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It was mid-morning as Mercutio entered the tavern, swagger and gladness in his step. The thickly plastered walls and tiled floors of red kept the air cool and pleasant. The establishment was empty but for Romeo, whose own thoughts seemed to be a thousand leagues away.
Mercutio straddled the bench beside him and clapped him heartily upon the back. "How fares my friend? Did the fair Rosaline give you reward for your pains last night, or did her attentions only stiffen the pains that a man must endure?"
Romeo stared into his empty cup. "Ah Mercutio, endurance of such sweet agony is a worthy tithe for a moment in her love."
"Well, when it does finally flower, let us hope your long endurance does not quit upon that moment."
"A moment will be enough."
"Woe to any man who holds such sentiments hold true," Mercutio laughed as he called to the server, a short man with a bushy head of brown curls, motioning for drinks for both he and his friend.
"And what of you, Mercutio? You look no worse the wear for the celebrations of last evening," said Romeo.
Mercutio took the glasses of warmed wine from the server's ready tray and handed one to his friend. "Indeed, I slept most sound."
"Exhaustion from gentle sport?"
"Nay, my solitary bed was filled with dreams so swe
et, mortal company would have been an unwelcome interloper to such unwedded bliss."
"Dreams of a particular maid?" asked Romeo.
"Bah! Maids are best for milking and I desire not their fumbling fingers. Nay, I dreamt of a stranger, a gentle lady I know not, but would fall asleep this instant if I thought I could conjure her once again," said Mercutio with a smile.
"It was a night for dreaming," Romeo stated as the server slowly cleared away the dirty dishes from the end of their empty table. "I myself dreamt of Rosaline with illusions so strong I woke having to remind myself that they were not real."
"They were probably as real as any affections you can hope to receive from the likes of her."
"Such callousness! Have you never loved, Mercutio?"
"Aye, deeply and longingly, and neither shall be had with Rosaline. Good friend Romeo, do not cast your eyes about like a fisherman's net, declaring a mackerel the finest specimen you have ever seen only because it happened to get tangled as you passed."
"So says the man with an empty net."
"Believe me, I shall not starve."
"A man without meat upon his lips withers and fades away."
"Meat not to my liking shall make me wither, too."
"Do not speak ill of my love for Rosaline," Romeo pleaded.
"You are right," Mercutio replied, gripping Romeo's forearm bracingly. "You must learn these things for yourself. My warning should be taken as no more than the ramblings of a bitter soldier who has loved and lost too much. A man whose mind wanders to a woman in his dreams and finds her more desirable than any he has seen in the flesh, perhaps because he knows for once that he shall not have to watch her die."
The silence spread as Mercutio's words hung in the air. Romeo took a long drink from his cup before speaking. "Strange, the dreams of last night."
"Aye," Mercutio said. "Believe it, my friend, despite the cloud of gloom I wear, that I woke finding the sun shining a little brighter and the woes of the world light. There was a comfort in these visions which lingers even into the day. Perhaps it is just the return home which chased away the demons that haunt me, but I have not had such restful sleep since long before the war."
"There is no bed as sweet as a man's own."
"Most days I would answer that you have not been in the beds I have known, but this morning I am wont to agree."
"Perhaps it was the faeries, sorrowful that the prince's feast came to an end, and they swept through all Verona to continue the dance where merry feet and conversation could not tire in already sleeping heads," Romeo ribbed.
Mercutio laughed as he held up his glass. "If that be the case, I shall tell my uncle we must levy a tax to play host to such welcome guests until the coffers of man have run dry."
Romeo raised his wine in fraternal agreement.
As their conversation continued on, Faunus quietly slipped into the back of the tavern and placed the tray of dirty dishes upon an empty shelf. He let his disguise fade into his true form as he mused, "These dreams bear your touch, Queen Mab. Is love the game you play? Broken hearts to break a House's back? I thought you and I exhausted this strategy before. No matter. Your first move upon the board is made, your fingers lifted from the piece. I know well how to make the counter and to send you running from your sly attack to open defeat."