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Bunny woke up in her room at the Turning Leaves, a very worried Wilson at her bedside and an older, silver-haired version of Amy sitting beside her. She tried to focus on the woman. "Aunt Kiva?"
The woman smiled at her. "Good to see you awake. I was worried whatever junk they put in your food was poisoned but that doesn't seem the case."
Bunny sat up. "Where's Uncle Anthony?"
"Drinking downstairs." She smiled at Wilson. "Our host feels so bad that he let Anthony sample his private stock."
Wilson bowed stiffly. "I do apologize for this regretful incident."
"No worries, honey." Kiva turned her smile on him. "We'll meet you downstairs."
He took the hint and left them alone.
Kiva leaped up as soon as the door was closed and moved soundlessly to the door. She checked it quickly while talking loudly. "We've an invite from an elvish noblewoman to play at some dinner party. She heard we were here and was just so very excited." Her hands traced a pattern. Get dressed quickly. Don't talk about anything until we're sure no one's listening. "Let's go get a glass of Wilson's best wine before he comes to his senses and cuts us off."
Bunny slipped out of bed and pulled on her pants. Her hands moved quickly. Understood. How did you find me? "Yeah, good point. Let me find my boots."
Long story. "Look under your bed, doofus." Don't answer any questions.
"Got them!" Bunny said brightly.
Kiva shook her head. "Subtle you are not, my girl. C'mon."

Kiva turned heads when they entered the common room. Bunny grinned as Kiva stopped a conversation between two elves on her way. They went to the bar where a brown-haired man made colored lights dance for the awestruck barmaid. The lights became butterflies and disappeared in a glittering shower. He bowed, grinning at her applause and hugged Kiva. "My one and only!" He kissed her then hugged Bunny tightly. "My dear girl! Come! Let's drink on someone else's tab! Always makes the wine better."
"Hi, Uncle Anthony." Bunny let him lead her to a table in the corner, Kiva on his arm.
They settled around the table, the still-awestruck barmaid bringing glasses, a bottle of wine and some bits of pastry on a plate dusted with powdered sugar. Anthony sighed at the plate. "I miss Tag's cooking."
"Are you heading back to Tilldae? I know Amy misses you both." Bunny snagged a pastry between two fingers.
"We were on our way back." Kiva poured wine in the glasses. "Thought we'd spend the winter at home for a change."
"After this performance for Lady Abigail, we'll be on our way." Anthony sipped his wine and smiled. "I do adore Wilson's taste in wine."
Kiva sipped hers and sighed. "Too right. Man has good taste for an elf." She gestured with her glass. "You will be joining us, won't you? Not every day you get to wander in the Kingdom."
Bunny nibbled the pastry. "Of course, after all you did save me in the stables. Only right I return the favor."
A barmaid approached their table shyly, several giggling and urging her on. "Are you a bard, sir?"
"Of course!" he smiled, which stirred up fresh giggles.
"Would you play for us, sir?" The elvin girl was very nearly purple.
"With pleasure." Anthony swung the lute on his back around and started to play, singing softly as he walked slowly to the fireplace gathering attention on his way. He touched a woman's hair and made a flower bloom behind her ear.
"This is why we never pay for rooms or meals." Kiva whispered to Bunny.
He took a piece of bread from a plate and threw it in the air, the crowd gasping when it turned into a bird and shattered into bits of colored light. "I can see why." Bunny joined the applause. "He's learned a few new tricks."
Kiva leaned closer to Bunny. "We're puzzled as to why you've been attacked. None of the attempts were successful which makes me wonder who we're dealing with. I'm a little worried for your safety."
"Mine?" Bunny stared at her. "Why me? I'm just a ranger from Tilldae on some errands."
Kiva shook her head. "You, my dear girl, are Bunny English, ranger from Tilldae which is a town full of people with unique skills. You also were in on that rather infamous blowout in Novembertown. You tread the line between infamous and known. For all we know, someone's trying to impress you." She shrugged and drank some wine. "I hope they're not actually trying to do you harm. I'd hate to have to punch someone." She examined a pastry, glancing at Anthony as he started playing a drinking song. "I figure if they're elves, they'll follow us into the Kingdom. If they're human, they'll either go the hell away or wait until we come out."
"It's as good of a plan as we can get, I suppose." Bunny shrugged.
"Besides," Kiva grinned. "You'll get to wear a dress."
"No. The last time I wore a dress, I got in a sword fight." Bunny grinned. "No thanks."

"I honestly expected this trip to be a bit more magical," Bunny commented as she accepted an apple from Kiva.
She was currently riding side by side with Kiva, Anthony behind them. All three wore plain traveling clothes and had taken great pains to look as average as they could. Kiva shrugged. "If you want some excitement, I could drop my invitation. Then we could spend a lovely afternoon lost in the woods until the Gaurd came to get us."
"Can we not and say we did?" Anthony suggested.
"Invitation?" Bunny bit into her apple. "How does this work?"
Kiva reached into her shirt and pulled out a leather thong with a ceramic pendant. "This tells the woods we belong here. Also, it gets warm when we deviate from the path."
Bunny looked around at the pale, leafless trees around them. "I can't find any animal tracks. No signs of life at all."
"Magic, my dear." Anthony yawned. "I can see it all over everything."
Kiva tucked the pendant back into her shirt. "Relax, Bun-bun. We'll be at Dux Ducis in about an hour."
"Okay." Bunny finished her apple and started to throw it into the trees.
"Don't!" Kiva called out. "Stick it in a pouch or something. Leave nothing on the trail."
"It's an apple core," she protested. "The animals eat it!"
"It's littering." Kiva tensed and jerked her head forward.
Bunny shoved her apple core into a pouch and urged her horse on faster. She got in front of Kiva, hand close to her sword. Kiva stretched, reaching for her throwing knives hidden in her sleeves. Anthony juggled what appeared to be glass balls.
The trees in front of them seemed to separate, allowing six elves on horseback wearing maroon and gray tunics over chainmail to block the path. None wore weapons but the three humans didn't drop their guard. "Sir Anthony and his lady Kiva, Lady Abigail sends her regards and wishes us to accompany you through the city."
"Lovely," Kiva said, completing her stretch and patting her horse. "An honor guard, I suppose?"
"Maybe to keep back my adoring fans," Anthony gave his balls one last toss before putting them away.
Bunny and Kiva shared an eyeroll then followed the elves.

Dux Ducis reminded Bunny of a dream she had once after a spicy meal at Ogre's. The cobblestone streets were full of elves, some carrying baskets and others using parasols to keep the sunlight filtered from the canopy of trees above them from touching their milk-white skin. Children moved by in howling, laughing packs of colored robes, drawing smiles from their elders. The buildings were round, made of white washed earthen works with roofs tiled in terracotta slates. Some had flat roofs with garden blooming despite the winter chill. The guards led them past the town square where merchants hawked wares from carts set around a stone fountain. The street was blocked by a high metal fence painted brown. One guard touched the gate and stood back as it swung open. The party rode their horses through the gate which closed gently behind them.
A cluster of mansions graced the street, series of platforms made of glass and wood set high in trees connected by bridges that seemed to grow from tree to tree. Another street branched out, disappearing into the trees but Bunny could see faint lights. "The castle," Kiva whispered before she could ask.
The guards stopped at one mansion and servants rushed out to collect their horses. An elvin woman in a plain dress with her hair in a braid greeted them. "Welcome, good people! My name is Zelda, I am Lady Abigail's majordomo."
"YOU!" came a startled child's shout.
The boy from town hurled himself at Bunny and clung to her in a fierce hug. "I'm so glad you've come! But how?" His face was a mixture of awe and excitement.
Bunny jerked a thumb at Anthony. "He's my uncle."
"Oh." The boy let go of her and grabbed Zelda's hand. "Mom, this is the lady who gave me the sugar sculpture!"
Zelda's face lit up. "She's gorgeous! You must tell me how to do that!" She collected herself. "But first, I must see that you are settled comfortably." She put her arm through Bunny's and led the rest to a platform near the base of the biggest tree. "We have to talk. That was so beautiful and I couldn't figure out how it was done!"
Bunny shrugged. "I'm not the chef. Tag made that one. I was supposed to sell it but he'll rather it went to someone who appreciates it."
"I must learn this skill..." Zelda waited until everyone was on the platform before tugging on a cord. The platform rose slowly. "Would he teach me?"
"You'd have a hard time shutting him up," Kiva said with a laugh. "Leave it to Tag to upstage Anthony."
Bunny grinned and enjoyed the sight of the guards becoming smaller as they moved higher.
The platform came to a smooth stop at a platform where an elf woman in elaborate robe, her golden hair loose. She smiled at them and gracefully courtesied. "Welcome to my home!" Her smile evaporated when she saw Bunny. "Who is this person, Zelda? I invited two, not three."
"She is Miss Kiva's maid and can help me in the kitchen, ma'am," Zelda said matter-of-fact.
"Oh." Abigail's smile returned but seemed tight at the edges. "Very well. Will you have someone show them to their quarters? I have some things to discuss with you."
"Of course." Zelda touched her son's head. "Joseph, would you show our guests to their rooms?"
"Yes, ma'am!" He bowed to the humans. "This way, please."
Zelda trailed after Abigail, turning her head to wink at Kiva before they left the platform and disappeared into the house. Joseph covered his mouth to stop from giggling. Kiva offered her hand. "Would you believe this is my first time sleeping in a treehouse?"
"Really?" He took her hand. "It's like any other house, only in a tree. I'll show you."
The house looked as if it was a part of the tree, the exterior the same color as the bark. The windows were the only indication that it wasn't a part of the forest. Joseph held open the heavy wooden door and let them enter.
Inside was minimalistic, the walls painted a lighter shade than the bark. The floor was wood but had tree rings and the ceiling had what looked like branches and leaves with a cluster of glowing berries lighting the room. A set of high-backed chairs, a chaise lounge and a stiff-looking loveseat held court around a low round table made of glass. Furs were draped artfully over the chairs. "The sitting room," Joseph informed them as he closed the front door. "This is where Lady Abigail receives visitors." He grinned at them. "C'mon, there's more... This is the formal room."
He led them through an archway to a large room with a long glass table with chairs made of some darker wood surrounding it. An unobtrusive door was placed in a far corner of the otherwise round room. Windows gave the illusion of being outside. Double glass doors seemed to lead to a platform outside big enough to set the sitting room and the formal room on it and have space to spare. More glowing berries lit the formal room and clusters formed a ring over the platform outside.
"Here is where the family has their meals and is where Mi'lady will be having her dinner party." He pointed at the platform. "That is where they would be sitting if it were warmer." He walked to the door in the corner. "This is the kitchen."
He swung the door open and they walked into a room that was almost hot. Tables, foodstuffs, and a roaring fire greeted them. Zelda was discussing something in the language Joseph had used with Bunny with a man in an apron. He nodded and wiped his hands on his apron and went back to chopping vegetables. She smiled at them. "Welcome! Jo, this is not their quarters."
"But Mom! Miss Kiva had never slept in a treehouse before!"
She shrugged. "I guess if the question comes, we can say Anthony needed to see where he would be performing." She took a basket from a table. "I was going to your quarters to offer some refreshments so I will just walk with you."
Joseph frowned. "Mom, just say you're not pleased with me." She smiled and nudged him.
They walked back through the formal room and the sitting room to the landing platform. A suspension bridge rose gently from the platform to another platform in a tree then split into four, each leading to clusters of platforms. All were lit by the glowing berries. "These are our quarters." Zelda led the way across the bridge.
"What are these berries I see everywhere?" Bunny asked.
"They're called moon berries. They only grow up high." She reached out and picked a cluster, handing it to Bunny. "They give us light in the evening and provide a constant temperature."
"They're warm!" Kiva exclaimed when Bunny handed her the cluster. The berries flickered and went dark.
"You killed them," Anthony teased.
"Moon berries are a parasite." Zelda took them toward a cluster of platforms father than the others. "They do not harm the tress and absorb the sun's light."
"Neat." Bunny said with a nod. "Wish I could take some home."
The platform had steps leading to miniature replicas of the house. Zelda opened the door to one. "These are your quarters."
Inside was a small living area with an over stuffed couch and a table. Area rugs graced the floor. A ladder had been built into the wall, leading to a loft. Glowing crystals filled a bowl on the low table and a paper lamp hung from the ceiling. "Adorable!" Kiva declared and immediately crawled up the ladder.
Zelda smiled in relief and sat on the couch. Joseph pulled cushions from under the table and sat on one, patting the other and looking at Bunny. Bunny had a seat, Anthony settled next to Zelda. "So... when is everything happening?"
Zelda paused. "Dinner will be served at dusk. You will be performing before and after dinner, with other musicians providing music during which would give you the chance to sit at the table and entertain the guests with your wit and charm."
Kiva snorted from the loft.
"Pipe down up there," Anthony said with a laugh. "Kiva and Bunny play fairly well. They can take over during my break."
"Really?!" Bunny squealed and bounced on her cushion.
"Oh, the sarcasm!" Anthony rolled his eyes.
Zelda smiled. "I am looking forward to tomorrow evening." She stood up and gestured to Joseph. "Come, we have a long day tomorrow."
He made a face. "But I had questions!"
"You can ask them while you and Bunny work together in the kitchen."
He looked to Bunny for confirmation, smiling as she nodded. "Okay!"
They said good night, Zelda and Joseph closing the door behind them.
"Something's up." Kiva's voice drifted down from the loft. "Can't put my finger on it."
Anthony shrugged. "We'll just have to keep our eyes open." He kissed Bunny on top of the head. "Good night, niece."
She stood up and hugged him. "Good night, uncle."
He went up the ladder, leaving her to curl on the couch under a colorful patchwork quilt. "How does one turn off crystals?" grumbled Bunny before her eyes closed.

The Great Room's table had been graced with the finest white linen table cloth and set with bone white china and silver tableware. Crystal goblets had been arranged beside each place, hothouse flowers arranged in silver bowls on the table. The guests, dressed in their finest, made polite noises over the table and their hostess' gown. Servants bearing trays with glasses of a white wine weaved through the guests, pausing as they reached for glasses. Joseph circulated with a tray of several kinds of cheese. Anthony sang while Kiva and Bunny played mandolins behind him. There were gasps when he caused a flock of brightly colored parrots to fly into the room, circle the crystal chandelier and explode in a shower of rainbow sparks. He bowed as the song ended then went into a love song, taking a young elf woman's hand and singing directly to her.He pulled a rose from her hair and handed it to her after letting go of her hand. She smelled the flower, eyes shining.
Anthony sang a few more songs, complete with showers of glitter and sparks when he wasn't making illusionary dragons breath fire outside the window or causing flowers to rain from the ceiling. Bunny tried to look unimpressed by his tricks, knowing in the back of her mind that they were just illusions but she found herself picking her jaw off the floor more than once. Kiva, however, smiled brightly and played her instrument like it was nothing unusual for her husband to make rainbows that became birds that flew out of a window that wasn't opened.
The last song of the set ended and Anthony bowed, smiling. Zelda and her minions had the first course ready and waiting when the guests turned to the table. Kiva and Bunny settled on their chairs and played softly.
"That was pretty amazing," Bunny muttered.
"He is that," Kiva agreed with a wink. "Wait for his signal and do exactly what I tell you."
"What?" Bunny managed to keep a smile plastered on her face.
Kiva's grin became almost evil. "You seriously didn't think we came all this way just to play at some moldy dinner party? Oh, c'mon!"
"I don't believe you!" she growled behind her smile. "You had me thinking that it was completely random that you showed up..."
"Oh, it wasn't." Kiva kicked her discreetly under their skirts. "Now behave before they suspect something. We knew you were heading to Border Town so I figured we could use your skill."
"Auntie, you could have asked." Bunny's smile slipped a bit.
Kiva nudged her. "Now where would have been the fun in that?"
They played on through the second course, Bunny's stomach growling at the smells. Anthony stood up from his seat beside Lord Terrance and inclined his head toward Lady Abigail seated across of him. "If I may have my Lady's kind indulgence, I've a song written just for the occasion."
Lady Abigail turned pink under her pale complexion. "Please go on, good sir."
Anthony started singing softly, cuing Kiva and Bunny to play louder. He cupped his hands as if catching something then threw gold dust in the air where it hung as if caught in something sticky. The eleves stared at the glittering dust without moving or speaking. "That's it," Kiva nudged Bunny. "Go!"
Bunny set aside her instrument and ran to Anthony who was still singing. He pointed to an older elf with enough jewelry to finance a small kingdom for several years. He touched his own wrist and point ed to the elf woman again.
Bunny noticed several bracelets on her wrist, bangles made of pure gold and a few that were made of percious gems wrapped in silver. She carefully unhooked one of the gem bracelets and slipped it in her pocket. She looked up at Anthony, who motioned for her back to her seat. She had just enough time to sit down and pick up her instrument before he raised his hands, dropping them and causing the dist to spark once then disappear. The elves blinked as if waking from a dream and applauded. Anthony bowed and sat down.
Servants appeared, clearing off the dishes and replacing them with plates of cake and berries covered in cream. Conversation buzzed around the room, mostly compliments.
Kiva nudged Bunny. "Good job, niece."
"I could've gotten more," she muttered.
"That alone is worth a fortune." Kiva elbowed her. "Hush."

The guests had wandered out after Anthony finished his last set, causing a phoenix and a dragon to fight outside and settling off a series of illusionary fireworks inside for his finale. Zelda fed Kiva and Bunny the leftovers in the kitchen while the servants cleaned up. "This bread is amazing!" Kiva said after polishing off almost an entire loaf by herself. "Can I get some to bring home?"
"Of course!" Zelda beamed. "I shall put together a basket for you with jelly made by my own hands and fresh bread."
Anthony yawned, finishing his glass of wine. "That was quite a spread, Mistress Zelda. Thank you for your hospitality."
"My pleasure," the majordomo's face beamed. "Will you be leaving in the morning?"
"First light, confirmed Kiva while spreading butter on yet another slice of bread.
Joseph burst into the kitchen, carrying a box. "Bunny! I have something for you!" He thrust the box at her.
Bunny accepted with a smile and lifted the lid carefully. Inside was a rag doll with bunny ears and a scrap tail. A red heart had been stitched to it's chest. The bunny wore a gown similar to the ones elves wore and when Bunny picked her up, she saw other outfits underneath it. "Joseph, this is too much! I can't accept it."
"Please!" His face was grave. "The lady had one made for her granddaughter who said it wasn't good enough for her. Lady Abigail gave her to me but I don't play with dolls. This poor thing's been sitting in the dark for so long. Please?"
Bunny smiled at him and hugged her namesake. "For you, I'll take her home. But only if you and your mom come visit us in Tilldae when you get the chance."
"Done, Bunny English!"
They shook hands on it. "Do I not get a say?" Zelda laughed.
"Guess not." Kiva giggled. "Bed, children. We've had quite a day."

The morning brought a tearful Joseph and Zelda waving them off as they rode their loaded down horses through town. They rode through town, elves waving and shouting greetings in elvish. A little girl handed Kiva a bouquet of flowers as they passed.
Guards were waiting for them at the edge of town. "We are to escort you to the road," the captain informed them. "The woods are being combed for a thief."
Kiva gasped. "Oh my! What did they take?"
"We are not at liberty to discuss, ma'am." He looked at the baskets and sacks on her horse. "May we search your belongings?"
"We are no thieves, sir but we also have nothing to hide."
Bunny held her breath while the guards went through their packs. "Nothing here out of the ordinary." The captain bowed. "I apologize, sir."
"Just doing your job, my good man," Anthony assured him with a smile. "No harm done."
Bunny barely managed to keep a straight face all the way to Turning Leaves.

Wilson greeted them with smiles, asked them to join him for lunch. He begged for details of the party and Anthony obliged him. Kiva excused herself, saying that they needed to take care of a few things and took Bunny's arm.
"What are you doing?" Bunny asked.
"Come with me." Kiva said and led her up to the room she shared with Anthony.
An oval full length mirror hung on one wall. Kiva stood in front of it and looked at Bunny. "Stand by the door and let no one in. I thought you deserved to see why we went through all this trouble." She touched the mirror and said a word in elvin.
The surface bubbled and Zelda stepped through. She smiled at them. "You guys were great!" She hugged Kiva.
Kiva returned the embrace. "I'm glad we could help you, dear. How much do you want?"
"What did you get?" Zelda looked curious.
Kiva reached into her pocket and pulled out a small sack. "We pulled the gems out of the silver and Anthony melted it into a lump. Untraceable."
"Perfect." Zelda took the sack and marveled at the contents. "Beautiful! I really appreciate this."
"Wait, wait..." Bunny held up a hand. "We stole that for you?! But-"
"Not for me." Zelda corrected her. "This is for Jo, so he can get out of that hell and get an education. This'll pay for him to go to school and not have to live the life I've had to." Her expression softened. "That's why I was grateful for the invitation you gave us. Now I have an excuse to leave that damned city."
"But it looks peaceful..." Bunny said slowly.
"No," Zelda's face hardened once more. "The nobles have us under tight rule. Everything so proper and everyone so polite. I couldn't marry Jo's dad because Abigail didn't approve of him and wouldn't let him live in her house." Tears filled her eyes. "You know him as Tag."
"Tag's Jo's dad?" Bunny sat down hard.
Zelda smiled. "I cried when Jo gave me the sugar because I know who made it. When you begged Jo to come visit you, my decision became clear." She touched Bunny's face. "I'm coming home. We'll be joining you after the snow flies." She hugged Kiva. "Put three aside for Jo. Thank you."
Zelda stepped through the mirror and the surface became solid.
Kiva sank to her knees and cried into her hands. "It was so hard seeing Zell like that," she sobbed. "My poor Zell, having to serve that awful woman." She lifted her head, wiped away her tears and forced a smile. "Let's go get drunk, shall we?"
"It's kinda early, don't you think?" Bunny asked, helping her stand.
Kiva's eyes danced. "Let's go get into some trouble, shall we?" She offered her arm.
"Why do I have the feeling I'll be apologizing for this all winter?" Bunny groaned and took her arm.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-11 09:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I like this MUCH more than the original. Thanks for another installment of happy. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-12 01:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Glad you liked it:) Billy was the one that suggested the rewrite!


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August 2011


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