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J’mon Sa Ord made love to their mate for hours as the sun moved across the sky, subtly dosing him with their sleep breath until the first consort was more than half asleep, and begging them to stop. The emperor lay in bed with him after, petting the sleeping form beside them, thinking over the prophecy the seer had foretold, and how it might be thwarted. Putting their mate to sleep was only the first step in a number of measures J’mon would take to ensure the gold dragon’s safety. There would have to be layers if fate was to be foiled.

As J’mon lay rapt in thought, the soft voice of one of the imperial messengers emerged from the hall beyond their bedroom. “Your Radiance…” The messenger was standing far enough back that they could not see into the room, maintaining discretion, and the emperor’s privacy. 

“There is word from the Teleportation Minister. Seven strangers from Tal’Dorei have just arrived in the city by means of a druidic Transport via Plants spell.”

Seven strangers all at once, transporting boldly into J’mon’s city without invitation or permission. It smacked of his beloved’s latest group of pet mortals. What were they called? God in the Machine? They certainly acted as though they felt they were godlings in their own right, and owed no one even the slightest courtesy. 

“Thank you,” J’mon told the messenger. “Have them watched from a distance, but take no further action at this time.” 

“As my emperor commands.” 

The brass dragon looked down at their mate, lying deep in an exhausted sleep. “Rest,” they whispered. “All of this will be over before you wake.” J’mon bent their head to bite and mark their mate’s throat, needing the universe to recognize that the gold dragon belonged to them and them alone. 

J’mon had plucked him from the nest, had carried him through countless wars, and had refused to surrender him to the last Calamity. They were not about to surrender their beloved to this one. 

 

*

 

Jarett had promised Opesa that he would find a way to make sure whatever was happening with her son was what the first consort wanted. But he had to wait for a time when Zaahir Kadin was alone. And it didn’t sound like he was.

So Jarett spent the day trying his best to stay busy while he waited for the emperor to release the first consort. Then Jarett could  check on him and speak with him to make certain His Highness was alright. 

Feeling restless, he stepped out into the private courtyard attached to his apartments to practice his archery. Though it was not Jarett’s preferred way to sin, until his lover returned to him, he would have to content himself with it.

Jarett thought about how different his life was now from what it had once been; not his early years in Ank’Harel, but his time in Tal’Dorei. He had set up an efficient network of informants throughout Emon and beyond, and built himself a small empire within the bigger one. By the time Vox Machina had made a name for themselves in the city, Jarett’s little empire was so self-sufficient that he could take a full time job with Vox Machina to track their comings and goings. All the while, keeping a wistful eye on the  mysterious owner of Gilmore’s Glorious Goods. That all felt like another life now. Someone else’s life.

He could never have imagined himself as a kept man, or a father to children that were not his own issue. But for the Heart of the Soul, he would do anything. Without regrets. And Jarett loved those little dragons. Strange to think that he had helped kill their sire. Part of him hoped the whelps would never learn the truth. 

In retrospect, Jarett did not feel good about it, in spite of all that Thordak had said and done. It still felt wrong to kill the parents of those who had grown precious to you. He understood why Zaahir Kadin had kept the secret of their lineage from Jarett for so long. 

He frowned again, remembering his confrontations with Vax’ildan in Shamal. The selfish oaf. How could he think the prince consort would want to have anything to do with him after he’d murdered their unborn children? Perhaps it was just the half elf’s sense of entitlement. He felt he deserved to be forgiven for anything, no matter how egregious, simply because he was himself. 

Or more likely, he simply did not see unhatched wyrmlings as sentient beings worthy of life. Which meant, by Jarett’s logic, he did not deserve to be loved by an adult dragon. If one felt that dragons weren’t people, then one did not deserve to be in a relationship with one, knowingly or unknowingly, as far as Jarett was concerned.  

He seriously hoped that was the last they would see of Vax’ildan or Vox Machina. Though Jarett had had some good times with them over the last few years, for the most part, they were an erratic and untrustworthy bunch, more likely to get one killed than do one good by the association. And though Jarett had once cast his eyes upon the lady Vex’ahlia, she was well and truly out of his reach now. Furthermore, Jarett had netted the true love of his life, and he would not have traded a single moment with the gold dragon for a night with her, lovely creature though she was. Not to mention that Vex’ahlia had the misfortune of being related to that awful Vax, and it could not reflect well on her, no matter how brilliant and beautiful she was.

Jarett practiced his archery until he was sweaty and sore, finally stopping to ask the servants if there had been any message from the first consort, or news of his having left the imperial suites. But there was none. 

Needing to distract himself further, he went out to the stables and asked for his gelding to be prepared for riding practice. The more active he was, the less he would obsess over what the emperor was doing to Gilt D’amour. And, Jarett had to remind himself, it was normal for them to be together. He just wished...he just wished J’mon would treat the man they both loved better. It was possible this rough courtship was dragon custom, and Jarett had been misreading the situation. He needed to speak with Zaahir Kadin; he would be able to explain it to Jarett. 

But for now, he needed to stop obsessing over their separation. He had become spoiled, being able to see his lover every day. Back in Whitestone...well, Jarett had still thought of the first consort often, but he had known they couldn’t be together every day. And he had still been able to focus on his duty. Perhaps that was it. Perhaps Jarett simply needed to focus on his work more. Establish a routine where Gilt D’amour could slip in and out of Jarett’s daily life as he had in the past. 

But how? How would he be able to go back to that after having had...this? After being part of the family? After being able to see Zaahir Kadin for hours each day?

Jarett sighed and pulled himself up onto the chestnut gelding’s back. “Hello, my friend,” he greeted his steed, realizing he should have done so before climbing into the saddle. “My apologies. I am out of sorts today.” He patted Nasim’s neck and urged him forward. Jarett practiced his riding until the sun had passed its zenith. Then he went back inside the palace and sent a message to one of his sources to inquire if the emperor was still indisposed. Eventually he got the answer back that they were. 

Jarett checked the first consort’s apartments one last time to make certain Zaahir Kadin wasn’t there. He found one of his lover’s handmaids, a bronze-skinned halfling, making the bed with fresh linens. “Is he...still with the emperor?” Jarett asked her. 

“You shouldn’t ask such things,” she told him, not looking up. “And you shouldn’t be in here without him.” 

“I do not mean to offend.”

“We know this,” she said. “But if one of the emperor’s servants catches you, you will be punished.”

Jarett leaned back against the wall. “It’s hard not being able to contact him.” 

She glanced up at him then, just as Leila walked into the room to join them. “J’arett effendi. You know better than to be alone with one of the handmaidens.” She was the senior among the first consort’s handmaids, and her authority was palpable. Jarett took a step back.

“Apologies.” 

Her dark brown eyes softened. “You miss him, I know this. And we worry, too, when he spends this much time with the emperor. It is not usual for them.”

“No?” So Jarett’s suspicions had been correct. 

“All of this business with the council, the party leaving to go north. We hear things. The timing is not a coincidence.”

“What are you thinking?” he asked. As someone who had attended to Zaahir Kadin’s needs for decades, she had valuable insights. 

“The emperor did not wish for him to attend the council meeting. Why, we cannot say. Perhaps…” Leila looked down at her hands. “Perhaps they know our master best.”

“He would have wanted to go,” Jarett said, knowing him a bit himself. 

Leila gave a curt nod. “He has always wished to be in the middle of things, to the point of recklessness.”

“So you think the emperor is just seeking to protect him?” 

“Perhaps,” she said. “Who can say? I do not pretend to know what is in the emperor’s mind.” 

“No.” But this got Jarett thinking. Just how dangerous was this foray to the pyramid in the north? Apparently Scanlan had thought it dangerous enough to alert Vox Machina. And now the emperor was scared for their first consort to get involved? 

“There have been ill omens,” Leila said, helping make the bed. “The palace grapevine reports Their Radiance visited the soothsayers earlier.” 

The soothsayers? Was that where the royal magician had taken the emperor after the council meeting? Jarett spent the rest of the afternoon questioning his sources about the party the council had assigned to journey north and trying to find out what vision had been revealed to the emperor earlier. But he could find nothing much of interest in the former, and gave up on the latter when the royal seers proved enigmatic. 

By then, it was late afternoon, and all of the children were done with their lessons for the day. Jarett found Kyor and Hunin and took them out to the yard for some weapons training. But both aasimar tired before long. Jarett gave them a break and they all went to join the younger children and their grandparents for the evening meal.  

When they were done eating, it was perhaps an hour before sunset. Jarett was just wondering about the best way to pull Opesa aside and tell her what little he had found out, when one of his informants approached with the servants and began to clear the table. The half orc discreetly slipped a piece of paper beneath his wine glass before following the other servants out. 

Jarett took the note between his fingers and unfolded it beneath the table. 

Vox Machina sighted near the Luck’s Run. 

His heart leapt into his throat. If they were here in Ank’Harel, there was sure to be trouble. Jarett excused himself and followed after the servants. His informant was waiting for him in the pantry.

“I will be there shortly,” Jarett said. “Tell the others to alert the Hand if they do anything untoward.” The man nodded and left. 

Jarett walked quickly back to the table and whispered in the ear of his mother-in-law. “Your son is still with the emperor. Our old friends from Tal’Dorei have just arrived in the city. I need to keep an eye on them and make certain they do not come anywhere near the palace.”

Opesa nodded in understanding. Then Jarett made the rounds, hugging and kissing each of the little ones, promising he would be back to tuck them in bed if he could. 

In the Suncut Bazaar, Jarett found Vox Machina making fools of themselves, as usual. He noted they had brought the pompous ass and his automaton with them, as well as a half orc Jarett knew to be one of Scanlan’s hired muscle. The gnome himself had donned his Aes Aedon disguise. 

Once their very long group hug was over, Jarett followed them to the Meat Man’s tobacco shop and loitered inconspicuously outside while they no doubt met with Kaylie. When they emerged perhaps an hour later, they had a brief discussion amongst themselves and then turned into clouds of mist, drifting north over the city before disappearing over the ivory walls. 

Jarett could only guess they were using the druid’s magic to travel to the Smoldercrown mountains more swiftly than by caravan. He wondered what would happen when they met the emperor’s party, if Vox Machina would team up with them, or if there would be a clash of egos and interests. 

He debated telling the prince consort of this development. Perhaps it would be better to spare him the knowledge that Vox Machina were in Marquet. Jarett made his way back to the palace to see if Zaahir Kadin was even awake before he decided anything further.