Forming Thin Ice
“Send word, there will be a trial at the third bell tomorrow!” Zane said loudly.
Ferin walked at a fast pace down the hall, his face set in a stern expression that mirrored one that his father often held. Zane was passing verbal and written messages to just about anyone he passed as he followed Ferin, but the prince was not paying attention. His mind was still ringing with his father’s words. Let the people decide? Since when did any people overrule a king’s word? It must be the medication. It had to be. His father had never left anything so detrimental to the milling crowds. He might as well put the kingdom in a child’s hands.
“This is too brash, Ferin,” Zane whispered, trotting up to his side.
“You were only happy to gather the guards last night,” Ferin replied, taking a sharp turn at a corner and nearly bowling over a servant woman.
“I was well into my cups, Ferin. The plan is genius, but don’t you think we’re working a bit fast?” Zane was nervous. “We don’t have much to go on,” he had an annoying whine to his voice when he was nervous.
“Now is the best time, when rumors are flying and they are doing things like they did last night. It was perfect!” he whispered harshly, sending a swift glance in Zane’s direction. “They were at the ball one moment, and the next were gone,” he reminded the blond carefully as they reached the hallway to his room.
He lifted his hand in a gesture that he knew would summon his page, and continued speaking to Zane.
“The reason they were found is because they were followed, and the reason they were followed is because they were suspected. I had no choice but to act,” he finished, throwing the paper on the table and spinning on his heel.
“I suppose,” Zane replied, sounding defeated.
The blonde slumped loudly into a nearby chair and went right for the half filled bottle of wine on a table nearby. The page appeared in the doorway, and before he could recover from his bow, Ferin was ordering him on.
“I need copies of that, and an official order for trial written up. The names are on the paper,” he stated.
The page obediently took the paper with his father’s stamp and waited for more. Ferin had not yet dismissed him.
“Have an official announcement sent throughout the kingdom. Send your fastest boys, for this is to take place at third bell tomorrow.”
Another nod from the boy, and Ferin lifted his hand in dismissal. Finally, he took a seat (a much more graceful one than Zane had), and gave his long time friend a dark look.
“Vance followed me into father’s room this morning.”
“He seemed determined.” Zane replied idly, sipping at his cup.
“The guards reported that he was in attendance at the tavern last night.” Ferin said, his eyes wandering the room as he thoughts. “It makes me wonder if I should have sent him and his stable boys to the cells as well.”
Zane gulped loudly and sat up, giving him another worried look. “Ferin, that would be far too brash.”
He knew Zane was right, but every bit of him ached to be rid of his brother. His brother; who had always been so careless and aloof. Vance had never attended council meetings or courtier gatherings, and had often skipped out on his father’s lectures. He had spent more time out with the common folk than learning to run a kingdom, and suddenly he was showing interest in it. Suddenly, his dark eyes held contempt and aspiration, and he was speaking up at council meetings and making trips to meet with foreign hierarchy. What caused such a change?
Ferin ignored Zane’s warning words as he thought, fingers drumming on the chair’s arm. Ever since Lady Rowena had come into White Phoenix, Vance had been the picture of princedom. Had she made him some sort of offer? Ferin couldn’t wrap his mind around what could possibly be going on, but there was definitely something. Now, Vance was clearly out to undermine his decisions, and to make matters worse, his own father was making strange calls! ‘Let the people decide’. What rubbish.
“-magic users, anyway? How can we know for sure? If we do not prove this at trial tomorrow, the people may not decide what we want them to,” Zane finished.
That was an entirely new worry for Ferin, but a thought occurred to him that could take care of it.
“The people are easily swayed by those of higher power. We simply list the obvious differences, and give examples of their magic use. The girl talks to horses, the male carries an owl at his side. White hair, for pity’s sake!”
Zane’s eyes got a bit wider and he lifted a finger. “Their horses have gone missing. I got a report a few hours back.”
Now Ferin smirked and sat back. “Call your page. We shall write up our formal argument. It will need to be so convincing that even the people could not disagree. ”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
This ride to White Phoenix was much different than the first one. The three travelers were all of Ta’llevny’s elite, and were therefore nearly silent in their paths. Fellen’drey especially, as she seemed to carry magic with her at all times. They had split up, and were taking parallel paths to the human kingdom. Each communicated through their horses, for while mind-speech could only be made from elf to beast, the horses themselves could communicate easily.
Fellen’drey set the pace, her mount moving through the trees like mist. It was as though they were still in Tarragon, even as Avaciel and Tey’ven struggled with the blunted reality that everything outside of their home brought. Still, they kept up. Their horses stayed at a smooth canter, easily avoiding drifts and hidden ditches in the track-less snow. They rode for hours, and Tey’ven’s only waking thought was that Silna and Rowena would have commented much earlier about wasting the beauty of the countryside. There was no time for sight-seeing on this trip.
“We will slow up ahead. The forest thins, and we will be in human lands soon,” Whisper announced.
Tey’ven shifted his seat in the saddle, and looked to his left to take notes of their position. His ears could just barely pick up his companion’s steps, even from the opposite side of the clearing. Whisper moved into a trot, and Tey’ven focused up ahead. The forest seemed to thin, but converge into the clearing they had been running parallel to. In the distance, there were obvious signs of habitation. In fact, he thought he recognized the farm houses from the last time he had traveled this way. The horse slowed to a fast walk, and Tey’ven lifted his feet from the stirrups, stretching his legs and eyeing the landscape.
“Will we meet?” Tey’ven asked Whisper.
“Up ahead, but I will wait for Larquin’s signal.”
Larquin was Fellen’drey’s current mount. He was one of the eldest of them all; along with Shaden, who often carried Sa’nengal. When Tey’ven caught the strong scent of fire, his eyes focused ahead. There, well hidden amongst the trees, was a human home. They had not taken this trail on their last trip, so he had not bothered to note the location. He settled his feet back into the stirrups and sat rigidly in the saddle, reverting easily back to his ghostly form. So long as he sat still, moving smoothly with Whisper’s unearthly gait, they would seem as shadows in the trees to human eyes.
Whisper gave the home and the tree-filled yard a wide berth, coming back around and continuing on the line they had been following. After another handful of minutes, Whisper stopped. Tey’ven sat still, feeling the need for quiet through the horse’s mind. Even his breath came in small, halting jolts, since he did not want the steam to be seen. Being beyond Tarragon had both horse and rider unnerved, so they were both taking every precaution they had used when on the job. After all, this was another of Ta’llevny’s orders they were following.
Without another word, Whisper began walking again. Tey’ven could only guess that they were headed to meet up with Avaciel and Fellen’drey, but he did not ask. If his mount was not communicating, there was a reason for it.
“No speaking, just follow. We are in a more populated area,” Whisper sent just as Fellen’drey and Avaciel pulled away from the trees.
It was an amazing sight to see. Especially since both were dressed in completely different types of camouflage. She was in her usual dappled grays and browns, while Avaciel wore white and gray. It seemed as though they had all dressed to match their own hair tones, since Tey’ven was wearing his black garb from that morning. Only for him, this was an unconscious preparation for battle.
The three riders met and turned back onto their path, winding through trees and making another wide circle around a human home. This one had smoke pouring from a tiny hole in the roof, and their senses were assaulted for a time. Once past that, they wound around yet another human dwelling. This one’s inhabitants were working outside; chopping wood and stringing up what looked like rabbits. Though Tey’ven was nervous at his lack of magic, the humans took no notice of them. When they passed a third home, even the guard animals slept on.
Tey’ven began to wonder why they were taking such a route. When he had come with Dolen and Silna, they had skirted the very edge of human territory. They had only come close to two human homes, and they were not so close as these. Fellen’drey must have had some sort of plan to take them on this weaving trail. He was sure of it.
“She is curious about their culture,” Whisper spoke with some amusement into his mind. When Tey’ven blanched under his cloak, Whisper continued. “She has not seen the human lands in a very long time. Apparently the farmlands of White Phoenix differ greatly from those of Van Reston. Already, she has faith in these folk.”
“The light will wane before we reach the edge of the kingdom,” Tey’ven sent back, his nerves on edge.
“She wishes to wait the night, watch from outside, and go in at the sun’s waking,” Whisper replied.
Tey’ven looked to his left and caught Avaciel’s gaze through his white cloak. The other elf was stone-faced, but his trained eye caught a twinge of nervousness. Tey’ven did the best he could to appear confident. After all, Fellen’drey was a leader. She came from a family of leaders, and she sat atop a nearly ancient mount. In Tarragon, elders were said to communicate with the magic’s Eye: The source of life and being within the forest. Whether it be through dreams or visions, those who had lived so long were gifted with a grace not yet carried by their younger kin. In short, Fellen’drey must be trusted.
They rode on like that for another hour, at least. Sometimes swinging wide around a particular home, others just barely missing their militantly kept crops. They began a diagonal path outward, back into thickening trees, and just as the sun began throwing orange light over the whiteness of the snow, they stopped.
“Interesting, to see how they live,” Fellen’drey said, her voice musical.
Larquin turned and she reached up to pull her cowl back. Her face was flushed with cold, but her eyes sparkled with interest as she looked between them both.
“I suppose the message was passed; We will wait the night. It should not be long before we see the kingdom, yes?”
Tey’ven nodded when her eyes met his. He wondered how long it had been since she had seen this land, and found himself picturing her reaction to that.
“Will we simply ride to their gates?” Avaciel asked.
Fellen’drey looked thoughtful, but completely content as she let her honey colored eyes scan the horizon.
“I believe so. It is one of the reasons I wish to watch tonight. We need to grow used to the landscape before we enter it.” She turned to look between them again, her eyes suddenly cold and calculating. “There may be a time when we need to escape quickly”
Tey’ven nodded again, and he saw Avaciel do the same from the corner of his eye. Neither of them thought that this would go quickly and quietly. Allies or not, the humans were holding his kin hostage, and they would not be leaving without completing their mission.
“Shall we continue?” Fellen’drey asked.
Both males nodded, and even as they did, each horse took off into a trot, which led to a canter. They fell into a triangle position with Fellen’drey at point, and somehow, each of their colors blended into the shadows the the trees.
There was just enough sunlight left to give the castle a glowing edge by the time they arrived at the end of the trees. Though they stayed under the cover of the shadows, all three pulled back their cowls to gaze upon the grandeur of human creation.
“This may be more difficult than we had planned,” Avaciel said warily.
Tey’ven looked first to him, and then to Fellen’drey, but the female smiled beneath her cloak, eyes once again sparkling.
“A challenge, maybe,” she answered. “But I have faith. Let us explore this place while human eyes are dulled,” she finished, her voice a hauntingly deep tone.
Tey’ven nodded, leaning in the saddle and brushing his fingers over the hilt of his black blade. It practically buzzed with life now, and he swallowed the animalistic pull to ride in and find Silna right then. If Fellen’drey had faith, then so must he.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The guard looked surprised, and Dolen did not blame him. If it was their goal to catch their prisoners sleeping, they had sorely missed it. Not only were he, Rowena and Silna awake, but they were looking fresh and prepared. The females had each done their best lay their dresses flat, and had adorned cloaks that Lora had slipped them that evening. They had all eaten, slept, and were as prepared as they could be for whatever would come that morning.
Dolen was simply happy to be out of the stone cage. The moment the guards beckoned them forward, he nearly bolted. However, he forced his mind to prepare itself for whatever might come. It would be a disaster to fail the others because of his own nerves. Silna left first, and he waited until Rowena was ahead of him to follow. That way, the human girl was surrounded by those who could protect her if necessary.
Outside, there was a line of guards on either side of the wall. Some gawked, others glared. There were few (the better ones, he guessed) who kept their gazes alert and blank of any emotion. The guards boxed them in, and Silna was forced to follow those ahead of her. They descended two stairways, and followed a long hall before spectators began arriving. Dolen picked up their footsteps (as well as a few of their scents) over the sounds their group was making.
The hardest part was deciphering their words. Whispers became mumbles, and as they entered a more crowded area, the talking all joined together in a myriad of voices. He was still not fully learned in Common, but he picked up enough to understand. Words like ‘dashing’ and ‘fetching’ meant beautiful or handsome, and he heard the words for hair, eyes, and tall used often as well. These were mainly female, and the few male voices seemed to be discussing how dangerous they might be. Dolen smirked at that translation.
Rowena turned to glance back at him often, and he saw Silna doing the same from her place as they moved. However, none of them spoke. It had been made clear the evening before that their speech might be viewed as some sort of evil to these humans. Dolen had no problem with silence, especially when his nerves were running so high. Even as they moved, more and more brightly clad humans came in as close as they dared. Some few even yelled over the guards, voices sounding either curious or blatantly demeaning. He watched as Rowena blushed, flinched, and glared in response to these comments, and was somewhat glad that he was not yet fluent.
Just as he began to feel his own body heating to an uncomfortable level, they were turned and faced the grand doorway at the front of the castle. He had been paying enough attention that if need be, he could re-trace their steps, but now his eyes focused on Ferin. He felt his face melt into a casual glare, waiting to hear what the prince would say to them. Dolen could almost feel, but could definitely hear the tumult of beings on the other side of the door. Deep down, there was another hope that humans were not as barbaric as the stories he had heard. Would there be some sort of ring they would be put in? Would this process mimic the stock trade that sometimes happened between elven clans?
Rowena leaned back to a point where he could feel her body heat, and Dolen looked back to see that Ferin had fixed his bluish gaze on her. Dolen stared, and within seconds, his glowing gaze drew Ferin’s. It was a talent he had grown used to since childhood, for apparently, even among elves, his eyes were something of an enigma.
“Bring the prisoners forward. They will be presented to the crowd,” Ferin said aloud, not looking away from Dolen.
He understood the words, since they were simple enough. His concentration was on the eye contact that the prince was making. Animals played such games. Dominance was often decided through a simple stare, and Dolen was not about to break it first. Not for this child. Ferin could be his grandson twice removed, by human standards, and his mentality left something to be desired. After a pregnant silence (even the gathered courtiers had gone quiet), the group began to move, and Ferin’s attention was dragged forcefully away by one of his men.
Dolen did not allow his simple pleasure to show, but focused forward, doing his best not to gawk as the doors were thrown open with a flourish. It was cold, and very bright, especially compared to the stone box from which they had just come. He and Silna both squeezed their eyes shut for a moment, while Rowena shaded hers. He heard her intake of breath, and found his sight again to focus. The sudden hush was replaced by a quiet hum from the crowd, and even without seeing them, he could tell it was indeed a crowd.
They were taken to the very edge of the receiving level, and stopped before what looked like a lake of people. The colors in this lot were drab; grays and browns and blacks, but it showed clearly who they were. Dolen felt a glimmer of hope as he noticed a number of raised mugs, glinting in the bright morning sun. He felt heat at his front again, and discreetly lifted a hand to place his fingers on Rowena’s back. There was a barely noticeable falter in her gait that told him how nervous she was. It was an unconscious move to put her body closer to his (something she had done even as a child), and he placed his hand against her back out of habit. He felt her take in a breath and carefully release it.
“Masters and mistresses of the court,” Ferin began.
Dolen turned at the prince’s voice and realized that he had moved himself to a higher podium. His hair was glinting more than his clothing, and Dolen wondered what exactly he had applied to make it do such a thing. He slowly let his hand fall from Rowena’s back, and turned slightly as Silna did, putting both Ferin and the crown in his peripheral vision.
“People of the kingdom,” he continued. “I bring forth three beings who have guested in our grand halls for some time! We have treated them as revered guests; held a ball in their honor, and assigned servants to ensure that their every need was met. Despite this,” Ferin looked around the crowd, seeming to soak up the attention and lift his voice even louder. “Despite our hospitality, our guests have openly displayed their affinity with magic.”
A gasp ran through the crowd, and Dolen kept his face emotionless. Magic was one of the first words he had learned, and he knew well what these folk thought of it. Ferin was obviously throwing his short sticks early, as the elven game went.
“I bring them to trial before you, great people of White Phoenix, to decide their fate. Are we to allow magic, the Godsbane, within our walls? Can we take a chance with these unknown beings, and sign a treaty that may very well bind us to their will?” Ferin’s voice was lifting, and though he was getting replies, the sound was nothing near what a crowd of that size could make.
Ferin went on, but Dolen was suddenly distracted. Flashing thoughts drifted through his mind, and he remembered it to be the very odd sensation of Snowsong’s communication. He saw the ground, still covered with snow, and a few glimpses of what he knew where their horses. Trees flashed by, and he saw a shadow, then two. Dolen was doing his best to listen to what Ferin said, but the final picture had his eyes widening fractionally. Any elf would have seen such a small turn in his facial expression and questioned it, but the humans took no notice.
He was seeing riders. All three were cloaked as Ta’llevny’s best were, and only Snowsong’s repeated passes were making them clear. They blended in as well as the surrounding landscape, and they appeared to be circling the castle. Testing the lay of the land before making some sort of move. Predators did the same with prey, and he himself did such things when tracking. Were they to be rescued? Dolen felt hope simmer, and caught a change in the announcer’s voice.
Ferin had stepped back, and the announcer was going over rules, conduct, and parties. They were introduced by name (stumbling over pronunciations of he and Silna’s fairly simple names), and he thought he heard a questioning lilt at the end. The announcer had asked something, and Rowena and Silna both searched the crowd with worried eyes.
What had the announcer asked? What where the circling riders up to? Dolen was frustrated with anxiety, and only when Vance’s voice carried over the crowd did his inner turmoil calm.
“I will,” Vance yelled from somewhere to their left, answering the announcer’s question. “I will speak for our guests.”
The crowd parted, and Vance seemed to appear, dressed well for his status and flanked by his two fully armed guards. Though his words were few, Dolen easily read beneath them. The tension was to a point of buzzing now, and he knew that before long, it would be shattered.
Between the prince, Ferin, and the riders, he could only guess what would be the hammer to the ice.