She was almost glad it was Dolen who had caught her spying, and not her father. Not only would she get ridiculed for it, but she may very well have had a talking to. A’dair still held Ta’llevny’s riders in the highest regard, and for her to be eyeing one as a potential partner was almost taboo. Her face flushed slightly as she realized her own dilemma. That was what she had been doing. Giving him a full glance-over as if he were a prized stallion. Was she after him?
Silna shook her head and hoped that Dolen had either not noticed the redness of her face, or had written it off as being caused by the wind. As she walked, squinting her eyes slightly, she thought that the wind really could be the cause. Sleet and snow whipped through the forest, and only when the two finally entered Ta’llevny’s vale did it calm.
She felt a sudden pang of guilt as she remembered who was at her side. Dolen would not react well to the news of Rowena’s departure. Silna bit her lip, and her eyes slid down to the ground as they walked in silence. The snow within the vale had barely dusted the ground, while outside it had been near a foot in height. Such storms were usual this time of year (if expected), but she had never really seen the difference in atmospheres first hand. Though still cold, the vale was as calm and serene as ever.
Both she and Dolen lifted their gazes as they picked up the barely audible sounds of footsteps behind them. Turning only slightly, Silna saw that A’dair had arrived and was following them silently. Behind him walked Tey’ven.
“What is this about?” Dolen whispered.
As she turned, her lips tightened even more. Should she tell him now, or let Ta’llevny explain the situation? One glance at him told her that he was not about to wait. His green eyes narrowed, yet still seeming to glow beneath their lids. Silna faced forward, her jaw setting as she walked. Ta’llevny’s large tree-built home was within view.
“She was sent on a mission,” the elven female said in a tone just as soft as his.
It was already quiet in the vale, save for the soft sounds of the trees blowing and the occasional flapping of a particularly vigilant white owl’s wings. She felt him look at her, his eyes seeming to cut right through her peripheral view.
“Whom?” he asked. “Rowena? What mission would they send your human sister on?”
Dolen sounded confused, but even as he spoke, his brows lowered. Silna turned to look at him, letting her eyes show the truth in the matter. She watched as he pressed his lips together in a hard line, his eyes shifting forward again. The only other sign of emotion was the slow shifting of his jaw as he most likely ground his teeth.
As they reached the tree, the two stopped. It would not be mannerly at all to simply climb up and enter Ta’llevny’s home. Though they had been invited, there was a certain way about things, especially in such a revered place.
Tey’ven nodded to both as he passed, moving to scale the tree’s enormous sloped trunk. Silna took note of his garb while she could. In all of her observations, she had not realized that he was dressed in traveling gear.
A’dair had come to a stop behind them as well, exchanging glances with his daughter before lifting his gaze to watch Tey’van’s ascent.
“Your mother waits on the outskirts,” he said softly. When Silna threw a questioning glance his way, his eyes met hers. “She was not present at the first meeting, and therefore has not been invited to this one.”
Dolen turned at this statement, his eyes widening slightly. It was clear that he was surprised at that statement as well, since he had not been present at the first meeting. Silna merely shrugged. She had been about to explain that he may be there to report his findings, when Tey’ven beckoned from the high opening in the tree.
Silna went first, deftly following the steps that the esteemed guard had taken. She did her best not to seem as elated as she was when he offered her a hand up. As A’dair and Dolen joined them, she was too busy keeping her eyes focused on her surroundings. This was a business meeting, and she meant to push the issue of bringing Rowena home, no matter what the cost.
Little did she know that her thoughts on that matter were shared.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
It was the only time in his life that he had been slightly worried about his standing amongst his kin. When one up and left a formal meeting as he had, they were walking a dangerous line between being rude and being outright criminal. Something told him that Ta’llevny would not be so angry as to banish him, though. The elder leader’s reaction to his outburst had been a patient one, and he had not blocked any exits as Dolen was sure he could if he wanted to.
Seeing Ta’llevny never surprised Dolen. Though he was not one of the riders, he often had to report directly to Tarragon’s leader or one of the riders themselves. The vale and it’s inhabitants were nothing new to him. A sour smirk came to his lips as he realized that his actions were quite new to them. In all honesty, he knew he had shocked them, but his mind was set.
Only one step out of the vale, Dolen felt the harsh wind and sleet sting his face, pulling at the stray white hairs that had fallen from his haphazard braid. There were heavy snowflakes mixing with the sleet now and though it was approaching midday, the gray light still reminded him of morning. As he pulled up the cowl of his heavy white-furred cloak, his eyes caught movement.
Lae’ra, who was similarly dressed in white, approached him with a concerned look on her face. His first instinct was to glare at the elven female. She was one of the group who had allowed Rowena on this mission to begin with. Still, he let his anger drop. It was not a question of his own overbearing concern, but the knowledge that he needed to leave. It would be a long trip, and he would prefer not to have an argument on his mind.
Turning away from her, he moved back toward Quickfoot. The mare had turned herself away from the wind, and was nosing through snow as if well used to the temperature. Taking a handful of her reins, he moved to turn her about and make his way toward the stables, but Lae’ra blocked his path.
“What news?” she asked, her eyes searching his.
Dolen gave her a stern gaze, offering no hint of his feelings.
“I will retrieve Rowena,” he replied, moving forward with Quickfoot following.
“Wait, is Ta’llevny sending a party for her?”
Lae’ra had begun following him, and he kept walking anyway, speaking with his back still turned to her.
“Ta’llevny requests that we wait,” Dolen said evenly, still walking the snow covered trail. “I politely declined that request,” another smirk came to his lips for a moment as he thought his words had not exactly been polite.
“Dolen wait. If Ta’llevny-”
He spun, unable to hold back his frustration anymore.
“Am I understanding this incorrectly? Rowena is in a human kingdom. There have been no messages from her in the near two days she has been gone,” his eyes flashed as he watched the look of surprise cross Lae’ra’s face.
It was not often that he showed anyone his emotions, much less spoke to them. He visibly calmed himself, turning once again to lead Quickfoot away, barely picking up the sound of a cantering horse from behind them both.
“In the least, I am going to make sure your daughter still lives, Lae’ra.”
She did not reply. At least she did not try to before Tey’ven’s horse cantered across the vale’s entrance. That made Dolen turn, holding tight to the reins as Quickfoot pulled at them. It had been a long night, and the mare was anxious to return to her paddock. He empathized completely.
Tey’ven did not need to rein in Whisper, for the stallion stopped a few steps from Dolen. The rider looked as if he had given chase and Silna still clung tight to his back, both of their hair (hers white, his still only streaked) whipping in the cold wind. They must have mounted the horse not long after Dolen had made his retreat from the meeting.
“We will accompany you,” Tey’ven announced, his eyes leaving no room for argument.
Silna, though obviously elated at her position, looked just as ready to leave as Dolen felt. Without more than a nod, the group made their way back to their homes.
It took a few hours to get supplies. Dolen had been unaware of his own hunger until Lae’ra offered him a packed meal. It also had given him a chance to tack up Talon (for the stallion had recovered from his colic, and was more than ready to accept his usual rider). By nightfall, Tey’ven was leading Silna and Dolen to the edge of Tarragon. They hoped to reach the human castle while still under the cover of darkness.
A’dair and Lae’ra stayed behind. Three were easier to hide than five, and Ta’llevny had specifically instructed A’dair that he was needed within the bounds of the forest. His first task was to alert Spirit to their coming in the fastest way possible. While Silna rode out to the edge of Tarragon, her father entered Feather Grove, looking around in wonder at a place he hadn’t been to in decades.
The fairies greeted him with the same respect they always gave his daughter.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
It took her a few moments to realize that she had spoken aloud. With a few glances, she also realized that Cameron had likely heard what she had. Dale on the other hand, did not miss a beat. Lifting a hand, he sat back a bit before speaking.
“Forgive me, Lady. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
She nodded to him, taking his cue within a split second. It worked! The crowd began speaking again, and only Vance leaned in to look at her with slight concern. Cameron had turned around and was looking in the opposite direction, not wanting to add to her onlookers.
Wylden’s words were the cause of her outburst, and he had repeated himself more slowly the second time.
“They’re coming to retrieve you, Lady. One of my brothers came to give me the message! They rode out at dusk.”
Of course, the fairy was still unable to be seen, but his voice carried well over Rowena, even in a whisper. Though Dale and Cameron had also heard his voice, she had been the only one who had understood.
Swallowing, Rowena forced the sudden panic from her visage and remained calm. Lifting a few pieces of sweet fruit to her mouth.
“Did you hear that?” Cameron whispered to her, and she simply nodded very slowly, her eyes still on the ornately designed bowl in front of her. Second only to his brother, he took her cue and quickly calmed himself as well.
By the time dinner ended, Rowena was about to burst. She had to find a way out. Vance and Lora met her on either side, and only once they were on the second floor of the castle did she stop the group and turn to speak. As she caught her breath, she turned and observed her new friends.
It was amusing to see that already, Dale’s hair was hanging in his eyes. Apparently pomade only worked for a few hours, since Vance had similar tendrils of his own brown hair falling from his small ponytail. Only Lora and Cameron seemed to have kept their stately look about them on the trip up from the dining hall.
“I must get out of the castle tonight,” Rowena said breathily.
The rest of them stared at her. Only Lora took up Dale’s arm and grabbed one of hers to get them moving once more. They were successfully avoiding contact from others for now, but it would be safer to keep moving.
“Why?” Vance asked, coming into step on her other side.
“Wylden,” Rowena swallowed, shaking her head as she found herself unable to explain everything in one sentence. “A messenger has alerted me that some of my people will come to retrieve me. Since I have not sent any messages regarding my well being, they fear for my life,” she explained with another frustrated shake of her head. “It is my own wrong doing, but I must ride out to meet them so that they may not interfere.”
Vance seemed to understand. Lora even more so, considering she knew who Wylden was. The two young guards seemed even more confused than the prince. Dale spoke up, his brows lifting as though he had come up with a brilliant scheme.
“I’m sure we can find room for them,” he offered
Rowena shook her head at once and stopped. She scanned the hallway they stood in, keeping an eye out for possible listeners. Luckily they were closer to her room than they had been a moment ago, and there was no one in sight. When the others had stopped and were staring at her in wait, she whispered.
“This must not go beyond your lips,” her words were clear and concise, even in a whisper. Only when she received nods and solemn gazes from her friends did she continue.
“My people are not like me. They are another race. Elves, as we call them,” she ignored the widening eyes and the lifting brows, continuing. “I was adopted by them when my home and family were taken by this kingdom’s tax collectors.”
Vance flinched visibly. His eyes searched the floor, and Lora’s jaw set in a stern fashion.
“I have lived there without human contact since, until I saw your party approaching,” Rowena went on, eyeing Vance, Dale, and Cameron. “After some deciding, they sent me to ask that Tarragon be left alone. A meeting of humans and elves may not go so well as it did when I was invited to live there.”
Dale still stared at her with wide eyes, as if expecting her ears to grow pointed tips. Cameron nodded now, slowly, and Vance seemed to mirror the actions. Finally he looked up, his eyes lighting slightly.
“So the fables are true. Elves, fairies, animals that speak...”
Rowena smiled and nodded. “They are true, though the animals only speak through their minds.”
It took a few minutes for them to soak it in. Lora stood up more straight, her green eyes scanning the hall once again before looking back to Rowena.
“Can they meet Wylden now?” she asked, excited to be able to show them what she had kept secret for so many hours.
Just after she had spoken, however, a giggling sound filled the hall. The heavy footsteps of a couple (obviously too far into their drink), echoed off of the walls. Vance and Lora seemed to have the same idea, and the four began their escort again.
It all seemed normal and mannerly until they all piled into Rowena’s small room. Once the door was shut, only soft gasps, muffled voices, and even an eerie glow could be noticed from the other side.
“Will the arrive tonight?” Vance finally asked.
He had taken a seat by the fireplace. Dale and Cameron stood on either side of the small window, and Rowena and Lora sat on the bed. Wylden had found a seat on the bedpost, looking as regal as one clad in nothing but a loincloth could. His glow was more bright than usual, likely to aid in keeping him warm.
Rowena nodded, and Vance shook his head again, lifting a hand to run through his hair. The habit had made it hard for him to look well kept, as it often left his hair in all places.
“I do not know how we’ll leave the castle grounds without being noticed.”
“I do,” Lora said after a moment.
When all eyes were on her, she suddenly seemed a bit more shy. Looking down, she continued.
“The weather’s bad out. Not many guards will be at the back of the castle. We can take the kitchen door out, and go around the back end of the castle wall,” she suggested.
Shaking his head, Vance made a negative noise before speaking.. “We’ll need horses for that. Otherwise it’ll take hours to get all the way around.”
“Spirit is waiting downstairs!” Wylden spoke outloud with a triumphant look on his face.
“He says that he’s told Spirit. She’ll be waiting for me,” Rowena stood then, looking down at her garb as if wondering how she was to ride in such a dress.
Lora seemed to read her thoughts, standing and moving to unlace the corset. She left it on, but loosened it enough so that Rowena could once again breathe.
“You’ll not go alone,” Dale piped in.
“I’ll go with her. If either of you three are caught, it will be too much trouble to get out of,” Lora answered, finishing up with the corset and moving to the empty chair that Rowena’s cloak lay against.
Rowena looked between Vance and his two younger guards, the prince nodding and the guards emulating his actions.
“Dale and Cameron will wait at the gates. I’ll....” Vance shook his head and shrugged. “I’ll find some excuse to stay nearby.”
“Come on then,” Lora urged, leading the four out of Rowena’s room.
It was an easy trip. Between Lora and her brothers, they managed to get down through the kitchen without so much as a questioning look from a servant. Lora grabbed one of her dark cloaks and wrapped herself tightly, pulling up the cowl as Rowena had pulled up hers. She mentioned the fact that white would likely stick out in the night air, but quickly retracted her words upon seeing the winter landscape that lay outdoors.
All five were met with a surprise as they saw not one, but two horses standing before them.
“You really should visit more, human girl. Those boxes are mind numbing,” Spirit said into Rowena’s mind, bowing her head, then lifting it with emphasis, sending tiny snowflakes off of her white mane. “This beast insists he escort me on my mission.”
Grinning and shaking her head, Rowena turned and whispered, more to Vance than the rest. “Dancer wants to go.”
“Are you... talking to your mare?” Vance asked as they approached the un-tacked horses.
Rowena simply nodded, taking a few practice jumps before easily mounting Spirit. The dress made it a bit more difficult, but she would manage.
“Up you go, then,” Vance said to Lora, offering his hand for her to step on. The girl looked at him as if he’d grown another head.
“I can’t ride a royal mount!” her voice was more of a harsh whisper, and both Dale and Cameron turned to make sure none were watching as their sister began another of her tirades.
“Lora. You’re going with Rowena and Dancer will be your mount. Don’t make me command it,” Vance said seriously, still bent over with his hand down.
After a moment, she finally stepped onto his hand, and was lifted so that she could sit astride the tall stallion’s back. Her cloak blended with the horse’s coloring as well as Rowena’s blended with Spirit’s. Though she and Dancer would be an eyesore in the snow, it made an interesting sight to behold.
“He uses knee commands,” Vance moved around to the front of the stallion, running a hand softly over his nose.
“Best be off!” Dale whispered to them, and Rowena nodded.
Lora, looking slightly set aback, nodded as well. She seemed to test Dancer’s response, using a knee to turn him. He just about followed the command before she gave it.
“I know the way,” Lora said, gathering a section of the black stallion’s thick mane in her hands. “Apparently Dancer does as well.”
“We’ll follow,” Rowena whispered
With a last glance at the three males, the horses took off in a trot, moving to a gallop once they were beyond the castle walls. There were thin paths, and large trees that seemed confusing to Rowena, but Lora moved Dancer with a sure hand. Once free of the trees, the driving snow stung any skin that was bared. Both females bundled up more in their cloaks as they rode away from the kingdom’s walls.
It seemed as though the further they were from the castle, the more the wind and snow let up. Although the cold still bit through their garments, the change in weather was welcome. Only when they could no longer see the kingdom over the horizon did Wylden come out from his spot under her cloak. He flew out into the darkness, and Rowena sincerely hoped that he would be able to intercept her ‘rescuers’ before they made a grave mistake