Daughter of Tarragon

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A Fairy Welcome

It was working out almost too easily. Charles had planned the entire process out to a point where mistakes were few, and complaints were even more scarce. Those with any military training kept to the outside of the long line of travelers. Charles and his most trusted men stayed at the front, along with Lora (who knew the way). Vance, Dale, and Cameron took turns riding up and down the line to check on the group and see if anyone had seen signs of their being followed.

Families joined the procession as they began to cross through the farming regions. Many were men and older boys (who left their wives and younger kin at home), but one farmer brought his three grown daughters, who looked as hardy as the young men did.

Once they had been moving for more than a few hours, Vance joined Charles and Lora up at the front of the procession, asking some of the men to keep far to the back. If they saw anyone approaching, they would ride directly to the front of the group to sound an alert. Even if they were followed, Charles had constructed a plan; The huge group was traveling through a clear section of land, and would split four ways to confuse their pursuers. They would pick up speed, while some would remain behind, either to fight, or set traps. If Ferin sent bandits after the retreating group, said bandits would suffer an even worse fate than the last ones had.

They made one short stop to stretch sore muscles and have a snack. A few fires were built so that water could be melted for the horses and travelers alike, but they would be covered cleanly before the group moved on. Vance was well aware of just how many followers he had after that stop. He had not thought to count, or even pay much attention as he rode up and down the line. His mind had been more on the enormity of the situation.

Now, as he looked at the small camps, he saw what he needed to see; folks gathered around a fire talking animatedly, some laughing, others looking worried. However, whenever he met any of their gazes, he was greeted with a smile, a nod, and sometimes a salute. They may be just as worried as he, but they were resolved.

“At least it isn’t as cold as it could be.”

Vance turned and smiled, recognizing the voice before he even saw her. He did not know whether Kenzy had done any work on the clothes, but they fit Lora wonderfully. She had the hood of the fur-lined cape down, and her hair was free of it’s usual bonds as well.

“What is it?” she asked.

Vance blinked, and realized that he had been too caught up in her appearance to reply in a timely manner.

“Nothing,” he said in a gruff tone. “You look beautiful.”

The fire had cast enough light for him to catch what must have been a blush, and Lora averted her gaze.

“Treasure lives up to her name,” she said, changing the subject nervously.

Vance followed her gaze and smiled. It had taken her brothers to convince her to ride Treasure, and she had only accepted because their time was short. Apparently, the mare had won her over, and Vance was glad of that. He would not trust many others with her.

“She will carry you there and back before she tires,” Vance said companionably, not wanting to make Lora even more nervous. He wondered if her nerves were due to their being surrounded, or the situation in general. She was certainly keeping her distance from him that evening. “Is there any news?” he finally asked, raising his voice slightly.

Lora focused on him and straightened her posture. “None so far. Father wants us to pack up as soon as possible.”

“Have you eaten?” he asked. When Lora nodded, he continued. “See if you can get your brothers to eat as well.”

A familiar look crossed her face, and she smirked. Vance was sorely tempted to close at least some of the distance between them, but once again, he did not want to try her nerves. Apparently, Lora was still uncomfortable with his status. That would have to change.

“I’ll make them eat on horseback if I have to,” she answered, beginning to back away. “Only a few more hours by my guess. Am I right?” she asked.

Vance nodded, looking up to the sky and then ahead of them. “You’re on the right track. I only wish we had the ability to cover our trail,” he said more softly, looking back the way they came.

“I wonder what he’ll do...” she whispered.

“No time to worry about that. We need to move on,” he said. Vance shook his head and took in a resolved breath before moving to walk past her. He placed his hand at the small of her back as he passed.

“Vance, don’t,” she whispered, gripping his hand and moving back out of his way. She kept walking, and he followed until she lead them both behind a group of horses. “I can’t be seen with you like this.”

“Like what?” Vance asked, genuinely confused.

“This! We cannot be seen as friends, much less...” she looked away in exasperation and folded her arms. “These people have chosen you as their king.”

“Exactly,” he interrupted, knowing exactly where the argument was going. “They chose me. They will accept me for who I am.”

“They will not accept a boy who keeps getting caught flirting with the kitchen staff,” Lora countered. “I’ve already received disparaging glances from some of the women who know me. They wonder where I got such beautiful clothes and why I ride one of the royal horses, no doubt.”

Vance frowned and glared at the ground ahead of him. “I thought we’d left them behind.”

Lora sighed and relaxed her stance. “This is a very grave situation, Vance. You need to act as king, even when you think no one is watching. Of all things, I refuse to be the reason people think less of you.”

“Why would they think-”

“No matter where we are, or with whom we ride, status still stands,” Lora interrupted.

Yelling voices were drifting their way, and Lora tensed again. The camps were being packed up. She turned and fixed him with a hard, pleading stare. “I care about you, Vance. It’s because I care about you that I need to keep my distance. There is so little time to prove yourself, and you need to make every moment count.”

Vance offered her one curt nod before she backed away, saying something about meeting her father. He stood for another span of moments, enjoying the short period of privacy as he thought. Lora seemed to think that the time they had left should be spent proving himself to the rest of the people. He wondered if it was wrong of him to think otherwise. Every moment did count, but he did not want to spend that time in a lie.

The rest of the trip was a blur. He spent so much of the time in thought that the sight of the Tarragon border actually surprised him. When the trees began lighting in a way that he recognized, he took in a breath and resigned himself to his duties.

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

She had not been lying to Vance. Treasure’s gait was as smooth as it had looked from afar. By this time during the last trip, Lora was sore and more than ready for a break. Now, she was only eager to be back to Tarragon. Especially after her last talk with the second prince.

It was one thing for her to accept an overly expensive looking set of riding clothes, and another for her to allow herself to ride a royal mount. It was an entirely different issue for her to be seen at his side too often. Vance was to be their king, and she would not get into his way.

“Something on your mind?”

Lora gasped, and Treasure picked up her pace as she felt her rider tense. As soon as she saw that it was Charles, both horse and rider calmed down.

“Nothing,” Lora replied, looking back out ahead into the darkness. “Trying not to worry.”

“This has been planned for longer than you know, Lora,” Charles said. “Vance was a lucky draw on our part.”

“I know, dad,” she said softly, watching her own breath drift upward as fog.

“We’d be here whether he was with us or not,” Charles said, his voice more pointed.

“I know,” she said again, a sigh on her voice.

“You don’t, Lora,” he said with more tone, drawing her gaze as he urged his mount closer. “You’re doin’ the same thing Cameron was doin’ for awhile there. Treat ’im like a prince, and not like a person.”

Once again, she was looking at him, her eyebrows drawing down as she began to work up an argument. However, her father cut in before she could argue.

“Got that look from your mother, I know. Just listen, Lor,” he implored, speaking in a softer tone. “Far as he knows, Vance has no family. He’s never really had friends, an’ there aren’t many he can trust aside from you lot. At least stop ignorin’ ’im”

“I haven’t been-”

“He hasn’t kept coming up this way to get looks at my ugly mug,” he interrupted again. “Think about it, right?”

“He’s going to be my king, father,” she said, setting her gaze ahead. She could not believe her father was trying to get her to spend more time with Vance. This was something for the books.

“He never wanted to be anyone’s king. Only reason he’s pullin’ this job is for our good. And what are we doin’ to thank ‘im? Pretendin’ he’s never been good to ya?”

Lora frowned heavily and looked at the pommel of the saddle she sat on. Her lips pursed, and she fought for an argument. She spent so much time trying to think of one that she did not realize her father had stopped speaking. In fact, only when she heard a few gasps and the galloping hooves approaching did she finally look up.

Despite the familiarity of the place, she gasped as well. The darkness came in shades, and the shadows ahead were no doubt trees. Only, the trees were lighting; on and off, here and there. A light would come and go, and another would start in another area.

“This is it!” Dale’s voice called, and another shushed him. Cameron, most likely.

Treasure began walking more slowly as they reached the edge, but Lora was not paying attention. A smile had come unbidden to her mouth when she realized what the lights were.

“Fairies,” she whispered.

“M’sorry?” Charles mumbled, obviously set aback.

“Lady Lora,” Vance’s voice called, but he was not at her side.

Lora looked down to see his offered hand, a fierce look in his eyes. She was barely able to begin to make sound before he finished his sentence.

“Lady Lora will be our chosen emissary, as she is most familiar with Lady Rowena,” Vance said. It seemed that his words were not meant for her. The gesture, however...

Lora set her jaw and allowed herself to be helped down from the saddle. She whispered his name, but he leaned in closer, and cut off any further protest.

“I will be their king,” he whispered, reaching around her to take Treasure’s reins. “If they to care more about my personal life than my leadership, so be it. A king makes his own choices,” he finished before dropping his voice to a whisper. “I’ve made my choice, and now you need to make yours.”

“If we can be guards, you can be-” her brother’s voice came much closer than she had expected it to.

“Dale, shut up!” Cameron practically yelled. From the metallic clang that followed, Lora guessed that he had also thrown something at him.

Vance was already pulling both Dancer and Treasure away, leaving Lora standing in the snow. She turned to see that the crowd was not focused on them, but on the magically lit trees. The fairies were certainly glad to see them. Would the elves be? With so much on her mind, she had forgotten Vance’s original words. It was not long before she heard his voice from behind her.

“Go on, Lor,” he said. When she turned to look at him, he grinned. “Don’t look at me like that. They know you. Silna said you would be accepted. Will you please go and tell them we’ve arrived?”

The words ‘Yes, my king’, were incredibly close to spilling from her mouth, but the gleam in his eye and the contagious smile on his face stopped them. Instead, she nodded once, and began backing away. She said something along the lines of ‘alright’, and turned to trot towards the forest’s edge.

Halfway there, she stopped herself, and moved into a more stately walk. An emissary did not trot or run. Still, the glowing spots in the trees made her wish she could. The snow was marginally lower to the ground in the area than it had been, and she made it to the edge within a few minutes. Lora took in a deep breath and waited, trying hard to focus on the tightly knit tree trunks in front of her.

A sudden wind swept her hair back from her face, and parted branches that should not have moved so easily. As soon as there was enough room, she took a step into the forest, and felt her entire body sigh with relief. It was as though she had come home, and Lora stopped in her tracks to enjoy the feeling. A hand laid across her heart, she took one deep, pleased breath before opening her eyes.

To her utter surprise, she could see! It was not the sight she would have in the daytime, but things were much more clear to her eyes; as though the moon shone clearly down upon the trees.

“Lora!”

Lora lifted her eyes toward the voice, and found herself trotting forward to meet Rowena in a tight hug. Laughter turned to a smile, which turned to a frown as she set herself back from the dark-haired Tarragon native.

“I am afraid that this is not a good visit,” she admitted.

Rowena nodded knowingly, a resolved look on her face as she glanced behind her.

“I know. We’ve been preparing.”

Lora’s confused look spurred her into an explanation, but before she could respond, a familiar voice cut in.

Ayne! Selyen te’alvra!

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

“No! They can’t!” Silna yelled, and Rowena was forced to draw her attention back to her sister.

The lights that the fairies had been giving off in soft, intermittent glows were now bright and dazzling as they moved quickly out of the forest. Now, she understood. The fairies were going out to greet the humans in their own way, and even she had a moment of nervousness. However, her mind focused on the fact that Ta’llevny was staying with the fairies. Would he not know about their plans?

“Silna, they’re fine.”

“They aren’t fine! Most of those humans are not prepared-”

“Ta’llevny bids them to welcome the humans as they please,” Tey’ven cut in. All eyes turned to watch him ride Whisper through the trees to their place. He was dressed in his flowing white camouflage, proving that he was most likely delivering the message as ordered.

“Would you stop doing that, please?” Silna asked in annoyance. Tey’ven merely sent her a quick glance from under his filmy layers before looking back out to the border.

“We cleared out the snow as best we could for you,” Rowena said in Common, focusing again on Lora.

The human smiled and nodded, looking back the way she came. “They are tired, but happy to be here, I think. Those fairies will give them a surprise to wake them up... I really missed it here.”

Rowena smiled back until she felt Dolen’s hand on her back. It was his way of getting her attention, and she turned in time to see Sa’nengal ride into the small clearing they stood in. He was dressed exactly as Tey’ven was, and only Shaden’s signature stance gave away who he was.

“There are far more than we expected,” he said, not even bothering to cover the disdain in his voice.

“Is that not good news?” Silna replied, her own chagrin not well-hidden.

“To have so many humans this close to our border? I would not consider it good news,” Sa’nangal replied, openly glaring down at Silna.

“He doesn’t like us much, does he?” Lora asked, her voice directed at Rowena.

“I don’t think he likes much of anything,” she replied in Common with a sigh.

Lora turned her head in an attempt to see out into the clearing where her people were unpacking and milling about. Many were obviously entranced by the fairies, and from what Rowena could make out, they were not scared.

“They are all making huge sacrifices to defend this forest. Many of them left family behind, and some do not expect to return. Even I cannot understand how so many could have hidden their true feelings for so long,” Lora said, turning to look between Rowena and Silna. “They’ve been told for years that magic-users are evil, but they are here to fight for you. Vance is doing his best, but they need to be shown the reason they’re here. ”

Rowena nodded slowly, looking down and sighing once again.

“What does she say?” Sa’nengal asked.

“They’re here to fight for us,” Rowena replied, canting her head to look up at him.

Sa’nengal looked outward again, not looking entirely convinced of Rowena’s words.

“If you cannot follow through with our leader’s orders, I suggest you return to the cover of your home,” Tey’ven stated.

The tension between the two was thick, but Rowena’s thoughts were once again broken when Dolen stepped closer to her. She watched a section of his white hair fall over her shoulder as he leaned his head close to hers.

“Ta’llevny will greet them,” he said softly, obviously not wanting to interrupt the conversation.

Rowena’s eyes widened as she looked backward, watching for a sign that his words were true. It did not take long. Fairy light brightened the trees as another group approached, and she realized that Dolen had been right. Snowsong must have sent him an image of Ta’llevny, surrounded by the glowing fairyfolk as he walked through the trees to the forest’s edge.

Sa’nengal and Tey’ven had given up their verbal argument, but the tension was still prevalent.The group stood quietly, and Lora put her hand to her mouth as she finally saw what the rest of them were seeing.

“You are the chosen emmisary?” Ta’llevny asked, sending the human visitor a kind look.

Lora, for all her obvious nerves, nodded and curtsied as her culture had taught.

“Loralyn Callahan of White Phoenix,” she answered.

“I am Ta’llevny of Tarragon Forest. I hope that we are well met,” he said, moving forward. “Unfortunately, it does not appear that we have much time.

To her credit, Lora did well in simply taking the great leader’s offered arm and moving forward toward the boundary. When Rowena herself had first seen Ta’llevny, she had been struck dumb with surprise by his appearance. One did not often see elves with branches growing intertwined with their hair, and his odd eyes were even more daunting. Still, Lora held herself in perfect manner as they walked.

Tey’ven and Sa’nengal flanked their leader, and two other of the esteemed riders appeared behind them. The fairies surrounded them in a writhing cloud of light and color. Silna stepped up to her side, and she felt Dolen close at her back as they watched the small procession leave. Rowena caught motion in her peripheral view, and noticed that more than just their small group had arrived for the meeting. Various elves were staring wide-eyed from the shadows, inching forward as spooked deer might.

Rowena took in a breath and turned, smiling and offering her hand to Dolen.

“Shall we follow?” she asked, looking between her sister and Dolen.

Silna looked resolved and nodded once, and Dolen did the same, though he hesitated before taking her hand. It was amusing to watch, but he would have to get used to it. After all, they had entered into a formal courtship just a few hours earlier. Rowena twined her fingers carefully with his before turning to move after Ta’llevny.

Flanked by the two she held most dear, Rowena stepped over the Tarragon border and bore witness to an event that would go down in the history books.

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