Daughter of Tarragon

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Rowena had explained their trip, why a rescue was necessary, and had done her best to explain the personality differences between Vance and his brother. Most of her audience understood, but a few still asked questions. Human culture was extremely confusing to some of the more ‘wild’ elves. From what she could see, most of Fellen’drey’s people were not as well learned as she. Somehow, they looked more dangerous than the Blade-borne.

“Vance and Ferin are the king’s sons; known as princes. In their culture, the eldest of the two brothers will gain the throne to the White Phoenix kingdom, whether or not he is more fit,” Rowena’s voice faltered slightly, and she cleared her throat. “Vance, the younger, is the emissary who entered this forest without trouble. Ferin, the elder, is the rumored attacker. He is the one who tried to set fire to our outer perimeter.”

Gasps, yells, and even a few strange growling sounds came from the otherwise silent crowd. Unlike the humans, they recovered quickly, standing with silent patience as she went on. Rowena focused on her mother’s gaze and continued.

“The current king of White Phoenix is ill, and Ferin is preparing himself for the throne. Vance is working with a group of humans who believe he should be king, in an effort to keep Ferin’s men from coming to Tarragon.”

“From what I hear, this Ferin cannot be crowned king!” someone spoke up. “If he does, there will be war.”

“That looks to be so,” Rowena finished, looking downward.

“Which is why we are all gathered here,” Ta’llevny cut in. “Those of us who are gifted with any kind of future sense have foreseen a clash. I wish to be prepared for such a thing,” he explained. “We are gathered here to get the information directly from the source, so that the story cannot grow beyond it’s own reaches. There are some humans who may come to our borders looking for peace. Do not seek to attack early. If the forest welcomes them, so shall you.”

Rowena was so relieved to have the pressure off of her own shoulders that she nearly ignored Ta’llevny’s words. Silna had only spoken in reply to few questions, and Dolen had not answered any. Snowsong had flown from his arm and sat well above them all, watching from what must be a much better vantage point.

“Stay alert, and listen for a message. I will send out riders if and when the time comes to move to our border,” Ta’llevy finished.

It was a dismissal, and the crowd began melting into the trees almost immediately. Ta’llevny turned and gave her a soft smile and an assenting nod before approaching one of the lingering groups. Rowena’s ears heard the soft hum of conversation mixed with the shifting of leaves before Silna let out a loud sigh.

“So we wait,” she said with slight disdain, turning to face Rowena.

“You can’t be ready for war,” Rowena replied, her brows drawing down over her eyes.

“Not in the least, but I would prefer to be sure that our friends were safe,” Silna answered.

The words struck Rowena to heart, and she realized as she looked between Dolen and Silna, that they had all made friends in White Phoenix. She smiled and watched as Snowsong flew down to land lightly on Dolen’s arm again.

“If we are to fight, I could stand some lessons in battle,” Rowena suggested, turning to move back toward A’dair and Lae’ra. It had been a thought that was on her mind since they had been attacked, and she hoped that her sister would not over-react. Then again, she knew Silna too well.

“No, Rowena,” Silna protested. “You cannot.”

“She should learn some form of defense, in the least,” Dolen put in, and Rowena turned long enough to send him another smile.

“She is not able to fight! That is why I train for such things!” Silna argued.

“She is human, and we will be battling humans,” Tey’ven’s voice stopped all of them in their tracks.

Rowena turned and smiled at Tey’ven, but his face was grim. Silna was staring at him with a mixture of anger and intrigue. It was a fascinating thing, watching the two of them interact.

“This will be a hard battle. Any being living within a few hour’s walk of the forest’s border should be trained in self defense,” Tey’ven said.

“She can set traps,” Silna argued. “Hide in a tree. No need to give her a sword!”

“A sword is not the only weapon one uses in battle,” Dolen said.

“Fine!” Silna practically barked, turning on her heel and walking away from them. “Do what you want, but I will not allow her to walk the front lines!”

“She gets that from me, I think,” Rowena mused, watching her sister storm off in a very un-elf-like manner.

“There is no doubt of that,” Tey’ven admitted, and Rowena looked up to catch a ghost of a smile on his lips. It did not lost long, and he was looking between she and Dolen a moment later. “I assume you’ll teach her to use a bow?” he asked Dolen, who nodded in response.

Tey’ven nodded, and turned to move in a direction slightly similar to the one Silna had taken. She barely caught the sound of him mumbling words, and looked to see that Dolen had certainly heard them. What Tey’ven had said was enough to put a soft smile on his face, and Rowena felt blessed to have caught it before it dropped.

“Tomorrow morning, as the sun wakes,” he said to her.

That was early. Regardless, Rowena nodded, offering him a smile before he turned to leave. As with the rest of his kind, he seemed to melt into the surrounding trees.

“There is no better teacher,” Rowena said softly, repeating Tey’ven’s complimentary words.

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

The city was tense. It bled out of the castle itself like a fog, and slid around each of the inns and more wealthy homes with slow surety. Vance guessed that even the outland farms would be milling with tension, waiting to hear the latest news from the center of the kingdom.

There were three facts that were currently clear: The king of White Phoenix was on death’s door, Ferin had called a war council, and Vance had spoken against it. Even the wildest rumors could not twist those facts very far. However, he had certainly heard some strange tales as he passed. Unfortunately, the majority of them were in regards to the beautiful creatures who had entered their kingdom just that morning.

He had ordered Cameron to trail behind him and wait near the tavern. Part of him wanted at least one guard directly at his side, but another part of him needed to blend in. One did not blend in well with an armored guard at his flank.

Vance stopped and took in a breath as he nearly tripped over a two-wheeled cart. “Forgive me,” he said quickly, deftly recovering in his steps, and laying a steadying hand on the laden cart.

“Oh, no need, Lord Vance. You get on to your meetin’. We’ll keep an eye out for ya,” a middle-aged woman winked at him and addled away, pulling the heavy cart behind her.

His stomach dropped at her words, at first. How could she know about the meeting? However, the more he thought, the more he realized that it was likely a passing message sent by Charles. Only those who openly followed him would know about the meeting, and if he knew Charles, each of them had a specific task. Vance set his posture straight, and took sure steps for the rest of the trip to the tavern.

It was warm, and he only really appreciated that when he stepped out of the cold air and closed the heavy door behind him. There was a split second of silence, followed by mumbling welcomes and hearty nods. A few even went so far as to slap him on the back. Vance looked for the table in the back corner, and to his surprise, his eyes met Lora’s. Charles was next to her, and stood to offer a stern handshake when he approached.

“This’ll be fast. The boys’re already workin’,” Charles said vaguely as Vance sat down.

“There is a plan, then?” he asked, glancing again to Lora.

“Only if you approve, o’course,” Charles answered. When Vance nodded for him to go on, he did. “I’ve asked around, and nobody wants to be here when your brother takes the reins. They’re willin’ to to do just about anything to stop it.”

Vance leaned his elbows on the table and put his face in his hands, taking in a long breath. He had a feeling that he knew where this was going. As much as he despised Ferin, he was did not think he could take the death of two family members in such a short span of time.

“Now, we can’t just jump up and do anything now, but we can prepare. If an’ when your brother takes over, we move,” Charles finished.

Vance set his weary gaze on the elder man and sat back in his chair again, not bothering to hide his slumped posture.

“I don’t know,” Vance said softly. Could he live the rest of his life knowing that Ferin’s death was on his hands?

“It won’t be easy Lord Vance, we know,” Charles went on, leaning forward and speaking in a low tone.

“There are so many more than you think who will follow you, Vance. Most are even willing to take their families. Leave their homes! I doubted it at first, but-”

“Leave?” Vance asked, interrupting Lora as he sat up more. “Wait, you mean to abandon White Phoenix?”

“Not for good, no. We mean to switch sides,” Charles answered, his words carefully enunciated.

“Switch sides...” Vance tested the words on his tongue, looking between Lora and Charles. Both were staring right back at him with meaningful looks in their eyes. “Fight for Tarragon?” he whispered.

Lora nodded, her eyes lighting in a familiar way. Charles offered an assenting lift of his chin. Vance found himself sitting up once more, leaning on the table so that he was closer to either of them.

“You mean to tell me that the plan is to make an army of my followers?”

Lora knew him well enough to recognize the look on his face, and she jumped right to the plan’s defense.

“Not all of them would actually fight. Those with families will have camps well out of the way. Those who want to help with the plan will do so, and those who are willing to fight will be armed,” she explained. “Even that oldest and youngest have ideas as to how they could help.”

She sounded amazed, and he did not blame her. Vance could not picture such a thing.

“I did not hear so many of their voices today,” he admitted.

“They’re not vocal, this lot,” Charles said. “They were ready to be if they had to, but only then. You of all people should know the punishments that get passed out to us lower end folk.”

Vance’s lips pulled into a tight line and he nodded, once again focusing on the wood-grain on the table as he thought. The lines melded together as his eyes unfocused, and he could almost see a drawn map of Tarragon’s border. Speckled dots were his army. His army of farmers and merchants, standing before a legion of Ferin’s shining men.

“I cannot put them in that kind of danger,” he whispered.

“We’re there, Vance. We’re in danger,” Lora implored, canting her head in an attempt to catch his gaze. The map became wood-grain again, and he met her green eyes. “There is no longer a question of if. When Ferin becomes king, he will wage war on a people who do not deserve it. He will continue in your father’s fading footsteps, and track a path of his own that will lead us into a gray haze.”

“This is why I wanted her here,” Charles grumbled, eyeing his daughter with a smile. “She’s better with words.”

Vance took in a long breath and sat up in the chair again.

“The plan’s in motion, Lord Vance. Say the word and we’ll stop,” Charles continued. “But I think this is our best action.”

“He served in the last land wars,” Lora put in. “If anyone knows how to plan, it’s him.”

Vance nodded and met Charles’ gaze. “Alright,” he acquiesced. “I trust you. What do we do now?”

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

The sun set on the day, and Ferin sat in his room writing at a furiously fast pace. It was not like him to write in the first place, much less so much. However, this was an entirely unique situation. He was elated at the mere fact that he was in charge, and was not nearly patient enough to dicate the words to anyone else.

Zane sat snoozing in a chair nearby, and Gordon was looming in one of the corners.

“Spell sequestered,” Ferin ordered, and Gordon did so.

His handwriting was atrocious, but that was no worry. So long as his stamp and signature were at the bottom. His stamp! His pen scrawled faster as he thought of it. How very gallant, for this first stamped order to be a declaration of war. This, he was certain, would go down in history.

Ferin took a moment to skim over his own words, pleased at the fact that the order itself took up two whole pages. There would be more added once the official ordinance was passed, but he enjoyed the look of his own script under the royal crest.

“Bring my stamp,” Ferin ordered again. He would have easily reached it himself by turning his chair, but this was official. He wanted it to feel official.

Gordon left his place in the corner and once again did as he was asked. There was no hint of emotion on the elder man’s face, but Ferin knew him well enough to know that he was pleased. A sniffing sound, and a short intake of breath broke his reverie.

“What’d I miss?” Zane slurred as he sat up.

“You are about to miss the official signing of a war declaration,” Ferin said smoothly.

Zane scrambled up from his seat, and only Ferin’s glare kept him from tripping over his own shoes.

“Brilliant! And the council will meet?”

“Second bell, tomorrow,” Gordon answered.

“Lord Ferin, you do amaze me,” Zane preened, somehow having returned to his bright-eyed, handsome stance even moments after waking.

Ignoring the blatant attempt at fluffing his ego, Ferin pointedly lifted the stamp from the plate in Gordon’s hand, dipped it in the ink he used to write the document, and pressed it onto the bottom of the page. With innate grace, he placed the stamp back on the plate, lifted the pen once more, and drew out his gallant, looping signature underneath.

“And there we have it. It is official. Our Lord Ferin, King In Waiting, will bring us hope for the future,” Zane said proudly, lifting a cup of wine and sipping it in his own private toast. Gordon stood by silently, but there was a certain spark in his gaze.

Ferin smiled, and stared down at the document with a great sigh. This was his first action as king. Almost. The term King In Waiting echoed in his mind, and he was reminded that in order for him to be called a king, his father would need to pass on. An impatient, writhing monster welled deep within him, roaring for the old man to just die! However, the son; the young boy that resided in his mind fought back with a heart-wrenching cry. His father would be gone.

He would be king. A king would not spend time mulling over sadness. A king had to think for his people, and his people were in danger as long as these magic-users were left to live so near to their borders. Haunting images of ice-colored eyes and flowing white hair crossed his mind, and he squeezed his eyes shut just for a moment to rid himself of them.

Ferin wrapped his fingers around his own wine glass and lifted it, meeting Zane’s gaze with a resolved look on his face. He would go to war with Tarragon, defeat them as godsbane should be defeated, and expand the boundaries of White Phoenix as his father had always wished to do. He would be the better king.

“To the future,” Ferin said.

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

Ta’llevny sat alone in his tree-home, staring down the darkened hall in front of him. For the first time in hours, he had no visitors to attend. He did not have any plans to explain, or messages to send. There were sounds of sleep-breathing, a scant few whispered conversations, and soft hoofbeats from below, but those were nothing to worry over.

His mind worked in a way that even he had not come to grow used to, until recently. With age had come the wisdom that so many seek, and an extension of his own abilities that had aided in his ascension to status. Nature itself, and the magic-based heart of the forest had chosen him. At first, he had rebelled, thinking that he could in no way follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, but his visions changed his mind. Ta’llevny had always had a strong sense of future happenings, and they began to come more frequently as he grew into his power. He saw himself as he was that day; older, wiser, and every bit the leader that his homeland and it’s people needed him to be. Because of that, he had settled, learned, and accepted his role.

Now, he faced a change that had been brewing deep in his mind for some time. It was unnerving that his own ability would not show him the end. He could only see the swords clashing. He would only hear the yells, and the bowstrings snapping as the battle wore on. Who would be the victor? Even the great leader of Tarragon Forest could not tell. There was a constant calm that surrounded his heart. It was something that helped him live through so many centuries without seeing the world in grays and blacks. That same calm was his only hope at that time. Hope, it seemed, was the only thing that kept any being feeling alive in the face of certain death.

Death. The word rung in his mind, and he felt himself waking. Though his eyes stared straight ahead, seeing a dark hall, his mind had been elsewhere. Now, a tone rung in his mind as a bell. Over and over. Death, and death. He fought to draw in air, and in the final scene before he was pulled awake, he saw a blank, slate colored gaze.

Ta’llevny gasped and sad rigid in his chair.

“What-is-it? Something-ails you!”

It took time, but he had had plenty to grow used to Fairy speech. Still, it took him another span of seconds to answer the Fairy’s fast-spoken question.

“Pass on the word that preparations are to begin in earnest,” he said softly, his eyes still staring straight ahead. Now, black pupils shifted in size within green and gold irises as he focused.

“Yessir! What ails you?”

Ta’llevny let the truth settle and sit in his mind for a time before he answered, the words confirming his own dream.

“The king of White Phoenix has breathed his last breath.”

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