Daughter of Tarragon

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Sound Circle

Nathaniel had done a wonderful job of distracting the rest of the council. So much so, that there was no hint of a rebellion until just before dawn the next day. One of the courtiers realized that his breakfast, which was always brought to him at a very early time, had not arrived. Upon checking, he also realized that his usual maid was not in attendance, nor was his guard. He sent out a query through his ever-faithful page, which resulted in the truth being spread quickly.

“Everyone is gone!”

“Zane, what have I told you about-”

“No, Ferin, this is an emergency. Everyone. Is. Gone,” Zane repeated.

Ferin sat up in a rush, moving mussed hair from his eyes as he fought to wake up. “What in hell’s fire are you speaking of?”

Zane was still in his sleeping clothes as well. His neck was covered in passion marks, and he had not even taken the time to comb his own hair. Something was definitely wrong.

“Vance is gone, Ferin. And it appears that he took a very large amount of the kingdom with him,” Zane replied wearily.

That got his mind off of Zane’s appearance. Vance... Vance, leading a rebellion?

“It appears so,” Zane replied. Apparently, Ferin had spoken aloud.

He stood and began dressing quickly, not wanting to believe his ears. Zane handed him a cloak, and then his comb, and Ferin did a fair job at making himself presentable in the few moments it took for him to reach the doorway.

“Get some clothes on,” he ordered.

Zane disappeared from view. He had not argued, or even sent a sly comment in reply. There was definitely something wrong.

The halls were bare. There was no enticing scent of breakfast, and as he made his way down into the main section of the castle, he was approached by a handful of servants. Some looked outraged, and others looked mouse-shy, but all had the same message; their fellow staff were gone.

“Where did they go?” he asked a particularly guilty-looking page.

“I can’na say, sire,” the boy replied.

“You cannot, or you will not?” he asked angrily, bending down to glare into the boy’s face. “Do not forget that you speak to your king.”

“S-some’a the people followed Vance. Said he’s the one they want to lead ’em.”

His heart stopped. “Where did they follow him?”

“Out,” the boy replied, his eyes to the floor.

“Out where?”

“I can’na say, sire! I don’t have clothes enough to go out into the cold,” he was quivering.

“Get out of my site,” Ferin barked as he stood.

“Best be kind to the ones you have left, my king,” Zane called from behind him.

Ferin practically growled, and did not slow his step as Zane trotted to catch up to him. He went towards Vance’s room first. That would confirm whether or not what he was hearing was true. When the reached the room, there were no guards posted. There was not even a forgotten food tray sitting outside of his door. Inside, the room was just about bare. There was no trace of warmth, proving that Vance had spent no time in the room the night before.

“What is he thinking?” Ferin whispered, crossing Vance’s frigid room and taking note of the lack of clothing or packs.

“He’s thinking to claim a throne that isn’t rightly his,” Zane answered, running his long fingers along Vance’s un-rumpled bed.

He looked out the window and down at the kingdom’s square, which was only barely lit by the dawn’s light. Just before he turned to continue his trek, Ferin noticed what look like tracks in the snow; many of them.

“Hell’s fire,” he whispered, his eyes going wide. “Check the stables.”

Zane was gone, and Ferin turned to glare around Vance’s room for a moment longer before following.

The stables were empty, and by the time Ferin arrived, there were already several angry courtiers storming around. Apparently, Vance had not only emptied the royal stables, but some of those nearby as well. Once outside, he began receiving reports that the local inns and taverns were just about empty, and that the daily rounds of crop-carts had not been seen. Three of the front gate guards were gone!

Ferin’s head was spinning. This was not a simple case of his brother and a few of his cronies running off. This was an entire section of his people. Most of those that had apparently left had important jobs!

He stopped at the edge of one of the (usually) well-traveled streets. Even at such an early time, there would usually be workers out in the cold already, preparing for a long day of work. This morning, he saw nothing. The sun glinted off of the patches of snow that remained, and hoof-prints marked them all.

“-food! What will we do with our-”

“Timothy needs his shoes shined-”

“-seven good horses! They’re worth more than my first born-”

“I have five dresses in need of-”

Ferin turned to see that on his trek, he had gained a line of confused, haphazardly dressed courtiers. All of them were completely frazzled, and sharing their sad stories with one another. Most were speaking much too loudly for his nerves.

“Silence!” he ordered, taking a small amount of pleasure in how quickly the order was followed. “We have been abandoned, yes. But now is not the time to complain. Take charge of your own homes, and I will take charge of rest. Gather up what you can, and report your numbers back to me. There is still a war to fight, and if I have to call in allies, I will do so readily.”

There were no complaints, and Ferin watched as the crowd began to disperse. He turned, and frowned at the empty taverns. A scant few had morning fires going, but he wondered exactly how many would remain untended.

“I’m going to do what a better king would do.”

Vance’s words rung over in his mind, and Ferin scoffed as he turned on his heel. A better king would not abandon his kingdom. He had to wonder if Vance had simply taken the people and run, or gone one step further and taken them to the magic-users. Something told him that the war he was planning would end up being much more than a battle over land and values.

This would be a war for the crown.

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

They were frightened. He imagined that the looks on some of their faces were a match to his own when he had first entered White Phoenix. Then again, he was much better at concealing his true feelings.

Some looked at him with recognition, while others made gestures and whispered welcomes to Rowena. Most of the humans stared at Ta’llevny. The fairies had come out of the forest both ahead of him and surrounding him, and now they flew all about. It was as though the magic itself had expanded as Ta’llevny moved over the border, and Dolen did not doubt that it had. What he wondered was how much danger Ta’llevny was putting himself in by making such a move. His guards were renowned, but no forest leader had gone so far since he had been alive.

Ta’llevny began speaking in Common, and Dolen could only just make out what he was saying. The human tongue was a strange mix of positives and negatives grouped together in short spurts. From what he had learned, something could be said in a negative way, but mean something just the opposite. Something told him that although he knew the basics, it would be some time before be truly understood the language.

“He is welcoming them, and telling them that they are welcome to stay,” Rowena whispered, and he glanced in her direction with interest. “He thanks them for their help, and states that he will provide them with as much as possible to help them feel more comfortable.”

She stopped to listen again, and Dolen caught another word that he did recognize; ‘train’. Rowena glanced back to him with raised brows before continuing her whispered translation.

“He says that if any of them are interested in training with one of our kind, we will help.”

Dolen looked back toward the forest’s border with a surprised look of his own. Though the magic had obviously expanded with Ta’llevny’s trek, most of the visiting elves were still hiding back behind the tree line. He recognized the forms of Fellen’drey and some of her own clan, as well as a handful of Blade-born elves; all standing just outside of the border in full view. He wondered exactly who would volunteer to train humans.

It was a short introduction and welcome, and Ta’llevny smiled and bowed slightly as Vance offered his thanks and his sword in defense (according to Rowena’s translation). The humans called a sort of unanimous oath that proved their place as well, and Ta’llevny turned to leave soon after. Lora stayed at Vance’s side, and only Tey’ven and Sa’nengal returned to the trees with their leader. To Dolen’s surprise, many of the fairies stayed; flying in pattern-less formation all around their new human guests. They seemed to be taking note of those who were frightened or disturbed by them, as well as those who were elated and welcoming.

Once Ta’llevny had returned to the forest, a round of mumbles and whispers rose from the human crowd. The sound grew to a low hum, and Dolen found himself uncomfortable as they began coming closer to Vance and Lora. They were surrounded by some faces he recognized, and others that he did not. When his instincts told him to move, he did, but found himself stopping before he shifted more than a step away.

Upon turning, Dolen had chanced a better look at what elves were still nearby. Apparently, it had not been all Tree-borne who stood outside of the boundary. Aeren’thal of the Trail-borne clan stood with his kin, and his eyes were set on Rowena. His interest was plain in the gaze alone. Dolen would have hoped that it was simply his interest in Rowena’s heritage, but he had been a witness to their meeting. Aeran’thal was interested in more than her heritage.

There was no way to be clear about his courtship with Rowena. In Elven culture, it was not unheard of for two males, or two females to vie to be chosen in the end. Then again, he could not simply shoot the foreign male down where he stood. Instead, he moved slightly behind her, putting the human horde on one side and the rest of the curious elves behind him. He stood close enough to make his familiarity with her clear, but not so close as to be rude. Finally, he attempted to slide his hand into Rowena’s as she had done earlier. The gesture seemed to have pleased her, for as she continued to speak with Lora, she squeezed his hand in her own.

“Will you train them, then?” Silna asked him.

Dolen looked at her, and then back out at the crowd. They were a large folk, even some of the females were heavy in structure. Humans were known for their physical strength, and he had no doubt that this lot worked the land itself. They would not be adverse to training in preparation for battle.

“Perhaps my training would be best for those who do not mean to meet hand-to-hand,” he replied. “Some may already know the basics.”

“Many, probably. These are human farmers. They likely hunt for their own food, and live off of the land as we do. They make their lives selling their crop to the courtly folk. Rowena’s parents did such a thing, you know.”

“You’ve changed your opinion of humans going to battle,” Dolen smirked.

“It’s different when it’s my sister,” she replied on a whisper, bristling. “I trust you enough to keep her safe, anyway.”

Dolen looked at her pointedly for a moment before nodding, looking back to the group ahead of him. Vance had given out some sort of command, and the majority of the humans were now laying out camps and feeding their horses. The sky was just beginning to light for the day, and luckily, they had cleared away enough snow for the ground to be a comfortable place to rest.

“What if they don’t come?”

Rowena had spoken in Common, but Dolen knew enough to piece together the sentence in his mind.

Vance, looked up from his conversation with Lora to meet Rowena’s gaze. He turned and looked back the way they had come in. The land was trampled and torn from so much traffic, proving that their trail was a clear one.

“They will come,” he answered with finality.

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

The day went by quickly. Most of the time was spent setting up camp. Even the elven leader had admitted that they might as well make themselves comfortable where they stood. This would be where they made their stand, after all. Very few people actually tried to cross Tarragon’s border, and Vance was thankful for that. They were there to defend the forest, not intrude upon it. Luckily, most of those in attendance recognized that fact.

Dale and Cameron helped him set up a large tent for himself. It had been his father’s, so it was a large, lavish thing compared to what the rest came up with. However, it turned out to be more useful than simply outlandish. The tent itself was split into two ‘rooms’; one that he would use to sleep, and the other in which to hold meetings. The rest of the camp ended up looking much more comfortable than he imagined. With the help of a few familiar Tarragon natives (and a few unfamiliar ones as well), the camps were set up long before sunset. Most had thought to bring small tents of their own, and some even used the carts they had packed as shelter. Those that were not so prepared made quick work of fashioning their own shelters from borrowed materials and nearby trees.

It was clear that he was no longer working with courtiers. By the end of the day, as fires spotted the landscape, Vance felt comfortable with his surroundings. Only when he realized that the elves had retreated did he worry.

“They are not fond of fire,” Rowena admitted, looking tentatively at the flaming spots in each camp.

“It’s the only way we can stay warm, you know,” Vance said softly, not knowing how to respond.

“It’s alright. They just need to see that it isn’t always used for destruction,” she replied, though her face showed that she had not yet convinced herself of her own thought.

Lora approached and handed both he and Rowena a steaming bowl. She had made sure that just about everyone had eaten at least once that day, proving that her years as a kitchen maid had produced a habit. It was a good habit, considering the amount of work they had done, and would need to do over the next few days.

“You’ve eaten, haven’t you?” he asked her.

“Once I’m done here, yes,” she replied, ignoring his answering stare.

“Some of the workers want to start a circle, but they’re worried that they will bother the elves,” Lora said, looking between Vance and Rowena.

Vance turned to gaze at Rowena as well, but the girl looked so confused that he took a moment to explain.

“Sound Circle. It’s something we do in celebration,” he explained. “Usually, we form a large circle, play and sing music, and those that can’t do either will dance. On nights like this it would be perfect, but it may cause some noise.”

“They are no strangers to music,” Rowena smiled, looking back toward the tree-line. The fairy lights were pulsating evenly, even though the fairies had retreated when the elves did. “They will not mind,” she said. “In fact, it may be good for them to see. I’ll let them know to expect it.”

Vance nodded and grinned at Lora, who gave him a warning glare. Rowena was trotting through the trampled layer of snow to reach the border, and he sat his bowl down next to hers on a makeshift table nearby.

“I’m working, Vance. And you remember what I spoke of earlier. We can’t-”

“We can,” he cut her off, stepping closer. He was pleased to see that she did not avoid him. “We will. I owe you a dance. Several of them, actually.” When she looked away, he moved closer, and leaned in to whisper. “You’re an emissary now, Lora. There can be no excuses about who’s status is interfering with who’s.”

Working on a sudden jolt of brazen pride, Vance shifted slightly closer and pressed his lips to hers. He was almost expecting her to resist, but she did not. In fact, he felt her hand on his cheek before she pulled back, red in the face.

“Alright, but that does not relieve me of my other duties,” she whispered, her eyes shining in the nearby firelight. “No dancing until I’m finished.”

“Then I’ll help you,” he offered.

“No, Vance. You go tell Tim and Roland that they can start a circle,” she argued, stepping back as he moved to follow her. “You make the rules around here now.”

Pleased with his progress, he could only smile as she began moving away, lifting two more bowls from a nearby cooking pot.

“My first will be that dancing is mandatory!” he yelled after her.

As it turned out, his rule was accepted and followed through. Though the fires were small compared to usual, the circle was filled to the brim. The drums started, followed by the pipes and strings, and finally the voices joined in. There were age old songs that even the younger ones knew by heart (including one that Rowena even recalled), as well as brand new ones that the local musicians wrote on the spot.

Not long after the Sound Circle had begun, the fairies began to creep back out. When people began dancing, they started to fly in their wild circles. The sight of the fairies made the celebration even more grand, and the circle was filled with dancing couples and groups before long. The multicolored fairies weaved and circled musicians and dancers alike, adding their own tunes before long.

As the night wore on, elves began appearing. Rowena and Silna convinced Dolen (and later, Tey’ven) to join them within the circle. More followed not long after. Some gratefully accepted instruments, while others used their own. The music itself proved to be a language that both cultures understood, and contentedness spread through the entire crowd.

The humans who had followed him on the trip began to see firsthand what they would be defending. They were not fighting for a forest, or it’s land. They were fighting for the life of another culture.

Despite the inevitable consequences of their actions, his soul was not in turmoil. Vance knew that he was doing the right thing.

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