Vision of the Future
Although he had hoped to see Silna more often, Tey’ven was still one of Ta’llevny’s own. It was because of this that he had not seen much of anyone, except to deliver the news to Vance that a messenger had returned. Otherwise, he was begrudged to spend most of his time in Feather Grove with the fairyfolk. Already that very day, he had warded off the tiny beings at least three times, making it more than clear that he was quite pleased with the braids he had put his own hair into that morning. Aside from herding fairies, he kept a vigilant watch over the general area, taking different vantage points every few hours.
It was nearing dusk when Ta’llevny emerged from his make-shift home. Tey’ven immediately snapped out of his reverie and moved over toward the forest’s leader. He had a look in his odd eyes that said he had important news, but Tey’ven was not one to ask. He would follow orders, if and when they were given.
Both were on foot, but a beautiful gray mare came through the trees soon after Ta’llevny had emerged. When she was close enough, Tarragon’s leader lifted himself onto her back and sat astride with casual ease. Finally, he seemed to realized that Tey’ven was there, and gestured behind him.
“We must meet with the human king,” Ta’llevny explained. “I have seen part of what is to come, and there is one very important piece of information that must be portrayed. The magic must be called this night.”
The weight of his final words settled heavily in the air. Tey’ven nodded, and turned as he heard Whisper come up behind him, but the horse’s mental brush was not as urgent as his own.
”Not just yet,” the deep voice said into his mind. ”We have a gift to deliver.”
Tey’ven mounted Whisper and pulled up his cowl, watching with wide eyes as Te’llevny rode off in the direction of the forest’s border. A veritable cloud of fairies followed in his wake, and Tey’ven turned in the direction that Whisper began walking.
“A gift?” he asked in a soft voice, glaring as he realized that he, too, had his own small escort of fairies. He was one of two of Ta’llevny’s riders who could tolerate the tiny beings. This was one of few circumstances where he envied Sa’nengal.
”One of great importance. If the message was as true as it sounded, this will be our last peaceful night before the battle. It must be given tonight,” Whisper replied, picking up pace as they rode further into the forest.
There were several camps lined up around Ta’llevny’s dwelling in Feather Grove. Many were visitors who, while agreeing with the cause, were not wholly comfortable around so many humans. It made him smirk to think that the humans were certainly more tolerable than the fairies.
“Do you know where they are?” Tey’ven whispered, and knew that his horse would understand the true meaning of the question.
“Last I followed, they were practicing with the king and his guards,” Whisper replied, amusement dancing in his voice. It was as though he enjoyed reporting almost as much as he enjoyed Tey’ven’s interest.
It was certainly not the first time he had been asked to keep tabs on Silna’s whereabouts. Spirit was more than willing to help, and Tey’ven figured that he knew why.
They rode for some time, and the forest floor was painted with dappled orange by the time they reached their destination. Tey’ven himself had not been to this section of the forest in years, but it was very familiar. It was the technical border of the Blade-born and Mind-born lands.
He heard footsteps, and a young, black-haired elf appeared from behind a tree. She was dressed in a layer of furs, and held a wrapped package precariously in her arms. Obviously, it was not fragile. When she came close enough to see him in detail, she stopped in her tracks and stared, no doubt seeing the very being that children were told stories of.
Tey’ven purposefully dismounted and pulled his cowl back, showing the girl that he was not only alive, but of her kind. He smiled at her, and she looked down, her face reddening as she forced the package out and away from her body. Tey’ven took it gingerly from her small fingers, and stood up to strap it to his saddle.
“Thank you,” he said softly. “Ta’llevny would be glad for your prompt delivery.”
The small elven girl grinned at him then, and offered him a wave before turning to trot back the way she came. He forced a picture of her into his memory, and locked it there. It would probably be some time before he saw one so young again.
”It will be sooner than you think,” Whisper interrupted. ”Come, we must be at the border before the calling begins."
Tey’ven obeyed the mental command, pulling himself up into the saddle and bracing as Whisper launched into a gallop. Ignoring the curious package strapped to the saddle, his mind danced with thoughts of tiny black-haired children, running happily through the trees of Tarragon.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The evening did not go quite as he had planned. The Khalesford visitors did more than well at the table, of course. They actually ate with so few manners that Ferin found himself on the receiving end of many courtly stares. How he reacted to the sloppy habits would inevitably be what the rest of the court emulated. In the end, he ordered the music started early (mostly to block out the grunting and slurping from the visitor’s end of the table), and that seemed to sate all parties involved.
However, when it came time to formally introduce them to the ball, the people of Khalesford excused themselves. Such was the polite way of stating it, at least. In a few short, accented sentences, Ferin was told that the warriors would prepare for the next day’s battle in their own tradition. As the large men filed out of the grand hall, Ferin lifted his hand in a gesture that meant ‘continue’. He certainly was not about to waste the decorations or the court’s long hours spent decorating themselves.
It was his first real lesson in foreign relations, and he recovered as quickly as he could. The visiting warriors wanted a large fire in the center of the square, and Ferin complied. He asked some of the castle servants to bundle up and bring enough wood to meet their needs. Ferin excused himself from his own ball to oversee the activities, watching from just outside of the entrance to the castle. It was getting colder, and small flakes of snow were swirling around in the darkness as the Khalesford men started their fire.
“I wonder if I should say anything to them,” Ferin mused.
“You may want to wish them well, and give them an exact time of departure,” Gordon, who was standing next to him, offered.
Rolling his eyes, Ferin pulled his fur cloak more tightly around his body and began to walk down to the main square. At least the stone on the ground would ensure that the fire would do no damage. The last thing he needed was a black mark that scarred the very center of his main square.
As he approached, it was Valen himself who turned to greet him, looking perfectly at home in the freezing night air.
“We begin our war chant. Does White Phoenix’s king wish to participate?” Valen asked, an amused twinkle in his eye.
“I do not wish to compromise the integrity of your event,” Ferin answered evenly, offering a short nod of his head. “But I thank you for the invitation. I am here to inform you that I would prefer to leave before the sun reaches it’s peak tomorrow. There is a fairly long trip ahead to the edge of Tarragon’s territory, and I believe we need the morning hours to prepare arms.”
“Ah, yes,” Valen answered, looking up to the sky. “That would bring us to their line at dusk,” he nodded, and pulled habitually at his beard. “It is a good time to begin a battle.”
“I approve,” Ferin said offhandedly, all but shivering as the snowflakes began driving at the bare skin of his face. He was beginning to realize why beards where so common in these winter-loving folk. “We will gather at dawn, then.”
Valen nodded, and Ferin turned to walk quickly back toward the castle. However, the Khalesford leader barked another sound that had Ferin turning in question.
“Why does a king of White Phoenix not wear his crown?” Valen yelled over the wind, his accent becoming more clear.
Ferin realized that it was not just Valen who waited for an answer. Several of the bearded warriors were also watching, and none of them even flinched when the great bonfire suddenly roared to life in front of them. He realized that this was a test of his leadership, and his answer would determine the amount of respect he would receive. Technically, Ferin could not wear his crown until after his coronation. On the other hand, explaining that fact to Valen might somehow decrease his worth as a hierarchical leader.
“Our ceremony,” he began, fighting for a way to explain it. “Our ceremony lasts longer than just one day. A king must never proclaim his worth until his worth is proved,” Ferin replied, his voice lifting as he gained confidence in his own words.
Valen stood still for a moment, long enough to make Ferin only slightly nervous before he nodded and turned back to his men. A gesture from his hand, and the rest let out a variant roar of chants, officially beginning their ritual.
Ferin walked quickly back up to the entryway, glaring at Gordon. “Once this is overwith, I’d like to limit our interaction with those folk. They are far too barbaric for my tastes,” he said with a sour look. The warm air wrapped around him and he was just about to relax when he heard Gordon mumble from behind him.
“Best to be thankful you have them now, sire. This group does not leave their grounds for much.”
Ferin frowned, but continued moving back toward the grand hall. It would be his last evening before a grueling few days, and he meant to spend it with pleasurable thoughts and company.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“Ow, Lor, take it easy!” Dale whined, leaning forward as his sister rubbed salve into his shoulder.
“Your fault for trying to impress your lady,” she chided.
“She is not my lady,” he replied in a grumble, but his face turned bright red.
“You’ve certainly been spending time together,” Vance commented from the other side of the tent.
The three were joined by Silna, Rowena and Cameron in Vance’s large tent. There was a small fire going in the center, and the group was just settling in after a long day of practicing. It was the first time that they had spent time together alone as a group in days, and they were enjoying it as they always had.
“Yeah, well Cam’s been spending time with Faeron! Doesn’t mean they’ve got eyes for each other,” Dale spat back, only to wince under his brother’s glare.
”Cam has other things to do than chase females,” Cameron replied, pointedly sharpening his sword’s blade.
“What does he mean by eyes?” Silna asked, and Lora looked up to see the elven girl staring at Dale with wide eyes.
“It’s an expression!” Lora replied immediately, only imagining what Silna was thinking. “It means...” she bit her lip and stopped rubbing her brother’s shoulder as she thought.
“It means that his gaze is only meant for her,” Vance replied, and Lora looked up to find him watching her. “He does not see anything but her face.”
Both she and her brother were red in the face at that point. The room was uncomfortably silent until Cameron scoffed and mumbled.
“Sounds stupid to me.”
Lora would have scolded him if he had not provided her with a distraction. Instead, she stayed quiet, beginning to wrap Dale’s shoulder as Vance picked up the argument.
“You’ll understand some day,” Vance said, and then looked to Silna. “Does that make more sense?”
The elf nodded and offered a short smile, her blue eyes taking on a nostalgic look. ”Fen lleryn dalste’a,” she said, and when most of the eyes of the room were on her, she spoke Common. “You would say.... s-soul,” Silna looked to Rowena with her brows drawn low.
“Soul’s companion would work best,” Rowena replied. “They’re old words,” she explained to Lora. “But it seems to be the best elven saying to match the Common one.”
“Like soulmates!” Dale spoke up, once again blushing as the room went silent. “Shut up, it makes sense,” he mumbled.
“Senseless, really,” Cameron mumbled in an identical tone.
It was very interesting for Lora to see the more mature of her twin brothers rejecting the idea of love. Either he was slower to mature into that portion of his life than Dale, or he had been jilted in the past, and she had not heard of it. She made a mental note to find out which. If it was the latter....
Dale flinched as she jerked his wrap a bit too tight, and she dashed her angry thoughts. After she tied it off and set his shirt back over it, she moved to sit down, and sighed.
“What next?” she asked, looking to Vance for an answer.
“I think we should meet with your father again. He said he was getting more information on Khalesford from some of his old colleagues. We need to know all we can about Ferin’s army before they arrive.”
Lora looked down and felt the energy drain from her body. His mention of battle and the subject of Ferin’s new allies had her mind back on the reality of their situation. Her father had explained his remembrance of Khalesford to Vance the evening before. From what he had said, their prowess in battle was first and foremost on their list of attributes. That Ferin had been able to call them to arms was a miracle in it’s own, and the look on her father’s face was enough to give her reason to worry. He had fought them, or seen them fight at some point, and he had seen enough to worry.
“I’ll get him,” Dale stood and moved to leave.
“Dale, keep this with you,” Cameron said, lifting and tossing one of their elven swords. His twin caught it easily and left the tent.
“Wind’s picking up,” Vance said , his eyes scanning the fabric walls as they shook.
“Sa’nengal is pushing weather at our adversaries,” Silna answered, looking up from working on a sword sheath.
“He can control that?” Lora asked. The elves were magic users, but she had not allowed herself to fathom exactly how much they could do.
Rowena nodded, offering what looked like a sympathetic smile. Lora did her best not to look worried or uncomfortable.
“He is one of Ta’llevny’s riders, like Tey’ven. Many of them have deep-seeded talents with magic,” she explained.
“What can Tey’ven do?” Lora asked, looking between Rowena and Silna.
The sisters exchanged glances, and Silna took over.
“He is an exceptional swordsman, and has an above-average talent with magic,” she said hesitantly, glancing to Rowena once more.
“Nothing in particular?” Rowena asked, obviously as curious as Lora was.
Silna’s brows drew together, and she began working with her sheath again. “It is not something we discuss-” she broke off and looked up, and Rowena did the same. Spending time with elves made it easy for Lora and Vance both to understand that they were about to have company.
Charles came into the tent, followed by two of his colleagues and Dale. Cameron and Silna immediately left the main table, and moved to different parts of the tent as the men sat down. Charles unrolled a piece of paper and slid it in front of Vance. From her vantage point, Lora could not see much, but it appeared to be a picture of some sort.
“They’re horsemen. Warriors, and horsemen from the cold regions to our west,” Charles explained.
Lora moved over so that both Rowena and Silna could share the large seat she sat on, and all three paid close attention to what the elder men were saying.
“Your stallion; Dancer?” one of the other men spoke up. “He’s one of their stock. Direct bloodlines.”
Vance’s attention was trained on the man as he spoke. “Dancer was a trade,” he said offhandedly. “He’s barely six years old.”
“He was a trade, indeed,” Charles smirked. “With Khalesford. That’s your father’s horse, sire,” he said, ignoring Vance’s uncomfortable look. “A trade meant for a king. He received the pureblooded, trained stallion, and they sent Khalesford a few farmer’s daughters to help with their bloodlines.”
“Daughters?” Vance looked between Charles and the other men.
“Wait,” Lora stood, and the men at the table turned. “You mean to say the late king traded a horse for human girls?”
One of the men looked to Vance, as if wondering why he was allowing her to speak, but Vance only mirrored her incredulous look, asking him to answer.
“They were willing, o'course!” Charles answered, lifting his hand in a gesture meant to calm both she and Vance. With an exchanged glance, she sat down once more, cooling her temper. “Gave them a life in a castle, you know. Away from pullin’ weeds all their lives. They got married off to wealthy lords, had some Khalesford babes and raised ’em up to be wealthy horsemen themselves.”
“But a horse?” Lora continued. “Just one?”
“You’ve seen Dancer, haven’t ya?” Charles asked. “Our king’s got it right, Lora. He’s only six years, and learned up on everything. Doesn’t spook, gaits like a dream, and has the body of a pure-blood. That stallion’s worth as much as our damned house.”
Lora looked to either side of her, but both Rowena and Silna were nodding. Rowena was the one who spoke up.
“He carries a mind similar to our horses. Very intelligent for his kind,” she said carefully.
“Regardless,” Charles said dismissively, as if in a hurry. “They’ve got an army of ‘em. Every one of their men rides a beast like that into battle. They’re trained for it,” he went on. “Those men are warriors. Made for the winter weather. Big, hardy types who carry nothin’ but broadswords.”
“And Ferin called for their aid?” Vance said, disbelieving.
“Don’ ask me how, but he did, and they listened,” he answered.
The room went silent for a time, and Dale was the first to speak.
“We’ll just have to show ’em what we’ve learned, then.” he said, looking up and grinning when he caught sight of Vance’s smirk.
Silna once again looked at the tent’s entrance, but this time she stood and left. Rowena followed, offering Lora a quick glance.
“Somethin’ we said?” one of the elder men asked, and Lora smiled.
“Different set of manners,” she answered. He seemed to accept it.
Rowena poked her head back into the tent looking very flushed. “Come outside, Ta’llevny is arriving! He has news!”
The whole of the tent was up and rushing to the doorway, but Lora made it out first. It was dark already, and she put her arms around herself as she realized that she had forgotten her cloak in the tent. It was freezing out, but her attention was drawn to the slowly forming crowd, all of them facing Tarragon’s border.
Warmth enveloped her, and she turned her head to see Vance. He laid a fur cloak around her shoulders, leaving either of his hands on them long enough to offer a smile before he moved forward.
“Come on then,” he said softly. “Let us greet him properly this time.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
It was cold, and the wind whipped through the darkness, attempting to cut through his clothing and ice his skin. The feeling only fueled his pleasure. He could feel it working in the very air around him, and he continued to breathe in and out slowly, his hands facing outward as he sat.
Sa’nengal was now further from the border than he had ever been. He sat in a light layer of snow, some meters outside of the tree-line, facing the direction from which the humans had come. Their camp was within sight (and unfortunately within hearing and smelling range as well), but he had forced himself to focus on his duty.
Calling a storm was a long process, especially in the winter. Wind, snow, and (if he pulled enough power) thunder were all ingredients that made up a natural blockade. Ta’llevny had asked him to pull power from the forest itself, and drive a storm straight into the path of the incoming army. He had gladly accepted. Despite his dislike of humans, Sa’nengal was a servant of Tarragon. He would follow his leader into any war, whether he agreed with it or not. Thankfully, this task was one of his favorites; one that he could do on his own, without interruption. Even Shaden was off grazing within the trees of the forest, giving him his time to focus and enjoy the silence.
It was silent, at least, until he heard footsteps. Keeping his eyes closed, he did his best to portray his wish to be left alone. The wind was a hard, driving thing, and he wondered who would walk so far from the human camp to bother him. The steps were short, staggering, and the human breaths were equally small. That piqued his curiosity.
Sa’nengal opened his eyes and turned his head in the direction of the noise, focusing in the darkness. The light of their fires outlined her form, and he realized that it was only a child. A small, human child who was bundled up as much as she could be to prevent a chill. Even more unnerving was that she was coming directly for him, and did not stop when her eyes focused on his. He would certainly be a sight; dressed in all white cloaks, with piercing gray eyes and a perpetual scowl.
She stomped right up to him, stopped, and held out a steaming cup. Her nose was bright red, her eyes were watering, and her breath was coming out in a fog. Despite all of that, she smiled, said something jovial in the human tongue, and nodded toward the hot drink.
After looking between her, the drink, and the camp, Sa’nengal finally gave in. He reached out, took the cup, and offered her a hesitant nod. The simple action got an even more brilliant smile out of the young girl, if that was possible. She was so pleased to have served him, and that struck him as utterly strange. The little girl crouched in a strange gesture, a pleasant smile still etched over her face. She lifted a tiny hand covered in animal skin and held it up by her face; palm facing outward. He waited another moment, narrowed his eyes and repeated the gesture. She giggled at that.
There was a call from camp, and she turned to listen before turning back. After a simple wave of her hand, she turned and trotted back toward her camp. Her gait was clumsy, loud, and awkward, but somehow, he found himself smiling.
The drink smelled horrible; He would certainly not ingest it. However, it did very well to warm his freezing hands before he went back to work. After that simple exchange, he somehow felt the slightest bit more comfortable sharing his space with the obnoxious beings.