The battle with Reynard feels unexpected, but also inevitable. It isn’t that Alexander thought things would go without incident, if anything he knew something would happen. It’s more that he didn’t think it would happen this particular way, and it’s annoying in retrospect that he hadn’t planned for it.
A half-hour after the fight began, the other champions now having fled the fort, a red fox crashes back into the courtyard with a spray of rocks and rubble. In a shimmer of magic it becomes the young lord once more.
The half an hour had been just enough time for Alexander to sort through crippling stomach pain (a good ten minutes sitting and waiting for it to pass while using a table for cover, wondering what people back home would say about about the literal possibility of laughing yourself to death), get his things (five minutes hobbling with slightly less pain and avoiding the corpses of guards), politely inform the various banner-men that had been sent with him that they’re leaving right now thank you (an extra fifteen minutes), and make his way into the courtyard just in time to see Reynard change back. He smiles thinly at the chaos, and can’t help a wave of irritation that his spell hadn’t contained the man longer.
“I think that’s enough,” he comments drily.
Reynard is a blur of red, too quick to follow, and a second later Alexander feels the weight of him ramming into his shoulder as the man shoves him back a step.
“You backstabbing prick, I ought to have you strung up here and now! Do you have the slightest idea what you’ve gone and done?” He snapped his fingers, pointing at an injured guard. “Messages to Morla and Mair, now. Spread the name of this traitorous shit.” and he glared at Alexander, “He’s the Queen’s business now.”
“In so far as I can tell,” Alexander replies, trying to match Reynard’s anger with something like calm, “it was impossible to tell who that attack was directed at. Had I waited to make that determination, things would have been far worse. In addition, and you are free to correct me if I’m wrong, but if the uncontrolled nature of the attack and its aims were to get out, do you think the High Queen would be happy your actions ran a risk of harming a champion who is a part of her court? It would be something I would consider. Especially since I haven’t sent her confirmation you’ve agreed to her demands yet.”
Alexander digs his hands into his coat pockets, forces his body language to stay relaxed. Reynard remains bristled and hissing like an angry cat, prowling up and down as he thinks. The wizard can’t help but wonder if the animal tendency is a part of what the fox is, something deep down. If rather than the fox being a shape he chose this is the one he has to take, to blend himself in with the rest of them.
“If you had kept yourself under control, it would have been over faster than you could comb your hair!” Reynard stops, hands flexing, temper barely in check as he narrows his eyes at the wizard. “As for you, the second I caught sight of you casting I knew my instincts had all been confirmed.” He takes a breath and moves to straighten his tousled hair, quietly collecting himself. “We were so close. I had them in the palm of my hand…”
“My first priority is my own safety, and I do not read minds. Now, to return to the matter at hand.”
That seems to change something in Reynard, and he focuses — narrows his eyes and straightens himself. Slowly, his expression flattens down.
“The matter at hand is that you are a turn-cloak, and very lucky I haven’t killed you.”
“You’ve left out the little detail that Morla is unaware that you’ve agreed to her offer, and that she requests physical evidence of this agreement. My understanding is that I’m supposed to bring it to her.”
“And what prevents me from letting you go to do that, only to notify her after the fact?” Reynard’s eyes gleamed, in something like cold triumph. “Or from killing you now, and letting it be known you were simply… slain by the Seelie? You know as well as I do that I hold the better cards.” He shakes his head, prowls back into Alexander’s space. “The reason you aren’t already dead is because I have need of you. A need to which you are ideally suited.”
It’s uncomfortable, how close he is. Alexander has to inwardly remind himself to breathe.
“Well, I’m listening.”
The fox shoots a calculating look to their surroundings. Purses his lips, pitches his voice a little quieter.
“Morla has you travelling further abroad, yes? All across the land, doing her work?”
“Correct, but I am not at liberty to specify further.”
“No need. The Sisterhood has roots in every nook and cranny, and these won’t be the first mountains you pass, I’m certain. I have a charm. A little thing, like a child’s crystal chime. Scattered throughout the mountains are shrines to the Sisterhood. Stones, shaped and hollowed to look like little homes. Sometimes pilgrims will leave strings of fabric or bells to encourage the spirits to linger. My charm, it must be left at one of these shrines.”
“And what is it meant to do?”
“Summon them. Summon one of them, in particular, back to me.”
“And here I have to ask for clarification.” Alexander thins his lips, trying to think ahead. Trying to out-think Reynard feels like finishing a jigsaw without knowing the final picture. “My gut is suggesting that this item will bring more harm than good.”
“Have someone inspect it,” Reynard huffs, “they’ll tell you the same as I.”
“And if they do say otherwise?”
“Then it’s your prerogative: place it, and your questionable part in all that’s happened here will go unmentioned to the queen. But if I find no answer to its summons by the summer…”
Alexander takes a moment, trying to consider his options. He has no doubt his gut is right, but his choices are limited. After a moment he produces a map from an inner pocket, digs out a modern pen and clicks it.
“I want this agreement in writing.”
Reynard rigidly leans away, regarding the pen as someone might an unfamiliar weapon.
“Well and good, just don’t point that at me.”
For a moment Alexander just closes his eyes and controls a wince, like a man at the end of his tether trying to regroup.
“— Writing implement, it doesn’t contain murderous ink,” he clarifies, opening the map. “If you would kindly have someone fetch parchment, that’d make life easier. Just mark on the map where these shrines are. The more locations, the better.”
To make a point he scribbles along the top margin before holding it out. See? Just a pen. Reynard hesitates a long moment, weighing up the chances it might be a trap, before accepting it. He marks the map with a series of florid s marks, waiting for the parchment, then takes a breath. His grip shifts as he begins to write in a broad, ornate hand — teeth grit and fingers seeming to slowly clench tighter
“You must tell me what to write quickly,” he warns, “The terms I mean. A deal is very painful once it’s begun.”
Reynard the Fox, to the Unseelie Emissary of the Shadow Lady, Queen Morla, records here the details and terms of a Formal Agreement and Concord which together they have come to…