The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 30: REUNION

The great hall had been prepared for a celebration of their reunion. Tables were laid for a veritable feast, the wine cellar had been opened, the silver freshly polished and every fiddle tuned. Ash, Lee and Auriel entered to a round of thunderous applause, boots were stamped in accompaniment, and there were whoops of delight from the children. Lord De Lille hurried over to greet them.

“Ash, Lee… all of you, we are so very glad to see you,” He gripped hold of their shoulders. “Come, we have a place set for all of you on the high table,” he hesitated, frowning, his eyes looking beyond them, towards the open door. “Is Lady Rose not joining us?”

“Rose is meeting with Lord Dux,” said Ash, “I’m sure she’ll join us when she is done.”

As they made their way towards the high table, they were mobbed by members of the Twocasts and Ferrish council, who patted their shoulders, shook their hands and attempted to entice them to sit beside them. However, their primary motive was clear. “Is Lady Rose not with you?” “Will she be joining you later?” “Lady Rose, she is well?”

Ferrish music skipped through the air as they took their seats between the four Magisters and members of the Ferrish high council. Three remained unoccupied. Evidently they were reserved for Elder, Rose and Lord Dux.

A huge fire blazed in the hearth behind them. Above it, turning leisurely on a spit hung an expertly butchered snow deer, which filled the room with its mouth-watering aroma. Twocast woman sliced off great hunks of meat from the animal, plating them up before setting them down on the table before them.

“Boy, I’m ready for this!” Ash cut off a chunk of meat, devouring it unceremoniously.

Lee pushed his plate aside, the joyfulness of the occasion underlining his misery.

“You should eat something,” said Auriel softly, “you’ve not eaten since…”

“I know,” said Lee, “I cannot… Not yet.”

“You know,” said Ash, preparing to refill his mouth, “for a member of a cast with no emotions …”

“Shut up Ash! ...I miss him okay, and right now, I don’t think I could eat a thing without throwing up. So leave me be.”

“Sure,” Ash flushed. He laid his hand gently on Lee’s shoulder, “but, Auriel’s right, you need to eat. We all miss Sloley, but maybe everyone would feel better if we tried celebrating his life, rather than mourning his death. Without him, we may not have even made it here. Sloley would not want you to suffer like this.”

“Ash is right,” said Auriel, “you do not honour Sloley’s life by destroying your own.” She slid his plate back towards him across the table. “Please…”

After a few seconds, Lee took his fork and speared a small piece of meat, forcing it into his mouth.

“Ouch,” Auriel rubbed her arm where Ash had nudged her with his elbow. “You really don’t know your own strength do you?”

“Look over there,” Ash cast his eyes towards a table to the right of theirs. “Do you see what I see?”

Che and Tu-nek-ta seemed to be enjoying a joke with a table full of Twocasts.

“So?” Auriel shrugged.

“He means they are no longer under the effects of the oblitus potion,” said Lee, “you can tell by their eyes.”

“Is that wise?” Auriel’s eyes widened, “I thought the whole point of using the oblitus was to prevent them from getting word to El-on-ah about our whereabouts. They could put all of...”

“I assure you that they can be trusted,” Lord Elm interrupted, “they have been living and working with the Twocasts since we left the Ebony Forest and they’ve grown close to them, especially the children. Then when they heard what Rose believed about the cast system, particularly her assertion that Lords and Ladies were no better than any native, they decided to join us. Few of us have any doubts about their loyalty now.”

“Well let’s hope you’re right,” said Ash

“So where is Lady Rose?” Hazel leant across the table, nonchalantly waving an empty wine glass in their faces. “Is she not aware that her minions are impatient to hear of her adventures and of her plans of course?”

A young Twocast girl appeared from nowhere and mutely refilled her goblet.

“Rose is with Lord Dux,” said Lord Elm, “I expect they have much to discuss.”

“You are mistaken,” Hazel waved her goblet towards the large oak door at the entrance of the hall, “unless she is proficient in casting invisibility charms.”

Lord Dux stood in the doorway conversing with the Elder Witch. Rose was not with them. He cast a brief, troubled glance in their direction before whispering a few words into Elder’s ear. Taking hold of her arm, he led her through the arched doorway onto the balcony.

“Well, I expect Rose is tired after her ordeal,” Lord Elm threw a sideways glance in Ash’s direction, “or maybe she is preparing a speech. I am sure she will join us when she’s ready. Until then Hazel, why not enjoy the festivities while we have the opportunity… dance?”

Elm offered a hand, and with a chuckle of surprise, Hazel allowed herself to be lead onto the dance floor.

“Ash, what is it?” Said Auriel, “You look like you’ve seen a Knucker.”

“Something is definitely not right. Rose has not been the same since she met with the Fae. Ever since then she’s been acting weird... distant, and when she found out that Dux was here, well, there is no other way to describe it - she was furious. Now, after their meeting, Rose is missing, and Dux appears to be avoiding us. I have a bad feeling about all this.”

“You think Rose is keeping something from us?”

“I’m certain of it and knowing Rose, there is probably something dreadfully perilous that needs doing and, naturally, she intends to deal with it without our help.”

“It does seem to be becoming rather of a habit of hers,” said Lee, “maybe one of us should stick close to her until we find out what is going on.”

“Yes, my friend,” Ash’s gaze rested unwaveringly on the moonlit silhouettes of two figures conversing on the balcony. “I believe one of us should.”

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