A King's Crown
Wind whipped at her hair, drawing it into her face before she pulled up the cowl of her fur cloak. It was as if the forest itself was trying to force them away. Rowena knew better, though. She knew that somewhere on the outskirts of a tree-line, Sa’nengal was working his weather magic. It was a necessary annoyance, since it would be even more of a nuisance to the incoming army. Anything that might put a damper on their goals was worth it.
She watched as Ta’llevny cut through the gathering crowd and approached the group with whom she stood. It was dark but the nearby fires, (as well as the fairy-light that surrounded Tarragon’s leader), was enough to cause a stir.
“If you will gather your people,” Ta’llevny began, his odd-eyed gaze focused on Vance. “I will perform a calling, and we will need all of the light-hearted company that we can gather.”
Vance nodded, and began his way toward the front of the camp. People already moved to follow him, and Rowena found herself exchanging a glance with her sister. He meant to call magic to the outside of Tarragon’s border? The forest’s magic followed Ta’llevny when he called, but from his choice in words, it sounded as though he wanted to expand it permanently. That was a shock.
“Let us follow. He said ‘light-hearted’. The humans need to believe and accept our presence in order for the magic to come to their defense,” Silna said in the elven tongue.
Rowena glanced back to see more fairies flowing out of the forest. They followed in Ta’llevny’s trail like a moving flag, only a few choosing to leave formation to visit a human here or there. Elves began to appear as well, which surprised her. She shook her head, realizing that Silna and Lora had both moved to catch up, but she had stood still in the snow. Just as she moved to follow, Dolen entered her sight range, and she trotted across the snow to meet him.
“He means to perform a calling,” she whispered breathlessly as she reached him.
“The time has come to defend our forest,” Dolen replied, moving his hand to the small of her back as they walked. “Ta’llevny means to make sure that our new allies are also defended.”
“Will it work?” she asked in a soft tone, glancing around as the crowd thickened. It seemed like they were all making their way to the front of the camp. The side that they had all guessed Ferin’s people would attack from. “I’ve only ever seen a calling at ceremonies, and,” she hesitated. “I have never been a participant.”
“The magic follows Ta’llevny,” Dolen said, shifting with her as they began to move their way to the front of the milling crowd. “He will spread it to others as he sees fit, regardless of heritage.”
Rowena, being Tarragon’s official emissary, found her way to a spot near Lora. She was glad to feel Dolen move in behind her, his warmth blocking the harsh wind that cut in behind them. A few months ago, he may not have even come out from the forest’s cover, and now he stood within a mass of people, watching as Ta’llevny dismounted and stood before Vance. Small differences such at that were proof that Dolen was making changes for her. That thought made her smile.
At the very front of the gathering crowd, Ta’llevny and Vance stood facing one another. Not far behind Vance were Dale and Cameron, followed by Lora, Rowena, and Dolen. Silna had shifted herself so that she was nearby, but closer to Ta’llevny’s escort of fairies and a single white-cloaked rider. Though she could not see through his hood, Rowena was sure that it was not Tey’ven who guarded their leader. Behind their small group were hundreds of humans, all bundled up tight against the cold. The elves had begun to gather behind them (though many were walking around the crowd in order to stand closer to Ta’llevny).
“I have seen enough in my thoughts to know that your brother will attack tomorrow,” Ta’llevny said. Although his words were soft, and only meant for Vance, the crowd hushed as if they had heard them. “I understand that you are prepared?”
Vance nodded, his hair in disarray, but his gaze hard and serious. “With the help of your people, we have created barricades and hides, and have prepared those who mean to fight,” he answered, and the crowd definitely heard his words.
“What of the children?” a voice called from the crowd.
Ta’llevny nodded once, directing his gaze outward. His own whiteish hair flowed freely in the wind. Somehow, he did not seem bothered by the cold.
“The faries have offered their home as refuge for your children, and any who do not wish to risk themselves in direct combat,” Ta’llevny said. “They are welcome to follow me back when this meeting is over.”
Silence, and a few murmurs were enough of an answer, and Vance took the chance to add in his own question.
“I’m going to offer a truce first, just to give Ferin a chance to give up,” he said. “He will likely not take it, but...” he shook his head.
“He is one of few that you share blood with,” Ta’llevny answered, understanding clear in his tone. “Despite his misgivings, you are hesitant to cut him down.”
Galloping hoofbeats paused the conversation, and Rowena watched as a white-cloaked rider she did recognize cut through a path that the crowd made for him. Whisper pulled up short and Tey’ven had dismounted before any of them could blink. He handed a cloth-wrapped package to Ta’llevny before stepping back, one hand lifting to run over Whisper’s heaving flank, and the other moving to pull back his hood.
“Before I begin our ceremony, I would like to present you with a gift,” Ta’llevny said, using his own deft fingers to unwrap the package as he spoke. “Our people are extremely thankful for your aid in the coming days. You have come out from your homes, camped in the cold, and will put yourselves between your kin and our kind. For that, we are grateful.”
Rowena watched as Ta’llevny slipped the cloth away, and her eyes widened about as much as Vance’s as she saw what he held. It was a silver crown; beautifully crafted in elven metal. No doubt a Blade-born craft, it was shaped in a myriad of flowing lines, all coming together to create the pattern of wings on a bird. A phoenix!
“Oh,” Vance murmured, looking from the crown in Ta’llevny’s hands to the crowd that was now alive with buzzing whispers, most trying to see what they were all looking at. “I can’t. I mean, it is beautiful, but in my culture there must be a coronation. Things must be official before I am able to wear a crown-”
“Ah, that’s just a dance, and you know it!”
Rowena turned as many others did to see Charles cutting through the crowd, lifting his furry brows and nodding at the crown.
“That’s a thing o’ beauty right there. We ought not waste it over frivolities,” he said
“Charles, I cannot accept a king’s crown,” Vance implored. “It would be false. I am not even on my own land!”
“Technically, you are,” Dale piped up, biting his lip when a few gazes moved to him.
“It is in my knowledge that a people make a land, Vance,” Ta’llevny answered. “Your people stand before you, ready to accept you as their king . What more ceremony do you need?”
“Yeah!” Charles yelled, turning to face the crowd. “Do we all accept Vance as our king?” when they yelled in acceptance, the older man limped forward, putting a hand on Vance’s shoulder. “He’s been to our taverns! He knows the names of our neighbors, and he surely wouldn’t expect us to move aside for him to pass!”
“Ferin doesn’t know our tunes by heart!” another voice piped up.
“I saw him helping an old lady shovel her walk one morning! Plain as day, as if he were a servant,” another yelled.
More yells of acceptance could be heard, and soon they all drowned together in cheers. It was more than clear that these folk, although weary, would follow Vance to his end.
“So it is, we crown ya! We, the true people of White Phoenix!” Charles yelled again, and the crowd erupted once more. Rowena found herself smiling and clapping.
“If you’ll kneel, Lord Vance,” an older member of Vance’s council spoke up, and the crowd hushed. “Lora, as emissary of our people, will you please take the crown from our allies?”
Vance and Lora exchanged meaningful glances, and Rowena saw the strength in Lora’s eyes. She nodded to him, smiling as she moved carefully to Ta’llevny. She dipped into a proper curtsy, bowed her head, and used a feather-light touch to lift the shining silver crown, turning toward Vance as he knelt in the snow.
“Dale, Cameron, if you please,” the council member said, obviously taking control of their impromptu ceremony.
When the twins took the crown from their sister, each held onto one side, flanking Vance as he knelt.
“As a member of the High Council of White Phoenix, and in speaking for the kingdom’s people, as well as our allies,” he said, giving Ta’llevny a short nod. “I hereby proclaim, that Lord Vance Warrington shall henceforth be known as the crowned king of White Phoenix.”
The crowd erupted at his words, and when given the signal, both Dale and Cameron lowered the silver crown to Vance’s head. Rowena thought she could see his muscles quivering, but she did not blame him. This was an unexpected turn, but it was a needed one. She noted the pleased look on Ta’llevny’s face as he looked skyward, bathing in the pleased cheers and chants of the humans around them.
Vance stood, his eyes noticeably bleary as he clapped his guards on the shoulders, and reached forward to hug Charles heartily. At this, the crowd became even louder. Dolen tensed behind her, but she heard a familiar whisper on his lips. When she glanced at Silna, it was clear that both she and Tey’ven where whispering a chant as well.
Ta’llevny lifted his arms to the sky, his hair pulling in the breeze like a white curtain. At once, the fairies burst into a cloud of light around him. The flowed outward, weaving in and around the crowd, and lighting the area in a purely magical way. She felt Dolen’s hands on either of her shoulders, tugging lightly backward. When she leaned back into his embrace, she smiled, laughing as she felt his chest vibrating with his chant, and loving the scene before her.
Happiness pulsed in waves through the air, and it was not long before she felt the earth itself move with life. It was like a drumbeat, but one that she felt down to her bones. All at once, she realized that the calling was working. The humans were pleased, happy, and chanting in their own way as the elves performed their usual rite of ceremony. The magic was coming to it’s leader’s call.
Rowena glanced over to watch Lora reach up to run a finger over Vance’s crown. She was right, of course. The crown looked gallant on him. It was a far cry from the bejeweled crown his father had worn, but that was a gaudy thing compared to this one. The new crown had clearly been made for him alone; a fitted piece of elven artistry.
“I certainly like it better than father’s,” Vance answered Lora, echoing Rowena’s thought. A smile lit both of their faces, and it was a pleasing sight to see them so close. Obviously, Lora was slowly overcoming her fear of showing affection for Vance. That she was so bold with him after his crowning was another good sign.
“It is done,” Dolen’s voice in her ear made her shiver, but she did not move to pull away from his embrace.
“I can almost see it,” she whispered, looking up as her breath drifted toward the clouds in a fog.
Indeed, things seemed brighter, calmer, and more pleasant than they had only moments earlier. She knew that once anyone stepped outside of the new magical border, the wind would be just as harsh, and the air much more heavy than it was right then.
“Thank you, Ta’llevny,” Vance was saying, nodding his head gratefully.
“It is the least I can do after your efforts, your highness,” Ta’llevny replied, turning and mounting his horse without the least bit of struggle. “If you will send those who do not wish to fight in my wake. I will lead them to Feather Grove.
Tey’ven pulled up his hood, ran his hand down Silna’s arm and mounted Whisper not long after. Announcements were made, and a procession began with Ta’llevny and his cloaked riders in the lead. Rowena felt Dolen shift back away from her, and she sighed, pulling her cloak tighter. Even with the magic around them, the chill was still bothersome.
“That was beautiful,” Silna smiled, approaching her as they all watched the line of humans, elves and fairies moving back into Tarragon.
“I didn’t know he would allow them in,” Rowena said offhandedly.
“The fairies seem to accept anything that does not mean them harm,” Dolen commented.
“They’re a perfectly kind folk,” Rowena said, turning with a grin. “I’ve been telling you both that for years.”
Silna rolled her eyes, and Dolen gave her that blatant stare that she always found herself looking away from. Still, she smirked, knowing she was right.
“We’ll all need our rest for tomorrow,” Vance was saying to the crowd that remained, and Rowena gratefully began moving back toward the camp as well.
“Tomorrow,” she whispered. “I wonder if I’ve learned enough.”
“You’ve learned enough to defend yourself,” Dolen answered, stepping up to her side and keeping pace with her.
“Just stay in the trees, alright?” Silna asked, ignoring Dolen’s glare and focusing on her sister.
Rowena bit her lip, not focusing so much on their words, but their presence. Up until that moment, she had not considered the consequences of an actual war. The two most important beings in her life walked at her sides, and she could very easily lose them before the sun set the next day. That thought sobered any argument she might have made, and left her walking back to the forest in a haunted silence.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ferin sneered into the biting breeze, wishing he had thought to wear another layer. They were marching directly into the center of a winter storm. It seemed almost too ironic that, on the day they marched to war, a storm would come at them in a fierce, sudden wave. He himself had whispered words like ‘sorcery’, which had caused a pleasing amount of grumbles from both his men and their Khalesford allies.
Valen had insisted that his men trudge ahead of the White Phoenix army. The black horses were built for snow travel, and they would cut a clean path for the rest to march over. At first, Ferin had bristled. He was the king of this land, and therefore he should be the one leading the army. However, as icy wind and hard flakes of snow cut at the skin of his face, he was thankful that keeping his eyes open was not a necessity.
Some how, he had imagined that this would be similar to a hunt; dress warm for the weather, and set out at a quiet ride until they found their prey. Unfortunately, it was no such thing. The weather was horrid, and since they had started out late, Khalesford had set a jarring pace. Dancer was, of course, missing, and Ferin was therefore atop one of his older mounts. He was a beautiful beast, but his gait was nowhere near as smooth as Dancer’s.
Ferin’s one pleased thought was that he had made sure Zane stayed back at the castle. His ‘adviser’ would do well in his usual game: keeping the ladies of the court company while their men were at war. He was not sure he could take any of Zane’s whining (and he would surely be whining) at that point. Even some of his most hardened warriors had made disparaging comments about the state of things thus far.
“This is most definitely a magic-drawn storm, your highness,” a voice cut through the wind beside him.
Ferin realized that he had been daydreaming, his gaze lost in a sea of white as he thought to himself. One of his councilmen had pulled his horse up alongside him, and Ferin sat up, shook the snow from his fur cloak and spoke in return.
“How can you tell?” he asked in a loud tone.
“Storms do not blow in so hard from that part of the land. The more severe always come between the hills and sit. This one seems to be playing out more like a coastal storm,” the man went on, but Ferin stopped listening. He had obviously not picked up on the sarcasm in his words.
Just as he turned to look back out into the whiteness ahead, a dark shape seemed to appear within the driving snow, and his mount stopped. More dark shapes came into focus, and he realized that the Khalesford men had stopped, and were convening in some sort of meeting. Ferin frowned and forced his horse forward, cutting through the energized warriors to come to the center of their makeshift circle.
“Ah, his highness has decided to join us!” Valen announced, gesturing in his direction.
“I about fell upon you,” Ferin grumbled. “The sun is up, and I cannot see my own mount’s head in front of me.”
“Perfect weather!” Valen exclaimed, grinning through a snowy beard. His men chanted loudly in response. “Now,” he began. “If my guess is correct, there should be no more than an hour’s ride from here. I want the men split to send a group around either side of your brother’s camp.”
“The land won’t permit it,” Ferin put in, rolling his eyes. He thought he had explained this to them. “There are hills and falls on either side of the entrance to Tarragon. Only one field lies within a land that can be ridden over, and that is likely the field Vance has taken refuge in.”
“They’ll walk, then,” Valen answered.
“No,” Ferin shifted in his sadlle, obviously exasperated. “That would take far too long, and I want this over-with as soon as possible. Why not simply attack them head on?” he asked, wondering why these brazen war-mongers were not happy with such a plan.
“Too easy,” Valen answered, his horse turning in place anxiously. “Then again, you are king. We are at your service.”
Nodding, Ferin looked out ahead into the whiteness. He sat up straight, doing his best not to look as miserable as he felt, and confirmed his plan.
“Indeed. I want the men to fan out, and come at them head on. If they retreat into the forest, we will follow,” he orderd. “After all, it will be our land once we are through with it.”
Valen watched him with another of those haunting stares before finally turning his horse and lifting his voice into the wind.
“Ride on, men! We have our orders!”
The riders moved into the whiteness easily, and Ferin watched in amazement as they disappeared ahead of him. His mount moved instinctively, and he heard the trudging motions of his own men behind him.
“Did he say we’re to fight in an hour?” a voice came from his side.
Ferin nodded. “Yes, spread the word to prepare.”
As they rode further into the storm, Ferin hoped that the magic-users were not assaulting their own land with such weather. They would definitely need to see more than a foot in front of them to fight. He did his best to fill his head with images of Vance on Dancer, a horse which was technically his.
Anger fueled his movements, warmed his blood, and by the time they reached their destination, he was more than ready to begin a battle.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Aside from the wind, which rocked the trees in an eerie manner, all was quiet on the edge of Tarragon forest. Ta’llevny had made it clear that the attack would fall that day, so humans, elves, and fairies alike had spent the day preparing. As the sun began to wane over the horizon, the tension mounted.
Dolen knew that he would be needed outside of the border once Ferin’s lot arrived. He was spending as much time away from the human group as he could, soaking up the silence and enjoying his last moments of peace with Rowena at his side. She had a habit of humming. It was something he had grown used to when she was a child, and he was spending enough time with her now that it was clear the habit had not changed.
Both were sharpening the tips of their own arrows, organizing them in their respective quivers, and polishing their bowstrings. Few words had been exchanged, but that was all the better in his eyes. There was the occasional brush of her arm against his, or the sight of their hair mingling in the wind; black on white in sharp contrast. It was honestly just what both of them needed in the hours before going to battle.
“Will you watch over Silna?” she asked quietly, breaking the silence, but not looking at him.
“I will. She, and those we know best will be my primary concern,” Dolen answered, sending her a short glance. “Including you.”
“I’ll be behind you,” she argued.
“I will watch-over your-lady master-elf!”
Both turned to see Wylden floating nearby, dressed in what could only be described as fairy-armor. It looked to be made of elven metal, but fashioned in such small form that it fit his tiny body perfectly. His wings looked unhindered as they kept him hovering.
“See, I’ll be well protected,” Rowena said, smiling at him.
He almost returned the smile, but focused again on Wylden.
“Are you here with a message?” he asked, knowing that there was simply too much tension for the fairy to be on a pleasure flight.
“Indeed!” Wylden replied. “It is time-to line up!” he straightened his posture, doing his best to look brave. For one of such a cowardly species, he actually was doing well.
“You look very brave in that armor, Wylden,” Rowena replied as she began to pack up.
Had he any fur, the fairy would have fluffed it. Instead, he puffed his chest, his wings shedding glittering light as they blurred together in a red haze behind him.
“We-too will fight for-our-land,” Wylden announced, shifting between following and leading as the two elves moved to leave their make-shift camp.
Both Dolen and Rowena were also dressed for battle, wearing armor that had not seen use in decades. The hides of larger beasts had been tanned, dried, and stitched together to make a tough, yet movable armor. In proper elven form, it was both useful and beautiful to look at. Patterns of raised lines traced out along the chest and leg covers, curving to form pictures of trees, animals, and other such things that might represent their kind. His was in white with tree-like symbols, and Rowena’s (no doubt borrowed from her family) was all black with an elegant equine head for a symbol. The armor itself would protect them more from shallow sword slashes and arrows, while allowing for a good range of motion.
Sound began filling his ears, and it did not take much longer for Rowena to look up. Beyond the treeline, they could see the milling group ahead of them. Rowena stopped and let her gaze travel to both sides.
“I wonder where I should stay...” she mused to herself.
Dolen focused on the trees nearby, looking immediately for something that would give her a good vantage, but equally good cover. He wove his way through the trees, running his hands absently over their bark as he passed. Finally, he spotted one that he himself had made a bed of in years past. Turning, he beckoned and pointed to a high-set branch when she was closer.
“You should be able to see and shoot far beyond the new border from here,” he said, adjusting the bow on his shoulder.
Rowena set her feet and looked at him with a changing expression. He was familiar enough with humans to know that she was both frightened and anxious. When she reached up to hug him, he returned it as he always had. His head shifted against hers so that he could take in a long breath, breathing in the cold air that was laced with the scent of her hair.
Now that he was officially courting her, he no longer felt the need to keep up a tense shield. Before such a harrowing event, he had expected and yearned for her embrace, and he was only happy to hold it longer than they usually would.
It was when she set herself back, turning her own head so that her lips were set firmly against his in a kiss, that he was genuinely surprised. It only lasted for a few moments, and she pulled back, setting a hand on either of his shoulders.
“Don’t get hurt,” she whispered, red in the face. She stepped back, edging her way around the tree and adjusting her own bow across her back.
Dolen watched as she easily scaled the tree, finding the exact spot he had used without trouble. She turned herself so that she could look down at him, and he felt solace in the fact that Wylden’s tiny form was still flitting about her. Maybe the tiny fairy would keep his promise after all.
“Get used to that!” Rowena called down. “Humans do that kind of thing much more often than elves.”
He realized that he had been staring at her, and found himself smiling. “I will get used to it,” he replied softly. He sent her a short salute, and waited until she returned it to turn on his heel and move away.
His mood turned over as quickly as a human’s as he crossed the old border. Most were already on horseback, while others were taking their places behind hides and in trees. A flashing view from above tore through his mind, and he automatically lifted his arm, focusing on that before looking upward to find Snowsong.
The owl landed easily on his arm, and he continued his trek through the crowded human camp. It was strangely quiet. People were trotting through the new layer of snow, adjusting weapons and helping each other with their armor. There were no sounds of children’s laughter, or rich scents of food in the air. The fires had just about all been doused, and the tents had been taken down. The area was cleared and was now filling with battle-ready humans and elves.
He turned to see Silna trotting toward him atop Spirit. She was wearing white armor, her sword in a matching sheath strapped to the saddle. Her hair was braided as his and Rowena’s; back away from the face, but left to hang free in the back.
“Talon will bear you!” she said, and only then did he notice the bay stallion behind them.
Nodding, Dolen lifted his arm, setting Snowsong free. He silently hoped for the owl to cross the new border and fly out over the incoming people. It would definitely settle his nerves to see what they were up against.
Talon was already fitted with a back-pad, and a bridle and chest piece made of the same material as his own. He mounted, settled into place, and brushed his knee against Talon’s side, asking him to follow Silna.
“Tey’ven is up front with Vance,” she explained as they rode side-by-side. “I fully intend to fight at his side.”
“Do not put yourself in danger with such a distraction,” he replied, brows drawing down as he focused on the very human-like look on her face.
“I refuse to go into this battle unknowing!” she argued, her braided hair whipping past her cheek in a sudden gust of wind. “You expect me to fight without knowing how he fares?”
“Just as I do!” he countered, Talon willingly trotting at Spirit’s side. “I’ve left Rowena on the old border, as you asked. Lora has gone back with Ta’llevny, where she’ll be unable to see how her father, brothers and her favored mate fare,” he went on, unaware that she had stopped yelling and was staring at him with wide eyes. “And Ta’llevny himself waits within Feather Grove, watching over human young while his people fight without his aid. We all make sacrifices in times like these, Silna. You do not see your own parents wishing to fight by your side, do you?”
Silna swallowed, blinked, and canted her head to the side. “She was right,” she said. “You do have a temper.”
“Only when faced with ill-placed questions,” he countered.
In the end, Silna promised to fight alongside Dale and Cameron. She would still be near Tey’ven, of course, but her focus would be in aiding the twins as she had during their first battle. Dolen held back, staying some ways back from the front line so that he could fire within range and not be in the swordsman’s way.
The army of beings who would defend Tarragon stood still for some time, listening to the sounds of the trees moaning in the wind. Only when Snowsong sent him his first visual did he take in a gasp of cold air.
Ferin had definitely brought an army. Underneath sheets of snow, Dolen saw nothing but a fanned out line of black dots, followed by a horde of clustered dots following in their wake. The ones out in front must certainly be Ferin’s allies. Despite the disorganized mess of beings behind them, they marched ahead with the organization of a group who knew what they were doing.
For the first time that day, Dolen felt his muscles tense for battle.