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I has Eberron SSoK Sidefic! =D

Interlude --- Reine and Hannah

"Good brother!"

Ears perked and attentive, Reine Heimdall blinked quizzically and turned to his right with a curious glance as he just turned to leave the small, unelaborate Shrine to the Silver Flame in Clifftop, only to find a younger Halfling acolyte girl, dressed in the typical blue-and-silver livery, calling out and stopping him with a quick wave of her arms. Giving a quick reverent nod in greeting, Reine could only wonder what this was about; He still had to check with the postings in Clifftop and had only stopped in, as a convenient part of his route, for his morning worship to the Silver Flame in Sharn. He had a project to tend to, after all...and nowhere to start on it.

Reine frowned inwardly at that in a tinge of despair; At the current rate, it didn't look like his project ever will get off the starting line, and the Viscounty of Baranthia that Reine had been 'assigned' to will always remain an empty title. Reine didn't know what made him accept the title in the first place, but since he had, Reine knew there was no sense dwelling on it and tried to do a serious job at changing that status, but thus far to little avail. He couldn't do it alone, and couldn't burden his companions with what was essentially his problem...

He needed help, and fast, hence why he was frequenting Clifftop more often than not of late, advertising, asking around, and generally hoping to find someone who can give him any aid. Or failing that...at least a little advice. "Oh!" Reine greeted, staring quizzically at the acolyte. "Can I help you with anything, sister?"

The acolyte stopped in front of Reine, bowed quickly back, and brushed her hands along her robes to dust herself off briefly. "You're Reine Heimdall, aren't you? A little young to be a Paladin, still can't really believe it..."

Reine quirked an eyebrow upwards in response. "...Y-yeah?"

"Oh oh oh! Anyway, sorry. It's not really that you're a Paladin that I'm curious about...you're that new Viscount of Baranthia that got appointed to that post a few weeks ago, aren't you?" The acolyte chimed, shuffling and softening her glance to try her very, absolute best to be helpful and polite about it. "Haven't you been advertising in the Sharn Globe and Mail, looking for some kind of advisor or magistrate or---"

"Seneschal," Reine finished, lowering his quizzical eyebrow; Any and all annoyance he might've felt earlier vanished quickly at that certain line of thought, but Reine was still a little uncertain. "But how do you---"

"I've...well, I've seen you around Clifftop here and there, asking around," The acolyte admitted guiltily with a slight blush, placing her hands behind her back at that. "You've been looking for awhile now, haven't you, good brother? Kept asking around Clifftop for a Senes---magistrate to help you, but nobody really like that around here..."

"Reine's fine," Reine answered, deflating slightly with a soft sigh. "And yeah...I'm probably doing something wrong, but..."

The acolyte girl nodded in sympathy.

"I'm sorry, Reine, but I'd say you really are looking in the wrong place for what you're asking for. A lot of good, skilled people here, yes, but a lot of them are just adventurers; They know everything about adventuring in small groups and how to go about a lot of tasks, but nothing about how to run an actual country or even a fiefdom..." The acolyte shook her head as Reine bit his lip unhappily at the dismal, cold truth facing him. "You really should be looking at the Morgrave University for those kinds of people, but, well..."

Reine nodded a little in gratitude. "Please, dear sister, do go on."

At that, the acolyte looked up at Reine and stared intently into his eyes with an assuring, brightening look, the glimmer in which made Reine's gloomy mood fade somewhat --- she knew what she was talking about, and there was something akin to hope in the acolyte's eyes. "Look, you're a nice guy, Reine, especially for one of the Flame's Paladins; Much better than those grifters in the Cathedral of the Cleansing Flame, I'm telling you," The acolyte's gaze narrowed into a glance of disdain at the mention of what everyone already knows was one of the most corrupt, self-centered and indulgent churches in Sharn, if not all of Khorvaire outright. "And it pains me to keep seeing you look over and over in the wrong place for what you won't ever find there...so I want to help you out, maybe point you in the right direction for once."

"Oh, that'd be highly appreciated!" Reine exclaimed as his features brightened at that. "You know someone who could help me, dear sister?"

"Not per se," Was the answer, causing Reine to blink once in confusion again. "There's a sweet little lass I know that wanders around the Morgrave University, comes here every now and then to make a donation and to talk," The acolyte smiled fondly. "I think she actually learns and specializes in that kind of administration you're looking for. Her name's Hannah Dallenghal; Really sweet lass, that one. You might want to try asking her."

"I definitely will, thanks," Reine answered happily. "Would you know where can I find her?"

"You'll have to ask around the Morgrave University Commons; I think she frequents there around this hour of day. Really has a palate for the Talentan Kebabs there for some reason," The acolyte sobered slightly and placed her hands absently in front of her hips. "Well, best of luck to you, Reine. I can only tell you about her; It'll be up to her if she wants to help you or not, but I think she really can help you with your problem."

"I certainly hope so as well," Reine bowed gratefully, and was about to reach for his pouch to repay the acolyte for her help before the acolyte held out her hand to stop him. He otherwise knew better than to press the issue, and waved excitedly to her in goodbye --- at last, Reine's found a glimmer of hope, and hopefully from there a starting point to turn his empty title into an appointment of substance. "Thank you for your advice, dear sister. Flame bless you."

----------------------------------------------------

The Morgrave University Commons, a pleasant open-air plaza with a beautiful view of the surrounding towers and a sweet, alluring mixture of the scent of flowers and the aroma of freshly-cooked food, was indeed packed with massive crowds of people separated into small, friendly groups within their own individual discussions and socializations, which did not make Reine's new task any easier, forcing him to politely ask everyone he could see where this 'Hannah Dallenghal' was. Nobody had ever heard of her, and the scent of fresh Sweetsalt Roundbread nearby --- causing Reine to smile fondly to himself and close his eyes briefly in distraction as he was reminded of the Silver Flame Church's Baker's Night, with its sweet pastries and the few good memories of home, making his stomach growl hungrily in turn --- was only distracting him further.

Reine forced himself to hold in the hunger and focus on the task at hand, easy with the Paladin training he had before where he had to do exactly that many times in his life; He'll buy a few of those Roundbreads later since he hadn't had lunch yet, but if he missed Hannah, he might never find her again, and with Hannah perhaps went the chances of the Viscounty becoming something of note again. And so, braving himself and placing his arms behind his back with a polite smile and a guilty look for disturbing their discussions, Reine kept asking.

"I'm sorry, never heard of her," One person said.

"You might wanna try the Library," Another person answered.

And so forth, and after a good quarter-hour of asking around, even Reine was starting to feel exhausted and dejected both. He placed his arms on his waist, standing at one of the edges overlooking the towers, staring downwards into open air; Was Hannah even here to begin with? Perhaps she skipped out already...That was when Reine caught sight of a young woman standing some distance away from his left, also overlooking the towers and staring off into the sky, and Reine shrugged as he decided to ask her. One more person couldn't hurt, not for this.

Reine walked with quiet steps and took a deep breath to compose himself as he placed his arms to his sides, stopping next to the young woman as he called out...

"Ummmmm, excuse me..."

The young woman turned at Reine's voice, and he found himself at once mesmerized by what he saw of her, the welcome, comforting feeling causing Reine to blush slightly at her. Although the young woman standing in front of him, turning her head with a curious, warm glance wasn't exceeding beautiful --- Fientia was definitely prettier, Reine decided inwardly, although that the young woman wasn't wearing nearly as much pink as Fi was definitely a point in her favor! --- she was still pretty and pleasant to see in her own right, and what truly mesmerized Reine was there was some kind of demure, assuring presence in between her soft knowing stare and pleasing smile, as if this young woman before him stood readily to help him with whatever he needed. The young woman's long, waist-length raven hair gently flowed with the breeze around them underneath the courtier's hat she wore, as did her white-and-black robes, and she was gently fanning herself with a small, light fan made of pure white feathers...

She immediately bowed and widened her smile at Reine, as if amused and curious at his intrusion both. "Oh!" The young woman greeted with a sweet-sounding, demure voice. "Greetings, friend! How can I help you?"

Reine blinked at that and scratched his head as he glanced guiltily at her. "Sorry for bothering you, milady," Reine answered meekly. "But I'm wondering if you know anyone by the name of Hannah Dallenghal around the Commons at this hour."

"Hannah Dallenghal?"

The young woman suddenly glanced upwards and rubbed her cheek in thoughtfulness at the question, and her demeanor at the name made Reine begin feeling hopeful again. Just as quickly as the look appeared, however, it faded, and the young woman glanced back down and shrugged at him. Reine's heart sank slightly, although he couldn't help but note that only the young woman had answered him in this way. "Well, I'm not sure, actually..." The young woman answered before suddenly tilting her head sideways left, and right, as if trying to see what to think of Reine. "...but since you're here, actually, would you terribly mind helping me with something?"

Reine nodded quizzically, staring at the young woman in wait. "What is it, milady?"

The young woman's eyes trailed over to her right with a glance somewhat resembling yearning, and Reine turned his head left to see what she was looking at. Both their eyes fell upon what seemed to be a Talentan Halfling vendor and a grill cart with delicious, mouth-watering Kebabs cooking on top of it. "See, friend, I can't just ever seem to get enough of those Talentan Kebabs," The young woman chimed, shuffling backwards a step and pursing her lips with a guilty look. "I'd buy them myself, but I seem to have had forgotten my coin pouch at home today. I know they cost 5 gold each, but...would you terribly mind being a dear and buying two chicken kebabs for me? Oh, dear sir!" Suddenly, the young woman's smirk seemed to widen as she took to...fluttering her eyelashes at him. I'm terribly sorry, but---"

There was only a very slight pause before Reine "ohhhhh'd" and smiled back with a nod at the young woman. "I'd be glad to! Give me a moment."

And so, as the young woman smiled brightly behind him, Reine walked over casually to the Talentan Kebab cart, fished out 10 gold from his own pouch, and bought two freshly grilled, delicious-smelling chicken kebabs in his hands before walking back over to the young woman, gazing with an accomplished stare. "Here you go, milady! Two fresh chicken Talentan Kebabs---"

Only to find the young woman holding out 10 gold of her [i]own[/i] in her left hand. Reine's eyes widened in shock and a reaction of annoyance at the sight as he gasped, realizing that she had deceived him...but at the same time Reine's mind was reeling with doubt. What was this about, anyway!? Why would this young woman even think of deceiving him like this, and what was the whole point of revealing the deceit so early?

"Y-you deceived me!" Reine exclaimed in annoyance.

"I know, and I'm terribly sorry! Please don't be angry, friend! I'm reinbursing the amount for both Kebabs back to you now, no harm, no foul. Pretty please?" The young woman pleaded, giving Reine an apologetic look at her earlier deceit; The young woman's demeanor, however, quickly allowed Reine to recover his faculties, and the annoyance and disdain he felt now faded to give way to confusion. It's a fair trade, Reine told himself, no harm no foul. With a deep breath and a slightly forced smile, Reine handed the two Kebabs back to the young woman and took the 10 gold back at her urging, although he inwardly still wondered what this was about. "My thanks, friend! Oh, take one. I can't eat both." The young woman beckoned, sheathing her fan underneath her cloth belt.

Reine obliged confusedly and took one of the Kebabs in his hand, still blinking at a loss.

"Oooh! This is paradise!" The young woman exclaimed sweetly and loudly as she spun around once after a bite of her own kebab, and Reine only stared at her in wonder. Who was this young woman, really? He didn't have long to ask before she sobered down, nodded, and stared at Reine with a passive, thoughtful look. "Oh, I'm sorry, friend, I got carried away for a moment there. You were looking for someone named, ummm...Haley, Haydith, Hilly---"

"Hannah. Hannah Dallenghal," Reine corrected gently, raising his left index finger briefly in thought.

"Yes, yes, Hannah. Well, I know a little of her, and I've heard of her around the Commons here and there..." The young woman continued, pausing in thought. "...Not sure if she's elsewhere in the Commons right now, though, friend."

Reine nodded. That's closer than where he's been of late, certainly. "That's fine," Reine answered in assurance, not wishing to push the young woman. "Would you praytell know what Lady Hannah looks like? Or when she tends to frequent the Commons or anywhere in Morgrave University in general? If you can tell me anything, it'd be highly appreciated, so I don't have to bother you guys again asking about her everywhere..."

In reply, the young woman nodded and smiled, seemingly pleased with Reine's (newfound) sensibility. "Certainly, friend. She has long black hair, tends to wear robes and a courtier's hat like this one. Holds a fan like this one, too. In fact, she looks a lot like me, doesn't she, come to think of it...?" The young woman mused, giggling with a pleasing tone that lifted Reine's spirits slightly. "As for when she frequents the Commons...I'd say mostly she'd be around here now. Really likes Talentan Kebabs like me."

That caused Reine to widen his eyes in surprise. "So she's around here now...?"

"Of course she is, friend!"

At that, the young woman paused, and her smile brightened to the point of metaphorically blinding Reine with mischeviousness and radiance.

"...she's me!"

Reine's jaw dropped right there and then at the revelation, and he was so stunned at the same time as he also felt some feeling of realization, as if he should've seen this coming a mile away. This pretty, regal-looking young woman, who charmed him, then deceived him with a harmless prank and then revealed herself after making him ask so many questions, was Hannah Dallenghal herself? But why didn't she just tell Reine who she was, he had to wonder...?

Despite by all means being shocked and awed, a part of Reine wanted to give Hannah the benefit of the doubt as she bowed low, slowly, in apology and courtesy at him; That part of Reine seemed to realize that whatever she did, she did so for a good reason she'll certainly reveal to him later. "You're Lady Hannah!? Wow, just...wow. I...I don't know what to think..." Reine stammered, scratching his head at a terrible loss and fidgeting his eyes left and right. "I, um...I'm sorry, give me a moment..."

"That's alright, friend, just take your time; I'm not going anywhere," Hannah comforted, and Reine gladly took the opportunity to calm himself down, take a breath, and stare collectedly at Hannah Dallenghal as he glanced back up at her. "And just call me Hannah. I must admit, though, I wasn't expecting someone to be looking for me, much less a cute boy like you being the one doing the looking...who are you?"

"Oh," Reine nodded mutely. "I'm Reine Heimdall, and---"

"You're the one in the Sharn Globe and Mail!" Hannah exclaimed in her own modicum of surprise and immediately gave a bow and salute, placing both her hands together and cupping them in front of her head as she bowed quickly. Reine merely gawked at her, embarassed, as he gently motioned for Hannah to stop by cupping his hands underneath her wrists without touching them. "The new Viscount of Baranthia who's been advertising and looking around for a Seneschal. An odd request, on any normal day...but I'm curious, why would you come to me, Sir Reine?"

"I'm just Reine," Reine muttered in slight disdain before recomposing himself. "And, well, a Halfling Sister at the Shrine of the Silver Flame in Clifftop---"

"Ah, Jenella," Hannah smiled warmly, putting a name to the one who had recommended Reine to her. "She's such a sweet, kind girl, that one. I trust she's doing well at the moment, Reine?"

"Very well, and I'm very grateful to her," Reine nodded at that. "She said that you'd be knowledged and talented about administration on a fiefdom scale, and recommended that I'd ask you to see if you'd be willing to help me..."

Hannah paused uneasily as her expression became crestfallen.

"I see. Ah, Reine..."

She sighed. Reine bit his lip in apprehension in response, wondering what was wrong with Hannah or if he had said something to offend her accidentally. She seemed suddenly reluctant once she realized that Reine was indeed genuinely asking for Hannah's help to restore the Viscounty, as if not wanting to commit herself to such a grand task for some reason. Reine blinked, feeling anxious inside, as he waited for Hannah to speak up. Would she refuse? Would Hannah snuff out that spark of hope before it even began?

"Hannah," Reine asked, his voice wavering in uncertainty. "Did I say something wrong?"

Hannah sighed gently and shrugged slightly at Reine in response, suddenly saddened with an unknown burden lurking between her brows. "No...not really, Reine," Hannah answered, and Reine continued to stare in wait. "But it's a lot for me to consider at once, something you might not understand why at first...especially at your age, and with your experience with being in such a position of potential power. Maybe once you're older, you'll realize this on your own, but..."

Both Hannah and Reine stared and turned away from each other uneasily. After what seemed like hours, she finally turned back towards him with a sad, pleading glance in her eyes...and held out her right hand towards him.

"Walk with me, Reine. Please. I promise all will be explained to you."

----------------------------------------------------

It was only when Reine and Hannah were strolling slowly, an awkward air between them as they stood side-by-side, next to a small tranquil pond in one corner of the Commons with sparkling, rainbow-colored waters and obliviously happy fish swimming within did Hannah finally speak to him again; Her wistful expression hadn't changed, and Reine still could only wonder what was bothering her...or if it was something he would understand even if she did explain. There was a lot that Reine didn't understand at all about Khorvaire and everything in it, and probably never will; The events of his own adventures, from leaving Thrane to the intrigues surrounding Luken's upcoming wedding, made that painstakingly clear to him well enough. And he hated himself for it.

Reine glanced at her softly, wondering if Hannah had sensed that of him as well.

"It had been so much fun teasing a cute boy such as you, Reine, and keeping your heart going round in circles," Hannah managed a wry, forced smile at her own words. "But now...I must be deathly serious with you and tell you why I'm so reluctant to decide on what you're asking of me."

Silence.

"Reine," Hannah asked suddenly, arms behind her back --- her kebab finished, but doing little to alleviate her sudden crestfallen mood this time --- and pacing slowly as she let the gentle sounds of the pond next to her try to ease her words. "Why do you really want a Seneschal for the Viscounty of Baranthia?"

"...eh?"

Hannah shook her head gently. "I mean, you know the fate of the last Viscounty before you, Reine. Despite this, you seem to be serious towards your new appointment, but to what end? If you're truly looking for a Seneschal, then how much are you willing to actually commit to restoring the Viscounty in earnest? Because you do realize, Reine, that you really don't have to at all."

Reine's eyes widened in confusion at Hannah's words. "What do you mean, Hannah?"

Suddenly, Hannah stopped, and as she pulled her fan back into her right hand she began absently, slowly fanning herself as her gaze wandered into the water, at her and Reine's own reflections within it. "The Viscount of Baranthia may be at current a title without a land, but it still is a legitimate government title within the Brelish Crown; And as a legitimate title, Reine, it still confers influence and benefits befitting a Brelish noble if you know where to ask for them. For most simply seeking relations with the Brelish crown and an opening step into the world of nobility, this should be enough." Hannah explained gently. "If you do not mind my bluntness, those before you who took up the title after the actual Viscounty fell to goblinoid raiders in 972 know of this fact far better than you do; They took the title, used it as a stepping stone, and then moved on to higher titles and greener pastures once the opportunity presented itself."

At that explanation, Reine said nothing, merely staring at the reflection as well in silence.

"So you see, why do you insist on restoring the Viscounty? I'm not doubting your motives or your heart, Reine, but I feel that since you came to me for help, I should at least let you know that actually restoring the Viscounty to a proper fiefdom is entirely optional, if all you seek is to gradually advance through the Brelish crown; There is absolutely no need for you, by all logic, to waste time, money and lives in such an endeavor." Hannah's lips pursed together in apprehensiveness, not turning to look at Reine. "You can leave the Viscounty to its disrepair and still confer its benefits in the Brelish nobility, really. Nobody will dispute the position with you; They know it's an empty post as much as anyone and will care little for it."

Reine's eyes narrowed bitterly, somehow, for some reason, not liking what Hannah was telling him. "So you think I should just quit, Hannah?"

"That's up to you, friend."

"I want to restore the Viscounty, Hannah. I have no wish to use the post as a stepping stone to anything; I want my tenure as the Viscount to be a serious, genuine one. That's why I need your help."

"And therein lies my dilemma." Hannah finally chimed sadly, turning to stare at Reine with a discouraged, reluctant glance that made Reine's own heart sink at how heartwrenching it was. For a person who was only being asked to help him, Reine realized inwardly, Hannah was taking this awfully difficult. "I...used to be a member of House Deneith, Reine, but I was too frail to make the cut as an enforcer, marshal or bodyguard on the front lines of adventure. I wanted to use my talents in some way to help Khorvaire and House Deneith...that's why I schooled myself in such things. Civil administration, logistics, military and battlefield strategy...I wanted to use my mind where my body failed me."

Reine nodded in agreement as he sympathized with Hannah's fate somehow.

"But as I did, I learned of how truly vast and open-ended such things really were and I knew it's not as simple as I had thought." Hannah lowered her head in guilt and shame. "The histories of nations and fiefdoms have told me how dangerous these things truly are; One wrong move and thousands can perish in a single instant as a result. For every fiefdom that rose to prominence in Khorvaire, at least three fail, often in place of the one that rose. The talents of a good administrator can only do so much, Reine; If the ruler isn't willing to commit, isn't willing to put his own heart into his nation, his people, then the fiefdom will fail no matter how skilled the Seneschal is.

"You know of Baranthia. At one point, it's one of the most prestigeous and most prosperous of Breland's various nobility fiefdoms, but it failed and decayed, like so many others...and when it did, thousands perished along with it. That's...why I cannot bring myself to agree to readily to what you ask me. Even if you and I are willing, you and I won't live forever, and even if we succeed in bringing back the Viscounty, it won't last forever, either. I can't, Reine. Now you know why. I can't commit to what might only bring about the deaths of another hundred, perhaps thousands, of people down the future for a Viscounty that...doesn't even need to exist to begin with, that we won't know will even succeed again to begin with."

Hannah turned around, her back towards the pond, as she wearily patted Reine on the shoulder to start walking away from him. "Reine, you're still young; One day, you'll learn that some things really just need to be left alone and to its fate. The Viscounty of Baranthia is one of those things. It's probably better just to leave it in disrepair and let nature do what it will with what's left. Think on what I just told you. Please. Maybe you should just be grateful for what you have right now..."

Reine was left standing as Hannah began walking away, one step, two, then another, her steps soft against the grass but bearing the sad burden she still felt in Reine's heart. Still staring at the pond, Reine's mind reeled, as his heart refused to accept what Hannah had told him, despite the truth in her words. Reine sighed. Why? What was the point in restoring the Viscounty of Baranthia, why did he want to be so serious about it? Should he even leave Baranthia to its fate, like she told him to?

But...

But...

"I can't do that either, Hannah."

Suddenly, hearing Reine's words and feeling her own confusion, Hannah turned with a blink back to Reine as he sat down, facing the pond, the toes of his boots barely touching the water. His own expression was sullen, refusing to admit defeat for some reason despite all logic telling him he should; Pulling his Katana to him, Reine absently placed one hand underneath the hilt guard, between the sheath and the Katana, and flicked the blade upwards an inch with his thumb. "I can't leave it alone. I can't let myself be an empty noble, not without trying my hardest."

Hannah felt some intrigue welling for the boy in front of him --- why didn't he give up? He was still young; Nobody would fault him for being idealistic. With a curious, yet still crestfallen look in her black pupils, Hannah gently walked back towards him. "What do you mean?"

Reine sighed.

"I'm like you, Hannah, except in the opposite direction; I'm a Paladin of the Silver Flame, and I'm pretty much trying to compensate and use my body where my mind failed me. I used to tell myself that it was the Silver Flame that inspired me to be a Paladin, that it was my natural calling...but it wasn't." Reine frowned, biting his lip unhappily at the admittance that his start, his path towards being a Paladin, was all a simple mistake. Hannah, too, sat down next to Reine, eyes raised in surprise at the realization that the boy was a Paladin, of all things, of the Silver Flame of Thrane. "I became a Paladin because I didn't know, couldn't see, what else I could be doing to help others. For awhile...I thought that it's enough. It's only when I left Thrane, met my friends, did I realize how narrowminded and fanatical I really was. I would've easily turned out like High Cardinal Krozen without me ever realizing that I've even gone astray in the first place, if I hadn't."

Hannah blinked at him.

"I thought that it was enough, at first. I thought that if I simply became the best Paladin I could, lived by its ideals and its physical demands, then I could naturally be able to help others. But I was wrong there, too; All I ended up knowing to do as a Paladin of the Silver Flame, the only way I knew to express myself, all I'm really good at...was to hurt other people." Reine paused, his fists clenched in disgust at his own words. "I like to think I'm trying to be better than that now. Gwynne, King, Burzam, Mara...they helped me see how narrowminded I was and how little I actually understood of the world.

"...That's why I need to do this, Hannah. I admit that I'm selfish. I don't need to bring back the Viscounty --- you're right about that."

There was an uneasy pause again.

"But I want to. For me."

Hannah nodded in understanding, finally feeling that she was starting to understand why Reine needed a Seneschal to begin with. It wasn't for some lofty ideal or for the people; It was for himself, and it was better for Hannah to understand something like that than to be sold that what Reine was doing was for some lofty ideals.

"There's something big me and my companions are actually up to and the Viscounty's a part of it, but for me, myself, I want to learn something from being the Viscount of Baranthia. I want to be able to prove to Thrane that I actually know how to help others aside from just hacking and slashing at whatever looked at me wrong; I don't want to be just a bruiser with a fancy title and the backing of a religion behind me. If I can help restore the Viscounty to at least something resembling what it was before, a place where people can live in peace, be protected and content, then that's enough. I'll never feel truly complete unless I shake that stigma of a glorified thug off of me."

Silence. Hannah sighed.

Then, Reine gave a pleading, sincere look, turned his head, and reached out with his left hand to gently grasp Hannah's own with a slight shake. "Hannah," Reine asked, sounding as humble as he possibly could while being aware of it, "Please help me. Please be my Seneschal and help me restore the Viscounty. Name any price; I'll pay it gladly, for your talents and expertise, and I'll commit any resource you want me to commit to restoring the Viscounty. Please...?"

Both Reine and Hannah stared into each other's eyes as they held hands, pausing, wondering how the other would respond pensively. Finally, a moment later that could easily be hours, Hannah broke the moment first by giving Reine the most promising, bright smile she could...and causing him to both blush at the sight and lift his expression to his own happy, grateful smile.

"You really are serious about this, aren't you? Who am I to refuse that look?" Hannah agreed, nodding. "On one condition, Reine."

"Name it."

"I'm hungry again," Hannah gleamed at him mischeviously, and both Reine and her began giggling hysterically at the prospect of more Talentan Chicken Kebabs.

----------------------------------------------------

"So, Hannah, I can't help but wonder..." Reine began again suddenly as he and Hannah were walking along the streets of Sharn's University District to return to the Albatross for the moment; Both he and Hannah were holding at least five Chicken Kebabs each in their hands and happily nibbling on them, but something still didn't make sense to Reine about his and Hannah's first meeting. "What was that about?"

"Hmm?"

"First you tried to get me to pay for your kebabs and lied to me, but paid me back, and then hid who you were from me when I asked," Reine asked, blinking and turning his head to her. "What was that about? What were you trying to test me for?"

Hannah's expression brightened as she nodded and hurriedly swallowed the recent bite of chicken in response. "Oh, that! Well, now you realize that it was a test, Reine?" Hannah smirked brightly. "See, remember that charming look I was giving you when you first asked me about myself? Part of the first test with the Kebabs was to see if you'd still be kind and courteous to a total stranger when you don't get anything back from it..."

Reine nodded. "And?"

"...And when I revealed I lied to you, I wanted to see if you had enough sense to still feel annoyed and angry even after that display I showed you...well, or if you'd be too charmed by my seduction to think properly. It almost worked, didn't it, Reine? Wasn't I cute? I'm sure your heart fluttered in beat with how I'm smiling and the radiance is flying from my eyes, weren't you?" Hannah giggled, and as Reine flustered slightly he inwardly felt the urge to playfully whack her in the back of her head for it, but thought better of doing so. It was better for everyone to be on the receiving end than on the giving end.

"Well, you passed both. Then hiding who I was, I wanted to see if you'd have enough sense to ask me the right questions about how to find me. You have no idea how many wars, feuds and misunderstandings erupted in Khorvaire over people asking the wrong questions and making the wrong assumptions; For someone who'd be the new serious Viscount of Baranthia, it's important that you know what to ask when you don't understand something."

"Ohhhhh, I get it." Reine answered, gleaming playfully at her. "So I passed? Did I ask you all the right questions in the end, especially about the Chicken Kebabs?"

Hannah merely winked at him.
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