“Your feelings are intense. Great things come from intensity, feelings most of all. They can make or break cities, civilizations, and worlds. Kings have come and fallen on them. You, I sense great things from you. The beginnings of nightmares perhaps, but great things no less. Yes. You are to be my masterpiece. My last gift to this world and the next. You shall rise, and fire shall follow you. Flames are the manifestation of power. They destroy, but give rise to life as well. You shall hold life and death in your hands. You, oh great being, you, shall live in infamy.”
“I do hope I’m not disturbing you, my love.” Princess Susan said she approached James atop his throne. The courtroom in which they stood was flanked by black-armored Kaiser knights along the walls, their faces concealed by dark steel. The light brought in was magnificent, introduced by great stained-glass windows towering over them. The ceiling was so high one had might as well lay on their back just to see the top of it. White pillars with violet and red banners stood on each side of a long blue carpet extending from the entrance to the steps which led up a marble throne. Thick red cushions padded the throne as to make it more tolerable, and James, in a deep violet tunic, sat in it fully composed, as if preparing for his upcoming title. He smiled warmly and raised a goblet of wine.
“Of course not, my queen. In fact, you’re the finest face I’ve seen all day. Come to me.” Susan smiled warmly and thanked him. Pulling the front of her dress up slightly, she walked up the stairs ever so elegantly toward her soon-to-be husband before standing just in front of him. Her smile widened, when she playful flicked her tongue at him.
“And how is His Eminent Grace on this auspicious day?”
“He still sleeps. It pains me to think he likely won’t be around long enough to see us wed tomorrow.”
“Oh. I’m very terribly sorry, my love. But I was asking about you.” Susan spoke with the fine smile she had spent hours practicing in her youth. James blinked once, then apprehensively took a sip of the wine sitting on an armrest before handing the goblet to a servant he assumed was standing there. The servant had a cloth in hand in which he wiped the edge of the goblet with. He then stood attentively with it, ready to hand it back at a moment’s notice. James straightened the part of the his tunic running over his lap, and looked up at the beautiful woman before him.
“I’ve never been better. With this view.”
“You’re very kind, Your Grace,” Susan giggled. “I simply wished to remind thee of my excitement for tomorrow. I fear I shall not be able to rest a wink until then.”
“Your feelings are met likewise. Tell me, how is your dress?”
“The most beautiful gift a bride could ask for.” As with every one of their conversations, some of the Kaiser knights rolled their eyes and tried their hardest not to groan at the couple and their meaningless but sappy words. They didn’t have to endure much longer when the throne room doors flew wide open.
Plain knights pulled them open for a more ornate and decorated general. Helmet in hand, Tanner walked briskly with his hand-selected men in tow. James stood tall and delicately motioned for Susan to stand at his side. For a moment he felt like a true king, and his chin raised up as a result.
“General Tanner, you’ve returned. Where is the Green Lady?”
“We’ve returned not with one young woman but with many of their men and women, Your Majesty. Almost the entirety of their village.” Tanner stood at the base of the steps and dropped to a knee, as did his men behind him. Success! The excitement nearly overcame James as he smiled widely, but it was Susan who couldn’t contain herself. She clapped her hands before taking her future husband’s hand in them.
“What a wonderful wedding present! Even better than the dress ,my love!”
“All for you, my sweet. With their magic, we’ll be the wealthiest kingdom in this world and the next!”
“That’s not all, Your Majesty,” Tanner added as he stood tall. “They did not go without a fight.”
“But their allies are what disturb me. Massive beasts on two legs. They...caused heavy losses, including some of my best men.”
“Not dragons, Sire. I would prefer a mindless drake to these beasts, I’m afraid. They spoke just as you and I do, and seem capable of intelligent planning and coordination. Most were not larger than a horse, but there were some…”
“Well, there was one in particular, who stood as tall as three of me. He seemed to be their leader, and quite intent on protecting the Green People.”
“But you have secured them, yes? The magic folk?” James raised an eyebrow, his interest peaked by the Eagle General’s tale.
“Aye, most of them, and perhaps it is nothing, but I fear a retaliation by these beasts if they are not returned. I know not what their true potential is.” James and Susan stood in silence for several moments, time in which Tanner wet his lips and cleared his throat, awaiting their reply. Finally James cocked his head back and laughed. He laughed for so long he sat back on his throne and took a deep breath. As his snickering subsided, he beckoned Susan to sit atop his lap, a move that made the princess, along with Tanner and many others blush in the sight of.
“These beasts, do they have weapons?”
“Teeth, claws, and numbers, Your Majesty.”
“Then what do we have to worry? We have armor, we have walls, weapons, and artillery! If these beasts of which you speak try anything, they will be coated in arrows before they can even touch a stone of this city!” Tanner sighed at the thought, then nodded.
“Perhaps you’re right, Sire. I’m merely being cautious. If for the sake of your wedding.”
“Of course I’m right! Now go! See to it that the Green People have a roof over their heads and something decent to eat. I don’t want them to be gaunt when we have them conjure us our riches.”
“Yes, sir.” Tanner bowed his head as he turned and marched off, his men close behind him.
“What do you make of that, sir?” A knight behind him asked.
“Just do as he says,” Tanner replied. As the soldiers carried out their orders, dark thoughts in the general's mind were pushed far to the back of his mind. “We have nothing to worry about behind these walls.”
Awel rubbed his wrists gingerly once the knight sliced the rope joining his wrists, along with the other Green Folk. They had corralled the men, women, and children into separate stables. With the smell of horse droppings still fresh, one knight slipped and stumbled in one pile a stable boy must have missed, forcing the Green Folk to try their hardest not to laugh. Fresh hay had been laid down for the men and women to sleep on, so that was something, Awel thought. Along with everyone else with a significant other, he rushed to the stable wall. There, they could just make out the top of one’s head without standing on the tips of one’s toes.
“Adelae? Adelae!” He cried, only to hear her voice call back to him. It was the best feeling he had had during their entire trip when he laid eyes on his wife. She smiled widely back at him as they clasped hands, both standing on the tips of their toes just to maintain eye contact.
“You’re alright?” She asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. Are you?”
“Better now,” she cooed. “How’s Brenin?”
“I don’t know. One of the knights took him and the other children to another stable.” Adelae felt her heart sink. “I’m sure they’re fine. They’re Green Folk. They’re made to survive.”
“What do you think they’re going to do with us?”
“Don’t you worry about that. Not when I’m right here. Alright?”
“Okay, Awel. I love you.”
“I love you too, Adelae. You stay there and I’ll stay right here. They won’t separate us again, I promise.”
“I admit my toes might be killing me after doing this for much longer.”
“Mine too,” Awel laughed. “We can hold hands and keep talking to each other, alright?”
“Yes, of course.” With a collective sigh of relief, Awel and Adelae planted their feet back onto the ground. They maintained at least one hand holding the other at all times. Just about every couple did the same, when the stable doors swung open on each side. A knight stood at the ready for any attempted escapees, but none of the Green Folk dared such a thing in this alien world. Servants and maids respectively darted in, each carrying a bowl of piping hot soup for each individual.
As she was handed a bowl of soup, Adelae looked up at the entrance just in time to see an extremely tall and slender woman step foot in the stable. She spat at the filthy conditions the Folk were expected to live in, when the knight behind her closed the gate, but did not leave. Madam Martin crossed her arms, inspecting every single green-clad girl in the stable, hoping to find a familiar face. She went around, jutting a pointed finger beneath the chin of those who looked away to force them to meet her cold gaze. Adelae found her quite frightening. After some time of inspection, having only seen a quarter of the girls, Martin decided to cut her time in half.
“Is there an Eira here?” She asked. There was a collective silence, as girls sipping on their soup spilled it on themselves without caring for its heat, and others simply sat with wide eyes.
“What about Eira?” Adelae heard Awel ask over the stable wall. She slowly but surely relieved her hand from his, despite his protests, and slowly approached the headmistress of the servants. Martin turned and eyed the approaching girl from the tip of her long nose.
“I-I know Eira. Are you...M-Madam Martin?” Martin gave her a surprised by satisfied smirk, when her nostrils flared.
“I am. And I do not care for stuttering, Miss…?”
“Adelae. Forgive me. Eira, she...she’s my friend, and she told all of us about her time here, and of you.” The elder woman cocked an eyebrow.
“I’m humbled.” Despite her smirk, her tone seemed relatively indifferent. “I wasn’t aware she was a Green Folk.”
“I merely assumed, judging how the green cloak went missing just as she had. Thank you for confirming my suspicions. Might I ask where she is?”
“I wouldn’t know, Madam. She...wasn’t captured.”
“I see,” Martin nodded once. “Thank you, Adelae. If the royals should task your lot to specific work, I’ll see to it that you’re a maid just as Miss Aune had been.” She stopped just as the door opened and turned back. Then she scanned the girl from head to toe, again cocking an eyebrow. “I hope you’re better than she was as one.” And with that, she walked out the stable gate and the knight closed it once more. She continued on, head held high as she left the stables and returned toward the castle, but not before being stopped by a Kaiser guard.
“Well…?” He asked roughly.
“Is the specific Folk girl from before there.”
“No she is not. She escaped.”
“You idiot.” The Kaiser guard turned to face a man taller than himself. Martin smiled and bowed her head as she said her respects.
“We already knew we hadn’t the same girl. It makes no difference. Now switch posts with Captain Blayer in the tower before I demote you back to a page.”
“Yes, sir.” The Kaiser guard rushed back into the castle, allowing Tanner to lower his guard and remove his helmet once more. He smiled at Martin.
“Guards been giving you much trouble lately?”
“I can weather a little harassment, of which they give me little. It’s my maids I worry for.”
“Walk with me.” The headmistress commanded as Tanner followed her into the castle and down toward the bustling servant quarters. Seeing Madam Martin with General Tanner, no one dared to ask her for assistance, instead continuing to buzz about like flies. The two most feared leaders of their divisions, it was a sight to behold for some.
“Give me names of those who harass your employees and I’ll see to it they get what’s coming to them.”
“And ruin your image of a ruthless general?” Martin spoke with mock seriousness.
“That sort of humor doesn’t age for you does it?”
“No faster than I do. So, what do you intend to do with the Green Folk?”
“Wish I knew. They’re in Jameson’s hands now.”
“Bloody fool. Oh, did I say that?” Sarcasm continued to ooze with her words.
“No. Their lives aren’t safe in the hands of a child with no value for life.”
“Then why did you return with them?”
“I had too many witnesses; too many casualties not to. I’d be hung for treason. Had it been just one day more of nothing I would have called an end to it. But the Green Folk leave markings on the trees. They practically told us where they were. Then the monsters arrived.” The two stopped walking to face each other, a torch flickering just behind Martin to give her an ominous silhouette and Tanner a hulking shadow.
“So the beasts are true are they? Interesting?”
“Aye. Never did I believe nor expect to see a serpent that could speak the tongue of man, but they did, and they’re every bit as smart as we are.”
“I’m glad your mother never got to see this.”
“Enough.” Tanner replied sternly. Martin smiled and crossed her arms.
“Just say it once, for old time’s sake?”
“I’ll see what I can do for your maids...Aunt Martin.” And with that, Tanner nodded his respects and started back down the corridor toward the winding steps. In an uncharacteristic manner, Martin snickered to herself as servants and maids surrounded her, while her gaze never left her nephew. The Eagle General paid little mind to the maids hiding their pipes as he walked by, but looked over his shoulder to eye them return them to their lips. He smiled for but a moment before returning to his office, where just like Madam Martin with her servants, he would be bombarded with soldiers, nobles, and officers vying for his attention.