It all started out innocently enough.
Ezran rose from his bed bright and early, greeting the morning with his typical, never-fading optimism. Today was a big day for the young king. Delegates from the human kingdoms and Xadia were scheduled to arrive in Katolis this evening. Tomorrow they would deliberate over important trade deals, discuss potential areas of conflict, and review any and all business that would help solidify their newfound alliances. While most 17 year-olds would find all of this incredibly boring, Ezran was excited for these diplomatic talks. He was intent on ensuring that everything went according to schedule.
Now if only he could find Bait.
The grumpy old glowtoad had gotten used to taking mid-afternoon naps, and he wasn’t pleased about having his peace disturbed. The servants had been milling about all day, cleaning every square inch of the castle and making up the guest rooms for the human and elven visitors. In the midst of all the chaos, Bait snuck away to find a quiet place to sleep.
And Ezran wanted to make sure he found him before one of their important guests did. Something told him that they wouldn’t appreciate finding a magical toad in their bed.
That’s why he was roaming the castle halls looking for him.
“Bait!” Ezran called, stopping by one of the guest rooms. He did a quick scan, looking for his amphibian friend’s tell-tale glow. No Bait there.
“Hey Ezran!” A familiar voice rang out.
Ezran turned and saw Soren bounding down the hall after him, somehow keeping up a brisk pace despite being clad in heavy armor.
“Whatcha up to? Don’t you have important ambassador-people coming soon?”
Ezran smiled at his trusted friend and most loyal Crownguard soldier. Soren used to be so much taller than him, but thanks to the king’s recent growth spurt, the two stood eye-to-eye.
“I do,” Ezran nodded, “But I can’t find Bait. I think he snuck away for his afternoon nap.”
“Ah,” Soren said, stroking his jaw, “You know, I think I saw him slink into Callum and Rayla’s room earlier.” He motioned down the hall. “You checked there yet?”
“Actually, I haven’t,” Ezran admitted, as he headed toward his brother and sister-in-law’s room, “But that would make sense. They left early this morning to go riding, so the maids probably cleaned their room first. Bait probably knew he wouldn’t have his nap interrupted if he went there.”
“That does make sense,” Soren nodded, trailing after the young king. “Are Callum and Rayla there now?”
Ezran shook his head. “No. I think Rayla’s doing some training in the yard, and Callum’s up in library brushing up on his knowledge of Earthblood elf culture for this evening.”
Soren chuckled. “Doesn’t want a repeat of last year, does he?”
“Nope,” Ezran laughed, “To be fair, he didn’t offend anyone. I think the delegates found his ‘Earthblood elf impression’ amusing, in the end. It was just awkward for him to try to explain exactly what he was going for with all the tree puns.”
The two reached Callum and Rayla’s room and poked their heads in.
“Bait?” Ezran called.
“Bait? Hey, Bait?” Soren stepped in the room, with Ezran following close behind. “Where are ya, little guy?”
The two surveyed the room. Ezran was right; the maids had definitely been in to clean earlier. The floors had been swept, and the place looked much tidier than it usually was. Callum and Rayla’s queen-sized bed had been made, the crimson red bedspread tucked into the mattress. Papers and books had been neatly stacked on Callum’s writing desk, and the chair was pushed all the way in, a clear indication that his brother had not returned to the room since he and Rayla had left this morning. Even the windows looked as though they had been washed. The thick red drapes had been pulled back, which allowed the bright afternoon sun to shine through the clear glass panes.
Yup, everything was as it should be.
Everything except the tall wooden wardrobe in the corner, with its door hanging open ever so slightly. A familiar glow pulsated from within, which instantly clued Ezran in to his friend’s whereabouts.
This little detail escaped Soren’s notice, however. He instead moved to the opposite side of the room, bending down and tilting his head to check under Callum’s desk.
“Now if I were a cranky old glowtoad, where would I hide?” Soren pondered out loud to himself.
“Aha!” Soren snapped his fingers. “Of course! Under the bed!”
Before Ezran could stop him, Soren dove for the bottom of the bed. Lying flat on the ground, the Crownguard soldier shoved his face fully under the bed.
“Hey Bait! You under here? Hang on! Lemme move some of this junk out of the way.”
Ezran watched in amusement as Soren reached his long arms in and pulled out object after object, pushing them past his head without looking. A book, a boot, some balled up pieces of paper, a small wooden box, the other boot. The once pristine floor was quickly cluttered with miscellaneous items, all while an ever-oblivious Soren called out for the toad.
“Bait! Hey Bait!” Soren paused for a moment before sliding his head back out and looking up at Ezran in confusion. “Huh. He’s not under there. Thought he would be.”
The young king smirked, hands on his hips. “Maybe because he’s over there?” He pointed toward the corner of the room.
Soren pulled himself up and followed the direction of Ezran’s finger, gaze landing on the glowing wardrobe with the open door.
“Ah, right,” Soren said as Ezran walked over the wardrobe to retrieve his friend, “Well, I would’ve found him. Eventually.”
“I’m sure you would have,” Ezran said with a smile, opening both wardrobe doors and peering in.
Sure enough, the grumpy glowtoad was curled up on a small pile of clothes in the very back of the wardrobe. He blinked up at Ezran, clearly unhappy about being woken up from his afternoon nap.
“Sorry Bait,” Ezran apologized, picking him up, “I’ll admit, you are getting better at hide and seek. The glow still gives you away though.”
Bait responded with an irritated croak.
“All right! Frog found!” Soren announced with an energetic fist pump.
He turned around and paused, taken aback by the mess he created. “Ah. Guess I better clean this up, huh?” He knelt to the ground and started shoving items back under the bed.
“I guess you better,” Ezran said with a laugh, “Or else the maids’ work would’ve been for nothing. And I don’t think Callum and Rayla would be too happy coming back and seeing all this stuff in the middle of their floor.”
“Yeah, that wouldn’t be – ,” Soren stopped suddenly, his eyes falling on a thick, black leather book he was about to pick up. It looked incredibly similar to the sketchbook that Callum carried around with him all the time. A small piece of charcoal was strapped to the side of the book and extra sheets of paper stuffed into the binding, making it look even fuller than it already was.
“Hey,” Soren said, picking it up, “I didn’t know your brother had another sketchbook.”
Ezran stepped forward curiously, letting Bait jump from his arms and onto the floor. “He does? I didn’t know either. I thought he still hadn’t filled up the one that dad got him years ago.”
“Wonder what kinda drawings he has in here,” Soren mused.
As much as it pained him to admit it, Soren was genuinely impressed with the prince’s artistic ability. Now that they were on much better terms than they were as teens, Callum often showed him many of the sketches he was working on, and Soren always enjoyed seeing them – especially the ones that featured him as the subject.
Eager to see what was inside this mysterious sketchbook, Soren flipped it open.
His eyes were instantly assaulted by an onslaught of sketches. Full body sketches of an elven woman. An elven woman who was very much naked.
“Whoa-ho-ho!” Soren’s blue eyes grew wide in surprise. “Looks like your brother’s got a secret hobby!”
Ezran, puzzled by his response, looked over the Crownguard’s shoulder at the open sketchbook. He immediately wished he hadn’t.
“Ahhh! What?!” Ezran’s hands went immediately to eyes.
“I know, right?!” Soren crowed, glancing back at his teenaged friend. “Never imagined Callum would be this kind of artist, huh?”
“Soren! Stop looking at it!”
Soren didn’t seem to hear him and instead continued to voice his thoughts as he flipped through the book and the loose pages stuffed within it. Each and every one of them was filled with charcoal drawings of the same elven woman. Very explicit drawings. Drawings that made even Soren, who was definitely no prude, blush a bit.
“Man! It’s filled with sketches of this hot elf chick!” His tone suddenly grew concerned. “I wonder if Rayla knows about this.”
“Soren!” Ezran yelled, his head now fully turned away, “You don’t get it?!”
Now it was Soren’s turn to be puzzled. “What?”
“That is Rayla!”
Soren’s eyes grew wide in realization. Then, in horror.
“Ahhhh!” He yelled, tossing the offending book to the ground.
Unfortunately for him and Ezran, the book landed with such force that all the loose papers flew out and scattered around the room. There were now dozens of papers all over the floor, drawing-side up.
“Oh Gods, no!” Soren exclaimed.
Ezran turned around and surveyed the mess of papers. A horrified expression crept over his face. “Ah! What did you do?!”
“I tried to get it away from me!”
“But you made it worse! Oh no!” Ezran slammed his eyes shut. “I just saw them again!”
“I know! It’s awful!” Soren attempted to shield his eyes with the back of his hand. “Why does your brother even have these?”
“That’s not a question I need answered,” Ezran exclaimed.
“My eyes!” Soren bellowed dramatically.
“We gotta clean these up!” Ezran cried.
“How are we going to do that without seeing them?”
“Well, we can’t just leave ‘em here! Just try to pick them up without looking.”
The two friends scrambled about frantically, trying to pick up as many papers as possible. They held the collected pages at arm’s length, desperately averting their eyes.
“Ah! I just saw another one!” Soren roared, “Oh, this is horrible!”
“Why’d you have to open the book in the first place?”
“Don’t blame this on me! I thought it would have nice sketches of horses and flowers and birds. Not this!”
“Did we get ‘em all?”
“No, there’s still a few over here.”
“What’s all the yelling for?” A new voice chimed in.
Ezran and Soren froze and looked up at the doorway. There stood Callum, looking questioningly down at them. Then the open sketchbook and mess of papers caught his attention.
Realization quickly dawned on Callum’s face. His green eyes widened, lips drawn in a tight line. A sudden bright red blush appeared on his cheeks.
“What are you doing with that?!” He exclaimed, darting forward to snatch the book and the remaining papers up off the floor.
“What are we doing?!” Soren cried, “Why do you even have that, just under your bed like that?” He gestured to the sketchbook Callum was now holding close to his chest.
“Callum, calm down,” Ezran said, trying to diffuse the situation, “We were just looking for Bait. It was an accident.”
Despite the young king’s efforts, his brother was not calming down. Callum was now roughly stuffing the loose papers back into the book, averting his eyes from the gaze of this brother and friend.
“Y-you can’t just go through people’s things! I know you’re the king, b-but … I mean, there’s … how…?” Callum was now pacing the room, book once again clutched to his chest, stuttering incoherently as he ran his hands through his hair.
“Callum!” Ezran spoke in his authoritarian, “kingly” voice, commanding his brother’s attention instantly, “Just … breathe. Breathe.”
Callum took in a sharp breath. Then another slower breath. His heart was still pounding, but the rapid beats were beginning to slow. With each breath he took, his mind began to clear.
“Okay, okay,” The 22-year old prince said after a few breaths, “I’m good.” He inhaled and exhaled deeply, and looked back up at Ezran and Soren.
There was an awkward pause. No one was really sure what quite to say, until Callum spoke up again.
“So … h-how much did you see? Exactly?”
Soren shuddered. “Too much. Way too much.”
“I-I didn’t actually see all that much, if that helps,” Ezran piped up, “Once I realized what I was looking at, I shut my eyes.”
That did make Callum feel a tiny bit better. Not a lot, but a little. It was already awkward when he had to give his brother the “sandwich” talk a few years back. He definitely didn’t want to scar the poor guy any more than he already had. Especially when it came to his … private collection of sketches.
Soren, on the other hand…
“So, let me get this straight,” Callum said, pinching the bridge of his nose before glaring at the Crownguard soldier, “Ezran immediately shuts his eyes, but you … kept looking?”
“Hey!” Soren pointed at Callum. “Don’t blame me! I didn’t know what I was looking at.”
“Really?” Callum retorted with a huff, “What did you think you were looking at? Sketches of unicorns and rainbows?”
“No! I just didn’t realize it was Rayla,” Soren explained hastily, “I mean, seriously, man! Why would you even make a whole sketchbook of … that?”
Callum crossed his arms, eyebrows knitted together. “Excuse me! I’m a married man. And if I want to draw sexy pictures of my wife that she and I both enjoy, then I darn well will!”
“Ah!” Ezran exclaimed, clapping his hands over his ears, “I do not need to know this!”
“Seriously, man,” Soren winced. “TMI!”
“What?” Callum said, suddenly feeling the need to go on the defensive, “We’re married, and we love each other. It’s not like I’m doing anything weird or wrong.” He held up the book. “Besides, most of these sketches are really tasteful.”
He flipped it open to a random page, blush instantly reappearing on his face.
“Okay, not those.”
He flipped the page.
He flipped again, blush darkening.
“Or … those.”
He chanced a glance up at Ezran and Soren, who were now giving him pointed looks.
“Okay, fine!” Callum slammed the book shut. “Just … try to forget what you saw, okay?”
Soren let out a bitter laugh. “Believe me! I would if I could. I wish Claudia was here to make me a forgetting potion or something,” He said sullenly.
Ezran gave his brother a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, Callum. You’re right. We definitely should’ve respected your privacy. Yours and Rayla’s both. And we’re sorry about being all judgmental too. Right, Soren?”
“…Yes, King Ezran,” Soren sighed.
Callum smiled softly. He knew his brother and his friend didn’t mean any harm and that they were genuinely sorry. He definitely wished they hadn’t come across that particular sketchbook, of course. But it had happened, and he couldn’t change that fact, so there was no use in stressing over it now.
“It’s okay, guys.” He moved to give Ezran a hug. “I know you didn’t mean it.”
Ezran leaned into the hug and patted his brother on the back. “Thanks, Callum!”
“One last thing,” Callum said, “Please don’t breathe a word of this to Rayla. Not that you would, but still. If she knew what happened, she would be so –”
“If she knew … what?”
Callum, Ezran, and Soren whirled around and saw the moonshadow elf in question standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips.
“RAYLA!” Callum said, a bit too loudly. He flung his hands, still clutching the sketchbook, behind his back. “Back early from training, I see! Good! We’re happy to have you back!”
“Uh huh,” She said, eyeing the boys with suspicion. They each looked as though they had been caught with their hands in the metaphorical cookie jar. Soren in particular was blushing deeply, avoiding her gaze for whatever reason.
“And why’re you all just hangin’ out in our room, looking oh-so guilty?”
“Psssh! Guilty? Why would we be guilty of anything?” Callum tried to keep his tone super casual. He was failing miserably.
“Whatcha got behind your back then?” Rayla asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Ah, nothing! Haha, nothing at all!” Callum laughed nervously.
Rayla knew she needed to shift tactics. She smiled sweetly, inching closer to her husband.
“Aww, it’s okay, Callum. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” She took a step forward, watching his face relax. “I trust you completely, and if you don’t want me to see somethin’, then by all means, I’ll just- ”
Without warning, Rayla lurched forward, swiping the book from Callum’s grasp before he had time to react.
“Aha!” She crowed triumphantly. Then she looked down and realized what she was holding. She could feel her face heat up, blush creeping into her cheeks.
Did they know what this was? She studied Ezran and Soren’s faces. They stared at her with wide eyes, lips pulled tight.
She slowly turned to her husband, who looked like he was about ready to pass out.
“Callum,” she said through gritted teeth, “Why were you holdin’ this?”
Ezran caved first.
“We’re so sorry, Rayla! Soren and I came in here looking for Bait, and well, we thought he might be hiding under the bed, but it turned out he wasn’t, and we found this book, and we didn’t realize what was in it when we opened it, and once we did, we stopped looking, and Soren threw it on the floor, but all the loose pages came out, so we tried to pick them up, and we didn’t mean to invade your privacy, and we’re just so, so sorry, Rayla!”
Ezran took a deep breath. The group all stared at each other in silence. It was only a few seconds, but to everyone in the room, it felt like an eternity.
Rayla finally straightened out her back and squared her shoulders, shoving the notebook at Callum, who fumbled before securing it in his grasp. The moonshadow elf’s violet eyes fixated on both Ezran and Soren as she stepped forward. The two boys inched closer together, terrified of her angry stare.
She finally spoke, her voice dangerously quiet.
“I want you two to listen to me and listen good. You will never speak of the contents of this.” She pointed to the book in Callum’s arms. “And you will not - I repeat - you will not mention what’s happened here today. You are to forget what you saw and not breathe a word of it to anybody. And if you don’t...” She was only inches from the two of them, who were now clinging to each other in fear. “I will bind myself to kill both of you, and I will not rest until I hunt you down to the ends of the earth.”
She paused, letting her words sink in. “Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Ezran and Soren nodded in unison.
The two shuffled awkwardly, now thoroughly scarred by their whole experience, if they hadn’t been already.
Ezran spoke first. “Well, I better get doing. I’ve got, uh, delegates coming very soon, and I need to make sure they’re given a proper welcome.” He sidestepped past Rayla, trying to keep his voice as cheerful as possible as he slipped out the door and into the hallway. “Uh, see you all later!”
“And I just remembered I’ve got …. Crownguard duties,” Soren announced, “Yes, sir. Gotta do all those Crownguard-y things, like check the perimeter, stable the armor, and polish the, uh … horses?” He sidled past Rayla. “Anyway, good talk!” He zipped out the door as fast he could.
Rayla closed the door behind them, her shoulders instantly sagging and her hands coming up to cover her eyes in embarrassment.
“Oh Rayla,” Callum sighed. “I’m so sorr – oof!” His breath was knocked out of him as his wife slammed her face in his chest.
“That’s fine,” She mumbled into the fabric of his vest, “You can just go ahead and throw me off the tallest tower in the castle now.”
“Awww!” He wrapped his arms around her. “It’s gonna be okay. You definitely scared them. I don’t think we need to worry about –” He was interrupted as she pulled away suddenly and jabbed her pointer finger into his chest.
“I told you we needed a better hidin’ place for that!” She scowled. “This is all your fault, you know.”
“Me?” Callum sputtered, “You’re the one who gave me the sketchbook. Specifically for that purpose, I might add.”
Rayla’s face reddened in the most adorable blush. She couldn’t argue with that.
“And how could I have known that those two would come barging in, checking under our bed for Bait?” He reasoned.
“Couldn’t you have at least… I dunno, cast some magic spell that would put an enchanted lock on that thing?”
Callum frowned. “That’s not how that works.”
“Well, I dunno,” She grumbled, “You’re the mage around here!”
Callum exhaled, rubbing his forehead. He looked up at his wife with a sheepish smile. “Well, you’re right,” He admitted, “I could have hid it better. It probably is my fault.”
Rayla softened. She wasn’t actually mad at him. She couldn’t be. Not with that cute look on his face.
“It’s okay,” She smiled, giving him a peck on his cheek. “I’m not mad at you.”
“That’s a relief,” Callum sighed.
Rayla pulled him into a tight embrace that he readily accepted. Then she pulled back for a moment, and gazed into his green eyes, smiling coyly.
“Well, I guess this means you’ll just have to make it up to me somehow.”
“Oh really? And uh,” Callum cleared his throat nervously. “What do you want me to do?”
Rayla moved her hands behind his head, tousling his messy brown hair with her fingertips. Her coy smile turned positively devilish as she pulled his face close to hers.
“I’m sure we’ll think of something, my prince.”