Amulet of Stars

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Chapter 2

Arwen let out a groan as she attempted to sit up straight in her saddle. It’s been days since she left Rivendare as they headed north to the Capital, and her ass was immensely sore. They only stopped every other day for a ‘nap’ until heading off. The plump guard was riding a bit in front of her while the other two flanked behind her just in case she tried to ride off. Even if she did the King would probably send out an army looking for her if she was of such importance for a summons. Ever since she mounted her mare she’s been contemplating all the different reasons the King would want her assistance. Most likely not for her charm even though she takes pride in her witty tongue. Her father was the King’s Hand, and up until his untimely death, but she hadn’t been to the capital or in the presence of royalty since the funeral. That’s probably the only thing keeping her alive in regards to the King, her name.

The guards haven’t said a word to her and she rather enjoyed it, she didn’t even ask for their names. No words were needed after the conversation back at the tavern. She knew where they were going and when they would arrive, and highly doubted they would give her any more information. She pulled out a slice of stale bread from her saddle bag and forced it down with some more water. Leave it to the King’s guard to not bring fresh food. She finished her barely edible breakfast with a look of disgust, and took in her surroundings. The area surrounding the town of Rivendare most mostly wooded and now they were riding through the vast rolling hills of the countryside. They reached the top of a hill and further north she could barely make out the barrier that gave the capital its famous name.

The massive wall was made of stones surrounding the city of Whitewall making it an impenetrable fortress. The wall was built during the Hundred Years War when the mortal men and elves were fighting after the death and demise of Queen Shindaleria. The continent of Talemdor used to be one unified country during the reign of King Valamir, a mortal, and his beloved queen, a high elf. The queen was found murdered in her bedchamber, and all fingers pointed to the King. Valamir denied it and pointed accusations at the elves. The stories claimed it started over a lost item of powerful magic, the Amulet of Stars, for it disappeared right when the queen died. This then started the famous war that lasted a hundred years.

The elves pushed the mortal inhabitants to what is now Whitewall, and thus the stronghold was built to protect any who weren’t slaughtered. The woods stretching from one tip of the continent to the other became the official border, and the inhabitants had to remain on their own sides. The forest then came to be known as the Woods of Moore. After a truce was called and the war ended, the humans and elves eventually came to an agreement, a treaty of sorts, stating that the two races would stay on their sides of the Moore. It’s been almost a thousand years since the war ended, but the barrier surrounding Whitewall was still standing tall. The wall always made Arwen feel uncomfortable, like a dog in a cage with nowhere to go. There was only one way in and out, and that was the fifty-foot twin iron doors at the front of the city.

“We’re almost to the capital and being as I’m in charge of you I expect you to be on your best behavior in front of his majesty. Any smart mouthing or a hint of disrespect and I’ll have you lashed, I don’t care if you’re a female or not.” The plump guard made it very clear he was in charge, or so he thought. Arwen narrowed her eyes at him and gave him a sly grin. “I’ll try, but I won’t make any promises. I should be rewarded for not asking to take too many privy breaks.” “See that’s what I’m talking about, shut your mouth we’re almost there.” She almost let another smart remark escaped from her lips, but decided against it. It’s been twelve years since she’s been to the capital, and she forgot how it’s grand size made her feel like a drop of water on a leaf; insignificant.

They finally reached the Capital by mid after-noon, and Arwen drew her hood over her head as they passed through the iron doors to not attract any unwanted attention. More than half of the occupants of Sorengard knew her from her appearance alone. It was hard to mistake a girl with long red locks dressed in skin tight leather. It wasn’t out of admiration either; they were wise to fear the infamous sellsword. Her mare followed the guards through the slums of Whitewall making their way past the market square where she could smell everything from fresh baked bread to exotic spices shipped from across the sea. She relaxed her shoulders a bit, and let the tension slip from her body. If the King wanted her dead, then he wouldn’t be foolish enough to make a public scene of it.

Children were chasing stray dogs, women were gossiping, and the men were bargaining for a living. This is the life her dear friend Rylan always wanted, but no matter how much thought she gave to the idea of settling down something always seemed off. She didn’t know where she belonged, but it surely wasn’t here behind castle walls or any town for that matter. The only comfort she found was in using her father’s sword, and she gave small sigh at the thought of missing him. They were passing buildings so packed together that they were practically toppling over one another. If there was space on the ground than you can bet something would be built, and it made her extremely claustrophobic.

They approached the middle of the city, and its main inhabitant was a looming white cathedral with a spire so tall it could almost reach the clouds. The cathedral was home to Sorengard’s sole religion, The Order of the Sun. It paid tribute to the Goddess Ophelia, and its disciples were primarily female. According to The Order, Ophelia was an ordinary human who lived many millennia ago. She gave up her life to the Gods in order to save Talemdor from an ancient forgotten evil. Ophelia then became a Goddess after uniting the kingdoms with her sacrifice, and Talemdor was at peace until the Hundred Year War. Not much is remembered about the evil that Ophelia encountered, but everyone knows it revolved around a magical talisman and a bargain between her and the Gods. Arwen, however, thought the stories all sounded like a steaming pile of horse manure.

Ladies in white robes with gold trim filled the cathedral’s steps and stone courtyard, and Arwen bowed her head to a young girl herding children past her and the guards. She might not believe the legends or care for the orthodox ways of the order, but her father taught her better manners then to disrespect the faith. Her mother was a firm believer and intended on serving the Goddess, at least until she met her father. Alastor was a non-believer himself, but insisted on lecturing Arwen in the stories as remembrance to his departed wife. Love gets in the way of hopes and dreams, and she preferred to stay far away from it.

They went further into the city, and Arwen’s mare came to a stop and she looked up to see the castle of Whitewall looming in front of her, and a shiver went up her spine. Too many towers and windows to count, and she was convinced the steps leading up to the front doors were laughing at her. Her arse was most likely blistered, and she would rather drink pig’s blood then climb the fifty something steps that were crawling with the King’s men. “Once we’re in those doors don’t forget to be on your best behavior. A stable boy will take our horses, and then we’re going straight to the throne room.” The plump guard jumped down and handed his reigns off to the nearest stable boy, and she emitted a groan before jumping down from her own mare and handing the reigns off. The sellsword followed the plump guard across the fancy courtyard ignoring the courtiers that stopped to stare as she passed by, and she clenched her fists as they started to climb the stone steps. She cursed the day men wanted to go places higher than the ground beneath their feet.

She was sweating in places she shouldn’t by the time they reached the entrance to castle Whitewall, and she dragged her hand across her forehead as she caught her breath. “Are you sure the king needs to see me right away? I have no intention of leaving after climbing these god awful steps and prefer to smell like something other than a wet dog when I have my meeting with his royal highness.” “If you were a lady I might have contemplated letting you get presentable, but being as you’re not that’s a no. Ladies don’t get their hands dirty and they especially don’t touch a sword, at least the way you do.” The guard snickered and she scowled at him knowing what he meant. She brushed her hair with her fingers with the hope of not having a rat’s nest attached to her head. She knew it wasn’t worth it; she looked like a lion that just got done rolling in the dirt.

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