For the next few days they rested. Tarienne watched happily as Aidan and Arivaelle’s relationship deepened. She also realised how much she enjoyed spending time with her family and how wonderful it was to relax with Daien. Saddened that this time would end very soon she spent as much time as she could with her family during the day and her nights with Daien. It was a good thing that Fae didn’t need much sleep.
One week after their arrival in Darewood, Queen Aistarenne and King Thalion summoned the travellers to a meeting to discuss their plans to return the Golden Stone to Therin. Aidan arrived with Arivaelle on his arm. Kissing her passionately he untangled her arm from his and watched her departure wistfully, his gaze lingering on the sensual sway of her hips. Sighing he moved into the room, bowing slightly with respect as he approached the King and Queen.
Tere entered next, bowed deeply then relaxed and sauntered over to seat himself next to Aidan. Daien, Raef and Tarienne entered together relaxed and happy and took up the remaining seats. Authion and Kyre sat beside their mother and father no longer looking like Tarienne’s easy going brothers but with a regal bearing and a stern demeanour that Tarienne knew indicated their total focus on the problem at hand.King Thalion spoke first.
“We have called this meeting to discuss how best to proceed with the problem of the Golden Stone and the creatures that have been called with it. We believe that the best option is for you all to return to Therin and place the stone deep within the Keep. It will require the laying of magical wards to protect it.”
Raef listened to his father his elbows resting on the table his fingers steepled in front of his face. His voice was calm and measured, yet Daien felt the tingle of power radiating from him and glanced at Tarienne, who just smiled and winked back.
“And what of the creatures summoned by the magic of the stone?”
Daien settled back in his chair and gathered her hand in his, absently circling his thumb over her wrist. She shifted her chair a little closer so she could lean into him. Daien relinquished her hand, to drape his arm around her shoulders. Listening as King Thalion continued.
“Authion and Tere have been discussing what they believe to be a viable plan and wish to discuss it with you here today.”
Raef nodded his approval.
Queen Aistarenne serenely watched the proceedings. Aidan briefly wondered if she had the ability to spread calm because he had relaxed more so than he usually would at a council of this nature. Aistarenne smiled sweetly as if reading his thoughts. Returning her smile Aidan refocused on Authion and Tere who were now standing ready to present their plan to the group.
Tere began much to Tarienne’s surprise. She understood though she wondered if Tere did the measure of respect Authion had just afforded him by allowing him to speak first. Raef raised one eyebrow at her and she acknowledged with an almost imperceptible nod.
Tere glanced around the room then began.
“Aidan has spoken with us at length about Therin and the ability to lock it down with its people inside to create a stronghold. Authion, Aidan and I have devised a plan to draw Rantec’s minions to Therin in search of the Golden Stone, ambush them then return them to their prison beneath the earth.”
Tere made eye contact with Authion, nodded, then sat down to let him speak. Authion rose, his vivid green eyes sweeping the room as he spoke.
“As Tere has indicated we believe that we can recapture these creatures by moving the people behind Therin’s walls and strategically placing an army of Fae, Elves and Men at enough of a distance from Therin that they are not detectable. We need Rantec’s followers to believe that the stone has not yet reached Therin and allow them to almost catch up with those carrying it. The army will then move in and with enough numbers should be able to overcome the creatures. We will then summon the Elder council and return the beasts to their underground prison.”
Aidan stood signalling his intention to speak.
“Then I must return to Therin to bring the people in and ensure there is food and water enough to sustain them while they’re within the castle walls. I would ask for one of you to accompany me.”
Without a moment’s hesitation Daien shot to his feet.
“I’ll go with you, Sire.”
His acknowledgement of Aidan as his King in this forum bringing a smile to Aidan’s face.
“Thank you, Daien.”
Tarienne and Raef stood at the same time. Raef glanced at Tarienne briefly then spoke for both of them.
“We too will accompany Aidan back to Therin. Authion, who do you suggest as the decoys?”
Authion eyed Raef for a moment.
“The creatures know the stone to be with five travellers, Tere has offered to be part of the group transporting the stone.”
Raef waited a slight frown on his face.
A feminine voice spoke from the back of the room, strong and sure.
“I will accompany Tere to Therin.”
Every eye turned to Arivaelle, standing in the doorway. The room erupted. She strode determinedly to Aidan’s side, who protested as loudly as Raef and Tarienne. Holding her hand up she shouted into their minds.
Stunned, they all stopped mid sentence.
“I have discussed this with Mother, Father and Authion and I fully intend to accompany the party transporting the Stone!”
Arivaelle held all their eyes in turn, daring them to protest.
Daien snorted mumbling under his breath.
“And who does that remind you of?”
Tarienne glared at him then softened realising he was right. She began to chuckle.
“You should be used to this Aidan.”
Aidan stared at Tarienne for a moment then turned to Arivaelle his hands coming to rest gently on her forearms.
“Rivi, are you sure about this?”
Lowering his voice he added.
“I couldn’t bear to lose you.”
Arivaelle swept into his arms running her hands around his neck, her lips close to his.
“Aidan, you’re not going to lose me. I want to do this for you, for us. I want to come to Therin if you’ll have me.”
Without thought for who was in the room Aidan lowered his lips to hers for a scorching kiss. Tarienne grinned, gazing around the room mischievously.
“Don’t worry they’re always doing that!”
Aidan chuckled against Arivaelle’s lips and Raef, Tere and Daien laughed heartily, while everyone else looked confused. Tarienne grinned.
“I’ll explain later.”
Authion was finally able to continue.
“Are we in agreement then?”
Raef leaned forward on the table.
“That’s only two, you need five.”
Raef eyed Authion, waiting, the authority of the future king in his demeanour. Authion held eye contact with Raef.
“Myself, Kyre and father will make up the five.”
Raef’s attention jumped to his father who stood pinning them all with his authoritative gaze.
“I am not a decrepit old man yet, it may have been long since I’ve been in battle but I was the leader of the army of Darewood long before you were all born.”
Before Thalion could say more Elyssia swept into the room stopping at Raef’s side, gazing up into his eyes with a look of determination he’d never witnessed from her.
“I wish to come with you.You have been gone for so long. I don’t want you to leave me again.”
Placing one hand on Raef’s chest Ellysia’s eyes pleading with him.
“Please Raef, don’t leave me behind again.”
A single tear slipped down her cheek. Raef captured her chin with one hand, wiping the tear away with his thumb and leaned down to place a tender kiss on her lips. He looked into her watery eyes and everyone watching knew that he couldn’t leave her again.
Tarienne watched Raef’s face change through indecision, love, then determination and knew what he was about to do. Exclaiming softly.
Clamping her hand to her mouth she leaned further into Daien. Daien glanced at her frowning a little. Confused at her reaction he wrapped his arm around her shoulder tucking her into him.
Quite suddenly he understood as Raef dropped to one knee in front of Elyssia. Elyssia’s mouth formed an ‘O’ and she gasped out loud. All eyes were on them as Raef began.
“My darling Lissy this wasn’t quite the way I meant this to happen but I love you, you are my heart, my reason for being. I want to be with you always. Will you marry me my beautiful, sweet, Elyssia?”
Dropping to her knees in front of him she cried out.
“Yes, Raef, oh yes!”
Raef captured her mouth in a passionate kiss. The room erupted again, this time in cheers.
Tarienne’s eyes were wet with tears and Daien pulled her as close as he could smiling broadly. Aidan snaked one arm around Arivaelle’s waist hauling her to him. Their eyes locked and she reached up to kiss him lightly but Aidan had other ideas and turned her in his arms for a deep kiss. Arivaelle blushed slightly when they drew apart and Tarienne wondered at the change in Aidan. He would never previously have shown so much affection in public and the fact that this was in front of her parents was even more amazing. Aidan’s relaxed happiness filled Tarienne with joy. None of the other Fae took any notice of course because to them there was nothing unusual about their actions. Tarienne and Daien were the only ones who knew how far Aidan had come emotionally.
Tarienne smiled to herself. Daien leaned into her.
“What are you smiling at Sweetheart?”
“I was just thinking how different Aidan is to the King who left Therin only a few weeks ago.”
Daien ran his hand up and down her back affectionately.
“I wonder what everyone will think when he returns?”
“They’ll think him a better King for his travels and he will be. He always had far more compassion and empathy than Eldian but now he’s happy and more confident of his own strengths. It’s due in no small part to knowing true love. I can’t help thinking though what Eldian would have made of ‘just Aidan’.”
“I can’t imagine Eldian being happy about it.”
They both watched the interaction between Aidan and Arivaelle and Daien glanced down at Tarienne.
Confusion filled her for a moment then she realised that Daien was referring to her comment about true love.
“Yes, like us, my love.”
Tarienne gazed into his molten, chocolate brown eyes her body responded to his masculine scent and the heat of his hard body, pressing up against hers. Her breasts strained against the material of her blouse and her lips parted slightly as her heart began to thud against her ribs. Her breathing quickened. Daien grabbed her hand.
“We’re done here let’s go back to your room.”
His voice was husky, sensual and filled with promise. His eyebrow lifted suggestively and Tarienne corrected.
The delicious smile he reserved only for her, lit his face.
Raef chuckled as they hurried off laughing heartily as Kyre almost barrelled into her trying to tease by blocking their exit. Tarienne was too fast for him sidestepping and watching him sprawl onto the floor.She laughed.
“You have to be faster than that Kyre you should know that by now.”
Kyre chuckled as he picked himself up.
“I’ll succeed one day.”
Tarienne called back over her shoulder as laughter rippled around the room.
“In your dreams!”
The next day, Tarienne’s heart was heavy as they prepared to leave. They’d decided to travel under cover of darkness so that their movements weren’t detected and their whereabouts remained unknown to Rantec’s army. Darkness fell and they said their farewells.
Tarienne hugged her family fiercely once more unable to prevent a few tears falling down her cheeks, then mounted Lacey quietly cantering into the darkness of the forest with Daien, Raef, Elyssia and Aidan. Daien drew his horse up beside her, blowing her a kiss. Tarienne smiled at her warrior, reaching out to grab his extended hand momentarily wishing that the journey to Therin wasn’t so long and dangerous.
Tarienne’s gaze drifted over the group, coming to rest on Aidan. There was more than one reason to be grateful to Arivaelle, for his life and for the happiness they’d found together. Shifting her focus to Raef and Elyssia she smiled, they were so happy. A sliver of concern pierced her joy for them as she wondered if sweet, fragile, Elyssia would cope with the rigours of the journey. What if they were attacked again? Would Raef be distracted protecting her? Daien’s voice across her thoughts, brought her back to the present.
Sweetheart, you’re frowning. Is something bothering you?
Tarienne beamed at Daien. She loved that she didn’t have to tell him she was worried. Their bond of love was so strong that he felt her emotions as she did his.
Did I tell you today, how very much I love you?
His answering smile stole her breath and she took a few moments before answering.
I’m a little concerned about Elyssia and how she’ll cope with travelling.
Daien caught her hand, reaching over to bring it to his lips. The spot where his lips had been burned with his heat. Her gaze lifted to his.
She’s not fierce like my Warrior Princess, but she’ll manage. Raef will ensure her safety.
Tarienne’s eyebrows lifted in surprise.
Both chuckling softly her concerns slid to the back of her mind.
They rode in silence until they reached the borders of Darewood, pausing for a moment to look back and reflect. Pushing forward they kept to the edge of clearings and to the deepest part of the forest where they were able.
The first night passed without incident. They made camp during the day deep within the forest, where the foliage was so dense that no sunlight penetrated. Raef lit a small magical fire that emitted heat but no smoke and they settled in to eat and rest. The dynamics of the group had altered and Tarienne briefly felt a sadness at the lack of the usual banter however she was pleased to see Raef happy. Tarienne slipped into Daien’s lap as he rested, his back against a tall tree. Daien’s arms snaked around her and he nuzzled her neck sensing her need. Kissing him she wiggled to get comfortable evoking a low groan as she rubbed against his groin. His hungry gaze sent her pulse racing and started an ache low in her body. Wrapping her arms around Daien’s neck Tarienne kissed him passionately. Raef and Elyssia were wrapped around each other on Raef’s bedroll.
Tarienne snorted softly when she tore herself away from Daien’s heated kiss.
“I guess we’re on sentry duty.”
Aidan was obviously tuned in, despite seeming distracted.
“I’ll take second watch.”
” ...and I’ll take the last.”
Raef grinned when Tarienne poked her tongue out at him.
“You should know we’re always alert, Ren, even if our focus appears elsewhere.”
Tarienne projected her thoughts to Raef.
It’s just different now. I love having Lis here but we had settled into such a great pattern it’s difficult to adjust.
She looked so sad Raef untangled himself from Elyssia scooted over beside her and pulled her from Daien’s lap onto his in one swift movement.
“I’m sorry, I sound like a petulant child, don’t I!”
Raef held her like he used to when they were young in Darewood. They all sat quietly for awhile.Raef spoke into the quiet.
“Ren’s right we need to discuss group dynamics as we did when the four of us left Therin.”
Raef released Tarienne and she kissed him on both cheeks before clambering to her feet.
“Thank you, Toror my brother.”
They talked for almost an hour. By the end of that time they had settled on how the group should work together. After that instead of being solely focused on their partners they interacted more as individuals and things began to settle into a more comfortable pattern. Tarienne still felt for Aidan, she knew he missed Rivi, she could see the sadness in his eyes.
The next night also passed without incident but when they stopped to make camp deep in the forest Aidan pointed out how unnaturally quiet it was. There were no bird sounds, no skittering of animals across the dried leaves of the forest floor and no animals calling to each other. They all went on high alert spreading out from the camp site weapons drawn. The trees began to rustle though there was no wind penetrating this deep down into the gully.
Suddenly the forest was full of wolves snarling and snapping as they backed the companions up into their camp site. The wolves circled but did not attack immediately. Tarienne noticed Daien’s eyes close for a moment and abruptly the trees began to move violently their branches sweeping and cracking around the wolves like whips, knocking some off their feet.
Daien, Aidan and Raef took advantage of the distraction moving forward to fight their attackers, careful to keep their backs toward each other. Tarienne and Elyssia stood back to back. Tarienne wielded her twin knives and Elyssia fired arrows from her bow which she’d had the presence of mind to fling over her shoulder. Tarienne briefly registered surprise that Elyssia was a deadly shot.
With the trees attacking from behind and their prey mounting a frontal attack the remaining wolves began to retreat but not before Tarienne unleashed Fae Fire. Her hands flung wide blue fire poured from her fingertips toward the wolves. She took great care despite her fury not to harm the trees.
When the last of the wolves were either dead or had fled in terror Daien dropped his sword and placed his hands on either side of the closest tree. Resting his forehead on its damp bark he whispered a heartfelt thank you. He stood there for a few moments until Tarienne joined him placing her hands beside his. The others followed suit on those closest to them. A soft rustle of leaves and branches whispered through the trees seemingly in acknowledgement.
Tarienne removed her hands wrapping her arms around Daien.
“My gorgeous, Druid.”
Daien grinned sweeping his arms around Tarienne and pulling her close for a deep kiss. Aidan rolled his eyes and everyone chuckled. Tarienne grinned against Daien’s lips kissing him again before they pulled apart to pack their belongings and continue their journey.
They knew now that they would have to travel day and night with only brief stops in order to reach Therin before it was besieged. Mounting their horses they calmed them with a few words and urged them into a gallop. The trees seemed to part for them guiding their way as they thundered through the forest.
The huge branches snapped into place behind them, guarding their backs. Tarienne caught Daien grinning as she allowed herself a glance at him leaning low over his stallion and suspected he had orchestrated their rear guard with his newly discovered Druid powers.
A few hours of hard riding later they stopped briefly for food and drink and to allow the horses to drink at a small waterhole. Aidan prowled around the perimeter of the area watching and listening. They couldn’t afford to be taken by surprise again.
Too soon after they’d stopped they were remounting preparing to ride hard again. For three more days they rode barely stopping. On the fifth day since they left Darewood they were so exhausted that they they made camp after stumbling upon a shallow cave only two hundred feet from a narrow creek. The creek was filled with cold, fresh, running water and was surrounded by long, green grass for the horses.
Unsaddling the horses they allowed them to roam free and dumped their gear into the mouth of the damp cave. Elyssia flopped down onto her unwrapped bedroll. Unused to travelling long distances let alone at the punishing pace they had been setting she was obviously totally exhausted though she had not once complained.
Raef dropped to one knee beside her brushing her hair back from her face.
“Sleep, my love, we’re safe enough here for awhile.”
Elyssia smiled up at him sleepily quickly drifting off into a deep sleep.
Raef glanced over at Daien and Tarienne.
“You two should get some sleep. I’ll keep watch for awhile.”
The fact that neither of them argued was testimony to how tired they were.
Aidan spread out his bedroll and layed down propping himself up on one elbow.
“Wake me for the next watch.”
Raef nodded positioning himself at the entrance to the cave, a silent sentry totally unaware of what lay ahead.