Daughter of Tarragon

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Reminiscing and Secrets

The sun never showed itself that day, and as the afternoon moved into the evening, a light snow began to fall. It was nowhere near the driving blast that had come through a few days earlier, but it was a clear reminder that Tarragon was not exempt from weather extremes. Still, it once again made the forest look even more magical, as the trees were highlighted with snow. This time there was no harsh breeze to shake the branches, and the snow accumulated slowly on every surface available.

As the day grew colder, Rowena and Silna were both exceptionally glad for a chance to return to their home and change into more comfortable clothing. Both chose white pants and long sleeved shirts with off-white patterns, and fur lined leather boots to keep their feet warm on the journey to visit with Ta’llevny. White was always the color of winter clothing, just as greens and browns were the colors for summer. For a clan that lived so close to the edge of Tarragon, it was imperative that they blend in with their surroundings as often as possible. Once dressed, the two sisters sat comfortably in their room, watching the snowflakes drift down through the trees in the gray light.

“I did not realize it until I noticed how he fought me,” Silna said softly, her cheeks still red from Rowena’s initial question.

The human girl had not waited long to question Silna about the previous night’s events. Rowena grinned before closing her mouth around another bite of food. The two had been given leave to change and have something to eat before they were to meet with the others in Feather Grove. Since they were alone, Rowena had taken the opportunity to ask again about Tey’ven’s actions the night before.

“At first I thought he was trying to teach us a lesson,” Silna went on after a sip of water. “After all, he had tracked us from the ceremony, and blatantly scolded us for going out into the darkness unarmed.”

Rowena held back the statement that Dolen had most likely been armed, and merely nodded, still chewing slowly as she listened with wide eyes.

“It was some time before I realized that you two had gone off and left us alone. Then I began to wonder why he still fought me, and who he was trying to prove his point to,” she said, her eyes flicking from the snow to Rowena as a short smile graced her lips. “Then I saw how he moved. Like a cat toying with a mouse. I even caught him smiling, and that only served to anger me more.”

Rowena stifled a giggle and shook her head, knowing how easily Silna’s temper could be triggered.

“We went over and over with those swords, Rowena. I was so tired that I began doing things incorrectly, and Tey’ven would-” color lit her cheeks again, but she plodded on. “-he would correct me. He talked in such a soft tone and looked at me-” she cut off again, as if unable to put words to it. “I have never seen that look in a being’s eyes. It made me turn colors more than I have in telling you the tale,” her lips pursed in an annoyed fashion.

Rowena sat up and smiled, sighing heavily.

“Maybe I should have stayed. I would love to have seen such a thing.”

Silna eyed her and then looked back out of the large opening in their home, watching the flurries fall silently to the ground.

“He has not spoken of it since last night. He left to take the message to Ta’llevny, and before I could reach home he was back, rushing me to call Spirit and follow him to Feather Grove.”

“He has duties, Silna,” Rowena reminded her, feeling drawn back to their original view of Tey’ven, whom they had both thought was untouchable and distant. “Once we are done with this treaty with the human kingdom, he will have time to continue courting you,” she said. After a moment, her brows drew together and she tilted her head curiously. “What else do the Blade-born do in courting?”

“I am not fully aware. I was only told the very basics by mother some years ago. She explained that whichever party chooses to begin courting may use his or her clan’s rituals for it. I was not brought up in the Blade-borne lands, so I do not know what to expect,” Silna answered. “I do know that such things can last for some time, and not all courtings end well.”

Rowena merely smiled wistfully and sighed again. “Yours will. The one male you could not take your eyes away from has chosen you, Silna.”

Silna took a long swig of her drink and stood up to stretch.

“We should start toward Feather Grove,” she said softly.

It was a dismissal of the subject, and Rowena hoped her spirits had not been stifled by the conversation. She still had questions she had been meaning to ask about elven courtship, but decided to hold off until Silna had had some time to think.

Each of them put on a fur shawl over their heads before moving out into the cold evening air. Rowena was glad that she had added a cowl to hers, for it did well in keeping her ears warm. Silna simply added a white cloth wrap around her head and began to climb down from their tree home. Spirit was waiting patiently at the bottom with the gray stallion whom Rowena recognized as Windwalker. He was once called Whirlwind for his aggressive attitude when he was a colt, but Rowena herself had won him over. Though he was often ridden by other inhabitants of Tarragon, the two had a soft spot for each other.

“Warm?” his soft voice entered her mind.

“Yes, thank you,” she replied, smiling and running a hand over his flank.

She threw a blanket over him and mounted easily, sending pleased thoughts his way. Windwalker’s problem had been in communicating. Where many of the horses could not mind-speak and others could, he was seemingly stuck in the middle. He was nearly unable to form full sentences, and Rowena had spent weeks figuring out that she needed to keep her words short and her emotions clear when dealing with him. Eventually, she was able to help him learn more, and equally able to let the other elves know what his problem had been. All of his riders were well aware and either chose not to speak to him or were very careful about it.

Silna and Rowena had been riding for some time before the former leaned over in her saddle and gave her human sister a wicked grin.

“Ah, I’d nearly forgotten, in all my thoughts of my own evening. How was it that I came to find you sleeping against your green-eyed traveler this morning?”

Rowena’s eyes widened to a comical point and her face flushed with color. All at once the memories of the evening before came slipping and sliding back into her mind, as if previously held back by some barrier. The ruckus that morning had helped her sufficiently in forgetting that she had indeed woken to warmth at her back. Now it was as clear as day.

“We were all up late, and I just ... felt comfortable. It was cold,” she spoke in a detached voice as she herself caught up with the facts.

It had been nothing more than an innocent evening of music and laughter, but Dolen had shown her more emotion from his usually stone set face than usual. He had tensed, but not protested when she leaned on him late in the night, smiling and throwing balls of snow at Dale and Cameron.

She felt Spirit’s amusement as the two girls talked. Well, Silna questioned and Rowena answered to the best of her ability. The four companions moved off toward Feather Grove as the gray light began to fade, and made it there just before dusk.

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

It had taken most of the ride back to Feather Grove for Vance to calm down. His temper had been running hard since he had been torn from his sleep that morning, and his heart was still hammering in his chest when the group dismounted at the fairies’ home. Dale and Cameron slid to seats at the huge tree’s base, ignoring the fairies that flew around their heads in greeting. Both boys slumped their shoulders and laid their heads back against the tree, closing their eyes.

Vance himself took his saddle pad off of Treasure and brushed her down, letting her graze through the few inches of snow while she could. He sat heavily and put his elbows on his knees, his forehead to his arms in consternation. Would Ferin ride straight home and tell wild tales about him, or would he set up some sort of ambush for their return? His brother was unpredictable at best, but he would take some sort of action. He had been utterly embarrassed at Tarragon’s border, and Vance knew his brother did not take well to having his reputation denounced.

Now he was to meet Tarragon Forest’s king! All his life he had been brought up on courtly manners and politics, but nothing had prepared him for meeting the leader of a fantasy-race of beings.

“Are you alright to ride out again? I hear it is a fairly long ride, Vance.”

Lora’s voice had a calming effect on him. Especially that she had not used his title, which always made his anger rise. He lifted his head and straightened in his seat, standing slowly and nodding to her.

“I’ll be fine. I’m just wound tight after this morning,” he noticed now that it had been flurrying, only because she had slowly melting white flakes stuck all through her hair and on her eyelashes.

She smiled and pulled a small bundle from her saddlebag, handing it to him.

“At least eat something.”

He took the bundle gratefully and ate more ravenously than both Dale and Cameron, who had perked at the sound of their sister rustling through her bags.

“I wonder if they eat meat in here?” Dale said, looking between Tey’ven and Dolen.

The two male elves had escorted them soundlessly to Feather Grove, and only Dolen had dismounted once they arrived. Now both seemed to be standing guard on either side of the clearing; Tey’ven still atop his mount and cloaked in white, and Dolen perched easily on a large branch in a nearby tree, his dark stallion nosing at the snow a few feet away.

“They eat meat. I don’t think they eat as often as we do,” Lora said, her eyes locking in on Dolen’s well camouflaged form across the clearing.

When his bright eyes met hers, she brought forward a hunk of bread, lifting her brows and hoping her offer was clear. The male elf turned his head once in a negative gesture before returning his green gaze to the forest around him.

“Or at least not as often as you do,” she said at a length, watching her brothers in amusement.

The group settled in for some time, resting their legs and brushing down the horses. Tey’ven eventually dismounted and made his way soundlessly around the perimeter of the clearing. Both males seemed on edge, but neither spoke a word to the humans or each other. The fairies seemed in better spirits, already unwinding and re-setting Lora’s hair in another wild arrangement, while some flew about the perimeter in Tey’ven’s wake (much to his obvious chagrin). Dale and Cameron amused themselves with a game of stones that, while usually played on a tabletop, worked out well on a large protruding root.

“Their leader will not take father’s treaty,” Vance said softly as Lora finally sat down next to him.

The two had become more and more comfortable with each other over the days, and it was as easy for them to sit silently as it was for them to speak their minds. Though, mention of their shared kiss only a few nights before was nonexistent.

“We can always blame Ferin,” she mused.

Vance shook his head, his demeanor still thoughtful and serious.

“I’d thought of that, honestly. But father will not leave these people be. Even if he punishes Ferin and lets some of the parts of the treaty go, I am sure he will at least keep a tax order and a trade order within it,” he sighed dejectedly. “He has been king for so long that he does not see others his equal.”

“You haven’t read the treaty yet, though. You can’t be sure he put so many unattainable things in it,” Lora argued feebly, her brows turning down as she watched him.

“I know him. I know that just as he burnt Rowena’s home and so many others, he will easily set this lovely place aflame. All because they do not choose to pay for land that is rightfully theirs. If Tarragon’s leader does not agree, he will send men just as he did to Rowena.”

“Surely that will bring an army of elves out of Tarragon,” Lora whispered softly.

“I wish with all my heart that it does not come to that. This forest has stayed silent to our ears for so long,” he stopped and looked up and around him. “Lovely as it is, I’d rather have never found it.”

Lora looked at him and made what looked like a scolding gesture.

“Do not even begin to blame yourself for this, Vance. Your father had scouts sent out long before you discovered it. If anything, you saved them from a confrontation worse than what Ferin brought this morning.”

Pursing his lips, Vance lowered his head, conceding to her statement. His hazel eyes were drawn to a glowing form as it landed softly on his shoulder. The tiny female fairy grinned sleepily in his direction and then lay sprawled on the expanse of his cloak, wings tucked against her back. Smiling wistfully, he sat back against the tree with precise movements and let the fairy doze on his shoulder.

“We’ll find a way to get through it. If anything, we’ve met a fascinating lot of new friends,” Lora said, and Vance nodded silently.

They sat quietly as time passed and the clearing darkened. Both Lora and Vance looked up as a familiar white owl flew into their view and directly toward Dolen. The male elf shifted position and held his arm out for the white bird as it landed, great wide eyes shifting as warily as any of its kind. After a minute or two, he lifted his arm and the bird took off into the darkness, disappearing among the branches of the larger trees nearby. Dolen turned and leapt down from his perch, landing as gracefully as a feline and making his way into the clearing again.

“They come,” he said.

Only Tey’ven understood the words, and moved back to his horse, mounting and pulling up his cowl so that he became no more than a part of the forest again. While his horse walked into the trees, Dolen stood by, eyeing the humans before setting his gaze outward again.

Lora watched the elf with interest.

“I think Rowena will be here soon,” she guessed aloud.

“I think you’re right,” Vance stood and stretched, moving to begin tacking up Treasure.

He was in the midst of pulling the saddle straps tight when Rowena and Silna rode into the forest. Both were atop beautiful horses, one which Vance recognized as Spirit.

“Your kind do breed pristine examples of horseflesh,” Vance said with a grin.

Rowena outright laughed, while her sister smiled.

“They breed for themselves,” she explained, sending a short glance and a smile to Dolen as he mounted up beside her.

Vance did the same, turning Treasure around and eyeing the three before him.

“I do hope your lord is a patient one.”

“Ever patient and ever wise,” Silna put in, her accented words coming out clearly.

She looked to her right as Tey’ven rode into the clearing. His form appeared with such suddenness that one wondered whether he allowed them to see him. The esteemed rider turned his horse in an easterly direction; A signal that they were to leave.

Vance glanced down at Lora, who was preparing to climb into the hut that the fairies had built for them. The snowflakes were still descending, and he was sure Lora would want a long nap after such a day. He moved his gaze to her two brothers, who were still sitting against the large tree.

“Take care of your sister. I hope to be back before dawn,” he said.

The twin guards both saluted, though one was accompanied by a wry grin. The group walked their horses out of Feather Grove and began the long trek to Ta’llevny’s home.

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

Ferin’s homecoming was a ragged one. His soldiers did their best to sit straight-backed on their mounts as they rode through the castle’s high outer wall. Despite it being the very middle of the night, there were watchers who came from homes or stood outside of taverns to watch the first prince and his company ride in. Some wondered at their late arrival, others wondered at their lack of game. Most simply shrugged and went about their business, not really caring for hierarchical politics. One man in particular watched the group walk their tired mounts over recently cleared pathways. His eyes glinted and narrowed with suspicion before he turned to limp back into the inn he had been peering out of.

Ferin dismounted and ordered the nearby guards to take their horses. Zane began walking slowly and painfully back to the entrance of the castle, while Dergon veered to the right, heading to his own familiar territory. They would head straight for their warm rooms and soft beds, no doubt. He had a plan to head directly for his own, but he was stopped in his tracks by one of his father’s running boys. The king had a total of four, which he kept in shifts around him at all times during the day and night.

“Lord Ferin, his highness wishes to see you straight-away,” the voice cracked slightly, dipping between a boy’s and a man’s tone.

Ferin felt the aches from riding and the stiff layer of dried mud and snow on his boots and leggings. Sneering, he looked the running boy over and pulled off his gloves.

“I’ll change first,” he said simply, moving into a feigned calm stroll. The boy matched his gait, staring up at him with wide eyes.

“But he has taken ill again, Lord. He wishes to see you straight-away.”

Letting out what could have been a growl, Ferin nodded and followed the boy up and up into the grand hall that housed his father’s rooms. After spending the day on horseback, Ferin was hard pressed to keep up with the quick footed young man as they climbed three separate stairways. He waited for the runner to open the door for him, and walked in quickly, eyeing his father’s prone form with distaste.

The fire was built up high, and candles lit all around the room so that Ferin nearly shielded his eyes. His father was lying on his side under a bundle of expensive sheets and blankets, all strewn with the Kingdom’s insignia. After taking a look at his father’s pale, sweaty face, he found it easy to focus on the white phoenix rising from the red circle of flame.

“I will not tolerate lies from my firstborn this night,” the king spoke, his voice trembling with his chills. It was another fever, then. “Where have you been?”

“I followed Vance, father,” Ferin admitted in a cool tone, sitting back in his chair.

There was no use making up a story. The original ploy of a hunting trip could not be backed up, for they had been gone two days and come back empty handed.

The king swallowed hard and shifted his position so that he sat up only slightly, his glazed eyes nearly disappearing under drawn brows.

“What foolishness drove you to such a task?” he ground out, his voice more steady in his anger. “While I remained absent at the council meetings, depending on the first prince to attend in my stead.”

Ferin’s eyes widened fractionally. He had not thought of that. His plans had been so rash and quickly followed through that he had not thought his father might miss him. The duties of the kingdom had always been second nature to him, but recently his mind had been on things other than playing the part of a soon-to-be-king.

“You brother is off on his first real business as a prince, and you seek to sabotage?” his father continued.

“Who told you-”

The king lifted a hand feebly to cut off Ferin’s words. The glazed eyes narrowed and pale lips pulled into an ironic smirk.

“I suppose you just did. I do not have the mind to take in what you may have done, but I will tell you this,” his face returned to the stern, serious look.

Despite the sickly features that overtook him now, Ferin still saw the ghost of the overpowering man his father had been in his youth. It frightened him.

“Your brother is on my business. Do you understand? In distrusting him, you distrust me. In seeking to sabotage his duty, you seek to sabotage my order.”

“Father I did not-”

The king lifted one pale hand again.

“I do not have the energy to argue this with you, Ferin,” and indeed, the man lay back down, his eyes fluttering and his voice wavering as he finished.

Ferin’s eyes drifted to the running boy, who stood over the king now with a wet rag, leaning in to wipe his forehead. He wondered at his father’s choice of allowing such a servant to listen in on a conversation that should have otherwise been private. Then again, the boy looked so caught up in his tasks that he may not even be listening. That, or this was a way of punishing his pride, somehow. He frowned heavily, even more so when his father finished.

“You will not leave the castle for a month. You will attend meetings in my stead, and continue your studies thoroughly while staying within the castle walls,” his father ordered. “When your brother returns, see to it that a council meeting is called.”

While Ferin seethed, his father sunk into a restless sleep. He eyed both the running boy, and the attendant who stood stark still beside the doorway, knowing that he could not get away with ignoring his father’s orders. Standing, Ferin stalked from the room, not bothering to hide his slight limp as he headed for his own bed. A night’s rest may give him an idea as to how to solve this mess.

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

The light cloak did not seem like enough to keep the boy warm, but his fast pace kept his heart pumping fast and hot blood running through his limbs. Guards nodded to him, recognizing him even as he sped past and most likely figuring him to be on business. He reached the tavern in what seemed like a moment’s time, and took a few more to catch his breath before walking in. He kept his pace slow and his face hidden as he had been taught. To remain unnoticed was to remain free.

He saw the man he looked for sitting at a table nearby and leaned over him carefully, pretending to hand him something with a sullen look on his face.

“The first prince followed Lord Vance to the forest land. His father has punished him by ordering him to stay castle-bound for a month.”

“Nothing else?”

“No, sir.”

“Well done, long legs,” The man actually turned and grinned at him, green eyes sparkling through slightly wrinkled skin. “Now go along and see to your gram, she’ll be needing this on such a cold night,” he spoke louder, and though the boy knew he had no ‘gram’ to speak of, he understood the man’s need to cover their conversation.

The boy took the words as a dismissal and left the same way he had come.

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