Daughter of Tarragon

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Grey Dawn

Rowena’s sleep had been clouded with pleasant thoughts. The taste of the celebration’s food still tickled her tongue, and the music that had been played by both elves and humans alike was drifting through her mind. Images of Silna dancing in fluid motions, Vance and Lora arm in arm with flushed faces while Dale and Cameron played a tune for them. Even Dolen had joined in, proving that an understanding in music went above language. The evening had ended on a happy note, with the humans relaxing among a world of beings they never thought alive until recently, and the ever-silent elf opening up a bit more within a group of strangers.

She had slowly fallen asleep wrapped in warmth and good thoughts, and for the first time was not worried about being caught as she watched the fairies float above her head. So it was with great surprise when she woke suddenly to harsh voices and hands pulling her to her feet.

“Your kin bring fire to our home!” Rowena heard Silna’s voice speaking the human common tongue, and realized that it was Dolen who stood behind her, helping her to stand.

She rubbed her eyes and took in a deep breath of cold air, disappointed when his warmth left her back. Vance and Silna exchanged words that she could not quite catch onto, her mind still fogged with sleep as she looked around with glazed eyes. The fairies were nowhere to be seen, which also set off an alarm in Rowena’s mind. They only hid themselves when they were truly frightened.

“I cannot believe his audacity,” Vance said, his voice also raspy.

Rowena looked to her side and saw Dale and Cameron loading up their mounts with packs, all of them dressing hastily in the grayish light.

“You two strap your swords on. We’ll ride straight out.” Vance ordered, hoisting himself up onto Treasure in one graceful motion.

Seeing them all mounted up made her eyes widen. Did they mean to leave her? Quickly, she shed the fur cloak she had been using as a blanket and wrapped her dress sleeves tight around her arms.

“Silna-” she started as she moved to pull her hair back.

“Wear this over the dress.” Silna was standing in front of her now, pushing a white fur shawl into her arms.

Rowena slipped it on over her head and looked around wildly, watching Silna mount Spirit.

“Ride with your watcher, human child. I fear I will not carry the weight as quickly as Talon.”

Looking around, Rowena saw Dolen already up on his dark stallion, offering a hand down. She took it without thought, adding a bit of a jump and straddling the horse’s back to sit behind Dolen. She gripped him around the waist and didn’t have time to think about blushing before the group took off at a hard pace, racing through the snow toward the border of Tarragon.

Dolen rode in the front with Silna and Tey’ven on either side of him.

“What happened?” she yelled over to Silna, who rode Spirit at Dolen’s side.

Her legs began to feel the cold through the thin fabric of the dress, and she was thankful that she still wore the high leather boots to keep her feet warm. Dolen’s hair lifted and whipped along the sides of her face, and she rested one side against his back to focus more clearly on her sister’s form.

“Tey’ven met with Ta’llevny this morning to go over the treaty, but he came back in a rush saying that humans were at the border. They were trying to put fire to the trees there since they cannot enter,” Silna explained in halting words, her eyes focused ahead of her in order to avoid low branches.

Her sister’s hair was flying behind her like a flag. Rowena thought she looked somewhat surreal, all dressed in white with her hair and Spirit’s mane flowing around her.

“Ferin? Vance’s brother?” Rowena asked.

Silna nodded and glanced back to the humans that rode at her back. Each had their own horse, though Lora was looking much more pressed than Vance and her brothers. Vance himself seemed to be trying to hide a mask of fury as he rode, his hair unbound and moving erratically around his face.

“His brother and six guards,” Silna finished.

Rowena swallowed and mentally counted their numbers. The groups were technically even, if they meant to fight. However, she doubted that she or Lora could provide much of a defense. She could only wait as the horses galloped easily through the forest and do her best not to think about how cold her legs were, or how good it felt to hold onto Dolen so tightly.

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

Ferin sneered and watched as his guards did their best to keep the torches lit. They had all been running back and forth from the bonfire to the edge of the forest, lighting underbrush, only to have it squelched by either snow or wind. He glared at the forest in earnest as his hair broke from its stately arrangement, having noticed that the strong wind had just happened to blow up just as they attempted to set the trees of Tarragon on fire.

“My Lord, the torches keep going out,” one of the lesser guards finally protested.

“Then make them bigger,” Ferin ordered in a dangerously low tone, moving forward to hack angrily at the branches and twigs.

He set two more guards to work on slicing at the forest while the rest worked through the wind, trying to keep the fire lit. After some time, it looked as though their small fires and chipping would finally get them into the forest. A stream of smoke was drifting through the breeze (which slowed down drastically after an hour or so), and Ferin thought with some measure of satisfaction that it might be noticed by someone within.

He was just about to let his group settle down for lunch when he heard Vance’s voice calling his name. Ferin turned and saw his brother thundering toward him on a horse, his two boy-guards not far behind. The fact that they seemed to emerge from nowhere, coupled with the speed at which they approached had Ferin awestruck, and he soon found himself looking at Dergon’s back as he stepped into Vance’s path. The second prince vaulted from the saddle and landed a bit too easily on his feet in the snow, sword brandished, and a dangerous look in his hazel eyes.

“What the bloody hellfire do you think you’re doing?” Vance hissed, pressing against Dergon so that he stepped back, causing Ferin to do the same.

Though Dergon dare not draw his sword on the second prince, he kept Vance’s sword at a safe distance. Ferin recovered and took another step back, smoothing his hand over his hair unconsciously as he looked his brother over. Vance looked haggard. His hair hung in frazzled strands about his face, the length of it let free to hang to his shoulders. The stately clothing that he had left in was in disarray, his cloak hanging off of one shoulder and draped at an odd angle behind the other. Of course, Ferin did his very best to look the exact opposite.

“Father sent me after you,” he lied. “When we found the forest impenetrable, we thought to do our best to rescue you,” Ferin finished, leaning slightly to the side to catch sight of the dark haired Rowena, her lady escort, and a tall, white haired companion of hers.

“Bloody liar!” Vance barked, causing Ferin to flinch visibly.

His brother was very rarely so quick to yell, and his temper had even roused Ferin’s guards, who moved to surround him in a semicircle. “Father would not have sent you. You came on your own and set fire to another people’s land,” Vance practically seethed, his words getting louder as he spoke. “Do you understand what a mistake you’ve made?” he stepped forward hastily, and Dergon drew his sword.

Just as quickly as the big guard did, Dale and Cameron had both brandished weapons and were by Vance’s side, looking as daring as they could. Though, Ferin did have to admit that they had filled out over the months. He found himself sneering and tilting his head, lifting his hand in a dismissive gesture.

“If you were so busy, how is it that you knew we were here?” Ferin asked.

Vance narrowed his eyes and paced around Dergon who did his best to keep his body between Vance and Ferin.

“They have guards, Ferin. Just like you and I. Just like father has set around the kingdom. The guards passed on the message to their leader that their very borders were being attacked, just as we were about to present the treaty,” now Vance’s voice had settled, and though he still held his sword at the ready, his eyes focused and met his in a determined fashion. “I wonder how father will react to such news? Especially if things go awry with his treaty!”

That statement struck Ferin to heart. His smirk dropped into a short frown and he eyed his brother with a touch of wariness. If the king found out about Ferin’s trip, he would be furious. And here he was staring Vance, the very being who would love to see him in his father’s disfavor, in the face. Ferin’s eyes widened and he nodded.

“Well, father won’t know if we take care of things before you return, will he?” he said in a higher voice, turning on his heel and walking back toward the fire. “Take care of things, will you Dergon?” he asked in a sickly sweet voice.

“Lord?”

The guard’s hesitation made him turn again. He spun on his heel, glaring outright and pointing a finger at his brother and his young guards.

“Take care of them, all of you!” he yelled.

Two of the guards rushed forward at their lord’s order, only to be met with the quick defenses of Dale and Cameron. Dergon still stared between him and the clashing guards, his small eyes wide.

“Lord Ferin-”

“Ferin, you are making a big mistake,” Vance said, stepping back away and turning as they all heard Rowena’s lady escort scream and begin to run in their direction.

The other two females tried to hold her back, but instead ran their way as well. Ferin’s nostrils flared.

“You think you can convince father that there are people in this blasted wood?” he yelled, watching as his guards backed off at a hand motion from Dergon.

The fact that Vance’s guards had fought with such ease, and that his own guards had obeyed Dergon over him made the blood rush to his head.

“I’m going straight back there to report to him your lies, Vance. By the time you return, you’ll be the laugh of the kingdom’s square.”

The females had reached them. Rowena stood behind Vance with drawn eyebrows, watching him as one watches an angry cat. The blonde escort fawned over the two guards, and it was only then that Ferin caught sight of the white haired companion. Now that she was closer, he noticed her delicately carved features and blue eyes that practically glowed.

“Tell him please, Silna,” Vance said in a soft voice, even going so far as to give a short bow before stepping behind her.

The white haired girl stepped forward and stared at Ferin without the least bit of trepidation, and spoke with slow, heavily accented words.

“I am Silna of Tarragon Forest. Daughter to elders A’dair and Lae’ra, Trail Walkers of the Mind-borne clan,” she paused after her introduction and glanced back to Rowena, who nodded solemnly, as if letting her know she had said the right thing. “We have yet to forge an alliance with your people, and already you bring flame to our border. Why?”

The question was so blunt that Ferin took a step backward in the snow. He shook his head, looking between Vance, Rowena, and this Silna who all stared back with hard gazes. Finally, he slipped into his usual court manners and bowed from the waist, throwing Silna a courteous smile and folding his hands at his waist.

“My Lady, I ask forgiveness for my intrusion. I merely feared for the life of my brother, who had not yet been seen or heard from. With your leave, we will return home to our land and await word with more patience,” he finished, though the last sentence came with obvious strain.

They stared at him for another moment before nodding once.

“I would ask that you do so,” Silna answered simply.

Covering his own reaction, Ferin haughtily nodded and lifted a hand in a wide gesture to his men. It took them a moment, but they all moved, beginning to pack up their make-shift camp and throw snow over the dying fire. Rowena, Vance, and their companions stood still, but Silna turned with a flourish of long white hair and walked back toward the forest.

“How did you get around this... fence?” Ferin asked begrudgingly, watching the exotic looking female return into the wooded area without a problem.

“The fence opens for those who are invited into Tarragon,” Rowena answered.

“It takes nearly a day’s travel to arrive here, Ferin. I trust you will give me more time to settle a treaty with the people of Tarragon before you come to set their home aflame again,” Vance said in a controlled voice.

He stood straighter now, all of the anger drained from his gaze, leaving only distaste.Once again, it took all of Ferin’s willpower not to act in a rash manner. He simply smirked ironically and nodded once, turning on his heel and making his way back toward his men. By the time he had mounted his stallion and turned him about, Vance and his companions had disappeared back into the forest.

Steam streamed from Ferin’s nose and his eyes glinted with fierce anger.

“Up! All of you. I want us home before the sun rises!”

“Ferin!” Zane called in a surprised tone. “It took us-”

Zane halted in his speech as Ferin turned his icy gaze on him.

“I do not want to hear your voice once on the way home. Do you understand?” he turned his view to the rest of the guards, who had mounted their horses as he ordered. “All of you! You serve no one but me!” he yelled. “Not even those who you may respect more,” his voice cut like acid through steel as he set his eyes on Dergon.

The group moved out quickly, making their way home under the continually gray sky. Ferin found himself seething at the fact that there was not a breath of wind at their backs. There was definitely something suspicious about that forest, and he would find out what it was. If it took him to the end of his own life, he would find out what was hiding in those begotten trees.

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

Rowena sighed heavily, watching Vance as he bent at the waist, a hand on either knee as he tried to regain his composure. He was cursing under his breath, calling his brother every name he knew, and some Rowena did not recognize. Lora, Dale and Cameron were all looking just as flustered, their eyes darting nervously back toward the area where Ferin and his group had just been. In contrast, the elves were as hard-faced as ever. Tey’ven and his fellow guard Sa’nengal sat atop their mounts quietly, while Dolen watched on without expression. Only Silna’s stress showed through her eyes.

“Do they concede?” Dolen asked at a length, looking between Rowena and Silna.

“For the moment. Vance thinks this will be a setback in settlement between our people, though,” Rowena answered.

“There should be no setback. I have never met such a being in my life. If given a choice between the human prince and his brother, I would choose the former at a glance. The elder one reeks of deceit,” Silna said.

She too had had to rein in her temper before and after the meeting with Ferin. When the group had reached the edge of the forest, Tey’ven and another of Ta’llevny’s riders had instructed Rowena, Silna, and the humans to go out and meet Ferin’s group. Dolen had protested, but Tey’ven explained that only one example of their people would be needed. Silna was able to cover her pointed ears with her hair, while most of Dolen’s was still pulled back in braids from the evening before.

Vance looked up at Silna’s words and lifted his brows. It seemed to Rowena as though he meant to ask what she had said, but Lora’s voice caught their attention.

“-to take on the Prince’s guards like that! Are you both insane? They have been trained for years!”

“Lora, please,” Cameron protested, shutting his brother up with a look. “We are Prince Vance’s guards. You know well enough that we too have trained. I think we did well.”

“We had them, Lor!” Dale cut in. “If that lard-tub hadn’t stopped them, we could have cut them down!”

“Cut them down!” she replied, aghast. “You cannot begin to understand- the two of you have not seen death. I do not want them to see death!” she looked desperately at Vance now, who returned her look with a deep sigh.

“I have to agree with your brothers, Lady,” he ran a hand over Treasure’s flank as he spoke, his face falling into a more weary state. “We are not looking at a peaceful future, especially not if my brother comes to rule. All of us are doomed to see death at one time or another, and some of us are doomed to cause it,” he shook his head and took in a short breath. “For now, we need to concentrate on our jobs, and theirs is to guard me.”

Lora nodded and looked down, and Rowena felt an urge to comfort her. The look on her face was in such contrast to the flushed happiness that had painted it the night before.

“They fought well. Well enough to give my brother a surprise. I’m proud of them,” Vance added, watching to see if his words had any uplifting effect on her.

“Ta’llevny will see Rowena, Silna, and the human prince.”

Rowena turned to look up at the cloaked rider next to Tey’ven. Both were still atop their mounts, looking as ethereal as ever.

“Me?” Silna asked, her face showing her confusion.

“As our master wishes. Do not question the leader of this forest,” Sa’nengal answered, his tone almost rude.

“She was not questioning Ta’llevny, she was questioning you,” Tey’ven cut in, much to both Rowena and Silna’s surprise.

Dolen stood as impassively as ever, and the humans watched the conversation with interested but clueless expressions. Sa’nengal simply turned his horse, moving away from them all without another word. Rowena looked at Silna with a new sense of curiosity and whispered in the human tongue.

“What happened last night?”

Now Lora, Vance, Dale and Cameron’s eyes were drawn between the two sisters as they were able to understand the words. Silna’s expression shifted from confused to nervous, and from nervous to sly within a few mere moments. She recovered, and looked between Rowena and Dolen and speaking the human tongue as well.

“I could ask the same of you.”

Rowena flushed and shook her head, looking around them in a quick calculation.

“We need to see Ta’llevny. Is there time to eat anything before we go?” she asked in the elven tongue, directing the question to Tey’ven.

“Perhaps time to change as well,” Dolen added in a rare bemused tone, looking between Silna and Rowena. Both girls still wore the thin layered dresses they had worn to the ceremony the night before. Rowena’s hair was a mess of dark braids and crushed flowers, and Silna’s dress had been hastily wrapped and tied in order to make fast movement and riding horseback easier.

“The leader sets no time limit. I think we should have time to prepare and make it there by dusk. Rowena-”

She found herself looking at Tey’ven as he spoke her name, for it was the first time he had addressed her in such a way.

“Please inform your humans that only the prince will accompany us to visit with Ta’llevny. The others are to stay in Feather Grove.”

Rowena nodded and watched as Tey’ven rode off ahead, not bothering to wait for the others to mount up again. This time, the group took their time. Vance helped Lora get into her saddle, fixing a few loose straps before addressing his own. Rowena once again pulled herself up behind Dolen, though this time her grip was much lighter. They made a leisurely trip back to Feather Grove, explaining some of Tarragon’s history to the humans, and eventually moving onto a short lesson in languages for both Dolen and the humans.

By the time they reached Feather Grove, their laughter brought the faeries back out of hiding.

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