Serving Up Humble Pie

((Once again, written from chat logs so extra thanks go to Henii and Daevra’s players! ❤ ))

The upcoming summer festival had plunged the city of Stormwind into a whirlwind of excitement. The decorations from last year’s festival were still gathering dust in storage, hardly ready to be strung around the city, but local merchants were already plastering the city’s stone walls with leaflets about sales and “special” festival inventory, hoping to draw in customers eager to celebrate the heat of summer by emptying their purses.

A particularly enterprising band of merchants decided to take advantage of the good weather and bright sun and acquired the proper permits to set up open air stalls in the grassy areas of the city near Olivia’s Pond. Their makeshift rows of booths hugged the narrow city streets that wound by the lake, beckoning passerbys with bright awnings and colorful signs. Not to be outdone (and probably equally excited to capitalize on the stalls’ patronage), the local taverns and bakeries quickly erected their own food stands alongside the merchants’ stalls. The smells of fried pastries and roasted meat mingled with the vendors’ shouts and the bustle of street traffic.  The summer festival was still two weeks away, and Stormwind already had a veritable street fair on its hands.

In a way, Rhianon decided as she paid a chubby merchant for a tray of steaming dumplings, it was fitting. Winter’s Veil had hardly been celebrated that winter, the city still reeling from Deathwing’s attack, and while the  ‘Love’ Festival and the Lunar Festival had gone on as scheduled, neither one had succeeded in rousing the city from its stupor. Now, however, the scars from the dragon’s attack had finally started to fade: towers had been rebuilt, homes repainted. It was the perfect time for celebration.

She popped a dumpling into her mouth, gazing down the rows of stalls. Henii had been pressing her for the past week about having a “girls’ day out”, and Rhianon had finally suggested that they go shopping at the bazaar. The thought of the cheery bazaar and brightly colored fabrics had then pushed another idea into her mind; she invited Daevra along as well, hoping that a day of chatter and ordinary activities might help soothe the younger Draenei’s mind. The mage had accepted wholeheartedly – and now, Rhianon waited for them, coin purse at her belt, as skies shimmered with summer heat.

After several moments (and several additional dumplings), Rhianon finally caught sight of her two friends rounding the first row of stalls and heading towards her. She waved for them, calling out, “Henii! Daevra!”  She swallowed another dumpling and added as they drew closer, “Want to have some dumplings before shopping?”

Henii beamed, chortling at the mostly empty tray of dumplings in Rhianon’s hands. “I’ve yet to have lunch so dumplings do sound amazing right now.”

“Dumplings? Are they like the ones the Elves have at the Lunar Festival? Those are delicious!”  Daevra eyed the dumplings, her mouth curved into a faintly relaxed smile.

Rhianon pursed her lips, staring down at the tray in her hands. “I think so.” She turned back towards the food vendor, pulling out her coin purse. “Here, I’ll get another order for us to share.”  Happy to fill his pocket with a few more silver pieces, the vendor cheerily dished out another serving of the plump snacks. As Daevra and Henii helped themselves to the dumplings from the newly replenished platter, Rhianon gestured down the aisle. “I saw a bunch of clothing vendors on my way over here, so we can get started after eating.”

Henii glanced around at the bustling bazaar, nodding . “This is definitely a lovely day to be out. One of the good things about Stormwind, I think.”

Rhianon grinned and sneaked another dumpling from the platter to plop into her mouth. “The weather is perfect! I bet our swim party is going to be fabulous.”

“Speaking of that,” Henii replied between bites of dumpling, “have you two picked out your beach wear yet?”

Daevra plucked another dumpling from the tray. “I think I have something in mind. I was hoping to find something in red. I like how it looks on me. What about you, Rhia?”

Rhianon shook her head, chewing thoughtfully. “Not yet – “

Henii winked at Rhianon and finished her dumpling. “Well, who knows? Maybe we’ll find something today.”

“You burnt my mouth! How dare you!”

At the shout, Rhianon glanced around the stalls. A complaining patron wasn’t an oddity at street events – particularly in a city as boisterous as Stormwind – but this displeased customer wasn’t shouting in the expected Common tongue. Instead, it was a Draenic cry that pierced through their otherwise calm summer afternoon with all the grace of an elekk – and in a voice that was all too familiar. The shaman inwardly groaned. Nikah.

“Give me my money back, you stupid cook!”

Nikah, dressed in a blazing red shift, was standing in front of one of the neighboring food stalls, waving a fist at the bewildered vendor. Another female Draenei stood next to her, clutching onto Nikah’s arm in a gesture of what was either solidarity or terror. Rhianon didn’t recognize the companion; although, that didn’t surprise her in the least. Nikah went through friends as quickly as some people went through hankerchiefs. Akilina and Litza seemed to have been more or less established, but that still wouldn’t have protected them from Nikah’s whims.

Displeased with the success of her shouts, Nikah turned to her companion and stamped her foot. “Go back to the palace and fetch my Mikos! Now!” The other Draenei female squeaked, released Nikah’s arm and bolted, trails of her long silken skirts fluttering behind her.

Henii watched the display, brow furrowed. “What in the light…” she muttered and shook her head. Daevra, following Henii’s gaze to Nikah, shrugged and finished her dumpling.

Rhianon decided to follow Daevra’s lead. She stuffed the last dumpling into her mouth, swallowing it whole, and announced, “You ready to shop then? We should get going. We’ll find something red for Daevra.”

Henii reluctantly pried her eyes away from the scene, agreeing. “Yes, let’s just enjoy our day out.”

Rhianon breathed a sigh of relief, eyes searching for a place to stow the empty dumpling tray.. They would leave Nikah’s little scene behind and the bothersome Draenei would be none the wiser. The dumpling vendor, however, had other ideas, and began calling to her, pointing at a coin purse sitting on the edge of the stall’s counter. “Hey, miss! I think you left your coin purse here! Don’t run off without it!”

Rhianon winced. She could feel Nikah’s eyes scanning the crowd, landing upon her. She froze, clutching the empty dumpling tray in her hands.

The voice, after several unbearable seconds, pierced through the air. “Rhiaaa! Rhia deeear! Over here!”

Rhianon didn’t look up. She knew Nikah was waving wildly, full of mock delight at seeing her long-lost Rhianon. Henii’s eyebrow arched and she whispered at the petrified Draenei, “We can ignore her, if you like, and just keep going.”

Daevra was now glancing back and forth between Rhianon and the madly waving Nikah, blinking. “Is she a friend of yours, Rhia?”

Before Rhianon could respond to the question, Nikah marched over to the group, skirts billowing out around her. “Rhia, how dare you pretend not to see me!” she snapped, leaning over to give the shaman a kiss on each cheek. “You can’t imagine how upset I am right now and how much it cheers me to see you!”

Rhianon pulled back from Nikah’s greeting, mumbling, “Sorry…Nikah…”

Nikah’s gaze then fell upon Daevra and Henii.  After several seconds of staring them down, she finally asked, “Are these two little things with you, Rhia?”

Daevra perked up. “Hello! I’m Daevra – and this is Henii!” Nikah deflected the cheerful greeting with decidedly unamused frown, and the mage bowed her head, shifting on her hooves.

Henii, however, did not dispense cheery greetings. She drew herself up in front of Nikah, eyebrows arched. “Yes, we are. I’m Henii. Exarch Henii.”

Nikah erupted into a series of giggles. “Oh, how cute! Little Rhia’s friends! And an Exarch – imagine finding an Exarch all the way out here! What a small world!” She gathered herself and curtsied deeply before the trio. “I’m Nikah. My husband works with the Ambassador to this kingdom.”

Henii returned the bow stiffly. “I see. So, I guess that’s why you seem to think you can push stall-keepers around?”

“Oh, dear, it’s nothing like that! He simply gave me inedible food.” Nikah waved her hand at Henii.  “I’m sure that’s understandable to you, Exarch.”  Repeating Henii’s title seemed to give Nikah an inordinate amount of delight; she almost quivered with amusement.

Henii snorted. “You burnt your mouth on the food. It looks hot, dear. Why would you go stuffing your face when it’s so obviously hot?”

Nikah rolled her eyes. “Why, Exarch Renni, you almost sound like my mother!”

“I get that alot,” Henii replied, smiling thinly at Nikah. “It comes from dealing with petulant children alot.”

“And her name is Henii!” Daevra said, stepping closer to Rhianon.

Rhianon smiled at Daevra. Nikah was far easier to handle with support; Henii seemed to be almost an expert at diffusing the other Draenei’s sly barbs. She cleared her throat, gesturing to the stalls. “Maybe we should get a start on our shopping…”

As soon as the words left her mouth, Rhianon regretted them. Nikah’s eyebrow quirked and she cocked her head towards Rhianon. “Shopping?”

“Shopping for a fabulous beach party we’re planning,” Henii explained coolly. “It’s for the group we’re aligned with.”

Nikah sucked in a sharp breath. “Sounds wondrous! You mind if I tag along, dears? I do need to get something to go with this old thing.” She gestured to the necklace hanging around her neck, tilting her head so the sun could wink off the pearls and sapphire on the chain. Rhianon bit her lip, surprised to see Nikah still carting around the necklace from the jewelry vendor. Nikah’s demonstration, however, gave Rhianon the opportunity to take a closer look at the piece. Dolraan had been right, of course. The pearls, although polished, had a murkiness that could only come from being ground into spheres – and the prettily cut sapphire had no brilliance to it.

Henii also took a glance at the necklace, smirking. “Old is right. I’m not sure you’ll find something here to go with it; all the products here look rather new.”

Nikah straightened up, pressing her hand protectively over the necklace. “Of course it looks a little weathered. The gems and ore are all very rare and had to be mined ages ago.”

Henii nodded to Daevra. “What do you think? You’re an expert on such things.”

“Umm…actually, those are fairly recent cuts,” Daevra replied, eyeing the necklace. “The gem quality makes them easier to age.”

“Really? I’m not knowledgeable about cutting gems, but that speaks of their value – or lack of it, correct?”

The younger mage shrugged.”Well, it depends on how much he paid for them. Most people see pearls and sapphire and think it’s automatically valuable, but that’s not always the case.”

Nikah glowered at them, and Rhianon took the opening to interject, “That’s the same necklace I saw in the market. The one I couldn’t buy.”

Henii’s mouth curled into a grin, and Daevra’s face lit up. “Oh! Well, it’s nice Nikah’s husband could buy it for her. The one Dolraan made for you does have higher quality gems and his cuts are perfect…” Her voice trailed off as Nikah’s withering glare fell upon her, the mage shifting on her hooves again.

“Not to mention,” Henii added, “the personal effort he put into making it instead of buying it offhandedly from a store.”

Nikah bristled and she frowned at Rhianon. “Rhia, dear, have you been keeping something from me? You have a piece similar to this one?”

“Oh, not at all similar,” Daevra corrected. “Much nicer, actually.”

Henii motioned to Rhianon. “It really is. Show her, Rhia.”

Rhianon gulped, her eyes not leaving Nikah’s stony face. She adjusted the collar of her shirt so the necklace was visible, the starry-eyed sapphire and creamy pearls glinting in the sunlight. Nikah’s nose wrinkled and her voice dropped. “What a…lovely piece.”

Henii was more than happy to agree with Nikah. “One of the loveliest necklaces I’ve seen in a very long time. One that’s very suited for Rhianon.”

Nikah pulled her gaze away from the necklace, attempting to puff herself back up. “You know, you’re right,” she said finally, reaching for the coin purse that dangled from her belt. “That sapphire is amazingly brilliant. Rhia, can I coax you to part with it? It’s much better suited for me than that old thing Mikos bought.”

Daevra’s jaw dropped. “You really weren’t listening. That was made for her by a dear friend!”

Nikah frowned at Daevra, opening her purse wider. “What about five thousand gold pieces? Or…well, I suppose I could go a bit higher.”

“Or you could stop altogether. It’s hers.”  Henii’s voice snapped against the still afternoon air.

“Nikah, I’m sorry,” Rhianon said slowly, pushing her collar back into place. “I don’t think there’s enough gold in your purse to buy it. Actually, I don’t think there’s enough gold anywhere. Like Daevra said, this was made for me. It’s priceless.” Rhianon’s gaze then fell upon the necklace hanging around Nikah’s neck, the gems oddly dim. “Your husband was right with what he told you, though,” she added, lips curling into a faint smile. “Rare gems for a rare gem. I guess mine are just a bit rarer.”

As a child, Rhianon had always imagined what it would be like to put Nikah in her place. It had been an idle fantasy, one that she never dreamed would come to fruition – but none of those daydreams ever prepared her for the look of utter hatred that flashed across Nikah’s pale, drawn face as the last few words slipped out of her mouth. Just a bit rarer.

Nikah lunged at Rhianon, blurting out garbled words sounding something akin to “let me try it on!”.  Henii had already positioned herself advantageously, however, and her hand came up as swiftly as a snake striking, grabbing Nikah around the neck and forcing her back. “For the love of the Light, control yourself!” she hissed.

“You don’t understand! I just need to try it on!” Nikah shoved at Henii. “Get out of my way!”

“Calm yourself now!”  A fireball leapt from Henii’s hands, exploding just inches away from Nikah’s neatly trimmed hooves.

The explosion startled the dumpling vendor and he looked up from his stall, frowning at the group of Draenei. “Ladies, is everything okay?”

Rhianon shot a glance over at the vendor.  Her hands were shaking, but she knew exactly what she was going to do. “This woman tried to steal my necklace! You should call the guards!”

The other food vendor was happy to join in on the complaint. “She’s trying to get away with free food too! My food isn’t dangerously hot!”

The commotion turned the heads of the nearby shoppers, the air buzzing. A few voices calling for the guards rose over the din of the crowd.  “We seem to have gotten some attention,” Daevra noted, scanning the area.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Nikah spat at Rhianon.

She reached forward, nostrils flared, preparing to launch herself at the trio – but this time, the firm hand of a guard on her shoulder halted her advance.  “Is this woman bothering you, ladies?” the guard asked, hand gripping Nikah firmly.

“She harrassed the kind food vendor over there and then attempted to steal my friend’s necklace.” Henii bowed to the guards. “I’m so glad you showed up before I was forced to take greater action.”

The guard  cleared his throat, nodding. “I did witness her attempt to assault your friend. Don’t worry; we’ll handle this.”  As the three of them watched, the Stormwind guard then hustled a struggling Nikah away, her complaints and accusations falling on deaf ears.

“Have fun, darling! I’m sure you’ll find the company in the stocks very entertaining!” Henii called after her, waving. She then turned back to Henii and Daevra, grinning. “That girl was a spoiled brat who expects the world on a gold platter. I don’t imagine she was ever much of a friend to you, Rhia. She got what was coming to her today though. I can see her husband being so embarrassed by this incident that things will get mightily unpleasant for her at home.”

Rhianon laughed. “I don’t think she’ll bother me much again, at the very least.”

“She’s not our worry anymore,” Daevra said, smoothing the front of her airy summer dress. “And we still have shopping to do!”

Laughing, the three Draenei linked arms, walking away from the food vendors and towards the bustling bazaar shops. The incident with Nikah was only a momentarily blip in the cheer of the afternoon, a shadow that was evaporating almost as quickly as it had appeared. The crowd began to reform behind them, chatting, shopping, and snacking on the vendor’s wares. All was as it should be – for that afternoon, at least.

Several moments later, Rhianon reappeared at the dumpling vendor, red-faced. She stuck out her hand, muttering, “I guess I really did forget my coin purse.”

The vendor laughed, fishing it off his counter top and handing it over to her. “I suppose I can forgive you, what with all the commotion.”

“Yeah, sorry about that…”

“Ex-excuse m-me, b-but d-did you s-see a…a l-lady here?”  The food vendor and Rhianon both looked up at the stammering voice. A male Draenei was standing behind them, rubbing his hands together. Rhianon recognized him from around the palace district, although she hadn’t paid him much heed the few times she had seen him. He was on the short side for a Draenei and had an obvious hunch from leaning over ledgers. Seeing that he had caught their attention, he repeated, somewhat slower, “Ex-excuse me. Di..did you see a l-lady here?”

“Nikah?” Rhianon blinked. It all made perfect sense. “You’re Nikah’s husband, aren’t you?”

“Y-yes, I’m M-Mikos.”  He sighed. “Her f-friend said sh-she needed m-my help.”

“She needs more than that, buddy,” the dumpling vendor quipped. “If you’re talking about that little Draenei lady that was around here, she just got taken away by the guards.”

“W-what?”  Rhianon couldn’t tell if Mikos’s voice was incredulous or genuinely upset.

“Yeah, she tried to steal this lady’s necklace.” The vendor gestured at Rhianon. “You should have seen it! What a great scene! Like something out of a book!”

Mikos swallowed, turning towards Rhianon. “I’m–I’m s-sorry. N-nikah is – “  He paused and eyeing her carefully. “W-wait, weren’t…weren’t you a-apart of t-the assault on I-I-Icecrown?” He groaned, shaking his head. “T-this isn’t g-good…the a-a-ambassador…”

Rhianon smiled. “It’s okay. Yes, I participated in the assault with the group I belong to. You probably have heard of us, the Meddlers? Anyway, I understand about Nikah. I’ve known her since I was little.”  She offered her hand to him, but he was trembling too much to take it. “My name is Rhianon.”

“Rhi-rhi..rhian–”

“Rhia is fine.”

Mikos nodded, gulping. “It-it’s just…Ni-Nikah..she t-told me about y-you.”  He frowned. “Y-you can’t p-possibly be t-that Rhi-rhi…Rhia.”

For a moment, Rhianon wanted to ask what kind of stories Nikah had told about her. From the way Mikos was looking at her in sheer disbelief, she was certain that none of them could have been any good or anywhere near the truth. Good sense, however, got the better of her. There were some things probably best left unknown. “Well, I am.”

“A-are you s-sure? T-that g-girl was…w-well…a…n-nothing.”  He motioned at her. “Y-you are imp-important…p-pretty…”

Rhianon sighed and hooked her coin purse back onto her belt. “You can always remind Nikah of that when you see her next. I think they took her down to the stocks. She’s probably waiting for you to fish her out.” She turned around, not wishing to listen to any more of Mikos’ Nikah-infused ramblings. He wasn’t her problem, just like Nikah wasn’t her problem either. There were far more important things to do than to listen to a dumbfounded accountant babble on about how she couldn’t possibly be who she was. A part of her felt a momentary twinge of pity for the bewildered Draenei who probably fell under Nikah’s hoof on more than one occassion, but then she reminded herself that he had brought his suffering on himself. It was unlikely that the bumbling man would have been Nikah’s first choice for a mate.

As she walked away, she could still hear him muttering, ‘T-this…is…im-impos-s-sible…’.

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