcing his Royal Highness, King Druban Turon!” 

Something inside her snapped at the sound of the name. Concentration shattered, her hand slipped and sagged into Reginald’s purse. It was a mistake the likes of which she hadn’t made in years. 

The pull at his side drew the winemaker’s attention and he clearly saw her hand and what it had been doing. “What the!” He stumbled back in alarm, but quickly reached out to snag her by the arm. “A thief!” 

The music dragged to a jagged stop at the proclamation, the crowd turning towards the two. There were murmurs rippling through all those assembled. “Let me go,” Sheala ordered as she tried to pull away. 

“I thought you were too good to be true.” 

Sheala snapped, “Don’t try to cover up your naivete. I had you fooled.” 

Reginald tightened his grip in anger. “Well, Duchess, or whomever you are, it’s to the dungeon with you!” 

“What’s going on here!” a strong voice boomed. 

To whom it belonged there was no doubt in Sheala’s mind. It was like a memory that had been cut from the depths of her most distant thoughts and hung as a banner before her eyes. As King Turon pushed through the crowd with an escort of soldiers, Sheala took a long look at his face. 

It had not changed much over the years. Sure, it showed a few more wrinkles, and his dark hair and beard were now peppered with scattered bits of gray. He looked like he had gained a few pounds as well. But other than that, he was the same as when she had last seen him over a decade ago. 

The King’s glimmering, but ceremonial suit of armor caught the light from around the hall as he stood before Sheala and her captor with a stern look. It reminded Sheala of how he used to reprimand her and Cass for running with reckless abandon through the palace. Unable to face him, she turned her eyes away from the man who had sent her mother and father to their deaths – the man who had ruined her life. 

Reginald shook her. “This thief has probably been robbing your guests all night!” Then he added a hastily remembered, “Your Excellency.” 

A stray voice called. “Hang her!” 

King Turon took a second to try to find the source of the opinion, but could not. He then looked down on her with distaste. “Well, my dear? Perhaps you’d care to make a statement on your behalf before I have you taken away?” 

Sheala was silent in response. 

One of the soldiers with the King noticed the silver medallion she wore about her wrist as it reflected the light of the hall. He pointed it out to his sovereign with a frantic whisper, and King Turon’s eyes opened wide as he too now saw the object. He ripped Sheala away from Reginald and pulled her arm up to see. 

“Where did you get this from, thief?” He was furious, recognizing the object as one of two he had given to Aurthur Stormband years before. “Speak or I’ll have you put through so much pain that you’ll be begging to talk.” 

Tears welled in Sheala’s eyes as she kept telling herself that this couldn’t be happening. Damn Reane and her stupid games, she cursed in her mind. Damn herself for not being able to say no. She wanted to keep quiet. “I – It was a gift from …” her voice trailed off. 

“A gift?” 

“A gift from my father.” She finished, turning up to look at the eyes of the man she had not seen in so long. For a brief instance, as the color left his face, she knew that he recognized something about her. “My father, Aurthur Stormband.” 

King Turon dropped his hold on her. 

“My lord!” Reginald exploded. “What are you doing? I demand justice!” 

“Silence!” King Turon, Sheala’s uncle, ordered. He held out his hand to Sheala as his throat became dry. “It can’t be. C – Cassandra?” 

“No,” Sheala corrected, a little disheartened that he had said her sister’s name and not hers. 

“Sheala?” He shook his head. “I can’t believe it’s you. Where is your sister? Is she here too? And what in the name of Earoni are you doing stealing from my guests?” 

“I’m sorry.” Sheala felt weak as she crumpled to the floor and sobbed. “I’m so sorry.” 

Her uncle checked his combination of surprise and anger, realizing that the situation called for something entirely different than a stern hand. He knelt with her and embraced her. “It’s alright, Sheala. It’s alright.” 

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