Daughter of Tarragon

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Thunder and Icicles

“This was to have been Silna’s,” Lae’ra said, handing a carved brown bow to Rowena. It was beautiful, and the pre-dawn’s grey light accented it’s curved structure in a pleasing manner.

“Oh, I can’t,” Rowena began, glancing back to Silna in protest. “I couldn’t,”

“She chose the blade,” Lae’ra answered, lifting her own gaze and meeting her daughter’s. “It will come to no use buried here.”

Silna watched with a hard gaze as her mother pulled out the matching quiver, and hushed Rowena’s protests. Her mother explained to her sister that Dolen would provide arrows, and eventually, she would learn to make her own.

Silna did not say a word as she watched, even as her sister’s brightened face turned to smile at her. She did not return the smile, but nodded once.

“They’re yours,” she said, finally stepping forward and moving around the two. It was just barely dawn, and though she could very easily sleep longer, her mind would not let her.

“I’ll meet you after the lesson, Silna!” Rowena’s voice carried over her shoulder, and she lifted a hand in reply.

Of course. Once her lesson was over, the two would meet and speak of how it went. However, Silna wondered if she could handle the details. She had barely been able to keep a hold of her temper the night before, and her sleep had been restless. Rowena’s excited preparations had done little to cool her nerves. Now, she refused to stay behind and wait for her mother’s words. Lae’ra would be sure to give her a pointed talking to, as though she were still a child.

Silna gripped the hilt of her blade and ducked under a branch, pushing her steps faster as she moved away from her home. This did not sit well with her, and there was no one who could talk her out of her own feelings. Rowena was human. She could not be expected to fight alongside those who had been training longer than she had been alive! Even Silna herself had begun training while Rowena still fought with basic garden skills.

Fighting was her job. She was not yet accepted as Blade-born, but the day would soon come. Her duty would be to stand in defense of those who could not. How could she protect Rowena when her attempts went ignored?

Silna breathed out in frustration, watching her breath create fog in the cold air. Her own adrenaline was pumping to a point where the cold did not effect her. Her blood was running so fast that she could not wait to reach her destination. She needed to practice her rounds. She needed to do something to keep her anger at bay.

“You’re making more noise than a herd of spooked deer.”

Silna gasped aloud and spun, her sword only making it halfway from her sheath before the voice registered in her mind. Her face must have played an amusing show of surprise, interest, and finally anger once more as she turned to face Tey’ven.

“I did not seek to mask my path,” she countered, looking up at him. He was cloaked, and atop Whisper. She wondered if his duties called for tracking her, but she did not ask as much.

“You might have, if you meant not to be followed,” he answered back, dismounting with a smooth grace that somehow made her even more angry.

Tey’ven had followed her the day before, but she had evaded him. At least, she had made it more than clear that her anger was not ill-placed, and she was not interested in being told otherwise. He had not pursued her, and she had found a place to run through her practice rounds until she was drained of the angry energy. Obviously, he was as persistent as she was stubborn.

“You cannot change my mind,” she said, watching him warily as he pulled off his cloak and laid if over Whisper’s saddle. He wore white today.

“I do not mean to try,” he replied nonchalantly, pulling his own sword from a sheath on Whisper’s saddle.

In reply, she took a few steps back, watching as he nodded to the horse and turned toward her. Whisper left them alone, and Silna gripped her own sword’s hilt once more.

“Anger can wear away your mind as water can wear away stone,” Tey’ven said, spreading his legs and taking on what she knew to be a prepared stance.

“It can also sharpen your mind as stone can sharpen metal,” she countered, mocking his stance and making a show of pulling her own sword.

Tey’ven grinned, which caught her off-guard to a point where she nearly missed his attack. She lifted her sword and met his, swinging away and breaking his offensive motions. Silna did not hesitate to move him onto the defensive, pulling none of her moves, and advancing as he defended against her high hits.

The two squared off as they had before, and when she saw his light eyes following her moves with interest, she practically snarled. She was not in the mood to be observed! Silna moved faster, pressing her muscles to their brink, and swinging her own blade in a myriad of swirling maneuvers that had Tey’ven actually concentrating. This, she enjoyed.

“She cannot fight!” Silna said as she swung, still pushing him further back as he blocked her blows too easily. “Rowena was not meant for the blade!”

“Rowena does not take up the blade,” Tey’ven countered, chancing a jab that she only just dodged.

Silna stepped away, turned, and barely had time to recover before he was on her again. Her anger flared once more, but before she could speak, Tey’ven continued his thought.

“She will use a bow, as your father does,” Tey’ven said, his voice annoyingly smooth for the amount of dodging he was doing.

“My father has had centuries of training,” Silna argued, pushing her motions forward in an attempt to set him off of his feet.

“One does not need centuries of training to enter a battle,” Tey’ven answered, still parrying her blows with too much ease. “And her trainer is most apt at what he will be teaching.”

“She is human, Tey’ven!” she finally yelled, throwing a lunge too wide. Tey’ven dodged, pushed forward, and had her back-stepping in a matter of seconds.

“She is a daughter of Tarragon, and she has every right to defend her home,” he finished, swinging down hard. The effect of his words, the look in his eye, and the swing itself caused her sword to slip from her fingers.

Tey’ven dropped his blade low to his side, and advanced on her until she had backed against a tree. Silna sucked in a ragged breath and turned her face away from him, feeling her eyes sting with tears.

“She will not fight, Silna,” he said softly, his voice wrapping around her like a blanket. “She will defend. She has your strength, as you have her temper.”

That made her smile. It was a reluctant, gasping grin that she tried to dash as soon as it appeared. Silna took in a slow breath, realizing that she had just yelled at, attacked, and pushed Tey’ven with all of her own temper. A flush of embarrassment came to her cheeks, and she met his gaze.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, somewhat surprised at his proximity.

He turned his sword deftly in his hand, and planted it in the ground at his side. She watched as he stepped even closer, and laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Those of Blade-born will fight all their lives. Whether it be in battles or over the last berry at breakfast,” he said softly, sliding his hand down the length of her arm. “Do not be sorry for showing me what you feel.”

Silna wrenched her eyes from his, forcing forcing herself to breath again. Before she could reply, his arm shifted, and she was caught in his embrace. That he had initiated the contact made her heart swell, and she returned the gesture. Her arms encircled his waist, and her hands slipped into the curtain of dark hair at his back. It was softer than she had imagined. Silna’s anger was forgotten easily as she laid her cheek against his shoulder, and listened to his breathing. She lost track of time, and when he set her back, she could only smile as he moved a long section of hair away from her face.

“I need to patrol,” he finally said, stepping back and lifting his sword from it’s spot in the ground.

Silna nodded, but her gaze shifted quickly when she saw motion nearby. Two white horses; one cloaked, and the other naturally colored, came closer. Tey’ven offered her the hilt of her own sword, and she accepted and sheathed it in an easy motion.

“I would prefer company,” Tey’ven added, his eyes portraying the invitation better than his words had.

Silna smiled again, and nodded. “Seems that Spirit anticipated the plan,” she said pointedly as the white horse approached.

The mare nodded her head and lifted a foot to stamp in the snow as Silna mounted.

That was a lovely display of affection,” came the voice in her mind.

“Oh, shut up!” Silna answered, speaking Rowena’s native tongue as the two moved alongside Whisper and Tey’ven. “I’m sure you were only happy to follow Whisper out here.”

The lack of reply made her think that she was not far from the truth, but her thoughts were drawn elsewhere as Tey’ven mounted Whisper and pulled up the cowl of his cloak. She did not say as much, but she knew that his invitation was as special as the embrace they had shared earlier.

Elven courtship was a very slow process, and one might spend weeks without seeing or speaking with their chosen. To doubt that he had interest in her now would be completely sightless. Tey’ven was making a point to take her along on his work-route, despite the fact that she would only hamper his duties. After all, his ability to camouflage himself was far beyond her own. In this case, they kept each other company as he made a weaving pattern through a mostly uninhabited section of the forest. The overbearing sense of impending war was temporarily forgotten, and they carried on soft conversation that kept their spirits high.

That was, until Frisle brought them Ta’llevny’s message.

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

Rowena scowled at the pile of snow and pulled out the wayward arrow. It had landed at least a foot from the marked target.

“My sight is far inferior to yours,” she said, turning and trudging back to where Dolen stood.

“I have seen a blinded bowman make his target. You need to get the feel for the string, and your own surroundings,” he explained.

Rowena sighed and turned in place, standing in the divot that she had made in the snow. This had not been what she had in mind. Somehow, she had spent the entire day and night before dreaming of herself shooting a bow just as Dolen always had. Pull, aim, and fire! The target would be struck, and she would grin and bat her eyes coquettishly under his praise.

That was far from the case. The bow was much harder to pull than she had imagined, and setting the arrows in place was not as easy as Dolen made it look. Her first three shots had not left her own hand, and the string had snapped back each time to cause a welt on her inner arm. She could only blush as Dolen slid his own guard over her wrist, tightening it to her size and tying a knot with deft fingers. After that, even his best instruction could not help her. She had at least graduated to getting the arrows into the pile of snow. However, they were landing nowhere near the target.

She set her shoulders and pulled back the thick string, doing her best to show her disinterest. How could she be expected to help in any way, when her aim was so horrid? At this point, Rowena was more than ready to take Silna’s advice; set a few traps and hide in a tree.

“Close your eyes.”

She jumped, not having expected his voice to be so close to her ear. Embarrassed by her own reaction, she took in a short breath and did as he asked her to do.

“Draw back,” he requested, and set a steadying hand against her own when she did so. “Further. Right there,” he said, still speaking softly.

“Hold it there,” Dolen let go, and left her with the bow drawn. “Do you feel that?”

Rowena mentally noted the placement of her hands and fingers. She felt exactly how tight the bow was, and where her pulling hand sat just ahead of her cheek.

“Yes,” she answered after a number of seconds.

“Alright,” he was further back now. “Open your eyes and let the arrow fly.”

She did. Her eyes opened, focused, and she shifted only slightly before firing the arrow. Once again, it missed the target, but only by a short distance. Dolen handed her another arrow.

“Once more, same thing,” he ordered.

Rowena closed her eyes again, and pulled the bow back as before. Dolen laid one steadying hand against hers for just a moment, adjusting her hold only slightly. One more thought, and she opened her eyes and fired once more. This arrow landed closer to the target.

She turned and smiled at Dolen, who nodded. “You cannot expect to be an expert in one day,” he said, lifting his gaze to the target.

Rowena turned and looked down at her hands, reddened and swollen from hours of practicing. She realized that Dolen had trained her this way on purpose. He had let her try it ‘her way’ at first, giving her a chance to make her own mistakes. That way, her imagination had a chance to correct itself. Now, he was giving her his own tips, and they were working.

Another arrow appeared over her shoulder, and she took it and strung it with much more ease than she had that morning.

“Watch the target,” Dolen said, stepping up to her side. “Get an image of it in your mind, and then close your eyes again.”

Rowena did as she was asked, almost tempted to pull the bow short again, just to feel his hands on hers once more. However, she reminded herself that this was not the time to play games. She pulled the string back until her hand was near her cheek, envisioned the target, and took in a sharp breath.

This time, she opened her eyes and fired, and her arrow touched the edge of the target. She took a step back and grinned at her own work.

“You have the technique down,” Dolen said, moving to her front and handing her the quiver (which he had filled with his own arrows). “Now, you must repeat what you have learned until it becomes a reflex.”

Rowena nodded, shouldering the quiver and moving to grasp another arrow from it. It was an awkward motion, since she had not grown used to removing the arrows while the quiver was on her own back. However, Dolen caught her hand in mid stretch, and pulled it forward to observe it. His fingers carefully turned her hands over, and ran over her swollen fingertips.

“Tomorrow, I think. You need to build up callouses,” he said softly.

In a brazen move, she used her other hand to pull lightly at his fingers, observing the callouses he spoke of. Despite the obviously toughened exterior, his skin was still soft. She imagined that was a trait that only his kind carried. Her father’s hands had always been rough from the work he did.

She looked up to find him watching her, and was trying to think of what to say when a tiny voice cut in.

“I have a-message-from your leader, Lady!”

Dolen and Rowena separated in a jolting flinch, both caught unawares by Wylden’s entrance. She felt herself blushing as she faced him, not having registered the words. Luckily, Dolen had understood.

“What news?”

“Your-great-leader has seen the death of the human-king!”

“Vance’s father?” Rowena gasped, now feeling the weight of the tiny fairy’s words.

Wylden nodded, his wings flickering as he hovered in mid-air. “He is dead. Your-great-leader bids you prepare. The humans will come!”

Dolen moved forward immediately, going to retrieve the arrows from their make-shift target. He approached her with fast steps, sliding them into his own quiver. Rowena turned and met his pace as they began trekking back through the trees.

“I suppose this means Ferin is king,” Rowena said, her eyes searching ahead of her blindly as she thought.

“That is probable. We’ll meet with Tey’ven to be sure,” Dolen answered. “Our practices may be more difficult in the days to come.”

Rowena nodded, not speaking for some time as the two made their way swiftly back toward their homes. Finally, she felt the weight of death settle over her heart, and sighed out the whispered words.

“Poor Vance.”

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

Bells rung through his ears, vibrating him to his very core. The sun was setting, casting an orange glow across the square, and catching several icicles as they hung from stone corners. They were the only distinctive feature in his mind. He felt young, tired, and weepy eyed once more. The same bells, the same silence, and finally, the same gravelly voice reciting an old send-off. Only, his mother had died in the spring. There had been bird-calls then, and a warm breeze. Thunder had been rolling in the distance, which struck him as foreboding, even as a child.

The icicles had not hung at her funeral, but they hung at his father’s. They, too, struck him as foreboding.

The gravelly voice ended, and the people recited an answer to his old-spoken prayer. Vance mouthed the reply. His eyes drifted vaguely over the crowd, all packed in tightly in the square. He met a few gazes, and received some nods, some gestures, and one soft smile. Lora. She had tears in her eyes, and he wondered why. His father had done nothing kind to her or her family. Why would she cry?

His hazel gaze took him next to his brother. Ferin was looking gallant in his dark attire. There was no hint of previous sadness in his eyes, though his face was solemn. Vance tried to imagine him as king, watching over the kingdom as their father had, but the image would not come. It was faded, hazy, and unfocused. Taking in a breath, Vance straightened his stature and watched as a line of flags were lifted. The procession started, and he saw a horse move on either of his sides. Treasure moved with them, and Vance remembered that he was in the saddle. Dale and Cameron were on either of his sides, and they had been practically leading him throughout this entire ceremony.

Drums began, and the procession followed. Vance vaguely watched the scenes pass him by, and was taken back again to his mother’s funeral. He had not ridden, but sat in a carriage with Ferin. The two had not spoken the entire time, except one whispered question that he had dared to ask.

Why do they put her in the ground?” Vance had asked Ferin.

The elder boy had pursed his lips in a mock-angry look that he so often used to cover sadness.

All dead people go to the ground, Vance,” Ferin had answered. “They can’t walk any more, can they? Where else would they go?”

Visions of his mother caught beneath the earth, unable to breathe, had haunted him for months. It was not until he spoke alone with one of the men-at-arms that he gained any measure of peace.

Oh they move on, you know,” the grisled war-leader had explained. “Not their bodies, but their life-force. Comes outta them like smoke, and drifts into the sky. She’ll be up there, watching ya. No doubt o’that.”

Vance took in a deep breath and watched his father’s stone resting box as it was lowered into a pre-carved hole in the royal crypt. His breath came out in a fog, and he moved his gaze to watch it lift into the air. The sky was blue, clear, and crisp as he sighed again. He could only imagine his father’s life-force drifting up into the air to join his mother’s.

The bells tolled again, this time in the distance. He remembered enough to know that it was done. His father had been laid to rest. A new king would take his place, even as he watched on from above.

His gazed focused on the fabric flag that hung from a mast at the crypt’s entrance. The phoenix; wings spread, rising from the ground itself. In that moment, he realized that a king did not simply step forward and accept his throne. A king was made, from the dirt of his kingdom and the life-force of his own people.

Vance watched the sun set on the horizon, knowing that Ferin’s coronation would be held in the not-so-distant future. As Treasure turned and began passing the gathered crowd, he took in a resolved breath and made a decision. Charles’ plan would be put into motion, and he would join the cause and fight, even if it meant dying at his brother’s hands.

His father’s last words to him had been ‘let the people decide’, and Vance knew that they had done just that. His job would be to carry out their decision.

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