A King's Orders
Vance gaped. He had no way of replying when Dale asked who she was. He did not know how to answer the question. It was not often that beautiful girls emerged from magical forests, except in dreams.
Dale’s light hand on his shoulder pulled him from his reverie.
She repeated herself, this time bowing from the waist, which caused her dark hair to slip out from underneath her hooded cloak. It was long and so dark compared to the entirely white outfit she wore. She was very obviously female, but she wore a very strange compilation of beaded and furred breeches and boots.
“I don’t know her,” Vance finally whispered, still staring.
“I’m Cameron,” said the other twin’s voice.
His brother followed suit, and seeing Vance’s stupefied look, chose to introduce him.
“This is our Lord Vance, second prince of White Phoenix,” Dale announced proudly, smiling more than his brother chose to.
Vance eyed Dale with slight annoyance before shaking his head.
“Regardless, Lady Rowena...” he stumbled.
Despite his rebellious ways, Vance never stumbled on his words.
“My name is Vance. We’re here to-” he stopped and shook his head again.
The second prince could not concentrate on his own thoughts. For years, stories had been told of Tarragon Forest, but he had never truly believed them to be true. He had expected to see a deer or two, maybe some interesting birds, but never another human being. For one heart-stopping minute, he wondered if Van Reston had somehow taken over Tarragon, but he knew enough of their people to know that they would never send a female emissary.
“To investigate the area,” Cameron finished, glancing at Vance with an unsure look in his green eyes.
The woman seemed confused, but then again, so was he. How could he explain such a strange situation?
“Investigate,” she said, as if trying to remember what the word meant.
Vance took a step forward and saw her tense up. Frustrated, he reached up to run a hand over his hair, looking up to the sky for some sort of aid. There would be only one way to explain this, and he figured he might as well have the truth out in the open.
“My father wants part of your forest for his own,” he admitted bluntly, and was nearly heartbroken as he watched her face fall. “I saw lights coming from here a few days ago, and I wanted to come here to investig- to see if anything was dwelling here.”
The woman in white seemed to take in the information and finally nodded.
“This is Tarragon Forest, and it is already occupied. We are not in need of being taken by a kingdom when we are a kingdom of our own,” she finished, tilting her head slightly, as if trying to listen behind her.
“That is where things get difficult,” Vance replied, shifting his stance and looking to Dale and Cameron. “I am a second prince. My brother Ferin is the first. He is of like mind to my father, and even if I were as well, my words would do no more than float above their heads unnoticed.”
When the girl looked confused, he sighed sharply.
“I am not supposed to be here,” Vance gestured to Dale and Cameron. “And these two, while indeed being my two best men, are really just stable boys in borrowed uniforms. In our hierarchy, we do not add up to much. Our plea to leave your forest alone would fall on deaf ears,” he finished, looking to his companions.
Dale nodded slowly, and Cameron was looking to him as if seeing him in a new light for the first time. The woman remained silent for another short span of time, and Vance thought she was staring directly at Dancer. He glanced to the stallion to see that he too was looking at Rowena. The prince didn’t think much of it, though after this, anything was possible.
“How will your king take to speaking with an emissary of Tarragon Forest?” she asked.
Vance noticed her left hand reach out slightly, all five of her fingers splayed as if signaling behind her.
“I am honestly not sure, though it will in the least delay his plans of burning the trees down,” Vance said bluntly, and watched Rowena flinch as if she had been struck.
“I will convene with my people,” she decided aloud, looking much more solemn than she had when she had first stepped out. “If you will stay here for the night, I will return with the sun’s rising.”
Vance glanced at the twins and found them both looking to him. Right, then.
“We will stay here.”
Rowena nodded, bowed again (Vance, Dale and Cameron all returned the mannerly gesture), and turned to step back through the snow.
The three watched as she seemed to disappear behind the trees, and the underbrush seemed to thicken into an impassable fence behind her.
“Did you see that?”
“Who was she?”
The twins both spoke at once, and Vance slowly shook his head, unable to explain exactly what he had just seen. Instead, he went with his own simple guess.
“I’ve come to believe that some of the old tales of this forest are beyond just fables,” he mused, pulling on Dancer’s reins a bit to move back.
“Let’s get a fire started,” he said. “It’s going to be much colder soon.”
- - - - - - -
As she turned around, Rowena barely caught site of Tey’ven, who had been the one behind the trees closing after her return. He still held up a hand, weaving branches and leaves together to make the area seem impossible to enter. She was caught up in his actions when she heard Silna’s voice.
“Burn the trees! Let me take them Rowena, they’ll be nothing when I’m through!” A’dair was literally holding his daughter back, for she was the only one of them other than Rowena who had understood the human language.
“Is what she says true, Rowena?” A’dair said, letting go of Silna’s shoulders when she calmed down.
Her hand remained tight on the hilt of her sword though, and her dark blue eyes narrowed in a way that scared Rowena.
“You understand their language as well?” Tey’ven’s voice came from behind them all, and Silna’s demeanor calmed almost immediately. She nodded.
“Rowena taught me when we were younger. I am not as fluent, but I understand most.”
“Is what she says true, Rowena?” A’dair said again, giving his adopted daughter a hard look.
The human girl explained Vance’s story to the best of her ability, though nothing got out of hand until she mentioned what she had offered.
“You will not leave this forest again,” A’dair said immediately, right on top of Silna’s negative protest.
“I’ve already made myself apparent! This may be the only way to keep things peaceful. I can make it seem as if we are all human, therefore preventing any prejudice. We may be able to strike some sort of bargain with them,” Rowena argued, sighing at her own words. Things were much more complicated now.
“Bargain for what? Tarragon is our home, no home to...” Silna drifted off in her own anger. “It is our home. Not something to be burned down needlessly for land gains,” she said in a reined tone.
Rowena could not answer. In truth, she could not picture any reason to give to the king of White Phoenix besides that the forest was already occupied. No trade could be established without their very private heritage being found out.
“Were I not here, how would this be handled?” Rowena said, eyeing the other three, and leaving her gaze on Tey’ven’s clear blue eyes.
“I would recommend that we consult with Ta’llevny,” he said, glancing back towards the wall he had created. “Will they return to their home?”
Rowena shook her head slowly. “I told them to stay. That I would have an answer for them come sunrise,” she looked down, wondering if she even had the right to take such decisions into her own hands.
“Well thought. That will give us time enough to be there and back,” Tey’ven said, and without any visible command, Whisper turned them both back towards the forest. “Let us seek Ta’llevny’s answer.”
A’dair nodded and moved forward after Tey’ven, while Silna and Rowena gave each other apprehensive looks before following. As they ventured futher into Tarragon Forest, Rowena took note that like the tales she had heard, Whisper and Tey’ven did not leave prints in the snow.
This entire situation suddenly seemed very surreal to her.
- - - - - - - -
Ta’llevny’s vale was nestled deep in a thick wooded area in Tarragon. It sat within a few hours walk from Rowena and Silna’s home. In all of her years of living in Tarragon, Rowena had never had a glimpse of Ta’llevny’s home. Even when she gained his permission to live within the forest, it was A’dair who had made the trek to speak with the elven leader. So it was natural that she nearly tripped over herself several times while gawking openly at the beauty of the place.
Every tree and stone stood tall and proud, and as they passed, Rowena could see the detailing of every statue and monument. Though it was well past sunset by the time they arrived, the vale seemed to be lit with a mist of soft light. Tey’ven led them down a small beaten path that fell in between the immense trunks of trees. One of her near falls came when Rowena craned her neck to catch a glimpse of how high the canopy reached. When she looked back again, Tey’ven was nodding to another of Ta’llevny’s riders. This one was uncloaked, but his station was obvious in the way he carried himself. His hair was bleached white, and hung in ornate braidwork past his waist. He was in the midst of saddling a gray mare, and Rowena smiled when she felt the acknowledgment of the horse in her mind. She did not speak, but something told Rowena that it was not customary to do so.
After passing through curtains of vines, they reached what could only be Ta’llevny’s home. The tree had not been carved into, but seemed to have grown into a winding stairway of branches and roots. It had the form of a Willow, with hanging vines that shrouded the huge trunk.
Tey’ven dismounted and removed his robe, laying it atop Whisper’s saddle. His clothing was just as white as the robe, though without it, one could see the well placed weapons he kept underneath, and his dark hair was set in stark contrast to the winter coloration around him. She had never seen such hair color on an elf, and for once, she did not feel alone He turned to the group and gave them a hand signal, showing that they were to wait.
A’dair let his eyes wander the area, while Silna and Rowena watched Tey’ven’s deft ascent to the high doorway. Waiting for an answer was the hardest thing Rowena had done in a long time. Though the distracting sounds and sights of Ta’llevny’s vale kept her sated, the back of her mind pushed at her with a heavy conscience.
Silna’s elbow touched hers, and Rowena looked upward. Tey’ven stood in the entryway, giving them a single nod before speaking.
“He will see the three of you.”
A’dair went up first, and the two females followed his movements. It was not hard to reach, just different. Rowena was used to living in the heights of trees, this was the first time she had ascended to such heights.
All of them lowered their hoods and pushed back their cloaks as they entered, for it was much warmer inside than out. Rowena was hard pressed to figure where the warmth came from, since there was no sign of any stones (as they often used in the winter). The elves of Tarragon rarely used fire, so she could only assume that this was simply a part of the vale’s magic.
They followed Tey’ven down a wide hall, before stopping and fanning out before the forest’s great leader himself. Rowena’s nerves were on end, and the sight of Ta’llevny in his seat before them made her stop in her tracks.
He seemed to be a part of the tree he lived in. Though Ta’llevny’s face was that of an elf, his eyebrows seemed to branch out as thin stems, and his hair was melded into an ornate weave of vines and leaves. His eyes were two different colors; one gold, the other green. At once, he smiled at them, and a relaxed state came over her.
“Do not be alarmed by my appearance, it is simply what happens when one lives to be as old as I,” Ta’llevny offered. “I may look different, but I am as able as any,” he said, his voice deep, yet soft and comforting. He moved both hands to his lap, and nodded to Tey’ven before setting his gaze to meet her own.
“I am glad to finally come to meet you, Rowena. It has been long since I’ve laid eyes on your kind.”
Rowena thanked the fates that she was able to remember her manners, and bowed from the waist. Once she stood again, she took note of the soft brown robes he wore. They were simple, but when she looked closely, she saw that they had a very distinct design of branches and leaves all over the rich fabric.
“A’dair, I see that both of your daughters have grown to be fine beings. I am pleased to see you well.” Ta’llevny said, nodding as both A’dair and Silna bowed similarly.
“I fear we do not have time for much more than the task at hand.” the leader continued, looking directly to Rowena.
Her breath caught in her throat, and he must have noticed, for he smiled softly again.
“Your bravery has aided in what may have been a perilous situation. We are very lucky to have been left alone for so long, however the time for a clash is quickly approaching.” Ta’llevny lifted his arm, and made a movement with his fingers.
What was a blank surface to his left became a myriad of lines and designs. It glowed with life before seeming to have burned itself into the tree wall.
“The human kingdoms have grown over the years. We are flanked by two,” he said, lifting a finger, and causing one area to light up in a blue glow. “The first is the kingdom of Van Reston. Small, but growing quickly. The second-” he again moved his hand, and a second area glowed blue, this one closer to the large patch of the wall that was labeled ‘Tarragon’ - “is White Phoenix,” he explained, and when Rowena whispered it back to herself in her human language, Ta’llevny turned slightly and nodded to her.
“White Phoenix is the kingdom we have been watching for a decade. Their population has increased at such a rate that they have been expanding their territory by the year. Their most recent king has taken to using force in order to attain land,” the elder elf stopped, and again focused his odd colored eyes on Rowena. “That is how you came to live amongst our kind, Rowena.”
She had honestly figured as much, but the simple fact combined with the visual to go along with it seemed to strike her directly in the heart.
“Unless this king shifts his acquisitions outward, or stops them altogether,” Ta’llevny said, letting the map light and show how close the lines of White Phoenix and Tarragon fell, “we will be facing the first conflict with humans that has happened in two centuries,” he finished, letting the map disappear to leave the wall blank again.
The elven leader turned back towards them, letting his gaze linger on each.
“I fear such a conflict, and I am willing to take any steps possible in order to stop it. I believe we were blessed by the fates the night we were sent a human daughter. One who may serve as an emissary, so to speak,” he gave Rowena a knowing smile, and she felt her face heat against her own will. “And give us a chance to keep our human neighbors ignorant of our very existence.”
“Rowena, I ask that you do for me a job that not even my most esteemed riders would be able to accomplish. I ask that you walk with the human prince to his kingdom, and present our home as a place to remain untouched.”
Rowena nodded. Her gaze was distracted as Silna took a step closer, her eyes as wide as an elf’s could be.
“I will accompany her,” she said boldly, resisting as A’dair put a hand on her arm. “I know of their language, and I cannot allow my sister to walk into their lands alone!”
Ta’llevny made a gesture before either A’dair or Rowena could, and nodded to Tey’ven. The rider, who had been standing beside Ta’llevny quietly, moved to step past the three, not hiding the small upward turn on his lips.
“Rowena will not be going alone.” Ta’llevny said. “She will take with her the very being who brought her into our forest. One whom she will commune with in secret, and one who may have a wiser view of things.”
“Spirit,” Rowena whispered, and received the same smile from the elven leader.
“Also, I have requested a guard for her. One who knows her well, and will be able to conceal himself from a human’s eyes.”
For a moment, Rowena was expecting Dolen to enter from somewhere, but instead, she watched as a tiny winged being appeared on Ta’llevny’s long fingers. The fairy stood with a proud grin on his face, and either hand on his hips.
“Wylden?” Rowena gaped, and Silna made a strangled noise.
“I shall take care of you, Lady! I will not let down your folk’s great king!”
Wylden lifted from Ta’llevny’s hand and flew airily over to her side, hovering for a moment before using the innate abilities of his kind to simply disappear from view. She knew from her own experiences that he was still there, but was still absolutely surprised that Ta’llevny would choose such an escort for her.
“He is one of few who have grown to know you well, and will be able to fly fast and hard if the need so arises,” Ta’llevny said.
His focus went past them all, causing the three to turn and see that Tey’ven had arrived again.
“She is ready, though a bit perturbed at having to be saddled,” he put in, again offering a small smile.
It seemed to keep Silna from protesting for the time being.
“I do not enjoy having to approach anything with such haste, though I fear it must be done,” Ta’llevny admitted, and Rowena turned back to him.
She took her cue, and bowed again.
“I will do the best that I can, lord.” I
t sounded strange to her own ears, but it seemed to be the right thing to say.
“Go then. Let the two of you keep vigil from afar, for I understand that some things ordered will fall upon deaf ears,” he gave his smile to A’dair and Silna,
A’dair bowed slowly and thanked him, while Silna hesitated a moment, as if trying to figure out what’d he meant before falling into her own bow.At Tey’ven’s signal, the three descended from Ta’llevny’s tree. Spirit was indeed waiting below, looking up as they came down.
“I regret to say you must leave no,.” Tey’ven said, eyeing the darkness. “With the ride, you’ll make it out by sunrise.”
Rowena turned to look at A’dair and Silna, and barely gave them time to brace themselves before engulfing them in hugs.
“Stay safe, and do not hesitate to send for help. If a conflict is to happen, it will not be any fault of yours,” A’dair spoke softly.
She realized he must have spent most of this time thinking, for the sound of his voice surprised her. It was customary to remain silent while in the presence of an elder. Hopefully, Silna would not be reprimanded for being so bold in front of Ta’llevny.
“Your bags have been packed with enough food to hold you to the human kingdom and back. One extra garment has been included, and an extra pair of boots.” Tey’ven explained, looking toward the saddled Spirit.
“How-” Rowena began to ask in a soft tone, wondering who had gone through her clothing.
“Lae’ra has just returned, and I informed her as Tey’ven informed me.”
Spirit said, and must have projected the thought, for A’dair and Silna both nodded. Spirit’s mind had always been an exceptional one, since she was one of few horses who could project her mental words beyond the bounds of most.
Rowena smiled when she took notice of how well-decorated Spirit was. The saddle and pads were all in white fur and tough fabric, and her reins and halter seemed to shine as if made from Tarragon’s best metals. The entire set must have been sitting in storage for some time, being saved for some ceremony or another. It was strange to think that its use now would be even more important in keeping them safe.
“I do not know why you detest tack. You look lovely,” Rowena thought the words, keeping the compliment safely between the two of them.
Spirit merely lowered her head and turned her blue gaze outward.
“We must be off.”
Rowena nodded, mounting Spirit easily and pulling up her hood after settling into the saddle. The mare spun once, and gave Rowena a chance to look each of them in the eye.
“If you do not return within two days, I’ll be after you,” Silna stated, the ever-present look of determination in her eyes.
Rowena smiled and nodded. There was no use arguing with her elven sister, so she merely accepted the fact. It would be up to her to return before the time was up. She hoped that this would not be a long meeting. Moreover, she hoped that prince Vance and his guards were as genuine as they seemed.
“Keep her safe. Listen for our signal,” Tey’ven ordered, and Rowena realized his eyes were focused on Wylden, who was now settled on the padded front of the saddle.
The red-haired fairy grinned back to Tey’ven, and gave him a simple salute.
“Fare well,” A’dair said simply.
Though his words were short, he obviously meant them. Rowena saw the same look in his eyes as his own daughter, and knew then that she was as important to them as they were to each other.
Before she could even think to be emotional, Spirit took off in a canter, her gait dampened by the soft earth. Rowena watched as the misty light of the vale was left behind, and the darkness surrounded them.
“Sleep if you must,” said the familiar voice in her mind.