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 Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)

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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Tue Sep 04, 2012 12:10 pm

OK, folks - here is the big one. You really should read this slowly and savour the story... oh, and it is work-safe so don't worry.

PART 1 : The Smallest Plaything
PART 2 : The Gate of Fear
PART 3 : Meeting the Family
PART 4 : Making a Man...
PART 5 : Face in the Crowd

===

“Making a Man out of a Mouse” - Growing into a healthy adult, Dustpaw was still alone. Missus Meerka decided that she would see if Dustpaw could find a little love in his life. She enlisted the help of a friend...

===



“With a twinkle in his old eyes, he had reminded
her of the riotous times he and that lothario,
Nuzzle used to have in Freeport. If she didn't get
him “sorted out” by the time of their next visit,
then the two of them would certainly show him a
good time or two. Or three!”


===

DUSTPAW, MAKING A MAN OUT OF A MOUSE

Meerka looked down at Mister Dustpaw and the heap of kits, all sprawled asleep on the pillows. As promised, he had kept them entertained and quiet while she and her darling Xzott had enjoyed a relaxing evening out. He was so good with the kits. He really was a lovely boy... no, she corrected herself, he really was a lovely man.

They had barely been back from the Underfoot a couple of weeks and already the children were back to their boisterous ways and all desperately keen to play with Uncle Dustpaw. Especially now he really was their Uncle! The fact that they could “keep him” had resulted in the youngsters clamouring for Uncle Dustpaw whenever Meerka or the Xzott needed time out of the house. Despite his crafting or studies, Mister Dustpaw always had time for the kits. With a slight twinge of guilt, Meerka wondered if she was taking advantage of his willingness to help. Shaking her head, she thought that it was only natural. Not only was he a God-Parent, but he was now also officially her adopted brother. He had never had siblings, so of course he would enjoy helping with the youngsters. Even so...

She stooped down and gently lifted Zvek and Tress from the cushions. Both were so deeply asleep that they didn't even stir. Once they were settled upstairs, she returned for Squirrley. Ah, yes. Squirrley had been “playing horseys” with Mister Dustpaw – her favourite game – and had worn the poor guy out! He was lying face down on the cushions, fast asleep. By far the most boisterous of the children, she had also fallen asleep, but had burrowed under his linen shirt. Only her legs and tail were visible from the nest she had made in the small of his back. Carefully, Meerka managed to extricate her daughter from her hiding place without causing her to wake up too much. A tired but playful pat on the muzzle was all Squirrley could offer before closing her eyes again.

Once all three were safely in their sleeping area, she padded quietly back to the living room and looked again at Mister Dustpaw. She reached down and straightened his shirt. Being polite and well brought up, she never stared at anyone, but this time, since he was asleep, she allowed herself a good long look at her adopted brother.

It was so nice to finally have a brother close to her in age. Her other siblings were so much younger than her and often acted like the children that they still were. With Dustpaw, she at last had another Ratonga that she could talk to other than the Xzott. Dustpaw didn't have anybody to talk to at all. He had no family other than his new adopted one. She thought that what he really needed was a rat-maid of his own.

Dustpaw was only a couple of years younger than her, though you would have thought it more from his slight frame. He was bulking out well – both adventuring and his Woodworking craft contrived to put muscle on his once bony figure. This was offset to a degree by the amount of time he spent studying (even now, she could see a few ink stains on his dark paw-pads). His fur, now nearly jet black, was rich and glossy. A wayward tuft was sticking up on the back of his head, no doubt caused by his exertions with the children. She reached for an ever-present comb and smoothed it down. He had recently developed a good thick neck-ruff – a sign of adulthood – so she spent a moment with the comb there too.

So much about him had changed since she first met him. Then, he was timid, three-quarters starved and penniless. Now, he was well dressed, wealthy (surprisingly so in such a short time actually - apparently he had made some spectacular earnings trading between the two cities - legally too!), with a good profession and skill, fit and healthy. One day he'd make a fine mate for a rat-maid - something she'd have to give some thought to. Sitting this close and having combed his neck-ruff, her sensitive nostrils were full of the undeniably male scent of him. She would have to think about it. Soon, too!

Rising, she placed the comb back in her pocket and slipped over to the kitchen, her brain teeming with thoughts and possible matches.

Several sips of tea later, she reviewed the facts. The mental list made grim reading. To her knowledge, Dustpaw had never talked of any female friends. He never brought any rat-maids back to his room (though that was not unusual in the close confines of Temple Street). Being broad minded, she recalled that he had never brought any male friends back either. In fact, his idea of a good evening in was with a book. Or a tome. Or grimoire. He spent far more time up at the Library than anywhere else. Too much more of that and he'd be described as... bookish? Was that the word?

Sighing and sneaking another glance at him over on the heap of pillows, Meerka wondered what to do. When they had left the Underfoot to travel back to Freeport, her grandfather Cuthy had taken her on one side and talked to her about Dustpaw. With a twinkle in his old eyes, he had reminded her of the riotous times he and that lothario, Nuzzle used to have in Freeport. If she didn't get him “sorted out” by the time of their next visit, then the two of them would certainly show him a good time or two. Or three!

She shuddered at the thought of poor Dustpaw being dragged on a tour of the "flesh-pits" by Nuzzle. She knew Nuzzle had been looking for love for a long time, and sometimes in low places as well as high. He would know just the sort of girl she didn't want her brother to meet for the first time, and risk picking up any bad habits or worse! No - what she needed to do was to talk to a lady friend... someone she could trust.

Setting down her teacup, she went to write a letter...


Last edited by DanielCoffey on Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:56 am; edited 2 times in total
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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Tue Sep 04, 2012 12:12 pm


Meerka was sitting at a small table for two outside the street café called the Trusty Crust. The eatery was still reasonably new and had become her favourite haunt. Run by Joe “Trusty” Furfoot, a cheerful (and typically fat) Halfling, it had originally just been a small bakery to serve the communities on the high bluffs in South Freeport above the Harbour. It was too far from the waterfront to suffer at the hands of all the usual night-time rowdies who might decide to torch it for being Halfling-run, and as a result had done rather well. Once he had become established, Joe had branched out and started producing pies and pastries for workers on their way to the prestigious buildings nearby. Soon he added a table or two, and before long, the better class of folks were travelling from the far side of North Freeport to enjoy a little slice of Qeynos Cuisine and a coffee.

While she waited, Meerka had decided to treat herself to a flaky almond slice and a pot of orange-flower tea. Before long, her keen eyes spotted the figure of a pale-furred female Ratonga in a cool but fashionable dress. Her friend, Grace. Meerka provided a lot of the dresses that Grace wore. In fact, she was always a little irked about how Grace, who was a couple of years older than her, could look so youthful. Grace's fur was soft, a delicate champagne. She had a petite figure in perfect proportion, her ears were unadorned and her paw-pads were a delightful coral-pink. Some mothers in Temple Street would have said that Grace was “no better than she should be”, or “merely a good-time rat”, but Meerka knew otherwise.

Grace ran a Gentleman's Club in the highly prestigious Compassion Road in North Freeport. She catered to the Gentlemen of our Proud City – her clients did not favour the attractions offered by the host of cheaper establishments that littered the City. Members of The Club were not interested in all the pretty pretty girls that could be bought (or rented) for a handful of silver in the seedier districts. Members of The Club eschewed the sleazy bars, the strip-joints, the drug dens. Members of The Club would not know what a “tuppeny upright” was if they were offered one. She and her exquisitely well tutored staff catered to Bankers, Financiers, Lawyers, Aristocrats. In a word... Gentlemen. Despite the prevalence of brothels and bordellos in the City, there were still plenty of upper-class men who favoured a broadsheet, a fine port and perhaps a polite game of cards over the more obvious attractions of the Harbour District. Of course, if some of the Gentlemen didn't return home until the morning, or preferred a particular waitress at their table, nothing was ever said. After all, they were Gentlemen. Upset Grace and you were out. The Club had a long waiting list.

Pouring a cup of the orange-flower tea, Meerka indicated the spare seat. This early in the afternoon, there were tables to spare and some privacy. Hoping she wasn't blushing, Meerka passed her friend the plate of pastries.

After some polite chitchat in which Grace enquired about the children, in which the pastries were eaten and more tea ordered, Meerka plucked up the courage to mention to Grace the reason for requesting her help. She talked about her newly adopted brother. She said how kind he was, how good he was with the children, how successful he had become. Also, how quiet and lonely he seemed. How alone. How nervous in the company of girls. Grace began to smile, a delighted twinkle lighting her bright eyes.

“So what you are saying...” she interrupted, “is that this delightful young man needs... someone to teach him all the right things to do?”

Meerka blushed until her ears burned and she swallowed her tea nervously. Grace laid a delicate paw on Meerka's knee.

“Don't worry, Meerka – I know you have his best interests at heart.”

After a moment's pause, Grace continued.

“Tell me, does he have any family? No? Very well... is he city-born?”

Meerka shook her head. At the mention of the Deep Tunnels, Grace arched an eyebrow.

“Hmm, that would explain a lot. Those Deep Tunnel families can be a little conservative.”

Meerka went on to explain that he had no family, had been abandoned, rescued by a no-fur who lived in Qeynos, made his way here and formally adopted by her own mother a few weeks ago.

Her whiskers twitching in amusement, Grace smiled, showing perfect teeth.

“How delightful! A true innocent? Really? Well, well. As his kin would say... 'By Belaska!' You did well to bring him to me.”

Looking business-like for a moment, Grace started rattling off ideas.

“You can make sure he's well-fed (but not too stuffed) and well-dressed. He'll be suspicious or nervous so tell him it is a trip to the... theatre, yes, that would work. Say it's the North Freeport Lyceum. Give him a drink or two... what? Bad idea? OK, just the one then.”

She drummed her claws on the table-top while her tail twitched.

“Bring him up to The Club – you'll have to look smart yourself. I'll leave word that you are expected. Make it the day after tomorrow... Steelday... we are less, um, busy in the middle of the week. Early evening. Drop him off at the door – we'll take care of the rest.”

She sat back with a pleased smile on her face and picked up the last of the pastries. Meerka had moved her paw half-way to her coin-purse (which she had filled in anticipation of this need) before a fierce glare from Grace stopped her.

“No! You don't need that! I refuse to take anything for this... work. You never charge me the full cost when you make me these delightful dresses, do you.”

It was more a statement than a question, as Grace smoothed a wrinkle on the waist of her dress.

“You have asked me to help as a friend. To teach a young man the right way to please a Lady, the right way to listen to her needs, the right way to satisfy her... fully.”

Meerka could feel the blush returning as a far-away grin crossed Grace's perfect face.

“Yes...” Grace said as she stretched. “I think a little pro bono work would do me good. I accept!”

Standing suddenly, Grace extended a paw.

“Till Steelday!”
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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Tue Sep 04, 2012 12:13 pm


The late afternoon sunshine promised a lovely Steelday evening to come as Dustpaw arrived at Meerka and the Xzott's Hall. He let himself in and stood in the foyer, a little uncomfortable in his formal clothes. Delicious scents wafted from the main cooking area showing the time that the Xzott had put into preparing a meal. Even now, the Xzott was striding confidently towards Dustpaw with the kits - Squirrley on one hip, Zvek on the other and Tress following excitedly behind.

“Goods afternoon, brave brother," the Xzott grinned. "Coulds you opens the door please? We is justs leavings for a walk.”

Dustpaw obediently opened the door behind him and stepped to the side. He thought he could detect a twinkle in the Xzott's eyes and maybe the Xzott's tail twitched in mirth?

Once the family group had left, Dustpaw firmly closed the front door and stepped back inside and down the steps into the dining area. Meerka had emerged from behind the kitchen counter carrying a basket of fresh bread rolls – each one twisted into an interesting shape. Dustpaw hurried forward and took the basket, glancing over at the table... which was set for two.

“What's going on, Meerka?” he enquired, but received no reply as she hurried back to the kitchen. Was she nervous? She was radiating anxiety. Never mind, she'd talk when she wasn't so busy.

Once the bowls were all carried to the table and Meerka had sat, Dustpaw looked at the spread before them. A light meal... for two.

“Is the Xzott not eating with us?” he asked, with a twitch of his whiskers...

“No, he's... taking the kits for a walk.” replied Meerka slightly too quickly.

Putting down his fork, Dustpaw looked squarely at Meerka.

“You asked me to come in my best clothes, as though for a formal dinner. And here we are, just the two of us. Mister Xzott cooks this... delicious meal,” he said, indicating the table with a paw, “yet he is not eating any of it. Is something wrong?”

Meerka glanced down at her bowl before replying.

“I thought I would... I thought we would go out this evening. A treat for you. I am taking you to... the theatre. There's a show at the Lyceum. You've been working so hard, I thought you would like a break. After all, if I can't treat my own brother to an evening's culture, then what's the world coming to? Besides, it'll be good for you. Something other than books!”

She paused and swallowed, trying to control her voice.

“Look, I can hardly go out to the theatre myself, can I? Would you come with me? Please? Darling Xzott is busy with the kits and he said I could go... but I don't want to go on my own...”

Meerka looked up at Dustpaw with big, dark eyes, her whiskers drooping.

“Please?”

Dustpaw smiled and nodded assent at his sister. Meerka instantly beamed a huge grin of relief and relaxed visibly.

“Good, good! Now eat! Hurry! There's not a lot of time!”

==

When they had eaten and cleared the bowls “to wash later”, Meerka looked Dustpaw up and down, inspecting his attire. He was dressed in his best white linen shirt open at the throat with a deep blue waistcoat with silver buttons. The trousers were in a slightly quilted blue material, hard wearing but smart and clearly new. They were belted at the waist with a black tooled belt, cleverly matching his fur pattern. His boots were high and polished until they gleamed. She handed him his evening cape, straightening his collar as she did so. He smelled good. She closed her eyes and inhaled. Neroli. Unable to find anything that needed combing, she settled with flicking a speck off his shoulder.

“Excellent – we have enough time for me to change. I'll be ten minutes... don't go away!”

Meerka dashed back upstairs with unusual haste and could soon be heard clomping about in the room above. True to her word, she quickly returned wearing an evening gown of green and brown silk, picked out in gold thread and matching shoes which complimented her beautifully combed fur. She carried a small clutch-purse in the same silk material and wore a simple necklace with a single tear-drop pearl.

Dustpaw gaped!

“Wow!” he exclaimed, grinning! “Who are you? You look like my sister but a lot prettier!”

Meerka blushed delicately at the compliment and was just moving to the door when there was a polite but firm knock. Fastening the silver clasp at the neck of his evening cape, Dustpaw hurried to the door. There on the step was a well-dressed human holding a small card.

“Buggy for Mister Dustpaw and Mrs Meerka, to the Lyceum...”
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Tue Sep 04, 2012 12:13 pm


As the man pocketed the card, Dustpaw peered behind him and could see a one-horse buggy. Once Meerka had locked the door to the Hall, the man lowered a set of steps and waited politely as Dustpaw helped Meerka up onto the rear seat. Once he too was settled safely, the man climbed onto the driver's board and roused the horse into a fair trot up the hill towards the up-town North Freeport districts.

“What's all this?” asked Dustpaw to Meerka as the speed of their passage made his eyes water a little.

Meerka leaned a little closer and told him that if they were going to the theatre, they might as well do it in style. Dustpaw knew that very few people used private buggies or carriages in the city unless they were very wealthy. Adventurers used an assortment of horses and ponies and even the odd flying carpet, but the bulk of the traffic was either foot or goods wagons. At this time, most of the stalls had closed but the revellers had not yet come out so the streets were fairly clear and they sped along at a fair clip.

Just as they were drawing into the thoroughfare which would lead them to the Lyceum, Meerka leaned forward and called out...

“Stop here please, Driver.”

The buggy came to a halt on the kerbside where the main road was joined by the smooth-paved crescent of Compassion Road. Large Halls and private residences were set back slightly from the pavements, all gleaming grandly in the last of the evening sun.

Ignoring Dustpaw's confusion, Meerka asked the driver to let them off here. Used to not questioning his clients, the driver simply nodded and applied the brake to keep the buggy steady as he came round the side and lowered the steps again.

“That'll be forty silvers, Ma'am.” he said as he helped Meerka and Dustpaw down. Meerka reached into her purse and produced a half-gold piece and gestured for the driver to keep the change. Only once the buggy had sped off to its next assignment did Meerka turn to Dustpaw.

“I thought we would walk the rest of the way – it looked a little busy ahead and there's a place just down here I want to show you. Come on – lets go have a look...”

Without waiting to see if Dustpaw was following her, she stepped between the bollards keeping heavy traffic out of Compassion Road. An almost perceptible peace reigned in the crescent – as though the problems of the City were simply... elsewhere. Only the truly wealthy could afford to live here. As they walked past the first few buildings, Dustpaw caught glimpses of Guildhalls, Embassies and even a private Bank.

About half-way round the curved private road, Meerka stopped. They were outside one of the entrances to the grandest building in the entire crescent. Four stories high, fronted by a colonnade and with no less than three separate doorways, it simply proclaimed itself via a discrete brass plaque to be “The Club”. She cast a slightly nervous glance at Dustpaw who was gazing up at the great façade. She tugged him up the steps and quickly pressed the bell, almost as if she wanted to ring it before she changed her mind.

Moments later, the door was opened by a polite human doorman. He looked at them for barely a second before his face lit up with a beaming smile.

“Mrs the Xzott, how good to see you. And you have brought Mister Dustpaw with you too. Welcome! Come in... come in!”

With that greeting, the doorman moved aside and beckoned them indoors. Pulling a slightly unwilling Dustpaw, Meerka stepped quickly through the doorway, allowing the doorman to close the portal behind them. Despite radiating anxiety, Dustpaw's bright eyes were flitting around the space he could now see, whiskers twitching too as his nose sifted and sorted the scents and smells.

Gesturing for them to follow, the doorman led them into a reception area. In the light filtering through the tasteful laced window-curtains, they could see richly furnished rooms to the sides of the foyer. Plush carpets made their footfalls almost silent. The predominant scents were furniture polish, old leather, a hint of cigar smoke, wood stacked for fireplaces and flowers which were arranged in crystal vases at intervals. The first impression was one of quiet luxury and good taste. Every piece of furniture was of the best quality but also hard wearing and elegant. Every chair or seat radiated comfort. The very atmosphere was one of peace and security. A Grandfather clock gave out a series of soft chimes announcing the half hour.

“May I take your cape, sir?” asked the doorman, politely holding a hand out to Dustpaw.

Somewhat in a daze, Dustpaw complied and undid the clasp. Carefully folding the evening cape over his arm, the doorman gestured to a group of chairs to one side.

“Please take a seat. Coffee will be served in a moment. Madam Grace will be informed that you have arrived.”

Knowing that Dustpaw was confused and unsure of what to do, Meerka chose one of the comfortable chairs and sat, motioning for Dustpaw to do the same. The chairs were indeed pleasant to sit in and of a perfect proportion for Ratonga.

Dustpaw barely had time to ask Meerka what they were doing here before a servant arrived with a silver tray with a small pot of coffee and two gilt-edged cups on white saucers. Placing a bowl of sugar crystals and a jug of cream on the tray, he deftly poured two cups and slipped away as quietly as he had appeared.

“OK, Meerka – what is this place? Who is Madam Grace? Why are we here? I thought we were going to the theatre...” asked Dustpaw, somewhat exasperated.

“Relax. Honestly – relax and enjoy the coffee. Grace is a friend of mine – she buys a lot of dresses from me. I've known her for a couple of years... you'll like her. This building is her Club – it's a place where Gentlemen can retreat from the noise and pressures of the City and relax in each other's company. I know it looks a bit posh, but despite all the trappings, Grace works as hard as you or I do. Why, when I first went to Temple Street, Grace was one of the nicest women I met... in fact... here she is now.”
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Tue Sep 04, 2012 12:14 pm


Dustpaw had been about to ask more questions but as Meerka put down her coffee cup he glanced past her and saw the small figure of a pale Ratonga gliding towards them. Automatically, he stood and helped Meerka to her feet.

As the figure crossed in front of a doorway, light spilling from the room caught its clothing. It was a smiling female Ratonga with the most attractive pale fur that he had ever seen. She was wearing a simple cream dress belted at the waist, a few small pieces of tasteful jewellery and low-heeled shoes in a matching colour. Dustpaw felt the breath catch in his throat. She was beautiful!

Holding her paws out, she exchanged friendly greetings with Meerka, touching cheeks. Once she had done so, she stepped back and turned to face Dustpaw. Meerka, well aware of the fact that Dustpaw was at a disadvantage, introduced them.

“Mister Dustpaw, this is my friend Grace. Grace, I would like you to meet my brother, Mister Dustpaw.”

Blinking once or twice and unsuccessfully trying to appear calm, Dustpaw remembered his manners and gave a polite bow.

“Ma'am...” he began, but Grace with a grin, flicked an ear to Meerka and interrupted him.

“Enough formalities – if you are Meerka's brother then you will be my friend too!”

With this, she stepped up close to him and gave him a hug. Dustpaw was overwhelmed – he was acutely aware of the shape of her against his fur... and her scent! While she had used a light perfume recently, her scent filled his nostrils. She was barely half an inch shorter than him too. Feeling a hot blush working it's way up his face, he closed his eyes for a moment, unaware that she had stepped back. When he opened his eyes again, Grace was grinning at Meerka.

Stepping back to the seats, Grace chose a chair opposite Meerka's and the two women sat down. Many a twinkle and knowing look flashed between them, unnoticed by Dustpaw who was trying to regain control of his senses. By the time a servant had arrived with an extra cup for Grace's coffee, he felt able to sit and join them.

Grace started by complimenting Meerka on her evening wear, saying how she was always so beautifully attired. She had decided to have something formal made for an event in about a month's time and had chosen the fabrics if Meerka would be so kind as to check them for suitability against the drawings they had approved earlier. Asking if Mister Dustpaw followed a profession, Meerka replied that he was a Gnawer-of-Wood, a Woodworker. Noticing the muscles visible in his forearms and paws, Grace merely nodded and gave a slight smile. A tilt of her head indicated approval.

Glancing at Meerka, Dustpaw could see she seemed completely at ease in the presence of this powerful woman. There was only a slight tightness showing in Meerka's shoulders as though some stray thought was worrying her.

As the two women talked, he looked again at Grace. She was dressed to be comfortable. Her shoes were soft and even now drawn up under her on the chair she was using. She was chatting in a relaxed way to Meerka and her voice was soft and pleasant to listen to. She used her paws expressively, occasionally touching Meerka's arm to emphasise a point. He was captivated.

It seemed to Dustpaw that within the space of a few minutes the business of the dress fabrics had been decided. Meerka asked if she could see the materials that Grace had chosen. Grace nodded and gestured for an attendant. He stood as the two women rose, Grace hopping easily down from her tucked position on the chair.

“Jeret, Meerka would like to see the fabric samples that I put in the foyer – would you show them to her please. Mister Dustpaw and I will wait in the Blue Room if you could take our coffees through.”

As the attendant nodded and gestured for Meerka to follow him, Grace straightened her dress and tutted at a crease. She then turned to Dustpaw and smiled.

“Come on - she'll want to get her paws on those samples and threads for a few minutes – let me show you the Blue Room. It's just this way.”

Dustpaw looked at Meerka for a moment. She seemed a little more nervous than she had before and something about her posture seemed tense. Seeing his gaze, Meerka spoke, using his familiar or pet-name...

“Go on, Dusty – I'll catch up in a while.”

With that, she turned to follow Jeret who was a few yards ahead of her. Left with no alternative, Dustpaw picked up his pace and caught up with Grace who was crossing the hall past that doorway with the lights.

As he reached the doorway, Dustpaw's eyes were caught by the sight of a grand dining hall being set for dinner – staff were straightening linen and carrying vases of flowers to each table. After the briefest glance he was past and being guided round a corner. His last glimpse behind him showed Meerka and Jeret talking over some folders near the entrance door where the doorman was waiting politely.

He was distracted for a moment by odd sounds coming from another doorway – he soon recognised the click of snooker balls and a muffled oath as someone obviously missed a shot in their game. The foyer and main door were now out of sight, obscured by a servant carrying their drinks on a tray.
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Tue Sep 04, 2012 12:15 pm


Grace led him round another corner into a small sitting room. Chairs and small tables were artfully arranged to make the most of the late evening light. It was a most pleasant and quiet room. Portraits of civic notables lined the walls and vases and carvings were tastefully arranged on shelves.

Selecting a table round which was a padded armchair and a two-seater chaise, Grace took one end of the chaise and indicated that Dustpaw take the other.

“We'll leave the armchair free. Now, let us enjoy our drinks...”

Settling himself as far away from Grace as the chaise would allow, Dustpaw glanced round the room, his eyes darting nervously from one painting to another. Most were of civic dignitaries and military figures, but a few were scenes of Freeport painted by the renowned artist, Brushwuttle. From the looks of them, they were originals, and probably worth a small fortune.

After a moment to allow him to absorb the room, Grace reached down for her cup but grimaced when she took a sip.

“Yuk! Cold!”

She snapped her fingers for an attendant and a Maid hurried up and bobbed a curtsey.

“Take the tray please and bring us... a bottle of my cordial and two glasses. Thank you.”

Turning back to Dustpaw, she continued...

“You'll like this cordial, Dustpaw – elderflowers – picked from a particularly sunny grove in the Enchanted Lands. The cordial it makes is so sweet. I find it most relaxing. Ah, here we go. Thank you.”

Grace slid a little along the chaise and passed Dustpaw a glass before taking one from the tray herself.

“You know...” she began, but then paused to inhale the scent of the cordial before taking a sip... “When I look back I find it really hard to credit.”

Noticing Dustpaw's confused look, she waved a delicate paw round the room.

“All this. I mean, can you believe it when I say that only a few short years ago I was just a Waitress? Yes, really. I worked tables in a bistro in Temple Street for coppers and all the abuse I could handle. It's not there now – I think a fire about three years ago did for it. I don't know what is on the site now... more housing I expect. I tell you, it's damned hard work waiting tables!”

Dustpaw found that her voice was soft and easy to listen to. She told him about all the people she had met in that Bistro... how exhilarating the work was organising her tables, remembering orders, pleasing customers. By the time she told him of her big break when she was asked to waitress at a reception, he was thoroughly relaxed and enjoying both the tale and the drink.

Apparently, barely ten minutes before a major reception, the Maître D' had keeled over with a heart attack and just died! Right there in the dining hall! Grace had stepped forwards, sorted out getting the poor guy dragged out the back and calmed the staff. She had put on his jacket since it was a reasonable fit (apart from rolling the sleeves up a few times) and acted like nothing was wrong. She had organised the thirty guests so well that at the end of the meal and speeches, the patron of the reception had come to thank her for her effort and asked if she would like to cater for his next reception in a week's time, officially. Salaried!

Well, it all took off from there – Grace found she had a knack for working out who should sit next to who, what to order, how to control the staff. Before long she was being asked to do dinner parties, business lunches, dances and weddings.

Grace topped up Dustpaw's glass and he found himself laughing as she told him the story of how at one dinner, a Kerran guest had eaten so much, practically devoured the entire desert trolley, that finally he burst the buttons on his waistcoat. Not one button, said Grace, as she leaned forward to poke Dustpaw's own buttons to illustrate her point, but two – they pinged right off! One hit the Ambassador of the Far Seas Trading Company right on the forehead so hard, it left a round mark with four tiny circles in it! Of the second button, there was no sign!

Tears were streaming down Dustpaw's face as he laughed. It felt good to laugh! In fact, he had been enjoying himself so much that he had not even noticed that someone had come in, lit the lamps and departed. So much, in fact, that he had quite forgotten that he was waiting for Meerka.
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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Tue Sep 04, 2012 12:16 pm


From her position in the middle of the chaise, Grace looked around and whispered, leaning a little closer, the fabric of her dress rustling as she did so...

“One thing I simply must tell you...” she began, “After that reception with the Ambassador and the buttons... I was on my way to visit a sister in Temple Street when I saw that same Kerran. He had a new waistcoat by then, of course, but the local urchins had marked him and one of them set their dogs on him – you know the trick – the dog barks and terrifies the mark, another urchin “rescues” the mark and restrains the dog while his friends grab what they can from the poor fellow and run off! Well this lot only had a three-legged dog – Sprocket, I think it's called – and it *still* managed to outrun the Kerran! It was chasing the guy round the square, snapping at his tail (just like it had been trained to do) until he collapsed, breathless, outside the Temple. That was where they pounced on him. I had to laugh!”

Dustpaw found himself in stitches again. Either the cordial or the pleasant company had gone to his head and he once again laughed till tears came to his eyes. Grace was laughing hard too, leaning against him on the chaise as she did so. When he had regained his breath, he barely noticed how close she was. Not that he cared at that moment – she smelled so nice... she was so funny... she was good to listen to.

At that moment, a smartly-dressed manservant bearing a small silver platter entered the room and politely approached Grace.

“Excuse me, Ma'am – we need your signature. I am afraid that Lord Pallidmortis has had a good evening at the Roulette.... again... Ma'am.”

With a mock sigh and a roll of her eyes, Grace disentangled herself from Dustpaw and stood, straightening her dress. Reaching for the pen, she picked up the slip of paper on the tray, read it, winced and signed it.

“Ah well...” she sighed, as the manservant departed, “easy come, easy go.”

She looked at Dustpaw and seemed to come to some sort of decision.

“I tell you what – people will be wanting to use this room shortly. I have a private suite on the next floor. We can retire there. Come on...”

She beckoned and turned to the doorway, smiling slightly to herself as she heard Dustpaw rise from the chaise and follow her.

She led him up the grand staircase to the first landing, quickly enough so as to not allow him time to change his mind, but not so fast as to break the mood. Following behind her, all Dustpaw could think about was how nice she looked, how soft her fur had felt, how... interesting... were the movements of her tail, how captivating her scent...

Grace stopped on the landing, swung open the door to her private suite and turned back towards Dustpaw who had paused, a few steps below her. With a gentle smile, her eyes partly closed, ears forward, she held out her paw to him, palm uppermost. As he reached out to take it, Dustpaw looked up at her, his heart beating loud in his chest. Only one thought went through his mind as she drew him through the doorway...

This felt... right...

Stepping right up to him, Grace leaned past him to close the door, her dress brushing against him. She put her muzzle close to his ear, her breath soft against his fur, and whispered...

“I'm going to ... kiss you... now...”

=== === ===

EPILOGUE

Meerka had been relieved when Dustpaw had not come back to either her house or his own that night.

She had spent a pleasant evening with the Xzott at the theatre (he had only popped out to settle the children with their sitter before slipping back to the Hall to change and meet her outside the Lyceum – tickets to the Lyceum were too good to waste).

When Dustpaw had not returned the next morning either, she began to feel a little anxious but could not afford to spend time making enquiries because the first merchant ship to return from the newly discovered land of Faydwer was due to dock after midday and the rumour on the street was that it was bringing back rare fabrics and patterns never before seen. She simply *had* to be there!

The bells were just chiming one hour past noon and Meerka was so engrossed guessing which bales of material were for sale as she queued that she did not notice the slim figure of Grace slip into the line of women behind her. She jumped a little when Grace touched her shoulder with a gentle paw, but found herself completely lost for words at the smug yet happy expression on Grace's face.

“How did he... I mean, is he... was he...” she began, but Grace put a delicate finger to her lips and smiled.

“One day, that young man is going to make a rat-maid happy!”

Grace paused, a far-away look on her grinning face...

“Very happy!”

With those words, Grace turned and slipped back through the crowd, out of sight.

Meerka found herself at the front of the queue, confronted by an impatient merchant demanding to know what she wanted to buy but she could not answer him as she was smiling too much.

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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Sat Sep 08, 2012 7:12 am

I will be posting the final (public) part of Dustpaw's story shortly.

He did find a rat-maid of his own... Grace set him up with one of the girls she knew from the Catering business. Callet was a cream-furred, muscular girl from Freeport with exquisite tan facial markings.

While Dustpaw and Callet did have an intriguing courtship, I can't tell you about any of it I am afraid. As Ian Dury would have said... "What happens next is private. It's also very rude."

Let's just say they both settled down nicely and leave it at that.
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Nakia the Rogue
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Sun Sep 09, 2012 1:01 pm

Have only read the first part. Will continue reading. Not your typical game play story. A romance, what fun. I don't usually read romances but this one is nice. Based on what I have read you catch the spirit of the match making female very well. Loving but determined. You must have a nice relationship with women. I don't mean romantic but friendly. Really seeing them as human beings.

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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : Making a Man out of a Mouse (4 of 5)   Sun Sep 09, 2012 7:31 pm

Let me know when you get nearer the end... I will put up the last short (two section) piece hen you are nearly there to avoid distracting you.
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