Chapter Seven

She stepped out of the bath, pinpoint flecks of water glimmering like tiny cut diamonds on her soaked fur. Two of her handmaidens scurried forward to gently pat dry her soaked coat. My crimson and black fur makes a fine contrast with the flecked ivory and gold of my royal bathroom walls and tub. she thought to herself. After her maids blotted away most of the perfumed water, she seated herself at her mahogany vanity and began choosing what scent she would wear today. Another handmaiden waited dutifully nearby to assist in the toiletry daily ritual. After a brief nod and wave at the chosen fragrance, the maiden carefully began applying the perfume to the Grand Duchess Varala's fur as well as silken wardrobe. It would not do for the most powerful vixen in the Midnight Paw clan to would it?

A few brief moments later and her claws were now being carefully scrubbed, sharpened and painted a brilliant ruby red. It matches well my fur. she thought lazily to herself. I do admire the 'blood red' look. Holding out her paw at arms length, she gazed at her claws. "Excellent, Marnira. No smudges or streaks today." Marnira looked very relieved and bowed low at the waist. "Pity." The Grand Duchess continued, "I was so looking forward to having you whipped." That ought to put some respect into that bow... Marnina fell prostrate to the bath floor in terror. "Please your Greatness...Have some mercy...." The Grand Duchess continued to study her nails and ignored the girl groveling at her feet. After a moment Varala waved Marnira to silence and swiveled back to her dressing table mirror. She spied her Chancelor's reflection standing in the doorway.

"Having sport again with the servants?" He asked lightly. Marnira's eyes opened wide. Chancellor Tomar was even more feared than Varala. Varala was cruel because it amused her...Tomar did it because he liked it. It had not gone un-noticed that there was a definite absence in the servents ranks since Tomar's arrival. Those who still dared to talk speculated that he had a secret dungeon for those who displeased him and that he used those unfortunate souls for practice. What was meant by "practice" was never elaborated on, but most who said it could only shudder after speaking the word. Marnira had always kept her muzzle shut. She was afraid but not stupid. Ever since that day her young cousin Pelar ran down the halls on some errand for Varala and ran head-long into Tomar... All Tomar had done then was look carefully at the kit's terrified face and give Pelar a half-smile and pat on his head. By that evening, no one had seen her cousin but Marnira had seen a new fox-tail clipping hanging on Tomar's chamber door; a tail with the same coloured markings as her young cousin's. It did not take a scholar to figure out what had happened. If only the king and his sons would return home...then this horrid horrid creature would be removed from office.

"Daydreaming again Marnira?" Tomar said softly.

Marnira started. She did not realize that she had been staring off into space. " m'lord.." She said quickly.

"Ah...lovely Marnira. You don't have to be afraid of me." Tomar reached out to lightly touch her muzzle. Marnira tried desperately to not cringe in loathing. "Here, let me give you a small gift..." Reaching into the folds of his cloak, Tomar pulled out a small golden ring with a black onyx gemstone. Reaching out to Marnira, he pulled her paw open and folded the ring into her fingers. "To show my appreciation..." He gave a secretive half-smile at the look of abject terror that started to spread across her face.

"Leave her alone Tomar." Varala swiveled back around from her vanity table and faced Tomar. "I told you she was mine."

Giving Varala a small bow and charming smile, Tomar touched Marnira's face one last time. "Of course Your Grace. I live to serve."

"Of course you do." "So long as you can draw on my resources..." She thought to herself. Varala stood up and walked over to face Tomar. "What have you heard about my dear dear brother and nephews?"

Tomar's face twitched. "I have heard that they were investigating an attack at one of the family's allies and have met a rather." He coughed polietly, "determined resistance..."

Marnira started. NO! She thought to herself...Not the King and his sons! If they are killed, then what shall happen to us all! A small whimper of disbelief escaped her muzzle. Tomar looked at her and smiled softly. "Don't worry my dear." He said quietly, "It is only a rumor."

"Stupid girl..." Varala smacked Marnira across the muzzle fiercely. "How dare you presume to intrude on a private conversation. Get out!" In tears, Marnira fled. "And don't you DARE repeat any of this to anyone!" Varala spat at Marnira's retreating back. Turning back to Tomar, she snarled "You idiot! Why did you say that in front of her! You realize she will run back to inform her father." Striding back and forth on the marble tile she waved her arms in the air angrily. "And I need that idiot girl to cement my claim to the throne when my brother and nephews..."

"When your brother and nephews what?" A new voice appeared in her bath's doorway. The general Lomar stepped into the room. Varala composed herself quickly. The general was fiercely loyal to the royal family. Thanks to Tomar's lust, she had almost almost implicated herself of treason. She had to remember...she was not the Queen....yet.

"Come back, my dear general" I need Marnira for when my beloved brother and nephews come back. For the wedding." Varala purred up at the general. Lomar looked down at the Grand Duchess suspiciously, then realized that she was not dressed. With a barely audible sigh, he moved his eyes upward and took a step back. He did not want to be accused of impropriety, and knew quite well that Varala had gotten to this position of power because she knew how to flaunt her, ah, station.

Varala gave a condescending laugh. Stupid Lomar and his silly proprieties. How quaint and easily exploited. Without bothering to pick up a towel or robe, she walked back to center of her bath and spun back around. "Not even a twitch in the cheek" she thought to herself. "He is good..." "General Lomar." She said aloud. "What have you heard about my brother? I am so worried."

"I just bet you are. I've seen how you eye the throne." Lomar thought to himself. "His Highness is in the Green Mountain Vale still trying to route the murderous gangs that are raiding the family's squirrel and fox allies. Last I heard, he was engaged in battle outside of Black Oak Haven. I plan to march out within the hour with my men to meet the King and assist in routing these bands of outlaws from our lands."

Varala threw herself at Lomar and grasped his hand tightly. Lomar started. "Yes, go to him Lomar! The king needs you! A true mountain of strength you could be to him in his hour of need. All I can beg of you is to bring him back In pieces... alive!" Lomar narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

"Of course Lady. I would not want to seem disloyal by not going." The accusation hung in the air. Varala stepped back and masked the raw fury that threatened to break across her face. Lomar saw the very beginnings of anger twitch at her muzzle and then fade into smooth nonchalance. "Very interesting..." he thought to himself. He turned to go and paused at the bath's door. "I will send a messenger when I reach the Black Oak Haven. I expect your son will be most interested in how the battle progresses." He turned briefly back towards Varala. "Seeing how he is fifth in line to the throne and might want to join his king." Making note of the open rage in Varala's eyes, he turned and left the bath.

After a few heartbeats, Varala gave a muffled screech of rage and began flinging whatever toiletries she could grab against the tiled walls. With each shattering vial she spewed out curses upon Lomar and his army. Tomar watched the proceedings with detatched amusement. When Varala finally vented all the profanities she could think about and found no more crystal bottles to break, he clapped lightly at her fuming form.

"Bravo my dear. Most impressive." Varala gave him a dirty look and pulled herself back together.

Pacing back and forth across the marble floor, she fell deep into thought. If Lomar goes to join King Drastone all will be lost. Lomar's army is large enough and LOYAL enough to turn the tide against all my plans... Idly she wandered through the mess of glass and wood and sat back down at her vanity. Picking up her brush, she began to thoughtfully brush her hair. What I need is someway to guarantee that Lomar will not be in time to protect the king. What I need is..." Straightening, she looked at Tomar's reflection in her mirror and narrowed her eyes.

Tomar met her gaze and arched an eyebrow. "My Lady?"

"Tomar, I am well aware of your spies in the King's army. I also am aware of certain...followers...who are of unsavory charactor." She turned back around to face him directly. "With your abilites, it would be no small matter to contact them and make sure that the king and the two sons that joined him in battle did not survive long enough for Lomar to assist them." Tomar's eyebrow arched higher.

"M'lady. To speak so openly of treason is most risky."

Varala waved away Tomar's mocking concern. "Perhaps it is time to stop being so subtle." Standing up, she swept over to where her silken robe lay and shook off any shards of glass. Putting it on, she turned back one last time to Tomar. "I want this done before the sun sets tomorrow."

"And what of the the third son and the female child?"

Varala paused in her exit and half-turned her head back. "You worry to much, dear chancellor. Don't worry, I have plans for my niece and youngest nephew. Marriage for one and full blame for the other." Giving a short barking laugh, she left the bath.

Tomar gazed after her thoughtfully. With barely a look around, he lifted his right hand and made a gesture. The mess in the bathroom was trace of Varala's pathetic display of anger remained. Giving the bathroom a smirk he made a mocking bow to where Varala had retired.

"Of course my Lady. I shall take care of everything."

And vanished.

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