We could see the city. It was enormous. The wall, Elthinor told me excitedly, was cut stone filled with clay. It had taken many years to build and, from the bottom to the top, was some fifteen feet off the ground, and five feet thick. I was astounded. The only other walls I had seen were the ones in Shadowlyn. There was a gate in the center of the section of wall facing us that led into the city. We had slowed from our harsh pace the day before, and as we approached, I saw movement on the wall. I was wondering what it was, but then it stilled so we continued walking. After we were close enough, I considered that we were in range. A second later, an arrow imbedded itself in the ground by Pinnathir's hooves. Thinking quickly, I grabbed Laetitia and Pinnathir and dragged them backwards back out of range. Elves suddenly poured from the gates, and Elthinor rushed to my side, standing protectively in front of the Satyrs. Gabrithon stood at their backs, and Jaiden and Valtrak covered the areas that were left. We were soon surrounded.
"Hail!" Elthinor said tersely. "We come in peace."
"Are those Satyrs your prisoners?" an Elf asked.
"What are you called, my good Elf?" Elthinor asked.
"Ashellon. And you?"
"Elthinor. And to answer your question, nay, they are not our prisoners."
Swords were suddenly in my face, and I reached for my own. Elthinor's hand caught mine, holding it tightly.
"You travel with a strange party, Elthinor. Two Humans, two monstrosities, a valued Centaur, and what looks like a living stone! Care to explain?"
"I would appreciate it if you didn't call my friends monstrosities," I said blandly.
"You should teach your Human girl to behave, Elthinor," Ashellon said, looking at me disapprovingly.
With swords pointed at me, I couldn't fight back, angry as I was. I did have the shock factor left. I let my anger rush to my face and watched at utter disbelief crossed their faces, and the swords were lowered.
As Elthinor placed his face in his hand to stifle his laughter, I put my hands on my hips. "And who, pray tell, are you calling Human?"
After a minute with no movement, Pinnathir tapped me on the shoulder.
"I think you killed them," he said, laughter in his voice.
"Indeed," Laetitia added.
Elthinor chuckled and pulled out the carving from his pack, showing it to Ashellon. "I come in the stead of Aloron Cyzaen, We need to see the king. It is an urgent matter."
The Elf moved to take the carving, but Elthinor pulled it back, narrowing his eyes. They stared at each other for a minute or two then Ashellon hummed.
"We shall take you," he said, a slow grin spreading across his face.
I did not trust him. He looked too untrustworthy grinning like that. But Elthinor followed him, so the rest of us did, too. Elves glared at us as we went through the streets. Gabrithon seemed uncomfortable by the size of the streets, and Laetitia was gripping Pinnathir tightly. Valtrak, Jaiden, and I just looked around, ready to fight. We were led to a palace, standing in the center of the city and taller than any other building around. Gabrithon wouldn't fit in the door up ahead, so I stopped along with everybody else.
"You're going to make me wait out here, aren't you?" he asked, sounding nervous.
"I have no choice," I said quietly.
"I'll stay out here with him," Jaiden said, breaking away from the group and placing a hand against the Centaur's side.
I glanced back at them as we headed up the stairs. Elves were already starting to gather around them. I sighed and turned around as we got to the top. We went into a huge room where Elves dressed in fancy clothes were talking. They stopped and looked at us, distaste working its way into their features. Elthinor grabbed my arm tightly and leaned over to my ear as we wound our way through the Elves.
"Filynora, behave. I beg of you. They know you are half-Elf. They could make your life miserable."
I looked at him, and I knew that he understood that I couldn’t promise anything yet again. We were led into a room with a throne, and it was like Korvict's but not. It was more delicate. The seat of the throne looked like it was made of purple cushions on the wooden throne. The back of the throne was painted gold with what looked like green vines curling from the top center to wrap around each arm. They both ended in a flower, one dark blue that had pale designs in it, and the other in a fully blooming red rose with pink tips. As I stared, I realized that the flowers and vines were real.
"Who dares to come before the king?" a voice boomed.
I looked up to see a young Elf coming down the steps behind the throne. He had a crown on one cheek in shimmering blue, a very dark blue, with red jewels. The other side was a red bush with blue berries on it. He stopped beside the throne and began to trace the petals of the blue flower.
"Your majesty," Elthinor said, bowing low. Everybody followed suit except me.
Elthinor straightened and glared at me then turned back to him. "Your majesty we must discuss an urgent matter of war."
"War?" the Elf asked in a bored tone of voice. "We are already at war with the Satyrs. There's a battle going on now."
"What?" Laetitia gasped.
"No!" Pinnathir moaned.
"You have to stop it!" Elthinor begged.
"What's your name?" I asked, ignoring them.
"Lochanor," the Elf said with a nod.
"Lochanor, where's the real king?"
Rage suddenly colored his face around his designs. "I am the king!"
"Then why don't you sit on the throne?" I queried. "You've walked around it several times, but you have yet to sit on it. Of course if I'm right about the flowers, then none but the king can sit on it without them fading or dying. Besides that, you look to be only a little older than Gabrithon. No king is that young unless a tragedy has happened to the previous one. And Aloron certainly would have told us if the king had died."
Elthinor narrowed his eyes and walked up to the young Elf. Lochanor had paled a little while I spoke, the rage draining from him swiftly. He pulled a sword from the hilt at his side and pointed it at Elthinor, who was still swordless.
"My father wouldn't bother with such a strange group of vagabonds. Go away."
Elthinor held up his hands but didn't move. "We must speak with the king."
"Too bad. Get out before I make you."
"Aw," I cooed. "The little prince is upset his ruse has been uncovered."
"Shut up, girl! Go and sew something."
Anger warmed me, but I kept my face plain as I strode up to him and looked him in the eye.
"Put the sword away or you will be humiliated. By me."
He still had the sword pointed at Elthinor. He began laughing, and Elthinor cleared his throat.
"I would point that thing at her. She's more dangerous," he said, a smile in his voice.
"A girl? Dangerous?" Lochanor asked with a snort.
I drew my sword, and he laughed again. Then I knocked his blade away from Elthinor with as much force as I could. He gasped and jerked the blade close to his body. He stared at me incredulously then growled and lunged. We came together, and he began pushing me back. I used that strength that came forth when I was angry—I had a suspicion that it was from the Strangeling part of me—and shoved him away then jumped down the few stairs that he'd been trying to push me down. He came to me, and I taunted him as we clashed.
"Oh, the little prince is going to get shamed by a girl."
"Shut up!" Lochanor bellowed.
My friends were cheering me on as we fought. It was a dance. I wasn’t trying to kill him, but I wasn't sure about his intentions towards me. He finally pinned me to a wall and raised his sword. Instead of defending, I smirked as my face tingled. I watched as he yelled and shot backwards. My face was still prickling as I attacked him harder. This time he was losing even though he was soon trying harder than ever. I finally sent his sword flying and pointed my own at his chest. My breathing was heavy, and I arched an eyebrow.
"Well, little prince, it looks like you lose to me, a girl."
"How did you beat me? I've been training for years," he asked between gasps.
"Necessity," I replied. "When you have to fight for your life and for your friends' lives, you learn to fight well."
"Obviously," he said with a shake of his head. "Well, are you going to kill me for lying to you? If you don't, my father will."
"No, I—" I started then heard a whinny.
"Is one of the horses out?" Lochanor asked.
"Gabrithon!" I shouted.
My friends and I ran to the door. Laetitia and Pinnathir slipped on the polished stone, but I was concerned about Gabrithon. I sheathed my sword and pushed through the Elves, who were all laughing, to see something that made me scream in outrage. Some Elf boys had gotten some rope and put it about Gabrithon's neck. They were jerking on it and trying to get on his back, but the Centaur was skillfully keeping them off. Jaiden was pinned to the ground by two of the Elves, and they were pinching him and laughing when he squirmed.
I pulled my bow and shot an arrow through the rope. The five boys holding it shot backwards and landed in a heap. I then pointed my arrow at the two holding Jaiden.
"Get off of him. Now," I said icily.
"The girl thinks she can shoot!" one of them teased.
"I'll prove I can. Give me a target."
"That bird up there," the other one said with a nasty grin.
It was clear across the way. I pulled the string back, aimed and…A rock hit the building and scared the bird. It flew high and I heard laughter. Undeterred, I aimed again then fired. The bird fell out of the sky. I pulled another arrow and pointed it and them. They moved quickly, and all the boys stood in a group behind Gabrithon. That wasn't the safest place to be.
"Please let me kick them," he said hoarsely. They moved farther back.
"What just happened here?" Lochanor asked as he appeared beside me.
"They are treating my friends very poorly," I said through gritted teeth.
Gabrithon was trying to get the rope from around his neck. It was so tight that he couldn't get his fingers under it; he looked like he wasn't getting enough air. I put away my bow and the arrow I had been holding and pulled my knife as I walked down the stairs. He knelt down before me and I heard all the Elves gasp. The rope gave way with a snick, and Gabrithon gasped, sucking in air greedily. I could see that he had been close to passing out, though he had held up quite nicely.
"Are you all right?" I asked, running my finger in the indentation from the rope.
"I shall be, Filynora," Gabrithon croaked then we both stood as the Elf prince approached.
"A Centaur kneels for you?" Lochanor asked, sounding astounded.
I was about to say that it wasn't the way it sounded, but Gabrithon actually spoke up.
"And why shouldn't I? She is a most extraordinary girl," he boomed.
"If you can command the respect of a Centaur, then you have mine," Lochanor said, bowing low. "What is it that you need? Food? Water?"
"Both of those things. And horses. Fast horses," I said immediately.
"Whatever for?" Lochanor asked.
"I also need the location of the battlefield, or at least which direction they went."
"Filynora? What are you planning?" Valtrak asked.
"To stop a war so we can start a different one."