Daughter of Tarragon

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A Champion's War


The snow did let up as they came upon their adversaries. The clouds loomed overhead, and the wind still came at them as if it were driven by another force, but the storm let up. The Khalesford men pulled their mounts to a stop, and Ferin lifted a hand to gesture for his own army to come to a halt. They left a wide line between themselves and Tarragon’s defenders, and their horses stood still while they shifted their weapons to the ready.

While the Khalesford riders lifted their voices in yet another chant, Ferin took the chance to look over Vance’s ragtag group. It was not a settling sight. Though most of the army he saw were bedraggled farmers dressed in shabby armor, the elves were a sight to behold. Most were sitting on mounts that looked too still, their eyes as hard and challenging as their riders. They wore rich-looking leather armor, all emblazoned with different symbols. He wondered inwardly if they came from separate tribes; as their hair came in a varying array of white, black, brown, and in some cases, a mix of two.

A motion caught his attention, and he watched one of the Khalesford archers pull back an impossibly thick bowstring, pointing an arrow directly to the sky. He followed the line of aim, and finally saw a white bird flying directly above them, as if it were dancing in the sparse snowflakes.

As if showing off his aim, the Khalesford warrior fired, and Ferin watched the arrow pierce it’s way through wind and snow. However, just as it was about to bury itself in the bird’s white feathers, another arrow struck it at an angle that knocked it off it’s course. The second arrow hit with such force that the first was nearly cracked in two.

At once, the chants died down, and all eyes turned back toward the Tarragon army. Apparently, the second arrow had come from that area, and Ferin had no doubt in his mind that it was an elven hand that had sent that arrow out. A flash of white interrupted his stare, and he saw that the bird (an owl!) was now on a course back toward the crowd. It pulled up, backwinged, and landed on the arm of a white haired elf. Ferin’s jaw went slack as he finally recognized exactly which bird that was, and which elf had fired the arrow. It was one of the Tarragon emissaries! The white-haired male with the unsettling green stare; Dolen.

There was another long silence, before the Tarragon crowd began to part. He watched as Dolen lifted his arm, sending the owl back toward the forest as another group made their way to the front of the army. Ferin shifted in his saddle, ready to make his own move before he was once again stopped in surprise. Two white-cloaked riders led the small caravan, and Ferin’s eyes were momentarily distracted by tiny, fluttering spots of color.

“Is that Vance?”

Gordon’s voice brought him back to his wits, and he realized that it was Vance; Behind the two cloaked riders rode his brother. He was atop Dancer, looking more gallant than he ever had. In fact, the mere sight of him was enough to cause his blood to boil, specifically when he caught sight of that pretty silver crown atop his head.

“Blasted moron,” Ferin hissed, urging his mount forward. “Come on!” he barked at his guards, having seen his brother’s twin swordsmen at his flanks as he moved.

Ferin pulled up slightly ahead of the Khalesford men (who thankfully made a wide path for him), and stopped when he reached Valen’s side.

“Quite the horse your brother rides,” Valen said softly, a hint of something venomous in his tone.

“My father’s, and rightfully mine,” Ferin replied.

“A Khalesford horse knows no master,” was all Valen said in reply.

Ferin watched as Vance moved Dancer to the front and approached him. The two cloaked guards (obviously elven), as well as the twins flanked either of his sides in perfect formation. He wondered if they had practiced this.

“You really mean to attack a foreign land, Ferin?” Vance asked, once again forcing him to make the advance. Very well.

“Of course I do!” he responded, lifting his arm and gesturing to the crowd behind him. “These folk are magic users! Godsbane! I’ve told you time and time again, but you’ve managed to allow your mind to be taken. You have led these good people to their deaths.”

“We brought ourselves here, Ferin!” a loud-mouth male called from Vance’s crowd. “You’re the crazy one!”

He shook his head as more yells and cries called out from the shifting army.

“And you wear a false crown,” Ferin added, his eyes focusing on his brother’s brown ones in a hard glare. “That is well against our laws, you know.”

“We put the crown on his head,” one of the twins said from behind him. Vance broke his stately seat to turn and no doubt shush him. “No!” he yelled. “It’s true, I’m just speaking the truth! He was crowned by his own people! That’s not breaking a law!”

Vance turned back, his lips set in a thin line. However, he did not deny the teenager’s claim.

“Regardless of your pretty piece of jewelry, I suggest you prepare your men. I mean to take control of this land one way or another,” Ferin said, his voice a low grumble.

Vance gave him a look that reminded him much too much of his mother, and moved to turn Dancer back toward his men.

“Hold, if you will,” Valen cut in.

Ferin’s head jerked to the side so fast that he was sure he pulled something. He looked at Valen with wide eyes, wondering what could have caused him to stop the battle’s progress.

“There is a problem with our treaty,” Valen announced. When he was sure he had the eyes of both brothers, he went on. “I am oath-bound to aid the crowned king of White Phoenix in times of war.”

“You are jesting-” Ferin cut in, but Valen lifted a large hand to stop his tirade.

“I see one prince with a king’s crown, and another prince claiming kingship in his father’s wake. I have seen no proof on paper, nor have I heard any word of a proper ceremony,” Valen said.

“There was one last-”

That time, Vance had managed to shush his guard. That was just fine, because Ferin was at wit’s end. He may very well have lashed out at the child if he had spoken any more.

“How do you settle such things in your land?” Valen asked, thankfully directing his question at Ferin.

Vance’s crowd was growing louder by the moment, their energy flowing out over the expanse between them. It angered him that his own men were stone silent, likely staring at their shoes as they waited for an order. How unnerving! They should be fighting for his honor, as his crazy brother’s people were doing for him.

“There has never been such a problem as this one,” Ferin finally answered. “If this had gone the proper way, Vance would have been tried as a conspirator in our court, and punished by our law.”

“On what grounds?” a familiar male voice spoke up from the crowd. “He has conspired with no one and done nothing but go against your orders.! You speak lies, Ferin!”

He felt his face flush, and he was about to outright yell, when one of the white cloaked elves spoke up.

“In our land, the two would fight for the prize,” a slightly deep voice spoke in accented Common. “After all, it is our land you fight for.”

When the crowd erupted again, Ferin rolled his eyes. This was getting ridiculous. He wondered exactly when this event had turned from war to a tournament.

“Vance’s allies agree that you should fight man to man,” Valen said aloud. He turned his head back toward his own men, and lifted an arm in a gesture. Most, if not all, responded in kind. “Ferin’s allies agree as well.”

Ferin took in a breath, once again very ready to yell. They thought that he should fight Vance for the crown! How much more ridiculous could this day get? How had they even come to questioning his kingship?

“That answer seems fit. However,” Gordon pulled up to their front line, addressing the crowd with ease. “It would seem that during such a battle, both parties could be injured. This could lead to the eventual death or maiming of the victor, which would leave White Phoenix without a fit king.”

Both sides of the crowd made soft assenting noises, nodding their heads and looking distraught once more.

“In the very old times,” Gordon continued, meeting Ferin’s gaze. “Either party would choose a champion; a warrior from their own men willing to fight and die for his leader.”

“A champion!” Valen exclaimed. “What a grand custom. I agree.”

Ferin looked from Valen to Gordon, who gave him an extremely pointed nod. It was very clear that although the tables had turned in Vance’s favor, his best bet was to accept the custom. When he met his brother’s gaze, it was a fierce contrast to what it had been only moments earlier.

“So then, if my champion wins the day,” Vance spoke up. “I will be named king.”

“Indeed. If Ferin is the victor, he will keep his claim as king, and therefore gain temporary rule over my men as per our treaty,” Valen announced.

“Fine,” Vance spat. “I agree.”

And then, all eyes were on Ferin.


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


Vance felt the sweat running down his back, even as the cold wind assaulted it. His wayward hair was set in place by the crown that fit so easily on his brow, and he found himself attached to it. It seemed like an extension of himself, and he had only taken it off long enough to sleep a few hours the night before. It was a surprise, because he had always hated crowns. To him, they were nothing but gaudy pieces of wasted funds, sitting atop the head of a man who thought himself better than everyone else.

That morning, he had learned otherwise. The eyes that had held him in such friendship in the days before did not change. Vance caught a hint of reverence, and a few averted gazes, but otherwise, he had felt no different. The only difference the crown seemed to make was in the measure of respect he was given. Of course, he had always been respected, but this was different. Pride seemed to seep from the words that were spoken to him, and the salutes that he was given had such force that he was sure they were meant wholeheartedly.

To be king was to be a leader. He had been educated throughout his entire life, and he only just learned exactly why it was important. Vance’s mind was filled with the knowledge of a kingdom! Everything from the seasons in which greens were best grown to the tax rates that had to be adjusted based on the income of neighboring lands. His resentment of the status was slowly fading.

Yes, the court was filled with rich folk who knew how to eat properly, but not sew their own clothing. It was an auspicious place where manners outweighed words, and rumors spread faster than sickness. However, those courtesans were ruled as equally as the poor farmers in far-off homes. Only a proper king could keep so many different sub-cultures living the way they were meant to. Only a king could keep the lines open for advancement within the lands, and offer hope to a tiny young farm-girl who wishes to grow up and be a performer. It too him being crowned to realize that any decision he made would effect the tiniest detail of someone else’s life.

That was what made his acceptance all the more real. He knew exactly who his champion would be. Well, one of two. Either way, he was not happy about sending someone so young to battle for him. No matter how good he was, and no matter how absolutely eager he was to fight.

“Be quiet, Dale!” he hissed, still waiting on Ferin’s acceptance.

“I agree,” Ferin finally barked out.

“If each will choose a champion?” Gordon asked aloud, looking between both Vance and Ferin passively.

Vance was especially surprised to see that Gordon’s gaze held no type of disdain. This was possibly the first time in years that the elder council member had looked at him as a man and not a child. Then again, it could very well be for show.

He turned in his saddle and sighed, looking between the twins and frowning before speaking.

“You know it has to be one of you,” he said softly.

They nodded in unison, and once again, Dale spoke up. “Let me! Please! I’ve been practicing.”

Cameron did not speak up, but looked at his brother, then over at his father before shifting in his saddle and dismounting. Dale began to protest, but Cameron stopped his words with a glance.

“You see to it that your lady’s land is saved. I will fight for our king,” Cameron said.

Dale swallowed, looking from Cameron back to somewhere in the crowd, no doubt where Nayla would be standing. When he turned back, he conceded, his chin set in a similar look to his brother.

“You’re better than me anyway,” he whispered.

Vance took in a long breath and watched as Cameron knelt in the snow by Dancer’s feet. When he stood, he leaned over and put a hand on the guard’s shoulder, looking him in the eye.

“Your sister will kill me if I lose you to one of Ferin’s men,” he said with a short smirk. Thankfully, a knowing smile graced Cameron’s face. “You’re already a hero, Cam. Just remember what your grandfather taught you.”

Cameron nodded in a quick motion and turned on his heel, stepping forward and announcing in no uncertain terms that he would be Vance’s champion.

During the time it took for Cameron to come forward, Ferin had done no more than turn in his saddle and look at Gordon expectantly. Apparently, he had no idea as to who to choose for his own champion. That was something that momentarily cooled Vance’s nerves. At least, until Gordon turned and called out a name.

“Ronan!”

His mind recalled an image of a military leader, and the man who stepped forward matched the fuzzy picture. Vance forced himself to remain passive as Ronan, a well-practiced military leader from his father’s own army, stepped forward.

“Will you fight in your king’s stead?” Gordon asked aloud.

Ronan gave a hard salute and nodded. He was armored, of course, and as he stepped forward, Vance realized that he was quite a bit taller than Cameron. In fact, Ronan was every bit the warrior, while Cameron was obviously still growing into manhood.

“Any excuse to best a Callahan.”

He only just heard the words as Ronan hissed them out. Ferin’s champion set his hand on his sword’s sheath and stood up straight, sending Cameron the most disparaging look he could manage. Apparently, Ronan had dealt with Cameron’s father and/or grandfather, and meant to settle a score of some sort.

Vance could only hope that Cameron’s skill would surprise them as much as it had surprised him. It was easy to underestimate the young man, (especially when comparing him to Ronan). Having seen both Cameron and his twin in action, Vance was confident enough to meet his brother’s gaze and show no trepidation whatsoever.

He gave Dancer the proper knee commands, and the black stallion began backing up. His escort did the same, leaving only Cameron facing his opponent.

“Yes! Give them some room,” the Khalesford leader yelled, and he and Ferin’s company did the same.

The entire audience left a large circle of snow for the two swordsmen to compete in. If Vance was imagining correctly, the new Tarragon border cut the circle in half. As long as Cameron stayed within his half, he would have the aid of whatever magic Tarragon could offer a human. He hoped it was just enough to keep Cameron from being nervous.

“A fight until surrender, or death!” Valen announced, which hailed another yell from his army. “We will judge,” he nodded to one of Te’llevny’s cloaked riders. “If you will.”

The elf nodded, moving his horse as Valen moved his. Both took point at either end of the circle, directly over the new border.

“He cannot judge!” Ferin yelled, outraged. “He is our enemy! A magic-user! Surely he will weigh the fight in his own favor!”

Vance was about to speak up when Valen practically roared over him, the bearded man looking every part the warrior the books had made his kind out to be.

“Has this race been proven magic users?”

“They would not stay in our lands long enough to be proven guilty,” Ferin said, his voice less outraged and more tentative.

“The reason the people of Khalesford stand before you today is because our old leaders named our forefathers as magic users,” Valen answered, his eyes locked on Ferin. “Yet you do not see us making fire rain from the sky, or pulling our enemies down into the earth. No, we found refuge under your forefather’s leadership, and were able to build ourselves into a newer, better people.”

The crowds were silent on both sides, and any looking between Vance and Ferin would see the vague similarities that marked them as brothers. Both sat still, surprise clear on their faces as Valen brought up a history that was not even likely written about.

“Van Reston?” Ferin asked, his face showing unmasked interest.

“That is the land our ancestors called home,” Valen answered. “Regardless, there is a crown on the line, and I suggest we commence the battle. Elsewise, you will be attacking this army on your own.”

Ferin looked as cornered as he had ever looked, and when he nodded, Valen lifted his hand in a gesture.

“On my mark, champions!”


- - - - - - - - - - -


The wind had cut down to a breeze, but Silna still sat tense in the saddle. Watching the human politics unfold was not unlike watching a hand-to-hand battle. When the time came for the actual battle to commence, she took in a breath and glanced to Dolen.

“Rowena will stay?” she asked, knowing her sister had the curiosity of a child.

“Snowsong will relay the message,” Dolen answered, his eyes turning back toward the circle ahead as the sound of swords unsheathing came from within.

Though some who had been stationed within the trees had come forward when no war started, most had stayed at their posts. Such a thing was needed in a case like this, since no one knew what Ferin might do if and when he lost.

“The younger has a better stance.”

Silna was surprised, but did not need to look to her side to see that Tey’ven had pulled up to her side.

“He and his brother were talented before they were trained by our kin,” Silna answered, watching as the Khalesford leader explained the few rules to the competitors. “Who sits with Vance?” she asked, still curious as to who had spoken in the Common tongue.

“Avaciel and Fellen’drey,” he answered softly.

“Fellen’drey?” she asked, turning to he side to look at him. “She isn’t-”

“Te’llevny asked her to ride in place of himself,” he said.

Silna took note that Te’y’ven was dressed in his black Blade-born armor. It was a significant status change that meant Ta’llevny had given all of his riders a choice. Somehow, that made her feel better about how her relationship with him would play out. Perhaps he would not be on constant journeys and runs for his leader.

“Watch,” Tey’ven said softly, just as a loud clang of metal sounded from the circle.

The feeling of stupidity in having been caught staring was doused as soon as her attention was caught by the fight. Not only did Cameron’s opponent, Ronan, have a larger sword, but his offensive maneuvers were fast from the start. He was not going to play games with the younger swordsman.

To his credit, Cameron dodged well. He moved in easy steps through the snow, never quite completing a circle, but seeming to both dodge and lure Ronan to where he wanted to be. At first, Silna tensed, worried as the larger sword cut through the air mere inches from Cameron’s head.

This man was not going for surrender! He meant to kill Cameron. It was sights like this that made her wonder about Rowena’s blood-kin. How could they so easily take the lives of their own kind? Even in such a heated battle, death should not be the goal.

However, the look in Ronan’s eyes proved her thoughts wrong. He watched Cameron move as a wolf watched a rabbit, throwing in heavy-handed swings and practiced steps that came within inches of hitting. If Cameron could not dodge, he forced his own elven-made sword to parry, and proved his own strength by pushing Ronan away.

“Why will he not attack?” she whispered, her brows drawing low as she gripped the pommel of her saddle.

Ease up on your legs, Silna," Spirit’s voice cut through her thoughts, and she mentally apologized as she let up the pressure on the horse’s sides. ”He is running him down as we would run down a bull."

“Exactly,” Tey’ven whispered, his light blue eyes trained on every move the swordsmen were making. “He is doing fine.”

Silna watched Ronan’s fogged breath coming out in pants, and realized that both Spirit and Tey’ven were right. She should have known! The huge, heavy-handed swings would quickly tire out the armored warrior, and Cameron would have more luck in attacking when Ronan was worn down.

Indeed, Cameron was playing his side of the dance exactly right. He used a different dodging motion with every swing, never quite reverting back to something Ronan would recognize. The battle seemed to be going on their favor until Cameron slipped on a snowdrift, and Ronan landed a hard hit in on Cameron’s armored shoulder.

The crowd gasped as a whole, and pushed in on the circle. Valen held up his hand once more, and the circle was widened again. Silna strained to see what happened, but Cameron was up within seconds, shifting out of the way of Ronan’s follow-up blow.

“C’mon Cam!” a shout came from his twin, and the rest of the group around him erupted as if it were an invitation to cheer for him.

Cameron was favoring the shoulder that had been hit, and Silna could not blame him. Ronan had swung the huge sword in from the air. Had his armor not been there, it would have no doubt taken an arm. Despite his injury, he dodged again, and suddenly switched sword hands (which caused a rousing yell from the crowd). Without hesitation, he shot forward in his first offensive move, sliding his blade between Ronan’s arm and side. By the larger man’s flinch, Cameron’s sword had hit home. Silna saw blood soaking through the edge of cloth, and realized that he had gone for a weak point in his armor. Perfect!

“Small cuts, run him around,” Tey’ven whispered.

Silna was pleased to see that he was just as tense as she. His words came true, and they both watched along with the cheering crowd as Cameron slowly but surely put tiny cuts in every open area on Ronan’s body.

It was a long battle. The circle was strewn with drops of blood, and Cameron began panting after some time. Despite the cold, both were sweating profusely, but only the younger of the two managed to keep up his defenses. Ferin was red-faced and backing away when Ronan finally took a knee, and then fell face-first into the snow.

The crowd positively erupted. Silna and Tey’ven both winced, and Silna covered her ears with either hand, even as she grinned. She sat up more so that she could see over the writhing crowd, and she watched as Cameron dropped down to his knees, using his own sword to hold himself up.

“It has been settled!” the Khalesford leader began.

“No!” Ferin cut in, his horse jerking wildly as he pulled at the reins. “I refuse to accept this!”

Several people tried to stop him, including his advisor. He kicked furiously at his horse, trying to get it to move, but the beast would not listen. Finally, he dismounted, doing his best to cut through a crowd of people that stood between him and his obvious prey; Vance.

Silna was not the only one who shifted her hand toward her weapon in that moment, and she slid down from Spirit just as Tey’ven dismounted Whisper. The crowd’s mood shifted from jubilant to wary as they watched Ferin approach, only to be stopped by Valen.

“You agreed to the terms, Ferin. Your brother is king,” he said, stopping the elder brother bodily.

Ferin looked for a moment as if he would attack Valen, but instead, he turned and yelled back to his men.

“Attack them! I will not stand for this!” he yelled, stalking back to them.

To her surprise, not one of his men moved. Only when he repeated his loud order did a handful of men rush forward. Silna and Tey’ven were among another select few who moved through the crowd to meet them. However, Dale was the only one who actually clashed blades with another. He moved quickly in front of his brother to deflect an attack before Khalesford’s leader called another chant. His men answered in kind, and they moved as a whole.

Not many could get in the way of a Khalesford stallion, and those who were moved as soon as they were approached. Within a matter of moments, there was a line of warriors between Vance’s army and Ferin’s. Silna moved back again until she stood by Spirit, a hand on her saddle as she watched.

“I am Valen of the Khalesford lands, and these are our finest warriors. We are oathbound to aid the king of White Phoenix in his time of need,” Valen announced, now facing Vance as he spoke. “What will you have us do, King Vance?” he asked, pointedly looking back to Ferin as he gaped from behind him.

Vance seemed set aback, but nodded, his eyes shifting before he found his answer.

“I will first thank you for preventing a war, which might have led to the deaths of many good people,” he began. “I only ask that you escort my folk back to the kingdom in my stead, as I mean to finish a treaty with our new allies, the people of Tarragon Forest.”

Valen nodded, placed a fist at his chest, and turned on his heel to nod toward Fellen’drey.

“As the king commands, men!” he barked, and the black stallions fanned out, surrounding the rest of Vance’s crowd in a protective manner.

Silna exchanged a look with Tey’ven, who was now standing by her side.

“Have we evaded war?” she whispered, her blood still rushing in her ears.

“For now, it seems so.”

His voice was still harsh, and she followed his gaze out to Ferin. The losing prince was red in the face, and only complied when met with the stern stare of his elder advisor. He turned, mounted, and galloped off in a flourish of snow and wind.

“He will never accept the outcome,” Tey’ven finished.

His people do not follow,” Spirit spoke up, her head lifted and ears perked ahead.

“It took them long enough, but I think they saw him for what he was,” Silna replied.

“They will follow the strongest leader, as any people would. Vance proved himself the victor, therefore the stronger of the two,” Tey’ven explained, mounting Whisper. “On that subject, I must report to Ta’llevny.”

Silna nodded, offering him a short smile before she watched him weave his horse back through the crowd. Fellen’drey followed, no doubt eager to leave the scene before being found female. Humans often times made judgments based on sex, and Silna guessed that was the reason behind hiding her appearance. Only Avaciel stayed, cloaked and silent at Vance’s side as Dale and Cameron spoke in fast words to the crowd that had surrounded them.

Silna gripped the saddle and mounted Spirit, wary of the sudden pandemonium around them.

“What are they saying?” Dolen asked, once again at her side. He was likely even more nervous than she was.

“Vance is explaining the situation to Valen, I believe,” she said, narrowing her eyes in their direction. “They will pack up camp this night, and travel back in the morning.”

“And give him a head start?”

Silna shook her head, sighing. “We should help,” she said.

“I want to tell Rowena what happened. She is anxious, and I cannot keep her there much longer,” he said.

Silna grinned at him and nodded. “Go on, she’ll be halfway here already,” she said, looking out at the sea of elves, humans, and horses. “I will do my best to explain this to our folk,” she decided aloud.

It was a long, tedious evening. There was such a mix of culture that a council had to be called, and Silna was not surprised to see members of Ta’llevny’s riders sitting in rather than the leader himself. He had made specific decisions to that effect, and she guessed that Khalesford would not react well to the sight of his branch ridden hair and eyebrows, and strangely colored irises.

Despite the initial tension, the elven representatives fit in well with Khalesford and Vance’s men. Fellen’drey returned to sit in under the guise of a translator, and as far as Silna could tell, the group came to an overall plan.

Word was spread not long after that the trip to White Phoenix would commence in the morning. Any in disagreement with the day’s events would be able to bring up their grievances with the council, but Vance’s kingship would not be questioned. The Khalesford men agreed to Vance’s invitation to stay another night in White Phoenix before returning home (after he promised not to force them to attend any balls).

A new page would be drawn up to solidify their treaty, while adding Tarragon to the land-charts as an ally. All of the groups agreed that this was the best decision. After all, Van Reston was still looming on the other side of the mountain range, and it would not be long before they came forth to claim land that was not their own.

After such a long day, sleep came to most, if not all of the members of this new alliance. Only a select few stayed awake to guard the perimeter, (even after Fellen’drey explained that they had their own surveillance), and the rest slept in make-shift camps.

Silna sat against a tree on the edge of Tarragon forest long after the sun had set below the horizon. The wind was gone, and the sky was clear enough that the stars lit the snow more brightly than the human’s fires did.

“It all turned out okay,” Rowena whispered from her side. “I did not have to fire one arrow, and you did not even draw your blade. Not a single being died on that field today.”

“That much is true. It seems that things have turned out in our favor,” she replied, her eyes drifting over the quiet camp.

“You don’t seem happy,” Rowena said, turning to look at her.

Silna looked down, taking in a long breath and doing her best to choose her words. “Things will not be the same,” she began. “We are saved as a land, but as a people, we no longer live in secret.”

Rowena did not respond for some time, and the only sound was her feet scraping in the snow as she pulled her knees to her chest.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly.

Silna turned to her immediately, glaring as if outraged. “Sorry? For what? Preventing an all out take-over?” she went on before her sister could interrupt. “I do not blame anyone, much less you for this, Rowena. I just mean to say that things will be different.”

She could only hope that she had placated her sister. The last thing she wanted was for Rowena to blame herself. Rowena sniffled, and Silna’s head jerked around to make sure she was not crying, but saw that she was smiling instead.

“I kissed Dolen.”

That was enough to change their conversation, as well as their mood.

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