Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Fifty Six

The sun had started setting by the time Keara arrived back at the gate of Varden Castle. Some of the guards greeted her from atop the wall and she waved in response as she entered the castle grounds. Surprisingly enough, no one had been there to greet her. She didn’t mind, though.

After taking Legacy to the stables, she first headed to the castle, to the room she had been using, to clean herself and change her clothes. Afterwards, she went looking for everyone else, first wandering around the passages.
Deryck and Adin were still walking around the castle, and upon turning the corner, saw Keara in the distance, heading towards them. She had not noticed them right away. Only when Deryck called out her name, did she realize that they had been walking towards her. She looked at Deryck and smiled as he ran up to her, scooping her up and spinning her around.
‘I’m glad you’re back, and safe.’ Deryck chimed after kissing her.
She just smiled at him, also happy to be back.
‘Hello Keara.’ Adin greeted, as he caught up with them.
Keara threw her arms around her father’s neck, ‘Hi dad.’
‘You’re not surprised to see me?’ he asked after embracing his daughter.
‘No. I had been told that you would be here.’
‘That’s right. You went to see the Night Elves.’
‘How was your journey?’
‘Pleasantly uneventful.’ Keara answered.
‘Did you find what you were looking for?’ Deryck asked.
‘Yes, I did.’ Keara answered, ‘But we’ll talk about that later. After the wedding.’
‘They told you everything, didn’t they?’ Adin said with a smile.
‘Just what I needed to know.’ Keara replied.
‘Everyone will be happy to see you. Everything’s almost ready. We were just waiting for you.’ Deryck reported.
‘So I heard.’ Keara responded as Deryck took her hand.
They walked to the field, talking about everything and nothing. Keara preferred it that way. She didn’t want them to ask any questions that would require an elaborate answer or possibly spoil the festive mood.
The hall that had been created by the Woodland Elves was quite beautiful, and seeing it from a distance, Keara could already see all the detail everyone had took care to put into the creation. She couldn’t help but smile.
‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’ Adin stated, noticing that she was admiring the sight.
‘It really is.’ she replied.
Some of the people who were busy adding the finishing touches saw the three of them standing on the hill and started waving at them, yelling that Keara was back.
They waved back and started down the hill towards the others.
People inside had heard the news, her brothers being among them. They all came out to greet her. But her brothers didn’t wait for her to get to them, they ran up to her each of them hugging her; so happy to see her.
‘Congratulations, Joseph.’ Keara smiled.
Joseph had a look of surprise on his face, ‘Did they tell you?’ he asked, referring to Deryck and Adin.
‘No. The Night Elves told me.’ Keara answered, smiling.
‘Of course.’ Joseph smiled, ‘How was your journey?’
‘Good. But we’re not gonna talk about that now.’ Keara answered again.
‘I agree.’ Michael said, ‘This is a time for celebration.’
‘Where’s mom?’ Keara asked as she walked inside with her brothers to greet everyone else.
‘She’s probably with Saresse at the Raven barracks.’ Joseph answered.
‘Your mother has been working diligently to ensure that everyone would be presentable on the wedding day. She’s even helping Saresse with her wedding dress.’ Adin informed.
‘That sounds like mom.’ Keara smiled.
‘But didn’t you see her when you were at the barracks?’ Alexander wanted to know.
‘I wasn’t at the barracks.’ Keara stated.
‘She and Zarra have been staying in the castle.’ Deryck informed them.
‘Ah.’ Alexander replied.
‘Well, I’m gonna go see her.’ Keara said, ‘You wanna walk with me, dad?’
‘Sure.’ Adin answered with a smile.
Keara and her father left the others and proceeded to the Raven barracks. Adin asked her how she had been and enquired what she had been doing while she was staying at the castle. She told him that things had been rather quiet aside from the attacks they had experienced from the Mortags during the temporary fixing of the ward. She didn’t explain in too much detail, unless her father requested it.
Soon they reached the barracks and went inside. Keara started calling for her mother.
Caitlyn was at first not sure if she had heard correctly. But when Keara called out again, she knew it was her daughter. She walked out of Joseph’s room where she had been helping Saresse with her dress and quickly walked up to Keara to embrace her.
They were equally happy to see each other. Her mother had immediately told her that she had brought one of Keara’s old dresses along and made some changes that she thought Keara might like. Adin decided to leave them to their business and headed back to his sons.
Keara had barely had time to greet Saresse as her mother took her hand and lead her to her own room where her dress had been neatly laid on her bed. She picked it up, looking at it carefully.
‘It’s beautiful, mom.’ Keara said.
‘You like the changes?’
‘I love it.’
Caitlyn smiled with satisfaction, ‘Now, come and help me with the others’ clothes. There is no way I am allowing your brothers to wear their Raven attire for the wedding.’
Keara chuckled and agreed to help. She didn’t need to do much, though. Her mother had done almost everything, she just needed to add the finishing touches.
‘Uh, where is Zarra?’ Keara asked, suddenly realizing that she had not seen her since she got back.
‘I believe she’s still in the archive.’ Caitlyn said absentmindedly, adding the finishing touches to Saresse’s dress.
‘I think I’m gonna attempt to tear her away from the books.’ Keara said, putting the clothes aside and getting up, ‘Wish me luck.’
‘Good luck.’ Caitlyn said, still not completely paying attention.

Keara had finally made it to the archive, pulling an arrow out of her arm, ‘Still haven’t figured out how to disable the traps, huh?’
‘You’re back.’ Zarra said, startled.
‘Yeah.’ Keara sat down next to her, ‘What are you still doing down here?’
Zarra hunched her shoulders, ‘Reading.’
‘The wedding is gonna take place soon. You should be up there.’
‘Sorry. Got a little carried away.’
‘You usually do.’ Keara said, ‘Come on.’
They headed back out, choosing to forget about everything for a while and just bask in the joy of the festivities to come.

‘I brought this dress along for Zarra.’ Caitlyn spoke, holding up one of Keara’s old dresses.
‘You think Zarra will wear it?’ Saresse asked, looking at the dress.
‘She will just have too.’ Caitlyn said.
Just then Keara and Zarra walked into the room.
‘Got her away from the books.’ Keara stated, sitting down in one of the chairs.
‘Oh good.’ Caitlyn said excitedly, holding up the dress for Zarra, ‘Try this on.’
‘Oh no, it’s okay. I’m fine.’ Zarra declined.
Caitlyn looked at Zarra, ‘You’re not going to the wedding in that, Zarra.’
‘Is there something wrong with my clothes?’ Zarra touched her clothes.
‘You’re covered in archive dust. And she’s just suggesting that you wear one of my dresses. You know, it is for a wedding and all.’
‘You wear dresses?’ Zarra looked at Keara sideways.
‘Used too.’ Keara responded.
‘You’re a bit taller than Keara, but it should fit you just fine.’ Caitlyn said.
Zarra looked as though she wanted to decline again, but Keara spoke before Zarra could utter a word, ‘Just put it on, Zarra.’

Deryck had made it a point to spend more time with Keara that night. He knew that after the wedding, many things would be changing and the possibility of not being able to be with her, would become very real. They didn’t really talk much; they didn’t need too. He was content with lying under the stars, Keara in his arms, both covered in a warm blanket. The temperature in the air was decreasing day by day. Snow would probably start falling within the next few weeks.

There was no chance of sleeping in the following morning. The Raven barracks had become a crazed frenzy of people running around, back and forth from the ceremony hall, finishing up with last-minute details and insuring that everything would be perfect.
Guests had started arriving at the castle during the day; mostly Woodland Elves who had been living at their sanctuary along with Saresse.
It had been a busy day, but now the time had come for everyone to get ready for the wedding. Caitlyn and two of her daughter-in-laws assisted Saresse in getting herself ready before she would walk down the aisle. Keara and her brother-in-law helped Zarra get ready. It was clear that she needed some help, especially since this was not something she was used too.
Soon, the time had come for the guests to gather in the ceremony hall. Artemis and many of his subjects were also there. Joseph stood in front, next to Elodin who would be performing the ceremony. He was nervous, but he could not wait to see his bride.
The band started playing the most beautiful, harmonious music; nothing traditional to the human ears. Shortly afterwards, Saresse’s silhouette appeared in the doorway. She started walking down the aisle, followed by two other female Woodland Elves. Joseph turned to look at her and smiled brightly as his beautiful bride approached him.
Elodin performed the marriage ceremony and all the while, Saresse and Joseph could not stop smiling.
A short time later, the ceremony was over, and everyone had moved the other part of the ceremony hall, where the tables were.
Speeches were given and happy tears were shed.

The celebration carried on deep into the night, but Artemis had left very early. Deryck didn’t understand why his brother had suddenly become so withdrawn from the Ravens, but especially from him. For the night, he decided he would not let it bother him. It was not often that he could spend time with Keara and also her brothers, where the only thing that mattered, was the moment they were in.

But the next morning proved to be a rather rude awakening for Keara and Michael. They had been attacked by Artemis’s personal guards, in their own rooms. But the guards were no match for them. The guards had come to arrest them. The reason for that, however, was unclear, but Keara and Michael both left the guards unconscious in their respective rooms, walking through the doorways into the passage. Their brothers had been awakened by the commotion, asking what had happened. But Keara was too angry to speak. Michael hastily said that Artemis’s personal guards had attacked and attempted to arrest them. Their brothers protested. It was obvious that Michael and Keara were going to see Artemis and find out what was going on. Their brothers insisted on going along, and considering that Keara was so angry she couldn’t even speak and catching a glimpse of her pitch black eyes, he might need some help to restrain her, should it become necessary.

Deryck was on his way back to the Raven barracks. He had woken a little earlier and headed to the kitchen to make tea for Keara before she woke up. He had reached the fountain, holding a heavy tray with a full teapot, tea cups and some breakfast things should Keara be hungry. But he barely had time to turn the corner when Keara had her brothers suddenly stormed past him. They hadn’t even changed their clothes or put shoes on.
‘Guys?’ was the only word he could get out before their backs was all he could see.
He put the tray down on the edge of the fountain and followed them.

Upon reaching Artemis’s chambers, Michael suggested that they try to handle this in a civilized way, but hearing that Artemis was awake and moving around on the other side of the locked doors, made Keara lose all patience and she kicked down the door. For a moment, Artemis froze as the double doors flew open. Once he realized what was happening, he tried to make his way to a hidden passage before Keara could reach him. But with rage fuelling her, she reached him before he could even blink, wrapping a hand with growing nails around his neck, pushing him up against the wall. Her eyelids were growing even darker, though it had first seemed that it wouldn’t be possible, while the irises of her eyes started burning red with fire. Keara tried to restrain the transformation, but her wings kept growing from her back. Teeth bared, which had grown into fangs, she wanted to snap his neck, but knew that she could not.
Deryck entered the room, just as Keara roared, ‘How dare you!?’ before dropping Artemis.
He collapsed on the floor, coughing and gasping for air, rubbing his neck where Keara had gripped him.
‘What are you guys doing?’ Deryck asked in a frantic voice.
‘Relieving some anger.’ Michael fumed without looking away from Keara and Artemis lying at her feet.
Keara desperately tried to calm herself, closing her eyes for a moment, breathing deeply, waiting for her wings to retract as well as her nails.
‘What gave you the right to attack us in our sleep?’ Keara demanded.
‘What?’ Deryck was surprised to hear that.
‘Why did you feel the need to try and arrest us? Keara and I in particular.’ Michael added.
‘What are you guys talking about?’ Deryck still didn’t understand what was going on.
‘I’ve been hearing stories.’ Artemis whispered, still rubbing his neck, his voice hoarse.
‘What stories?’ Michael asked.
‘About the Ravens.’ Artemis whispered again.
‘About us?’ Alexander started, ‘What did you hear about us?’
‘You’ve been robbing people along the coastline; kidnapping people; heading towards my kingdom, to overthrow me.’ Artemis explained.
‘Artemis! They would never do that!’ Deryck defended them.
‘I have been hearing a lot of stories, Deryck. You can no longer trust them.’ Artemis said, dragging himself into a chair.
‘First of all, we’re here. How could we possibly do that?’ Keara sneered.
‘There are other Ravens. Your family that you say is across the sea.’ Artemis spoke.
‘They are across the sea.’ Keara stated.
‘How could you think that we could do something like that? You’ve known us long enough to know we wouldn’t.’ Joseph insisted.
‘Obviously I don’t know you well enough.’ Artemis replied.
‘Obviously not.’ Keara added, ‘But I do know what you’re talking about, though.’
‘Of course you do. I’m talking about you.’ Artemis dared to raise his voice and got frightening stares from the Ravens, even his own brother.
Keara looked at Joseph, ‘You remember a while back, you asked Zarra to research the mentioned text of the Ravens?’
‘Vaguely, yes.’
‘That text was not about us. It was about a group of bandits who had decided to slander our name. They have existed for as long as our family has, but they are in no way connected to us.’ Keara explained.
‘I have received ten different stories from ten different towns. Are you suggesting that those people are mistaken?’ Artemis clearly did not believe what Keara had to say.
‘No. They are not mistaken. There really is a group of bandits robbing people along the coastline and they do go by the name of the Ravens. But most people there don’t even know who we are or what we look like.’ Keara explained.
‘That would explain why people around here are suddenly blaming us.’ Jonathan thought.
‘But the fact that the king we have been trying to protect for so long, now somehow thinks that we are to blame, is more than just insulting.’ Keara hissed.
‘I guess we’ll just have to prove him wrong.’ Michael stated, looking at Keara.
‘No, you’re not. You are under arrest.’ Artemis commanded, standing up.
‘No, they’re not.’ Deryck disagreed.
‘I am King and my word is law.’ Artemis said to his brother, ‘Please don’t resist. I don’t want to use force.’
‘Did you just threaten us?’ Keara wanted to hit Artemis so badly, but Michael held her back.
‘I’m sure he’s not that naive, Keara.’ Michael tried to keep her calm.
‘We should get going as soon as possible. We can’t allow these rumours to keep spreading.’ Joseph stated.
‘You’re not going anywhere.’ Artemis started.
‘And how are you going to restrain us?’ Jonathan asked.
‘Artemis, at least give them a chance to clear their name.’ Deryck interjected.
‘How do I know you won’t just run?’ Artemis asked.
‘I’ll stay here.’ Joseph said, ‘Our entire family is here and I get the feeling you won’t let them leave. At least then I can ensure that they won’t be treated like criminals.’
‘Very well.’ Artemis said after a long moment.

Soon they were getting ready to leave. Their family had woken up shortly after Keara and her brothers had returned. Everything had been explained to them. Adin was outraged that his children had been accused of thievery. But he was also aware that someone else was using their name. They had been doing so from the beginning. He had decided to go with them and no matter what they tried to say or do, they could not change his mind, especially since Joseph decided to stay behind.
They hadn’t packed any provisions other than water and a few bedrolls and decided to hunt for food. Everyone wore long-sleeve shirts, gloves, scarves and a single warm coat, as the winter had not yet settled. And they thought they would be back before winter settled in completely.
Before long, they were on their way. Since the stories had come from the coastline, they decided to head in that direction. It would be quite a few days before they reach it, though.

Their family that had stayed behind went back to the Raven barracks after watching the Ravens leave with their father. Joseph wished to go with them, but he knew that his family would need his protection, should they become smothered with accusations.

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