We ended up in a two-story inn that was supposed to be of a good quality for delegations and dignitaries. Usually, the guards would have been stationed at a nearby cheaper inn, but I only had four with me and I wanted to slowly make them dependent on me. By fronting the inn costs and drinks, these men were steadily eating out of my hand. In time, they’ll grow accustomed to the bounties I give them, and after putting fear in them as a will user, that meant respect and loyalty would follow.
“What is the meaning of this?” Mother suddenly stormed up to me, her face in a pouty expression.
“What is the meaning of what?” I asked carefully. “Taking a sip of wine a table over from the men, who were quickly on their way to becoming drunk.”
“You have rented a large room for the men, and then three additional rooms.”
“It is okay. I suspect that Bala will not be staying the night. Aeryn can bunk up with Baba, and you can have your own room.”
“I’m the grand magus!” Baba said while burping, downing her third mug of ale. “You wish to *hic* make me share a room with a servant?”
“That isn’t the issue at all!” Mother snapped. “Rather, who will be sleeping with you tonight?”
“Eh? I will be having a room to myself tonight.” I shrugged.
“But… sweetie… you’re in a strange city.” Mother whined. “You will be scared if I’m not there with you, I just know it!”
She happened to speak these words in the middle of the inn. At that point, I had my hood up and was hiding my face. Aeryn, Bala, and Baba were all aware of the behavior of my Mother, so they basically ignored it. Even the drunk bodyguards were tone-deaf on the issue. It was the remainder of the inn that burst out laughing. I couldn’t help from blushing, even though I knew that most of these people would flee in terror if they saw my real face.
“Hey, boy, do you need your mommy to put you to bed!” A certain drunk guy walked up, eyeing my mother somewhat lewdly.
She responded by shooting him a cold look. Aeryn’s expression, surprisingly enough, was just as cold. I was used to her looking that coldly only at me. I was wondering if I should be jealous. Instead, I stood up and turned my back to the man.
“Bala, I’d like to see the city. The other men are drunk.”
Bala was standing nearby but had not sat down nor joined anyone. As a result, she had been targeted a few times by drunks who wanted to hit on her. She had sent them scrambling. That didn’t stop her from making an annoyed tsk and then getting up to shadow.
“Sweetie?” Mother asked tearfully.
“If mother stays here and acts good, I’ll bring her a present.”
Mom’s face turned from one of worry to one of glowing obedience. Several of the men sitting around the common room could only gawk. I could see the question on their minds. Was I a momma’s boy or was I her handler? The reality was regrettably a bit of both. Aeryn stood up to follow as well. I was a bit surprised by this, as I didn’t ask her to come.
“Hey, buddy, don’t walk away, you coward.” The drunk man lunged for me, I blocked his hand with my arm, but the motion caused my hood to fall back.
The commotion brought most of the eyes in the tavern. There was a gasp. The drunken man’s mouth fell open and he fell back a couple of steps.
“A-a-a devil!” He cursed.
The expression of each person was different. Some looked shocked. Some looked angry. I shook my head put my hood back on.
“Let’s go,” I commanded Bala.
The two of us walked out of the inn. It was probably best to stay away for a few hours until things settled down. I wasn’t looking to create any conflict.
“Why is my lord walking out through the sitting in the evening hours?” Aeryn demanded.
“Why are you following me?” I answered with a question.
“You have ordered me to stay close to you at all times.” She spoke matter-of-factly.
“Is that so…” I responded, feeling a bit surprised that even now, she was following what I said. “In that case, I will answer your question as well. I’m going shopping.”
Aeryn blinked. “The guards will go out tomorrow and make sure to purchase all of the goods we will need for the next leg of the journey.”
“True… but not everything they’ll buy is stuff I particularly want. At the very least, how can I buy any souvenirs.”
“Souvenirs? What is a souvenir?” Bala had taken an interest in what I said and asked.
“It’s an item you purchase… to remember where you’ve been.”
Bala frowned. “Why do you have such trouble remembering.”
“It’s not about remembering. It’s about having a reminder. Sometimes, when a place is meaningful to you, it is nice to have something that reminds you of it.”
Bala’s brow furrowed. “Is this place memorable to you for some reason I am unaware?”
I let out a weak laugh. “Well, the night is still young.”
This didn’t help Bala’s confusion any better, but I wasn’t in the mood to explain anything to her. Part of me just wanted to visit the shops and see how they compared. While it was true, I could afford to buy just about anything I wanted, and there were maids like Aeryn I could send out to buy it, where I grew up, there was a joy in just being able to pick something out myself.
“Bala, what kind of place does your sister like to eat?”
“Huh?” Her confusion suddenly flipped into shock and surprise. “S-seriously?”
“We have a date tomorrow, remember?” I said and then mumbled quietly. “And if I let her pick the place, she’d probably set up a trap to kill me in it.”
Aeryn glanced over at me. “I thought you were just joking about going on a date with Saria. She is a woman who wants you dead.”
“I’m out walking with you this evening. That is like a date. You certainly want me dead.” I shot back.
“Now, you are truly making a joke,” Aeryn said flatly.
“If you’d rather, you can come with us tomorrow. I could set you up with someone. It could be a double date.”
“Who would Master dare to set me up with?” Aeryn’s voice turned slightly dangerous.
My eyes crept over to the girl dressed as a boy on the other side of me.
“Huh?” Bala looked over, realizing the pair of us were staring at her.
“You foul devil!” Aeryn cursed.
“You could do worse.” I smiled.
“If you’re going to continue to have such flights of fancy, then I will make sure the door is left open for your mother tonight,” Aeryn growled.
“Ah…” I winced. “My apologies. I went too far.”
Our conversation was going too fast for Bala. She had her brow furrowed. She suspected she had been the brunt of some joke, but she didn’t understand what. She opened her mouth, ready to start a fight, but I abruptly stopped.
The two girls looked in the direction I was pointed. Before the three of us was an accessory shop. I nodded to the pair of them and walked into the shop. Bala remained at the door, while Aeryn stoically followed me inside.
The jeweler looked up from a magnifying glass he had on a stand along with a glowing stone and then smiled. “Ah… customers. What can I do for you this evening?”
“I’m looking for a gift,” I responded. “Jewelry for a beautiful lady.”
Aeryn frowned nearby, looking at the cases full of various rings and necklaces with a dismissive glance.
“Enchantments?” He asked.
“No, but valuable. As valuable as she is.”
“How sweet.” The man smiled, but I was pretty sure he meant to say ‘how profitable’.
“I thought you’d want some kind of surveillance on her,” Aeryn spoke up.
“If I did that, she would certainly find it out.” I shrugged. “This is a rare opportunity to make her… well… ally might not be the right word. At least, not plotting against each other.”
“You truly plan to go through with this…” Aeryn’s voice took on a tinge of disbelief. “I thought that you had plans to take revenge on her. Instead, I see you plan to seduce her.”
“Why not?” I asked as I looked casually through the cases of jewelry from one to the next. “It worked so well for you.”
“I told Master to quit with the humor. You’re bad at it.” Aeryn’s mood seemed to be deteriorating quickly.
Ah well, since she was there, I could use her. I picked out various things. I tried to get things that looked like stuff I had seen on Saria in the past. I mostly stuck to necklaces and earrings. Although, it probably would have made more sense to use Bala as my model, the likelihood of her being willing to do it would be unlikely. As for Aeryn, she still followed my orders, even though she was glaring at me most of the day.
“That one looks particularly beautiful on her.” The man smiled, complementing a simple piece that wrapped around Aeryn’s neck. It was a chocker style neckless which had leather mixed with diamonds. It looked very fancy but fit well with her maid outfit.
“I’ll take it then. I’ll also take this, this and these.”
I picked out several options. Having money in this world was very nice. Up until now, I hadn’t spent very much of my personal wealth, which meant I had money to go around. This was mostly because my mother had used her monthly allotments to care for me herself, that meant that mine remained in reserve.
Aeryn reached back to take off the necklace. “Don’t bother. I bought it for you.”
Aeryn’s hands froze. “You said you were shopping for Saria.”
I nodded. “And thanks to your hard work, I selected several things that may work. As for that, it looks best around your neck, so leave it there.”
Aeryn’s hands slowly dropped from her neck. She was looking at me, but her face was as expressionless as ever. I couldn’t make heads or tails as to what she thought about the whole thing. When we reached the entrance, I pulled out a jewelry box and handed it to Bala.
“What is this?” Bala asked.
“It is an item I purchased for you. It is an earring.”
“Foolish boy, I’m dressed as a man, I can’t be wearing earrings.”
“I didn’t say earrings, I said earring. It’s a single one.”
She opened it, and there was a single earring, jade and silver wrapped in a close-fitting, yet elegant shape.
“I’ve seen some of your elf men wear an earring in the left ear, so it’s not a girl thing.”
Bala’s expression turned slightly ugly. “Those earrings are given to a man by his lifemate when he makes her pregnant. It is an indication that he is a father, and a symbol of their bond as mother and father.”
“Really?” I responded with a raised eyebrow. “Then I probably shouldn’t give the other to Saria then, huh?”
“You shouldn’t have given this one to me!” Bala snapped, pushing the earring box back in my face.
I help up my hands and didn’t take it back. “Wear it. It will further sell your disguise as a man then. Furthermore, you won’t be hit on by any women if they know you have a child back home.”
“You won’t take it back?” Bala demanded.
“In truth, I think you would look nice with an earring.”
“Do you wish to die now instead of later?”
“Actually, now that I think about it, I heard there is a trick. If you ever been locked up, you can use the sharp part of an earring to open the lock. You can see this as a tool I purchased to help you do your job.”
“Is that so?” Bala looked doubtful but seemed to be taking the bait.
I let out a breath of relief as Bala finally started to calm down. She didn’t put the earring on, instead, sliding it into her pocket. How was I supposed to know that elves had such customs? I just thought it was a fashion thing. Well, these two girls didn’t appreciate what I picked out, but I had a clear idea of what Baba would like.
“Although,” I said, in a store three buildings down, while I looked through lane after lane of bottles. “It does feel a little sad buying alcohol for a minor.”
I asked the man what was their tastiest, and then bought his recommendations. Of course, I didn’t owe Baba all that much as of yet. Her present would wait until I really needed her to do something for me. Other than that, I located a small café and reserved a place for the following day. I also ordered a bouquet, as flowers seem to work on girls no matter what world. I gave a single rose to each of the girls traveling beside me. Aeryn smashed hers on the ground and stepped on it. As for Bala’s, she disposed of it when I wasn’t looking.
Finally, it was time to head back to the inn. The light was starting to dim, and I didn’t want to be caught outside in the dark. The city may be considered the last safe place before the wilderness, but that it wasn’t perfectly safe within the walls. The last thing I needed was to be assaulted or mugged. I had kept my face on the down-low since entering the town. The only reason I had exposed myself going through the front gates was that I thought it would be worse if I tried to sneak in. I also wanted the rumors of my arrival to go around, so while people knew a devilkin was in the city, they didn’t necessarily know where.
Well, that was the intent, except that I was seen in the common room of our inn. Upon my return, I saw a large mob of people outside the inn. Sneaking up behind the mob, I listened in.
“There is a devilkin staying at this inn!” Someone shouted.
“Bring him out of here and kick him out of the city!” Another demanded.
The innkeeper looked panicked and was shaking their head. “He’s not here right now. Please, guests. If I knew he was a devilkin, I wouldn’t have let him in my doors.”
“We should just burn down the inn!” Someone shouted.
“No!” The innkeeper cried. “Please… if there is someone to blame… it’s the gatekeepers! They’re the ones that let him get into town. Yes… it’s not my fault, you see?”
A few people agreed with him, but the majority of the mob was out for blood. I could only let out a sigh. I had really thought the news would have traveled. If they knew I was their prince, they might be uneasy, but they wouldn’t be at this state. Perhaps the noble had purposefully shushed the people around the gate to cause me further trouble. Thinking back, I actually realized that this would be something he would do. A slight miscalculation on my part.
Without hesitating, I walked forward until I was in front of the inn. Aeryn and Bala followed behind me silently. Bala would cut down every person here if I ordered it. She had no particular love of humans anyway. As for Aeryn, I didn’t know how she felt about the hate that I received. At least, she probably thought I deserved it.
I pulled back my hood, my grey skin instantly standing out amongst the crowd and their torches. A few gasped as they saw me. However, I didn’t give anyone time to say anything stupid. My only desire was to set everything straight as quickly as possible.
“I am Lord David, Prince of Pria. I was allowed through these gates with the expressed permission of Lord Stebe. Since you speak so fondly of hangings, who among you would like to be hung first for treason!”
The mob turned to dead silence as my words were allowed to sink in. A few of them looked like they wanted to argue back, but who else could I be but the prince. After all, I was a devilkin who was allowed into a city. I had to have some noble lineage. Even though I was hated here, the people could only grit their teeth and bear it.
The crowd didn’t end with a sudden explosion, but with everyone turning around and leaving, their teeth grinding and their unfounded rage unsatisfied. Some lingered, but a few stern looks was all it took until finally everyone gave up and the mob was extinguished.
I turned to Bala. “This inn will not be safe tonight.”
“That is not my issue,” Bala responded. “You should have stayed in the keep.”
I pulled out a small vial and dropped it. Bala’s eyes followed and then widened as she realized what it was. Before she could do anything, my foot slammed down and the vial was smashed under my feet.
“You bastard!” She cried out.
“Let’s see if you can resist staying the night away from my inn now,” I said, turning away from her and approaching the innkeeper, who was looking at me with fear and consternation.
He wanted to kick me out of his inn more than anything, but that would definitely be the last thing he ever did. He was stuck between satisfying me and satisfying his town and his own prejudices.
“I’m sorry for the trouble my presence causes,” I said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
The man shook but didn’t respond back.
“I will compensate you generously for tonight and tomorrow.”
Even though I said this, we both knew the truth. After I left, his inn would have a reputation for harboring the devilkin. His clientele would drop permanently and he may not even survive that long. My presence meant that he would be going out of business shortly. I planned to give him enough to be able to buy a new inn, however, he’d probably have to leave this city and set up somewhere else. Even though I was a Prince, this wasn’t the capital. People out here had never seen me and had only heard rumors. They were far closer to the devilkin, who were very real in their hearts.
I didn’t stick around the common room. That event had put a sour feeling in me and I just wanted to lie down with a book. When I reached my room, I instantly noticed a note on the door. I opened it and glanced at the words on it. They were somewhat elegant, but the content was just a single line.
Stay away from Perang.
And another mystery presented itself.