Daughter of Tarragon

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Foreign Parties

They answered the door looking absolutely frazzled. Even the normally stately looking Cameron had puffy, glazed eyes and wild hair. Vance could not blame them, though. After all, it was nearly dawn when he had come knocking on their door. Both stared at him with wide eyes, waiting impatiently for the answer they wanted to hear. He carefully schooled his face to show no hint of what the answer had been, instead simply walking down the corridors of the hall, eyeing the area carefully.

“Does this place suit you?” he asked, watching as both boys’ faces dropped.

“It’s much warmer than our old rooms, Lord Vance,” Cameron’s polite smile did not hide the anxiety in his eyes.

“The other guards don’t like us much, though. I’m glad we have our own rooms,” Dale made a strange face before smiling up at him. “But Cameron’s right, much warmer. We’re very grateful!”

Vance nodded and turned to face them. “Why don’t you show me your quarters? I’d like to make sure things were set up the way I asked,” his face never changed from the business-like mask.

Both boys nodded and stood, leading him through one of the doors. He figured it was decent enough. Each of them had their own space, albeit small. As soon as the door closed, he let out a blustering sigh and grinned at them.

“We’re the ambassadors.”

Dale let out a yell and punched the air above him, while Cameron sat down and smiled with relief.

“How did it work out?”

Vance sat down on Dale’s bed and leaned back against the wall, running a hand over his brown hair.

“Father read the section of the code that decreed it up to the visiting ambassador to choose her own returning envoy. Rowena asked that I accompany her, and father simply replied that the choice was a good one. The mere fact that I am a prince will show them that we are serious, and so on and so forth,” Vance waved his hand in a dismissing gesture. “Ferin looked as though he were on fire, and left about as fast as he could.”

Cameron looked slightly disturbed by that, and Dale grinned as he likely pictured Ferin’s proverbial fire-lit retreat.

“We’ll leave within the hour. Rowena is packing already. I’m taking Lora on the pretense that she take care of the lady’s needs along the way, and you two know your jobs,” Vance reported with a smirk towards the end.

“You don’t look pleased,” Cameron commented as he stood, beginning to gather his traveling things and throwing a shirt back at Dale as it landed on his shoulder.

Vance nodded. “It seemed too easy, and I can almost guarantee that Ferin will find a way to track our every move. If we slip up, he’ll report it.”

“Especially if he finds out that we’re not even going into Tarragon Forest,” Dale whispered, and then threw the same shirt back at his brother.

The act earned him a glare, but that seemed to be the end of the silent war between the two. They both got down to packing, and when they began dressing in their newly issued guard attire, Vance turned on his heel.

“We’ll be vigilant. Saddle Spirit, your two, choose one for your sister, and Treasure.” his brows drew a bit lower over his eyes. “I didn’t even want to try for permission to use Dancer.”

“Dancer and Spirit are friends,” Dale frowned. “I’ll make sure she gets enough time to say goodbye before we leave.”

Vance’s face broke for a soft smile before he shook his head. The reminder of Spirit’s abilities seemed to strengthen his resolve.

“Less than an hour, I still need to pack,” he turned and left the room, walking softly down the corridor.

As he went, Vance was sure to keep a sharp eye and ear out for any possible watchers. The fact that things were going so easily for him had him on edge, and for good reason. He passed one of his brother’s friends on the way out of the building, ignoring the sneering smile and bow the man offered him.

- - - - - - - - - --- - - -

Silna felt as though she was being watched. In this case it wasn’t that it was more than one set of eyes, but the prickly feeling that being stared at gave her. She felt like a child again as she turned from one of the tables and made her way back to a line of packages, glancing to see if those clear brown eyes were still fixed on her.

“Of course,” she whispered to herself as she bent to pick up another setting.

“Of course what?” Lae’ra cut into her thoughts as she piled another plate of food onto her daughter’s armful.

Silna eyed her before pursing her lips in a silent gesture over her shoulder. Her mother’s eyes lifted and focused behind her for a split second before she looked down in a busy fashion.

“He’s had his eye on you since we met them on the border.”

Silna blushed and frowned to cover it.

“Do all males stare like that?” her voice was still a whisper, but it came out a bit harsher as she realized her mother’s amusement.

“Some do. Others go out of their way to be around the one they have interest in. Sometimes they even go so far as to volunteer aid to the host clan,” Lae’ra said, looking up to meet her daughter’s blue gaze. There was a ghost of a smile on her lips before she straightened and pointed. “Third table, keep them covered. I think the top two need to go on rocks.”

Silna set her jaw and turned, making her way to the next destination. She had to weave around several others who were helping with the set up. They had been working since the sun rose and likely would be until it set, since the ceremony began at that point. Elegantly decorated tables were positioned across the clearing, and fireflies were being coaxed into large decorated vases that would light up the entire place. A separate staged area was cleared out and left empty for performances, and another clearing nearby was kept clean for the many dances that would take place.

Daring another look, Silna caught him focusing on his task this time, throwing a rope up to another who was in a branch. His hair was not all white as many of the others were. Like Tey’ven, his was only streaked white, the tawny brown of his natural color mixing in. He was Tree-borne, and although his eyes had apparently been on her since they had met on the border, he had not said a word to her yet. Regardless, Silna carefully set the plates down in the correct spots and looked toward him again. He was attractive. She was well used to the startling green or blue eyes that usually surrounded her, but something about the soft hazel -

She looked down before turning a bit too quickly. This time he had looked up to find her again and managed to catch her gaze. Of all the things to happen! She carefully sidestepped and maneuvered her way around the crowd again and approached her mother, blue eyes sparking with frustration.

“I’m going to pay father a visit.”

Lae’ra looked as though she would protest, but hesitated, and stood up straight.

“Just be back before sundown. I’ll need help with the seats,” she acquiesced, her eyes softening. “Do not let such things bother you, Silna. There have been plenty who have watched you before,” her mother looked down, hooking her long hair behind her ears as she worked. “You just haven’t taken care to notice before now.”

She nodded once and began a swift walk down one of the paths that lead out of the area. Now that the foreign visitors had settled in, there were wide paths cleared in the snow to accommodate heavy traffic. It was just as well, since Silna was practically running from the clearing. Her mind was going about as fast as her legs were.

So, a stranger found her attractive. Why should it unnerve her so much? Why was she flitting through the woods like a spooked deer? She thought on the possibility that she may very well be attracted right back, but it did not quite add up. Her feelings for Tey’ven had only grown over the weeks, despite his lack of social skills.

‘But he’s a ghost,’ she said to herself forcefully, a touch of irony ringing in her mind.

As she moved further from the clearing, Silna slowed down her pace. Her home was still a ways off, and she meant to conserve her time to think. She had gone from being in awe of Tey’ven to being frustrated with him. Just as she was frustrated with this new male. Then again, watching from a distance and staring was exactly how she had reacted to her interest at first. In that case, she could not blame him. Though, why he would want her-

"You’re projecting."

The words halted her in her tracks, and she let her arms drop for a moment in surprise. Had it not been for the very male tone in her mind, she might have guessed it to be Spirit.

“Oh, Whisper. I’m sorry,” a long breath came out as steam from between her lips as she grabbed at her arms again, wishing she had worn a fur shawl. The further from the clearing she went, the colder it became.

"Rein your thoughts, or they may be overheard by an unwilling party," the horse replied, finally stepping into view.

He had none of the trappings he usually wore, making him easy to spot in the snow. Silna wondered with a sudden blush if Tey’ven was nearby. Taking up a slow walk beside the stallion, Silna continued on, speaking in a whisper.

“I’m having trouble keeping them in one direction, much less soft,” she admitted dejectedly.

Whisper’s amusement danced around her mind as the horse nodded his head, the long dark mane drifting through the cold air gracefully.

"I have a message for you, from a good friend."

Silna stumbled ever so slightly in her tracks as she focused on Whisper.

“Have you been speaking with-”

“For a short time," he interrupted before she could even say Spirit’s name. “It is a rare thing that we could connect over such a distance.

The thought that the two horses had been communicating had her wondering just how much she had missed. Still, a short glance back at the stallion had her giggling as easily as Rowena might.

“Well, at least one of us is getting somewhere.”

"More than one, on a more literal note."

That calmed Silna’s giggling enough for her to focus. She met the horse’s brown-eyed gaze and waited for him to continue.

"Your sister will arrive here by sundown."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It was still fairly early in the morning when Rowena, Dale, Cameron and Lora met in the entrance hall of the palace, all dressed for a long trip. Rowena had once again donned the outfit she had worn in Tarragon, and Lora had chosen a hardy but tasteful dress and cloak to wear out. After all, they were supposed to be presenting themselves to Tarragon’s king that evening.

The King of White Phoenix escorted them down the front stairway, speaking careful words of respect and well-wishing as he handed Rowena the protected roll of paper that was the treaty. By the time the group had mounted, a small crowd had formed in the palace square, leading all the way to the front gate. As they went, folks stood outside of taverns, lifting steaming cups of cider in a sort of salute. Dale and Cameron did an excellent job of keeping stone faces, even as their father waved and winked. Vance caught the expression and offered the man a secretive smile and salute.

Only when they were well out of sight range of the kingdom did the group relax. Dale removed his helmet, Rowena pulled her cowl down and let the sun warm her dark hair, and Lora breathed a loud sigh of relief.

“I don’t think I could ever be that cordial all of the time!” she admitted, breaking the silence.

“It isn’t that bad, Lor. You just freeze up, don’t say a thing, and act like a statue,” Dale said, much to the amusement of the rest of them.

“It’s not so bad with practice,” Vance added with a knowing smile. “Trust me, I’m not exactly one to look to for lessons in the art of propriety.”

They rode on at a walk, silent for the most part. It took another hour before they passed the farm villages, and moved on to the more sparse country homes, the landscape simply sparkled. Of course, the end of the roads meant traveling through dangerous snow drifts along the way. Rowena offered to ride up front with Vance so that Spirit could warn them if she noticed anything different in the landscape ahead of them.

“Treasure is lovely, Vance,” Rowena said after awhile, her eyes drifting over the mare he rode.

She was a heavier breed, but was built well. The horse had a cream-colored coat with a white mane and tail, and dark eyes that betrayed her cross-bred bloodline.

“She is. I’ve had her for a few years now,” he replied, running a hand over the mare’s neck. “The only reason I prefer Dancer is his gallop. This one makes for leisurely rides, but she can’t match his speed.”

“There’s more to her than lack of speed, Lord Vance," Cameron’s amused voice came from behind them.

The conversation moved on to horses, and kept them entertained for the next few hours of the ride. The sun moved in the sky until it was directly above them, and they stopped for a break. They all dismounted carefully, already feeling the stiffness from riding for so long. Vance threw caution to the wind and helped Lora from her seat, wondering if the cold alone caused her to flush red.

“It shouldn’t be very much longer,” Rowena commented as she shaded her eyes. They had made an easily seen trail along the way, and she silently wished that she had Tey’ven’s ability to cover tracks. “I sent Wylden along last night to let the rest know when I would be arriving, and Spirit has sent a message of her own. I’m hoping someone will be there to meet us on the border.”

“We should be more careful now,” Lora said softly, eyeing the horizon they had come from.

She, too, was wary of such a blatant trail, and her eyes roamed the patches of woods that edged them on either side. Woods that could easily hide followers. There was one clear path from White Phoenix to Tarragon, since the large clearing was flanked by both hills and trees. The entrance to Tarragon was actually a large U-shaped divet into the forest, surrounded by thick woods and even steeper landscape. Even if Ferin and his followers lost their tracks somehow, their path would not be hard to guess.

“We can set up camp in a section of trees that’s right near Tarragon, but not in Tarragon, right?” Dale asked around an apple he was chewing. He offered the rest of it to his mount and wiped his hands.

Vance nodded. “That’s what I had planned, but things could very easily change. We do not know how Rowena’s people will react to our coming, much less that roll of useless words,” the last words held contempt, as he pointed to the treaty that sat snugly in one of Rowena’s saddle bags.

“Do you know what it says?” Rowena asked.

Vance shook his head. “It is a letter from king to king, so we’ll not know until yours reads it for himself. It could ask him to give up his land for a few bags of gold, or hand over his crops for taxes for all I know,” he worked to set his face into a hard mask. “We should move on, especially if we wish to reach your home in time for the ceremony.”

Rowena nodded quickly, and the five of them mounted, each of them quietly taking note of their surroundings before moving on.

“We could pick up the pace,” Lora offered, and when no one said otherwise, they did so.

Rowena and Spirit took the lead, keeping an eye out for ditches hidden beneath the snow, and anything else that might be out of the ordinary.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“I am the lay-dees gard-een.”

“Guardian,” she corrected, and then switched back to Elven. “That is fine.”

“It sounds better when you say it.”

Silna grinned and shrugged, pulling her shawl more tightly around herself as she walked.

“She’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear you speaking the language, even if it is only a few words.”

Dolen eyed the sky for a moment before continuing to match her pace. As usual, he did not work to continue the conversation.

“Are you sure Ta’llevny ordered us to this task?” Silna asked after another long silence.

They had both been walking for some time, having received word that they were to meet Rowena when she entered Tarragon. It was still only just striking the afternoon hours, and the forest was dappled with sunlight.

Dolen nodded, smirking as he fingered the hilt of a short blade that was sheathed at his side.

“He did. We will have company at the border.”

Silna eyed him warily. The amusement he was showing was uncharacteristic of him in general, which made her nervous.

“What company?”

“The fairy and your ghost,” his voice was always soft, but it had a twinge of wry humor to it.

“He’s not my ghost, Dolen,” she replied with an edge of annoyance. “As long as the humans she is bringing aren’t dangerous, I don’t think he will be needed.”

“I doubt she would befriend anyone dangerous,” he said under his breath, his bright eyes scanning the area.

He had done that off and on the entire time they had been walking, as well as habitually running his hands and fingers over the myriad of small weapons that were on his person. Silna thought with a short smile that Rowena had befriended at least one dangerous being.

The two of them walked silently for awhile, every so often noticing a white owl shadowing trail in the snow. As the trees began to let in more and more sunlight, Silna became anxious. Like Rowena, she talked when anxious, which was a habit of theirs that Dolen had never quite grown used to.

“There were seven of them, but only one of them had the gall to outright stare at me,” she had been telling him the story of their escorting assignment, speaking in detail about the Tree-borne in particular.

Dolen had a few thoughts on the matter, but he apparently thought it better to keep them to himself. Silna stopped talking, took a breath to continue, and halted at Dolen’s lifted hand. When he stopped, she did as well. His eyes focused on something ahead of them that caused the landscape to shift in one section.

“Tey’ven,” Silna let out his name on a breath just before her eyebrows lowered dangerously

Dolen did his best to keep his walk at a calm pace as he followed Silna to meet the rider.

“Wylden is on the outskirts of the Forest. He will alert us to her arrival,” Tey’ven announced as the two approached.

As always, he sat atop Whisper, who was as cloaked in layers of white as his rider. They blended in well with the snowy landscape.

“Wylden,” Silna repeated, her eyes focusing on the forest’s border a few meters away, before returning to Tey’ven. “You’re friends with him too, then?” she asked, obviously ready to challenge him on anything.

Dolen took that time to move around them to find a better vantage point.

Part of her was relieved, while another part was angry at being abandoned. Then again, the Watcher tended to avoid arguments even more than casual conversation.

“He is a friend of Ta’llevny,” Tey’ven replied, looking up and out.

She could not see the look on his face from under the white cowl, but she was sure he was doing his best to avoid her. As if they had not spent a day riding into human lands together. As if she were nothing but a simple part of those he guarded.

“Him you will name but-” she stopped her argument when he lifted a hand.

Anger flared in Silna’s eyes at being interrupted. Still, her ears picked up the sounds not long after Tey’ven’s did, and she focused on the incoming party. She started forward the moment she saw Rowena and Spirit come into her view. They still had a few more minutes’ worth of a ride, but she meant to meet them out there.

“We need to wait until she reaches the border,” Tey’ven said softly.

Silna ignored him, still moving forward. Whisper took a few steps forward as Tey’ven fingered the hilt of his sword, his frustration boiling over.

“Silna!”

This time she stopped. It was a combination of the authority in his voice, and the fact that he had actually used her name. She straightened her stance and glanced back to him before straightening her back and watching. Dolen came to stand beside her.

The group approached on horseback. They recognized three of the humans, but not the fourth female. Regardless, they remained still and quiet as they all dismounted and Rowena alone walked toward the forest.

Silna moved then, as her sister crossed the border and stopped with a hand to her chest. Rowena took a deep breath and smiled as she opened her eyes, sighting both Dolen and Silna

“It feels so good to be in the forest again,” Rowena said, her voice relieved. “It’s like I’ve been asleep this entire time.”

“We’ve missed you,” Silna spoke for all of them as Tey’ven and Whisper stepped forward.

She did not hesitate to hug her sister, and Rowena returned the gesture wholeheartedly. Wylden flew circles around them before going back out to fly the same circles around the humans. It seemed as though the fairy was doing his best to eavesdrop on both sets of conversations.

“The humans are ambassadors?” Tey’ven asked.

Rowena nodded. “I do not know what the treaty says. Vance is sure that it is something we should not agree to.”

“Ta’llevny will view it after the ceremony this evening,” Tey’ven confirmed, taking the rolled paper from her hands and tucking it beneath one or three of his thin white layers.

Only then did he pull the cowl of his cloak down and stare out at the visitors, clear blue eyes narrowing. It seemed almost rude, but Silna guessed that as a guardian of Tarragon, it was his job to be wary.

“We are going to meet them?” Silna asked.

Rowena nodded hopefully, looking to Tey’ven and Dolen as if asking them.

“Where will they stay?” Dolen asked, his eyebrows drawing down in confusion.

The snow was deeper outside of the forest, and camping in such a place would be uncomfortable at best.

“That is something I need to know as well,” Rowena said with a worried look on her face.

She proceeded to do the best she could in explaining the fact that they may have been tracked. The Tarragon natives seemed confused at the stories of Ferin and Vance’s rivalry, but they understood the danger Ferin could cause.

“Simple!” Wylden’s voice broke through as the four of them thought in silence. When he gained their attention, he stood on the tree branch he had chosen for a stage and announced his plan proudly. “The humans will stay at Feather Grove.”

Rowena’s eyes widened, Silna and Dolen merely gaped, and Tey’ven looked as if he already knew the plan. It was more than likely that he did.

“But humans aren’t-” Rowena thought aloud, looking back to her friends from White Phoenix.

“Feather Grove is far away from elf land. Humans will stay warm, protected in Tarragon. Elves will not know.”

“What about us?” Rowena asked tilting her head as the scantily clad fairy flew down and landed easily on her arm.

“Only Ta’llevny knows about this... arrangement,” Tey’ven admitted, still eyeing the humans warily. Finally, he set his clear blue gaze on them. “So long as the secret can be kept, nothing will change.”

Rowena nodded and bit her lower lip. “Alright. I don’t want to leave them standing in the snow.”

“We will accompany you,” Silna offered, eyeing Dolen.

The male elf gave her a curt nod as the three made their way out of the forest.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As the three companions made their way to the border, Tey’ven stayed behind to watch, pulling his cowl back up for more protection. Humans had a way of unnerving him, and being behind his cloak eased some of his tension. Despite trusting Ta’llevny entirely, he held a deep-rooted fear of the young race. Rowena was an exception, having been raised from childhood in their own lands. These... these were the purest of their kind. A people known as much for their destruction as their short lives and fast growth.

Deep down, Tey’ven sincerely hoped that Rowena’s choice in friends was as good in the human world as it was in Tarragon.

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