Daughter of Tarragon

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Fighting Words

It had been Charles’ idea for Vance to blend in with the crowd, and it seemed to have worked. Ferin’s facade dropped easily, and any who still looked in his direction would have noticed it. The group immediately surrounding Vance (Lora, Charles, Dale and Cameron included) all stepped aside once he had announced himself, and the crowd parted easily from there. Many apparently knew of the plan, others were simply surprised to see the second prince within their numbers.

“I will represent them,” Vance added to his original words, stepping through the crowd and ascending the stone stairs with his guards at his side.

Ferin blinked, glared, and took a breath before opening his mouth to protest. However, the announcer (an aging man who would also play the judge, if Vance remembered correctly), leaned in and whispered to Ferin.

Vance stopped and let his gaze drift over those of his friends; Silna’s hardened blue eyes, Rowena’s frightened, but trusting brown, and Dolen’s ever-wary green. He did his best to look confident, even as his own nerves frayed at the edges. Ferin’s little speech had riled a good handful of the crowd (even a few whom Vance had thought to be allies), and he worried that this trial would not be as easily won as he had first thought.

Lora had done her best to communicate with the fairies, and their only backup plan was a wild escape that involved stealing horses and abandoning the kingdom. That was a last resort.

“I am unable to accept such representation,” the announcer stated loudly, glancing between both brothers. “Royal family members are unable to represent those on trial. Will another step forward for either side?”

“I will speak for prince Ferin’s accusations,” Zane spoke up from Ferin’s side.

The blond had preened himself as well as he could, and Ferin did not look surprised at his volunteering. Dale twitched beside Vance, and he lifted a hand to stay him. As always, he was nearly too eager to help. Vance doubted that Dale would be able to go against Zane’s charismatic speech. He began to worry in earnest as he wondered who would. Finally, there was a mumbling in the crowd, before Vance heard the voice he had hoped to hear.

“I will speak against Lord Ferin’s accusations,” Charles said loudly.

Dale shifted, and Vance turned to look down at the crowd. Once again, they parted to reveal Charles as he made his way up after Vance. The limping man took his time on the stairs, and threw a wink to Vance and his sons as he moved past them.

“So be it. The accuser’s representative will speak first. The defender's will speak second.” The announcer ordered blandly, as Zane and Charles took their places on either side of the highest part of the raised staircase.

That this would all take place on the very front steps of the castle was a surprise to Vance. He had witnessed one or two of these trials before, but he had never stayed to watch. Such events were chances for him to flee the pressure of the castle and enjoy the open air. However much he wanted to continue his habits, there would be no avoiding this trial.

“As our first prince stated, we cannot allow any being who appears to be working against us in our home. It is not a question of whether they will be banished,” Zane said with lifted brows, his eyes sparkling in the morning sun. “But a question of whether to hold them. They have stayed with us for days! Surely, it has been long enough to gather the proper information.”

Zane went on, and Vance had a surge of hope. His words were so outlandish and brash, that most of he audience was struck dumb. Only the most brightly dressed (mostly female) courtesans were nodding their heads, sending worried looks in the direction of Rowena and the elves. However, the more he went on, the more the crowd quieted. The most stunning point came when Zane flung his arm out, and Ferin watched on with a wicked gleam in his eye.

“Proof in physical form,” Zane announced, eyeing one of the guards who currently formed a gate around the three Tarragon natives.

The guards parted, and one grabbed Dolen by either arm, turning him so that his pointed ears were more than apparent to the crowd. The ears were larger, and there looked to be two canals that lead into the head. Vance had not noticed that aspect before, even after seeing Tarragon first-hand. He had either forgotten to hide them, or been forced to wear his hair in such a revealing fashion. From the angry, dodging motion his body made, it was not the latter.

The crowd hushed, and Vance noticed that Charles was glaring in Zane’s direction. Clearly, the elven ears were no surprise to him either.

“These beings are not of our kind!” he continued, his eyes wide and theatrical for his performance. “The word of our high kings passed down has said that those who follow the paths of darkness shall bear it’s mark on their own person. What more a mark do we need than such things? White hair, animal’s ears,” Zane took in a short breath and nodded to himself, obviously enjoying the rapt attention he had gained. “I propose that these folk be kept, or at least rendered unable to pass along their messages before being banished.”

“I propose we treat them as the neighbors they are,” Charles cut in, his deep voice barking over Zane’s smooth tone.

He sounded like a military leader should, and the crowd practically stopped breathing. Dale and Cameron tensed at his sides, and Vance steeled his face to show no emotion. He nodded only slightly when Charles met his gaze, and the elder man went on.

“How can we judge based on their clothes, or natural born appearances?” Charles argued. “We could be dealing with a well-off bunch’a folk who are more than willing to trade with us! So far as I hear, they’ve been saying nothing but good things in those council meetings, but the good folk out here wouldn’t know that, would they?” Charles edged a glare in Ferin and Zane’s direction before continuing.

“Our high king’s word does say to ’ware those who walk the paths of darkness, but these folk show no signs of darkness! Not a dark shadow on ’em, if you see!” he turned and gestured toward the Tarragon natives. “Bright ’n beautiful, if you ask me. Our high king’s word says to look to those who are shrouded in light, their very souls will shine brighter than the fires we light at the sun’s passing.”

Charles was doing as well a job as Zane, but the first prince still looked full of himself. Vance wondered exactly what Ferin had up his sleeve.

“We do not doubt their beauty,” Zane interrupted. “However, we doubt their origin. Van Reston has sent us bandits, thieves, and in a more recent case, assassins! Why, our most recent catch bore the same white hair and bright eyes, did he not?”

Anger flooded Vance’s veins, and he fought to keep himself calm. That was not something he had thought of. Indeed, a prisoner of years past had been a fair-skinned, yellowish-white haired teen who had sickly pink eyes. He had ridden into the kingdom under the guise of a tradesman, and handed off several beautiful cloths to the ladies of the court. Soon after, however, those same ladies became ill. Van Reston had sent a strange, ill-born child to attempt to spread a famine throughout their kingdom. The boy could not even speak the language, and had gotten by only on hand gestures and a soft smile from underneath a hood.

The crowd buzzed and shifted, worry spreading clearly. Even the guards who surrounded the Tarragon natives backed away, their eyes widening with fear. Ferin looked smitten, and Zane allowed his words to settle in. Then, the people towards the back of the crowd began milling. When the noise level rose up above normal, Vance actually turned to see what was going on. If Zane had caused a riot with those words....

It was not a riot, but visitors. Three of them on horse-back, approaching from the far end of the kingdom’s walls. Vance thought he recognized a fall of white and black hair before Ferin’s voice rang out over the loud mumbling.

“What right was given to open our gates?” he demanded.

Vance was ready to ask the same, but he heard Silna gasp behind him, and squeezed his eyes in an effort to focus over the crowd. Tey’ven! The elf was riding his horse (without his layers of cloak to hide him), and was flanking a female with long brown hair. On her other side was another white-haired elf.

“S-she spoke the word, Lord Ferin. The Na’restil,” one of the gate-guards (who was also on horseback) said. “I am oath-bound to let them pass.”

“What? What madness do you speak of?” Ferin had started at a yell, but his voice faded when he leaned in to listen. The announcer and Zane had both paled, and were whispering to him.

Whatever they said, it made Ferin back away from his place in the center, looking out over the crowd with wide eyes. Vance wracked his brain for what the words meant. Na’restil. Where had he heard that before? It was obviously something that was detrimental in the gate-guard’s training, but not something that many others knew of.

The guests were allowed closer, and the crowd readily parted for them, much as they had parted for him. They were a beautiful trio, and there was no doubt of their origin. The lead female was displaying her ears openly, and without shame. All three gazes were trained on their kin, especially Tey’ven, who was showing more on his face than in the few times Vance had seen him.

“And who are you?” Ferin’s voice was cool again, and Vance turned to see his brother practically seething.

“Avaciel, Tey’ven and Fellen’drey of Tarragon. All on a mission from our leader, Ta’llevny of Tarragon, with whom your forebears have broke their fasts. We come to claim our kin, on the word of an emissary older than your father’s father. By the Na’restil, it was said that we may not hold each other in arms, for we are of one land.”

There. It had been the way she said it, with the flowing elven accent, that made him remember. It was a pact. Something he had learned during his well-schooled youth. It had not piqued his interest because it was a pact between lands, with something called the ‘Tergien Province’. In the pact, they had not been called elves, but ‘natives’. Could there have been a pact with Tarragon that time itself had forgotten?

Ferin had obviously had a similar bout of remembrance, for he stood white-faced before the crowd, staring at Fellen’drey with quirked brows.

“What if your kin have committed wrong-doing in our lands?” Zane piped up, earning a nervous glance from Ferin.

Vance turned (as did most of the crowd), eager for Fellen’drey’s response. Even Charles was struck quiet by this intervention, a ghost of amusement over his face.

“Ours is one land, as it is written. Tarragon, Targionne, Tor’en’doril. All words for the same land which lay here long before your grand castle was built,” Fellen’drey answered, a haunting sincerity in her eyes. “We will take on a document of complaint against them, and deal proper punishment through our people’s system.”

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

Rowena was lost in her own thoughts. She herself was much too nervous to be anything but still. Having Dolen and her sister so close were the only saving factors in this instance. Of course, compared to the stuffy stone room in which they had been locked, the fresh morning air was brilliant! Being surrounded by castle guards in cold armor did not do much to bolster her mood. Especially as Zane spoke in his flowing, charismatic tone to an audience as wary of them as he was. She saw heads nodding and heard hushed whispers. Most time, all she had to do was meet the gaze of one of those crowd members to see the fear.

When they revealed Dolen’s pointed ears, she thought she might faint. Seeing the redness in his cheeks and the forced motions made her wonder if he would strike. He easily stepped out of the guard’s grip, but it was obvious that it took all he had not to attack. On the verge of tears, Rowena blocked out Zane’s words and discreetly took both Dolen and Silna’s hands. How could it have come to this? How could she bring two of her most trusted and loved companions into such a mess?

Dolen shifted closer as a tear rolled freely down her cheek, but her attention was caught at the same time as the rest. Silna gasped aloud, and gripped Rowena’s had so tightly that she worried it might bruise. It took her a moment to focus, but she saw what had caused her sister’s actions. To her great surprise, it was Tey’ven!

He and two of Ta’llevny’s riders had arrived, apparently having walked right through the castle’s outer gates. She listened to the exchange with interest, not understanding the things Fellen’drey spoke of. Dolen, however, looked much more intrigued than he had just moments before. Silna could not seem to keep her eyes from Tey’ven. The three were not cloaked as they usually were, most likely to keep themselves looking as normal as possible. If that had been their goal, they had not accomplished it.

Rowena saw Silna’s eyebrow lift high at the sound of the word ‘punishment’. Amusement threatened her face before she steeled it again, standing stock still. Ferin leaned over to converse in whispers with the announcer, and though she could not hear their words, the hand gestures gave away his anger. Finally, he stood moved back to the podium in a huff.

“So be it. Take them and be gone,” Ferin barked, and the crowd once again hushed.

The second prince stormed away from the podium, leaving Zane and the announcer standing in his wake with wide eyes. The crowd milled, and the guards around them shifted. It looked as though it were too easy. There were a few shouts of glee, a few more of anger, and some of them seemed to be angry that they would need to return to work. However, Ferin stopped and turned lifting a finger and glaring back at the elves.

“The treaty was rejected, so hear this; We will not dally with magic users. Your land is not one with ours, until we make it so. Not until it is cleansed of the godsbane.” Ferin stopped speaking and stormed through the main doors.

“Ferin!” Zane called, trotting after the prince after a moment’s hesitation.

The guards shifted, and Dolen and Silna both tensed. Rowena craned her neck and saw Vance lift his hand in a gesture, and at an acknowledging nod from the announcer, the guards parted.

Silna was off in a bound, and the tumult of people parted for her. Rowena moved after her sister, and Dolen did not leave her side. She came to a halt by Vance, unable to stop herself from grinning. What stopped her was his answering frown.

“We are free, Vance. Did I hear correctly?”

“You are free, but Ferin has just spoken words that will not be forgotten,” he hissed, staring after his brother.

“Rowena!” Lora gasped.

She was caught up in a hug, and spun in place. Her arms were still tight around Lora when she caught the look on Dolen’s face. Though relieved, he too was unhappy.

“What’s wrong?” Lora asked, stepping back and looking between both males.

“Those are fightin’ words,” Charles said from behind them.

Rowena turned to face the limping man, and he shook his head in a disappointed manner.

“Best be after your brother, Lord Vance. He’s likely headed for yer father now.”

Vance nodded solemnly and met Rowena’ gaze.

“Leave now. I will find a way to send word,”

She felt her own head shaking, denial rising up in her throat. Only manners kept her from blatantly saying no.

“Vance, if something is wrong-”

“Go now. Your leader wants you home,” Vance turned to look back at the other elves. Tey’ven had dismounted, and was conversing with Silna. “He sent his best, if I’m seeing correctly. Go to Tarragon, and I’ll find a way to send word. I fear this is not the end.”

“Not if Ferin has anything to do with it,” Charles said.

Vance nodded, looking to Lora, then Rowena, and finally to Dolen. Both males nodded to one another, a strange understanding passing between them. The prince took off at a trot, weaving into the crowd and finally vaulting the stairs two at a time. Dale and Cameron met him and escorted him through the castle doors, moving into an easy lope at his sides.

“Go on then,” Charles said in a soft voice to her. “We’ll keep it clean here for you folk. As best we can, anyway.”

Rowena nodded to him, and thanked him heartily before he disappeared into the crowd. Many followed him, while others just watched, sipping their drinks and nodding discreetly in her direction. Lora moved forward, as if ready to lead both she and Dolen toward their kin, but Rowena did not move.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to Lora.

“No, please,” Lora stood back on her heels and looked her over as a mother might look over a daughter. “Don’t think like that. Without you,” Lora sighed in a short breath and looked around, trying to find the words. “I’ve never felt so alive before, Rowena. Without you, without Tarragon, my heart would be a silent flicker. My eyes would be closed and I would not see the lights this world can hold.”

“You are a shining bridge,” Dolen’s voice cut in from her side, and she met his gaze with her own wide one. “You connect two worlds, and provide refuge where it is needed on either side. Ta’llevny himself sends his esteemed riders into a foreign land to protect you,” he went on in elven, his face softening as he thought. “How can you think you have done wrong?”

With Dolen speaking to her in such a soft voice, honestly asking her something that she could not answer, she all but forgot her own reasoning. Lora stood by without interjecting, while Rowena’s mouth opened and closed, and her eyes finally dropped from his, unable to concentrate. Only when Silna called her name did she remember that she was standing in the middle of a writhing crowd, and the urgency of Vance’s orders came fast to her mind.

“Windwalker,” she whispered, turning and moving towards her sister.

“They should be outside of the gates,” Lora answered.

“Yes,” Dolen replied in Common, eyeing the sky as he walked.

Rowena guessed that Snowsong was not far off, and was providing Dolen with images from outside. It seemed that his connection with the bird ran much farther than usual. Though they could not speak to each other, their mental connection was strong. She made a note to speak to him about that before Silna’s face came into full view.

“We are leaving now,” Silna announced, and Rowena nodded in reply.

“Rowena will ride with me,” the brown haired female said from atop her horse. “The Watcher will ride with Avaciel. Your mounts await you on the other side of the gates.”

Rowena met the female’s honey-colored gaze, ready to remind her of Dolen’s name. Her words caught in her throat. Something about this female sent waves of calm down her spine. It was as though her entire form emitted a sort of call for respect. As Fellen’drey offered her a soft smile, she realized that she had not meant to insult Dolen. She had used his title, which was apparently worth much more than any of them knew.

Fellen’drey pulled her up with ease, and Rowena settled in behind her as the horse turned in place. The sight of so many people around them staring, some with bright smiles and others with obvious glares, was enough to put any awkward feelings out of her mind. As they all rode toward the gate, Rowena turned in her seat, straining her eyes until she finally caught sight of Lora. The human girl was waving, her eyes sparkling with what might have been tears.

“Travel safely!” Lora said loud enough for her to hear. She spoke the elven words with a near-perfect accent.

“Stay safe, visit as soon as you can!” Rowena replied in kind.

Lora’s short nod let her know that she understood, and Rowena finally turned in the saddle. They did not speak as they rode back to Tarragon. Not even Silna and Tey’ven exchanged a word. The only words that filled her mind were Spirit’s calming mantras, reminding her that things would be alright soon. They were going home.

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