Once they made it out of Tarragon Forest, the elements seemed to turn against them. The wind and biting cold slowed their pace tremendously. They had gone from a fast canter to a slow trot, and were currently down to a walk. Cowls hid elven faces, and warm fur blankets kept the mounts as warm as they could. They only knew that they had reached the halfway point when their fairy messenger, Frisle, let them know of such. Otherwise, conversations were few and stops were even rarer.
Dolen himself had wondered at first why Tey’ven or Silna had not just spoken to Spirit, but he quickly remembered how limited the gift was. Over such distances, it would be impossible to reach the mare. So they were thankful for their fairy companion, even if he did chatter on more than he needed to. It took most of the trip, but Dolen eventually found himself more fond of the fairies than he once was. He could almost understand Rowena’s odd fascination with them, but as the biting voice interrupted his thoughts once again, he came to the conclusion that he would definitely need more time.
“Over that hill, you’ll see the human’s home! It is truly a grand place, Master Elf. They build stone structures that reach the sky itself!” the glowing Fairy went on.
He had been perched in front of Silna for most of the ride, only flying off to make sure his track was correct. It was unnerving how fast he could fly. He made a few trips back and forth as they kept up their slow walk. Still, even Frisle had lost a bit of his luster as they drew further and further away from his magical home. His blue wings and orange-toned hair had lost some of their sparkle. Dolen wondered if it would affect any of them in a similar fashion.
“We’ll pull in towards the trees and find a path that runs parallel. Rowena’s fairy has surely delivered the message by now,” Tey’ven said, turning himself a bit to look back at the two of them.
He was dressed in his usual uniform, horse and rider both cloaked in white, barely able to be seen even by the trained eye. They traveled in a straight line, with Tey’ven in the lead, Silna following him, and Dolen at the rear. Frisle darted between the three, staying mostly between Silna and Dolen after receiving little to no conversation from Tey’ven. They were talkative creatures.
“Grand idea, Master Elf! And his name is Wylden, your Lady’s escort. Wylden. He flies almost as fast as I do,” Frisle exclaimed, fluttering up and down the line.
“I agree with that plan,” Silna said at a length, and Dolen nodded as well.
Only then did Tey’ven turn back and face ahead. Dolen let out a slow breath, ignoring Frisle’s words now that the fairy was focusing primarily on Silna. He longed to find the moon’s placement in the sky, but dark storm clouds blocked out the sky’s light. There was also a lack of a particular white owl above them.
Only the bright snow that was still accumulating on the ground kept them slightly aware of their surroundings. It highlighted the trees and showed them when the land would raise or fall. It was still dangerous for the horses though, for the wind caused deep drifts that were hard to catch until it was too late. Whisper seemed to have an unearthly ability to find those, and so far they had made it through just fine.
Dolen watched his breath turn to steam as he let out a long sigh, lifting his eyes and squinting into the wind. He hoped the landscape would change soon enough. Fatigue was beginning to envelop him once again, and his vision blurred at the same black and white atmosphere they seemed to be riding through.
What woke him was the change in their path. Only when he felt Talon beginning to turn did he focus more clearly, noting that there were buildings in the distance with soft light streaming from windows. How different the human buildings were. Boxy, harshly made, and individual. Seemingly made from the trees, yet set apart from them. It was almost an ugly sight to him.
They made their way into a patch of trees that ran behind the flatlands that the humans had apparently farmed. This was when they were at their most silent. Even Frisle settled in and stopped speaking at a look from Tey’ven’s light eyes. All was quiet in the human establishments as they passed. Soft noises made by domestic poultry or canines were heard, but they were not otherwise disturbed.
Tey’ven stopped them all once they had gone beyond a patch of human homes, and Frisle appeared in front of him suddenly. Dolen wondered when he had even left them.
“Master Elf! Your Lady approaches with Wylden!” Frisle exclaimed, albeit quietly.
“Approaches? How?” Silna asked, unconsciously pulling her cowl and cloak around her form.
“She rides the white horse, Lady Elf! A human is with her on a black horse, and Wylden flies ahead to lead them here.”
“Not here. We must get further out of the forest.”
Silna and Tey’ven had spoken at once, each looking quickly to the other afterwards. Dolen lifted both arms out in front of him, stretching to wake himself more. His seat shifted as he felt Talon do similarly. Frisle just looked confused.
“Rowena means to meet us before we reach the castle. Apparently she does not want us to be seen,” Tey’ven said softly as Whisper began forward again. “This trip may not have been needed.”
Dolen exchanged a dark look with Silna before the two moved to follow.
“I wish to see my sister,” Silna spoke at a length, her eyes searching the white expanse of snow ahead of them. “I needed this trip.”
None replied to her, and Tey’ven and Whisper stopped a few meters from the patch of trees they’d been traveling in.
“Fates above,” Silna whispered in awe.
Following her gaze, Dolen squinted against the wind, making out the dark, looming shadow of what was most likely the human king’s home.
It was huge. Even from as far away as they were, the building seemed gargantuan. Dolen wondered how it would look on a clear spring day. A moment later, his ears picked up hoof-beats in the distance, traveling fast through the deep snow. Silna dismounted, and Dolen quickly followed as Frisle shot off to meet the incoming group. The snow had accumulated enough that it enveloped all of his foot and ankle as he stepped into it. Somehow, even the snow seemed different outside of Tarragon. He sincerely hoped that the weather would let up for their trip home.
His focus was taken from the weather when his eyes finally picked up the approaching riders.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Rowena felt the burning in her chest. The air was freezing, and her fast breathing had forced it in and out of her lungs. She did her best to ignore it, remembering that Lora, as well as the two horses they rode were likely feeling the same way. Other than her face and chest, the dress’ layers of fabric kept her warm enough, though her hands were another story. She glanced back to Lora, who nodded to her as she rode. It only occurred to her then that Lora’s accompanying her may have been a mistake. Sure, she trusted the girl, but would her elven family? Wylden had only told her that her sister came with riders from Tarragon. She did not know how either would react to Lora’s presence.
Spirit slowed her pace as said fairy appeared in front of her, alongside a similarly small being with blue wings and even longer orange-ish hair. She smiled to the one she knew to be Frisle. He was often one of the ones she held conversations with in Feather Grove.
“They are just up ahead,” Spirit said into her mind. “I have warned Whisper of your human companion, in case the fairy did not think to.”
“Oh, thank you!” Rowena breathed out, sitting back more comfortably now that they had slowed down.
Still, she squinted into the darkness, wishing for elven vision as she tried to make out the blurred figures in the snow ahead of her. She was lucky to have caught them well ahead of the castle. Lora had made a comment that they could easily be tracked if the wind had not covered them already.
“Should I wait?” Lora asked from behind her, having heard Rowena’s elven words directed at Spirit.
She hadn’t even thought about how she had said it, really. It struck her then that the language was more native to her than the human one. Hopefully Lora did not find it rude to speak in another language, as many of her elven peers did.
Turning, Rowena smiled in an odd sort of relief.
“Please do. I will signal if I need you,” she answered, glad that Lora understood.
Dancer came to a halt in the snow, and she waved to Lora before turning back around. After a few more meters, Rowena was able to make out the face of her sister and that was all it took. She was in the snow, just about stumbling over the heavy dress before Spirit could take her another step. Silna caught up to her, grinning from ear to ear as they met and embraced.
“Look what they have dressed you in!” Silna said breathlessly into her ear.
Rowena could do no more than laugh as she held her sister at a length, admiring the white expanse of her long hair.
“They play courtly games here, Silna. I’ve no choice but to play along until I am able to speak my part to the council.”
“They will listen to your words then? Have you met the human king?”
Rowena nodded in reply to both of Silna’s questions and was about to explain, but her eyes picked up a familiar face behind her sister’s.
“Dolen!” she kept her voice low, but the excitement was nearly impossible to hide. “I thought you were on duty!” she exclaimed as she approached him with heavy steps, trodding through the snow with her hands lifting the skirt above it.
His hair was as white as Silna’s, and it brought out the glowing green of his eyes even more, if that was possible.
“I have completed my rounds,” he replied, his voice tense.
As always, she forgot all mannerly conduct and caught him in a hug as tight as the one she had given Silna. For once, though, he returned it. Rowena did her best to hide her surprise as she felt his arms encircle hers, his voice drifting close to her ear as he spoke.
“Your mind has gone missing, Rowena.”
“I had to leave on a job. Just like you,” she managed to answer in a similar tone, pulling back to offer him a smile.
She took a step back and offered him a short bow, if just prove that she was happy and healthy. He had come on this rescue mission! Obviously her wellbeing was something that he worried over as much as Silna. That thought seemed to have a cooling effect on Rowena’s nerves as she stepped back from him, ignoring the fact that her shoes and feet were soaked. He simply let his arms slip back to sides, his eyes remaining on her as he nodded.
Rowena turned to smile widely up at Tey’ven (who had remained on Whisper). She waved in a very human fashion.
“Hello Tey’ven!” she greeted him as simply as she could.
He seemed as used to her smiles and forward speech as Dolen was. Silna had picked up a few of those habits herself. Oh, she had missed them. It was very clear that though her habits and actions were similar to the human friends she’d made, Rowena could not ever forget the people she had grown up with.
“How are father and mother?” she asked, spinning suddenly back to Silna.
Silna took a few steps toward her now that she had been addressed. Interrupting one’s conversation was a very rude thing to do in their culture, especially an ‘intimate’ conversation. Dolen’s gesture had surely sent theirs into that category.
“They are well. Mother is preparing for the Winter Ceremony,” Silna shook her head and smiled. “Father was the one to summon your fairy friend!”
“He went to Feather Grove?” Rowena practically gasped, unable to keep from covering her smile. Trying to imagine A’dair (who had always advised her to stop ‘frolicking with the fairyfolk’) conversing with her friends at Feather Grove was amusing in the least. “Oh I wish to have seen that!”
“Your wellbeing was our primary concern,” Tey’ven put in, and when they looked to him, his own gaze was focused on the distant form of Lora.
Frisle and Wylden were apparently keeping her company; their individual fey lights could be seen through the driving snowfall.
“I’m am well,” Rowena said finally, realizing that the three of them had done something that elves rarely did: entered human territory. “As I said, they play courtly games. This has taken much longer than I thought it would. But I have made friends,” she pushed hair out of her eyes, only then really remembering that she was still mostly dressed for the dinner. “The prince Vance and his guards, and their sister Lora,” she eyed her companion in the distance. “She escorted me here.”
“You’ll need to return soon,” Tey’ven said.
He was obviously on edge. Rowena swallowed hard as she eyed the footprints Whisper had left. Tey’ven and Whisper never left footprints in Tarragon. It was almost unnerving to speak with him, for he did look like a ghost with the white layers of his cloak flowing in the hard wind. Only a glimpse of Whisper’s dark legs reminded her that there was indeed a living elf and his stallion under all of those light layers. That did not do much to squelch the mystic look they had about them.
”Up then, human girl. We all grow cold, and they have a long journey back."
Spirit had been courteous and quiet up until then but it was obvious that this meeting had to end soon. Rowena nodded, turning to give Dolen and Silna at least one last look before she mounted Spirit. She pulled her cloak tight around her form and waved to them all.
“I will send Wylden when I leave for home. If you need me, just ask the fairies to come. They are kind folk, you know.”
Silna smiled, Dolen nodded, and Tey’ven merely stared.
“We understand,” Silna replied as she moved to mount her horse. “Just promise to be back before Winter Ceremony,” her elven sister seemed suddenly serious, even urging the horse a few steps closer to speak in a quiet tone. “I mean to join the dance this year.”
Rowena sat back a bit, but she nodded to her sister with a knowing smile. Usually, the two avoided the ceremony, or at least the dances and songs within it. They had always been for the ‘grown ups’, the more mature, and those who really felt at one with the forest and it’s magic.
“I will be there.” Rowena promised, lifting her hand in a short gesture that made her word even more final.
“Take care, and cover your tracks,” Rowena said to the three of them. Dolen made a slightly amused face after he had mounted Talon again.
“You forget who we ride with.”
Tey’ven, though without some of his magic, could apparently still do such a thing as make tracks disappear. He nodded to Dolen’s comment and eyed Lora again.
“I will do my best to cover yours as well,” he said.
Rowena took that as an order to leave, lifting her hand in a wave as Spirit turned and moved into a trot over the thickening snow.
“I hope the storm lets up,” Rowena whispered, pulling her cloak even tighter and turning to watch the rest return to the cover of the woods.
“It will before sunrise.”
A strange song broke the wind’s howl as they approached Lora. The girl was smiling and even giggling as the two fairies flew around her. Apparently they were gracing her with one of the many songs they knew.
“Oh Rowena, they are too much!” was all she could say, her face was red from both the wind, and her own laughter.
“Wylden, Frisle, we must get back!” Rowena pleaded, only now feeling the cold and wet begin to seep into the skin of her ankles and feet.
“Yes, Lady. It is cold out here. I do not understand how your humanfolk can live in such weather!”
“Of course, Lady. Oh no! They’ve gone on ahead of me!” Frisle exclaimed, and took off into the night.
The two had spoken at the same time, and both Lora and Rowena were left with puzzled faces. The fairy world was a fast-paced one.
“Did all go well?” Lora asked. When Rowena nodded, she watched Lora’s gaze drift behind her obviously trying to find their shapes in the darkness.
“What are they like?” she asked, her voice more hushed this time.
Rowena could only smile and shake her head, not quite knowing how to put it. “They are my family,” she said in return. Her eyes drifted back to her human companion and she smiled. “I do wish you could meet them, Lora. Maybe one day.”
The blonde haired female seemed to understand. An empathetic look crossed her features before she suddenly shivered, as if just then becoming aware of the cold.
“We must get back.”
With their horses moving on their own accord back towards the castle wall, the girls bundled themselves up as best they could. The trip back was uneventful for them. Of course, they had not realized that their return had been monitored.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“Those human garments do not flatter her,” Dolen commented softly as they made their way back.
Silna had been speaking in soft whispers as they rode, now free of any worry that had kept her quiet before. The conversation had been sparse, but ongoing.
“Wait until you see her ceremony dress,” Silna’s lips pulled into a smile. “I think it will be flattering enough.”
Rowena had no idea that Lae’ra had made two new dresses for both of them. So rare was it that either dressed up that it would be a sight to behold. Dolen made no further comment, however, his gaze lifting and wandering off to his other side.
She swallowed hard before she spoke, but Silna was unable to hold back her thoughts any longer. ”You did not have to be so curt with her,” her words were unmistakably directed at Tey’ven.
The revered rider was taken by surprise, and even turned to give her a quick look through one of the thin layers of his cloak. Even beyond Tarragon, he blended in perfectly with his surroundings.
“I was not curt,” was all he could think of to say in reply.
“You did not even greet her in return! You acted as if you had been forced to be here,” Silna said indignantly, ignoring the effect his ice blue eyes seemed to have. “Dolen and I could have made this trip alone, Tey’ven.”
“It was Ta’llevny’s wish that I accompany you.”
How Rowena ever dealt with Dolen’s short replies was beyond her. Tey’ven did not use his low, melodic voice enough for his own good. Or hers, she thought with a wry smile, despite her annoyance.
“You act as though we are all burdens! Esteemed rider or not, you can at least use your manners.”
Dolen was eyeing her now. Fates above, what was wrong with her? Had she been too long in the cold? Regardless, her words were true. Silna just had no idea where she had attained the gall to actually speak them.
“I will apologize to the human when she returns,” Tey’ven said after awhile.
Whisper lifted his head and his hooves danced above the snow for a few steps.
”He is long due for a nap, I think," came the deep voice into her mind.
Rowena had been right; this one was strong in his thoughts. Fitting, for one partnered with one of Ta’llevny’s. Something in his voice made Silna feel more comfortable, as if it was another confirmation that Tey’ven and Whisper were as mortal and red-blooded as she. Neither had seemed set-aback by her earlier words, which made her blood run even more fast. Maybe her father had been wrong, after all.
“Rowena,” Dolen put in as Silna was thinking. “We all know her heritage. You need not address her by it.”
Silna heard as much as saw Tey’ven’s long breath, and he kicked Whisper forward, both moving out to take the lead once again. It was as much a signal to be quiet as it was an escape from an obviously uncomfortable situation.
Frisle took up the conversation once they were beyond the human community. They rode for another few hours before the forest came into sight. The wind had let up by then, though the snow had accumulated into powdery drifts.
None of them spoke a word when they finally reached their home. The four simply parted ways, knowing that a message would be sent as soon as something changed.
The sun was up and shining over the fresh fallen snow just as Silna crawled into her bed. Though her mind ran with thoughts, she felt calm settle over her form. Her sister was safe and well-taken care of. It was comforting to know that Rowena had beings to watch over her, and would return before the ceremony took place. Within minutes, Silna drifted easily into sleep, her body aching, but her mind sated.