The sunbeams, sieved through numerous tall trees within the vast forests of the Welstarian ducal state of Charthur, cast a serine and beautiful glow over the argument. A young vulpin couple had decided to make this setting their chosen battlefield for their bickering, an amphitheatre for two other members of the audience, both sentinels.
It was unknown whether the couple were arguing for the benefit of the sentinels, or if either or both secretly hoped that the two lawmen would step in and take sides. If so, then disappointment awaited. They bickered and sniped, never descending out of a furious babble in the lupin tongue, and this would be to the detriment of one of the sentinels.
Carnely Krysospas, muridan, and totally bewildered at the argument taking place. He idly passed the time by checking his weapons, wondering what the couple were arguing about, or trying to fathom why his partner had stopped here of all places to watch the battle of wits.
While the ratfolk seemed tense and unsure, his partner relaxed against a rock. Schrau Cadnos of the vulpin race sat against the solid rock with his blades crossed on his lap and his eyes shut. He was concentrating on the argument, knowing that the muridan could and would ask for a brief update at any moment.
And so the couple argued, man and woman, with the vixen seemingly swamping her partner with a deluge of small barbs while the male resorted to solid and brief retorts.
"So what are they arguing about?" Carnely asked, his dreadlocked fur spilling off his shoulders as he turned to Schrau.
"Rearry?" He replied, rolling his r's as did all vulpin when speaking in the common tongue, "I courdn't terr you on a bet. From what I gather, she's accusing her mate of infiderity, a charge which he denies." Schrau opened his eyes. "And rightry so, too."
"You believe him?"
"No, but it should be said that he shourd deny the charge for as rong as he can get away with it, otherwise it courd get nasty." Schrau glanced sideways at the muridan. "There's a difference between the truth and that which wirr keep your head on your shourders." He settled back and closed his eyes. "Besides, her own evidence is shaky at best."
"I see. Well-"
"Ooh, nice one." Schrau said, neatly interrupting Carnely. "He armost didn't come back from that one."
"So this is just for pride's sake, right?" Carnely asked. "Like an insults contest."
Schrau shook his head. "No, there's much more at stake. The best we can hope for is that they manage to argue each other into a staremate. Otherwise, they wirr rose each other. If neither wins to any degree of satisfaction, then perhaps they can work their way through this."
"How long is this going to go on for?"
"Oh, no terring. Hours," Schrau looked up at the sun between the trees. "Maybe even days."
"Oh." Carnely said, crestfallen. Perhaps he wanted to see the quarrel to its conclusion, but if Schrau's claims of a marathon argument were true, then that seemed more and more unlikely. He stood up and gathered his scattered gear. "Hey, you wanna check out the orc caves near here?"
Schrau glanced at his partner in crime-fighting, then back at the couple. "If it's fine with you, I think I shourd stay here just in case they need a mediator, or someone to go get them something to eat. I've onry got enough squid for myserf."
"Fine." Carnely said, standing up. "Well, you'll know where to find me. I'll be at Keystone if I finish with the caves."
Schrau nodded and saluted at the muridan as he walked away, then returned his concentration to the couple. She had cited her mother on several reasons why their union was a mistake, and in a brilliant retort he cited her mother as several reasons why their union was a mistake. She defended her maternal parent, and briefly the focus of the quarrel shifted.
'These two have nothing on Aldar and Rory.' Schrau thought to himself, sinking deeper against the rock. 'Those two could argue for days.'

Schrau forced himself up onto his knees and coughed. His watering eyes focused on the cheap wooden training sword, which in whole was much less dangerous than the splinters it gave when gripping it. Aldar was a man to take training personally, but unfortunately was not as fundamentally moronic enough to allow his students real weapons with which to practice. Wood was cheap, string more so. Nails held the crosspiece to the blade better than string, but as previously mentioned the slave master was not stupid.
The vulpin lunged for the sword, but Aldar's boot met it first. Schrau slid the last few tantalising inches, fingers splayed towards the would-be weapon, and glanced up.
The bald human smirked and pointed his training weapon at Schrau, aiming for a spot between the eyes. Aldar had his own wooden sword, a wooden replica of the fantastic katana blades of Sosel, a bokken. If Aldar put effort into his swings, then he could easily split one of the wooden swords used by the vulpin slaves, or possibly even the bones in their forearms.
"Absolutely pitiful." Aldar spat, before clouting Schrau across the back of his head. He raised the bokken across his shoulder, preparing for a more vicious blow, when a hand gripped the blade.
"Easy, eh? He's only a kid." Rory growled. Rory had an older, more grizzled face with numerous scars, yet you could hardly tell it from his disposition. Both men were Welstarian, but while Aldar's accent was the refined grace of Abarack or possibly the better regions of Keystone, Rory's commoner tone betrayed his origins of Gydnia.
"They will learn." Aldar responded. "They must learn."
"Yeah, but they ain't gonna bloody learn anything if you keep coshin' them about the 'ead."
Aldar snorted, lowered his weapon, and turned to face Rory. Both men were partners in the running of the slaving den, with Aldar grooming the vulpin and Rory dealing with the more general duties of staff management. Rory flicked his head at Schrau, who took the hint and scurried backwards until he hit the wall, where he was grabbed by many comforting hands of the other vulpin boys forced to endure the training session.
"May I remind you who here is training these vulpin? We do actually want them to be of some use when we sell them on, am I correct?"
"Yeah, but that's the problem, innit?" Rory said. "Carry on like this, an' they ain't gonna be good for nothin'."
"Oh please..." Aldar snorted. "Spare me this pointless sentimentality."
"Ey, listen 'ere mate. It's a simple rule of business that those who receive good goods tend to come back for more. Is this getting through to you? Are these words getting through to your shell-likes? He flashed a grin. "Now, I know it's a mistake to try and train these kids as fighters. They know they ain't gonna be much good, but dammit Aldar it seems that you're the only one stupid-"
"Stupid?" Aldar spat. "Stupid? You're the idiot here! You are the gutter-crawling, inbred, ill-educated buffoon here!"
"Yeah, that as may be, but I ain't trying to make Fallen out of Sikkarians."
"That can be done. What can't be done is trying to make you see sense." Aldar retorted.
"Listen, I keep telling you, there's more money in bloody poucadds than these fleabags."
Aldar barely suppressed a scream of rage and tucked his wooden sword into the sash across his waist. "We've been over this! Those bloody muridans would undercut us at every turn with poucadds!"
"Yeah, and no one's undercutting us here because no one in their right bloody mind would buy a vulpin soldier!"
"Oh thanks..." Schrau said, despite himself and the glares of warning from his fellow vulpin. "That makes me feer so good about my prace in the universe."
"Shut up!" Both men snapped, though Rory added, 'bloody' impossibly into the sentence. Schrau settled back and sulked.
Somewhere between "you idiotic pile of dragonian droppings!" and "I should slit your throat and dump you in a ditch! And your hussy too!" the female dropped, or rather slipped, the news that she was with child. For the first time in over two hours, the clearing was silent, the sentinel with a squid tentacle hanging out of his mouth as he looked up at the pair. The male was stunned, the female was waiting for him to make his next move.
Which was when a passing bard decided to pass by. Sensing the tension with the typical skill of a well-experienced minstrel, the bard decided that he would earn a copper or two by performing a poorly-translated rendition of the famous vulpin folksong 'Sing me a song of home'. This was not a good idea, as the quarrelling pair glared at the entertainer with something approaching unbridled fury, so Schrau decided to make a contribution by taking the bard gently by the shoulders, explaining briefly the situation and how his services would not be needed, and then applying the long foot of the law, gently but firmly, to the seat of the minstrel's pantaloons.
Schrau settled back down and, once the complaining in the bushes at his left shoulder faded, waited for the couple to resume their argument.

"That's it!" Rory growled. "This is getting us nowhere! Fine, we may be making more than a decent scratch from the women, and the thieves and con-artists have potential, but fighters? No way. No bloody way."
"I'm telling you-"
"No! Listen!" Rory interrupted. "These kids ain't gonna make fighters! Our client is gonna take one look at these brats and walk away, if we're lucky. If not..." Rory shuddered, unable to continue.
"Which is why we must cease this infernal quarrelling and continue the training!" Aldar roared.
"We could be training them for something they'll be good at!" Rory riposted, "But no! You had to get it into your skull that it would be a good idea! We oughta get a biomancer in to check those dents on yer head!"
"What dents?"
"The dents that makes you think that you can train vulpin to be fighters! Gods!" Rory threw his hands up in rage. "Even the sentinels, those bloody lawmen, don't consider these dogs to be good frontline support!"
"Yes, and since when sentinels have been experts at what makes a good fighter?"
"To be that effin' bad at something," Rory slowly said, letting each syllable sink in. "You have to know something about the subject."
"Enough!" Aldar screamed. "Leave us! Leave me to do my duty!"
Rory mumbled something subvocally. "Okay, you win. I know I can't make you see any sense. Goodbye Aldar." He pointed at one vulpin. "Layke, I think you're up next."
Layke, tall by even human standards, was considered something of an oddity within the vulpin species. Layke, too, was the same sort of standard that Aldar was aiming for; a pretty good fighter. Layke didn't like his current lot in life, and anyone befouling the name of his species even less so. Throughout Rory and Aldar's argument, Layke had allowed his temper to build up like water behind a dam.
Now Rory had broken the damn and fled, leaving Aldar to face the full force of the wave. Layke stood, gripped his own wooden sword and snatched another from the vulpin by his side. The abnormally tall vulpin charged at Aldar, who was fumbling for his bokken at his waist, and Rory stormed out of the circular training room with the double doors slamming behind him.

Schrau allowed himself the smile that often came with the memory of the thrashing Layke gave the stunned Aldar. They did have to call in a biomancer, stunned with a very large sum of money, to tend to Aldar for the next few days. The memory warmed Schrau for the briefest of moments it took for the final sight of Layke, lying in his cell with his belly cut open, to bubble to the surface.
Rory had not been seen since that final argument. It seemed that their final disagreement had been the absolute final nail in the coffin of their relationship. Rumour was that Aldar had Rory killed, but there was always some doubt over that.
Speaking of relationships, the argument Schrau had currently observed had petered out and the couple had reconciled, with the female accepting her mate's denials of infidelity, and he promising to always be a good father for their child. A happy ending, one which was still missing from the sentinel sergeant's life.
Schrau looked up. The sun was low on the horizon, and Carnely was no doubt in Keystone city by now, probably drinking to his success or waiting for his partner to catch up with him. Schrau stiffly stood up, popping his back into place with an agonised grunt. He gathered his belongings and then turned towards the road leading out of Charthur.
No. Something seemed to be drawing him elsewhere. Schrau hesitated and raised his head. Something he had to do, somewhere he had to be.
He shuddered, drawing his wrinkled coat tighter and adjusting the scabbards for his blades. He turned tail and set off in a new direction.