Daughter of Tarragon

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Preparations


The next few days passed quickly. While the humans spent their time getting to know Feather Grove and taking halting lessons in Elvish from Rowena, Silna spent time arguing with her parents over the fact that both she and their human daughter would return to White Phoenix to represent Tarragon Forest. Lae’ra was ready to accompany them, but both she and A’dair received orders from Ta’llevny that could not be ignored. They were to take messages to the leaders of the other clans in the forest, and none of them doubted the contents of said messages.

Their final day was spent packing, and after a forlorn farewell to their parents, Silna and Rowena met with the group in Feather Grove for a last meal and a measure of planning. Lessons were taught all around as Rowena worked with Dolen in the human language, and Silna instructed Dale and Cameron in her own versions of swordplay. She told Rowena later on that the two of them were very quick learners. They were in the midst of one such lesson when Silna simply stopped and moved out into the forest. Dale and Cameron had both gone off to practice more, and the sun was setting on the horizon when she finally reappeared.

“We will leave under the cover of darkness, and make one camp along the way,” she announced, and shrugged as she received nothing but confused glances. “Tey’ven thinks it best that we not draw attention to ourselves, or wear ourselves out by riding straight through.”

Rowena smothered a smile and sat back against the large tree, speaking to her sister in their native language.

“Is he jealous that he cannot travel with us?”

Silna smirked and lifted her chin as she sat down. “He knows that his coloring and demeanor would be too foreign for the human people.”

“And mine are not?” Dolen cut in, and Rowena had to laugh upon seeing his face in contrast to the rest of him.

The fairies had grown used to his presence, and taken it upon themselves to tress up his hair in a myriad of braids and ties. Despite his usual annoyance with them, the Watcher had been particularly patient as of late.

“You are more aware of human custom than Tey’ven,” Silna admitted. “Ta’llevny has set him on a similar duty as mother and father. However, he will escort us to the forest’s border before he departs.”

It was clear that Silna was not entirely happy about the situation, but she kept a resolved look on her face, nonetheless. Rowena nodded at her sister’s words, and translated the information back to Lora, Dale, Cameron and Vance, who were in the midst of eating. The trouble of translating was beginning to bother her, but it was her luck that Dolen was an exceptionally adept student when it came to language. It was surprising, since he was known for his lack of speech; both of mind and mouth.

“I have warned Windwalker of our journey, but you may want to be careful of him," Spirit spoke into Rowena’s mind.

She nodded, knowing that the young stallion could be flighty and frightened easily. Rowena tried not to think of how he might react to the crowded and noisy human kingdom. The fact that Spirit would be there to help kept her from worrying too much.

The horses were all grazing within a small patch of what must have been magically grown grass that the fairies provided. Amidst a forest floor that was either still covered in snow or bare, it seemed to be something otherworldly that kept the grass there. Spirit, Talon, and Windwalker stood with the human mounts, blending in wonderfully if one did not notice the intelligent looks in their eyes.

As she worked, thoughts of Spirit’s words reminded Rowena of something, and she looked at Dolen as he pulled the straps tighter on his pack. He had included only the bare minimum, but made sure to keep another set of clothes, having seen how the humans tended to dress. She saw the longbow and quiver within the small array of his things, and only hoped that the people of the kingdom would not take offense to the fact that Dolen and Silna would both carry weapons.

“Will Snowsong join us?” she asked him.

Dolen stopped his work and considered the question, directing his light gaze to the darkening forest. His eyes unfocused for a moment before he finally smirked and nodded.

“If I saw correctly, he will follow. He does not enjoy the idea of leaving, but he will not be left behind.”

Rowena practically clapped and smiled. The fact that the owl had bonded with him made her happy, and the fact that it would accompany him made the trip seem less foreboding. Dolen’s lack of the ability to communicate with the forest dwellers had always been a frustration for him. Sometimes, Rowena had wondered just how deeply his lamenting that skill went. Over the past few days he had seemed much more open, and even slightly more lighthearted since discovering that he could communicate with Snowsong. She hoped to see more of his well-guarded personality in the coming days.

As Rowena looked around their small camp, she realized that it was quite a group that they would bring into White Phoenix. Even Lora had changed her dress and her demeanor. She was now wearing one of Rowena’s old sets of winter clothing. Though not as detailed, they definitely fit her well. She almost looked like a part of the elven community, with her long blonde hair set free of its binds and left to be braided by the fairies. The prince and his guards would ride into the kingdom in full dress, so they were busy preparing their armor and sharpening swords.

Even Dolen and Silna had brought out their best winter hunting clothes and polished the rarely used tack for their mounts. Once again, Spirit had put up a fight, but Silna shushed her with a thought. Rowena wondered if she had mentioned that Whisper might enjoy the sight of her in shining adornments.

“We are prepared!” a tiny voice caught the attention of all around them.

It was not long before a red blur became a tiny fairy form, red hair flaring about his handsome face and a tiny pack slung from his shoulders. Beside him floated another elf, only this one shone blue. Both hovered with proud looks on their faces.

“Oh, he said ‘we’,’” Lora put in excitedly, remembering the Elvish term as she stared at the tiny fairy with laughing eyes.

She had been nearly as fast a learner as Dolen had when it came to language lessons.

“Frisle and I will accompany you on your journey to the humankingdom!” Wylden announced, gesturing to the orange haired elf, who nodded so quickly that he nearly blurred from sight again.

Rowena’s brows lifted just as Dolen’s fell.

“You will both serve as great help if we are in need of messengers. Be welcome, but be sure to remain unseen in the human kingdom,” she spoke in a mannerly fashion, and both glowed even brighter.

Other fairies were swarming around them, as if both jealous and mystified that elves and humans would employ their kind. The two eventually lifted into the tree, most likely to tell their story to their kin once again. The mention of remaining unseen reminded Rowena of another problem.

“We will have to cover your ears in some way,” she said, looking between Dolen and Silna.

The two exchanged glances and Silna nodded.

“You mean to keep our race a secret,” Dolen stated as much as asked, and Rowena nodded in reply.

“I am afraid of the consequences if they see anything more unique about you than is already painfully obvious,” she admitted, her gaze traveling over his bright white hair and luminescent green eyes. “Humans are greedy by nature. Our lives only last a portion of your own, so we are always moving at a much greater speed toward our goals. A discovery such as this could lead to attempts to gain knowledge of your people and their magic that would be ill used.”

“I heard the word humans, something about fast, and magic,” Lora piped up, and Rowena turned to her and grinned.

“Well enough for just a few days practice. Dolen asked why we must keep their heritage a secret, and I explained that our kind may not react well to such a discovery. It is enough that Tarragon exists in secret.”

Lora nodded gravely, her green eyes suddenly looking haunted.

“They would seek out this place like a hunting ground. Wanting to see the tiny folk and the elves, and wanting to purge them of their magic. I know of at least a few who will consider it dark workings, and wish to kill the entire species off.”

“They would have them executed if magic was even whispered around them,” Vance added, his tone as dark as the look on his face. He had stopped in the midst of polishing his horse’s tack, and continued with a forlorn shake of his head. “No, this secret must stay between us. The people of White Phoenix already fight amongst themselves. I refuse to call their attention to another innocent group.”

Rowena sighed heavily and nodded, wondering for the first time if their plan to make peace was a shot in the dark.

“Not all humans are bad,” Silna commented a few moments later, as if she had read both Rowena and Lora’s worries.

The simple statement seemed to lift the group’s spirits to a point that they all returned to their work with a renewed sense of duty. Rowena thought herself out of a bad mood, remembering that peace could not be made in short time.

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

“Oh, do sit down. You’ll wear a path in this lovely floor,” Zane drawled.

The courtier was obviously much more content to be within the stone walls and sat by a fire. He was dressed in his best tailored clothing, with hair all slicked back and shining with pomade and fingers glittering with rings. Ferin’s dark glare did not diminish his bright demeanor.

“Come now, Ferin. Brooding will get you nowhere,” Zane leaned forward, lowering his voice. “At least enjoy the company,” he hissed, eyeing the handful of females who sat giggling and drinking nearby.

All of them wore brilliantly colored, low-cut dresses, and not one of them could keep their eyes off of the two best dressed males in the room. His friend certainly had a point, but Ferin was still mentally seething over his brother’s stunt.

“I cannot stay chained up in this bloody place any longer! Not while he rides about the countryside pretending to do father’s bidding,” Ferin’s voice was filled with malice, his eyes red-rimmed from lack of sleep and and abundance of wine.

“Forget your vagrant-loving brother and take charge of your court, prince,” Zane’s tone had him turning in his path, looking at the blonde with a lifted brow.

“He may be out there, but you are here,” Zane continued. “This place and its people all owe their liege to you,” he whispered, walking with Ferin now and slipping a glass of wine into his hand. “Speak to them, drink with them, show them whom to trust.”

As Zane spoke, his words began to make sense. Ferin looked about the room and saw mostly young, impressionable members of the court. All well off, and all milling about as if waiting for something to happen. He offered Zane a smirk and a nod, which sufficed enough for a gesture of appreciation, and changed his path.

“Who will join me in a game?” Ferin spoke loudly, his teeth glittering in a wide, inviting smile.

Almost at once, a dozen wine glasses lifted and various shouts of offering filled the air. He was soon surrounded by the well-tailored members of the court, and they set off in a gambling game at an easy pace.

It was not long before the first prince had the group laughing at his jokes, the females sliding hands down his arms, and the males commending him on his knowledge of the game. Every once in a while, he or Zane would slip in a comment. Nothing too obvious, but enough to get the people talking. Where was Vance? Had he kept to his father’s orders? Was he dallying with the beautiful foreign girl? Some had heard that he meant to smuggle information to the Van Reston’s. After all, Tarragon was the land that lay between the two grand kingdoms. Who had ever heard of a people living within its thick depths? If they did, they must be savages.

Zane covered a smile and took a demure sip of wine. This was as easy as he had hoped it would be. The humiliation at Tarragon’s border was gone from Ferin’s mind. He was back to playing the herder of sheep. For that was all the courtly folk were, milling about in groups and waiting for a leader to show them the way home. Only, these sheep were the ones with power. Money, family names, and votes that would aid in Ferin’s eventual takeover. With Ferin as king, Zane would no doubt find a way into his small group of advisors. There were many benefits to such a position, despite the fact that it involved much more work than he was currently doing.

Yes, so long as there were no fateful trips out into the begotten countryside, Zane was quite positive that things would turn out in his favor.

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

It was dark by the time the group was ready to depart. Between sharpening weapons and packing food, as well as keeping track of Dale and Cameron, it had taken them the better part of the day to be finished. Now, they waited for Tey’ven to arrive to take them to Tarragon’s border. As always, the fairies lifted their voices and tiny instruments in song, and it seemed to have a calming effect on otherwise frayed nerves.

Rowena found herself humming along with the fairies as she saddled Windwalker up, sending him soft, encouraging messages. She watched over the horse’s flank as Dolen pulled a long white cape on over his hunting attire. He looked almost stately, and she wondered where he had hidden those garments, and why he so rarely wore them. Silna had finished tacking Spirit, and slipped a white sheer scarf on over her head to pull her hair back from her face. It covered her pointed ears, and Rowena nodded with a short smile as her sister looked to her for approval.

“He’s not letting me on the offensive!” Dale’s words broke through the fairy-song. “How am I supposed to learn Silna’s postures if I only work defensive?”

Still, the small folk sang on, unaware of the human’s loud speech as the two boys came back into the clearing. They both looked winded, and despite the cold, their clothes and hair were soaked with sweat.

“What is wrong with you two? We leave within the hour and you’re sweaty and dressed in rags!” Lora immediately chastised her brothers.

“We’re to make a camp before we go into the kingdom, Lor! We don’t need to be in armor!” Dale protested.

“Your whining is making my head ache,” Cameron put in dully, slipping his sword into a saddle strap. He received a straight glare from his sister, to which he innocently pointed to Dale.

“She is right, though. I’ll need you both in armor in case we are approached along the way,” Vance stated.

“Dolen, you need to find a way to cover your ears,” Silna spoke in the elven tongue.

Apparently, the human conversation had not interrupted her chain of thought. The watcher gave her a scathing glare.

“If I could get the adornments it, I might try,” he said in an annoyed tone, pulling at one of the tiny braids the fairies had strung up in his long white hair.

Rowena stood staring about the grove, looking slightly stressed as the group seemed to explode into separate conversations all around her. That, coupled with the ongoing fairy song made her shake her head quickly, as if trying to shift the sounds from her ears.

A moment later, all at once, the fairy song stopped. The glow of the grove seemed to dim as the tiny beings moved to hide. At least, that is what it seemed like. The arguing continued, and did not stop as Tey’ven rode Whisper into the clearing. Silna, who was in the midst of showing Dolen how he might arrange his hair, was the only one who stopped and looked up to the cloaked rider.

“Okay!” Rowena yelled, successfully cutting them all off. “You two,” she pointed to Dale and Cameron. “Armor on, please.”

Then she switched to the elven language. “Wylden and Frisle!” she called, and obediently the two fairies appeared in front of the great tree trunk. “Take the braids from Dolen’s hair so that it is straight again, please,” she ordered them. She gave the annoyed male a sympathetic look as the two fairies got to work immediately.

Turning, she looked up at Tey’ven, who had pulled his cowl down to reveal his face. He looked tired. His light blue eyes were half-lidded, and white and black hair curtained his face almost as well as his hood. He did look different with it all combed down.

"Hello, Tey’ven. We are almost ready,” Rowena said, the hint at urgency dripping from her tone.

“How is it that you scared the fairies off?” Silna asked as she mounted Spirit, the motion not hindering her speech at all.

Tey’ven nodded to Rowena and looked around the grove, shrugging and sending a slightly amused look Silna’s way. “I forgot to allow them to notice me,” he must have caught her skeptical look, and almost smirked. “I will be sure to give you a lesson in such things.”

Silna’s blush was nearly contagious, and Rowena turned herself and moved toward Windwalker, covering a grin. It took a few moments, but they were all mounted up and moving out in Tey’ven’s wake not long after. Frisle and Wylden took turns on just about every saddle, save for Tey’ven’s. Rowena and Dolen both exchanged glances as the soft feathered sound of a flying owl drifted down on the travelers.

Lora sat lamely in her saddle for most of the way. She and the other humans had a much harder time seeing in the darkness than the elves did, even with the occasional splash of moonlight. It did not seem to be the only thing that bothered her, though. She had bid a sad farewell to the fairy-folk and looked slumped and sullen for the most of the trip. It was obvious that she would miss the forest and its inhabitants.

“Tarragon will always welcome those who are kind of heart,” Silna said, seemingly to no one.

Rowena thought she saw Lora sitting up straighter in the saddle, and shot her sister a smile she knew the elf would see in the darkness. The group rode on quietly through the night, mentally preparing for what would be a long, taxing journey.

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