Since I've had some people asking me what the drek Harlequin is doing at Neuschwanstein in my stories, I wrote this little bit.
Harlequin showed up at Neuschwanstein Castle sometime around noon. Spring was in full splendor here, but there was still a chill in the air. He’d gotten a call from the lady of the castle a few days prior, and she had asked him to help out with…something. She hadn’t really explained, but her tone had sounded deadly serious. Serious enough that he was convinced to at least show up and hear her out. Given the conditions of the castle, and of the poor chummers living in the tiny little village that the castle overlooked, he was able to deduce a vague idea of what the problem might be.
He turned off the engine of his motorbike, removed his helmet, smoothed back his freshly dyed red hair, and slung his backpack over his shoulder. He didn’t expect to stay more than a few days at most, so he’d packed light. He dismounted his bike and stretched the tight muscles in his back and legs. He traipsed up to the newly repaired gate and smiled broadly at the two guards standing to either side. Big fraggers, orks, wearing matte black mil-spec body armor and carrying the latest and greatest in Saeder-Krupp assault weaponry. Only the best for daddy’s little girl, he thought bemusedly.
“Your lady is expecting me.” His smooth-as-synthsilk voice betrayed only the slightest hint of tiredness from his travels. The ork to his left gave him an emotionless once over, his eyes hovering on his glittering rapier for a couple of seconds too long, before nodding to the other. The second ork blinked rapidly for a moment. The gate unlocked with a heavy “SHUNK” and swung open. Harlequin smiled again. “Thank you, goro.”
In the middle of the large stone courtyard stood a stone pillar where he thought the keep should be. An initial glance told him magic was involved, but further examination would have to wait. He approached the heavy wooden door, which swung open before he could even think of knocking. He almost didn’t recognize the young elf woman who stood before him. Her gold eyes, which before had glimmered with intelligence and strength of will, now showed the emotional trauma she hadn’t had time to deal with. Her blood red hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail, and she was dressed in a simple black dress underneath a deep green house robe. Brisingamen glittered brightly around her neck. She smiled wearily at him.
“Harlequin, please come in.” Her voice sounded like she’d aged a hundred years in just the few weeks since he’d last seen her. Her shoulders sagged, and her bare feet dragged on the smooth marble tiles as she led him through the white stone halls of her house. That’s when it struck him. This place is fragging empty! No art, no décor, no servants, drone or otherwise, nada, zip, zilch, nothing. With the exception of the two of them, the place was deserted. Even the remodeling and repairs had ceased, probably due to the chaos he witnessed back in the village on his way through. They soon stopped at an aged oaken door. A soft clack echoed through the barren halls as she opened the door. He followed her into the room, a study, from the look of it. A fire burned in the carved stone fireplace, which chased away the chill. She motioned for him to sit, and trudged over to a small wet bar. She picked up a glass bottle and shook it in his direction. “Alamaestra?”
Harlequin chuckled slightly and nodded. “Ehran send you that as a housewarming gift?”
She looked at the note still tied to the neck of the bottle and smiled. “To a new and brighter future, Frosty.” She spoke with genuine amusement, her face fell again and she quickly poured the drinks. She handed one to him and sat in a plush wingback chair near the fireplace. He sat in a matching chair across from her, eyeing her with concern.
“Ms. MacLellan…“ He started.
“Please, it’s Maisie.” She cut him off. There was a hard edginess in her gaze.
“Maisie, want to tell me why I’m here?” He cut to the chase.
“I’m assuming you saw the conditions in Hohenschwangau on your way here, ja?” She swirled the drink in the glass, but left it untouched. He nodded in response. “That’s why.”
He blinked at her, and she continued. “All of those people came here because of me. They all think I’m some sort of fragging messiah or some drek. They’re looking to me for protection and guidance.”
“So, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing! I don’t want to be a leader, and I sure as hell don’t want to be a damned messiah! Now all of these people, most of them SINless, are here in a tiny village never meant to handle a population of its current size. There’s not enough of anything, and people are starting to die. It’s chaos out there, and…”
“And you feel like you need to do something.” He finished her sentence.
She nodded. “I certainly have the resources, but I also have a giant bullseye on my forehead.” She finally took a sip of her drink as Harlequin’s brow furrowed. “Oh, please, don’t give me that look. I know you’re smarter than that. Mein vater isn’t exactly a popular guy, ja? I’ve been getting death threats since I moved in here. Opening the gates and housing some of the people here is a good way to end up geeked, and I can’t help any of them if I’m barghest chow.”
“Skip to the part where you need me.”
Maisie sighed. “For the same reason, I can’t leave. I’ve got this place heavily warded, but the moment I walk through the front gates, there’s nothing to stop a sniper from blowing out the back of my skull.”
“There also wouldn’t be much to stop the writhing masses down below from storming this place and making off with anything that isn’t nailed down,”
“Now you’re catching on.”
“Still not sure what you need me for.”
“I need someone who can go and make use of my resources to get what the people here need. Food, et cetera.”
“You need a liaison.”
Harlequin almost fell over laughing, earning him a harsh glare. “I’m not exactly Mr. Popular either, my dear.”
“I’m well aware, but you are powerful.” He blinked again. He wasn’t sure he liked where she was going, but he was also curious. She smirked, and for a moment he saw the weariness replaced by a glint of playful mischief. “Powerful enough to disguise yourself both physically and astrally, and powerful enough to handle any threats that come your way, ja?”
He smirked, she was clever. “And you can’t just hire some random guy because…?”
“Because I can’t trust their ability to do the job, or trust that they won’t put a knife in my back.” She tilted her head at him with a knowing smile. “Besides, you have the experience.”
He glared angrily. How the fuck could she possibly know about that? Then it hit him, the Blood Jewel. Now he was really curious. “How much else do you know about me?”
“Enough to make your life a hell of a lot better if you help me.”
“Better?” He snorted. “Raén, I’ve got all I need.”
“But not what you want, not really.” Her words cut him like a knife, but he tried to hide it. Didn’t work. “You have money, power, things most people only dream of, but you’re still unhappy.”
“No way that damned jewel told you that. Wolf tell you?” He snapped.
“Wolf didn’t need to, I can see it.” He blinked again, and she smiled, this time with sympathy. “I grew up in the shadows. I’ve seen a lot of misery, and I’ve learned how to recognize it in the people around me. I can give you what you want, what you really want.”
Harlequin’s temper flared. He chucked the glass at the wall, which exploded in a shower of tiny crystal fragments, but Maisie hardly reacted at all. “How the fuck could you possibly know what I want?!” He got up to leave, but what Maisie said next froze him in his tracks.
“You want Aina back.” He looked back at her with a mix of shock and confusion. Maisie watched as rage and pain fought for control on his face. “I can’t bring her back, I don’t think anyone can, but I can tell you what became of her.”
His heart felt like a stone in his chest. It had been close to twenty years since Aina’s death, and all of his efforts to uncover her fate had been in vain. “You can do that?” His voice was barely above a whisper.
“The jewel has told me many things, but I’m far from unlocking all of its secrets. All I can tell you now is that she’s not truly dead. She’s just…well, not here anymore.” Her eyes met his. “It will take me a long time to dig through the mountains of knowledge before I can tell you more, but I need to take care of matters here first. I sure as hell can’t tell you a damn thing if I get geeked.”
“I could always have someone else access the jewel’s knowledge for me.”
“You think if I end up dead, mein vater is going to let you anywhere near that thing? Besides, it can only be accessed by someone with the power of dragonspeech. How many people with that power would be willing to help you?”
The answer to that was simple, no one. He sighed in defeat. She had him by the hoop, and based on the smirk on her face, she knew it. He threw his arms out in an “alright, you got me” gesture before slapping them back down. “When do I start?”
“You have a meeting arranged with the leaders of the Troll Kingdom tomorrow afternoon. In your room you’ll find your disguise and all necessary documentation.”
She’d made a hell of a gamble fixing all that up for him before he’d even arrived, but she knew it would pan out in her favor. He made a mental note to never play poker with her. With a newfound confidence, she got up and poured him another drink. He glanced down at the shattered glass sheepishly.
“Sorry about that…” He nodded towards the pile of crystalline glitter as Maisie handed him the drink. She just looked at it and shrugged.
“Eh, no big deal.” She smiled brightly and raised her glass, clinking it against his. “To a new and brighter future.”
He snorted again. She was young and naïve, but it was hard not to like the girl. “To a new and brighter future.” He took a swig and looked out the window at the snow-capped mountains. “You know, I think I might like it here.”