A New Journey
“Let me get it for you.”
“I’ve got it, Lor.”
“Fine, go on and ruin what you’ve got left of an arm, then. Don’t whine to me when you can’t lift it tomorrow.”
Lora turned on her heel and marched off to get another bundle, still angry with her brother. The day after he nearly lost his arm, he insisted on helping the group pack up. Although he was not as vocal as his twin, Cameron carried the same ridiculous amount of pride, and she was about done with dealing with it. Let him injure himself. He would learn eventually.
In truth, she knew her nerves were on edge. She had spent hours in Feather Grove the night before, biting off most of her nails, and distracting herself by telling stories to the children. The fairies had done their best to welcome her again, and she was certainly pleased to have spent time with Tarragon’s illustrious leader. Despite the company, she had been tensed and ready for the sounds of battle for the entire span of time.
Only when Ta’llevny’s riders had galloped into the clearing and began speaking in fast words did she allow herself to literally hold her breath. In watching their faces, she was sure that something had gone in their favor, and Ta’llevny was kind enough to confirm it. There had been a small battle, and Vance had won. Ferin had retreated, and there had been no casualties. Lora had rejoiced, and begun preparing the children for the trip back when Tey’ven mentioned Cameron’s victory to her in broken Common.
After that comment, her nerves had teetered back to their previous condition, and she all but insisted on a ride back to the border. She had spent most of the night clearing away Cameron’s new fans, and making sure that he soaked and wrapped his heavily bruised shoulder. He had rolled his eyes, groaned, whined, or barked at her whenever she told him to take it easy.
The majority of the camp had left earlier in the morning, escorted by some of the largest, hairiest men she had ever seen. Only her family, and some of Vance’s council had stayed behind.
That left her finishing up the packing, since she refused to leave a mess in their host’s front yard. It was another waiting game as Vance met with Ta’llevny somewhere within the trees of Tarragon, finalizing the treaty that would unite their people. That, at least, was something that made her smile. The kind leader had made it more than clear that she was welcome back at any time. Ever since she had crossed the border for the first time, she had loved Tarragon, and the open invitation warmed her heart considerably.
“Where is Dale?” Cameron huffed as he came up behind her.
Lora stood and shaded her eyes, the brightness of the snow and the sun making it extremely hard to see over the clearing. “I sent him to pick up anything that was left over from other camps,” she answered.
“He’s nowhere in sight. No doubt being lazy again,” Cameron grumbled, also shading his eyes as he searched the area. “Probably got distracted by a fairy and wandered off into the woods...” he trailed off, and Lora looked at him with wide eyes.
“Nayla!” they both said, grinning when they realized that they had both come to the same conclusion.
It was good to see him smiling, even if it only lasted for a moment. He reached over to take her burden, but she pulled it away, pointing to a lighter package with her right hand. Crunching footsteps behind them caught both of their attention.
“It’s Lenayla!” Dale said, shading his eyes as he approached his sibling. “I’ve been sayin’ it wrong.”
“You’ll have to start pronouncing their words a bit better if you mean to spend time with her,” Lora said in a motherly tone, handing him the larger package that Cameron had tried to take from her. “To the cart, please. We’re behind schedule.”
“Thanks to you, no doubt,” Cameron growled out as he walked away.
“I was just saying goodbye!” Dale shouted after his brother, turning a reddened face back to his sister. “He’s got a thorn up his rear.”
“A pained shoulder is what he’s got. You’re much worse when injured, trust me,” she answered. “Now move, I’d like to be back home before it gets dark again. Vance should be done soon.”
“Soon, or now!” Dale chuckled, turning on his heel and moving to carry out her orders.
Lora stood up and looked out at the treeline, and true to Dale’s words, Vance was riding ahead of a line of followers. When he located her, he broke away, pulling Dancer into a trot until he reached her position.
“Just about finished. We should be able to leave once we get the packs on the horses,” she said.
He offered her a hand, and when she hesitated, he gestured.
“I have one more thing to take care of, come on,” he said.
Lora took his hand and pulled herself up behind him in the saddle. He had taken them into the woods before she realized that he was not wearing his crown. When Dancer slowed to a walk, Lora began to get nervous. Had something gone wrong? Where were they going? She had a vague remembrance of Tarragon’s layout, and this was not in the general direction of any specific place.
“Is everything alright?” she finally whispered.
Vance did not answer. They rode for another few steps before Dancer stopped, and he slid easily from the saddle. Turning, he offered his hand once more and she took it without hesitation. Once on the ground, she looked at him again, still worried.
“You aren’t wearing your crown,” she said.
Vance lifted a finger as if ready to say something, but turned and paced away. Lora realized that he was nervous. Something was definitely bothering him. She followed in his wake, but stopped as he turned back toward her.
“I’m not wearing it because I don’t want you to look at me like a king,” he said.
“I told you that I would call you Vance-” she started, but he held up a hand and shook his head.
“No, that’s not what I mean,” he added quickly. “It’s the meaning behind it. It’s why I brought you here. You love Tarragon,” he continued. Vance stopped his pacing and turned to offer his hand again.
Brows drawing together in confusion, she took it, and moved into step beside him as they walked hand-in-hand. “I do love it here,” she said, her mind wondering where this was going.
“I accepted the kingship for the good of White Phoenix. I never wanted this burden, but it has to be done. It’s going to be hard, and I’m going to hate it, but there is one thing that would make life in that cramped castle worth living,” he stopped and turned to face her, not letting go of her hand.
It hit her then, and her face burned as she realized exactly what he was about to ask.
“Vance, no. I can’t. Please don’t-”
“I haven’t even asked yet!” he laughed, grinning at her interruption.
If her face could color any more, it would have. Vance’s smile was so infectious that she could only shake her head and look away.
“I cannot be a queen. I don’t even know how to eat at a proper court table,” she said softly, beginning to think of an entire list of reasons that she could never accept such a title. Such responsibility! She could barely take care of her own brothers...
“Then don’t be a queen, Lora. Be a wife, a mate, a life-parter!” he pleaded, his eyes doing their best to catch hers. “I don’t care what title you accept, I just want you there with me. I refuse to hide away with you in the bowels of the castle and pretend to be unattached. I am attached! I’ve been attached!” he argued. “Haven’t you?”
Lora took in a sharp breath and began to turn away, but he would not let her. She set her feet and turned to glare at him, anger replacing awe in a rush of adrenaline.
“Of course I am!” she just about yelled back. “I can’t even look at your smile without losing all of my thoughts!”
Those few words seemed to take the life out of her, and she crouched down in the snow, taking a deep breath and trying to still her rushing thoughts. Her grip on Vance’s hands did not let up, and he kept equal pressure on her as he crouched with her.
“I’m scared,” she whispered, finally understanding the base of it all herself.
“Do you think I’m not?” he asked, his voice a soft whisper. When she met his gaze, he went on. “When I get home, I can’t go straight to a tavern or my bed like I otherwise might have. I have to go to my father’s old room, and start a schedule of events that need to take place in order to make these events official. I have to convene the council and weed out anyone who might be a danger to us. I have to find out whatever it is my brother is doing and make sure it isn’t dangerous,” he looked down, stray hair falling across his eyes as he sighed. “I can do these things. The people know I can, and you know I can. I just do not want to do these things alone. I don’t want to sit in that cold, haunted room and wonder what you’re doing.”
“You won’t-” she started, but he cut her off.
“I will, trust me. And you would do the same,” he said.
Lora’s lips twisted in an attempt to hide her smile, and she looked down at the snow. She thought about all of the sacrifices Vance had made just so that this beautiful place and it’s people could be left alone. He had gone against his own family, and nearly fought a war without flinching. For the first time, he was asking for something for himself, and it was something that she was more than happy to give. If he could be so brave, so could she.
Lora stood, pulling him up with her, and set her chin. Her eyes hardened as she filled her mind with resolve, and swallowed her fear.
“Alright,” she said.
“Yes, Vance,” she said, pulling away and turning to see that Dancer had thankfully stayed put. “Now come on, we need to get back before the sun sets. I know my father’s leg must be sore...” she drifted off, turning to see that he had not moved.
Vance stood in the same spot, grinning at her like a fool. She felt her face heat again, and did her best to cover her nerves with anger again.
“Vance, really. This isn’t a time to fool around!”
“No, you’re right. It isn’t,” he sobered, following behind her. He reached out and caught her hand once more, and she turned to face him. “It’s a time to celebrate,” he whispered.
She gave in as he pulled her close and kissed her. His very presence, and the feel of his lips on hers was a bright reminder of why all of the worried thoughts and fear were not needed. It was evident that, after it all, he had fought harder for her than anything else. Kingdoms, people, and their politics were meaningless. At the base of it all was this.
Yes, Lora decided inwardly as she slid her arms around his shoulders. She would be whatever Vance needed her to be.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
There was a crashing sound as a fur cloak caught on a vase as it tore across the room. A low mumble followed, and Ferin spun on his heel to see Zane standing with the fur cloak covering his head and shoulders.
“What did you say?” he demanded, his voice raw.
Zane pulled off the cloak, his hair disheveled. “I said, I would rather like to keep this one.”
“Then keep it, you peacock!” Ferin barked.
“No need to be rude!” Zane replied, preening his hair in an ironic gesture.
He threw the cloak into a small pile and pointed to the broken vase. A page immediately got to work on adding the pieces to the growing trash pile. It contained just about everything that was move-able in his father’s room. That pile would be burned.
Ferin had ridden away from the Tarragon border at a maddened gallop. He rode on for hours, falling asleep in the saddle, only to wake and push his horse on. When he finally reached the kingdom, it was somewhere in the middle of the night, and the backup guards knew well enough to simply open the gates and take his horse. There were questions, of course, but his retort had been something of a mixture of curse words and growls.
He had gone immediately to his father’s old room (his room!), and fallen into an exhausted sleep. Upon waking, he was placated by a plate of breakfast brought by Zane until the blonde had asked what had happened. From there, it had been a fevered attempt at finding the kingdom’s old laws. He had torn through papers, ignoring Zane’s questioning while he read through the by-laws that had been written by the elders before his father’s generation.
Only when he found nothing that could work in his favor did he begin his explanation. It came out in a whirlwind of yells, growls, and raging screams as he all but tore his father’s room to shreds. If he was not to hold claim over it, neither would Vance! He had spent hours making a huge pile of things to be burned in the square, and Zane could only manage to keep two page boys nearby. The others were too frightened to do any work at all.
“So um,” Zane began, dodging a roll of clean parchment as Ferin sent it flying by. “Once we burn all of this,” he waved his hand on the air above the pile “What will we do?”
“I don’t know, Zane!” he yelled, hurling a pillow into the pile. “Have tea, play a game with the ladies, what do you suggest?” he practically screamed, fumbling with the huge blanket before tossing it over to the pile.
“Well,” he began, staying infuriatingly calm as he discussed the subject. “We certainly do not want to be around when your brother comes floating back on his cloud,” he sneered, picking a boot up out of the pile and looking it over. “I suggest we take a .... refuge of sorts in a neighboring land. Preferably one of better value,” he added, finding the other boot and adding it to ‘his’ pile.
“Run?” Ferin asked, his voice cracking. “You want to run away?”
“Well, you did just that last night,” Zane said.
Ferin dropped what was in his hand and fisted it, advancing on Zane so fast that he did not have time to think of what he was doing. Only Zane’s lifted hands and wide eyes stopped him as he yelled.
”Ferin! Do you mean to run off every last being who you call friend?” he yelled, his blue eyes wide as Ferin stopped in his tracks. “Lets be honest. No one followed you in last night. Not Gordon, not your council men, and not one of those Khalesford beasts you took out with you.”
Ferin spun in place and continued picking through his father’s belongings. “They’re from Van Reston, you know,” he mumbled.
“Pardon me?” Zane said, dropping all evidence of anger and coming closer, as if he had not heard Ferin.
“Van Reston. They told us all last night,” Ferin explained carefully, lifting a statue and turning to toss it into the pile with a flick of his wrist. As it crashed loudly into the rest of the junk, he continued. “Apparently Van Reston thought they were magic users, and we accepted them under our wing when they ran. ”
“Your father took on magic users?”
“No, this was ages ago. My father’s forbearers,” he corrected, tossing a collection of fancy pens over his shoulder.
“So we’re surrounded by them,” Zane mumbled. Ferin turned to see that he had taken a seat near his small pile. “Your brother allies with Tarragon and Khalesford, both accused magic-users.”
“Exactly. No one but you seems to see my blasted point!”
“Oh, don’t throw that one,” Zane rushed the words in before Ferin let another statue fly.
He turned his wrist and tossed it Zane’s way instead. The blonde caught it easily, and set it down as he spoke.
“Our only option is to run, then,” Zane sighed, focusing on the floor in thought. “But to where?”
Ferin picked up leftover grapes from that morning’s breakfast place and tossed them one by one into the trash pile. He was frowning, but his anger was draining ever-so-slowly. Knowing that Zane, at least, was on his side made him feel that much better. As the question ran through his head, he stopped mid-throw, turning his hand and sliding a grape into his mouth as an idea came to him. He chewed slowly, and swallowed before he voices his new plan to Zane.
“Van Reston,” he said.
“Really, Ferin. You’ll have to speak up,” Zane replied, sitting up in his seat and staring at him.
”Van Reston,” Ferin said very clearly. “We go to Van Reston.”
Zane stared at him a moment longer before leaning back over, putting his chin in his hand. “And how would we go about doing that?” he asked. “Walk there?”
He stood up and walked over to the wardrobe, knocked on the door and opened it.
“Oh hello!” he said, bowing to an imaginary doorman. “I am Zane, and this is Ferin. Yes! The prince of White Phoenix! We know you’re our sworn enemies, but we thought you might extend a welcome to us. Just because, you know-”
“Shut up, Zane. I’m serious,” Ferin cut him off, standing and sifting through the pile of paperwork on a nearby table.
He pulled out the largest map in the bunch and laid it out flat on the bed, running his fingers over the lines that marked White Phoenix.
“Start out just as you said, going from court-home to court-home. Visit neighboring tradesmen,” he said, moving his finger far west over the map. “There are sea-trades out here by the cliff-waters, and at least one well-to-do family who would accept us as royalty.”
Zane leaned in with a ‘hmm’ noise, placing his finger on the area. “And perhaps see to it that we are well equipped for a trip over the mountains,” he drew his finger along the jagged lines. “And into Van Reston territory.”
“Exactly. The trip to their kingdom would be long, but if we prepare...”
“Honestly though, what do we say when we reach their castle walls?” Zane asked, shifting to sit on the edge of the bed. “How would we impress their king?”
“Kings,” Ferin replied, nodding to himself and rolling the map before going on. “There are two. Twins. We will present them with these!” he held up the map he had rolled, and reached for the other paperwork on the table.
“You mean to give them White Phoenix’s secrets?”
“Not all of them, but enough to gain us entry and allegiance,” Ferin finished, now speaking normally, and walking with a new purpose. “Sell this,” he ordered the page boy, pointing to the pile. “Sell it all, and give me the funds as soon as you can. I will give you a small bit of the spoils, but keep any more and I’ll have your head.
The page nodded quickly, gathering up what he could carry and running out the door. They would use the funds as passage where their reputations would not suffice. Ferin moved about the room with a new goal, and his mind was now set on preparing as soon as possible. It would likely not be long before Vance would come strolling through the gates, wearing his pretty crown and spreading the true tale.
Ferin looked at Zane, who was still pondering over the pile that he had claimed his own.
“What are you waiting for?” he barked at him. When Zane looked up, he made a shooing gesture. “Pack! We leave as soon as possible!”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
White Phoenix was more loud and vivacious than she ever remembered it. Crowds filled the streets, and tradesmen sang tunes of sale as she passed them by. The people were glad to see them, of course, but not quite as surprised by their appearances. They did their best to stretch their words and speak slowly, using more gestures than usual. Though some of the elves had learned the language in the past months, it would still be some time before they would be fluent enough to understand a passing sentence.
She had asked that their arrival not be made into an event, and that seemed to be holding true. Although the kingdom was abuzz, it was likely the warmer weather that had it’s people out in droves. They were all busy, no doubt preparing for the spring planting season. Rowena herself recalled those times, and knew well that her adopted kin would be doing the same back in Tarragon.
Of course, they would be lacking the company she had brought with her. While Rowena led Windwalker, Dolen followed on foot with Talon in his wake. Silna stayed mounted on Spirit, flanked by both Tey’ven and Fellen’drey, and Avaciel rode next to Lenayla behind them. In a surprising turn of his coat, Sa’nengal had requested to join them on their trip. No one had questioned his asking, but Rowena hoped that he was here to see the human world for himself, and not give himself reason to hate it more.
Only Wylden had surprised her by opting to remain behind. He was sorely disappointed that he would have to miss a trip to the human kingdom, but his duties to Ta’llevny were taking up more and more of his time these days.
In turning to look back at him, he seemed more interested than set aback. Dolen, Tey’ven and Silna were handling the pandemonium with ease, and she smiled at that. Lenayla, on the other hand, looked as though she might faint. Rowena knew that if she hoped to have any sort of relationship with Dale, she would need to get over her fear of crowds such as this one. It would not be any harder than learning Common, which she had apparently been studying hard at since the day Vance had returned home as king some months ago.
“There is Lora,” Dolen said, and Rowena followed his gaze up the main road.
Lora looked absolutely radiant. Rowena was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her as she looked over a flower cart, her hair long and shining in the afternoon sun. She was wearing a dress that was not unlike the one Kenzy had designed for Silna, and it fit her well enough that she stuck out like a gem in a river. The crowd around her began to notice their presence, and it was not long before she, too, was looking their way.
“You’re early!” Lora cried out, all but running to meet Rowena in a tight hug.
“The snow melted last week, so the way was easy,” Rowena answered, setting her back with both hands and smiling. “You look beautiful!” she said honestly.
“Oh, compared to your lot I’ll always look drab,” she replied with a wave of her hand, sending a smile to both Dolen, Silna, and the others behind them. “Patrick!” she turned, yelling back at a younger boy carrying a small bag. “Will you please get Vance and the boys? Tell them our guests are early!”
The boy grinned and nodded, turning and trotting back toward the castle with haste.
“I hate ordering them around, but Vance says that we pay them much better than his father ever did,” she sighed, moving to escort Rowena toward the stable. “Your horse is alright with us this time?” she asked, eyeing Windwalker.
“He is unsteady, but since he managed to escape last time, he is sure he could escape again if need be,” Rowena answered, running her hand along the gray stallion’s neck.
“Oh, he won’t be wanting to escape. Dale and Cameron made sure to hire a couple of professionals since we got the Khalesford mares in,” Lora answered.
“Mares?” Rowena asked, having felt as much as heard the interested snort from behind her.
“Yes, trading and all of that. Vance knows the terms, but we received three new mares and a colt last week.”
When they reached the stables, Rowena took in a breath and smiled. It seemed more fresh, and the scent of newly cut wood drifted through. Snowsong was already perched up in the rafters, apparently as familiar with the place as Windwalker.
“They’re expanding the stables,” Lora explained, backing up to invite them all inside.
“Spirit is pleased,” Silna smiled, dismounting and looking around with interest.
“She’d better be, with all of the work we’re putting into this,” Vance’s voice called from outside.
Running footsteps skidded to a halt, and Dale held up a hand as he caught his breath.
“I told him I’d... beat him!” he gasped, standing up and grinning around at the guests. “Welcome back!” he offered, only sliding a hand into his disheveled hair when he noticed where Lenayla stood.
“Cameron will be down in a moment,” Vance said, moving to stand next to Lora. “He was finishing up with the farmer’s group,” he explained to Lora. “Dinner will be on soon,” he looked up to the group. “Hell’s fire, I’m being rude,” he smiled, nodding his head (which was notably still donned with the silver crown) and gesturing to the side. “Welcome back to White Phoenix! I hope you will find your stay much more pleasing than the last one.”
“There is a clear difference already,” Silna admitted, smiling when a stable hand began opening the stall doors.
There was no forced grabbing of their horse’s reins, and it was obvious that they could choose their own stalls. Spirit was already on her way to one of them, with Whisper not far behind. Those two had certainly grown close in the past months. Then again, the same could be said of Silna and Tey’ven.
“We have rooms ready for all of you, and a private dinner arranged for later,” Lora explained. “Once you’re settled in.”
“I’ve let them know about your mounts,” Vance continued, looking down the line at the newer elves. “They understand that these are not mindless beasts. They will be well taken care of.”
On that note, Rowena led Windwalker down to a stall, and waited for his approval before moving in after him. She went to work on removing the scant amount of tack she had used, brushing him down, and making sure his feed box was full before moving out of the stall and sending him pleased, calming thoughts.
Dolen was leaning over Avaciel’s stall door, no doubt helping him with the specifics of the small wooden box. Tey’ven was standing next to Sa’nengal, pointing up and around at various parts of the stable and speaking in low tones. It had been some time since he had seen a human development, and was clearly surprised at how far they had come. Dale and Lenayla were standing by her horse’s stall, and by the look of his smile, she was already showing off her knowledge of his language.
“It still gets cold at night, so the doors will be closed soon. Let’s get inside before we all catch a chill!” Lora said, gesturing for them to follow. She walked arm-in-arm with Vance, no longer showing any of the nervous signs she had a few months ago.
Rowena shouldered her pack and made her way down after them, listening to Silna’s rough translation for those who did not understand all of Lora’s words.
“I will carry that,” Dolen offered, and Rowena smiled as she handed him her pack.
Normally, she would have been annoyed at the offer, but he had been pointedly following old human customs of late, and she was not going to hurt his pride by refusing. After all, she had been showing him many more human habits which he was learning quickly to enjoy.
Once he had shouldered both his pack and hers, she slid her hand into his, thanking him in a soft whisper.
“No balls, no dances, no public dinners,” Silna whispered, grinning as she stepped up beside her. “I think I will enjoy this visit.”
“I would enjoy a dance,” Tey’ven said from her side, and she set her jaw and looked straight ahead.
Rowena caught the edge of her blush, and she was sure that Tey’ven could see it equally from her other side. Just as Dolen was perfecting the art of human customs, Tey’ven had been practicing his ability to turn Silna’s face red at every chance he got. Rowena found it adorable.
The sun was setting on the kingdom, and Rowena realized that it was already a different place than it had been not-so-long ago. The taverns were bursting with happy people, and traders stood before carts laden with crafts, food, flowers, and other supplies.
“Oh! Rowena,” Lora stopped, slipped her arm from Vance’s and approached her side. “Will you come with me for a moment?” she turned back to Vance. “I will bring her in soon, if you can lead the rest to their rooms?”
Vance smirked and nodded, as if knowing just where she was headed. The two broke off from the rest as Rowena felt Dolen let up his grip on her hand and send her a short smile.
“We have you set up in a room with him, is that alright?” Lora asked once she thought the others were out of earshot, her eyes worried.
Feeling a bit red in the cheeks herself, Rowena nodded. She and Dolen had been staying together off and on since the humans had left. It was proper practice for a courting pair, and Silna was not ashamed to speak of the nights she spent with Tey’ven either. Even if they had put them in separate rooms, they would likely have ended up in one together. In fact, she had a feeling that there would be a large amount of room-swapping and combining that evening. The mental picture made her smile.
“I just need your opinion,” Lora said, leading her through the thinning crowd toward the flower cart that she had been looking over. “We’re planning the wedding, and I cannot decide on the flowers I want to spread,” she said. When Rowena looked at her with wide eyes, she smiled from ear-to-ear. “Oh, yes. We’re getting married. The people were upset that Vance’s coronation was not a large event, so we conceded in setting a large celebration for our joining.”
“Oh, I am so happy for you, Lora!” Rowena exclaimed, stopping long enough to give her another tight hug. “Your letters spoke of love, but nothing official.”
“Oh, it will be official,” she said in a laughing tone as they stopped in front of the cart. “I can’t decide between these,” she said, lifting a finger and pointing between two flowers. One was a bright blue, and the other...
Rowena recognized the second flower in the instant she saw it. It was a beautiful, exotic looking white flower that she was more than familiar with. It was the same flower that she had planted on the day that both of her parents had died. It was also the same flower she had planted on the evening that she was taken into Tarragon forest as it’s first and only human daughter.
It reminded her that even when life seemed to be at it’s very end, there was always something waiting in the shadows to bring you to a safe place. She could think of nothing more fitting to represent the joining of two of her first human friends.
“The Moon Lily,” she whispered, staring fondly at the white petals. “Definitely the Moon Lily.”
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