Aurel pulled the cowl lower over his head, the hood dousing his features in shadow. He ducked into the tavern, glancing around swiftly, and taking a booth near the back. The establishment was alive with vibrant laughter and echoing shouts of the slightly inebriated. Aurel smiled to himself, and waved off the waitress who came to inquire as to his order.
He wasn’t here to drink, and he didn’t really care what sort of suspicions a hooded figure in the corner of a bar would awaken. The more unwilling they were to approach him the better.
His gaze skimmed over the tavern’s patrons, who leaned into each other and slammed their fists on table tops, guffawing and braying incessantly. It melded into a steady hum in his ears as his gaze alighted on the reason for his current occupation of the furthest booth in the bar.
A young woman was leaned over one of the tables, beaming at a group of jolly gentlemen as she took their orders for another round of drinks. Her hair flowed in waves of ebony down her back, framing her beaming face and rich chocolate eyes. The waitress cast the group one last smile before ducking behind the bar.
Aurel cried out in surprise as he was shoved bodily across the booth seat. He bolted upright, cheeks flushed and glaring as he turned to face his assailant.
Coiriuil slid into the vacant seat, propping his crossed arms on the table and meeting his abashed expression with a smirk. “Did you really think I wouldn’t find you?”
Aurel readjusted his hood, which had fallen back in his violent displacement, casting his gaze away as he shifted in his seat.
Coiriuil leaned towards him, trying to get a glimpse under that hood, before slouching in his seat with a sigh. He laid his arms along the back of the couch. “You need to get back. It’s not safe here.”
Aurel shot him a glare. “I’m not leaving yet.”
Coiriuil cast him a half-amused, half-deprecating look. “Dragging your ass out of this booth is going to cause a lot of commotion, but I’m not above a little attention. Are you going to make this easy or hard?”
Aurel gave an annoyed hiss, and glanced back over at the woman. “I’ll leave soon, alright? Just give me a few minutes.”
Coiriuil followed his line of sight before he could glance away, and a coy grin wormed onto his lips. “Really? This is what you’ve been spending your nights, and wasting hoards of decent sentries on? A girl?”
“Go back home,” Aurel ordered, suppressing a glare. “I’ll follow soon.”
Coiriuil chuckled in the back of his throat. “I’ll give you twenty seconds, and then we’re high-tailing it out of here.”
Aurel’s eyes flared with irritation. “I’ll stay here as long as I like.”
“Vilaen says otherwise,” he purred, and rose from the booth, pulling his cloak over the row of knives sheathed in his belt. “Get up before I have to drag you home.”
Aurel met his gaze, his eyes flaring red. “I order you to stand down.”
Coiriuil blinked, before a patiently smug and altogether infuriating smile split his features. “Is that a direct order, sir?”
“Yes,” Aurel hissed, his jaw snapping shut. For a minute, Coiriuil looked like he was going to comply – an entirely foreign concept to him. But then his hand snapped out and closed around Aurel’s forearm, hauling him to his feet. Aurel gave a cry caught midway between shock and anger, and staggered into the walkway, narrowly missing a parting waitress.
Coiriuil tossed her a smile. “My friend’s a little drunk. Had too much pre-night ale.” His grip was painfully tight as he dragged Aurel away, the latter swearing profusely.
“What are you doing?” Aurel snarled. “I gave you a direct order!”
His attempts to wrestle his arm out of Coiriuil’s grasp were somewhat futile. Coiriuil kicked open the tavern door, denying him one last glimpse at the beautiful waitress before the cold air assaulted his senses.
He was tossed across the pavement, and he regained his footing, staggering and spinning to face Coiriuil with a newfound fury. The other man simply gave him a firm shove in the direction of a waiting coach. “Get in.”
“Why should I?” Aurel demanded like some petulant child.
“Because I don’t want to be chewed out by Vilaen about how I let you slip my watch. Do you really want twenty good men to be sacked over your little midnight escapade?”
Aurel set his jaw, dropping his gaze. “No.”
Coiriuil simply gestured to the coach, and Aurel hauled himself into the carriage with a final huff. Coiriuil took the seat next to him, lounging across it with his feet propped on the opposite seat. Aurel sat with far more grace and poise, all the dignity of the highborn evident in his perfect posture.
“She’s pretty,” Coiriuil allowed lightly, nodding appreciatively.
“She’s beautiful,” Aurel corrected in a mutter.
“She’s also a waitress.”
Aurel’s gaze burned. “So? She’s Evanian. There’s no law against–”
Coiriuil scoffed. “Because a highborn lady is going to be masquerading as a waitress.” He cast his gaze out the small window, watching the pitch shadows warp and twist themselves into landscape beyond the glass. “Your father ordered you to marry a highborn girl, and you can bet your family’s fortune that Vilaen’s going to carry out his final wishes to the utmost degree.
Aurel set his jaw, decidedly not talking to Coiriuil until they had circled the courtyard of his family’s estate. He sighed. His estate, now with his father’s passing.
He stepped from the carriage, glancing up at the huge structure before them, carved from the finest white sandstone the Six Realms had to offer. It was an ancient thing, wide and sprawling rather than tall and dominating. It was common for Lords to have their mansions built in quart stone and tower thirty feet above the ground. It was reflective of a Lord’s personality and leniency what form his abode took.
For Aurel, his home was neither impenetrable nor terrifying. It was pure and extravagant; his family was one of the wealthiest – if not the wealthiest – of the Great Mage families in the Six Realms. This mansion spoke it all.
He stepped across the threshold with Coiriuil on his heels, ascending the handful of steps and blinking in the gloom of the foyer before pausing as they shut the gates behind him. On any other day, he’d cross the inner courtyard into the living areas of the house. But it was bordering on dawn, and he was supposedly safe in his chambers, fast asleep.
So he took the long way around, keeping to the hallways and corridors of this maze of a house, before ascending the marble staircase to the second floor. His room was at the end of the hallway on the left, with a view overlooking the inner gardens on one side and the expanse of the city on the other. He paused with his hand on the doorknob, casting a half-glance over his shoulder. Coiriuil cast him a half-hearted salute and turned back towards the staircase, a low cheerful whistle reverberating off the walls.
Aurel sighed and pushed into his considerable bedroom, his fingers picking at the knot-tie around his neck, and he pushed the cloak from his shoulders, wrestling out of his shirt and flopping down onto his bed. He managed to kick his boots off before sleep claimed him.