Daughter of Tarragon

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Building Tension

“We are not to go off looking for her just yet. It has only been one day,” A’dair’s voice startled Silna out of her work.

She stood and put her hands on her hips, fixing her father with a stubborn look.

“I am making sure that I am prepared if word comes from Tey’ven. You know he will not wait for us if he needs to move quickly,” she said.

Adair’s eyes softened as he gave her a knowing smile.

“If you were involved, Silna, I am sure he would wait.”

Silna turned and picked another pack up over her shoulder, mainly to cover the fact that her face had heated at the mention of such a thing. Was her attraction to Tey’ven so obvious? And was it so customary to chide one on the subject?

“Regardless, I need to do something. I cannot stand to be sitting and waiting,” she said in a rough voice, moving back over to the row of knives and daggers that she would need to finish sharpening.

“Lae’ra has not stopped cooking for days,” he admitted in a lower tone, not bothering to argue with his daughter. “I am just glad most of it can be kept and used at the Winter Ceremony.”

Silna hesitated at the mention of the gathering, and she had to forcibly remove all thoughts of pleasurable times and companionship. At this point it was hard to say whether Rowena would return in time for the occasion. It would take place sooner than they thought.

“She’ll be back,” A’dair said, as if having read her thoughts. “If we have to go out to the grand human establishment and forceably remove her, she’ll be back.”

“Exactly. And when that time comes, I will be prepared,” she replied, dusting snow from her knees and moving back toward her pile of weapons.

A’dair watched her motions and folded his arms, turning his gaze toward the sky and the trees in silence as he so often did. Silna continued her busy actions, feeling her father’s presence, but not paying him any mind. She figured he had two nerve-wracked females to deal with, and a ceremony to prepare for. Let him do all of the thinking he needed to.

“If we’ve no word by this evening, I want you to find Tey’ven,” he said at a length, and when Silna turned to look at him in slight surprise, she found that he was looking out into the snow-covered forest. “He will know Ta’llevny’s decision, and if need be, he will escort us out of Tarragon.”

Silna let out a short breath and stood up straight, tilting her head a bit and narrowing her blue eyes in thought.

“What made you decide, father?” she asked in a soft voice, knowing A’dair had been given the gift of foresight, most often when it came to weather.

Though it didn’t happen often, and sometimes only in flashes, as he described, he often saw things before they came to pass. It was something that had saved them (and many of their neighbors) from hardship more than once.

“A storm will be on us by nightfall.” he said.

Silna waited, since it seemed as though there was more, but A’dair did not continue. She was slightly confused, and once again met her father’s gaze, her own expression showing that she was not impressed.

“Storms come before every Ceremony, father. Without them, I’d think the winter ceremony would be lacking in its forces,” she said, taking the chance to stretch her back, and stopping to take a deep breath through her nose.

The winter air did have a certain heavy feel to it, and the forest was a bit quieter than usual. Silna wondered if he had indeed seen a part of the future, or merely predicted the weather.

“This one will make it nearly impossible to travel,” he replied, his voice as solemn as it could be.

Silna sat back on her heels, her brows lifting in disbelief (another expression she had picked up from Rowena), before she finally nodded to her father. She moved back to her work, sitting by one of the sharp daggers and picking up a sharpening stone. The grate of stone and metal did not stop the flow of her voice as she spoke.

“Then I will see Tey’ven tomorrow,” she said, confirming his statement, and making up her own mind.

Of course, a chance to speak with Tey’ven was hardly a chore to her. She heard him walk back towards their home, and then stood to move outward into deeper woods. Truth be told, Silna was not only preparing to go out and meet Rowena. As she scanned the area to make sure no one else was in sight, she took another slow breath, and bent her knees, looking down. She began the slow, graceful motions of a dance, mentally playing the music her mother had taught her years before.

As long as Rowena returned safe, and all was well, the Winter Ceremony would go on. She just hoped Rowena would understand her decision to participate this year.

- - - - - - - - -

Vance paced. Nothing else could keep him from doing so. Even the knowledge that Dale and Cameron sat on bales of hay, staring at him as if he might explode at any moment, did not stop him. Even the haunting feel of Spirit’s eyes on his did not stop his pacing, no matter how much their color or intensity bothered him.

“So he wants to play games,” Vance mumbled, and he saw Cameron flinch out of the corner of his eye.

“Lord- I mean... Vance. I don’t understand what has you so worried,” the younger man offered.

Cameron was trying to calm him down, Vance supposed, but it only made him think more quickly.

“You do know my brother, don’t you?” Vance asked in a harsh tone, but sobered as he saw Cameron’s submissive look. “She is not protected in any way,” he said more softly. “If Ferin wants her alone, he’ll get her alone. My father will not intervene; for lack of interest, or lack of knowledge,” he said, cursing to himself. “Ferin does what he wants, when he wants, and he is asking for a war.”

“The Lady can take care of herself, I’m sure of it!” Dale piped up, straightening his posture and kicking a bit of hay as he did so. “Didn’t you see her garb? She doesn’t wear skirts. I’m sure she’s armed, and probably knows more sword-work than we do!” he proclaimed grinning from ear to ear. Vance didn’t have to look at him to see the excitement in his eyes, nor the apprehension in his twin brother’s.

“You make a good point, Dale. Actually, that reminds me...” Vance said, lifting a finger and spinning on his heel.

He walked heavily down the stable hall, all the way to the end, and pulled a key out of one of his pockets. After unlocking the heavy door, he slid the key between his teeth and pulled it open. Vance walked into a small armory, pulling out two sets of sparring vests, and two swords. He moved back out, placing his stash on the stable floor and shut the door, locking it and sliding the key back into his pocket.

Hearing trotting footsteps, Vance looked up to see Dale approaching him with wide eyes. “Need some help?” he asked, and didn’t mask his gasp at the sight of what Vance had. “Oh! Are we going to-”

“No, I’ll get them. And yes, I’d like to see these swordsman skills you both speak of,” Vance smirked and looked up to Cameron, who was standing from his seat and dusting himself off. “Up for it?”

Cameron nodded quickly, and dodged his brother’s half-aimed punch towards his middle. Dale kept on trotting down the stable hall towards one of the smaller arenas, while Cameron waited for Vance to catch up, and matched his walking pace. The prince did not speak at first, noticing that the younger male seemed to have something on his mind. The two had made it outside and were walking through the few inches of snow before he spoke.

“Lora could watch her, you know.” Cameron said in a low tone, glancing over to Vance as they walked. “She’s kitchen staff, but who’s to say you can’t appoint her as the Lady’s handmaid? She’ll also be able to talk with her privately, warn her, and get messages through to and from you,” he continued, and Vance’s mind ran with the idea.

“That.... is a perfect idea.” Vance stopped to breathe out, his eyes going wide and a smile forming on his face.

Not only would he speak with Lora, but Rowena would be in good hands with her. After all, it had been Lora who had told her brothers about Ferin’s meeting, and it was she who had made sure that they reported directly to him. It was a hard thing to get used to, being able to trust someone, much less a female. After a handful of failed courtings and betrayals, he was hard-pressed to find any example of a trustworthy female. Lora was a rare individual.

“I’m a bit angry I didn’t think of that myself,” Vance added, grinning and patting Cameron on the back with his free hand. “I thank you. Tell your sister to see me after this little spa-” he stopped and turned his head at Cameron’s frown. Once again, Ferin had found a way to cross paths with him, only this time he only had his assistant Gordon with him. Both were dressed in brown and green hunting clothes, and had longbows around their arms.

“Ah, Vance! Teaching your young men how to fight, are you? That’s a very intelligent thing to do, considering they are to guard you,” he chuckled, and then frowned when he saw that Gordon was as stone-faced as always. Sometimes Vance had to enjoy the little things. He simply kept walking, moving past his brother and Gordon as they crossed paths.

“Oh, and tell your Lady there will be a welcome dinner in her honor this evening!” Ferin yelled over his shoulder. “Father says to make sure she dresses like a lady,” his snide tone seemed to reverberate off of the trees around them.

Vance frowned heavily and picked up the pace. Cameron kept up, and the two reached the arena in a few short moments. Dale turned from setting up the dummy they would be using and shook his head.

“Does he always talk like he’s got a duck in his throat?”

Unable to stop the grin from drifting to his face, Vance dropped the swords on the ground and shook his head. “Always,” he said. “Now let’s get to work. Apparently we’re to attend a dinner tonight.”

“A dinner? But Vance, we don’t-”

“We don’t dine with the castle,” Dale finished his brother’s sentence.

“As your prince, I’m inviting my guards to sit with me at my father’s table,” Vance stated simply. “Now suit up. I need to see how much work you’ll need.”

As it turned out, Vance himself was nearly out-done by the skill the twins possessed. When he was out of breath and staring at them as if they’d grown tails, Dale shrugged and grinned, leaning the sword on his shoulder.

“Our Uncle was a General in the old army.”

No, Vance thought as he caught his breath, your uncle was a genius with a sword.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Of all places to be in the grand kingdom of White Phoenix, Rowena had found the best. Her room was located on one of the towers of the castle, and in exploring how high they would go, she had found a balcony of sorts which gave her a view of the kingdom that was breathtaking. She stood there now, watching the sun’s rays as they dipped below the horizon.

The cold began to bite into her skin, and she was glad she thought to bring a cloak with her. She pulled the thick cloth tighter around herself and rested her elbows on the stone wall, thinking of how different this place was from her own home. Such could be seen on a quick walk through the kingdom (which she had done earlier), observing the kingdom’s folk, and watching how they lived. It was cramped in there; almost as if they were constantly in meetings, and did not mind brushing into one another. Rowena was homesick already, and she had only been gone for a day.

Was Silna pushing to come and retrieve her yet? Had Lae’ra started her preparations for the Winter Ceremony? Was Dolen home from his assignment yet?

She sighed, watching her breath come out in a fog as it hit the cold air. Dolen did not know where she was. He did not know anything that had happened within the past few days. The angry part of her blamed him, for it was his decision to take on the work load and be away for so long, but the thought was gone in a moment. It was childish to think like that. Would he be worried? Or possibly angry... Rowena let herself smile as she tried to imagine Dolen looking genuinely angry. That would be an interesting sight. She wondered idly what he would say to her when she finally returned home...

“Lady Rowena?”

She flinched and spun on her heel, cursing herself for not hearing the approach. Her eyes met the kind green ones of another female, who was holding a bundle of fabric in her hands.

“Forgive me, I was told to seek you out. There is to be a dinner in your honor tonight, Lady,” the female said, smiling kindly.

Like Rowena, the girl was fairly tall and thin. She had long, blonde hair that was tied back behind her neck in a simple tail. Her dress was fairly drab in color and make, showing Rowena that she was not a lady of the court. That fact alone was a relief, and she found herself smiling in return.

“It is alright, I was daydreaming,” she admitted, and then let a curious look cross her features. “A dinner? But we have yet to discuss anything at council,” she said slowly, hoping that she had heard incorrectly. Rowena was anxious to have the council done with so that she could return home.

The girl made a similar face and nodded knowingly. “It’s all a dance with this lot, you’ve just got to learn the right steps,” she said, offering a smile and a wink. “I’m Lora. I’ve been assigned as your handmaid.” she added, turning and looking over her shoulder. “Come then, it’s freezing out here after sunset, and we have much to talk about.”

Before she knew it, Rowena found herself being strapped into something that was more intricate, yet somehow more uncomfortable than she hadd ever worn. Did women of this court always spend such time on their own appearance? There was so much fabric, so many beads, and Lora had spent so much time doing something to her hair that Wylden himself probably could not accomplish.

Wylden. Come to think of it, she had not seen him all day.

“There now. I believe we’ll be ready, so long as you can walk in those,” Lora’s voice broke her thoughts and, Rowena turned herself (with as much ease as one could when wearing a court gown).

She barely recognized her own reflection, and found herself staring at the woman in the mirror. The gown was more than she could imagine. It was a pearl color, with intricate designs across the bodice, which bound her torso in a painful fashion. The skirt flowed out like a bell, and shone with an iridescent gleam that seemed to take the light and send it out in different colors. Her hair was bound up in tiny curls, and several of them fell in specifically haphazard places that somehow made her look fresh and ladylike.

“Come now, I’ll need to escort you.”

Rowena turned to see that somewhere in her own staring, Lora had found the time to dress herself in a simple, yet elegant, blue dress. Where Rowena’s skirt belled out, Lora’s flowed like water over her form. Her hair was up as well, but the back was left down in a more demure fashion.

“You look lovely!” Rowena practically gasped, only then realizing how hard it was to breath around the tight bindings of a corset.

“Oh, the eyes will be on you, Lady Rowena,” Lora said in a soft voice, smiling at her in an honest fashion.

Rowena was about to ask her not to address her as ‘lady’ when Lora took a few quick steps towards her and caught her by the arm, leading her on a slow walk around the room.

“Speaking of eyes,” Lora said in a near-whisper. “Keep clear of Ferin, please. If you cannot, be sure not to trust a word he says,” she warned, and Rowena nodded.

It had been easy to tell from the beginning that Ferin was not a trustworthy being. It was more than clear what Lora thought of the prince, since did not address him with a title. What she did not understand was Lora’s need to whisper. It made ner nervous to think that eavesdropping might be a normal occurrence within the kingdom. It was impossibly rude where she came from.

“Lord Vance, my brothers and I are all watching out for you, though,” Lora reassured her, giving the arm she held in her own a supportive tap. “Now, just breathe slowly, and step carefully. You’ll be fine,” Lora’s smile seemed to have a calming effect on Rowena right then. Maybe it was the lack of air and blood flow, but she suddenly reminded her of Silna.

The two had just about reached the door when something completely sudden stopped them both in their tracks. Though, while Rowena’s face momentarily took on the look of an annoyed older sister, Lora’s turned white, even under the powder she had used.

“They’re coming Rowena! Spir-” was all he had said as he had pulled one of his ‘magic tricks’, appearing on the other side of the door.

Only this time, Wylden had not counted on Rowena having company. In a flurry of his own sparkling aura, red hair flaring as always, and bright eyes gleaming, he had stopped in the midst of his loud exclamation. All three sets of eyes were wide now, Rowena’s most of all as she felt Lora’s grip tighten.

“Who-” was all the girl got out before going limp on Rowena’s and fainting solidly to the floor.

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