A Meeting of Minds
Lora opened her eyes and started; her entire body tensed before she remembered where she was and why. Her back ached in a few places where one of her bags sat at an odd angle, but otherwise, she was comfortable. She was wrapped in a warm fur cloak, and laid out on the padded floor of a covered tree house. How the fairies had ever put together such a thing large enough for four humans was beyond her. Then again, there was a time she did not believe that such things existed. She had been faced with many surprises over the past few days, and she thought she was doing fairly well in coping.
Slowly, Lora lifted herself from her makeshift bed and looked around. Dale and Cameron were sprawled to her side, one snoring, the other silent. She turned herself in a way that she was laying on her stomach with her chin propped up, staring out the wide opening of the tree house. Even at such a late hour of the night, the fairies were still going about their own business; a few stopped and grinned or flew around her making gestures when they noticed that she watched them. It had started to flurry again, and she watched one particular flake as it made its way almost lazily to the ground below her.
Lora sighed softly as she thought that she would miss this place. There was a sparkling beauty to it that she knew was not only due to the snow and fey light. When they had left the forest earlier that day, her senses had almost dulled. It had been as if the constant glow around her had faded. Though she knew her duties awaited her back at White Phoenix, some part of her yearned to stay here. Probably the same part that wanted Vance to stay as well, for his actions had been more honest. Once out of the wide expanse of the kingdom’s land, Vance had relaxed and become more of the person she thought he might be deep inside. Though neither of them had mentioned their shared kiss, the conversation and casual touches were enough to keep her blood running hot. And then there had been the night before where he had played tunes with Dale and Cameron, and danced with her as if no one watched. His usual courtly facade had been cast aside, and he was filled with life. Even Rowena’s beautiful elven companion had opened up. His handsome face had broken into an even more handsome smile here and there, and the two had spoken more often than she had seen them since she arrived.
She lay her head on her arms and let her eyes flutter shut as tiredness crept over her. In the back of her mind, she wondered where the rest were. Had they met the forest’s leader yet? Worries that the elven king would reject the treaty as well as the human invaders ran through her mind, but she forcedly pushed them out. She had not yet met a cruel-tempered being in this land, and she hoped that their leader was the most understanding and wise of them all. Rowena’s sister had said as much. As her breathing evened out, Lora was left with one last hope that the dawn would bring both her companions and good news to Feather Grove.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tey’ven led the group through the darkened forest, for once not minding that those behind him made more noise than he was used to. He knew well that the human was not trained to travel quietly, and Whisper had informed him that though beautiful, the mare he rode was not communicable. Silna and her sister talked softly as they rode next to one another, and he could feel the former’s eyes on his back as he led them through the thick woods. He simply smirked, knowing and enjoying the fact that she had no knowledge of his next move. Somehow, that made the proverbial dance more real. Only his sense of duty and Whisper’s hard mental tone kept his thoughts from wandering any further.
When the group arrived at Ta’llevny’s vale, they dismounted, leaving their horses to paw at the thinning snow and rest from the day’s riding. Tey’ven kept his cowl pulled up, remaining cloaked, even in the safety of his master’s keep. It was a habit, and a comfort of sorts to be able to blend in so well with his surroundings. As always, the vale was a measure warmer, and the trees became sparse, but ancient and immense in size. The only thing it lacked was the usual encounter with a fellow rider or another of the leader’s charges. Tonight, it seemed as though their path was clear. He wondered if Ta’llevny had specifically arranged that.
The human prince walked with his eyes wide, taking in his surroundings without hiding his awe, as Rowena and Silna pointed out the various statues and small buildings within the softly lit vale. Dolen unnerved Tey’ven by flanking the group; staying within the shadows of the great trees, rather than walking alongside them. He had never known Dolen well, but it was easy to notice the changes the watcher had gone through of late.
Both he and Dolen seemed to be finding themselves amidst the mischief that Silna and Rowena either caused or aided, which made him wonder at the relationship the watcher held with the human girl. It had also made him wonder at his own, before he finally let go of his reservations and allowed himself to court the Trail-Walker’s daughter. He had watched her at length without her knowledge, and found that he could not be away for long without her face coming to mind. It had taken many deliberating conversations with Whisper, and even one with his own parents at the ceremony for him to forget his worries and take action. Ta’llevny’s riders rarely socialized, much less took a mate, but he knew that if the great leader were against his own match, he would make it known.
They came upon Ta’llevny’s home, and Tey’ven finally pulled back his white hood, smoothing a stray hair back as he looked up at the tree. Though the leaves were gone, the long, hanging branches were strung with snow, making it look as magical as it did in the summer. With a final look at the group (including Dolen, who had moved in behind them), he turned and ascended the tree’s natural stairway, pulling himself up with ease despite the white layered cloak’s heaviness. He found Ta’llevny standing, performing gestures within the cavernous room that took up the inside of the tree’s trunk. Tey’ven watched patiently while Ta’llevny re-arranged the layout so that there was table surrounded by chairs set in the very center of the room. From his vantage he could see that the elder had tied back his mass of hair, all white and woven with various branches and leaves. His robe was also white, trimmed with delicate patterns in bright blue and purple.
When the leader turned, he set his odd-eyed gaze on Tey’ven with the knowledge that he had known his visitors had come.
“Would you set out the drinks, please?” he asked, and Tey’ven bowed before getting right to work, placing a cup in front of each chair, and an ornately designed pitcher in the center of the table. He noticed that the human treaty was laid out in front of the largest chair.
Once finished, he stood near the perimeter of the room, and spoke over the pregnant silence.
“The guests wait below.”
Ta’llevny nodded, looking around the room one last time before lifting his hand in a gesture that somehow made the room seem brighter.
“Welcome them in.”
Tey’ven turned and walked down the hall, stopping just at the edge and leaning outward. His hair shifted and hung about his face like a curtain.
“Ta’llevny welcomes you.”
The human prince came first, and Tey’ven stood aside, his eyes watching for the slightest need of aid. Vance did well, however, and stood to the side as Silna, Rowena, and finally Dolen ascended the tree. Once again, Tey’ven led them down the hall and into the room, where Ta’llevny introduced himself, greeting the human prince in the human tongue, which they called Common. Both Silna and Rowena looked surprised, while Dolen stood passively. Tey’ven knew that the elder had been well versed in several languages long before he came to be the forest’s leader.
After the introductions, the group sat around the table and sipped at their drinks, and the great deliberation began. Tey’ven did not think to view the occasion as momentous until well after the meeting was over.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
So this was the elven king. Vance thought he certainly looked the part, being every bit as handsome as the rest of his kin, only with more features to set him apart. His hair and eyebrows seemed to sprout tiny branches, and his hair was a mixture of white and gold strands, brownish branches and what looked like leaves. His skin was a deep brown, as if the being had spent some part of his life in the sun, and it did well to keep him looking young. The elven leader looked at him with one eye as bright green as Dolen’s and another shining gold. His face showed not the stern look of a long weary king, but a serene, knowledgeable stare with a hint of a smile.
“I welcome you to my land, Prince Vance Warrington of White Phoenix, in hopes of striking an accord between our people,” he said in nearly flawless words.
The knowledge of his last name took him by surprise, for many of the kingdom’s people did not know such a thing. Vance nodded, sending the great elf a look of honest understanding.
“I hope that we can do so, even if my father’s wishes are not all met,” he replied with care, looking pointedly at the treaty.
“If it is as I understand, you took no part in putting these orders to paper,” Ta’llevny said, placing a brown hand on the treaty that was strewn with intricate handwriting and stamped with his father’s seal.
Vance nodded once again.
“It is not so outrageous, though we will be unable to fulfill most of it. I do not send out armies as often as humans do, and we cannot be said to sow the same fields. Your father asks that we offer a trade of our goods, which could be arranged,” Ta’llevny went on in an even tone.
The list was a long one. His father had been more than eager to take over the large expanse of Tarragon before Van Reston did, and in finding that it was already occupied, sought to rein in its inhabitants as tightly as possible.
“I imagine that if all terms are not met, your father will not take kindly to us?” Ta’llevny asked.
Vance looked down, unable to meet the kindly leader’s eyes. “That would be the most likely cause and effect, sir. My father is often pretentious and demanding, and though he may not hold you to all of those, he will expect much more than you are likely to give,” he shook his head. “Sir, please forgive me. Please forgive him for his nature. He does not have knowledge of your... heritage, and I fear that if he heard whisper of it, he would not react well.”
Ta’llevny nodded and was silent for some time. The entire table had been, though, Vance wondered if Dolen and Tey’ven were frustrated by the choice of language. Neither understood more than a few scant words of his tongue, and were therefore not aware of what was being said.
“We have long kept ourselves safe and secure in this forest. It is one of the last remaining areas of magic on this plane, aside from the Illyaven’sha that spans well east of our continent,” Ta’llevny said slowly. “Humans do not follow the same higher powers as we, and therefore do not care for the land’s magic. Without care, the magic sleeps and if left too long, it can no longer be awoken,” he stopped and thought, leaving the room in silence.
Vance was ready to reply but the leader finally spoke once again.
“I have hope, that one day our kind will live in peace. We may very well clash blades in the months to come, but in you and your companions, in the human daughter of our own kind, I see hope growing.”
Vance swallowed and fisted his hand. “I fear I cannot do much to stop my father from doing as he sees fit. I am but a second prince in my lands, and my brother will take the throne in my father’s wake. My brother, who is my father’s own shadow.”
“The people are with you, Vance. Charles said so,” Rowena cut in, blushing outwardly when eyes were drawn to her.
“Some may be, but it is not enough to bring up a battle between my brother and I. Ferin is the rightful heir,” Vance spoke again, his demeanor dampening as he spoke.
“It is in my experience over centuries’ time, that it is the people who choose their king,” Ta’llevny said at a length, his eyes finding Vance’s and watching as the prince nodded slowly.
“I suppose if it came to it, I could call upon my allies and see how many there really are,” the prince admitted. “They have plenty of reason to dislike my father and brother’s ways, and I have avoided politics for so long in my life that I am not blind to the devastation their actions cause,” he went on, looking pointedly at Rowena.
“Even if the prince rebels against the kingdom and has a small group at his back, it will do nothing to stop the rest of the human kingdom from setting Tarragon aflame,” Silna cut in, speaking the human tongue as well.
She was obviously still angry (and rightfully so!) over the fact that Ferin had attempted to set fire to their home. Tey’ven and Dolen were still sitting patiently, despite their lack of understanding. The patience these beings had was astounding to Vance, who had been frustrated within minutes of each elven or fairy conversation.
“I foresee such an event, and I fear there is no way to stop it. Even if White Phoenix chooses not to try our bounds, we are flanked on another side by Van Reston. They are anxious kings, and they will surely come at Tarragon’s border within the years to come,” Ta’llevny’s voice was calm, despite the heavy air that seemed to fill the room at his admission.
“Kings? They have more than one?” Vance asked, not bothering to cover his sudden curiosity.
Ta’llevny merely smiled. “Correct. Sabian and Serval Van Reston,” he pronounced the names with a halting accent. “Twin brothers who took the throne at a young age. Only their mother lives, though her rule is not recognized amongst their people. The males reign supreme in Van Reston’s land.”
Vance blinked several times as he thought the news over. He wondered if his father knew of such things, but he could not answer his own question. It was so rare that he paid any mind to court politics that he knew nothing of White Phoenix’s greatest nemesis.
The group sat quietly, each taking the information in, and Rowena taking the time to translate what she could to Dolen and Tey’ven in a soft voice. Finally, Vance sat up and pulled his fingers into fists.
“I know in my heart what is right. If I have to fight alone against my father and brother, I will. This forest and its inhabitants deserve to be left alone, as so many of our neighboring farmers have, and I will fight to give you the chance they did not get,” his brows drew down over his eyes and continued. “I have avoided my duties long enough, and if anyone has been given an advantage that may tip the scales, it is myself.”
“You will have help,” Rowena offered with a soft smile, and Vance felt himself relaxing.
Already plans were running through his head as he looked into the eyes of the exotic beings he sat with. Ta’llevny smiled and nodded to Vance, giving him a feeling of accomplishment.
“I agree to trade goods with your people on your own land, and I agree to fight alongside you in the most dire of circumstances. I will not fight battles over land ownership or wage wars over family grudges. Only if the very fate of your race is at stake will I pull the armies of Tarragon to come to your aid,” he ran a finger down the treaty and shook his head once. “That is all I can agree to, I fear. Tarragon will choose whom it allows over its borders, so I must not allow myself to open those up to all of your kind.”
Vance nodded once and offered a tired smile. “Though I am sure my father will not comply, that is more than I could have hoped for. I will return to White Phoenix and do my best to prepare for what may come. Be advised that I will fight in your land and its people’s defense, either way.”
Ta’llevny once again offered his serene smile, and stood. The rest of the table did the same, taking his action as a sign that the meeting was over. Tey’ven moved to the entrance of the room, ready to escort them out.
“Thank you for your confidence, Prince Vance of White Phoenix. You are wise for one so young, and strong for one so surrounded by infectious prejudice. I have new hope that with time, we may be able to come to a period of peace. We may yet save more of this plane’s magic.”
The two bowed to each other, and Vance followed Tey’ven out of the room and into the hall, breathing much easier now that he had met Tarragon’s worthy king. Now that he understood Tarragon’s people, he had a very clear picture of exactly what he was fighting for.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
“I hope that you both will inform your guardians of what has been said,” Ta’llevny was looking between Rowena and Silna.
Both females nodded, though Silna looked confused as to whom he was referring to. As always, the leader seemed to read her thoughts.
“It is rare that one of my riders finds his attentions so distracted. I believe him to be your guardian as well as mine,” Ta’llevny spoke directly to Silna this time, who openly blushed at his words.
It comforted him to hear his own language spoken again, even though he had picked up sparse words in the human tongue. Spending a good portion of his life thus far with Rowena had its advantages in learning such things. Dolen waited patiently for the two to exit toward the hall, meeting Rowena’s questioning gaze before turning himself to face Ta’llevny. Once the room was clear but for him and the elven leader, he bowed from the waist first before speaking.
“I do not understand why I am permitted to be a part of such a thing as this,” Dolen admitted.
The thoughts had been plaguing him for most of the trip to the vale. Why was he being allowed to attend a gathering as important as a human prince meeting with an elven king? He was a watcher, employed by the eldest leader, but no more esteemed than the hunters or the caretakers. In response, Ta’llevny nodded his head once and took in a short breath.
“You are one of few who do not see Rowena as a festering wound to the forest. Since she was young, you have looked out for her, and dare I say that you cherish her now that she is grown.”
Dolen averted his gaze, but Ta’llevny went on.
“I am in need of those such as you, Dolen. I am in need of those who are willing to fight with the humans, even as they go to battle with their own kind. If we are to keep magic in this world of ours, we will need to help it grow once more.”
The great leader sighed and smiled softly, wistfully. “I digress. What I mean to say is that; although you are not one of my esteemed riders, you are held within my best confidences. I trust you to protect our human as you always have, and I trust you to walk alongside any who defend Tarragon forest, no matter their species or title. You are much more than your title, in my eyes.”
Dolen swallowed and bowed once again, practically whispering a thank you and vowing to do as Ta’llevny wished. He left with those words in his mind, knowing that though there was still much to think on, his question had been answered. As he made his way down the great tree, he heard Rowena’s voice above the others’ low whispers.
“You aren’t in any trouble, are you?” she asked.
The idea struck him as humorous, and Dolen turned to give her an incredulous stare before smiling outright. He watched her eyes light just a bit as she observed him, and was pleased to see her surprise. If it was anyone he enjoyed gracing a rare smile with, it was her.
“No, I had a question to ask Ta’llevny,” he replied in short, not wanting to get into detail just then.
She seemed to take that as a good enough answer, so the two of them walked to meet with the other three. Tey’ven and Dolen received the translation of the evening’s meeting, and they did not question the outcome. Though both males seemed disconcerted at the idea of any type of battle. The elves were a peaceful race, and neither had been alive long enough to see such a thing.
The prince of White Phoenix was planning already, saying things to Rowena and Silna, who translated back to both Dolen and Tey’ven. After about an hour of the two of them playing translator, it was decided that Vance would learn Elvish, and both Tey’ven and Dolen would learn Common.
It was also decided that they would spend no more than two days in Tarragon before returning to White Phoenix to present Ta’llevny’s reply to the human king. This time, Dolen and Silna would accompany them.