Once upon a time, there was a trickster known as the Badger of Eavesdown.
Now, you all know the badger as a member of the weasel family, an animal that was pretty common, they say, back on Earth-That-Was. But this Badger, he was a different kind of weasel: the human kind. Nevertheless, he had come up in the world from his humble origins, he believed, and was often heard to loudly proclaim that he was now a man of status, an influential businessman who should be treated with more respect by lowly ship's captains and other honest criminals.
Unfortunately for him, the Badger's mother also heard these boasts about his high status in the Persephone business world, and she -- poor woman! -- actually believed them. (Well, she was his mother, so she'd be naturally inclined to think better of him than he deserved, I suppose.) So she decided to come visit him on Persephone, and -- in keeping with Dyton traditions among the snootier classes -- she was fixin' to arrange an 'advantageous marriage' for her son with the daughter of some noble, or at least well-to-do, local family there.
This posed something of a problem for the Badger, since the influence he boasted of (though real enough, I suppose) was not the sort that made him socially acceptable to most folks, and especially not those who'd actually met him -- not even the high-born weasels with whom he often did business. Unless the Badger was willing to 'fess up to his mama that a lot of what he'd told her about his business and social status over the years was a bunch of, er, 'organic fertilizer', he'd have to find some way to head her off at the pass.
And that's where a certain ruggedly handsome and extremely heroic ship's captain comes into the story . . . .
[Shush, Inara! I'm telling this here bedtime story, not you! Now, where was I . . . ?]Oh, yeah: that's where this dashing ship's captain comes into the story -- along with his crew, including one extraordinarily elegant and beautiful ex-Companion, one pint-sized Princess-turned-Copilot, and one not-too-excessively-ugly ex-Merc.
[Ow! Careful, Albatross!]
. . . An ex-Merc, as I said, who had a certain rough but sincere charm of his own, and was generally considered not too hard on the eyes, if you were inclined to go for that type. Which I'm not! Alright?
Now, the Badger knew that this particular brown-coated captain travelled with an elegant ex-Companion, and so when their ship set down at the Eavesdown docks to take on cargo just a day before his mother was due to arrive from Dyton, Badger took it as a sign from some higher power -- probably the god of thieves and procurers -- giving him a way to avoid being leg-shackled without disappointing his mama. Badger came up with the 'brilliant' idea of kidnapping Captain Mal's lovely crewperson and persuading her (through some lowdown means) to pretend to be his affianced bride. He figured his mama would be so blown away by Inara's feminine wiles and graces and her obvious culture that she'd be content to leave him be and toddle on back to Dyton, believing her darling boy was making a brilliant marriage with a high-born lady.
Unfortunately for him, Badger chose to employ his idiot minions to do the kidnapping, and when they saw our pretty little River walking out of Serenity's hold to do some shopping, they figured she was the fine lady that Badger had sent them to get. And though we all know that Princess River could've wiped up the docks with their sorry selves, if she'd been in the mood to do so, she chose to let those dimwits throw a bag over her and drag her back to the Badger's lair, just for the fun of seeing what would happen next (and giving her beloved Captain a few more gray hairs from worrying about her, in the process, which I still say was more than a mite unkind!).
The only thing that gave the Captain and the rest of the crew some comfort, as they looked high and low for little River, was the discovery that their ex-Merc Jayne was also missing and had last been seen following after River. Granted, there was a time -- not so very long before this -- when Captain Mal and the others might've leapt to some very unflattering conclusions about Jayne and his possible involvement in River's disappearance, and there might've been threats involving airlocks and unnecessary surgery, and the like, uttered against Jayne in his absence. But for the past year or so, ever since the Miranda broad-wave went out, Jayne had been mooning around after River like a little, lovesick puppy . . .
[Owww! Gorr--I mean, darn it, Jayne! How can I finish this story and send these kids off to dreamland, if you all keep throwing perfectly good apple cores at me, . . . wasting real food, as well as distracting me from my tale of your thrillin' heroics?]
Where was I? Oh, yes. Jayne had been stumbling over his own big feet and turning tongue-tied in River's presence, and generally providing great amusement to the rest of the crew, as he'd pined -- yes, I said 'pined' and I meant it! -- after the fine young woman that River had grown into. So nobody doubted but that he'd do his utmost to bring River back safe and sound. It was just his ability to figure out how to do it that we doubted . . . and we were WRONG to doubt him! So nobody needs to throw anything at me, okay?
As it turned out, many of us had underestimated our Jayne and his ability to figure things out, given the proper motivation.
Jayne saw River get nabbed in the marketplace, though he was too far away to stop it or to do anything about it without drawing unwanted attention from some folks wearing an unflattering shade of purple, but he recognized several of the idjits who'd snatched her as belonging to Badger, and so he made his wrathful but stealthy way to the Badger's private home in a nice, quiet part of the city, right behind the kidnappers and their victim, and arrived in plenty of time to overhear Badger's reaction to the discovery that the fake fiancee his men had brought him wasn't exactly the one he'd ordered.
Which happened about two minutes before Badger got the news that his mother had taken an earlier transport and would be arriving within the next few hours. With no time to make other arrangements, Badger decided to try to bluff his way through his mother's visit with a suitably intimidated (he thought!) River playing the part of his adoring, high-born and wealthy fiancee.
Now, there may be those who say that Jayne Cobb's not the most accomplished thinker in the 'verse, or not the most well-educated and refined fella you could hope to meet, but I'm here to tell you, children, that when it comes to the topic of mothers and sons, our ex-Merc is an expert. So it came to be that Jayne -- yes, Jayne! -- thought of a cunning plan all by his lonesome, and he set about putting it into action.
First, he thought really hard at River, in the little dressing room where Badger had sent her to change into some fancier clothes he'd sent for. Jayne pictured in his mind the main part of what he was fixin' to do, in hopes that she'd be listening for him with that unique brain of hers and be ready to play along. Failing that, he figured he'd just count on her quick wits, which hadn't let any of them down lately, to pick up the necessary cues when the time came.
Second, Jayne broke into the fanciest and biggest unguarded house he could find in the neighborhood and managed to make off with enough fine clothes and gee-gaws -- including a big sash that was supposed to indicate lordship, or some such -- to dress himself up as a snooty, high-class gent . . . if you didn't look too close, or didn't already know him, of course.
Finally, Jayne waited for Badger's mother to arrive, and for them all to settle down for tea in Badger's over-decorated parlor, with River pouring and handing around the little cups, looking all frilly and helpless in her fancy new dress, keeping her pinkies up and all that useless -- I mean, all that good-mannered! -- stuff.
Just when he figured that Badger must be breathing easier, thinking his plans to deceive his loving mama were clicking along nicely, Jayne puffed himself up and knocked on Badger's front door. Pushing his way past Badger's snooty but insufficiently lethal butler, Jayne stormed into the front parlor, loudly proclaiming that he'd changed his mind and was willing to risk everything to prove to Miss River that he was worthy to be her husband.
Without missing a beat, River fluttered and preened, and exclaimed how flattered she was that Sir Jayne was willing to risk fighting her in unarmed combat, considering how much he stood to lose. When Badger's mother looked confused and frightened (as well she might!), River kindly explained that it was the custom among the very best families on Persephone that a suitor must prove his worthiness to wed by defeating his intended bride in single combat. If the man won, then the marriage could proceed, and the woman and her dowry would become his. If the man lost, then he had to pay a forfeit to the girl's family sufficient to double the size of her dowry. Then River went on to modestly explain that she had so far defeated four would-be bridegrooms and had thereby become the proud possesser of the largest dowry on Persephone at the moment. It was a little hard on the defeated men's families, she admitted, since the last three men she'd beaten had practically beggared themselves and their families in order to pay the forfeit, and two of the three had afterwards blown their brains out, rather than live with the disgrace.
While Badger's mother was still digesting that bit of unpalatable news, River turned to Badger -- who had been speechless with shock and dismay ever since Jayne had burst in on them -- and asked if he'd be willing to postpone their own duel of honor that afternoon in order to let her fight Jayne first, since her dowry would be that much larger afterwards, if he were to succeed where Jayne had failed.
Now, I wasn't there to see it myself, unfortunately, but Jayne swears to me that Badger's face turned three different shades of green and then red while he was trying to decide whether or not to go along with the load of horse 'fertilizer' that River had been serving up to his mama along with her tea and biscuits. In the end, he really had no choice but to go along with whatever yarn River decided to spin, rather than admit to his mother that he'd already lied to her about a great many things, not the least of which was River's identity as a high-born and wealthy lady who was willing to marry him. Never having seen River in a fight, Badger had no idea what to expect, but he choked back his pride long enough to follow where River seemed to be leading him and 'graciously' gave his permission for her to fight Jayne first.
So the whole lot of them -- Badger, his mother, his butler, and a couple of bodyguards who'd come running when the shouting started, plus Jayne and River -- trooped out onto Badger's fancy back lawn to witness something that we've all seen and enjoyed numerous times: River beating Jayne black and blue during a sparring session. Once River had bloodied his face some and bounced him off a few hard surfaces several times, Jayne looked sufficiently rough to make his surrender to River semi-believable. As the bodyguards helped Jayne to limp off the field of battle, River happily turned to Badger (looking hardly the worse for wear herself, though she'd managed to split her fancy new dress in a couple of places) and asked if he was ready to carry through on his ardent promises, to risk losing everything and putting himself and his lovely mama out on the streets, for the sake of her love.
As you can imagine, Badger's mother was beside herself by this time, terrified of the physical damage this little spitfire might do to her beloved son (since even to her adoring eyes it seemed unlikely that Badger would fare better than Jayne in a hand-to-hand fight), not to mention the financial and social damage her son would suffer if he were defeated. She roundly told Badger that he was forbidden -- absolutely forbidden! -- to even think about getting married until he was at least twenty years older, and that if he lost his shirt through some misguided effort to marry the biggest dowry on Persephone, he needn't think that she'd be willing to go back to washing other people's clothes to support him.
After that, it seems that River and Jayne had a fine old time making a scene, with River bursting into tears and yelling that Badger had deceived her about his intentions -- and whatever happened to his promises to treat her like a queen and shower her with jewels? -- while Jayne loudly proclaimed that he was going to tell everyone on Persephone that Badger had chickened out, so that it would give the gossips something other than Jayne's defeat to talk about for the next season. The upshot of it all was that Badger's mother insisted he give River and Jayne 'some lovely parting gifts' to encourage them to keep their mouths shut . . . at least long enough for her to catch the first ship back to Dyton and try to forget that any of this ever happened. Jayne limped away from Badger's house with his pockets full of cashy money, and River walked away with the fancy pearl necklace that Badger had just that day presented to his mother.
And that, my dears, is the story of how Jayne used his wits to out-trick the trickster, and managed to get himself, River, and even the ungrateful Badger out of this sticky situation without shedding more than a few drops of blood -- all of it his own. And that's also how Jayne got a step closer to winning River's heart, by losing a fight and saving the day.
As for what happened next, well . . . that's another story for another night!