Isle of Elandia: Bloodline

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Enchanted Forest

The trek across the plains had not taken long, but by the time Dargon and Pales arrived at the edge of the Silver Forest, the stars were glittering brightly overhead. The ancient trees reached far above them like disgruntled giants poised to suddenly stomp them into powder. Dargon’s skin crawled as illusions of figures rising out of the earth beckoned to him beneath the swirling fog. Road dust and battle blood transformed into a sticky mud that oozed underneath the edges of his clothes. What he wouldn’t give for a bath.

“By Olympia, the trunks of these trees are wider than the houses of Tyldan.” Pales breathed in awe, his wide eyes a mixture of curiosity and fear. He studied the wetness on his hands in wonder. “Could we grow food here?”

Dargon watched the cogs in his loyal governor’s mind spinning with fanciful notions that this place could be their salvation, and he wondered what it would take to persuade him otherwise. “There are reasons why men do not come here, Pales,” he said gently. “This forest is haunted, a doorway to Hades.”

A determined spark flickered in Pales’ eye. “So say the shriveled old monks at the Library of Critius,” he challenged. “What if there’s something here they don’t want anyone else to know about?”

Dargon averted his gaze and sighed. The monks of Critius were revered as the highest historical authority in Elandia. All aristocrats, including the king, received their formal education from them, creating a breeding ground for conspiracy theories from the excluded ranks. Pales was not alone in his suspicion, and Dargon was unable to argue to the contrary.

One glance at Kelric and Faldir, both still unconscious, reassured him that bringing them here was the right decision, whatever the consequences. He took a deep breath and prepared his most intimidating voice to begin damage control.

“If there is a glimmer of truth in that, Pales, do not be arrogant. This place is dangerous. It is the home of beings who will kill us on sight.” His stern tone captured Pales’ attention. “When we start again, you must not utter another word until I say it is safe to do so. Do you understand?”

Pales nodded sharply, his countenance sobering at the conviction in Dargon’s warning.

“I must lead you, or else you will be lost in the mist and find yourself standing along the bank of Acheron,” Dargon explained, holding out his hand.

Pales relinquished the reins of his horse, and after ensuring that the two steeds behind him were tethered securely to the horn of his saddle, he tightened his grip around Faldir and nodded. “Ready.”

Dargon urged his horse forward into the blinding mist. As he had done countless times before, he gave Leontes complete control to navigate them safely to the new realm.

After several minutes of nothing but the thumping of hooves, blurry shapes began to emerge and slowly take on more recognizable characteristics as they drew nearer. Finally, the air cleared completely, unveiling a lush, green world illumined by a mysterious, ethereal light. Birds chirped and squirrels flitted to and fro on the branches overhead. Wildlife skittered and dashed into hiding as they neared, and bright yellow flowers sprouting from the crevices of ancient tree roots waved as they passed by.

Dargon glanced at Pales and found his governor dumbstruck, mouth agape and head turning from side to side as he struggled to take in the marvelous sight of a healthy, living, thriving earth. Faithful to his instructions, he did not utter a sound while they made their way deeper into the forest.

After the better part of an hour, Leontes finally halted, and Dargon felt an involuntary grin lift his cheeks at the familiar clearing. Nestled at the base of four massive trees was a near perfectly camoflauged cottage. Green moss covered the ages old stone building, and the original roof had long since been reconstructed by ivy vines, whose slow creeping efforts hid it so well that the small abode appeared to be nothing more than a natural outgrowth of the forest.

A loud whinny from somewhere out of sight startled them both, and within moments a magnificent white steed with a long beard and furry tufts around its hooves appeared from behind the cottage and bounded wildly toward them, frolicking and kicking in delight. Leontes pawed the ground excitedly, and realization flashed across Pales’ face when the two horses met. Side by side they were unmistakably the same breed. “Hello, Inan,” Dargon greeted, stroking the beast’s neck. The horse nickered in reply and stepped closer for ear rubs.

As though a piece of the forest was suddenly displaced, the cottage door opened and a slim-figured woman sprang out. The wide grin on her face slowly melted away upon taking in the stragglers on her doorstop. Her deerskin boots made no sound on the soft dirt as she started toward them, and only the light swish of her short chiton indicated that she was flesh, not phantom. Her strangely long, pointy ears perked forward with interest in a manner likened to a curious fox.

“Hello, Dargon,” she greeted, but her furrowed gaze was on Pales. “Who have you brought with you?” She steadied Kelric against Leontes’ neck so Dargon could dismount.

“This is Kelric,” he answered, pulling him down and setting him gently on the ground. “The other wounded man here is Faldir, and this is Pales,” he introduced, striding over to help them down.

The woman went to each man to briefly assess their damage. “The cut on your leg is deep, Pales, but nothing critical. I can dress your wound and help ease your pain. Faldir will be alright; he may be a little dizzy when he comes to, but I can help with that too. I sense he may have other bruises, and possibly a broken rib, but nothing severe.” Her long brown braid slipped over her bare shoulder as she knelt beside Kelric, and her expression became grim. “Kelric needs special care immediately, I can’t be certain exactly what yet. Please, bring them both inside,” she ordered, retracing her steps to her cottage.

Dargon and Pales followed with Kelric between them and stepped into a room that appeared much larger inside than seemed possible. The walls were lined with shelves crammed with clay jars. Bunches of drying herbs hung on strings tied from one side of the house to the other, and a small babbling stream meandered through one corner of the abode where four more jars sat half-submerged. Light filtered in through the ivy roof above and from a small window on the left wall with a view that followed the little river deeper into the forest.

The simplicity and familiarity of this place relaxed Dargon, and he suddenly felt lighter as his cares seemed to slip off of his shoulders. Once again he felt a smile creep across his face and drew a deep breath of the earthy air. He was home.

“Set him on the table,” the woman commanded, and they swiftly obeyed, then turned and hastily retrieved Faldir and laid him down on the pebbled floor to wait his turn.

The woman’s hands swept over Kelric’s body. Now able to perform a more detailed examination, she checked his pulse, the warmth in his hands and forehead, and lifted his eyelids. The confidence in her mannerisms told Dargon that she would be able to fully heal Kelric. If it were not so, she would have worried her brow more, perhaps bit her lip, and would definitely have balled her fists and squeezed her thumbs before turning to him and telling him the bad news.

As he watched her work, he was suddenly distracted by a tug at his arm. It was Pales. His mouth moved but no words came out, and Dargon realized that he was still waiting for permission to talk. “Speak, Pales,” he commanded.

“Water…” was the weak reply with longing eyes staring at the lively brook bubbling cheerily. Dargon realized then that Pales had not seen running water for a year at best, never mind one so clear and inviting. “Drink,” Dargon said, smiling at his governor’s excitement as he rushed to the corner and fell on his knees, cupping the precious liquid and all but drowning his face in it.

“What happened?” she asked, regaining his attention. Kelric’s shirt was cut open now, and Dargon grimaced at the two perfect punctures in his friend’s blood encrusted side. Torn, swollen muscle and gleaming entrails oozed from the wounds. To Dargon, who considered himself a decent field medic, it looked fatal.

“We were attacked by some half-starved, ill-equipped villagers. nKelric is the very worst of our party, courtesy of a pitchfork.”

“I see,” she muttered, tugging Kelric’s trousers down to expose the third puncture wound that went straight through to his hip. “Blood loss is the most severe issue; I can fix that fairly quickly with a potion or two.” She gave a satisfied nod. “He’s lucky, his thigh bone prevented the pitchfork from going all the way through him, but the bone is bruised. The center tine severed some internal tissue in one place, but I can stitch that up. It’s mostly dirty, which is making it fester. I’ll need to enlarge the wound to clean it thoroughly. His ribs were grazed by the third prong which will be sore. Expect a foul temper for awhile.”

“Kelric always has a foul temper,” Dargon answered, watching her collect several surgical items and place them on the table.

“Are you hurt?”

He shook his head, his face warming beneath her scrutinizing gaze.

She returned to her healing arts and doused a linen cloth with a potent liquid and placed it over Kelric’s face. “Hopefully that’s enough to keep him knocked out,” she murmured, more to herself than to him. She took a small knife and slowly enlarged the center entry wound to begin her surgery.

Dargon loved to watch her work. Her knowledge of the human body surpassed that of everyone he knew in the realms, though it was most often wounded forest creatures, not men, who were the focus of her talents. He wished he could stay and help her, but he was concerned about Gadnor and the rest of the travelers. She doesn’t need you here anyway. “I must go,” he said quietly, and her hand stilled. She looked at him, sadness in her eyes and something else. Regret maybe? He wasn’t sure, but he wished he could put her at ease. His hands ached to pull her to his chest and madly kiss her full lips, but he resisted and lightly squeezed her arm instead. “I’ll return soon, Farwen. I promise.”

She smiled at him, and with a nod to Pales who was now gawking at them from his place on the floor, he hurried from the house and leapt upon Leontes to return to the realm of men.

Kelric inhaled the sweet scent of cinnamon and vanilla and smiled. Gonivein was here. She always smelled like that, and she knew he loved it. Her warm body snuggled into his, and relief washed over him as he realized the battle had been nothing more than a terrible dream. How long had he slept? He turned to the window to gauge the time, but a mass of blond hair blocked his view. He pulled her body closer against him and grasped a fistful of her soft gown, allowing his mind to imagine dragging the fabric up to expose her naked flesh. Who cares about the time. He pressed his erection against her and kissed her ear, hoping to coax her into joining him in wakefulness and passion.

She rolled towards him in answer, but the eyes that looked up at him did not belong to his beloved, but to the emaciated villager with the pitchfork.

Kelric startled awake, regaining his wits quickly enough to suppress his scream down to a gasp. Pain instantly paralyzed him, and he could only blink as he tried to remember what had happened. A canopy of green ivy hung above him, and if not for his agony, he might have believed that he was still dreaming. Perhaps I’m dead. Where has Hades stashed me for such a hurt as this?

A woman appeared and looked down at him quizzically. “Kelric?”

He focused on her face. Had he seen her before? He tried to form words to ask her, but it was far too much effort, so he resigned himself to staring. He desperately wanted to return to Gonivein, but his pain held him captive. He drew a long and steady breath, catching a faint whiff of cinnamon and vanilla. At least that part had been true.

When he didn’t respond, the woman appeared concerned and busied herself inspecting his wounds. As he watched her eyes sweep over him, he suddenly became aware that his arousal had been real too. Heat rushed to his face. Maybe she wouldn’t notice. But her small smirk confirmed his fears. Why is she so familiar? Since he could not pinpoint her exactly, he concluded that she must be a sex slave who had pleasured him during a night of drunkenness. Satisfied with this explanation, his embarrassment melted. He raked his eyes over her, trying to recall the encounter and half imagining it instead. Full breasts, round butt… Shame I was too drunk to remember it. He looked back to her face to find her watching him with a knowing expression.

“Are you in pain?” she asked, and before he could reply a sharpness exploded across his side. He yelped and instinctively curled up, sending out more waves of agony.

His breath heaved as he clutched his knees to his chest. Anger surged through him almost as violently as his pain, but he was too weak to lash back at her physically. “You bitch.” He glared, wishing he had the strength to do more than just curse at her. “Too pious a whore for my glances, are you?”

Her eyebrows almost disappeared into her hair. “I beg your pardon?” She did not seem the least bit sorry for his distress, which infuriated him. She swept a stray tendril behind her ear and folded her arms.

He blinked, puzzled anew. Surely, he had not fornicated with a woman with such a deformity! “What in Hades…? Where am I?”

“Lord Kelric,” Pales intervened, stepping into view with an amused look.

“Pales, thank the gods!” he griped. “Where the hell are we? Who is this malformed thing?”

Pales’ face flushed with color. “My Lord, her name is Farwen. She is a healer and friend of Lord Dargon. She saved your life.”

Farwen… The name resonated with him too. Kelric ignored Pales’ obvious embarrassment and narrowed his eyes on the woman. Dargon didn’t partake in the joys of brothels, so if she was his friend as Pales claimed, then her not being a whore seemed probable. Still, the inkling in his gut that he knew her remained unexplained. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, Lord Kelric. I watched her tend to you myself.”

“What kind of healer are you?” Kelric probed, still unconvinced and unashamed for his rudeness. She should be happy he had admired her features, especially with hideous ears like that! A glance at Pales revealed her handiwork around his leg, and he noticed Faldir sleeping on the floor with his bandaged head on a pillow and a blanket up to his chin. He studied her again. “I know I’ve seen you before, and it wasn’t for healing.”

Farwen stared at him with disgust and shook her head, refusing to verbally engage him as though she could read the insults his mind was shouting at her. “I’m going to go out for some herbs, Pales.” She handed him a small jar. “If Faldir wakes up before I return, make him drink some of this. It will help with the pain.”

Kelric clenched his jaw to keep from berating her. “And what about me, healer? I was fine before you assaulted me, you don’t have anything to ease my pain?”

Her eyebrows rose again, and he couldn’t decide if she was angry or amused at his outburst. “I’m sorry, Kelric, I only have a potion for headaches. Your discomfort must run its course.”

Before he could rebuke her again she was out the door.

“Who in Hades does she think she is? Does she know who I am?” he growled, turning to Pales for support.

The governor of Tyldan answered only with a hanging jaw and crimson cheeks.

“Didn’t you see what she did?” Kelric went on, but Pales’ expression showed no sympathy. Kelric gripped the edge of the table and dug his nails into it, wishing he had the strength to climb off of it and flip it across the room. Who was this governor to judge his behavior? “She purposely caused me pain.”

“My Lord,” Pales started cautiously, “You were stabbed by a pitchfork. She wouldn’t need to touch you at all for your wounds to feel excruciating. But she was checking you for signs of healing, not to cause more harm.”

The truth in Pales’ comment stung. He had indeed been in pain the moment his eyes opened, but he was sure that she had rough handled him purposely. Realizing further argument would only make him seem like a whining child to the resolute Pales, he changed the subject. “Where are we? Is that living ivy above us or do my eyes deceive me?”

A grin split Pales’ face. “That’s not even the best part! Look!”

Kelric followed the governor’s finger to the gurgling stream in the corner. His mouth and throat were suddenly so dry that he was choking. Biting back his discomfort, he slid from the table and limped to the stream. “By Zeus!” he cried, kneeling clumsily and scooping the water to his lips. “Oh, that’s delicious. Much better than that stale puddle water we’ve had for the last eight years.”

“Indeed!” said Pales. “That’s not even the half of it!”

Kelric was bewildered. “There’s more?”

“Outside, my Lord. It’s the most beautiful sight you’ve ever laid your eyes on!”

Kelric stood. It was becoming easier to move around now that his adrenaline was engaging. His racing heart pumped so fast he could hear it rushing blood to his fingertips and toes. What other magnificent discoveries were in store?

Pales opened the cottage door to reveal a forest bursting with life. Mouth agape, Kelric stepped out and gazed up at the canopy of green leaves and ancient vines, full of wild life and chirping birds. Part of him believed that the isle of Elandia could never abide a healthy earth again, even if it did rain. Now to see this… He looked once more at Pales.

“Are you sure we’re not dead?”

Pales somehow managed to widen his grin. “No, Lord Kelric, we are very much alive.”

“Where are we?”

“Would you believe it? The Enchanted Wood.”

Kelric’s brow furrowed. “That’s impossible. No one has been able to penetrate the dense fog. The ones who tried never came back.”

“So I thought also. But Dargon led us straight here. He seems to know the woman quite well. I wonder if he comes here often.” Pales’ expression was thoughtful.

Kelric felt a bitterness take root within him at the notion. How could Dargon keep something like this a secret? This place harbored enough food and water to have a feast every day of the week! If he had willingly kept this to himself, then he was no better than King Delig who sat on his throne at the foot of the mountains, gorging himself on crisp streams and fruitful orchards while the rest of the world withered around him. The weight of such a betrayal enraged him. It can’t be true. Dargon would never do that.

He scanned the scene for Farwen, determined to find her and make her explain, but she was nowhere in sight. He studied the soft ground, marked by dozens of footprints. The larger ones he guessed belonged to Dargon and Pales, and a smaller, fresher set were imprinted over those. He returned to the house to retrieve his sword.

“Lord Kelric!” Pales was aghast. “Where are you going?”

“To get to the bottom of this.”

“But it’s dangerous, there are beings here who will kill us.” Pales’ eyes were wide.

“Farwen didn’t seem distressed to go out alone.” Kelric was suddenly aware of his soreness as he considered the prospect of another battle. He contemplated waiting for her to return, then angrily clenched his fists. “I want answers now, Pales. Faldir will need you to explain this to him when he wakes up. You should stay here.”

Without further debate, Kelric gritted his teeth and shifted his focus to the trail leading into the forest.

Farwen’s blood pounded in her ears as she stomped through the forest. If Kelric had uttered one more insult at her… She pressed her fingernails into her palms to channel her rage outward while distant memories flooded her thoughts. The innocent child with the big gray eyes and curious smile was gone. She growled and kicked a loose stone along the path, fighting back threatening tears. Ragond poisoned everything that was pure. Had she really believed his son would have grown up unscathed?

A snapping twig disturbed her inward musing. She froze. Before her was a man she had never seen, but the embroidered patch around his upper arm told her why he was here. The white lily did not represent beauty and innocence here, but fear and death. Countless nymphs had fallen victim to men like him, that symbol their last image before standing beside the bank of Acheron, waiting for Charon to ferry them to Hades.

“Well, well, well,” said the man, steadying his bow and drawing his arrow back, ready to release if she dared move. “Are you alone, nymph? Or are there more of you lurking around?”

Farwen’s racing heart slowed, and she suddenly felt dizzy. She blinked at him, wondering what she should do. Run? Try to reason with him? Surely, if he was unwilling to negotiate he would have killed her already. Perhaps she could lure him back to the cottage where Kelric and Pales would help her. They’re wounded. He would kill them too.

The man stepped toward her, sending her heart into a flutter. He intends to torture you. It was obvious from the way he was looking her up and down. His bow string slackened, and a slight smile tipped the corners of his mouth. “You are quite lovely, aren’t you? Those ears…”

Farwen seized her chance to run for it and sped back down the path. Fire exploded into her thigh, and the earth suddenly rose up and slammed into her, leaving her breathless and scrambling to get back on her feet, but her leg refused to obey her frantic commands. She gazed at the blood splattered on the ground and the arrow that had grazed it angled into the dirt just ahead of her. Had he purposely avoided a fatal blow? When she saw his face as he approached, she knew that he had.

His grin was wide. Deep blue eyes danced in delight as he watched her shuffle along the forest floor to escape him. “I can’t have you run away,” he said, putting away his bow to draw his dagger. “You’ll spoil the sport. And worse, bring an army back to vanquish me.”

She felt a sob escape her throat and a heaviness descend upon her whole being, crushing her to the ground and threatening to suffocate her. No matter how much she tried, her arms and legs were just too heavy to move. I’m panicking, she realized, watching the black cloud encroaching on her vision.

“Goodness, you’re easier than my last trophy,” the man mocked as she gasped for air.

She felt his hand on her head and a tug at her hair as she was lifted up. “Your ears will look magnificent in my collection.”

Suddenly, she was dropped back to the earth, and a fierce scuffling and grunting commenced above her. She willed her breath to steady, and slowly the blackness began to subside and her strength return to her limbs.

She sat up to find that Kelric had come to her rescue. The two men grappled for the hunter’s knife in one hand and Kelric’s sword in the other. For a moment, the two seemed evenly matched in strength, but a swift kick to Kelric’s tender side drove him to his knees with a yelp that sent birds fluttering out of the tree branches. Almost as fast, Kelric used his momentum to ram his shoulder into the man’s gut, knocking him off balance enough for Kelric to drag him down and pin him to the ground, where the struggle continued.

Farwen watched in horror as blood poured from Kelric’s wound, creating a sheen on his black pants. His muscles strained to push the knife point closer to her attacker’s throat. He was holding his own despite his disadvantage, but he was weakening, and everyone in the clearing knew it.

Farwen understood that she had to do something, and without really thinking she reached for the arrow and wrenched it free. Her sticky blood on the finely carved tip made her nauseous, but she swallowed down the acid that threatened and crawled toward the fray. Both men saw her approaching, a swirl of emotions splayed across their faces. I’m not a killer. But even as she thought this she could see Kelric losing strength, and ground with it. If they were going to survive this…

She plunged the arrow into the man’s throat. Blood gurgled and spurted in all directions, drenching the ground beneath and staining the white lily crimson. His arms fell to his sides and jerked this way and that as the veins in his eyes became hideously engorged. Farwen sank back, feeling panic begin to take hold of her again as she stared into his face, still so full of loathing even as death claimed him. At last he was still, save for the dark river at his throat that continued to flow softly onto the forest floor.

Kelric sat back and panted for breath. “If you had waited a moment longer, my Lady, I think we would both be dead.”

She couldn’t bring herself to answer. What he said was true, but she did not feel victorious.

“You’re hurt,” he said tenderly, easing toward her as though she might scare and run away. She wouldn’t have been able to move if she tried, for again her vision clouded and the descending heaviness pressed the air from her lungs.

“Farwen,” he said, shaking her shoulder firmly. “Come back to me.”

When she looked at him, his eyes were how she remembered from his childhood, soft and curious. Caring. Relief eased its way through her panic. There was a shred of innocence still within him, and they were both still alive.

“Are you all right?” he asked, and she nodded, quickly surmising that the wound to her thigh was superficial. “I’m not,” he went on, pressing his hand against his open wound and sizing up the amount of blood on his trousers. “I’m bleeding pretty badly. I think my lust for battle is keeping me alert like it did before.”

Her fingers and toes tingled with adrenaline as his dire condition triggered her into action. Her thigh burned as she stood, but it obeyed her commands to carry her this time. She reached down and helped Kelric to his feet. “I can stop it at the cottage.”

Kelric leaned against her and grumbled, “It’s such a long way.” But he did not resist as she forced him to limp with her back down the path.

Pales was distraught. “By Olympia!” he cried, holding the door open wide for them. “What happened?”

“That’s an excellent question,” Kelric muttered, transferring his weight to the table.

Farwen went to the shelf and pulled out several potions, then retrieved her needle and thread and the jar she had given Pales for Faldir earlier. She met the younger man’s curious eyes as she gently shook the vessel, assessing how much remained inside.

Faldir chivalrously rose, his intention to somehow help clear, but a subtle wave of her hand kept his inquiries at bay.

She wondered what they all thought of her. Did they believe her to be some kind of enchantress? Farwen handed Kelric the jar and set the others on the table beside him, then knelt down to address his wound. “Drink it.”

“I don’t have a headache,” he muttered, glaring at her knowingly before downing the contents. Relief crept across his face and his tense muscles softened. “Holy Apollo! The pain is… gone!”

“It is amazing,” Faldir chimed.

Farwen doused a cloth with a staunching potion and brushed it over Kelric’s wounds. It didn’t stop his bleeding completely, but it slowed it enough for her to see the damage and clean away the dirt and dried blood to begin her repairs yet again. She motioned toward another a potion. “Drink that one next.”

Kelric obeyed and immediately grimaced. “How much?”

“All of it,” she replied, resisting the urge to smile at his expense.

Kelric looked down at her in between sips. “Who was that man? Why did he attack you like that?”

Farwen pursed her lips as she threaded the needle through his flesh. “He was a Brother of Leirion, which means ‘Lily’ in the ancient tongue.”

“Why would this brotherhood want to harm you?” Kelric pressed.

She dabbed the cloth against the wound a second time and sighed. “They are a secret cult from the realm of men, dedicated to avenging Hera of the wrongs done to her.”

“Why would they hunt you?”

“Because I am a nymph, the same as all of Elandia’s people who live in this forest. That makes us Hera’s enemies along with her.”

Kelric stared stupidly at her, then glanced at Pales and Faldir for help, but they appeared equally as perplexed.

“Do you know nothing of your own history?” Farwen’s tone was shorter than she would have liked. “Don’t they teach you anything at the Library?”

Kelric tilted his head. “Probably, but I never listened to those old bastards.”

“It was a long time ago,” Pales mumbled, his cheeks reddening.

“I know what you’re talking about,” offered Faldir eagerly. “I only just graduated two years ago.” He raised his eyes to the ceiling as if trying to dig into his mind to remember. “The goddess Hera pursued Danduel across the seas, forbidding the islands to give him refuge, but Artemis, being his immortal sister, pleaded with Elandia to allow her mortal brother to land upon her shores and make a home for him and his people. Because of her love for Artemis, she agreed, and incurred the wrath of Hera for disobeying her command. To escape eternal damnation in Tartarus, Elandia vowed to Hera that a descendant of Danduel, who was half-divine, would always rule the mortals he had brought with him to dwell on her island. Men could not be trusted, but the immortal thread in Danduel’s line would ensure that the land would remain blessed. But, if his line was ever broken, then Hera would lay claim to the island.”

Kelric’s brows were high. “I’ve heard all this before. It’s the reason why Dargon and my father are pressing to dethrone Delig. But I still don’t see what this has to do with you.”

Farwen finished her stitches and went to the corner stream to rinse the blood from her hands and care for her own wound, which only required a few swipes of the staunch potion. “Some men are evil, as Hera warned, and she uses them to attack nymphs and gloat to Elandia how she was right about them.”

“That’s a little vindictive for the Queen of Heaven,” Pales mused, and a laugh escaped Farwen’s throat.

“Believe me, Pales, you would want for nothing if Hera was your ally. Likewise, if she is your enemy, be prepared to lose everything.”

An eerie silence descended on the small cottage, and with it, a feeling of doom that curled like a viper in their guts.

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