Daughter of Tarragon

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Hidden Enemies


Once Ferin had eaten, had a chance to bathe and dress, and properly groomed himself for the day, he began to feel better. Staff that had been either hiding or confused began to come out of the proverbial woodwork, and it turned out that Vance had not run off with as many as he had initially thought. Of course, from the reports he received later that day, Vance had certainly dealt the military a blow. Many of the farmers who were missing would have been part of the call to arms.

The new king chose to sit in the main receiving room while he went over his reports and paperwork. It was a comfortable area, with warm fires and a constant stream of servants adding to a laden food table. Ferin was consciously treating the servants well, at least for the time being. The last thing he needed was for more to leave because they were not happy with their king. If it took a bit of a show to keep his people loyal, he would put on that show.

“Old books, Ferin? You can barely read the words, those pages are so faded." Zane leaned over his shoulder before moving to sit in a chair across from him. “Vance needs to be retrieved and taken to the holding cells. He needs to be tried and found guilty under our ruling system. That is what needs to be happening now,” he argued before Ferin could even reply.

The blond rarely rambled, but the entire situation had him in a fit. Ferin guessed that he was both worried for the state of his comfort, and trying a bit too hard to be a good adviser.

“These are father’s old war plans,” Ferin replied in a calm voice, pausing to take a sip of wine as he turned a page. “What should be happening now are plans for the war we are about to start,” he finished, glancing up to his handsome friend.

Zane hesitated, looking out at the hallway in which they both sat. Courtiers were playing games or instruments; enjoying themselves in a desperate attempt to keep everything normal. The tension in the room gave it all away.

“What about your coronation?” Zane whispered, shifting up so that he sat rigidly on the edge of the chair.

Ferin sat back, unable to concentrate with Zane’s voice in his ears. The subject at hand was something he had thought hard over, and the reminder forced him to focus on it.

“My coronation would be rushed and false if it were to take place now. People would stand and watch the crown lay atop my head with thoughts of battle and preparation,” he explained. “When I am officially crowned king, I want it to be the focus of all who look on. They will need to see their future leader standing before them, confident that he will bring their home to glory.”

“You’re not confident now?”

Ferin once again caught Zane’s eye, but this time he was glaring.

“I am confident that we can win a war, but for once, I will admit that this is not the time to throw a party, Zane. This is the time to plan. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he finished, and pointedly looked back down at his book.

Zane sighed in a forced manner and walked off. It was all the better for him to keep to his courtly games right then. Once the war was over, and things had settled, he might make a better advisor. However, Ferin was seeing exactly how inept his longtime friend was at dealing with heavy situations. Games, Zane could play, but he would certainly not be a part of the upcoming battle.

“Your maps, sire.”

Ferin looked up as Gordon laid a handful of rolled maps on the table. He nodded his thanks, and gestured for the elder man to have a seat. Despite his age, Gordon had been nothing but helpful since Ferin had began barking orders. Having lived through at least two large battles, he was sure that the man sitting across from him would be his better pick for a war adviser.

“A message has been sent out to the Brynwalds,” Gordon reported. “They will take the news to Khalesford.”

Ferin looked up from his reading. “Khalesford?” he asked. He had heard of the Brynwalds; a wealthy family who lived on the very furthest southern border of White Phoenix, but Khalesford was a mystery.

Gordon leaned forward and discreetly pulled a second book out from under the one that Ferin was skimming through. Ferin took the book with a questioning look at Gordon.

“Page one hundred fifty three, if I remember correctly,” Gordon said, standing and shifting away from the chair. “I believe you will find that your father had allies not many knew about. Now, I will be organizing a new staff, and sending out a rider to track your brother’s passage, if your highness so wishes.”

“Very much so,” Ferin said absently, nodding. “Thank you, Gordon.”

As he flipped through the book, he realized that Zane could definitely learn a lesson from Gordon. Ferin thought that he might ask his young friend to shadow the elder advisor for awhile, but he was distracted as he finally reached the page Gordon had cited.

Pictures were not prevalent in books so old, but there was a beautiful sketch of a crest on the main page. It looked as most royal crests did (which surprised him, since he thought he was aware of every royal family within traveling range), except the crest itself was flanked by two black stallions. The horses looked hauntingly similar to Dancer, and were facing two spears which crossed in the middle.

It was an intimidating crest, but Ferin felt nothing but elation. Gordon had already made plans to ask them for aid in the upcoming battle. He only hoped that whoever they were, they could get there soon. He wanted this battle finished as soon as possible. Until his brother was properly cowed, he would not feel like the true king.


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


It did not take long for the humans to warm up to their elven neighbors. The language barrier seemed to be the worst of their problems, but Rowena, Silna, Fellen’drey and a few other (very old) elves were sure to make their rounds and help translate when they could.

Vance met with Ta’llevny often over the next few days. Many times, he would bring Charles and a few of the higher ranking military men to aid in planning. The humans had a fairly good idea of how Ferin and his troops would attack. After all, there was only one side to attack from. The wide clearing was almost a corner, flanked on all sides by tightly knit trees and a rocky landscape that was too hard to travel on horseback.

Sa’nengal was not very welcoming, but he did promise to put his weather skills to work once Ferin’s lot arrived. The humans were already working on creating shields, weapons, and traps. Any who came up with ideas would either report them to Charles or Vance himself. Many of those who had traveled with them still thought of Vance as such a leader that they could not directly speak to him without being rude. He quickly made it clear that he was only there for the people’s well-being. He was still visibly uncomfortable with being revered in any sense, to a point where he would almost flinch at being called “my king” or “sire”.

Over the short period of time that they were camped out, the people grew to be Vance’s friend as easily as they grew to become friends with the elves. The fairies were also constant. Some stayed serious long enough to help sharpen arrow points, while others entertained the small amount of children that had come along. Some of Tarragon’s animal residents also made appearances. When the farmers made to chase off the foreign stallions, it was explained in detail that these particular horses were much more intelligent than usual. It took no more than one demonstration to set their minds at ease.

Only when a trail was discovered not far outside of the boundary did the tension come to a head. Rowena was taking a break; as with most Tarragon-natives, there was only so much time she could spend in the tight-knit company of the humans. She was spending some much-needed time alone with Dolen, carving out a set of her own arrows, when she practically felt Dolen tense and shift closer.

Aeren’thal came trotting through the trees, and Rowena stood to greet him. Dolen, in an act of pure rudeness, stayed seated and working on his bow. She looked the now-familiar Trail-borne native over and guessed that he had been traveling. Aside from being winded (which elves so rarely achieved), he was dressed in camouflaging white and brown, and his hair was pulled back away from his face. Both were signs that he had been on the job. As one of the few outgoing members of their visitors, she guessed that he had been working non-stop since the humans had arrived.

“There’s a trail!” Aeren’thal breathed out as he stopped in front of her. He did not seem the least bit set aback by Dolen’s lack of manners.

“A trail?” Rowena asked, lifting her brows as he gestures behind him.

“Looks as though one of the humans left the camp to go back to their home,” Aeren’thal answered. “I’ve alerted my leader, but I thought you would want to know as well. It may very well be a messenger for the elder brother.”

Rowena looked down to Dolen, and he met her gaze before finally standing.

“How fresh?” he asked.

Aeren’thal acted as though he had just noticed Dolen, but Rowena knew for a fact that his senses were not that deprived. There was definitely something going on between the two males, but she could not bother herself with it right then.

“Hours, if that. He likely left during the cover of darkness,” he focused once again on Rowena. “Unless the weather acts against us, it will remain fresh for some time. I thought you might want to let your human king know.”

“He is not my king, but I will let him know,” Rowena said thoughtfully. As an afterthought, she offered the young male elf a smile and a nod. “Thank you, Aeren’thal. I know you had to go out of your way to find us.”

“It was my pleasure, and definitely not out of my way. The trail was actually fairly clear,” he replied, and sent a short glance to Dolen. That had been something of a challenge.

“We will report this to Vance,” Dolen practically ground out, packing up their supplies and lifting the bag easily over his shoulder.

Rowena followed Dolen as he sidestepped the younger elf and moved away. She offered Aeren’thal one last wave before trotting to catch up.

“What was that?” she asked in a harsh whisper. Dolen was moving in long strides that she was having trouble keeping up with.

“A thorn in my foot,” he quipped.

“Dolen, honestly. I know you do not often socialize, but that was a fight without words. Why don’t you like him?” she asked.

“He seeks your company,” Dolen answered, holding up a large branch as she ducked under it.

“And that is bad?”

“He seeks to court you, Rowena,” he answered, sending her a serious glance as they moved.

Exasperated and disbelieving, she walked on without a reply. Finally, she spat out the first full thought that came to her mind.

“Well, tell him you’re courting me, then!”

“It does not work that way,” he answered.

“I’ll tell him,” she finished.

Dolen stopped, and Rowena was forced to do the same. His face showed her nothing but annoyance, and she folded her arms and glared in order to show her own. How was it her fault that she did not understand a process she had only just learned about?

“Do humans follow such boundary rules?” he asked. “A male or female claims to be courting another, and all other suitors give in?”

She looked down in thought, but honestly could not recall being told or reading about such a situation.

“I don’t know, actually,” she said.

“We do not. Our courtship does not stop him from seeking you out if he so pleases. If another female were to seek out Tey’ven, or another male Silna, there would be conflict in that as well.”

Rowena stood looking at the dusting of snow on the ground, observing a nearby bush as her thoughts ran wild. There was a simple solution to the problem; she would make her affection for Dolen more than clear to Aeren’thal. Of course, she would certainly do so without hurting his feelings, but it would need to be done.

“Why me? Of all beings, it should be Silna who has this problem. I’m nowhere near as beautiful as your kind, and I certainly have a temper that is not acceptable here. I don’t understand the allure.”

A grin flashed over his face, and she was reminded of how stunningly handsome he could be when he smiled. However, the moment did not last long as he moved to continue walking. She followed, suddenly remembering that her personal life was the least of her worries.

“That you do not see it is part of the allure, I think,” he answered, his mood obviously shifting away from annoyance.

Rowena slid her fingers between his as the two walked, and Dolen slowed down. Despite the enormity of the situation, they enjoyed the companionable silence and each other’s company as they made their way back to the border.

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


“If he sends anyone out ahead, they’ll be in the hills on foot.”

“The elves’ll catch ’em if that’s the case.”

“I wonder if we should station men on that end to help.”

“There will be enough of our kind to guard those sections of the forest,” Fellen’drey answered Charles’ men as they spoke.

The rest of the circle went quiet, as they had been doing whenever she spoke. It was not strange for the men to see a female warrior, but one of such status and beauty was unfamiliar to them. She and a few of the other elves had already gained the attention of many of the young farmers who had joined them.

“She’s right,” Vance offered, gaining the eyes of the rest of the circle. “We should keep all of the humans up front. The more he sees, the better.”

“How much time do ya think we have?” Charles asked, and Vance took in a slow breath as he stared at the small fire in front of them. They kept it small both to protect the tent that they all sat in, and to keep the elves more comfortable.

“Ferin always acts too soon. He is impulsive and easily angered. If I were to guess, I would say that we do not have long at all. A few more days at best,” Vance answered truthfully. “Then again, I wonder if, in his own anger, he’ll pull together his advisers and act out in a mature manner. I worry in either case. We have our advantages, but Ferin’s status gives him an open book of options.”

“You think he’ll hire an army?” one of Charles’ colleagues laughed.

Vance met his gaze without a hint of amusement. “He had the audacity to send a group of bandits after a second prince and a foreign emissary. That was before he became king. I don’t doubt that he will pull every string needed to build himself a reputable force.”

“He’s scared outta his wits,” another of the men said with a grin. “He’ll trip over his own feet on the way here.”

“A frightened beast is far more dangerous than an angry one,” Fellen’drey said softly, once again gaining all of the gazes as the rest went silent.

Vance simply nodded, knowing her words to be true. They could do no more than prepare, wait, and hope.

The elves who sat nearby all tense and looked over their shoulders, and Vance did the same. A short span of moments later, he heard crunching footsteps, and saw Rowena pull aside the tent’s flap and step in. It was still morning, yet she and Dolen were fresh-faced and flushed. They had obviously made a long trek to see him.

“Vance, I’ve been told that someone is playing spy for Ferin,” she said, kneeling by him so that her words did not carry. Dolen stood behind her, ever vigilant.

“How?”

“There is a trail that leads away from this camp, hidden amongst the trees,” she said, lifting her hand to an area behind him.

“Someone left,” he commented on a breath.

Rowena nodded. “Should we send a tracker after him? There are those of the Trail-born clan who can track like wolves.”

Vance looked up at his audience (most of whom had respectfully turned to their own mumbled conversations), and thought. Finally, he shook his head.

“No, I’d like to send one of my own. An elf would be easily seen. Once they catch the true spy, one of mine could take his place, and possibly bring us back information on Ferin’s plans,” he said, speaking as his mind came up with the idea.

Rowena stood once more and nodded. “I’m told that the trail is hours fresh, and will remain so for some time. I can show you, if you like.”

Charles, who had been listening, leaned in and spoke softly.

“Go on, then. I’ll take over here for ya.”

Vance thanked him and followed Rowena and Dolen out to the tree-line that ran parallel to their camp. After weaving through an un-marked path, they were met by three other elves. They were dressed as most of their kin were; in black, brown and white garb that matched the landscape. They spoke quickly with Rowena and Dolen, who knelt in place and stared at the ground. Vance realized that the trail was just ahead of him. Had the elves not pointed it out, he would not have seen it. Whoever had left was well-trained in masking their trail.

Dolen stood and spoke with one of the other elves, and Vance stood patiently until Dolen turned to him. He spoke elven, but stopped mid-sentence with a concentrated look on his face.

“Walk, then horse,” Dolen said in accented Common.

“He walked the horse down a ways, then mounted?” Vance asked, and Rowena stood and nodded.

Vance shook his head and looked back out to the camp. He could not see much through the thick trees, but he could hear laughter, loud voices, and the sound of dead wood being cut.

“I’ll send someone after him-” Vance stopped as he heard galloping hoof-beats behind him.

“Spirit will take your rider,” Silna dismounted the white mare, breathing heavily. “Ta’llevny has seen the path, and one of our kind is needed to keep your rider safe.”

Spirit stepped forward, and Vance was filled with the sense that the horse was reading his mind. The elves and the fairies did not bother him, but something about the intelligent animals of Tarragon made it more than clear that the land was magic-fueled.

Snapping out of it, Vance nodded toward Silna and accepted her offer gratefully.

“I will get him packed and bring him here,” he said, already knowing who he would like to send.

He left the small gathering of Tarragon natives and trotted back to the camp, weaving through what had become a familiar setting. Tents, hanging beds, and even rolls of blankets made up temporary homes for various people. He was amazed that they had been there for so long, and he had not heard one complaint. Then again, he was not likely the one who would be on the direct receiving end of complaints.

“Dale!” he yelled as he caught sight of one of his guards.

The blond boy turned and grinned, holding up an extremely well-made sword. The sun reflected off of the metal in a way that made him stop and stare.

“Elven made!” he exclaimed. “Nayla here gave it to me,” he said, blushing as he glanced back to a black-haired female. “We don’t really understand what each other’s saying, but sword-training doesn’t need many words,” he explained. “She was very surprised to see that Cam an’ I are twins. I don’t think they see those much around here.”

“As far as I know, they don’t have children very often, much less twins,” Vance said offhandedly, nodding to the female. She returned the gesture. “Where is long-legs?” he asked Dale.

Dale shrugged, and looked back out at the camp. “Haven’t seen him since last night.”

Vance nodded and moved to leave, but stopped in his tracks as Dale’s words rang in his head. Marcus had spent his time with the very few folks that he actually knew; Charles, Cameron, and mostly Dale. In fact, his bunk was directly across from the Callahan’s. If Dale had not seen him, where else could he have gone?

“Somethin’ wrong?” Dale asked.

Vance shook his head, waved, and trotted across the camp. Marcus was not in his bunk, so he went in search of Cameron. When he finally found the other twin, the answer he received was not one that boded well.

“Last time I saw him was last night. He said he was going to bed early,” Cameron answered. “He’s been quiet the last few days.”

Vance checked with every being he could locate within the camp, and his answer was clear by the end of his questioning. Both Marcus, and the horse he had taken in the escape were no longer in the camp.

He ended up sending another trusted page on Spirit as his spy, and the young man had been more than happy to ride such a beautiful horse on such an auspicious duty. However, the facts still did not sit well with him. If Marcus could turn tail on him that easily, who else could? How many of the seemingly innocent people in the camp were actually Ferin’s men?

Sleep that night was not something that came easily to him. Vance tossed and turned in his bunk, going over and over what could be done to solve such an issue. In the end, he resolved to trust each of them to a man, until they showed him otherwise. After all, he could not deny them the same respect they had given him. He eventually fell asleep knowing that he had passed one of the many tests of leadership by making such a decision.

What he did not know was that the hardest test of them all would come much sooner than he had expected.

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