The next morning heralded the beginning of the Spring festival. The black and grey stone castle of Therin now a bustling hive of activity, a riot of colour adorning every wall. The castle rose through the morning mist like a silent grey sentinel as it had for many lives of man. Small villages of a hundred or so families, each composed of merchants and tradesmen of all kinds surrounded the fortress.
The castle afforded an almost impenetrable stronghold in times of war and could feed and house many refugees at need. It represented protection, justice and security for the people. Today entertainment and food of innumerable variety filled the brightly coloured stalls. People gathered in the cobblestone streets chatting and bargaining animatedly.Tarienne’s gaze drifted around as she walked companionably through the streets with Aidan dutifully greeting the villagers, tasting various foods and applauding the entertainers.
A flash of something unexpected in her peripheral vision brought her to a halt. Certain that she’d seen one of the Elven folk, yet uncertain why one of their kind would enter Therin given the King’s opinion of magic, her eyes darted around the crowd. The tall, lithe man with long blonde hair had however disappeared. Unsure if her mind was playing tricks she returned her focus to Aidan. Slipping her arm through his she smiled brightly when he turned to her with a questioning look. She squeezed his arm lightly and they continued on through the streets.
Around lunch time Aidan excused himself to prepare for the jousting tournament. Tarienne seized the opportunity to saunter around the streets and stalls on her own. She enjoyed getting away from what she termed ‘the stuffiness of life in the royal circle’. Managing to poke around some stalls quite far from the main street she purchased a few small trinkets to take to Ferngrove on her next visit. As she walked away from the stall a tingle crept along her skin. Snapping up her eyes sought the source of the magical frisson. Unable to locate its origin she determined to contact Raef after the tournament and let him know of it.
Along the way she chatted briefly with the villagers she’d met either when she’d helped tend wounds or illnesses or heard that they were in need and taken them food or gifts. At first they’d been reserved with her but over the three years she’d lived at Therin she’d made many friends and they all now greeted her cheerfully. It wasn’t the same as being at Darewood and Ferngrove but it was good to know that they were pleased to see her.
Tarienne returned to Ferngrove whenever she could, partially because her people were so tactile and affectionate. She craved the gift of touch so sorely missing from life within the castle walls. The royal household in particular was very austere. No-one touched another person unnecessarily. Aidan did show her some affection, holding her hand and occasionally giving her a quick hug but usually for the benefit of his father. Their displays of fondness ensured Eldian believed they were falling in love but did not truly fulfil her basal need for contact.
Daien, she mused was not like the others. She’d initially thought him indifferent to her but she’d noticed recently that he often ensured they touched in some way when they were near. She drew strength from Daien in a way that was difficult to explain. Warmth spread through Tarienne and she wondered how it would feel to have Daien’s strong arms wrapped around her, his lips on hers. Pulling in a deep breath, she attempted to settle her heated thoughts and turned to head back for the tournament.
“My Lady, are you enjoying the festivities?”
The familiar voice sent shivers of awareness skittering through her body. She turned to see Daien striding purposefully toward her wearing a smile that made her heart drum against her ribs. His dark eyes swept her appreciatively sending tingles all the way to her toes. Gods he’s gorgeous. When Daien turned the full force of his devastating smile on her, Tarienne’s knees threatened to buckle.
“Ye ...yes,” she stammered, struggling for coherent thought. “I’ve managed to purchase a few gifts to take home to Ferngrove, to my older brother, Raef, when next I visit.”
She held up the tiny, black, carved horse that reminded her of Raef’s first horse, Noir, and the red and gold serrated leaf that filled her with longing for Autumn in Darewood, captured in a ball of clear resin, to show him. Daien captured her hand between his to examine the carving. Tarienne drew in a sharp breath a flush heating her cheeks. If he could do this to her with only a touch she just might pass out if he ever kissed her. He spoke, shaking her from her reverie.
“It’s beautifully carved. I’m certain your brother will appreciate it.” He held on to her hand for a long moment seeming reluctant to relinquish it his smile doing devastating things to Tarienne’s composure. “I’m just heading back for the jousting tournament.” He offered his arm, his dark eyes holding hers. “Would you care for some company to the royal box?”
Was that desire in his eyes? Tarienne’s entire bodied heated, libidinous flames licked through her. Her heart thudded erratically. With all the grace and self control she could muster Tarienne smiled and nodded, not trusting her voice.
Loosely draping her arm through Daien’s she glided through the streets with many envious female eyes following. They chatted companionably and Tarienne barely repressed a sigh at the sheer joy of his touch. The hard muscles of his arms bunching under her hand made her wonder how his sculpted stomach would feel beneath her fingers. The direction of her thoughts unsettled Tarienne again and she had to consciously control her breathing so Daien did not notice her reaction to his proximity.
Taking leave of her at the entrance to the royal box Daien kissed her hand lightly, maintaining eye contact for a long moment. Propriety demanded that she lower her gaze however the tenderness evident in Daien’s eyes held her captive, sweeping her through a maelstrom of emotions. Unable to act upon them Tarienne watched Daien turn and stride away, her heart continuing to thump erratically. The loss of his warmth and presence left her inexplicably bereft at odds with the excitement coursing through her. At least, now she knew that Daien felt the connection between them too.
Running her hands down her deep green, velvet dress to smooth it, she took a few moments to spear her fingers through her long locks flowing freely down her back today, hoping to compose herself. Somewhat more in control she stepped demurely into the royal viewing box seating herself to the left of the King. Eldian nodded a greeting and signalled the start of the competition.
Folding her hands in her lap Tarienne feigned interest in the tournament, her stomach swirling with concern each time a rider was felled. She considered jousting to be a barbaric sport. It upset her that the less experienced competitors sometimes sustained horrific injuries. Even the experienced ones, like Aidan and Daien were occasionally seriously hurt. Nonetheless Tarienne smiled and applauded enthusiastically when Aidan won his round. And again when Daien won his.
When Aidan and Daien faced each other mounted on their stallions, armoured and ready to joust for the tournament win, Tarienne squirmed nervously. Rubbing her arms against the goose bumps that stood her hairs on end she hardly dared to watch as they thundered toward each other. The dirt scattered beneath the pounding hooves of their armoured mounts. The maroon and gold of the standard of Therin flapping against the horses rumps like sheets in the wind. The crowd quietened as the long, colourfully decorated, wooden lances lifted, aiming at their targets. Nothing moved but the riders and their horses. The only sounds were the snorting of the huge stallions, the thundering of their hooves and the metallic sound of armour.
Tarienne closed her eyes briefly, reaching for inner calm, then opened them moments before the Prince’s lance connected heavily with the armour protecting Daien’s right shoulder unseating Daien. He fell heavily to the ground, a deep dent in his armour. A small cry escaped her lips and she barely stopped herself from leaping to her feet. Certainty that Daien lowered his weapon just before Aidan’s lance slammed into his shoulder spread through her.A shiver ran down her spine. Why would he do that? A cheer rose from the crowd.
To his credit Aidan turned his horse, lifting his visor to check on Daien. Tarienne’s heart thumped erratically while she waited for Daien to rise to his feet. His awkward movements indicated that he was injured. A desperate need to know how badly had her eyes locked on his every move but she lost sight of him as the crowd engulfed Aidan to congratulate him. The last glimpse she’d caught was of Daien, shoulders hunched, being aided back in the direction of his tent.
Plastering a smile on her face Tarienne applauded as Aidan accepted the trophy from his father. The King’s Guards quickly crowded around again to congratulate their Prince. All Tarienne could think about was ensuring that Daien had not been badly injured. Something powerful that she wasn’t yet ready to identify drove Tarienne toward Daien’s tent. She slipped unseen from the royal box and through the crowd. At the entrance to the tent her determination wavered. Pulling in a deep breath to boost her confidence and calm her nerves she called his name.
Her heart thumped hard as she waited for a response.
“You may enter, My Lady.”
His voice rolled over her spreading relief and warmth through her entire body. Her pulse beat an erratic tempo as she stepped inside. Wearing only his trousers, his sculpted abdomen bare and glistening with perspiration, he stood in the centre of the tent barefoot and unbelievably handsome.Tarienne could not drag her eyes from him. Pulling in an uneven breath, she managed to speak.
“Daien. How badly were you injured?”
She couldn’t hide the edge of concern in her voice, didn’t want to. Her gaze slid over the bandage tightly wrapped around his middle. Broken ribs. Moving toward him she touched her fingers to his shoulder where a blue-black bruise had already started to develop. He sucked in a quick breath then winced slightly when her cool hand gently covered the bruise. She did not draw her hand away. Knew she should. Her eyes slid down to his toned stomach. A line of dark hair disappeared enticingly beneath the top of his leather trousers. Her desire ramped up. Her eyes lifted back to his. A brief moment of uncertainty played across Daien’s face then he gifted her with his gorgeous smile stealing her breath.
The moment Tarienne entered the tent, Daien was lost. He could no longer fight his growing desire. He’d discovered that Tarienne and Aidan’s love was not real last evening when he and Aidan had partaken of a little too much mead. Aidan had asked Daien to keep their secret. Why would she be here if she didn’t care for him? Now he needed to find out how much. Moving away reluctantly, shrugging into a clean linen shirt to maintain propriety should anyone else enter the tent, he decided to leave it unfastened.
Struggling to maintain his composure Daien held his breath ignoring the stabbing pain of his ribs when Tarienne moved so close that he could smell her delicious, vanilla-cinnamon scent. His heart stopped when she lay her delicate fingers on his bruised shoulder. He had to force himself to breath. The sharp pain of his ribs the only thing keeping his thoughts focused.
Tarienne’s heart thumped erratically as Daien tenderly rested his fingers over hers.
“It’s nothing a few days won’t heal, My Lady.”
His low, husky voice, his liquid brown eyes, darker than usual, drank her in like a whirlpool sucking her into its vortex.
“You lowered your lance.”
Daien didn’t respond, instead lowering his head until his mouth stopped only a whisper from hers. His breathing quickened slightly, his breath fluttering across her cheek. Tarienne dampened her lips with the tip of her tongue in expectation of his kiss.
“You should leave, My Lady.” His words floated on a deep, regretful sigh.
“Mmmm, yes, I should.” Kiss me, Daien.
His eyebrows lifted in surprise and a tiny grin tugged at his lips. Had she said that out loud? Tarienne couldn’t leave now. Already lost in Daien’s eyes and the delicious, spicy, masculine scent of him, she didn’t move. Daien let out a small groan, dipping his head to brush his lips against hers. Her arms stole around his neck and her body began a slow melt into his but something suddenly prickled at the edges of her awareness. Without warning, she straightened and jerked away from him, declaring in a loud and formal voice.
“Well done, Daien, you fought well. If you require anything for your injuries, I would be pleased to assist.”
Tarienne almost staggered from the stark feeling of loss the separation punched through her. Daien reached out to steady her then snatched his hand back when Aidan and his father walked into the tent unannounced. Tarienne rushed somewhat unsteadily to Aidan kissing him on the cheek with what she hoped seemed like great enthusiasm.
“Well done, Aidan!” Her knees were still weak from her encounter with Daien.
Daien’s eyes flicked to Tarienne a small frown creasing his brow then quickly refocused on the royal visitors. Aidan hesitated momentarily obviously perplexed at Tarienne’s uncharacteristically affectionate reaction to his arrival. Temptation to jab him in the ribs filled her when a knowing grin curved his lips. Instead Aidan pulled her firmly to his side in a display of affection aimed to appease his father.
“We came to congratulate you on competing in the final and to see how your shoulder is,” Aidan offered brightly. “Well done.”
The King added, “I knew you could never hope to best your Prince, but well done.”
Aidan slid Tarienne a sideways glance, rolling his eyes.
“Thank you, Sires, it was an enjoyable match.” Daien bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement.
Turning to leave the tent with the King and Aidan, Tarienne risked a glance back at Daien. To her relief he rewarded her with a wink and one of his delicious smiles. Her heart swelled but she held back the joyful grin that tugged at her mouth. What she really wanted was to blow Daien a kiss. Instead she returned an almost imperceptible nod, exiting the tent on Aidan’s arm. Aidan escorted her to her chambers, kissed her hand, then paced away in his father’s company.
Safely ensconced in her room, Tarienne touched her fingers to her lips, remembering Daien’s kiss, unable to hold back a smile. Sobering a little she pushed her thoughts out to Raef grateful of his strength with Fae mindspeak over great distances. She was certain that seeing one of the Elven kind in Therin and sensing the presence of magic, were something that Raef needed to know about. If she was correct, it meant that the balance of magic was in peril. A stab of fear gripped her. The prophecy was in motion.