Chapter Four: Crestfold At Last
The road they walked was long, with not much difference in the scenery or the sounds that followed them. The journey felt even more extended and tiresome.
Not much was spoken between them excluding the short verbal exchanges they’d make on their equally short stops between walking.
Kaydence pushed them to their limits wanting nothing more than to get his mission over and done with so he could go home and continue his life although it would never be the same but then again nothing in his life up to that point was normal.
Parched soil lay beneath their feet as it had for the past countless miles, small rocks and pebbles crunched beneath Mayfel’s boots and were simply avoided as much as possible by Kaydences stained, toughened, bare feet.
As the days and nights had passed, Kaydences wounds had healed more the stitches had been removed expertly by Mayfel and cleaned, it still had a while to go before it could be mobile again although less time than it would take for a human with a broken arm.
With all of their walking, it was draining his body of energy which in other circumstances would be directed towards his healing so it was delaying his fractured bones from setting.
Mayfel had been good to him and his injuries however and had been keeping a close eye on them, cleaning them at any chance he got and so Kaydence made sure to repay the favour by checking on the cuts and grazes that were barely visible anymore but keeping them cleaned nonetheless.
Kaydence thought back to their days on the road. Mayfel leading him mysteriously into the woods first thing in the morning armed with his bow and nocked an arrow, he’d taught Kaydence how to track animals and had explained how one was to distinguish between them by their tracks.
It had been interesting but he couldn’t say he remembered a lot of what he said, just the way his careful hands held the bow like it was effortless, an angel playing the harp amongst the woods and the way the same slender and weightless fingers pointing to the mud or into the sky at the birds.
He’d seen deer’s before but witnessing them with heir offspring drinking down by the river felt new, Mayfel with his keen eyes had also pointed out the odd rabbits darting through the underbrush usually in pairs or a small group.
Kaydence liked it, their time felt precious to him and it was time Mayfel gave up where he’d usually be hunting alone but he’d given up a handful of minutes and presented them to Kaydence.
In return for his teachings Kaydence would get him to lay out amongst the stretches of black and the winking stars, he taught Mayfel how to navigate his way using the constellations, told him the names of the stars and what they meant, all the while they could hear the deep croaking of frogs nearby.
Time was precious, their time was precious.
“Right, this is the last stop before we reach the city” he stated as his body took a seat on the shrivelling grass beside the dust road, Acuere now sitting by his side.
Mayfel took a seat next to him placing down his bow, removing his backpack and his quiver before rummaging in his bag for his water canteen and a small bag of trail mix consisting of dried fruit and an assortment of nuts.
“How far off are we do you think?” Mayfel spoke following up with a small handful of trail mix and a swig of water to wash down the dry snack.
“Well, according to the map, we’re around here I think” Kaydence informed pointing to a spot near the city while also snacking on his own assortment of dried and chopped up fruit and glancing over the now vitiated map spread out on the ground in front of them.
“So, only an hour’s walk?” Mayfel inquired, taking another sip of water before slipping the canteen and bag back into his rucksack.
“Roughly, yes” he replied, rolling the map up and placing it in his rucksack.
Silence their new companion settled between them, it had followed them on their journey, both becoming more relaxed and welcoming of its presence but at times it had created an eerie setting much like it was now, although not having the thick curls of mist and the darkened sky around them like they had the past few nights or the deathly silent and cold days, something still felt strange and out of place.
Nothing was different though, the birds were flying high among the white and grey tinted clouds in the pale, ocean-blue sky, the trees swayed ever so slightly in the soft and gentle breeze that caressed their boughs as well as the grass.
That’s where it got less normal, the grass which was usually a vibrant and life filled green was paler and a hint of brown lined and ate at the edges, it was normal for the autumn and winter season but not for the end of spring
Running his fingers through the blades he realised the weakness of them, they were wilted and no longer standing strong and instead seemed to cling to his fingers as if he could restore their life-force.
Kaydences fingers grazed over the soil beneath the grassy surface where they planted their roots deep down to absorb any nutrients they could reach, even that was torrid and crumbling.
“So you’ve noticed” Mayfel announced
Glumly Kaydence responded “Yes, but I don’t know what it means”
“Neither do I, but I’ve noticed it over the past few days, the trees don’t look as healthy as usual and the ground’s been a lot harder too.”
“You’re right, something has seemed off these past few days. I didn’t know if it was tiredness or something to be concerned about”
“I’d say it is something to keep in the back of your mind, but not to worry about, it’s most likely because of the excessive heat we’ve had lately.” Mayfel concluded before standing up and dusting himself off, collecting his bag and quiver positioning them safely on his back and shoulder as he positioned the string of his bow over his shoulder and taking his stance once again on the dirt road to be joined moments later by Kaydence.
The sun glared down with its harsh rays, scorching their backs and drawing out all the fluid they’d taken in to be displayed in a thin sheen across their skin and dampening their wrinkled clothes.
Kaydence dreaded the looks they’d receive from the council and the people who resided in Crestfold, people who lived there had money and as some say, an air of elegance and a higher status.
Mayfel and himself weren’t what some would call presentable since their clothes were rugged with nights of camping on woodland floors, eyes and bodies tired with limited sleep and sweat-dampened shirts.
Not to mention Kaydences wings which shocked a lot of people and couldn’t be hidden like Mayfel’s eyes, plus his added extra of being against shoes and preferring to go barefoot.
Despite Crestfold’s citizens having a position on the upper scale of the hierarchy the majority weren’t blinded by it and simply preferred that way of life and living near the pinnacle of their country rather than in the surrounding villages.
However, there were the select few who did wear a look of arrogance and held their heads high and their attitudes higher.
Crestfold wasn’t as pristine as The city of Embers in some eyes, but to the people of Lirren it stood as a reminder of their unity and what their country stood for while reminding them also of their duties to their country and the lands of Arravan.
Its cobblestone- paved streets, homely accommodations and quaint shops that sold the local produce from the surrounding villages only improved Crestfold’s image and filled the people of Lirren with more pride for their beloved capital.
With heavy feet but lightening hearts their eyes looked to the distance, standing atop the stone walls of the mighty fortress stood the silver flagpoles glinting in the treacherous glow of the sun, and there fastened to the poles blew the forest-green tapestries holding the Countries crest of an inverted triangle containing a horizontal line midway down, designed in a pure white.
Kaydence felt energy well within him at the sight of the flags, this would be his first time at the capital and to say he was excited was an understatement, he knew Mayfel could feel the swell of pride growing within their very chests as each step drew them closer.
Their feet drove them over the hill and down the other side stopping at a well-built, wooden bridge underlined with a gushing river, no doubt providing the great Citadel and the surrounding housing establishments with its resources.
Smiles were what greeted them both as they looked upon each other’s faces, close to a week it had taken them to reach this point and yet all the sleepless or uncomfortable nights and exhausting amounts of trekking were all forgotten as they gazed upon the sight ahead.
“We made it” Kaydence spoke in a low whisper
“Yes we did” came Mayfel’s reply, a small breathy laugh following, showing his disbelief and relief.
“Well, what are we waiting for, let’s go” with that said Mayfel didn’t get a chance to reply as Kaydence took off down the compacted dirt road that slowly grew into cobblestone paving as it neared the entrance to the city Mayfel taking off after him pushing his legs to run with whatever energy he had left.
The two came to a slow stop as they reached the archway marking the entrance to Crestfold, sturdy trunks, vines and boughs twisted and weaved together in a large rustic archway, adorned with vibrant, viridescent leaves and timeless budding flowers of whites, soft pinks and gentle yellows, positioned above their heads.
In the centre of the archway sat the crest of their people forged with solid bronze marked with the times long passed, matching the birthmark every fae member of the Terra clan bore on their chests.
On passing through the lone standing archway they were met with a trace of resistance, the culprit unknown and invisible to their eyes but they felt it, all the same, they felt the hairs on their arms stand up straight, a shiver spread through their nervous system and for Kaydence his wings twitched and fluttered as if having a mind of their own.
It provided a found energy neither could explain but felt different to anything they’d ever experienced before, Kaydence could only describe it as getting struck by lightning without the pain or after-effects.
They continued on up the solid and slightly uneven road, their eyes darting from the surrounding lands to houses lining the streets ahead.
To the right in a wide-open area lay stands and pop up shops for the market that drew customers from the surrounding countries to purchase Lirren made materials and produce and to the left lay a stretch of lush green grass where the children of the city frolicked and played their little games.
Each step took them deeper into the capital and the more they noticed like: the wooden signs that stood idly outside of the small businesses beckoning in customers, the odd birds perched on the beams of roofs and signposts positioned every now and again down the street and of course, the fae, adorned in fine fabrics and busying around in and out of shops some handling baskets with purchased goods.
It was more stunning than he could have pictured since he was a young boy he’d heard tales from the elders or his father who had visited Crestfold and he’d built up an image in his mind that had remained and grew as he got older, but standing there looking at it for himself demolished his previous visions and rebuilt them into perfection.
The cobblestone beneath his bare and sore feet felt silky and smooth compared to the rough terrain they had spent days walking on, the scent of flowers loomed in the air growing stronger as they approached a small flower shop attached to one of similarly design selling fabrics and silks.
The small shop displayed an assortment of flowers ranging from roses and lilies to hydrangeas and sunflowers outside in small buckets; the building was made of dark wood, gifted with a huge curved window at the front showing off its many other varieties of plants, seeds and flowers inside.
It certainly gave off a homely feel although not being a form of accommodation but then again the entire place so far gave the same energy, one that Kaydence thought a home should give off and yet hadn’t felt until that very moment.
A small smile etched onto his face and one of peacefulness at that was constant and only increased when he saw a small elderly woman step out of the shop he now realised was named ′The Lavender Pot’.
She tended to the petalled specimens with great care almost as if they were living and she was afraid to damage them.
Kaydence did notice a few people wandering in the streets stop or take a quick glance at them, some gasps could be heard as well as shocked looks and even to Kaydences dismay there were a couple of angered faces directed straight at him.
He didn’t dare dwell on it feeling too elated to bring his mood down, he looked to his side for Mayfel but was met with grey cobblestone.
“Mayfel” he spun around to be graced with the sight of the man and the petite elderly fae at the flower shop chatting away like long lost friends and simply browsing over the many varieties of seeds hung by the doorway.
Kaydence jogged over and protectively placed a hand on his companion's shoulder, not that he didn’t trust the obviously kind-hearted woman who seemed the type to take them in and give them a home with no questions asked, they were however in a new place and he didn’t want them getting separated at any point.
“Kaydence meet Salvia Floros. She owns this shop, she was showing me some seeds. I wanted to plant some when I get home. What do you think carrots or tomatoes?” he spoke nonchalantly
Befuddled Kaydence replied as he observed the woman “Tomatoes and you know it’s new for us both here just don’t wander off without at least telling me I don’t want us both getting lost. Now where are my manners, It’s lovely to meet you Salvia”
She looked at him too with the same cautious eye taking in Kaydences appearance as he had done to her.
He knew it was because of the wings and most likely his eyes too but his happiness and hope of acceptance still dwindled.
As if finished with her observations her lips formed into the same inviting smile she’d worn before and her eyes reciprocated it as well. Feeling as though it was a good time for an introduction he continued letting the words fall from his mouth “My name’s Kaydence Banshaw I’m part of the Graylow village upheld by Bregan Banshaw” each word striking his heart.
“Ah Graylow village, I haven’t been there in a long time, lovely village but I don’t ever remember Bregan having a son” she explained her eyebrow-raising at the end In questioning.
“I’m his adopted son, he took me in when I was a baby, he found me and raised me”
His village knew of course that he wasn’t in any way blood-related to Bregan but it never stopped him from trying to believe it and act as if he was.
There was a good reason he didn’t tell Mayfel he was adopted after being left by his parents, he wanted to act like he belonged somewhere and by saying Bregan was his father helped, it hurt enough to know he was abandoned and unwanted but Bregan chose to take him in.
It didn’t matter to him whether it was out of pity or to better his status as village leader, Bregan had raised him and kept him safe for all of twenty years, whatever he felt on finding him as a baby didn’t matter or play on Kaydences mind.
Salvia had given Kaydence a minute or two, she could see his eyes were distant, thrown back in memory so she stayed quiet until the absence retreated “Well he’s always been a kind soul, doing more for others than himself” her voice was soft and smooth much like the cobblestone roads holding the same stern yet helpful nature, her hair was a light, feathery grey and her delicate petite body that was concealed beneath a beautiful and light material of a lavender colour only connected her with her profession more.
Lavender he thought, purple like Mayfel’s eyes and the same strong scent that had followed them on their journey.
“That is very true ma’am”
“You’re both a ways from home I take it?” she asked simultaneously exchanging money and seeds between herself and Mayfel who placed the numerous packets of seeds into his backpack.
“Indeed we are ma’am, it’s taken us over a week to get here” Mayfel explained
Amusedly she noted, “Further than I thought, what is it you’re here for exactly?”
“The market, we’ve been following it after missing it in Ivory Village” Kaydence lied hoping it’s passed her calculating mind.
“Well you’re in luck then, it remains here for a good few days so if I were you I’d hurry along and get what you came for, before it sells out” She suggested baring a scrutinising gaze which Kaydence took as her not buying into his feeble excuses.
Kaydence turned to Mayfel and stated “Now that you’ve got your seeds Mayfel I think we best be off” as he wrapped his hand around Mayfel’s wrist leaving him no room to complain or to wonder to another shop.
“It was nice to meet you both, have a lovely time here and enjoy yourselves it looks like you both need it” Salvia replied knowing she’d caught Kaydence in his attempts to fool her.
“You too ma’am, thank you for the seeds have a good day” Mayfel finalises with a smile before turning around ready to head further towards the castle.
“Give this to your friend, it might cheer him up a bit he looks sad” Salvia whispered to Mayfel while handing him a yellow rose, the dangerous thorns removed and the end of the dark green stem cut diagonally.
Pulling his wrist free from Kaydences grip who wondered a few steps down the road, he reached for his backpack to retrieve some change saying “Give me a second I’ll get the change out my bag” as he shimmied the rucksack off his shoulders.
“Don’t be silly, I can manage one flower, now get those legs of yours moving before your friend there realises you’re not with him” she chuckled with a small wink before gently shoving him in Kaydences direction.
With a laugh Mayfel obliged and jogged to catch up to Kaydence, the rose in his hand as well as his belongings in the bag on his back.
He quickly caught up having to save himself the few times he almost tripped on the more uneven sections of the cobblestone road while also letting his view wander to and from the many shop windows.
He was so used to simply shopping at the markets or the small butchers he had in his own village that all the glamorous architecture excited him it was new and he just wanted to experience it all.
Seeing he was a little ways behind Kaydence he called out to him in the hopes to catch his attention “Kaydence wait up!”
Considering he was a hunter that trekked for hours through the treacherous woodland floor covered with tricky roots and hidden branches that waited to trip him up, he was falling more on the solid cobblestone than he did in the woods.
Predictably he once again caught the front of his boot on an uneven stone sending him almost falling to the ground, almost sending his bag, quiver and bow with him.
Something he didn’t predict however was being stopped by something or more like someone and he could safely say the someone definitely wasn’t Kaydence unless he had some telekinesis powers he failed to share.
Mayfel was slowly corrected and found himself standing in the presence of a well dressed and regal looking fae, baby-blue curls hung down by his ears that complemented his darker blue eyes, a strong set jaw, well-defined jaw-line, high and sharp cheekbones and rose lips made up the seemingly flawless man in front of him.
His evenly tanned skin looked much darker against Mayfel’s own making him seem paler than usual almost as if he was ill.
Not to mention the muscle he thought he had-and was until now proud of-seemed like nothing compared to the stranger currently holding Mayfel’s upper arms in his large and soft hands obviously never having seen a day of hard labour in his life.
“You might want to pay attention to where you’re stepping, the road can be a bit bumpy in patches. Some get caught off guard” the stranger spoke, his tone was silk-like clearly holding grace and elegance, Mayfel felt the hands on his arms slip away and it seemed to do the job of rebooting his brain.
“Sorry yes, I mean I was, but I got caught up in looking at the shops and I just tripped” he replied, suddenly remembered the rose he had for Kaydence which was now lying lonely and partially forgotten on the cold, grey stones.
Despite what they all say about the Aer Clan being arrogant and the most self-absorbed, Mayfel was getting hints that the man in front of him was no different but who would he be if he judged him too quickly. It wasn’t like he was in any place to judge anyone.
Slyly the man said “Good thing I was here then wasn’t it?” while proceeding to bend down and pick up the rose delicately between his gentle thumb and index finger before straightening himself up and peering down at it taking a second to breathe in its sweet scent. Stormy eyes soon enough flickered back up to meet Mayfel’s which were hidden in the olive green facade. “My name’s Jeanove by the way, Jeanove Ackroyd and who might you be?” he continued while holding out the yellow rose to him in the same gentle hold.
“My name is Mayfel. Thank you for not letting me fall to the ground, I am very grateful. However, I should probably get going my friend is waiting for me and I don’t want to keep him waiting” Mayfel informed the man before him, just hoping to leave before he embarrassed himself any more than he already had.
“Very well Mayfel, I do hope to see you around though, maybe you’d like to join me for lunch sometime”
“We’ll have to see about that, maybe some other time but never say never. Now, I really have to go but it was really nice to meet you Jeanove. And thank you again for saving me from a scraped knee” Mayfel smiled politely, turning on his heels hurriedly heading for Kaydence who stood unimpressed watching the whole thing unfold, his back against a stone wall as well as one of his feet, his arms crossed sternly and his gaze fixed frustratedly at them both.
“Have you finished flirting so we can carry on the mission we were sent here to do?” Kaydence asked bluntly.
“I wasn’t flirting and yes we can go to the council” Mayfel replied unamused.
“Sure you weren’t now come on pipsqueak” he replied patting his back before padding his way up the road that began it’s small incline to the citadel at the top.
“I wasn’t, oh and here” he rushes after him and stops him just long enough to give him the rose he’d graciously received.
“What’s this for?”
“It’s a rose, Salvia gave it to me, she said you looked sad and said it’ll cheer you up. Yellow roses represent caring, happiness and friendship”
“Well thank you it’s a nice gift, I should have got you one too”
“No, you’re focused on the mission which is a good thing besides, I didn’t even pay for it and it’s not like you have money with you”
“Good point but you didn’t have to give it to me, you could have given it to your lover boy back there” he teased.
“Don’t call him that, I don’t even know him. All I know is his name and the fact he is very popular among the people here because he’s the Lady of the High council's son. And besides Salvia gave it to me to give to you specifically, I wouldn’t dream of crossing her. I have a feeling she can be quite stern when she wants to be.” and with that, he walked off up the slope and around the corner.
Kaydence watched him go before looking down at the dainty petals, a hint of a smile gracing his lips, he’d never been gifted anything by anyone except Bregan so it was something new for him to experience much like having a friend. At least he presumed they were friends, Mayfel had after all said that the rose stood for friendship.
With an airy sigh, his head raised to look at the road ahead as he took off in the direction Mayfel went.
The sound of people’s gasps of shock, the sound of his own feet smacking against the ground one after the other in a steady rhythm and the soft breeze gushing past his ears and through his golden curls was all he could hear and feel or better yet, cared to hear and feel.
Kaydence didn’t want to pay attention to the whispers of disapproval that were shared, he didn’t want to hear the rattling of his possessions in his bag that reminded him that he had nothing left apart from the deadly weapon strapped to his side.
He didn’t want to hear his lungs struggling for oxygen as he pushed his already sore and achy body past the limits, and he didn’t want to hear the hammering of his heart in his chest cavity as if trying to break free with every beat it made.
It was all too familiar to him, as he rushed along he could hear the pleas, the screams, the clanging of weapons and the deafening shots ringing out, the burning of his lungs and the drums of war thrumming within his own body.
His wings twitched and shivered with the memories and his hand held the stem of the brilliant yellow rose a little harder.