Silence thundered through the large chamber following the Sun Speaker’s announcement. He stood in his golden beauty facing his equally stunning sister, a firmness in his stance that angered Kamleah. How dare he stand there in the royal gold and purple of the Sun Speaker and declare his allegiance to a Demon? And no amount of talking would ever convince Kamleah that Trisinda was anything other than an abomination and Demon.
Taking a deep breath to steady her pulsing blood, Kamleah gave her brother a half smile. “Ambrisander, I thought I made it clear that the Elves can not, I repeat, can not side with a Demon, of any sort. And since we cannot side with a black Wizard, we aren’t able to join this battle.” Kamleah stated, her voice pitched to give the impression of a parent talking to a child. When the Sun Speaker didn’t respond, she tried again. “Ambrisander, I thought we agreed on this plan of action. What happened to change this?” Growing impatience was apparent in both her face and tone.
Ambrisander walked around his sister, wondering how long she had been this way. When they were children together she was a good friend and companion. Now it was more like she wore the Robes of Office and he a street beggar. The thought that his father had also been plagued by such advisors firmed Ambrisander’s resolve. “Kamleah, since when have you been made the Sun Speaker for our people?” He asked in a soft, but deadly voice.
The council quickly stared at their leader in shock and horror. Kamleah’s face lost all of its delicate coloring at the simple sentence. She looked to her supporters, and found them all intently contemplating their feet. Ambrisander didn’t fail to notice Kamleah’s frantic, silent plea for backing, or to those she turned. “I...I haven’t, Ambrisander, surely you know that.” Kamleah stumbled over the words, her superior tone and stance gone. “You must be tired or over worked, if you’re thinking such things. Why don’t you go rest, and I’ll finish this session.” Kamleah offered.
It was an offer Ambrisander recognized and mentally he cursed himself for his past actions. It also made him wonder who had been doing this to his father, and what deity was behind it. “No, Kamleah, I am neither. I have been blind to your tactics and deaf to your hinged tongue, but no longer. As Sun Speaker of the Elves, I must demand that all elders on the council take a loyalty pledge to me, under the truth shield of Quaird. Those who cannot pass Her test will be replaced. Kamleah, you as my closest advisor must be first.” Ambrisander’s voice was composed for all the sorrow and seriousness of his words. His liquid blue eyes held his sister’s until they wavered and fell.
Kamleah silently berated herself. How could she have been so clumsy in getting caught like this? But all she was doing was trying to save the purity of the Elven race. There was nothing wrong in that, and the shield of truth would reveal it. Perhaps she should have Ambrisander also take the test, which would prove she had been right all along. “I will stand under the shield, if you do, Ambrisander.” Kamleah stated, and thought she had gotten out of her predicament.
The elders shifted nervously at the tenseness in the Speaker’s Chamber. When Kamleah offered her ultimatum, they waited to see what would happen. No one had ever questioned the loyalty of a Sun Speaker in the history of the Elven race. The room itself appeared to sag with relief when Ambrisander calmly walked over to the shield and stood beneath it. His words burned in all their minds and hearts and erased all doubts.
“I, Ambrisander, son of Trisandar, Sun Speaker of the Elven people, do here and now pledge myself; heart, body and soul to the welfare and good of my people. I do also affirm my allegiance to Quaird and Serenity, may their lights never dim. And this day, I also take the vow to support all of the Champions of Serenity, whatever their race maybe, to the betterment of my own people and the people of Sandeenai.” The shield grew blinding in its zeal to accept Ambrisander’s words and vows. The Sun Speaker stepped away from the shield, and its light continued to bath him in the soft glow of truth.
Kamleah steadied her raw nerves and stepped to the dimming shield. “I, Kamleah, daughter of Trisandar, First Speaker of the Elven people, do here and now pledge myself; heart, mind, and soul to the welfare and good of my people. I also affirm my allegiance to Quaird, may She shine forth with a beauty unsurpassed. And this day, I also make this vow; I will do whatever it takes to keep the Elven people pure and unblemished by others.” The shield shrieked its protest against the statements made by Kamleah.
It was the first time in the history of the shield that it gave a noise as a reaction to a pledge. Kamleah fell to her knees, trembling against the painful pressure within her ears. Then the room was filled with the scent of a pine forest in spring, bedecked with wildflowers as during a festival. Twin lights filtered in through the patterned glass of the great dome, which was the ceiling of the Sun Speaker’s Chamber.
All the elders fell to their knees as the lights began to take form. The first stepped forward and welcomed Ambrisander with a gentle and loving smile. “Sun Speaker Ambrisander, it is a pleasure to find the heart of one from the proudest of all races humbled and open to myself. It gives me great hope that my visions were not in vain. When your time upon this earth is finished, you, as your father before you, will have a place within my courts. Peace be unto to you and your faithful.” Ambrisander looked up from his kneeling position into the face of Serenity and knew who it was that spoke to him. All his fears about his half sister vanished and his feelings about his father were confirmed. He made another vow, to always be worthy of the goodwill of Serenity.
Then the deity turned to Kamleah and her smile faded. “For those that hide the truth deep within their hearts and justify their treachery with words of racial pride, there will be no peace. They will find scorn behind them and distrust before them. And, you, faithless daughter of a great man, are the foremost of these deceitful ones. Of you, I wash myself, forever.” With those words spoken, Serenity stepped back into the center of the brilliant light.
The second being stepped from the halo of light, smiling at Ambrisander. “My son, Ambrisander, I am well pleased by your actions as my Sun Speaker. I accept you as the true and rightful leader of my children on the earth, as I did with your father before you. Let your heart be healed of pain, your father did not die a traitor to his people, but a savior of them. Let peace fill your soul, your sister, Trisinda, is truly and rightfully chosen, from the beginning of time, as the first Champion of Serenity. Rest easy in your decision to follow one so worthy of praise and honor as your sister, Trisinda.”
Then She turned to face the council of elders and stood taller. “I am Quaird, the one you all call patron. I will witness to you all, my support of Ambrisander, and to no other will I give my support. I, now, in front of you, give to him the power to see into the hearts of all people; that he may know those who are faithful and those who are not. This gift will, from this day forth, be giving to all my worthy and chosen Sun Speakers.” As Her words trailed into silence, Quaird returned to the kneeling form of Ambrisander. She gently rested Her hand on his head and enveloped him with a faintly green aura. When She withdrew Her hand and Ambrisander looked up, his eyes had changed color to the fresh green of Quaird’s robes.
Kamleah cringed in the corner of the chamber, hoping that Quaird would not turn Her angry gaze in her direction as Serenity had before. But her wish was not to be fulfilled. The molten glare of the Elven patron Goddess, singed the woman’s hair and face, darkening them. “Forever will the faithless be marked thus.” Quaird began, motioning to the changes in Kamleah’s appearance. No longer was she a golden beauty, but she was still truly beautiful. Her hair, now, was burnt bronze and her skin had become dusky rather than creamy. But most startling was the vividness of her sapphire eyes against her exotic coloring.
Kamleah saw herself in the mirror of the shield and sobbed, thinking herself cursed. Quaird did not soften towards Her, but rather hardened. “For the treachery you have caused against my son, your own brother, I banish you from Trinthalas and the Elven homeland. When the faithful return from war, you and those who follow you, must be gone. Where you go, is of no concern of mine. I must bare the weight of the shame that you, my children, have brought upon me. And as I suffer, so too, will you.” Then the Goddess turned from Kamleah’s changed and despairing figure and returned to the halo of light.
After the Goddesses left the chamber, Ambrisander rose and looked around. It amazed him that this simple room of stone, crystal, and glass had held two deities and had appeared to be a gold and green temple. Then he took a deep breath and held his hand to his mouth to stop the exclamation from leaving his lips. One third of his council had changed as his sister had. And those who had were still on the floor, shaking with fear and woe.
He turned and faced Kamleah for the first time since her change. She looked up at him, tears making her brilliant blue eyes shine even brighter. With his new sight, something he was still trying to focus, he saw her as a twisted, blackened Grotesque. In his heart he wept for her, but he couldn’t bare the sight of his once beautiful sister as this tortured creature at his feet. He turned away from her, closing his eyes to block out the vision.
“You stone-hearted Demon-lover! How dare you turn from me? Your own flesh and blood? How can you turn from me, Ambrisander? I’m Kamleah, First Speaker of the Elven people! I won’t be outcast!” Kamleah screamed and launched herself at her brother’s back. She grabbed his arm and with a superhuman strength whipped him around to face her. “Ambrisander, look at me! Please, see me as I was, and I’ll be that way again. Ambrisander, I’m begging you, give me back my beauty and place within these walls!” Kamleah drug Ambrisander down with her and held his face in her hands.
The Sun Speaker held his eyes shut against the warped form of his sister. Tears fell through his thick golden lashes and dripped from his lightly, rose-tinged cheeks. He was the image of Elven perfection as his sister had been before, and it made his heart break when he thought of their differences now. “I cannot do as you ask, Kamleah. I cannot restore to you what the Goddess has taken. Gather your people, those that now look as you do, and go. Find a place and make it your own. You must be the leader of the... the... the Dark Elves. Lead them well, Kamleah. I’ll never forget you.” Ambrisander whispered, grief heavy in his words.
Kamleah released him and sat back on her heels, her face blank. Then closing her eyes, the tears that had stopped flowing, fell again. She nodded and stood, clenching her jaw against the display of emotion. “Alright, Ambrisander, if that’s the way it must be, then so be it. I will never forget you either, or forgive you for turning your back on me. I hope a Demon sword finds your heart during this battle and that she eats your flesh. And I’ll pray that it’s Trisinda. I’ll lead those who are true Elves, and we’ll build a land to rival this old and dying piece of dirt. Long life, Ambrisander.” Kamleah sneered, her voice icy and mocking. Then she motioned for her loyal supporters to follow her and left the Sun Speaker’s Chamber.
Valesia, the healer elder, came and lifted Ambrisander to his feet. She handed him a silken handkerchief to wipe his eyes. When he performed these small tasks, he opened his eyes. Again he was reminded of his new sight, it was as if everything were filtered through a spying glass. He could see thoughts and know the meaning behind actions, he could look into the very soul of a person and read his intentions. All the remaining elders were faithful to him and to their people, though they feared the war and the changes it would bring.
Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Ambrisander addressed his council. “Elders of the Elves, we have little time. At this moment, Shendra Wrintas, the chosen Queen of Sandeenai is under siege on the banks of the Favie River. Trisinda and the Circle of the Star, Serenity’s Champions, have asked for aid from all the races. She has recruited the Unicorn to this purpose. I’ve told her the Elves would meet them on the field of battle by nightfall. Do any stand opposed?” He waited for a moment, then, “Do any stand in agreement?” He was grateful for the full support of the council, and his face showed it. “Then we must ready our armies and join our fellow beings in battle.”
In the twilight, Kamleah looked on as Ambrisander mounted a Unicorn stallion and rode to the front of the Elven army. His voice rose clear in the growing darkness and she wished, just for a moment, that she could be by his side in this moment of glory. Then her new position was brought back to her, by the startled half scream of a servant. The sooner she and the others could leave this doomed city the better. But she stayed to listen to the words of her brother anyway.
“Children of Quaird, we have lived for centuries without aid from any other race. We’ve become known throughout the world as a race of beauty and art and wisdom and grace. In this we have taken pride and have cut ourselves of from the rest of the races. This has been a curse to us, for without the challenge of the races we’ve lost much of our wisdom in seeking knowledge. We’ve lost much of our art in seeking pleasure. We’ve lost much of our beauty and grace in seeking perfection. Let us not lose our place among the favored races by turning our backs on others now! Let us ride forth and defend the free people of Sandeenai! Let us show the world that the Elves are once again to be counted among the noble and great races of Sandeenai!
“It will not be easy, and it will mean change, for all of us. It causes even I, to tremble with fear for what the future holds. But I say that together, we can face the most terrifying of nightmares, the most horrifying of images and the most painful of changes! Already we must face one change.” His voice faded for a minute then picked up, though it was heavy with heartache. “Today my sister was banished from us, and with her more than a quarter of our people. When we return from battle, they’ll be gone, and we’ll never see them again. They refused to join the races in building a better, peaceful future. The Goddess has given Her judgment and now we must live with it. Let us look for the day when the Dark Elves can join us again, that we may be a whole people once more. But for now, we must look to this battle and do what we can to win it. If we fail, it won’t matter if we’re divided or whole, for we’ll all be slaves to the evil ones. And I do not mean Demons, for they too, go to battle with Trisinda and the Circle. Have courage, and we will triumph!” A great cheer down out anything else he might have wanted to say. He turned his mount south and led his army to battle.
He still didn’t know what to say about Kamleah to the Council of Sandeenai. He didn’t even know if he could face the others, coming this late to war. At midnight, he met with Tris and her group and nodded to her. She gave him a loving smile then shared a grin with him and his war chiefs. Only by the slightest hint did she let Ambrisander know she saw his pain, and he was thankful for her silence.
Near dawn when they made their first camp, he came to her tent and found it filled with her Circle. When she saw him, she welcomed him and had him sit next to her. Through his new vision, Tris glowed with a pure blue light and filled him with peace and confidence. “What happened to your eyes, Ambrisander?” Shrina asked as she offered him steaming bowl of grain cereal.
He took the meal and stared at it a minute, then looked back at the Circle. They all glowed with the same light as the color they wore, and all gave him the same feeling of peace and confidence. He could trust them and he knew they wouldn’t betray him or judge him. “It’s a gift from Quaird.” He said quietly. Tris rested her hand on his shoulder and he knew he didn’t have to say anything else if he didn’t want to.
He looked into Tris’ deep blue eyes and remembered seeing them green before, when she was angry. Now they held understanding and comfort. He reached for her and buried his face against her shoulder, unable to hold in his anguish any longer. He sobbed until his eyes hurt and his stomach cramped. When he sat back up, he was alone with Tris and her face was also wet, sharing his pain. “Some say that Demons and Elves don’t have emotions, Ambrisander. But you and I know better. We just feel things differently and on a greater level.” Tris said, again letting him know he didn’t have to say anything.
“It’s Kamleah. Quaird cast her out and changed her. She now has deep red hair and dark golden skin. Her eyes and other features are still Elven, but....” He shook his head, saying more than words. “She leads a group called Dark Elves, where they’ll go, I don’t know. Quaird told them that until they found peace with the other races, they’ll never be able to come back home. Trisinda, Kamleah will never accept you, let alone a full Demon. I’ll never see her again. I know she was arrogant and rude and ill-mannered, but I grew up with her. She was one of my closest friends, until she betrayed me.” If he’d had the strength he would have wept again. He was afraid to look into Tris’ eyes, knowing she didn’t ever like Kamleah.
When her voice broke into his grieving, it was soft and filled with a mourning equal to his. He looked up in surprise and saw it was genuine. “I didn’t get along well with our sister, that’s no secret. But she was a good councilor and judge on the council, and I came to have a great respect for her. Her presence will be missed and we’ll grieve for her loss to us. I just pray her heart may soften and she’ll be able to rejoin her family, and that she won’t fall into the same trap Handsome and Junior did. This won’t leave this tent unless you talk of it, on that you have my pledge. My wish for you would be that you’ll find peace within yourself. Now, sleep, Ambrisander, and I’ll guard your dreams.”
He looked at his youngest sister and knew what it was like to feel true and unconditional love. He fell into the bed she indicated and was asleep instantly. Every time his dreams grew dark, he found the image of his sister there, fighting them, protecting him from the horrors. Ambrisander felt as if Tris were cradling him, both in dream state and physically, and a smile crossed his lips and he sank into a deeper, more relaxing sleep.
Tris looked from her brother’s face, bothered by seeing the great changes in its youthfulness. The others hadn’t been able to see it, except for the eyes, but it screamed at Tris, she had seen it and she wept that he had aged so much in such a short time. Her eyes took on an unfocused look as she called her healing powers. When they came, she gently stroked his face and hair, easing the lines away.
Airidon came silently into the tent, shielding the sleeping figure from the mid-morning light. Tris’ eyes were still glowing softly purple and her face was weary, but she gave her mate a smile. Airidon looked at the man asleep with his head in Tris’ lap, worry on his face. “Will he be alright, Tris?” Airidon asked quietly as he settled beside his wife.
“It will take time to heal all his wounds, Airidon. But now that he knows he’s not alone, it will be easier for him to face the future. I don’t like the way he’s taken this burden onto himself alone to bare. So today I’ll guard him, give him a chance to rest and regain his strength. Go to sleep, Love, I’ll wake you when it’s dark.” Then Tris turned back to her brother. Airidon wondered if Tris would ever realize that she also tended to take on problems by herself, just as her brother was doing. He smiled to himself and fell asleep trying to figure out which of the two learned the behavior first and from whom.
Kamleah studied the map of Sandeenai for the hundredth time since the dawn broke. Where could she lead her people? She stopped and smiled at the thought, her people. It sent shivers up her spine and chills throughout her blood to think of ruling. It had been a dream of her’s since... since when? Kamleah sat back in her chair and wondered when it was she first started wanting Ambrisander’s power. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander back in time.
It was late spring about fifteen years ago, just before the one known as Handsome began his assaults on what would become the Circle of the Star. Kamleah was a young maiden with dreams of fantastical adventures in love and life. She had escaped from her tutors and gone deep into the forest to hunt for Sylph roses. She knew it was foolish to leave the protection of the city, but Kamleah took an illicit pleasure in the excitement of a supposed danger. If she had only known the danger was very real, she might not have ventured out of the city, or her own rooms for that matter.
Not being trained in woodcraft, Kamleah couldn’t pick out the wrong sounds within the forest. So it would have been very easy to come upon her unawares, which is exactly what happened. “What do we have here? An Elven maid, a royal one as well?” Kamleah whirled at the soft, mocking voice. She found herself looking at five horsemen; her face grew red with anger at being caught by surprise. Then the lead rider slowly dismounted with a reassuring smile on his face.
He was handsome, for a human, Kamleah thought distractedly as he walked toward her. She should have run, her older self told the dream image of the girl. He had long, blue-black hair that he wore in oiled ringlets confined by a silken black ribbon. His eyes were dark and deep, full of mysterious wonders to a young innocent like Kamleah. His full lips were uncommonly red and curved invitingly, revealing the slightest hint of strong, white teeth beyond. He had fine, chiseled features, which might even come close to Elven beauty, Kamleah reasoned.
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you, miss.” The stranger began in the same soft voice. His voice played like fine music in Kamleah’s ears, melting all her anger and kindling a virgin’s fantasy within her mind. “My men and I got lost in these woods; could you tell us how to reach Rehven?” He stopped a few steps away, not invading Kamleah’s personal space, but close enough so she could smell the enticing musk of him. Her heart pounded against her ribs, threatening to break free from its place in her body and go to this stranger’s hands. She had never seen anyone so... so... so wonderful before. In a daze she nodded and pointed west, all the time closing the distance between herself and this fascinating human male.
When she was close enough, he caught her up in his arms and pressed his cool lips against hers. Kamleah had never been kissed before and the gentleness of this caress was everything she had ever dreamed of. With a sigh she clung to him and returned his embrace. “Leave us. I will join you later at the camp.” He told his escort raggedly, and then returned his attention to the young Elf maiden.
Kamleah didn’t remember when they came together, just the thrill of the love making. Then fear settled in her stomach as his caresses became more demanding and he ventured into deeper territory than she had wanted. She asked him to stop and struggled to get free from him, and he laughed and took greater pleasure in her body. Then she begged him to stop and screamed until her throat became bloody and her voice was gone, and still he continued to force himself on her. She clawed at his face and thrashed her legs against his, and his smile deepened.
Then, just before he would have entered, he pulled away. He sat on her exhausted, naked body and stared at her. Kamleah wanted to fight and scream, but she didn’t have the strength to do more than whimper. “Now, girl, you know I could have you if I wanted. But I have a different idea. You are the Sun Speaker’s sister, right?” Kamleah refused to answer, she would not betray her brother and people.
When she didn’t answer, the stranger again began to torment her young body. This time he brought her to a fevered pitch and left her without quenching her lust. “You are the Sun Speaker’s sister, right?” He asked again, and Kamleah began to cry. She wanted this to stop, she wanted him to take her, she wanted him to die, and she didn’t want to betray her people.
His voice came soft and caressing again, and his hands gently massaged her aching body. “It’s okay, little one, I won’t hurt you. Just answer my questions and everything will be alright. My name is Dreybrenic and I just want to give the Sun Speaker a gift. But I know the Elves would never let me see him because they don’t trust humans. But you, my little one, you trust me; you can take my gift to him. Then my men and I will go to Rehven and you’ll never see me again, unless you want to.” His words lulled her as surely as his hands.
Kamleah didn’t know what to think. This man had come very close to raping her, then to seducing her and now he was talking like a wronged champion. She still didn’t say anything as Dreybrenic’s touches became more lover-like; Kamleah’s heart fell as her body betrayed her and responded to his touches. “My dear little one, the Sun Speaker is your brother, isn’t he?”
The inner Kamleah screamed against the assault on her body, but it didn’t listen to her. She felt her mouth open and heard her voice whisper, “yes,” in breathy desire. Then Dreybrenic’s mouth curved in a delighted smile, and again kissed her passionately. Kamleah had betrayed herself as well as Ambrisander and their people. She moaned under Dreybrenic’s expert love making, wanting fulfillment, but again, he pulled away without satisfying her.
“Little one, what’s your name? I’ve told you mine, will you give me yours, as a lover’s gift?” He asked silkily as he kept her body tense with desire through small, seemingly careless, touches. He kept his own pleasure and desire masked from the girl, so she wouldn’t know how to fight against his spell until it was set. When she gave him her name, she would be his servant until she died, even if he died first. And once he had given her his wishes, she would stop at nothing to gain that goal. He waited for her to give him the key to her soul, and after she did, he would take his pleasure in her perfect body and leave her to do his bidding.
Kamleah heard the question and the slight anxiousness behind it, but couldn’t understand why he wanted to know what her name was; he already knew who she was. She felt disgusted by herself as her body arched in need toward his, but he held her off until she gave him what he wanted. In another breathless sigh, she said her name, and then felt the trap close on her. Her eyes flew open and stared at the man and saw him for what he was, but it was too late to do anything.
Dreybrenic threw his head back and laughed, and Kamleah’s face burned with shame. “Now the fun really begins, Kamleah. You’ll do whatever it takes to keep the Elves out of my way, and I won’t destroy them. You’ll also do everything you can to take total control of the Elven people; I want someone I can trust as the leader of such a formidable race. In a few years, a girl will come to you, and she’ll be your half sister, do what you can to destroy her. That is if I don’t succeed in getting her as my servant first. If I do get her, I’ll let you know. Do you understand what you are to do?” Kamleah sniffed back a sob and nodded. “Good.” Then he planted a seed that wouldn’t grow until Kamleah had a child of her own.
As the sun was setting, Kamleah stumbled back into the city. Hiding in the shadows, she made it back to her rooms and began to scrub her body in scalding water with harsh soaps. But it didn’t relieve the evil presence in her mind and the frightening whispers that kept her company. Dressing for bed, she didn’t eat anything and refused to see her brother, afraid he would see the taint that now covered her.
In the years that followed the poison had slowly become a part of Kamleah and it was easier and easier to deceive the Elven people. And the wishes of the master became her own desires, until she was consumed with the thought of ruling her people forever. After Trisinda and her Circle killed Dreybrenic, Kamleah received a small amount of his essence and she grew bolder in her attempts for the Sun Speaker’s power.
Waking in a sweat, Kamleah couldn’t believe that the old nightmare had come back to haunt her. It had been so long ago, yet she still could feel the burning of Dreybrenic’s touch and the sound of his voice as if it were yesterday. Shaking the memory from her, she looked back at the map and found her eyes drawn to Catira. She tried to remember if anyone lived the wild regions north and east of the Black Ice Mountains. Then with a self-satisfied smile, decided it was the perfect place for the Dark Elves to settle. They would befriend the Pegasi and Centaur as the other Elves had the Unicorn. Only they would build a home more beautiful and wild than these tame Elves of the boring world.
Standing, she called her advisors to her rooms. When they all filed in, she decided she liked the changes in their coloring; it made them all so much more desirable. She also decided the pastels favored by the old race of Elves were unsuitable for the new race. A nervous cough brought her attention back to her followers.
“My friends and loyal supporters, I have found our new home. It lies on Catira, behind the Black Ice Mountains. There we will build a wondrous land to live in. We’ll create a life that will make this old existence seem pale and bland. We’ll bring shame upon the weak Elves by our skill in shaping the wild lands. Other races will envy us our homeland, for its grace and elegance. We’ll dress in bright, rich colors, which better suit our new beauty. We’ll hold our heads high and make the world respect us as the new and purest Elven race.” Kamleah stated, bringing the others into the glory of her vision for their new life.
The members of the new council exchanged confused looks, and then let the spell of Kamleah’s words work on their minds. Yes, life would be better than before; with more power, more respect, more races desiring to emulate them. They quickly supported Kamleah’s goals and rushed to spread the news to their people.
Kamleah stood on her balcony in the royal household of the Sun Speaker of the true Elves and watched the people below her. Most had the sunny golden hair and fair complexion of the traditional Elf. But there were others with the new and exotic coloring of the new, Dark Elves. The blond people stared in horrified fascination at the darker ones, and the dark avoided the fair ones as if they carried a plague. Already there was a distinction between the two peoples, greater than the coloring. And the difference made Kamleah smile.
By evening, all those who had been touched by the Goddess, as Kamleah said, left the wall of Trinthalas. Once free from the protective barriers of the Elven homeland, Kamleah pointed her followers east. They traveled until moonset, then made camp. She called in her advisors and held a council meeting.
The next morning as the Dark Elves were taking down their camp, they were informed of a few changes. The first was that the Dark Elves would be lead by a Star Speaker, rather than a Sun Speaker. The second was the Star Speaker would be female not male. A few of them spoke softly against such a change, and they were quickly made examples of. From then on, if any had a complaint against Kamleah and her decisions, they kept it to themselves.
As they traveled across Nasinih, they heard tales of the battle; of how Tris destroyed both the essence of Dreybrenic and Nivalle, after fighting for a day and night without stopping, on the dawn of the second day, of how it was Fini’s hand that took the physical life of Junior, of how Shendra had been taken captive by Chaos and become the Queen of Sandeenai as well as Chaos’ realms. Of how General Hervin Gessop had been slain by magic and how Jehrones knew of it by the crumbling of an ashen brick. Of how a small force of Junior’s men had invaded the Circle’s forest and slain one of their children; and then how the Demons came and destroyed the slayers of children. Also of how the Council of Sandeenai had once again been formed and were helping to restore peace; but no tales of the division of the Elves, or of Ambrisander. Kamleah wondered if maybe her curse had come true. If maybe Ambrisander really did fall in battle, and for a minute she felt fear and sorrow in her heart. Then she sniffed at the thought and returned to building the plans for the new Elven homeland on Catira in her mind.
The exodus of Dark Elves did not go un-noticed, but the other races didn’t want to get caught by the cursed race. They gave them wide berth as they traveled, and when they couldn’t avoid coming upon them, they told their stories as bid and left as soon as they could. And in their turn, the Dark Elves avoided all settlements of any size when they could. If they had to pass through a town or village, they did it at night when few people were out. It became a story to exact obedience from children, that if they weren’t good, the Dark Elves would come in the night and steal them from their beds. When the tale came to Kamleah’s ears, she laughed and decided it fit the new image of her Elves.
Six weeks later, the Dark Elves made camp in the barren hills outside Tealshire. Kamleah and half a dozen guards rode into town to buy passage across the Vasirem Ocean to Catira. She wasn’t prepared for the violent reception they received, nor for the scorn they were shown. She offered gold, then jewels and finally herself as payment, but no one wanted anything to do with the Dark Elves. Kamleah demanded to be told what tales were being spread about them, and the dock workers just laughed and walked away, spitting in her direction as they went.
With narrowed eyes, she turned to her escort and told them they would simply take what they needed. Her guards looked at each other, wondering what to do. They had never before had to break a law, and they weren’t sure they wanted to start now. When Kamleah asked them coldly what the problem was, the men quickly decided that staying alive was the greater of the choices offered them.
Kamleah escorted them from the public area of the docks and told them which ships to take, describing them in detail. Then she told them to be ready to sail with the midnight tide and left to bring in the rest of her people. To the humans and other races she met in the streets of Tealshire, she showed nothing but disdain. But every time they made the sign of the evil eye or shouted a curse in her direction or spit on her, she had to fight the urge to cringe. With a sneer, she remembered the words of Serenity; ‘Behind them they will find scorn and before them fear.’ How could a Goddess of peace be so cruel?, thought Kamleah as the words proved to be true.
After the Star Speaker left them with their orders, the honor guard set about to lose their honor; none of them were happy about stealing the required ships, but neither were they willing to die as had the last who spoke against Kamleah. They were about to execute the plans Kamleah laid out for them, when someone stepped out of the shadows. Turning around, the six found themselves surrounded by ten people, all wearing different colors.
“I’m not surprised Kamleah would resort to theft to gain her goal. But I can’t allow you to dishonor your new race by stealing. For you still have honor, if nothing else. I know it’s hard for you to do what Kamleah demanded, so I’m telling you, don’t do it.” Tris said slowly and sadly.
One of the men came forward and fell on his knees in front of Tris. “I don’t who you are, Lady, but we must do as the Star Speaker bids.” He whimpered, hoping this woman wouldn’t hurt him.
Tris raised an eyebrow at the man, then reached down and lifted him to his feet. “And why must you do as Kamleah bids? Before you answer that, let me inform you who it is that you’re talking to. I am Trisinda Jaqukwen and these are my friends.” At her words all the men blanched. Now what were they to do? If they did what the leader of Serenity’s Champions told them, then Kamleah would kill them. If they did as Kamleah told them, Tris would kill them. “Now why do you find it so difficult to do as I have asked? Why do you not want to save your honor?”
The same man looked up, his eyes filled with fear. “Please, Lady Trisinda, don’t be angry with us. We tried to buy passage but no one would take our money. How else are we to get to our new home?”
“And Kamleah told you to steal passage.” Airidon said softly. “Didn’t she know that for people like you, there are another set of docks? Before we freed Sandeenai, we used those docks, and made valuable allies doing so.”
“My Lord, surely you know what kind of person the Star Speaker is, if you’re so privileged as to speak her name without fear. But for those of us who do not have the luxury of speaking her name, we must do as she bids.” Another of the guards kicked the speaker into silence. Shrina shot out and held a knife to the man’s throat and with a glare warned the others what would happen if they moved towards the man on the floor. The remaining four guards carefully laid their weapons on the ground and back away from them. “I am doomed, I am doomed, I am doomed.” The first man repeated over and over, hugging himself and rocking back and forth on his knees.
“Why? Why are you doomed? What is your name?” Tris asked, kneeling and placing her hands on the man’s shoulders. He looked up and saw her eyes beginning to glow green and his voice stuck in his throat. “Tell me what I want to know, and you may go free. It’s alright, I won’t hurt you.” Her voice was calming, but whenever he looked up and saw her eyes darker green, fear stole his voice.
“Your eyes!” Hissed one of the other guards, and Jehro and Tris read over whelming panic in the emotions of all six Dark Elves. “The Star Speaker told us that only those who are Demon touched have Green eyes! And Demons have always had a taste for Elven flesh! We’re all doomed! We’ve been captured by a Demon and have failed to get the ships for the Star Speaker! Why did you say so much Richikan! We are doomed!”
“What’s all this talk of doom? Leader Tris would no more eat you than I would. Her eyes become green when she’s angry, and if her anger were turned on you, then you’d be dead. Leader Tris is angry with Kamleah, your Star Speaker, as are we all.” Korol said and fell down beside Tris and Richikan. “Now, Richikan, don’t be afraid. Tell us why you’re so terrified of Kamleah?”
Richikan looked from one face to another. His fellow guards were silently urging him to stay quiet. The members of Serenity’s Champions nodded encouragements to him. “I was loyal to Ambrisander, the Sun Speaker, until just before the last war. Then I heard the words of the Star Speaker, and fell under her spell. When the change came, I begged to be able to serve Ambrisander, as his foot stool if nothing else. Then the Goddess came and told me She knew I hadn’t betrayed the Elven people, but that the Star Speaker would need followers who still had honor and goodness within them to help and protect her. She told me that others who hadn’t turned their backs on Ambrisander had also been changed. She hoped that our decency would be passed on to future generations, so that some day, the two may be healed as one. So I came and did what I could to make life easier for the innocent women and children who had also been changed. Then the Star Speaker started to make changes in our customs and laws, to suit her purpose. Some spoke against these new traditions. When the Star Speaker heard of it, she went into a rage and... and...” Richikan dropped his head, hiding his shame, rage and grief at the deeds done.
“Richikan, you talk too much. Stop it, before you bring the same punishment down on us.” Warned the one Shrina held, though he didn’t struggle against the knife at his throat.
Tris looked at the man and thought she recognized him. “Aren’t you Jomoc, one of Ambrisander’s honor guards?” She asked him and in answer he jerkily nodded. “Tell me, Jomoc, what punishment does Kamleah give? No, wait let me guess. She’d have those who spoke against her killed, and probably in the most painful, degrading way she could think of. Is that why you fear her so much?” Jomoc’s eyes grew large as Tris described Kamleah’s tastes so accurately. “You don’t have to say anything; your face gives me all the answer I need.” Tris said in brittle tones.
“Please, Lady Trisinda, let us do what the Star Speaker ordered us to do? I have a wife and newborn twins, and she wouldn’t hesitate to kill them in front of me first. I am named, Sothus, and am a second cousin to you and Ambrisander and her.” Sothus said, his voice revealing his fear for his family. As she watched, golden streaks shone through the blood red of his hair.
Tris turned her back on the men so they couldn’t see her tears. All of them had gold in their hair, a sign that they had been loyal to the Elven race before the Goddess, Quaird touched them. These were the ones chosen to bring light and goodness back to the Dark Elves. “Tris, do you see what I do? They all have gold in their hair.” Jehrones said mentally. She nodded and he continued, “We have to help them. They are the hope of the Goddess.”
Turning back, Tris was able to hide her knowledge from the quaking men in front of her. “I won’t allow you to tarnish your honor by committing this crime. But I will allow you to do as Kamleah bid. When you come back at dusk, the ships she wanted will be ready and waiting. Don’t tell her how you got them; just inform her you did as she commanded. Don’t tell her, or anyone, that you spoke with us, and I’ll protect you from her anger.” All six fell over themselves trying to bow low enough to Tris. She rolled her eyes at her Circle and saw they were trying to hide laughter behind their hands.
Then she closed her eyes and called up her magics. When her eyes opened they were purple and power flowed through her. She pictured in her mind’s eye a shield to fit the body as perfectly as skin. Then made this shield able to hold in the good and feed it, and at the same time give the illusion of evil. She made the shield invisible to all but her sight, so Kamleah would never be able to detect it. Finally she saw it rest on the six men before her and all that they knew were good, including their families.
As she built all of this in her mind, her threads of blue, green, and purple magic wove themselves around everyone to be given this shield. When the last person was surrounded, Tris made the shield a part of their bloodlines, so it would be passed on from generation to generation. Then gathering the threads back in the palm of her hand, the spell was cast. She closed her eyes and they returned to the clear blue that was familiar. Strong hands closed around her arms and they gently helped her sit. Tris heard Tyra’s serene voice tell the Elven guards they were free to go, but to remember to return at dusk.
“Tris, you shouldn’t drain yourself like this, especially not right now.” Erlissa admonished as she held a cup of water to Tris’ lips. “No, now you drink it. I still find it hard to believe that a grown woman, who’s expecting her first child, goes about as if nothing has changed. How many times have I told you, Tris, that your body is struggling to give life to another? And that every time you use magic in such a grandiose fashion, it depletes your reserve energy? And don’t tell me no one else could’ve done what you just did, because I don’t believe it. Tyra’s perfectly capable of building a shield for those men.”
“’Lissa, she did more than that.” Jehro said quietly. Tris opened her eyes and glared at the Chameling. He lifted his eyebrows at her, daring her to stop him. “She made the shields invisible to magical sight, except maybe hers. And she made them to be passed on through the bloodlines. And, finally, she gave it to all in Kamleah’s group of Elves who have gold in their hair. If it’d been just a shield, it wouldn’t have exhausted her, and Tyra could’ve done it. But, ’Lissa, unless you know of anyone else who can save an entire race of people with a single spell, no one but Tris could’ve done it.” Jehro finished, with a self-satisfied smile for both astonished women. “Besides, she wasn’t using just her strength. She had help from Fini and Airidon, in case you didn’t notice.”
The Sylph turned and looked behind her, where Tyra and Yanette were holding similar cups of cool water to the pale men Jehro had mentioned. “How many are wearing your shield?” Erlissa asked in amazement.
“Of the three thousand that went with Kamleah, only two hundred were truly faithless. The rest were family or warriors who went to build the race on a strong foundation. I had to protect the innocent, that’s how many.” Tris answered, and then struggled to her feet against loud complaints from Erlissa and Tyra. “We must buy those ships for Kamleah and stock them for the voyage, if not for her, for Ambrisander and the people who have been forced to follow her.” She sagged against Meckin again, realizing it was him and not Airidon for the first time.
He gave her a less than tolerant smile and spoke in a whisper. He still remembered the first time he saw Tris, when she fainted in his arms after healing his sister-in-law and her children. He also remembered that later, her ears were very sensitive to deep voices. “Tris, let Korol, Shrina, and I take care of that. You’ve done enough today to fulfill your promise to Ambrisander to watch out for Kamleah. We know what needs to be done and which ships are wanted. Rest and we’ll return before dusk.” Then the Were left with his two chosen companions to do as he promised.
“Now that’s interesting.” Tyra remarked as she watched Korol, Meckin and Shrina leave the warehouse where their encounter had taken place. Shaking her head, she turned back to Fini and helped him sit up against a bale of cotton.
“What’s that, Tyra?” Yanette asked, giving similar aid to Airidon. She had to keep him sitting, which wasn’t easy considering his size. He was trying to get to Tris to help her, and he kept scowling at Jehro who was doing just that. Jehro lean down and whispered something in Tris’ ear and her laughter filled the old wooden building.
Tris sat up a little higher and wagged her finger at her mate. She sent him a wordless pulse of love along the same line that she had used his strength. “Why would Korol and Meckin take Shrina to get ships and supplies? In the past, they neither one volunteered to work with her.” Tyra answered, ignoring the banter between Airidon, Jehro, and Tris.
“Oh, that’s an easy question, Tyra,” ’Lissa said, then stopped to push some more herb-laced drink at Tris. When she was satisfied that her charge was drinking it, she turned back to the Wizard. “Who better than an assassin, a thief and a warrior to convince reluctant ship owners and merchants to part with their goods at a reasonable price? I’ve seen them do this before, in Meckadon. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever witnessed, but I suppose to someone who doesn’t know our friends like we do, it could be pretty terrifying.”
“What do they do?” Yanette asked, interested in this side of a man she thought she knew. She still found it unsettling the way Meckin protected Tris. He had told her of their first meeting and how he loved her, but how Tris chose Airidon over him. Yanette knew he still cared a great deal for the Demon Elf, but also knew he loved her and his children more.
Erlissa sat back and thought of that day in Meckadon when she witnessed this remarkable behavior. “Well, Meckin approaches the victim with a drunken swagger, loudly demanding what it is he’s after. Then Korol creeps up and steals the item, right under the victim’s nose. He starts yelling thief, and Shrina makes her appearance. She pulls out one of her little knives and plants it in Korol’s, half solid, shoulder and calmly walks over and returns the, ‘stolen,’ goods. Then Meckin comes in and demands to purchase the said goods. He and the merchant argue over price, while Shrina keeps an eye on Korol’s sticky fingers. When the merchant won’t go any lower, Shrina speaks up. She says something like, ‘I’ll thank you to give my friend here a fair bargain, or I next time, I’ll let the thief get away.’ If that doesn’t work, then Meckin gets angry and starts to threaten the merchant. This time, Korol holds off the attack and lends aid to the victim.
“By now, the poor fellow’s so confused as to who is who, he sells the goods at whatever price Shrina names. Then the three of them walk off, carrying the purchase, and the merchant feels relieved to be free from the commotion. That’s how they get the best goods at the fairest prices. I asked Shrina if she ever cheated anyone and I’m happy to say that she confessed to cheating only one person. And from what she told me about him, he deserved what he got.” Erlissa finished and sighed with a chuckle. “Quite a group of characters, if you ask me.” When asked if she knew about this latest solidifying of the group, Tris just chuckled and gave them a non-committal smile. Then much to the relief of ’Lissa, Tris fell asleep.
Minutes before the six honor guard of Kamleah were to return, Meckin, Korol, and Shrina ducked back into the warehouse. Korol gave them the report that everything was taken care of, with a wink for Tris. Then as Fini opened his mouth to confront Tris, the six men carefully stuck their heads into the dark building. The three that had given of their strength to the shield had recovered, having slept most of the afternoon, and were standing. Tris greeted the warriors with a smile and waved to Meckin to tell them of the details. With relief plain on their faces, the honor guard left the warehouse to meet with Kamleah and lead them to their new home.
Kamleah searched the air suspiciously when she felt the tingle of magic being worked nearby. She glared at the six men she had left in the city, wondering how they had managed to get so much done in the short time she had given them. Then with a shake of her head, she saw a street magician pull a flower out of mid-air and hand it to a squealing child. So much for her sense of the great magics, Kamleah thought, then banished it.
“You have done well, Richikan, I am pleased. Now take us to the ships and help with the boarding of our people. You did manage to get competent sailors to make the voyage, didn’t you?” Richikan bowed low and nodded, thankful that Circle had thought of things he wouldn’t have. “Excellent. What’s the price of their hire?”
“Your Ladyship, Star Speaker, they work for nothing, but the chance to own these ships when we’re through with them. Their own ships were destroyed during the great siege here, but a few weeks past. For the chance to once again have ships of their own, they are willing to carry us to a secret harbor on the far eastern coast of Catira. We thought it a good bargain.” Jomoc said softly, bowing at the feet of the Star Speaker.
Kamleah looked at the six men groveling at her feet and felt a stab of pleasure at seeing these proud men humbled before her. With a wicked grin, she told them to stand. “From now on, the Dark Elves do not bow to any but the Goddess, Herself, not even to me. Let the world look on us and see a people with the pride and grace to be above such groveling.” She then looked at the sky as if reading a great text. “You have done well, in dealing with these men. I am pleased to accept the terms you named and then to turn the ships over to the sailors at the journeys end. We will proceed.” And then she waved the men forward and followed.
Behind her came the frightened and weary families, guarded on all sides by the remaining warriors. Kamleah was proud of her little group of Dark Elves. Most were young and strong, and with the proper incentive, would be willing to rapidly increase the number of Dark Elves. At least she had finally stamped out the last of the dissenters, and she could give her people relative freedom once they were in their new home.
Kamleah stood on the docks and helped to divide her people equally among the small fleet of ships. She took care to appear kind and thoughtful, keeping families together and dispersing the warriors evenly throughout the fleet. When the last of the Dark Elves boarded, Kamleah gave a last look at the land she had always known, and then followed them.
The departure was quiet and solemn as the ship’s tiny lanterns cast a magical glow over the river. Many Elves had silent tears in their eyes, saying good-bye to a land they had never even dreamed of having to leave and now they could never return. Small children cried softly, cradled by distracted parents, not understanding the sorrow of the adults but reacting to it. Kamleah helped some of the mothers calm frightened children and settle the restless ones.
She gave hope to her people as they looked at her example of courage. Kamleah, when she wasn’t moving among those whose ship she shared, stood in the bow and looked east, toward their new home. In her mind, she kept telling herself it would be beautiful, a rival for her brother’s lands. She looked often to the stars, gathering comfort in their cold distance and unreachable fire. Where Ambrisander’s people worshipped the warmth of day and sun, her people would crave the cool of night and the stars.
The haven of the open ocean greeted the Dark Elves as the sun began to streak the sky with pink-tinted gold. Kamleah then bade her shipmates good-night, and retired to her cabin. She fell asleep listening to the soft slap of waves against the creaking boards of the ship around her and the muffled footsteps and voices of the sailors above her on the decks.
She told her councilors that every night at moon rise, they were to hold sessions, with all Elves attending. At these meetings they were to tell their people of the wonders they would create, of the beauty they would achieve, of the respect they would gain. Then they were to lead the people in the new song of the Dark Elves, so that the guiding stars would shine true for the sailors.
As Kamleah dressed for her first state meeting in the robes she had been working on secretly, she went over all the things that had to be said. She smoothed the deep blue velvet of the robes and turned so that the mirror could pick up the frozen fire of the silver threads woven in the fabric. So much for gold and purple, Kamleah thought as she admired the icy perfection of her reflection. Then she carefully placed the delicate silver coronet on her head, taking heed not to disturb the intricate weave of white roses and silken ribbons that twisted through her deep bronze hair.
With queenly grace, she walked onto the deck and sounded the tiny silver bells that signaled the beginning of the meeting. The Elves on her ship stood in awe as they followed Kamleah’s stately progress to the bow of the ship. When her voice rose over the gentle waves below them, they couldn’t help but be caught up in the visions she painted with her dark brush. Then the words stopped and the music began. And from all the ships in the fleet, the voices blended with the night, and carried their song to the distant stars they now turned to for guidance.
Each night, Kamleah would repeat the words, until they burned brightly in even the smallest of minds. Each night, she stood before her people in her robes of state and led them in example as a star worshiper. Each night, all the Elven voices rose in song, sending chills down the spines of the sailors. And each dawn, Kamleah said a final prayer to the vanishing stars, and then went to her cabin for the day.
It was with a great deal of relief to the sailors as they navigated the tricky waters on the back side of Catira. They never would have attempted to land in this tiny cove for any price, had not Tris herself promised them safe passage. During the daylight hours when only a few Elves were on deck, the sailors spoke in hushed voices of Tris and her Circle. And within a few hours, they would be rid of the Elves and could return home.
Twilight brought a change in the movement of the ship. Kamleah’s heart beat a rapid pulse in her throat, but she kept her movements slow and deliberate as she did every night. As she finished dressing her hair, a hesitant knock fell on her door. Taking an extra minute to set her coronet on her head, she answered calmly. As the captain entered her cabin, his hat in his hand, she gave him a placid smile. “You have something to tell me, Captain? Something about how we’ve landed in our new home, I have no doubt. After we’ve given thanks for a safe passage, we will disembark. Unless, that’s not what you wished to discuss?” Her questions were statements and her statements, law. The captain, just smiled, shook his head, and made the fastest retreat he possibly could.
After closing the door on the imbecile of a captain, Kamleah sank to her knees and offered a prayer to the stars of thanks and gratitude. She had succeeded in convincing herself and her people that they made this pilgrimage of their own free will. And that Quaird had never turned Her back on them, but had cradled them in the palm of Her hand during their journeys. Kamleah could almost see the smile on the face of the Goddess, one that spoke of Her gratitude to Kamleah for preserving Her children from the taint of evil. She found peace in her delusions and by her actions spread that peace to her people.
Excitement ran in an undercurrent throughout all the Elves in all the ships. Kamleah’s voice rose above the muted noises of night and ocean and whispers. “My people, the Elves, we have arrived on Catira. Our journey has but one stage left, that of crossing from this cove to the heart of the wild lands. We begin this final journey with a prayer to Quaird for her goodwill and to the stars for their faithful light and guidance. Then we’ll leave these ships and hand them over to the humble sailors who were privileged to carry the true Elves to their rightful home. Join with me in song and praise.” Then she lifted her voice to the heavens and poured out her thanks in the eerily haunting tune the sailors had come to dread and desire.
The Dark Elves waited on the white, glowing sands and watched until the ships disappeared on the waves. There was no sorrow at this departure, only relief and anticipation. When Kamleah was certain the ships could not witness their departure into the untamed forest and wild lands, she turned to her people. Smiling her cool, controlled smile, she nodded to the warriors to lead the way. All night long, Kamleah trekked forward at the front of her people, taking them deep into the fearful tangle of strange trees and wondrous new bushes.
Just before sunrise, she stopped her people and had them make camp. Unlike her first overland journey, Kamleah waited until all her people had settled for the day, before entering her own tent. During the solitary hours on the ship, she had come to regret her actions at the beginning. Making her people fear her wouldn’t earn their trust in her ability as a leader. She had to adopt the manners she had seen Ambrisander and, as much as she hated to admit it, Trisinda use when dealing with their peoples. She found that at first, they mistrusted her motives, but now they responded with open willingness to follow her. It warmed her heart to finally feel as if the Dark Elves were truly her own, chosen, people.
She led them for five more days before she found the perfect valley to build the crown city of the Dark Elves. When she and her people entered the large, over-grown valley, a shaft of pure silver moonlight pierced the heavy storm clouds. Kamleah pointed to where the moon bathed a stream and bubbling spring in a caressing glow of peace. “This is where we stop. That stream will run through the Palace of the Stars. And the spring will provide the music that will grace the council meetings of the elders. We’ll sleep now, and with the first light of day we’ll begin to build.”
Tris stood on the rise over looking the new city. Her face was unreadable as she watched the activity below. “Tris, are you sure this is a good idea?” She wasn’t sure who had asked the question, it could have been any of her companions. She just nodded and continued to watch the city of Darcineau.
Kamleah has done well for herself, Tris thought. The Star Palace was a sparkling tribute to the evening sky; complete with each stage of the moon and the placement of the stars as they had been when Kamleah and her people entered this valley. A large crystal dome topped the council chambers and swirled with the smoky colors of night. A stream ran its course through the lush lawns and gardens of the Palace, shimmering with its own life.
The rest of the city rose around the palace adding to the magnificence of the valley. The Dark Elves had been careful to blend with nature while shaping it. Smooth roadways wound around the homes and businesses like frozen rivers. The people themselves wore brilliant colors and looked like bright birds in the forest.
“It’s hard to believe that only a year ago this was an un-tamable land. I’m impressed by the effort the Dark Elves have made in making their dream come true. Are we going to go down and see her, Tris?” Jehro commented after an hour had passed. Tris looked at her friends as if surprised to see them there. The far away look vanished as she focused on the Chameling in his half-Elven form.
Taking a deep breath, Tris rearranged her fingers around her staff. Looking back to Darcineau, the Demon Elf straightened her shoulders, and then nodded. She still hadn’t said anything to the others in the Circle, and they were having a difficult time reading her face. Tyra looked to Airidon and Jehro; they both shook their heads slowly. Then they followed her down the game trail leading to the city below.
As the ten stepped from the trees and onto the street, all activity stopped. Then in a flurry, mothers grabbed their children and men reached for spears or swords. The Circle stood firm and waited for the Palace Guard to arrive. Tris sent a boy off after them, when it seemed that no one was going to move.
The boy’s voice rose in shouts of warning as his feet carried him to the nearest guardhouse. General Jomoc came himself in answer to the boy’s cries for help. “Slow down boy, take a deep breath and tell me exactly what you saw.” He ordered calmly, easing the child into a chair.
“Strangers, General, ten of them. They all have weapons and they came out of the trees in the middle of the park. Some of them are as tall as trees, and three of them look like they have Elf blood in them. You have to hurry, you have to kill them. The lady told me to bring you. You’ll come, won’t you?” The boy said, his eyes round with excitement and fear.
“Did the lady ask for me personally?” Jomoc asked. He wondered who had entered the valley. His men had encountered lone trappers and woodsmen, but they never came into the city itself. He thought briefly of Tris and the Circle, but discarded that idea as foolish.
The boy thought about the question, his nose crinkled up and his thumb resting against his teeth. “No, she didn’t ask for General Jomoc, just for the palace guards.” He began slowly, then his eyes lit up and he tripped over the next words in his excitement. “She said she wondered if someone named Kamleah would have her burnt for something. It was a funny word, it sounded like, hair ahass see, (Heresy) I think.”
Jomoc threw his head back and laughed much to the astonishment of his men and the boy. He knew who it was and privately thought Kamleah just might try what Tris suggested. Wiping his eyes, he sent a man to the palace to warn Richikan and Sothus of the surprise visit from Tris. Then he collected enough men to provide a suitable escort of honor and followed the boy back to the park.
When Jomoc arrived at the park, all he could see was a circle of Elves standing around something. When he got through, he stopped again to laugh. Tris and her Circle had made themselves comfortable in the Star Speaker’s favorite flower garden. “Trust in you to make such an entrance. Couldn’t you’ve just sent a message?” Jomoc said as he held his hand out to Tris.
With a grin, she took the offered hand and rose with an economy of movement. “How have you been, Jomoc? Is Kamleah in a hospitable mood, or should I expect to battle my way into her audience chamber?” Tris asked, slapping the general on his back.
The Elves stood around speaking in confused and worried tones. How could this stranger know their general well enough to only use his first name? And why did their general greet her like an old friend? “That depends on what your business is. I’ve sent a message on ahead, so she’ll be waiting to greet you, in whatever fashion she sees fit. If you’ll follow me?” Jomoc said and took Tris’ arm and lead the way. His men fell in around the group, but kept a wary distance from them.
Airidon stopped to admire the great, carved doors at the grand entrance of the Star Palace. Jomoc smiled his pride at Airidon’s praise and told him of the wood carvers. Nodding as if he expected such care from Elves, Airidon gave the Dark Elves even higher praise by not giving them advice. Jomoc understood the giant Dwarf’s silent approval and made a mental comment to bring it the attention of the Star Speaker.
Once inside the Palace, the Circle was greeted by Sothus and Richikan. “The Star Speaker will see you in her private chambers. If you’ll follow me?” Richikan said formally, after greeting Tris with the same enthusiasm as Jomoc. The royal guard, under Jomoc’s orders returned to their posts, and each carried away with him a different feeling about the strangers.
The three generals left the Circle in a room that screamed Kamleah. It had hard wood floors that were polished to a high gloss and had a few brightly colored, woven rugs carefully placed. Heavy, night dark, blue drapes hung across glass doors that opened unto a marble balcony. The furniture was white with deep blue cushions. A large, white marble fireplace with an intricately carved mantel piece was one whole wall.
A small door behind them opened and Kamleah entered the room. She wore an emerald green tunic and darker green leggings under her robes of state. She wore her hair loose to her waist with small braids around the crown and hanging near her face. A simple silver coronet rested amid the braids. And for the first time since they had known her, she had a pleasant look on her face.
“Welcome to Darcineau, Circle of the Star. How do you find our fair city?” Her voice was placid and even pleasant as she took her seat near the fireplace. Mentally, Kamleah cringed with the thought that Tris was here at all, but she had trained herself to be above such petty things, or so she hoped. She motioned for her guests to be seated and rang for refreshments. “What brings you to Darcineau?”
Tris met her sister’s eyes and asked a silent question. At the slight nod, Tris sat forward to answer the questions. “We are all impressed by your city, Kamleah. It’s as beautiful as you said it would be and then some. You have the right to feel proud of your accomplishments.”
Kamleah smiled faintly at the praise and nodded as if she had expected it. Tris knew Kamleah loved the diplomatic dance, just as Kamleah knew Tris hated it. It was a kind of peace between them that they both tried to oblige the other. “Thank you, Trisinda, but you haven’t told me why you are here.”
“Kamleah, I think we’ve both grown in the past year. Ambrisander sends his love, and asks for news of you. He wants to know if you’ve finally gotten married.” Tris didn’t miss the small wince in her sister’s soul and began to guess a little of what happened to her. But like with her brother, Tris didn’t let Kamleah know she had seen it. “I’ll tell him what I’ve seen and witnessed, if you wish it. Otherwise, I’ll leave it to you to give him news. Second, with the ending of last war, four new races have emerged. Of all of them, you are the only ones who have successfully adapted to their new homes. Queen Shendra has asked if you would please send your representatives to the Council of Sandeenai. She understands if you wish to remain alone, but she would really like to have your voice heard again.” Tris stated simply, but choosing her words carefully.
Kamleah stood and walked to a ground glass window and stared out into her city. “I knew your visit was inevitable, I just wish it could’ve happened later. I hoped that your first sight of Darcineau would find it filled with Elves and even several outlying farms. That takes time, a hundred years or more.” She said softly, avoiding the issues. Keeping her hands tightly clenched behind her, Kamleah watched a flight of birds wheel in the sky above her valley.
The silence following the Star Speakers comments stretched on. Finally Shrina couldn’t take the weight of the unsaid words and stood. “Look, Kamleah, we’ve been patient enough in dealing with you. Give us the courtesy of answering us, one way or the other.” Kamleah turned slowly and measured the Siblen. She wondered if Tris would defend her little friend, or leave her to the mercy of a full blooded Elf. “Don’t give me that high and mighty glazed look, Kamleah, I don’t buy it. I still remember you as that snot-noised brat who insulted Tris, and so far you haven’t done anything to change my opinion of you.”
White hot rage passed over Kamleah’s face, and the Circle watched as she struggled to regain her composer. “Little kinswoman, I would be very careful how you address royalty. Such words as yours could lead you to trouble.”
“I don’t have to be careful of anything, Kamleah, I’m more royal than you are. If I went back to my homeland, I would be the undisputed Queen, just as my mother before me. So don’t give me any grief over respect for royalty. Now are you going to answer, or do I return to Shendra, who, if you’re counting status, is higher than either one of us, and tell her you’re too good to be a part of Sandeenai?” Shrina said, and just to make sure Kamleah understood her implied threats didn’t bother her; she took out a knife and began to clean her fingernails. Kamleah closed her eyes and took a deep breath to steady her nerves. She hadn’t expected the Siblen to be royalty, and it surprised her.
Tris looked over to Shrina with a half smile on her face. “Shrelannasha, give Kamleah a chance to collect her thoughts. I believe from her comments she’s about to turn us down. But allow her the right to speak for herself.” Tris said, and hid her pleasure as Kamleah flinched from Tris’ meanings.
Korol decided to play his hand, testing Kamleah’s mettle. “Leader Tris, why do you think Kamleah’s going to turn us down? She can’t still be afraid that her people will turn their backs on her and follow someone else. After all she’s done for them, bringing them to this piece of paradise, working along aside them, giving them pride in their changes, you’d think nothing could shake the loyalty of the people. Unless, of course, Kamleah still doesn’t know how to wear the invisible mantel of authority. Maybe you should offer to teach her, Leader Tris, since you are her sister.” The Shadow stood with his back to Kamleah, as if she had left the room and couldn’t hear his comments. His mischievous grin almost broke through Tris’ mask of dignity.
Deciding that Kamleah had enough of a taste of her own medicine, Tris once again took control of the situation. “If you cannot keep your thoughts and opinions to yourselves, then you’ll be excused. That goes for all of you.” She said, pinning Jehro with a sharp glance as he opened his mouth.
Jehro closed his mouth for a second, and then before Tris could say anything more, opened it again. “Tris, I was just going to suggest that you and Kamleah continue this discussion alone. The rest of us could be escorted through the city on a guided tour. That way we’ll be able to report favorably to both Ambrisander and Shendra of Kamleah’s progress.” The Chameling smiled politely to both the Star Speaker and Tris, and waited to hear if he was to be scolded or praised.
With her entire balance disrupted, Kamleah could only stare at the mis-matched group of heroes and wonder how anyone could possibly live under such circumstances. When Tris turned to her and silently asked her opinion of Jehro’s plan, all she could do was lift her hand in helpless confusion. Understanding, Tris turned and told her family to take the tour but to be back in an hour.
Left alone with Tris, Kamleah was soon able to stabilize her disordered thoughts. It surprised her that Tris would be such a calming presence. Without the need to wear masks, Kamleah just shook her head. “I don’t understand, Trisinda. You’re a Demon and yet you’re the easiest of your entire group to deal with. How is this possible?”
“Kamleah, I’m also Elven. I know you’ve read the prophesy concerning the Circle. Just as I know you’ve chosen to ignore the fact that it states I’m equally a Demon and Elf. You’ll never see me as anything but a threat to you, and I accept that. But don’t turn a blind eye on what my Circle and I can do for you, because you don’t personally like me. When you sat on the Council of Sandeenai and as the Judge of Justice you had to work with many races, most of which you personally couldn’t tolerate. But you know how well it worked. There may never be any love between the Demons and Elves, but now they aren’t trying to exterminate each other. There will never be another Demon Elf, like myself, though my blood will be passed on to my children. Even then, they’ll only take on one of the four possible races offered them. As infants, my daughter looks as if she’ll follow in my footsteps, only as Elf dominated. While my son is going to be just like his father, with perhaps a bit more Dwarf in him than Airidon. What I’m trying to tell you, is...”
“Is that like the Star you wear, there are more facets to you and your Circle than meets the eye.” Kamleah interrupted, nodding. “Alright, Trisinda, I’ll try to remember that you’re more than a Demon; if you give me time to build my race as I see fit, without you or any of your Circle popping in here every year checking up on me. I’ll even send a delegation to Sandeenai’s Council, after I have enough people to spare the required number.”
Tris contemplated her sister for a moment, and shook her head. “Kamleah, I’ll respect your need for time and space. But I cannot allow you remain cut off from the rest of the world. I offer this solution; if you’ll allow a yearly courier to bring you news of the other races and take news of you to the Council, then you won’t see me again until you invite me.”
Kamleah walked back to the window and watched as the Circle of the Star made their return to the palace. “Who would the courier be?” She asked calmly, not agreeing or disagreeing.
It was more than Tris hoped for, but it didn’t show in her voice or face as she answered. “Kurei’s son, Ryees. He’s the Council’s official courier and has offered to perform this service to the new races until they can send their own representatives. Is he acceptable to you?”
The door opened and Airidon lead the others in. They all stopped at the door, feeling the tension of an unanswered question, and wondered how the private conference had gone. Kamleah turned back to face her guests. “Yes, Trisinda, that would be acceptable to me. If you’d take care of the details, I’ll entrust you to speak for me on this matter. I’d like to invite you all to stay for supper with me and then to witness our evening greeting of the stars.”
“We’ll be delighted to join you, Star Speaker Kamleah.” Tris answered and returned the polite nod of understanding to her sister. Kamleah then rang for the palace servants and gave her orders. The games of diplomacy, Kamleah loved them except when they included the Circle; then she hated them, but knew they were a necessary evil.
After Tris and her Circle vanished on one of Tyra’s spell threads, Kamleah sat in the dark of her private chambers. Although she would never love her sister, she found herself respecting her. She pushed the encounter to the back of her mind and concentrated on the next hundred years or so and all that needed to be done to completely fulfill her dreams. And Chaos sat back to watch the unfolding of the seed Dreybrenic planted in the heart of the Dark Elf leader.
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