He ran the brush over Dancer’s dark flank one last time and sighed. They had both returned with the sun’s first rays, and he had spent as much time as he possibly could in the arena stables; cleaning the tack, brushing the stallion down, and even mucking the stall. The stable boys, seventeen year old twins Dale and Cameron, had both stopped in their tracks and stared wide-eyed at him as he had done that. Cameron (the more responsible of the two) had hesitantly offered to take over, but Vance had declined. The boys had gone about their usual duties, giving the prince a wide berth as he did his work.
“And here he is! Just as I’d thought!” a familiarly loud, obnoxious voice carried over the stable sounds. “You owe me three pinions, Zane.”
“Ferin.” Vance said in a low whisper, still facing Dancer. He watched the stallion’s head turn towards the noise, and almost grinned when he saw what looked like a glare in the horse’s eyes.
“Young brother, what will the people say when they know their prince is cleaning droppings from a stable floor?” Ferin asked, stepping haughtily up beside Vance.
Ferin was Vance’s height, but carried himself as a perfect gentleman. As always, he was dressed to the toe in the rich threads of his country, all bearing the mark of his father’s kingdom. His sand colored hair was darkened with pomade and combed back tightly against his head, falling just to the edge of his shoulders. Only their eyes differed. Where Vance’s held the color of the earth, his brother’s were the color of the winter sky. Vance had inherited his mother’s brown, where Ferin had inherited their father’s gray. It all seemed very fitting to the younger brother.
“I’m sure there will be stories,” Vance said simply, turning his back on Ferin and leading Dancer back into his huge stall.
The arena stables held mostly performing horses, and they were pampered more than any in the land. In general the place was built much larger and was well kept compared the other stables in the kingdom. Even in such lavish surroundings, his pompous brother felt as though he deserved some sort of rug beneath his feet.
“Father was extremely unhappy to hear that you had stolen his arena stallion yet again,” Ferin said matter of factly, doing his best to bait Vance into a fight.
When Vance turned to exit the stall, he noticed Ferin’s usual companions; Zane, a younger, blonder version of Ferin himself, and Gordon, an elder personal servant that was assigned to Ferin. Being High Prince of the kingdom kept him well waited on.
“I suppose I’m to report directly to him,” Vance replied, walking right past the three and down the long stable hallway.
He smiled when he heard his brother scoff, and move to follow him. The heels of his expensive boots clicked loudly on the stone surface. Though both brothers had hot tempers, Vance had learned when not to yell. Sometimes simplicity was enough.
“He’s taken ill again, so he has sent me to relay his message.” Ferin said hurriedly, falling into step with him. “You’re confined to the palace grounds, and you aren’t to ride for another week.”
Vance rolled his eyes. “You’ll need to ‘relay’ back to him that I’m no longer fourteen. I’m able to do things for myself.”
“Oh it isn’t just punishment Vance.” Ferin said, letting his eyes wander over a group of people passing by. “He needs you on the tax project.” There was a certain air of mocking in his tone, for Ferin knew exactly how opposed to the tax project Vance was.
“Right,” Vance said shortly. “Tell him to send for me when he is in need. I’ll be cleaning up.” When a sideways glance showed him Ferin’s annoyed look, he shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sure the council wouldn’t want me smelling of the stables in a meeting, would they?” With a small smile, he turned on his heel and made a perpendicular path from the three men.
The smile dropped the moment he was out of their site. If it was one thing he could not stand, it was mundane palace work. What was worse, he knew exactly which project his father had just placed him on, and making plans to burn down houses was not his idea of running a kingdom.
- - - - - - - - - - -
She worked the sword one handed; parrying, and thrusting with practiced moves. Her opponent was pushing her more and more after every successful hit. Finally, she felt the thud, and heard the ringing as her opponent’s thin sticks hit her armor.
Silna let out a breath and stood up straight, brows drawing down over her eyes in annoyance.
“I thought we weren’t going for double sided hits?”
Her female teacher wound her short sticks around in each hand and ‘sheathed’ them in her belt. “Battles do not follow practiced maneuvers. You are always to be prepared for a surprise.”
“That would completely defeat the purpose of a surprise then, wouldn’t it?” Silna said in an annoyed voice.
When the teacher said nothing back, she turned in frustration and stalked back to a handful of awaiting students. There weren’t many in the group. Being that elves reproduced on such rare occasions, there were always very few ‘young’ ones to be trained at any time. This one was considered large, even if two of them were from other villages.
“Ven’drell!” said the teacher’s voice behind her, and Silna saw a younger male stand and trot towards the small circle they had been practicing in.
“She is in a twist because of the euen’la,” said a voice next to her, speaking of the season’s effect on their hair.
Silna recognized him as a male about ten years her senior. His name was Gen’raen’ell (which made it clear that he was not native), but they all called him Raen. She looked directly at the brown-haired male, taking note of his equally white roots, and lifted her eyebrows in a sardonic way.
“Yours isn’t very becoming either, if you must speak of it,” she mumbled.
She watched his face fall a bit, and his dark green eyes narrow at her. Suddenly, Silna bit her lip and looked away. She absently watched her teacher battle Ven’drell, thinking that she ought to act a bit nicer to those around her. Silna had always been a ‘tomboy’ amongst her kin. She was one of two females training to be warrior. It wasn’t that they looked down upon female warriors; just that most chose a more ethereal path.
Silna was not of a like mind to many though. She sighed shortly, wondering if she would ever make more than a handful of friends. Not only was her attitude one to contend with, but her adopted sister was a human.
The young female’s gaze dropped to the ground in front of her. The night’s frost was melting into tiny droplets on the blades of grass as she thought. She should not place any blame on Rowena for her own social ineptitude. Even if she could choose, she would much rather have Rowena for a sister than a thousand friends around her village
Silna grinned when the very person she had been thinking of came into view. She nodded to Rowena, and watched as the human girl sat heavily on the ground by her side, watching the practice battle. There was a familiar look in her eye though, something Silna had seen on many occasions.
“What happened?” she asked.
Rowena’s lips twitched, but she did not take her eyes off of the fight. Silna wondered if it was she who had rubbed off on Rowena, or vice versa. Both females had fairly short tempers.
“Nothing,” Rowena replied.
Apparently this was one of those subjects that would be avoided at first, and then brought up in a very blunt way at a later time. Silna nodded and watched as Ven’drell fell back after a particularly hard swipe. Their teacher nodded to him, and gave the rest of them a wave to show they were done for the day.
“I’m to attend a meeting in the days to come. I will send messages out when I return, but I expect each of you to practice while I am away.”
All of them nodded, and the group began packing their belongings. Silna stood right up, motioning to Rowena, and the two were the first out of the practice area.
“I thought I’d visit Mom and Dad before nightfall,” Rowena said as the two walked.
She used the words “mom” and “dad” in human, which made it clear that she was speaking of her human parents. By visit, she meant visiting the burnt remains of her old house. It was something she and Rowena had done from time to time; something of a healing method for the girl.
Silna nodded and pulled a fruit from her pocket, tossing it to Rowena. The girl caught it easily, defying her claims that her eyesight was mediocre. It would be a long walk for them, but not one they had not made before. What bothered Silna was the way Rowena was acting. Something was wrong with her. It was just a matter of getting her to speak of it.
“Mother left again this morning.” Silna offered softly, extending her stride over a small brook.
Lae’ra was often sent off on very long journeys. She served as one of the few messengers between villages and was often gone for weeks at a time. She was originally from a different clan on the other side of Tarragon Forest, and had met A’dair on one of her first runs.
“She’ll be back before the winter ceremony, won’t she?” Rowena asked, though her enthusiasm was lacking.
Neither of the two enjoyed large social gatherings, and the Winter Ceremony was one of the largest.
“She said as much. We can only hope.”
The two walked in silence for awhile after that. When they talked again, it was about Silna’s progress in class that morning. When she had finished up, she found a very easy way to get to the bottom of Rowena’s problem.
“You weren’t around when I left this morning,” Silna said leadingly
“I...” Rowena started. The simple slip in her tone showed Silna she had found the right thing to start with. “I was with the fairies again. This time I fell asleep.”
“Ah.” Silna said at a length.
This was the first time in a very long time that Rowena was very obviously holding something back. It hurt her feelings. The two walked in uncomfortable silence for awhile, listening to the ever present sounds of the huge forest. The trees were beginning to get smaller, which was a clear sign that they were getting closer to their destination.
An hour later, they had reached the edge of the forest. Both were well aware of the tension, but it was forgotten when they crossed the border of Tarragon forest. It had always felt as if the air was suddenly thicker. The sun’s rays were definitely harsher, and the very energy in their bodies seemed to wane. The simple answer was that the magic of Tarragon did not carry over its borders.
Rowena walked through what had been her back yard, and finally came upon the stone step that had once helped them up into the back door of their human house. The remains of the house were nothing more than a few charred pieces of wood, and a great black mark that showed the ghost of what it once was. She knelt on the step as she always did, and bowed her head, placing both hands in her lap.
Silna watched her sister take a deep breath, and knew she was reciting prayers in her mind. It hurt her to know that she was still so attached to her human home, but it calmed her to understand that her prayers were elven, and her home was now Tarragon. Silna was one of very few elves that had ever set foot out of the forest, and she did not like to spend very much time outside of it.
Her eyes slid over the area, imagining what it once was. She felt empathy for Rowena. There were always fleeting thoughts of what she would do had her own home ended up burned, and her own parents taken with it. The pain was too much to dwell on. She let herself fall into observing more of the wide expanse, noting that even the dirt seemed lifeless. It was only then that she noticed the indentations.
Silna knelt quickly and ran her fingers over the obvious footprints. There were several, and hoofprints with them. Though she was no tracker, she was at least able to tell what had been here.
“Rowena,” she called softly, hoping the girl was done with her prayers.
She heard her sister’s footsteps behind her and an intake of breath. Silna stood and shook her head slowly.
“I do not know how old these are, but we need to tell someone.”
The two made their way back toward the edge of the forest, keeping their eyes on the ground, and the obvious sets of prints strewn about the area. This was definitely not a good sign.
“Is Dolen not in charge of reporting things like this?” Silna asked.
Rowena tensed visibly.
“He keeps to the mountains. I do not imagine he can keep track of the entire eastern perimeter on his own.”
“Rowena what is wrong?” Silna said, stopping in her tracks and not bothering to mask the concerned and frustrated look on her face.
She watched as Rowena stopped as well, taking a slow breath and shaking her head.
“Nothing. Dolen is not able to keep track of the entire perimeter. He is gone for weeks at a time. Asking him to cover more territory would likely keep him away for months,” her hands lifted animatedly, and Silna braced herself for a tantrum.
“If you ask me, it is Ta’llevny’s fault for not assigning his esteemed riders to such a task. He cannot expect one to do the job of several.”
Silna shook her head, wondering where this was all going. When had she become so angry over Dolen’s assignments? What did Ta’llevny’s riders have to do with anything?
“Oh forget it,” Rowena breathed out quickly. “We will report this. Dolen will not be back for weeks, but when he returns, he’s yours to reprimand,” she said, spinning on her heel and walking toward the forest.
Silna did not get a chance to indulge in the sweet air, the tingling in her skin, or the soft light of the forest as she followed Rowena. All of her thoughts were still spinning over what exactly had her sister in such a mood.
“I do not wish to reprimand-” she picked up her pace, widening her stride to reach the human girl in a few steps. “Rowena, what is wrong?”
“I don’t know!” Rowena blustered, now slowing her steps and clenching fists at her side. Silna hadn’t seen her like this since she came of age some years before.
“I’m just angry, and I cannot explain why!” Rowena said, biting her lower lip.
“How was your mood when you woke?” Silna asked carefully.
“Fine. I was rushed... and confused. Spirit woke me, of all things. Can you imagine waking to such a sight? I had no idea where I was,” Rowena smiled in spite of her mood.
“She told me I was needed and took me to the paddock. Talon was with colic, so I set Quickfoot to ride with Dolen, and he left. I came to find you, and...” she trailed off.
Silna’s eyes narrowed a bit, but she waited. Rowena’s thoughts were swimming, and her eyes were conveying that clearly. It seemed as though the human girl was as confused with herself as Silna was.
“I just started yelling at him. I took every one of my own problems and threw them at him, and.... he yelled back,” she explained, her eyes wandering as she thought. “Well, he didn’t raise his voice. The fates know Dolen never yells, but the way he spoke...” she trailed off and shook her head.
Silna’s brows lifted marginally. Dolen had always been a friend to Rowena, though he was rarely around. He was one of the few who had acknowledged her when she was smaller, regardless of any reputation that might bring him. When she waved, he had waved back. When she went on and on with one of her imaginary stories, he had listened to her (rather than step around her as if she were a chittering squirrel). She knew he was one of few outside of their family who accepted her as kin. Silna had never thought twice about it until now, since he was known for tolerance at best. Now it seemed that Rowena had managed to bring the solitary being out of his proverbial shell. Now her teasing about rumors may just begin to come true.
“He will return, and you will speak to him again. It will all work out as time permits it,” Silna concluded.
Rowena sighed and the two began their path back to their territory. The cold wind from the night before had only abated slightly when they entered Tarragon again, proving that winter was not a patient season.
“There are times I wish I could control my own thoughts,” Rowena said at a length, nibbling at the fruit she had been given earlier.
“Ah, sister. I dream of a ghost while you dream of a traveler. I daresay I understand exactly what you mean,” Silna mused, a teasing smile on her face.
“A traveler?” Rowena stumbled, realizing the meaning of her sister’s words. “Wait, this is nothing like that, Silna! Do not even begin to imagine-”
The two spoke in laughing tones the entire way back; both hearts lightened by their earlier talk. Only when they reached home did they remember exactly what they needed to report.