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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:05 pm

Spreading The Joy
Location: Paradise Valley, Borderlands
Year: 106 F.A.
Status: Late Summer

It had only been a few minutes previous when Aurin had first heard the term, “dropping the bomb”. He hadn’t even known what a bomb was, and the phrase made no sense at all to him. But when it was explained to him that it was something that was sudden, unexpected, and exploded into every direction, shocking everyone nearby, and when he compared it to the context in which it was used, it suddenly made quite a lot of sense.

And was it ever accurate. That definitely described the looks on Rhea’s parents’ faces when she had announced that they were engaged to be married. He just hoped that they would get over it and not hold it against him. After all, Rhea had been the one to ask him, rather than the other way around. He really had tried to respect tradition – at least, the tradition that he knew.

And now here they were already, off to do it again. He had to admit, he had never seen Rhea so excited, though she had been plenty animated when they had been on the island. But now she was literally bouncing as they headed to her grandparents’ house.

He chuckled as they headed towards the door. “If I didn’t know better, I would say you derived far too much pleasure out of such incidents,” he teased her.

Rhea giggled at him. “There’s no such thing as too much pleasure,” she quipped back. “Besides, it’s my grandparents! Nothing ever startles them for long. It’s nice to be able to surprise them for once. And they’ll be sure to get us back somehow.”

Aurin stared. “Get us back?”

“Nothing bad,” Rhea grinned. “Don’t worry. Just relax and have some fun!” She kissed him on the cheek, then knocked on the door. Without waiting for an answer, she opened the door and stepped inside.

“Hello!” she called out brightly. “Nako? Neko?”

“Come on in, Rhea,” Ulani’s voice came from the kitchen. “I’m just getting lunch ready.”

“I have to admit,” came Ulrich’s voice from the back of the house, “I’m a little surprised that you would be here so soon.” There was the sound of a door closing, and Ulrich appeared down the hall and started towards the living room. “I would have thought you would spend more time with your … oh.”

He stared at Aurin. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that Rhea wasn’t alone,” he smiled apologetically.

Rhea giggled. “I’m just showing Aurin around,” she told her grandfather. “Helping him to get to know people better. Spreading the news.”

“News?” Ulrich’s eyebrows shot up at the word. He liked news. Especially if it was good news.

“There’s news?” Ulani echoed, poking her head out of the kitchen. “More than what you already told us?” She came out to join them, drying her hands on a towel.

Rhea giggled again. She couldn’t help it; it was just the way she was. And she was excited, after all!

“More,” she agreed, clasping her hands innocently behind her back.

Ulrich was beginning to get impatient, like a child eager for something that had been promised him. “Are you going to tell us?” he asked, leaning forward slightly.

“Oh, now I’m not sure,” Rhea winked at him. “You’re being awfully impatient, Neko. I just don’t know if you can handle it.” She turned to Aurin and giggled. “Shall we tell them, darling?”

Ulani squealed excitedly. “You’re getting married?” she exclaimed, her eyes dancing brightly.

Ulrich was astonished. “What? My little granddaughter? All grown up and getting married? Never!” He eyed Aurin, who fidgeted uncomfortably. “And to a soldier, no less,” he added, sniffing disdainfully. He turned back to Rhea. “Hand.”

Rhea grinned and held out her left hand for inspection.

Ulrich looked back at Aurin, seemingly astonished. “What, no ring?” he gasped. “I’m … I’m …”

Aurin looked down at Rhea. He felt terrible. Her grandfather clearly wasn’t happy with him, in fact was very disappointed. But when he looked at Rhea, he was confused. She didn’t seem to be taking this badly at all …

Rhea giggled and cupped Aurin’s cheek in her hand. “I told you he would get back at us for not telling him earlier,” she grinned. She tapped the end of his nose lightly, then put her finger to his lips. “He’s just teasing you, love. He doesn’t mean a word of it.”

Aurin wasn’t so certain about that. He looked over at Ulrich. The man hadn’t even cracked a smile; there wasn’t even any hint in his eyes that he was teasing …

He blinked, shocked, when Ulani suddenly reached out and slapped her husband upside the head. “Ulrich, behave,” she told him sternly. “You’re terrifying the poor man.”

Ulrich burst into laughter and clapped Aurin soundly on the back. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he laughed, “but I just couldn’t help myself. By the Valar, what an opportunity that was!”

Aurin’s face flushed a deep shade of red, and Rhea giggled and squeezed his hand. “Take it easy on him, Neko,” she grinned at her grandfather. “He’s used to a very formal life. And he’s just learned the Common Tongue in the past three years, so don’t try any sarcasm on him either, he wouldn’t understand it.”

“Who me?” Ulrich asked innocently, fully aware of what he was doing. “Why would I do a thing like that?”

Rhea laughed. “Neko!”

Ulrich squawked as Ulani poked him in the ribs. “Behave,” she told him firmly, though she was also smiling. “You don’t want to scare him off, do you?”

Aurin was looking more lost by the minute. It was clear that he had never been subject of such teasing before, and his knowledge of sarcasm was highly unlikely. As far as he knew, Ulrich was still making fun of him … though not in the fun way it was intended. He looked at Rhea, not sure what to say or do.

Rhea smiled and squeezed his hand. “Don’t pay any attention to him,” she told him softly. “Really, he’s just trying to put you at ease. The fact that he’s teasing you so means that he’s accepted you into the family.

Are you sure?” Aurin asked in reply, his worry evident in his eyes.

Before Rhea could answer him, Ulrich himself interrupted them. “I’m sorry, Aurin,” he grinned, speaking in Common Elvish as they were. “I just can’t help myself. It’s just such a rare opportunity that I have to tease anyone that I guess I go a bit overboard.

A bit?” Ulani repeated, arching one eyebrow. When Ulrich didn’t say anything, she poked him in the side again.

Unh! All right, all right,” he chuckled, “more than a bit.” He clapped his hand on Aurin’s shoulder and faced him squarely. “Aurin, we welcome you to the family with outstretched arms,” he told him proudly. After a moment, he added, “And for that honour you will not be the butt of many jokes.

No, you won’t,” Ulani interrupted, boxing Ulrich’s ear as if he were a disobedient child. “Aurin, if he bothers you, just tell Rhea or me and we’ll take care of him.

Aurin shuffled his feet awkwardly. “Thank you … I think,” he murmured, venturing a small smile. He turned to Rhea, and his smile widened. This was going to take some getting used to, he had to admit … but he had a feeling that it just might end up being fun.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:06 pm

Welcome To Amon Darthir
Location: Amon Darthir
Year: 106 F.A.
Status: Late Autumn

It was five days of solid flight, day and night without rest, before Aurin, Rhea, Whisper, Elros, Aerin and Caranthir were finally able to see the tiny island of Amon Darthir in the distance. Rhea looked at Aerin anxiously to see her reaction to seeing her home again, but the first sol’s face was impassive. It was only when Rhea allowed herself to use her magic to sense her mood that she felt the fire that was burning deep below the stoic surface. She stopped immediately, her face flushing slightly. She shouldn’t have done that, she knew, but she had needed to know how Aerin felt …

“Captain,” Aerin spoke as they drew nearer the island. “Take us in low. I don’t want us to be seen. Put us down at the lowest wall.”

Almost immediately, Skyel began to fly lower, until her wings were almost skimming the water. All of them kept a wary eye on the sky as they flew, hoping that they would not be spotted. Aurin circled around until they arrived at the beach, the place on the elfin half of the island that was furthest from the castle, and the most out of sight. There they landed, and everyone climbed down from the roc’s back. After five days of straight flying, without slowing down at night, they were all glad to be back on solid ground. Aurin hugged Rhea tightly, then turned to the bird to take care of her. Whisper found the nearest patch of warm grass and lay down for a rest. Elros stood in one place and looked around, drinking in his new surroundings. Caranthir began to prepare a camp for all of them, and Aerin stood next to Skyel and stared up at the distant palace.

“Everyone rest,” she told them crisply, glancing at them over her shoulder. “We will move on later.”

Elros watched her for a moment, his icy blue eyes piercing her green ones. “You rest as well, Princess. I will keep watch for now.”

Aerin opened her mouth to protest, but then she closed it again and nodded. Yes, she would need all the energy she could muster for what lay ahead of her. She returned to join the others, and soon all of them were asleep.


As the light faded into darkness, Aerin was the first to stir. She folded her blanket, then joined Elros at the watch. Together, they stood silently, staring up at the castle in the distance.

After a while, Aerin spoke. “I do not know what is going to happen,” she murmured softly to Elros. “I have no idea how this is going to go. And I still do not know what to do.”

“Whatever you do,” Elros replied simply, “do not hide. Do not make yourself suspicious.” He looked down at her, his eyes piercing her gaze. “If I may make a suggestion …?”

Aerin nodded. “Please.”

Elros turned back to the castle. “Show yourself first in the city, to your people,” he said quietly. “Let them know that you are alive, that you are concerned about them, and that you will change things to give them a better life, the life that they deserve to have.” He looked down at her once more. “Aurin, the Captain of your father’s Wing Riders, is terrified of the man. And he is in one of the most secure and safe positions there are. Imagine how your people must feel.”

“But can they be trusted to keep quiet?” Aerin replied, frowning gently.

“They ought not. You have been summoned here by the king himself, Aerin-sol, and your return must not be silent.” His voice was firm. “You would only arouse suspicion from the people and the king.” He smiled again ever so slightly. “You are the triumphant returning princess, you must play the part. Celebrations will be in order. It is a happy time. You will see.”

Aerin nodded again, though in truth she was not entirely sure. Still, it sounded as though he had some kind of plan …

Suddenly, Caranthir was also behind them. “Is there a plan?” he asked quietly, looking at the two.

Elros turned to Caranthir and nodded. “Rest up for the night. Everyone needs it. In the morning, we will send Skyel to the roc cave to rest, and the rest of us will head to the city.”

Caranthir was startled. “The city?”

Aerin shook her head. “I do not know what he is planning,” she said softly, “but whatever it is, I trust him.”

Caranthir looked a bit more doubtful, but there was nothing he could say. He nodded. “Very well. Then we’ll let Rhea and Aurin continue to sleep.”

There was no point in waking them, after all. They needed to rest – especially Aurin. He had not been able to sleep at all on their journey back to the island, not even close his eyes or rest. Aerin felt rested though, so she volunteered to keep watch while Elros took his turn sleeping.

When morning came, they all packed up their things and set out on the long walk to the city. Hopefully they would reach it by midday. It was a cool day, and so they were able to walk quickly, and within three hours they had reached the first gate that would let them past the second wall of the elves.

As they approached the gate, the soldiers who were guarding it braced their weapons.

“Halt!” shouted one of them. “Who goes there?”

Aurin squeezed Rhea’s hand slightly, then stepped forward. “I am Captain Aurin Striate,” he said in a loud, strong voice. “I have returned with Aerin-sol, as ordered by His Majesty, King Aerennel.”

Ignoring the sudden whispers, he continued. “With us travel Sir Elros, knight of the Kingdom of the Eastland Elves; Caranthir of Haven, companion to Aerin-sol; Rhea Aldrich Striate, my wife; and Whisper, her companion.”

The soldiers lowered their weapons and removed their helms, then bowed to one knee and lowered their heads respectfully.

“Forgive us, Aerin-sol,” said the first one, his tone filled with reverence. “We did not recognize you. Welcome home.”

Aerin stepped forward and reached down to touch each of the soldiers on the shoulder. “Rise,” she said softly. They did as they were asked, their eyes filled with wonder and perplexity; and their expression changed to one of utter shock when Aerin hugged first the one, and then the other.

Caranthir was perplexed. Aerin never touched anyone in any way at all … this was very unlike her. He looked up at Elros, but Elros shook his head ever so slightly. No, he couldn’t ask questions yet. This had to be part of the plan.

But even stranger to him than Aerin’s actions was the look on her face afterwards. After nearly four hundred years together, he knew her better than anyone, and he could see that she genuinely felt happy to be able to hug these men. What was going on?

Soon enough, they were through the gate and on their way to the city, leaving the two guards behind at their posts, though they were ecstatic with joy now. At the eastern gate of the city, they went through the same routine: the guards treated her with as much respect and reverence as if she were the king himself, she hugged them, told them how happy she was to be back, and they continued on.

The moment they were through the gates, however, no one had to be told who she was: all it took was one person who remembered her from before she had left, and everyone in hearing distance was crowding around the group, welcoming them home.

As they traveled through the city, Rhea looked around, looking for anything that might have changed since they had left over a year ago. But there was nothing … nothing had changed. There had been no construction; there had been no attempt to make anything better for the people. She fought down a feeling of sadness and reminded herself that they were there to change all of that.

They made their way through the city, and all the way they were joined by others – women and children who were already celebrating the return of the first sol. Somewhere along the way, someone started playing some music, and others began to throw banners and ribbons. It was a triumphal return in every sense of the word.

But then they reached the far end of the city, the gate that faced the castle, and there, waiting for them in a v-shaped formation, was the king, Alena, and a whole strew of guards.

Elros stared at Alena, his heart racing, but she shook her head at him. Their reunion would have to wait. He understood that, and he turned his attention back to the king.

Behind them, everything went silent. The people stood there, watching, anxious to see how this would go. The king was always so serious, so …

Aerin stepped forward, and when she didn’t kneel the king seemed irritated. Ignoring his reaction, she spoke.

“I have returned, my lord, as you have requested,” she said, avoiding calling him her father.

The king stared at her, jaw clenched. A vein twitched in his neck, and his eyes were hard and angry. He stared at Aerin long and hard, then turned to Aurin.

“Captain Striate,” he said crisply.

Aurin stepped forward and knelt to one knee, bowing his head low. “My liege?”

The king glared. “What were you ordered to do?”

Aurin looked up at the king, startled. “My liege, you asked me to find Aerin-sol and return her home,” he said, confused.

“Exactly.” The king seemed angrier than before. “And what have you done?”

Aurin was at a loss for an answer. He had brought Aerin back, hadn’t he? He knew he couldn’t have made a mistake, he had been her trainer …

“Fool!” the king hissed. “You have brought back a circus! They do not belong here!”

He raised one hand as if to deal a blow to Aurin, but a barrier appeared between them, and he couldn’t do anything. He looked around, his eyes smoldering now, absolutely furious.

Rhea stepped forward, her own face furious.

“He has done as you have asked,” she told him, more out of anger than bravery. Inside, she was trembling, but she would not have her husband abused for doing his job. “You asked for the First Sol to be returned, and here she stands in front of you. What right do you have to be angry?”

Aurin looked terrified, but there was a part of him that was proud of Rhea. Proud that she could do what he would never dare.

The king was furious. “You dare speak to me in such a tone?”

“Why not?” Rhea quipped, her own anger mounting with the king’s. “Someone has to! You asked for your daughter, here she is. She came to you, she presented herself to you, she greeted you – and you, rather than even speak to her, just scold your best man for having brought back more people than expected!”

The king raised his hand again to strike, but Rhea held up one hand to create another barrier. His eyes grew wide as he saw the markings on her palm, and he reached forward and tried to grab her by the arm. “Impossible …”

Aerin stepped forward, directing the king’s attention away from the others. “Possible,” she replied with a scowl. “I married them myself.”

The king glared at Caranthir and Elros. “Don’t tell me you’ve married one of them, too.”

Aerin’s eyes blazed, though she remained calm. “And if I have?” she asked him, daring him to attack her. “If I wanted to?”

The king stepped forward and grabbed her arm, holding her hand up so that he could see. Her palm was smooth and clear, and he pushed her away again, almost violently. “Insolence,” he snarled. “If I find that there is anything-”

“Like what?” Aerin shot back. “I’ve been gone for four hundred years. Expect some differences.”

The king looked as though he wanted to strike her, but he checked himself, instead focusing his attention on Caranthir. “And you,” he scowled. “What are you doing back here?”

It was clear that Caranthir was angry, but it only showed in his eyes. His lips still wore the same nonchalant smile that he always had. “It was I who brought Aerin-sol away from here and nursed her back to health,” he replied simply. “Is it not fitting that I should also bring her back and make sure that she stays that way?”

The king bit his cheek to keep from losing his temper, and turned to Elros. “And you?” he demanded. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

Elros bowed his head slightly. “Sir Elros, knight of the Kingdom of the Eastland Elves,” he replied. “A place where both light and dark elves live in peace and harmony – and even in union. As for what I am doing here …”

He held up his hand, showing the king his palm. Etched into his skin were runes.

The king read the name on his palm, and he whirled around to face Alena. “You?!” he shrieked in fury.

Alena looked at him evenly. “Since before our people have come to this land, since before we left our homes behind, I have been his,” she said calmly.

The king moved so quickly that no one could stop him: his arm whipped out and he struck his advisor across the face, knocking her to the ground. Elros let out a cry and ran forward. Aurin wrapped his arms protectively around Rhea. Aerin’s face flushed with fury, and the crowd behind them all let out an anxious gasp as Aerin rushed forward and charged the king. Several of the guards jumped forward to assist the king, but Aurin shouted for them to stop. They were used to obeying his orders, and they stopped immediately, allowing Aerin to grab her father by the throat. Perhaps once the king had been an excellent fighter, but centuries of being guarded and fighting only from the air had put his skills to disuse, and he hadn’t a hope in the world against his daughter.

The soldiers didn’t know which royal to help, but Aurin yelled again for them to hold back, and they did as they were ordered.

“Aerennel,” Aerin said fiercely, holding her father at arm’s length, “you have forgotten your duty as leader of these people. A ruler’s first duty is for their people, but you have been nothing but a torment in their lives. Today it ends once and for all.”

The fury in the king’s eyes wasn’t strong enough to outmatch Aerin’s, but it was clear that they were father and daughter.

“Don’t just stand there!” the king shouted, his face beginning to turn slightly red. “Do something!”

One of the soldiers drew a sword and stepped forward, but Caranthir stopped him with a barrier. “Don’t even think about it,” he said in a threatening tone.

The soldier stopped in his tracks, but Caranthir kept the barrier up just in case.

The people of the city pressed forward. For centuries they had been too scared to speak up for themselves, but now their princess had returned and was already standing up for them, and it filled them with courage. They raised their voices in protest against the tyranny that had ruled their lives, their entire lives for the most of them. At first the shouts were indistinguishable, but soon they united under one shout:

“Down with Aerennel! Up with Queen Aerin!”

And all of a sudden, Caranthir understood what Elros’s plan had been. Without the support of the people, this could have gone very, very wrong. And of course, with the people of the city supporting Aerin, the soldiers could do no different – it was their own wives and children they would be fighting then. He looked for the man in the crowd, and he saw Elros and Alena holding each other tightly and ignoring everything else around them.

“Soldiers, bind him!” Aerin ordered suddenly, throwing her father to the ground. He gasped for air, clawing at his throat, and before he could jump to his feet four of his own men grabbed him by the arms and bound him tightly. Aerin scowled at the man who was no longer the king of the nation. “Lock him up!” she ordered again. “In the underground!”

Once he had been taken away, she turned to the people of the city and raised her arms for silence. When she had it, she spoke.

“People of Amon Darthir!” she cried loudly. “You are no longer prisoners in your own land! No longer will you be ruled over by a tyrant! No longer will you have to suffer as you have in the past! You will be free!

A mighty cheer rose from the crowd, but Aerin wasn’t finished yet. She turned to Elros and Alena.

“I have been gone for nearly four hundred years,” she said, focusing her gaze on Alena. “I will understand if it is your wish to leave this place and live your own life, far from here. But Alena, you have served my father for a long time, and his father before that. You more than anyone else have cared for this people. You know them. You know this land. I ask you please, if you desire, to stay on as my honoured and trusted advisor.”

She turned to Elros. “You have given up so much to come here, to reunite with the one that you have loved through the Ages. I welcome you to remain here as well, if you desire. If the two of you desire to leave, I will not stop you, nor will I bear you any ill will. I leave the decision to you. But I will need aid, and I know of no better advisor than Alena, and no stronger man than you.”

Alena and Elros looked at each other, and Elros smiled and nodded to Alena. Alena turned back to Aerin and bowed her head respectfully.

“My Queen,” she said reverently, though without the fear that people had used when addressing the former king. “We would be honoured to stay with you and aid you in any way that we can.”

Aerin smiled at the two of them and bowed her head back to them. “And for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

She turned to the soldiers who had come out with the king. “And you, men of Amon Darthir,” she said, louder again, “you are free. Free to be what you wish, and to live where you wish. You are all men of great strength and loyalty, and though my father had you do some terrible things, I know that none of you, given the choice, would have done them. All of you – I release you from your service of bondage. Your place is with your families.”

Before everything could turn to chaos, she held her hands up for silence once more.

“But I have one request to make, before you run to your families,” she added, quelling their excitement. “I know that our people are still not at peace. For thousands of years, we have been warring against the gnomes. I remember this from when I was a little girl. Was my own brother not killed by them? And how many of your family members – fathers, brothers, sons – how many of them were also killed by the gnomes?”

She looked around at them all. “I ask you to help me to fight against them and to eliminate them once and for all! I force none of you, but only ask. You will never be forced to fight. You will never be forced into anything. But for the sake of our people, for your own families, the gnomes must be destroyed. They are an evil of Melkor, and will not leave us alone until either we are dead, or they are.”

There was hesitation among the soldiers. Most of them hadn’t been able to see or speak to their wives and children in a year or longer. But their new queen had a point …

Aurin was the first to step forward. “Your Majesty,” he said, loud enough for all present to hear: “I will stay with you. It is my duty to protect my sovereign, and my pleasure to protect my family. I am yours to command as you see fit.” And he knelt to one knee and bowed his head low.

Aerin smiled and walked over to him, and set one hand gently on his head.

“Captain Aurin Striate,” she said firmly, “I accept your aid, and I thank you.”

For a moment, there was silence, and then as one, every single one of the other soldiers knelt down and bowed their heads, all of them pledging their allegiance. Aerin looked around at all of them, and her eyes filled with tears. It was more than she had hoped for, more than she had ever dreamed.

“Then I have but one more request,” she said once everything had quieted down again. There was a brief ripple of confusion among the crowed, but they grew silent when she turned to Caranthir. She stepped towards him and held out both of her hands. He stared at her and took her hands gently, completely confused as to what was going on.

“Caranthir,” she said, her voice a bit softer now, though many could still hear her easily, “you who have saved me from death so many times, who have saved me from destruction of mind … my anchor, my lifeline. There is one more position that I still need filled before I can begin my reign as queen here, and I was hoping, have been hoping for a long time, that you might fill it for me.”

Caranthir blinked at her. “And what position is that, O Queen?” he asked, tilting his head and smiling that silly smile of his.

For the first time, Aerin returned the same sort of goofy smile. “The position of king,” she replied simply. “Helpmeet and partner, for time and eternity.”

Caranthir smiled warmly and clasped her hands tightly. “That,” he said softly, “is a position that I would indeed be honoured to fill.”

Aerin smiled widely and leaned forward and kissed him firmly; and as she did so a fire circled around their clasped hands. When they once more stepped back from each other, she turned their hands palm upwards so that they could see.

In her palm was etched the runes reading the name Caranthir, and in his palm, the runes that read, Aerin.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:07 pm

While You Were Out
Location: Amon Darthir
Year: 106 F.A.
Status: Late Autumn

By the time Aethos headed back towards home for the night, he was exhausted. It had been a long, hard day for him. He had been out alone, scouting the other side of the island for any gnome activity. There had been some, but not a terrible amount. Still, it had been enough to keep him busy, and he had even had to dispatch of a few of them. Now it was dark, and he was more than ready to go home, eat, wash, and sleep. After, of course, reporting to the king, a task he never looked forward to.

As he flew over the city, he was startled to see that instead of everything being quiet, which would have been normal, the streets were lit and the people were out celebrating. Strange … he wondered what could have happened as he headed back towards the castle.

He returned the roc to the rookery and started down through the tower to find his father. At this time of night, he was probably either in bed, eating, or in his study. It was quite late after all.

Having entered through the rookery, the king’s bedchamber was the nearest room, and so that was where Aethos decided to check first. But when he arrived there, the door was wide open, and the room was undisturbed. Something bothered him about the way the door had been left open like that, but he didn’t dare question it. Nothing ever happened without his father’s knowledge or approval, so it had to be intentional.

Still, it was strange.

His study was the next nearest room, only a bit further down the hall, and the prince hurried towards it. He was tired and he wanted to eat and sleep as soon as he could. But that door was open as well, but rather than being undisturbed, it had been emptied. All of the scrolls and loose papers were gone, and all that was left was the bare furniture.

Bells went off in his head. Something was definitely wrong. Very wrong. Why would his father’s study be empty? … unless he had simply moved it. Perhaps he had chosen a different room for his study. He looked around for a guard to ask, but there was no one in sight. Something else that was strange.

Cautious now, he made his way to the stairs so that he could go down to the dining room. Something was not right, and he could not think what it might be. He made his way down the stairs slowly, one hand on his sword handle just in case something should happen. He thought back to the strangely lit up city. Something was going on there, too. Why? And what connection did it have to what was going on here?

As he descended lower into the castle, he heard voices, and he stopped to listen. Perhaps that way he would get a clue.

“… to the … so … down … rant … queen …” he heard, followed by a cheer.

He frowned. Queen? Had his father taken a second wife after all this time? But why would he do such a thing? And why would he empty out his study because of it? He started down the stairs again, a bit faster now that it seemed there was no danger. He strode quickly to the dining room and stepped inside – and stopped in shock. His father was still nowhere in sight, but there were Rhea and Captain Striate, and the talking cat, and a few of the soldiers, a tall blond man he had never seen before, Caranthir, and …

“Aethos!” Aerin exclaimed, running over to her brother and throwing her arms around him. She hugged him tightly. “I was wondering when you would get back!”

Aethos hugged his sister back, squeezing her tightly. “By the Valar, I thought I would never see you again,” he murmured, closing his eyes tightly to hide his sudden tears. He held her tightly. “What took you so long to come back?”

Aerin released him and smiled sadly at him. “A number of things,” she murmured. “Many things. I almost didn’t come back. But I had to.”

Aethos didn’t understand, but he supposed that if he were meant to, she would have been clearer. He smiled at her and cupped her cheek in his hand, brushing his thumb lightly over her cheek. “I’m glad you’re here,” he murmured sincerely. “When I heard you were still alive …”

Aerin smiled up at him, her eyes sparkling brightly. “I know,” she murmured. “But four hundred years was enough. It was time.”

She took his hand and led him over to the table to introduce everyone. “You know Captain Striate, of course,” she smiled. “And his wife, Rhea.”

Aethos blinked. That was a dangerous thing, to have gotten married while they were gone …

“It’s good to see you again, Aethos-sola,” Rhea said, smiling warmly at him.

“And you,” he replied automatically.

Aerin smiled and continued. “And the tall one there, that is Sir Elros, Alena’s husband.”

Aethos was startled again. “What?” he asked purely out of reflex.

Alena laughed softly and took Elros’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “We have been married since before our people came this way,” she smiled. “And only now, after so many thousands of years, have we been reunited.”

Aethos shook his head in disbelief. He had always wondered why the advisor had never married, never shown any interest … but this …

Aerin went on with the introductions. “And I understand that you have met Caranthir once before,” she smiled at her brother, “when he took me from this land and saved my life.” Her smile widened and her eyes grew warm as she looked up at the blond-haired man. “But let me introduce you to him properly. Aethos, I would like you to meet my husband, Caranthir.”

Caranthir chuckled and bowed to the prince. “It is an honour to see you again, Aethos,” he said warmly.

Aethos didn’t return the sentiment. Yes, he was grateful to the man for saving his sister, but he had not expected the man to use his position to con his sister into marrying him!

His temper flared. “I knew you were bad news the moment I laid eyes on you!” he accused him, pointing at him. “Four hundred years … I should have known you couldn’t be trusted with her!”

Before Caranthir could react, Aerin stepped between the two.

“Aethos, that is enough,” she said firmly, slapping his hand away. “Caranthir is an honourable man, something that seems to be lacking in this palace. It was I who asked him, and we were married only this afternoon, when we returned here.”

But the enchantment of Aerin’s return was gone now, and Aethos returned to the cold reality of the strange happenings that he had been observing since he returned to the city.

“Where are all the soldiers, the guards?” he asked, ignoring Caranthir entirely now. ‘Where is our father?”

“The men have returned to their homes, to spend some time with their families – with their wives and their children,” Aerin replied. “Many of them did not even know who their relations were, they were gone so much. That is not healthy for a kingdom, and especially not healthy for the people themselves.”

“And Father?” Aethos pressed.

Aerin gazed at him with a look akin to pity in her eyes. It was clear that she did not want to have to answer that question, but he knew that she would. She had to. He steeled himself for her response, knowing that it wouldn’t be good. He half expected her to say something about him being killed in combat or something, that some how something had happened, that there had been an accident, and that he was lost to them now.

“He is in prison.”

Aethos stared. That had not been an answer he had been expecting. And it made no sense. How could a king be in prison? In his own castle?

The colour faded from his face, and he took a half-step backwards. “Then …”

Aerin looked at him, her expression of pity deepening. “I told you,” she said softly. “I had to return. Our people were suffering, living in misery. That had to come to an end.”

Aethos was confused. How had she ended it? What had needed stopping? And if their father was in prison now, who was in charge? Without a king …

Wait … did that make him the king? He was his father’s heir after all …

There was a soft knock at the door, and a young man entered the room and bowed low. “Your Majesty,” he murmured.

Aethos turned to him. “What is it?” he asked, his tone hard.

The man swallowed hard. “I beg your pardon, Aethos-sola, but … I have a boon to ask of Her Majesty the Queen.”

Aethos was stunned. Aerin, queen? But – she hadn’t been around for four hundred years … she wasn’t the heir … how …

He blinked. She had imprisoned their father … she had usurped the throne … He looked at his sister in a whole new light. She was a usurper? And not just of their father’s throne, but of the throne that was rightly his …

He watched as she went to speak with the man, and through the entire conversation she was smiling. It was so foreign to him, that a ruler would be so kind to their subjects …

He shook his head. What was he thinking? They were his subjects, it was his place!

Before he could step forward or protest, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked to see Caranthir standing directly behind him. The blonde man was smiling at him easily, almost in a mocking manner, and he felt his temper rise again. But before he could speak, Caranthir cut him off.

“Before you rush to any conclusions,” he said softly, in a tone that Aethos couldn’t argue with, “wait to hear how all of this came about, and why.” His smile widened slightly and became more sincere. “I am certain that you will not be so angry then.”

Aethos pushed Caranthir’s hand off his shoulder and scowled at him. “We shall see,” he growled.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:08 pm

Long-Lost Heart-To-Heart
Location: Amon Darthir
Year: 106 F.A.
Status: Late Autumn

It had been a long day for Aerin. She had not slept the night before, and though she was used to little sleep, that didn’t mean it made things easy for her. Then there had been the long walk up from the furthest corner of their half of the island, and the delays and celebrations along the way. Then had come the showdown with her father, and that had been the most exhausting of all. Yet after that had come more celebrations with the people in the city, and then the feast at the castle, during which Aethos had shown up and some people from the city had also made an appearance, asking her for help. She was exhausted now, and that was saying something.

But she would not be able to rest just yet. Even though it was her wedding night, she would not be able to join her husband for a while. Before she could retire for the evening, before she could even think about resting, she had to talk to her brother and explain everything to him, from why she had not returned as soon as she had been well, to what had happened when she did return, and how she had ended up as queen rather than him taking over as king.

She only hoped that he would understand. He had appeared quite angry at dinner … not that she could blame him. It had been very sudden, very unexpected; and even when they had been young he had always looked up to their father.

Not her. Her oldest memory was that of her father berating her for not being a boy. And her other memories were no better: scolding Aethos for being such a poor leader, asking himself why Aethos couldn’t be more like Aerin. It was clear that he wanted his son to have his daughter’s qualities and wished he hadn’t had a daughter at all. For years, Aerin had wondered if he blamed her for killing her mother: it had been during labour with Aerin after all that she had died; but she had later learned from Alena that that was not the case, that he simply thought women were good for only one thing: procreation. That had made her sick, and already then she had determined that someday she would leave her country and her father.

When she reached the door of her brother’s bedchamber, she paused and took a deep breath. This was going to prove far more difficult than facing her father. She cared about her brother. She had never cared for her father. Not once she had realized what kind of a person he was.

She gave herself a moment to calm herself. She was trembling. So much uncertainty … how would her brother react? She really had no idea. She didn’t know him at all anymore. She only hoped that he would not be like their father, because if he was she was not sure what she would do.

Finally, she forced herself to knock.

“Come in,” came her brother’s voice through the wood of the door.

She closed her eyes briefly and took another deep breath before she let herself into the room. Once inside, she looked around. The room was dark, save for a single candle that was lit upon the desk near the window. It was also rather stark: besides the bed, desk and chair, there was nothing in the room, large though it was. Aethos was sitting in the chair, turned away from the desk and towards the door. He was not smiling, but rather appeared deep in thought: and when Aerin entered the room, his expression did not change.

He motioned towards the bed. “Go on. Sit down.”

Aerin did as he said, sitting on the very edge of the bed and watching her brother cautiously. She had no idea what he would do, how he would react, and so she had no idea if he might even attack her. There was simply no way to know, not until it happened.

“Aethos,” she said at the same time he said, “Aerin …”

Both of them stopped, and then Aerin nodded and murmured, “Go ahead.”

Aethos stared at her. “I’ve been sitting here and thinking … and I can’t help but wonder … why, Aerin? Why was all of this necessary? And why would you set yourself up as queen, when you know it’s my place to take over after Father?”

Aerin exhaled slowly, puffing out her cheeks and praying for the right words to say.

“I … am not sure where to begin,” she murmured. “There is so much … let me begin at the beginning then.” She clasped her hands together and leaned forward slightly. “Aethos, do you remember when we were children, how the king would always berate us for things that we could not control?”

“He is our father, Aerin,” Aethos said firmly. “You must refer to him that way.”

Considering the fact that he was no longer the king anymore, Aerin supposed she really didn’t have much choice.

“You’re dodging the question.”

Aethos looked away uncomfortably. “So?”

Aerin kept her gaze on him. “We were his children. He treated us better than he ever treated anyone else, and he treated us horribly.”

“We turned out all right.”

“By whose hand?” Aerin challenged him. “Alena was the one to raise us, not our father, and she was the only one who would ever give us a kind word.”

“You know that’s not true,” Aethos scowled. “Every day you were gone, he told me how much he wanted me to be like you. He worshiped you.”

“Except that I’m a woman,” she retorted. She stopped herself before it could descend into a petty argument. “Aethos, when I greeted him, he would not even look at me. He did not speak to me. He hates me as much as he hates anyone else. You know this is true. There is not one person on the entire island that he treats with any semblance of respect. He does not love the people. And that, Aethos, is what this is about. The people.”

“The people are fine.”

“They survive,” Aerin corrected him, “but that does not mean that they thrive. They live from day to day because they must, not because they want to. How often were the men allowed to visit their wives? How often did the children see their fathers? How many of the children even know what their fathers look like?”

Aethos looked away. “There are more important things.”

“No, there aren’t.” Aerin stood and moved to stand in front of her brother so that he would be forced to look at her. “Aethos, in my time away,” she said firmly, “if there is one thing that I learned, it is that family is more important than anything else. More important than war, especially a war that we have no hope of winning if things continue the way they are. No one, not even a king, should have the hold over someone’s life the way our father did. And look at the city, Aethos.”

She moved to the window, which overlooked the city below. “How the entire population fits into there, I have no idea. It needs to be expanded, and quickly. The winter is coming, and to my understanding the gnomes are almost entirely inactive during the winter. It is the perfect time to rebuild. It has to be done.”

“And why by you?” It was his turn to challenge her now. “I am Father’s heir, why have you taken the position of ruler?”

Aerin looked back at him, and her eyes filled with anger, though her tone remained patient.

“You had four hundred years to seize the opportunity to do something,” she told him calmly. “You did nothing. Four hundred years, you allowed the people to suffer. You allowed our father to do as he wanted. To torture the people. To ruin lives. To separate families. To keep our people from living, truly living. Aethos, when you waited four hundred years and still did nothing about it, you forfeited your birthright.”

She stepped towards him again. “If you truly cared for the people, I might actually take the time to consider what might be done for you. But four hundred years of inaction has proved that you do not deserve the position, heir or not.”

She sighed. “Do yourself a favour. Tomorrow, early, go to the city and see what the people are like. If they are truly discontented with what I have done, I will step down willingly.”

She didn’t have to stipulate the other possibility. If she was right, and if the people were happy with what she had done, then she would retain her new position, as would the people she had assigned to other positions. It was a tricky agreement, but really, did Aethos have much of a choice? Not that he could see.

He rose slowly from his chair. “But … why prison?” he asked in a quiet tone. “Why throw Father in prison? Why … why not …”

“Why not what?” Aerin asked gently, the fire fading from her eyes. She stepped forward and put one hand on his. “What else could I have done? If he were free, he would terrorize people into doing what he commanded again, and the people would only be worse off than before. Should I have killed him? My own father? The man who sired me, whose blood runs through my veins? I know there are many who would wish that upon him, but I could not do it.”

“So he will remain in prison … how long?” her brother asked, his tone filled with pain. “You cannot just let him remain there forever …”

“I cannot set him free,” Aerin replied firmly. “That is what I know. He ought to stand trial for his crimes and be judged for them. That is what ought to happen. I only fear that I will not have the strength.” She sighed. “And yet it must be done.”

Aethos looked away. He still didn’t like the idea. Not one bit. But he could only admit that she was right. Father or not, he had not been a good king to his people. He sighed. So now what?

“I must … think on these things,” he murmured, turning away from his sister. “Go to your husband, I’m sure he is waiting eagerly for your return.”

Aerin came up behind him and put one hand on his shoulder. “You should rest,” she murmured. “With rest, things will be more clear.”

She was not surprised when he did not answer her. After a brief pause, she turned and left the room, closing the door tightly behind her. She spoke to the guards outside his door, instructing them to keep an eye on him.

After all, she may just have made her first and possibly worst enemy.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:09 pm

Unexpected Delivery Request
Location: Aldrich Plantation, Southland
Year: 106 F.A.
Status: Late Stirring

Life on the plantation was pretty much routine, for Nadya just as much as anyone else. Breakfast, cleanup, paperwork, lunch with Gion, housework, dinner, bath, bed. Simple, comfortable, and fulfilling. She was able to keep track of distant family members by her many visions, and thanks to the gift that she shared with her daughter she could also have frequent conversations with her. All in all, it was a pleasant life.

One day however, something happened to Nadya that had never happened before. While she was doing her morning paperwork, she heard a voice in her head, one that she had never heard before.

Nadya, it said, my name is Rhea Aldrich Striate. We have never met, but my grandparents are Ulani and Ulrich Aldrich, whom you know. The message was accompanied by an image of a young woman, black-haired and energetic-looking.

Ah, Nadya replied, smiling as she looked up from her work. The young woman who accompanied my nephew and Lin on their voyage.

Yes, the voice came back. And now I live in one of the lands that we found, Amon Darthír. My husband is Captain Aurin Striate of the Queen’s army, and on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Aerin, I must ask a favour of you.

Nadya was intrigued, and she set her quill down and folded her hands together. Yes?

Don’t put your quill down, the voice laughed, shocking Nadya.

How could she possibly have known what she was doing? She closed her eyes and lowered her head and Saw the young woman standing in front of a desk across from a fire-haired woman wearing a circlet. Clearly a queen by her dress, and the dark-haired woman was obviously a member of the court. She smiled to herself. Another seer, and one stronger than herself. She picked up the quill again and reached for a fresh sheet of paper. What do you need?

Letters sent out, Rhea’s voice replied. Four letters. We cannot send them from here, but it is important that these letters get to their recipients as soon as possible.

I hope everything is all right, Nadya thought as she began to take dictation. To whom am I writing?

The first letter is to Prince Eärendil Aldrich, Rhea replied. The second to Prince Shea Aldrich. The third to Prince Mikhail Aldrich. The fourth to Princess Arwen Aldrich.

Nadya could think of nothing that the four had in common, besides their lineage, but she wrote the names down obediently.

All four will be identical, the voice came again. I will try not to take up too much of your time.

Despite knowing that she was alone, Nadya nodded and dipped her quill into the inkwell and prepared to write again. I’m ready.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:10 pm

Frustration and Confusion
Location: Tor Karad, Southland
Year: 108 F.A.
Status: Mid Spring

For three days after the group of travelers left for Namonuito, Ruel did nothing but scowl. At meals, while he was working, relaxing, and even at night when he and Luthien went to bed, he only scowled. At first Luthien was of the opinion that it was simply a phase that would pass, but day after day passed and, if anything, he only seemed to get worse.

On the fourth night, however, she decided that it had to end. She was going to put a stop to it.

“Ruel,” she said as they started to get ready for bed.

He didn’t reply, but simply started to undress.

“Ruel,” she repeated, her voice firm.

“I’m listening,” Ruel snapped, his face darkening as he turned to look at her. “What do you want?”

Luthien winced at his tone, and immediately Ruel’s face softened. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean …”

He stepped forward and put his hands lightly on Luthien’s shoulders, but she shrugged out from his touch, shaking her head.

“Ruel,” she murmured, her voice filled with emotion, “what’s happened to you? You haven’t been like this in years … not since Riordan left …”

Ruel’s face darkened again at the mention of his estranged twin, and he turned away angrily. “You said you wouldn’t bring him up again.”

“And I wouldn’t if you weren’t acting like this,” she replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed and watching her husband as he paced the floor. “But you’re angry like you were then, and this time I don’t understand why.”

“Don’t you?” Ruel glared at her. “Our son is courting a woman who-”

“Don’t start on the question of race,” Luthien said in a warning tone, her voice suddenly cold.

“I wasn’t going to,” Ruel replied, equally coldly.

“Then that’s a first,” Luthien shot back. “You haven’t liked Lin since the day she arrived, though she’s done nothing wrong.”

“She is unmarried and already has a daughter,” he retorted. “That alone-”

“She’s adopted,” Luthien pointed out. “Miyuki is adopted. And so was your own grandmother, in case you had forgotten. So what’s wrong with that? Miyuki doesn’t look anything like Lin, and even less like Eärendil! No one would ever make any assumptions about them.”

“They may as well,” Ruel scowled. “What with the two of them going off again … for who knows how long.”

“Don’t you trust your own son?” Luthien asked in disbelief, amazed at his attitude.

“Sure I do!” he replied without hesitation. “But I trusted Riordan, too.”

“So because your brother was a fool, you don’t trust your own son.” Luthien’s face grew red with anger. “You, Ruel, are the fool. Our son is a good man, an honourable man. He would never do anything to dishonour either of us, or himself, or Lin! Especially Lin.”

Ruel glared icily at her. “If he would never do anything to dishonour us, then why would he-”

“Don’t you even think about finishing that sentence,” his wife warned him in a frosty tone. “Don’t you dare.”

“Why not?” Ruel challenged her. “Even if I accept it, no one outside the family ever will. They would never be able to stay here, who knows if they would even be able to get away with a visit once it got out? You know what people are like.”

“Like you?”

Ruel blinked at her, stunned into silence, and for a long moment the two of them just stared at each other. Luthien was clearly furious with him, but it wasn’t until that comment that he finally realized just how angry she was, and what she thought of him. It floored him … literally. He felt weak, and he took a step back and slowly sat down in his chair.

“You don’t honestly think that … do you?” he asked in a whisper, his face pale.

Luthien swallowed hard and looked away. “It’s true, isn’t it?” she replied simply. “Since the day Lin first arrived seventy years ago, you’ve always treated her like a lesser being. Never shown her any respect, not even common courtesy. That alone has tortured Eärendil for years.”

She looked back at him, and her eyes were bloodshot, as if she were fighting to keep herself from tears. Ruel felt guilt wash over him, but before he could say anything, Luthien spoke again.

“You’ve been like this since before we met,” she whispered, her tone filled with pain. “Most of the people who have met you have met with the same treatment. It’s as if you just can’t respect anyone but me.”

“No,” Ruel said harshly, “that’s not it!”

“Then what is it?” Luthien demanded, angry once more. “Since you’ve learned about Eärendil’s love for Lin, you’ve been easily angered, and now that his feelings are returned you’re an absolute monster! You can’t converse with anyone without making them feel absolutely awful. Even me. With the very first words that you speak, you make everyone feel terrible.”

“I- I’m sorry,” Ruel said quietly, but Luthien interrupted him yet again.

“No,” she said, calmer now. “No, Ruel, you’re not sorry. If you were, you would stop. Not get worse.” She rose to her feet and gazed at him evenly. “Our son has a chance at a happiness greater than our own, and you are the one and only person who can take that away from them.”

She looked at the door, then back at Ruel. “I think it would be best if I slept with Aranxia tonight. I’ll see you at breakfast.”

A few minutes later, as she slipped into bed with her granddaughter, Aranxia sighed softly in her sleep and snuggled against her side.

“Nako?” she murmured sleepily, cracking her eyes open just a sliver. “Is Neko going to be nicer now?”

Luthien wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and murmured softly back, “I hope so.”

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:10 pm

Don't You Know, Neko?
Location: Tor Karad, Southland
Year: 108 F.A.
Status: Mid Spring

Aranxia was usually a very quiet and well-behaved girl. She stayed away from areas she was supposed to stay away from, attended her lessons and did her work without complaining. Sometimes she was so good that some people got into the habit of overlooking her, which was usually how she preferred it to be. She loved the peace and quiet of being left alone more than anything else.

Today she had been quite confused, though, and that had prevented her from paying strict attention to her studies. Since she was always left alone to do her work, however, no one noticed. And since there was no one to stop her, she left the library and began to wander the halls aimlessly.

Her grandmother had often come to sleep with her before, but never before had she been crying. Luthien hadn’t been aware that Aranxia knew: Aranxia had been very sleepy and her eyes had been close even though her mind had been racing. She knew that sometimes her grandparents argued, but this time it must have been very bad. Yet for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what it could possibly have been about.

She wandered past her great-grandmother’s study, and she glanced into the room as she passed by. The queen was hard at work, probably looking over the kingdom’s finances. Down the hall, Sir Valdemar was tutoring Regan, and a little further on was the door to her grandfather’s forge. She paused thoughtfully there, and stared at the door for several long moments. It was one of those places that she was usually forbidden to go, it being so dangerous in there, but there was no heat coming from the door, and when she put her ear against it, she couldn’t hear that usual rumble of the forge. She didn’t think twice about it, but opened the door and slipped inside.

As she made her way down the stairs, what struck her as being the most peculiar was the coolness. The lack of sound could simply have meant that he was taking a break, but the lack of heat meant that the forge hadn’t even been turned on that morning … and that was unusual. She continued downwards cautiously, wondering if perhaps the forge would start up while she was there, or if something had happened to her grandfather.

“Neko?” she called out hesitantly as she reached the bottom of the steps.

There was no reply, but she heard a soft scuffling sound in the next room. Worried, she headed over to investigate.

“Neko?” she called again as she entered the second room.

She had never been in the forge room proper before, and she looked around in wonder at the various metals that were stacked or hung about the room. There were also many tools: tongs, hammers, several anvils of various shapes and sizes; moulds and pincers and crowbars, and many more things that she couldn’t name.

She heard the shuffling sound again, and she followed the sound past the forge and the billows, through a doorway, and into another room that she had never known was there. It was more like a planning room than a work room, and it had a long table with large sheets of paper and writing tools for planning and taking notes.

Ruel was sitting at the table, his back to the door, silent and immobile.

“Neko?” Aranxia asked again, this time surprised. “Why aren’t you working?” She walked around the table and sat directly across from him. The table was too tall for her, and she sat on her knees on the stool and leaned forward on her elbows reaching halfway across the table. “Neko,” she tried again, “are you trying to think how to make Nako feel better?”

Ruel started. “What?”

“Are you trying to think of how to make Nako feel better?” Aranxia repeated patiently. “Because if you’re not, then you should be. It’s really quite mean to make her cry like that.”

He stared at her, suddenly paying close attention to her words.

Aranxia looked at her grandfather innocently. “Didn’t you know?” she asked him. “Nako came to sleep with me last night because she was crying. What did you say to her this time?”

Ruel blinked stupidly. “I didn’t say anything …”

“You’re a terrible liar, Neko,” Aranxia frowned at him. “I can always tell. You did too say something mean; and you know it very well.”

Ruel leaned forward on his elbows, mirroring his granddaughter’s stance. “And if you know so much,” he replied evenly, looking into her eyes, “then what did I say to make your grandmother so upset?”

Aranxia pursed her lips and looked at her grandfather thoughtfully. “Well,” she said, somewhat dramatically, “I think that it probably had something to do with you being so grumpy all the time, or about how you’re really mean to Lin, or how you always make Uncle Eärendil sad or angry.”

“I don’t-” Ruel began, but he cut himself off. He stared at her in silent amazement. Was it really so obvious? Was he so terrible that even his eight year old granddaughter saw and recognized it?

Aranxia grinned. “See? You do know what I’m talking about,” she winked at him.

Ruel shifted uncomfortably and sat back again. “And what am I supposed to do about it?”

“Be nicer, of course!” Aranxia replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “The fact that Nako is an elf isn’t the reason you love her, or else you would love all elves, and you don’t. You love Nako because she is who she is, and that’s all! It’s the same for Uncle Eärendil. He doesn’t love Lin because she’s an angel, and he doesn’t love her because she’s not an elf. He loves her because she’s Lin, and it wouldn’t be any different even if she was an elf or if she was a human, or a … an anything! He just loves her for her. So you should be nicer to both of them.”

She stopped and looked at her grandfather, who was looking back at her. For a moment, neither of them spoke, and then Aranxia smiled innocently. “And once you figure that out, then other people might start being nicer back to you, too.”

Ruel just continued to stare at her. For all the many times over the past decades that his wife had tried to tell him exactly that, this was the first time he had actually heard it explained in such a way as made sense to him, made him realize exactly how much of an idiot he had been.

Aranxia grinned at him, then hopped off her chair and came around the table.

“It’s okay, Neko,” she told him, putting one hand on his knee. “Everyone has something they need to be told.”

She reached up and gave him a hug, then headed towards the door. “Bye, Neko!” she called back to him brightly, as if nothing had happened. “I’ll see you later!”

And she left him alone with only his thoughts for company.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:11 pm

Aggressive Attentions
Location: Nauros
Year: 27369 (108 F.A.)
Status: Dry Season

Returning home from her time away had not been quite what Haldia had expected. Yes, there had been joy at her return, as well as a feast in her honour, and many of her friends and even some people with whom she had never before spent a lot of time had flocked to her to sask her about her time away and the other places she had seen. She had never been very social, and the enormous amount of attention had been somewhat unsettling to her. It didn’t help that her sleeping pattern was now completely skewed: after a few years of sleeping at night rather than during the day, she was finding it quite difficult to sleep in the light as she had once done so naturally.

There was something else that bothered her, too, something she had never expected, and which took her completely by surprise, and which really made her miss Kelirahc very much: now that her best friend was gone, she had not one, not two, but three men trying to court her. They were nice men, to be fair, and they weren’t being pushy or anything; but it was just the strangeness of knowing that there were people who cared so much for her, and that there was even more than one of them. She had found small gifts at the door of her hut on numerous occasions, though she hadn’t accepted any of them. It wasn’t that she didn’t like any of the men who were trying to win her affection: it was just that she didn’t feel anything special towards them, either. But now, due to the attention she was getting, she was becoming more and more solitary, as she had been for the most part during her time on the continent. She would simply take off with Rhiel and be gone for a whole night at a time.

On this particular night, she was sitting on the edge of the volcano and looking down into it thoughtfully, watching the lava far below. Kelirahc had liked watching the lava … and Lin and Eärendil had been intrigued by it as well. Even Leyenda had wanted to explore it … why were all of her own people so afraid of it? Would Cald, Durin or Krendren ever want to come and explore it with her? Would they ever be interested in visiting other places? Would they be willing to leave their home to visit other people or countries?

She looked down at the necklace that hung around her neck. She didn’t want to compare things that really didn’t compare – apples and oranges, so Arwen would say – but the gifts that her suitors were bringing her every day, they just couldn’t compare to the gift that Eärendil had given her. Not that she felt anything for him either: like Kelirahc, Eärendil was a friend: a very special friend, admittedly, but a friend nonetheless.

But relationships weren’t about presents, she knew that, and she firmly believed that: which meant there had to be another reason why she was so resistant to her suitors. Had she seen too much of what she thought was the perfect love? Watching Kelirahc and Leyenda, even before they could speak the same language, , she could only feel amazement. And Eärendil, how many years had he waited for Lin? That was love. But had she seen so much that she was holding herself back from finding any love of her own? What if she was meant to love one of the men who were courting her, and she simply wasn’t giving them a chance by insisting that she needed to feel the same passion she had seen?

But she couldn’t choose one of them just for the sake of choosing someone, either.

“Haldia,” a voice behind her said suddenly, startling her.

Haldia whirled around at the sound, and Rhiel vanished in a shower of blue sparkles. “Cald,” she greeted him, flustered. “I didn’t hear you coming …”

He smiled at her. “I called your name three times … you must have really been deep in thought. It’s usually impossible to catch you off guard.”

Haldia blushed hotly, though her black skin hid it well. “I suppose I was,” she admitted. “I don’t believe I’ve ever has so much on my mind before.”

“Do I dare hope that I’m one of the reasons your mind is so busy?” he asked with a warm smile. He motioned towards the rock next to her. “Mind if I sit down?”

“Actually,” Haldia said quickly, rising to her feet, “I’m about ready to head back. You can walk with me if you’d like.”

“I would,” Cald smiled broadly, his golden eyes lighting up brightly in the moonlight. He fell into step next to her. “But you didn’t answer my question.”

Haldia blinked at him innocently. “How do I know what you dare hope?” she asked in reply. “I’m not a mind-reader.”

“A what?”

Haldia chuckled. “Never mind.”

Such gifts as the Light and Dark elves had were unheard of here. Even if she explained it, he wouldn’t believe her.

“My point is, you asked me if you dared hope something. There is no possible way for me to know that.”

“Well, in that case,” Cald mused, “I do. I hope that you were busy thinking of me.”

He looked at Haldia expectantly, but she simply looked back at him expressionlessly. The two stared at each other for several long seconds, Cald obviously waiting for something, and Haldia trying not to laugh.

“Well?” Cald asked finally, clearly bothered by the fact that she wasn’t saying anything.

It was getting harder for Haldia not to laugh. “Well, what?” she asked, struggling to hold back a smile.

“Well, were you?”

“Was I what?”

An agitated expression crossed Cald’s face. “Thinking of me!” he exclaimed, frustrated.

It was too much for Haldia. She started to giggle, but soon it was an all-out laugh. It was mean of her, she knew, but on the other hand she just couldn’t help herself. It was her fault for messing with him like that, but it was amusing nonetheless.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized finally, thought she was still laughing. “I couldn’t resist.” He smiled at her uncertainly, and she reached out and patted him gently on the shoulder. “Yes,” she smiled, “I was thinking of you … as well as others.”

At his questioning look, she sighed softly and looked away from him, her amusement suddenly gone. Serious now, she tried to explain.

“Before you assume anything either way,” she murmured, “you have to know that I – I also don’t know. I mean … I like you well enough, you are a friend to me: but I don’t love you. Or Durin. Or Krendren. But I don’t not love you, either.”

Cald looked confused. “That makes no sense.”

“It’s the best way I can explain it,” Haldia replied helplessly. “I don’t feel anything special towards you, but I don’t feel negatively towards your advances, either. I just don’t know. But I can’t accept anyone’s advances unless I feel something special.”

He watched her silently for a while as they reached the base of the volcano and kept walking. It was clear that he was troubled about something, but what that was, Haldia couldn’t figure out.

“I can’t force my emotions,” she said defensively, as if he were going to try to push the issue.

“No.” His voice was soft, but firm. “Haldia, don’t lie to me. If you’re not interested, just say so, but do not lie to me.”

Haldia blinked and stared. “What?”

“I said, don’t lie to me.” He frowned at her. “That hurts more than if you had said that you can’t stand to be near me. But to hear you say you don’t know, or that there’s no one you feel strongly about … that hurts.”

“But it’s the truth!” Haldia protested.

“No, it’s not!” Cald said harshly, startling Haldia again. “Since you’ve come back from your trip you’ve been solitary and reclusive. You’ve hardly spoken to anyone at all.”

“I’ve just had a lot on my mind,” Haldia protested. “You shouldn’t be taking this so personally!”

“That’s not it, Haldia!” Cald was even more frustrated than ever. “You’re pining!”


“After whomever it is that you met while you were gone.” Cald was angry now. “Who is it, Haldia? Is it Kelirahc? You always used to follow him everywhere. Or is it that Eärendil fellow? Or one of those cat-people-”

“Cald, no!” Haldia protested, trying to cut him off. “I’m-”

“-or is it one of the other men-”


“-or is it that kid-”


“What was his name? Celeb?”


Cald stopped short, his eyes blazing, but he remained silent and waited for Haldia to speak.

It took a while for Haldia to be able to speak. She was angry now, too, but she didn’t want to start shouting at him and make things worse. She knew one thing from experience: two people shouting at each other achieved absolutely nothing. It took her a full few minutes to calm down.

“First of all,” she said through clenched teeth, “don’t you ever accuse me of lying. I know I have a lot of shortcomings, but I do not lie. I hate liars, as I’m sure most people do. So don’t ever, ever accuse me of lying!”

She glared at Cald, but he didn’t seem inclined to answer, so she went on.

“As for your accusations, no, I do not love any of them, nor am I pining for any of them. Yes, I have changed since I left, and yes, it is likely because of them. But that does not mean that I’m pining or that I’m in love, it simply means that I’ve seen more of this world and that I have different perspectives on things. And one of the things that I’ve realized is that I can’t just rush into things, I need to slow down, calm down, take my time and think through my decisions before making them. Life lasts too long to rush into anything I might later regret. Anything worth doing is worth taking the time to do right. We are immortal, Cald. There is no need for pressure. On either of our parts.”

She took another deep breath to calm herself. She had worked herself up while she had been speaking, and she needed to calm herself down again.

“You might say that you’ve changed,” Cald murmured, shaking his head, “but in some ways, you really haven’t.”

Haldia started walking again, and Cald had to hurry to keep up with her. “In what way?”

Cald shook his head again. “That temper of yours is as hot as ever.”

Haldia smiled faintly. “Temper, yes,” she admitted with a soft laugh. “As hot as before, no. Sorry. If it were, you would know it.”

Cald smiled softly. “So … what am I supposed to take from this conversation?” he asked her seriously. “Should I – or the others – continue with our attentions towards you?”

Haldia lowered her gaze. “I don’t want to encourage you,” she murmured quietly, “but I don’t want to discourage you, either. I can’t promise results … but I can’t say that nothing will ever come of it. So … I guess that the only thing to remember is … the only way you’re sure to fail is if you give up trying.”

She glanced over at Cald once more. “How does that sound to you? All right?”

Cald looked back at her expressionlessly for a moment, then slowly nodded and smiled.

“Yeah,” he agreed softly. “I suppose that does work.”

Haldia smiled back at him. “Then why don’t we talk about something else while we head back home?” she suggested.

Cald’s smile widened. “Sounds good to me,” he agreed readily.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:12 pm

Fearful Respect
Location: Amon Darthir
Year: 109 F.A.
Status: Mid Spring

Though Aerin had kept on Alena as her counselor, as her father had done before her, she had also asked Rhea to be a second counselor. For the first while, she had consulted the two on every move she made, but once Rhea had become too pregnant to get around easily, Alena had returned to her role of sole counselor. Still, she had consulted with Rhea on many matters, even after the twins had been born and Rhea was preoccupied. Now, with them already half a month old, Alena made more effort to consult with Rhea once more. Though the children did bear looking after, Alena was always glad to help out.

This particular day, Alena had helped Rhea take the twins to the courtyard, where they could talk in peace and enjoy the beautiful weather. Each of them held one of the babies while they talked. As usual, their tone was serious, but rather than talking about the kingdom in general, their topic today was the First Sola.

“I understand he’s going to be accompanying Eärendil-sola and Lin back to the continent,” Alena commented thoughtfully. “It will be good for him to see how their land works.”

“And meet some more people,” Rhea commented dryly. “I mean … here he’s ostracized because of his past. People here won’t treat him any differently until he shows change, and he won’t change unless he sees that people treat him differently when he’s being a good person instead of always intimidating them. He needs to be around people who aren’t afraid of him to begin with, then he’ll see that it is worth it to put a stop to the way he’s been living his life.”

Alena looked at Rhea, impressed. “You’ve been putting a lot of thought into this.”

Rhea shrugged. “I’ve seen it before. Or rather, I know of a case. It was before I was born. There was a fighter on the ranch where I grew up … Aragost. When he arrived, everyone was terrified of him. And he did nothing to change that. But when the children came, and they didn’t care what he looked like, and just … loved him, the others began to view him differently, and now he’s one of the most loved people there.”

“Well, it makes sense,” Alena mused, looking down at Xion, who was in her arms and beginning to fuss. She rocked him gently. “And he’s already agreed to go … but should we get our hopes up already?”

Rhea smiled at Alena, watching her interact with Xion. “Probably not. But I’m hopeful. By the way, have you and Elros considered having children? You’re so natural …”

To her surprise, Alena blushed. “Well … we had discussed it … and we were going to, but then you announced that you were expecting, and we couldn’t leave Queen Aerin without either of her counselors …”

Rhea laughed. “Well, I’m back on commission, so don’t worry about me there,” she grinned. “And really, you’ve been waiting for so long … you deserve it.”

Alena smiled widely. “Well. We’ll see what happens,” she murmured softly. “At any rate, that’s not what we came out here to discuss.”

“No, it’s not,” Rhea giggled. She opened her mouth to speak again, but she spotted Aethos behind Alena, coming towards them up the path. She smiled at him. “Good morning, Aethos-sola.”

Aethos nodded curtly, his pace slowing as he approached the women. “Good morning, Lady Rhea. Lady Alena. I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were meeting here … do you know where …”

He trailed off as Rhea fixed her gaze on him. “What?”

Rhea shook her head, but she didn’t say anything. He was lying … she just wasn’t sure why. He had seen the two of them coming out here, he had known they would be there … he had come after them quite deliberately. She could See this. But she couldn’t see why. Why was he lying about it?”

Alena was watching Rhea thoughtfully, trying to figure out what she was thinking. Something was bothering her … and something was bothering the sola. She didn’t have the Sight, but having raised Aethos as a mother, she could read his face, and she could see, just as Rhea could See, that he was lying.

“Were you looking for me?” she asked him, smiling softly to put him at ease.

The sola looked relieved, and he nodded. “I … was wondering if I might have a word with you,” he murmured.

Alena looked at Rhea, who held out her free arm to take Xion from her. “Go ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait.”

Alena passed the fussing infant to Rhea, then headed off with Aethos to talk to him. They were gone only a few minutes before Alena returned alone. There was a smile playing about the corners of her mouth, as if she were trying to hold back a laugh, and her green eyes were sparkling brightly.

“What?” Rhea asked as Alena took Xion back from her. “What did he want?”

“Apparently his lie was an attempt to be polite,” Alena replied, a smile breaking through. “He had wanted to ask me something, but when he saw that we were actually meeting, rather than simply strolling, he didn’t want to interrupt. He just wanted to ask me how his father is doing, since of course he’s not allowed to see him.”

She rocked Xion gently, smiling down at him. “And it seems he’s somewhat unnerved by you,” she added with a grin.

“By me?” Rhea laughed. “Why ever for?”

“Because of your gift,” Alena giggled. “It unnerves him that you can see his thoughts, his true motives. Oh, he respects you well enough, but I think you also terrify him.”

Rhea laughed again. “Well, that’s interesting. I would hardly describe myself as frightening, but then, I’ve never had anyone to frighten before.” She paused, then amended, “Well, no one I’ve frightened on purpose.”

“Speaking of which, how is it going with Aerennel?” Alena asked. “Have you been to see him since the twins were born?”

Rhea shook her head. “I should soon, though. Thanks for the reminder.”

Xion was really starting to fuss now, and even Alena’s rocking could do nothing to calm him.

Rhea smiled faintly. “I should go back to my room to feed them,” she murmured. “Rhiannon will be starting any moment now.”

“I’ll help you take them,” Alena offered, standing.

Rhea nodded. “Thank you. Though I’m afraid we’re going to have to continue this discussion another time.”

“Definitely,” Alena agreed as they headed off, leaving the courtyard behind.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:13 pm

Location: Nauros
Year: 110 F.A.
Status: Early Dry Season

After Celeb’s little temper tantrum, he was quite surprised when Haldia told the others that she wanted to walk with him while they went to the river. He was well aware of how he had acted, and he was ashamed of it. Part of him wanted to be left alone on the trek, but the other part of him was flattered that she would tell the others that she wanted to spend time with him. He knew it was foolish of him, but he couldn’t help it.

“Look,” he said quickly as she joined him, “before you say anything … I need to apologize. I was stupid before, just … throwing it at you and expecting everything.”

“Well,” Haldia mused, pursing her lips thoughtfully, “I cannot argue with you about that. You are right. You were quite stupid before.”

“You don’t have to agree with me!” Celeb protested, but Haldia giggled, silencing him.

“Celeb,” she murmured, “I am flattered that you think so highly of me. But let me tell you of some things that you need to consider. First, you must remember that the last time I saw you, you were still a child. More of a child than you are now. You were barely ten years old. I was fond of you – as I am still, but … you were a child.”

“I’m not a child,” Celeb muttered darkly.

“You are fourteen,” Haldia pointed out.

Celeb clamped his mouth tightly shut. He had walked into that one.

“Anyways,” Haldia went on, more quietly now, “since I have returned here, I have been offered gifts from others, as well. I have not accepted any of those gifts either. In the three years that I have been back, I have not accepted a single gift. I am not ready to accept anything from anyone, not yet. I am not asking you to stop. All I am saying is: give me time. Let us get to know each other again. You are not the child you were, though you are still young. But you are older now, older than you were. More grown up. I trust that you know your mind, and that you know your heart. But I do not know my own.”

She hesitated a moment, then shook her head.

“What?” Celeb asked eagerly. “What is it?”

“Nothing that I can share at the moment,” she murmured in reply. How could she tell him that she had just realized something? That all these years, when Cald had accused her of having feelings for someone from her voyage and she had denied it, he had been right after all? It wasn’t making sense even to her, how could she tell him anything?

Celeb stared at her. “You’re really not going to tell me.”

Haldia smiled faintly. “That is what I said. Yes.”

Celeb was silent for a while as they walked beneath the trees. He munched on a banana, and this time he didn’t bother offering it to Haldia. He knew that she wouldn’t take it, and he didn’t think he could handle any more rejection.

“Celeb,” she said softly after a while, “please understand … I want us to remain as friends. The way we used to be. When we could talk about anything and everything, and spend time together and never tire of each other. You helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life, and that is something that I will never forget.” She put one hand on his arm. “If something more comes of this, then it will come, but if you distance yourself and make yourself cold, then nothing could ever come of it.”

For a moment, Celeb just stared at her, and then he nodded slowly. “I understand.”

Haldia smiled, then lowered her hand once more. “So you just hold on to whatever it is that is in your pocket,” she murmured. “Perhaps you will have need of it someday.”

“I’ll wait,” Celeb said firmly, sure of himself. “However long it takes. I’ll wait.”

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:13 pm

Suspicious Passings
Location: Caras Galadhon
Year: 109 F.A.
Status: Midsummer

A knock at the door startled Luk from his sleep. He snorted and looked around groggily. His sword, which he’d had unsheathed across his belly, slid slowly from its perch and hit the ground with a thunk.

“Senator,” a deep voice came from the other side of the door. “Senator, you are needed.”

Luk ran a hand over his face and rubbed his eyes tiredly. The week had been far too busy for him, and he was behind on his rest. All he wanted was five hours at once, was that too much to ask?

“Senator?” The knock repeated, harder this time. “Senator!”

“Is that really necessary?” Luk shouted, one leg dropping off the side of his hammock. He threw his other leg over the side as well, then heaved himself over the edge, landing heavily on his feet. Leaving his sword where it had fallen, he shuffled over to the door and yanked it open, startling the man on the other side. “What is it?”

The man, one of the island’s guardians, didn’t hesitate. “Senator, the senate is meeting right now. There have been more sightings, there is one right now!”

Luk blinked at the man, squinting in the harsh sunlight. Suddenly awake, he darted back into his house and grabbed his sword, then ran out of the house, closing the door behind him.

“Details,” he barked at the guardian.

“Roc,” the man replied. “The same one that passed by nine days ago. On its way east there was one man riding it, now it is returning west with two men, a woman, and a winged child.”

“Something is happening.” Luk’s brow furrowed. “There is too much traffic to the Sky Elves.” He looked back at the guardian. “How long ago was it that the ship left the island?”

“Eight weeks, Senator. They would have reached Nauros a few days ago.”

Luk nodded again. “Something is going on,” he murmured. “The Sky Elves have never had anything to do with anyone else until a few years ago, and now they’re a regular port.”

They passed through the city gates, but the beauty of the silver-trimmed marble escaped his mind. It was nothing new to him, after all. He picked up his pace and started to run towards the Senate building: large circular building with marble columns holding up the large windowed dome.

It didn’t take him long to arrive, and when he did he set his sword in its place on the pegs on the side of one of the columns before taking his spot in a circle of marble seats. The black satin sash that marked his seat slid ever so slightly as he shifted into a semi-comfortable position.

He had been the last to arrive. The other senators were already in their seats, their swords hung in their places: Accalon in his seat of gold; Aeolus in his seat of red; Favian in his seat of purple; Kyrie in his seat of blue; Lucien in his seat of green; Milo in his seat of yellow; Cantor in his seat of orange; and Khenan in the seat of silver, the highest position.

As soon as Luk sat down, Khenan rose, raising his hands for silence.

“Senators,” he said, looking around at them. “We are here to discuss the strange goings on that have been taking place of late. There has been too much activity around the Sky Elves – rocs leaving the island and coming back with more people, enormous ships coming and going … for all we know they could be plotting something against us.”

“How do we even know that they know of our existence?” Aeolus spoke up, standing up. He looked around at the others as Khenan sat down again. “Only once was there a flight directly over the island, and that was years ago, and not to or from the Sky Elves. It was not even a roc like theirs!”

“But we cannot be too cautious,” Favian interrupted, taking his turn to speak. “If something is being planned and we do nothing, our people will suffer. If we put resources towards an inquiry and nothing is going to happen, then at least we will know for certain. Living in doubt is not an option.”

He sat down again, and Accalon rose. “Then what are we going to do?” he asked, looking around at the others. “We have no way to intercept the sky travelers. Our only option would be to contact one of the ships. But how do we go about it without appearing to be attacking them? We do not want to cause conflict where there might not yet be any.”

For a moment there was silence as each of the men thought quietly to themselves. Luk looked around at the other senators. They were fearful – and rightly so. Too strong a move one way, and they could very well cause the very war they were trying to avoid. Too strong a move the other way, and they could be accused of apathy.

He put one hand on each arm of his seat and pushed himself out of his chair, his body complaining with every movement, demanding rest. Well, that would have to wait, he mused as all eyes turned to him.

“Senator Accalon is right,” he said, his blue eyes moving from senator to senator. “We must communicate with them. My suggestion is this: that we keep the guardians on the lookout for the ship specifically, and as soon as it comes into view we send out an escort to bring them here for talks. No threats, no weapons, just a firm invitation. If they refuse, we will have reason to be suspicious. If they do not, then there is a chance that everything is fine. But we cannot risk either causing problems or ignoring them.”

As he took his seat again, Khenan rose once more.

“Then we will put it to a vote,” he said firmly. “All in favour of Senator Luk’s proposal.”

Eight hands rose into the air. He counted them all, and then, with a satisfied nod, added his own to make it unanimous.

“So let it be,” he said solemnly.

Eight other voices echoed his words, and the senate dispersed to make preparations.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:14 pm

Surprise Interview
Location: Amon Darthir
Year: 112 F.A.
Status: Late Winter

It was snowing softly outside, but the air was not cold. Cool, yes, but it was the perfect temperature to relax at the end of an exhausting day. Since the construction of the new city had been completed, in some ways things had gotten easier for Aerin – life had become routine, the people were content, businesses were flourishing – but in other ways, she was busier than ever. She supposed it could have something to do with the fact that now that she was collecting taxes, she had to keep records of what everyone had, and how much their new businesses were earning … the truth was, she needed to find a treasurer. Not Rhea, Rhea had enough on her plate already. With the twins being now three and a half years old, they needed so much watching that whenever Rhea was busy with her work as Aerin’s advisor Aurin would have to take time off of his work to watch them.

She should look into finding someone to help Rhea with that as well, she mused. She certainly owed it to her.

The queen was standing on her balcony, a light cloak around her shoulders to ward off the chill in the air. Snow was collecting on her hair and shoulders, but she made no move to brush it off. She didn’t mind it. It was peaceful, and peace was something that she valued. She was alone for the moment: Caranthir had disappeared earlier, saying only that he would be back before it was time for them to retire for the night. She was curious, but she had simply nodded. But being alone was something else that was rare, and she was taking advantage of that fact as well.

But it wasn’t to last. She had been standing there for nearly an hour, and the snow had really begun to pile up on her, when there was suddenly a knock at her door. Her brow furrowed ever so slightly as she turned around, and then she brushed the snow from her hair and shoulders and returned back inside.

“Enter,” she called out, removing her cloak and shaking it out.

The door opened silently, and Rhea appeared in the doorway, her head bowed respectfully.

“Your Majesty,” she said, her tone calm as she looked up at Aerin again, “I must ask you to come with me for a while.”

Aerin blinked in surprise as she draped her cloak over the back of her bed. “Is something the matter?” she asked.

Rhea smiled faintly and shook her head. “No … but I think it is time that I tell you what it is that I have been so busy with almost since we first returned here.”

Now Aerin’s curiosity was heightened. She hadn’t noticed Rhea doing more than she was required to, as advisor. When had Rhea been doing this other activity? She nodded and followed after Rhea, who began to lead her down the hall.

“It was Lady Alena who first asked me to do this,” Rhea explained vaguely as they went. “She thought that it might make things a bit easier for you in the end.”

“The end of what?” questioned the queen. “You are doing a wonderful job of not telling me anything.”

Rhea smiled faintly. “I suppose I am … but you will find out when we arrive. I want to be sure that you will not turn back.”

“Turn back?” Aerin was hurt for a moment, feeling as if Rhea somehow doubted her strength of will, her ability as a queen to do whatever was necessary for her people.

Before she could get too upset, however, Rhea reached out and put one hand gently on her arm. “Calm yourself,” she murmured. “You know that I do not doubt you. If there is anyone who can truly know how dedicated you are, it is I. But there is one matter where you do not know your own heart, and so I cannot know it either.”

Now Aerin was completely confused. “I don’t understand …”

Rhea smiled faintly. “You will.”

They continued wordlessly through the castle, Rhea leading, Aerin following a few steps behind; and once they passed through the main level and headed towards the steps that would lead them down into the dungeon, understanding dawned on Aerin … along with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Father,” she murmured, putting one hand to her stomach in an attempt to settle it.

Rhea glanced at the queen over her shoulder. “He must be dealt with sooner or later,” she said simply. “And to be honest, I believe that sooner would be much better than later.”

Her comment only served to confuse Aerin even more, but they were nearing the cell where her father was being kept and she didn’t press the matter.

Aerennel’s cell was a large one – in fact it was the one that Haldia had once been kept in. However, with the absence of the gnomes in the other cells around him, it was not nearly as bad for him as it had been for her. And he had been given a few minor comforts – a blanket to sleep on, a small pillow for his head, and some paper for writing, all of which made it more bearable than it could otherwise have been.

After six years in prison, his hair had grown long, and it fell about his shoulders in fiery locks. Gone was the mask of warmth that he had worn on the first visit from the travelers, replaced with a scowl that never seemed to leave his face. Aerin could not remember her father ever smiling at her, but never had he seemed so foul, either.

Aerin stood back a bit while Rhea went forward to get the former king’s attention.

“Aerennel,” she said softly but firmly, stepping in front of his cell. “You have a visitor.”

“Visitor,” the man snarled, his eyes filled with hatred as he turned around to face Rhea. He cursed harshly. “How long have I been down here and only now a visitor?” He swore again.

Rhea’s eyes changed colour until they held the same smoldering fury as Aerennel’s. “You will use proper and appropriate language when you are in the presence of the queen,” she told him in a tone that disallowed arguments. “You will show her the respect that she deserves.”

Aerin stepped forward when Rhea beckoned for her to do so, taking a deep breath and steeling herself to do the one thing she had deliberately been putting off for as long as possible. She stood next to Rhea and faced the cell, standing tall and erect as she had grown used to doing since gaining her position.

Aerennel glared at her from the shadows of the cell, still sitting on the cold stone floor. His shoulders were hunched forward, his spine curved, and his face was haggard and thin. His time in prison had not been kind to him, despite his good treatment.

“She is no queen,” he growled, the fire in his eyes growing brighter. He shuffled forward then and reached out with thin fingers to grasp hold of the bars of his cell. Using the bars, he pulled himself slowly to his feet, and his movements made it seem to Aerin as if he had not tried to stand or get any exercise at all while he had been in his prison. “She is naught but a usurper.”

“Perhaps,” Rhea countered, “but she is more legitimate a ruler than you ever were.”

Aerennel ignored her, glaring instead at his estranged daughter. “Come here,” he snarled.

Aerin lifted one foot to obey the harsh tone of her father, but then she blinked and frowned gently. What was she doing? She had to get over this …

She set her foot down again and straightened, folding her arms across her chest. “What do you want?” she asked him, keeping her voice calm.

The man laughed; a hollow, mirthless sound. “Me? Rhea brought you here, not me. Ask her what she wants.”

“In that case, I believe I know what she intended,” Aerin said. “For me to see you as you are, to remind me of what you are. Of what you are like. Of what you did to our people. Of what you would do if you were free again.”

Her voice took on an edge, and she felt suddenly stronger. “What have you been doing in your time here, Aerennel? How have you been spending your time? Sitting here and simply hating? Letting your anger, your guilt, and your hatred eat away at you? Look at you. Once you were a proud man. What are you now? What have you reduced yourself to?”

The king’s eyes glowed with fury. “And what have you been doing with the people?” he demanded. “How are they better off than they were?”

“They are alive, they are thriving, the city has grown, the economy is booming,” Aerin retorted proudly. “They are happy – they’re more than happy, they’re joyful. They don’t live in fear, either of their ruler or of things on this island that might endanger them. The danger is past. We are in the process of initiating trade with other lands, which will only help our people further. We have a port. We have ships. We are flourishing.”

She tilted her head and smiled faintly. “Ruling with love brings the people much further than ruling them with fear. Hatred is the death of a country.”

“The day will come when they will destroy themselves thanks to your love,” Aerennel told her in a matter-of-fact tone. “The island cannot support a large population. You should know this. You lived here before. You have been here a while now. You ought to know that the island does not have the resources that it needs to support a great number of people.”

“Hence the trade with other lands,” Aerin replied evenly.

Rhea stepped forward. “Aerin,” she said softly, speaking in the Common Tongue so that the former king couldn’t understand. “I did not bring you down here to bicker with him. I brought you here because you need to face the fact that he needs to be tried and sentenced. You have been putting it off. It needs to be done.

Aerin blew out her cheeks, exhaling slowly. Rhea was right … she did need to try her father, and he needed to be punished. She had been fighting with herself for six years now, trying to think what she should do with him, but now, after so long, it wasn’t fair for the people of her nation to be paying for the man’s upkeep. He had already cost them so much, he should not continue to be a burden on them. She knew what his punishment ought to be … she just needed to find the strength to go through with it.

“Next week,” she decided, reverting to Common Elvish, which her father understood. “You will be put on trial next week. Publicly, before all the people, and they will help me to decide your fate. If they desire it, you will return to this cell and live out your life here. But if they so choose, you will be executed. You know that is what you deserve.”

A slow smile crept over Aerennel’s face. It unnerved Aerin – she had no idea what it meant, but she had a feeling that it did not bode well for her.

Well, she would find out.

“That is all,” she said, her tone ringing with finality. Without another word, she turned around and left the dungeon and her father behind.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:14 pm

Confrontation With An Advisor
Location: Amon Darthir
Year: 112 F.A.
Status: Late Winter

Aerin had already made it back to the main level of the castle before Rhea caught up with her.

“Your Majesty,” Rhea called out, falling into step beside her. “Aerin … you should not be so angry.”

Aerin looked over at Rhea, though she did not slow her pace, and though Rhea’s expression was anxious, Aerin’s anger did not lessen.

“I can’t help but be angry,” she replied, continuing forward. “But I am not angry with you. You were right; I do have to face my father. He must be dealt with, and swiftly at that. I am angry with him, angry that he has not changed – that if anything he has gotten worse. I think that if he had strength left, he would have tried to kill me down there. I could hear in his voice that he wanted to.”

She shook her head, her temper flaring again. “And I am angry with myself,” she said, more harshly now. “I should not have left it for so long. I should not have been so weak. I was running away from the situation, I ought not to have! Because of my own fears, my doubts, my – my foolish regard for my father, despite knowing what he is and what he always has been! I should have dealt with him immediately, rather than waiting.”

Six years she had waited …

“The other thing that bothers me now,” she murmured softly, “is that he sounded as if he had something planned … and that worries me. What could he possibly have planned from within his cell? Anything that could help him? What?”

Rhea kept pace with her, and for now was feeling as if she should be more like the girl who had grown up with Aerin around rather than the formal position of advisor that she had.

“I’m sure you noticed his physical state,” she told Aerin. “It was not for lack of care that he is that way. His cell is more than large enough for him to move around and get some exercise. He was brought four meals a day – meals fit for your own table. But he chose not to eat, and he chose rarely to get up, which has led to his current state. If he can manage to convince the people that he is that way because of neglect on your part, he may be able to save his life.”

Aerin looked sharply at Rhea. “Then …”

Rhea smiled. “Don’t worry. We have witnesses, many of them, that he was treated rightly, and that his condition is his own fault. Every time I brought his food to him, I would take guards with me - two each time. Not always the same two. They will be able to testify that he was offered everything he needed. Save his freedom, of course.”

Aerin nodded slowly, but she still wasn’t convinced. “All I can do is trust the people to listen to their hearts, and to know me for who and what I am,” she murmured.

“Agreed,” Rhea nodded. “And you must trust them. They love you, Aerin, and they know that you are indeed a loving and caring ruler. They know that you would not treat your father in such a fashion, despite the fact that he really does deserve it. Just trust them.”

“As I trust you,” Aerin said softly. She looked over at Rhea sharply. “How long have you been meeting with my father?” she asked.

“Six years,” Rhea replied simply. “Since we first returned. I took a break while I was pregnant, but other than that I’ve been meeting with him weekly. Trust me when I say he’s better than he was.”

Aerin’s brow furrowed hopelessly, and she looked at Rhea, lost. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

Rhea smiled and hugged the queen. “You’ll be fine,” she murmured. “Don’t worry about it.”

But Aerin just couldn’t help it.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:15 pm

Rare Visit
Location: Tomaski Swamp
Year: 113 F.A.
Status: Spring

Tomaski Swamp was a place where few people ever traveled. It was acres of mire and muck, dark and dank. The trees were thick, the ground soft, and vines blocked many of the paths that would otherwise have been usable. There was danger everywhere: pools of quicksand, tangling vines, and animals like moor cats that feasted on flesh. They weren’t the only animals, either: snakes and insects could sometimes make things difficult, and there were the smaller animals that tended to steal from stores of food, or those that tended to change things up in the swamp, like the beavers that kept cutting down saplings and setting up their dams.

But for all its faults, it was the place she called home. She had been there for so long she had lost track of time. She didn’t even know her age. She knew she had spent at least twenty winters out there, but beyond that she really had no idea. It might be twenty one, it might be thirty. Not that it particularly mattered to her: she lived, she had pleasure in her life; it was enough for her. She was never hungry, rarely cold. And it was not as if she was alone. She had one friend, a friend who helped her with everything she could possibly need help with. To warn her when she approached a dangerous area; when there was an unseen predator; to find food when she had difficulty finding something to eat. Her friend was a falcon, a long-lived bird that was swift, intelligent, and strong. Even before she had forgotten language, she had learned to communicate with the bird.

Everything about the swamp was familiar to her. The air, the ground, the plants, the animals, the scents – there was nothing that was new to her, or unexpected, or unknown. With her staff in one hand and her falcon on her other shoulder, she felt invincible.

Until now.

For as long as she had been in the swamp, she had not had contact with other people. So when the day at last came that she heard voices, she was beyond startled – it frightened her out of her wits. With a sharp whistle, she called her falcon to her shoulder, then sent it off to check out her visitors.

While her falcon was gone, she climbed a tree, leaving her staff leaning against its base. The air was thick, promising rain, but that didn’t bother her. It never had, not since her first autumn in the swamp. She listened carefully as she waited for the falcon to return. She heard a snake slithering in the next tree over; she heard some small birds fluttering about the treetops; and she heard voices in the distance. It was such a strange sound to her, she felt shivers running down her spine.

Perhaps she wouldn’t wait for her falcon to return … perhaps she would check it out for herself …

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:16 pm

Shocking Reunion
Location: Ebonscarp, Westland
Year: 113 F.A.
Status: Mid-Spring

Ebonscarp was a small village, the second smallest town in the entire Westland. The only village smaller than it was Tavari, the town that the travelers had left only a week before. But as small as Ebonscarp was, it felt huge to Alassëa, who had not been there in decades.

“There are so many people,” she said anxiously, gripping her staff tightly with her free hand. Her other arm was linked with Aethos’s, both so that she wouldn’t get lost or wander off, and so that she wouldn’t feel alone.

“Just don’t hit anyone,” Aethos warned her, only half joking. “You don’t need to be arrested for assaulting people.”

The blind woman blushed, embarrassed by his comments because she knew that it was true. She reacted far too quickly and too violently to the slightest commotion around her. In her defense, it was due to decades of living in the swamp, where quick and violent reactions were the only way to stay alive; but she knew that she was going to have to change herself if she was going to be living around people from now on, if she didn’t want to hurt them and get herself into trouble.

“Sorry,” she murmured, facing away from Aethos. “I will try to be more careful.”

Aethos chuckled softly and squeezed her arm gently. “Don’t you worry about a thing,” he grinned, even though he knew she couldn’t see it. “I’ll be here with you.”

“Yes.” But Alassëa didn’t feel a whole lot better. Being here was different than being in Tavari. Tavari had just been a village to her, a place where she could meet people and learn new things. This was different. This was the village where she had been raised, where there were people she had once known (even if it was only in passing), and this was where she had done her healing studies as a child. She was nervous – anxious, really. Wondering about how people would react to seeing her, if they would even recognize her … what they would think of her reappearing so long after being left for dead.

“Hey you two!” Luk called out, running up to them suddenly.

With a yelp, Alassëa jutted out instinctively with her staff, and she would have hit Luk full in the face with it except that Aethos had guessed something like that might happen, and he reached out and grabbed the staff before she could swing it.

“Thanks, Aethos,” Luk blinked, fully realizing the pain he had barely avoided. “Sorry, Alassëa, I thought you would have heard me coming.”

“There’s too much noise here,” Alassëa said quietly, turning her head one way and the other. “I hear … everything. There’s just too much.”

“Well, I think we should leave the staff here,” Aethos told her. “With the wagons. That way you won’t be tempted to hit anyone else with it.”

Her grip just tightened on the weapon. “I can’t.”

“You can,” Aethos said patiently. “You just won’t. Come on, you’ll have your falcon with you, she can help guide you. Just as she helped you in the swamp.”

“But I’ve always had my staff to feel the ground, to see where it’s solid or soft,” she protested.

“Here it’s all solid,” Luk told her, looking around. “And you’ll have your falcon to tell you when there’s something in the way, and you’ll have us to warn you where there are steps and the like.”

Alassëa looked doubtful. She wanted her staff with her for reassurance. It was her lifeline, had been for as long as she could remember. She needed it – not only physically, but mentally.

“If I hold it differently?” she asked hopefully, shifting her grip as she spoke so that she was holding it along her arm, like an extension, instead of in front of her, as a weapon. “So I can at least feel where I’m going?”

Aethos sighed, then smiled at her bemusedly. “If you must. But remember, don’t hit anyone, all right? It’s harder for me to stop you if you hold it that way.”

“I’ll do my best, but that is all I can promise,” she agreed sheepishly, knowing how difficult it was going to be. In her favour was the fact that it would be more difficult for her to maneuver the staff to hit anyone in the first place.

“I’m heading out with Emile for a bit,” Luk told the two. “Have fun! And remember, we’re meeting at the inn for lunch. Don’t be late!”

“We won’t,” Aethos chuckled. “Go on.”

The groups waved goodbye and set off in their own directions.

“Which way would you like to go?” Aethos asked Alassëa, making sure that her arm was securely tucked into his.

Alassëa started walking with him, her staff ticking against the ground in front of her as they went. “It’s been such a long time since I’ve been here,” she murmured, “and I was just a child … I forgot how to speak, how can I remember where anything is?”

Aethos chuckled. “True. My apologies. Are there any people that you remember? Perhaps someone who might be eager to see you again? Your parents, perhaps, or a sibling?”


“Brother or sister,” Aethos explained, fully aware that she was still working on recovering her vocabulary.

She only shook her head. “I have no brother or sister, and … my father is gone … dead, I think … and my mother … I … do not think she is from this village. I was very young when I came here to learn … from … somewhere else. I don’t remember where.”

She blinked. “My teacher … I don’t remember his name … if he is still here … I would like to meet him again.”

“Do you have any idea where that might be?” Aethos pressed.

She smiled, amused by the question. “I studied healing,” she pointed out. “Who would teach me that?”

The sola laughed. “Good point. So. Where would he be located?”

Alassëa tilted her head slightly. “What’s around us?”

Aethos looked around and described the area surrounding them to her. A bookseller, a candlesmith, a few other shops, the names of the streets around them, a fountain that was bubbling at the end of the street …

When Alassëa was satisfied, she turned and pointed with her staff down a side street. “I think … this way. Towards the middle of the village.”

“As you say,” Aethos smiled, amused by her. She said that she couldn’t remember her way around, yet he described to her a small area of the village and here she was giving him directions.

He was even more amused when he realized that she was right. It wasn’t long before they reached a second water fountain, larger and more elaborate than the first. The square was filled with people – clearly this was the center of the village. There were vending stalls all around, children playing – and from one building, a boy and his mother were exiting, with the boy’s arm in a sling.

“I think you remember more than you let on,” he laughed as he directed them towards the healer’s home. “What else aren’t you telling me?”

Alassëa blinked, her staff still tapping against the ground. “What, are we there?” she asked in amazement.

Aethos laughed again. “Yes.”

Without warning, Alassëa stopped walking, and Aethos nearly tripped over her. “What-”

“I don’t know if I can do this,” she whispered, her eyes suddenly wide.

“What are you talking about? Of course you-”

Alassëa shook her head vehemently. “I can’t. I’m sorry, I can’t explain, I just – can’t.” She changed her grip on her staff, holding it once more like a weapon instead of a walking aid, and clutched it close to herself. “What if he doesn’t remember me?” she whispered, and the fear was evident in her eyes. “I barely remember him … what if he’s disappointed in me?”

“What’s there to be disappointed about?” Aethos asked her honestly. “You’re alive – which is the most important thing, I think – you’re beautiful-”

Alassëa blushed at that. “The one thing that hadn’t entered my mind,” she murmured, her face a deep shade of red.

Aethos just chuckled. “Well, you are. And you’re smart – truly bright. Sure, you’ve forgotten some things, but who wouldn’t after living alone for decades with no one to talk to? It’s amazing what you have remembered, how much you’ve retained. Anyone else would have forgotten all of it. I would have.”

“You’re certain I won’t be a disappointment?” Alassëa asked, still blushing.

“Absolutely,” Aethos replied, tugging her forward again. “Now come on. And don’t hit anyone with that staff of yours. Then you might have some explaining to do.”

That made her laugh, but it also relieved her, lifting the weight from her shoulders.

“Just you be careful,” she grinned, shifting her grip on her staff once more. “I might make you his next patient.”

“Try it,” Aethos dared her with a chuckle as he led her to the house. “I can see, after all, so I could stop you before you managed it.”

“So you think,” she teased him as they stepped inside. “I might prove you wrong someday.”

“You can try.” He laughed and looked around to see if the healer was still in the room. He wasn’t, but upon hearing the laughter it was only a moment before he returned. He looked at the two of them curiously – and no wonder. He was a healer, and these two didn’t seem to require healing.

“May I help you?” he asked cautiously, wondering what they were doing there.

Alassëa’s eyes grew wide. “Yes!” she exclaimed, turning her head towards the voice. “Yes, I remember you … Adar!”

“You see?” Aethos laughed, poking her in the side and earning himself a rap on the knuckles from her staff. “You do remember more than you believe!”

A look of confusion crossed the healer’s face, and he stepped forward hesitantly. “You … who are you?” he asked. “I can’t heal blindness …”

“That didn’t stop you from teaching me to heal just about everything else,” Alassëa replied softly. “The hours you would spend reading me books … making me write them out when I couldn’t even see what I was doing …”

Adar’s eyes grew wide, and he sunk slowly into one of the chairs that lined the walls of the room. “No …”

“It’s me, Adar,” she smiled widely, feeling more comfortable now that she remembered the man who had been her teacher for several years, almost like a father to her. “Alassëa.”

A tear fell down the healer’s cheek. He was staring at Alassëa, wide-eyed, and he didn’t even bother to wipe it away. “Impossible … you’ve been gone for … so long …”

“I know …”

“It’s not …”

Alassëa slipped her arm out of Aethos’s grip and tapped her way forward with her staff to where she could hear the healer breathing heavily and sniffling ever so softly. As she held one hand out to him, her falcon eyed the man cautiously from its perch atop her shoulder.

Adar looked at her hand, then looked up into her face. Ignoring her hand, he rose slowly, staring at her in utter shock and disbelief. Then he threw his arms around her and hugged her tightly. It wasn’t long before his tears soaked through her clothes.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:17 pm

Permission Mission
Location: Chansond’eau, Westland
Year: 113 F.A.
Status: Early Summer

An hour had passed since the last of their guests had gone to their rooms, but Wren was just emerging from her own room. She was still dressed, though she had changed from her dress into a tunic and leggings, her clothes of choice. She would get into trouble for it, she knew, but she wouldn’t get in as much trouble as if she had left her room in her nightclothes.

She knocked on her father’s bedroom door, gently enough that it wouldn’t disturb anyone else, but solidly enough that he would hear it. The only other sound she could hear at the moment were the crickets and peeper frogs that were singing their nightly chorus outside the castle walls, in the courtyard and around the various water sources of the city.

“Come in,” his gentle voice wafted through the thick wood of the door.

Wren put one hand on the door handle, paused a moment, closed her eyes and breathed a soft prayer, then opened her eyes once more and pushed the door open.

Her father was standing in the middle of his room, poised as if he had been facing the window opposite the door before his daughter had knocked. He smiled when he saw her, and turned to face her properly. “Ah. Wren. Come in.”

She stepped inside and closed the door behind herself. After giving her father a quick hug, she sat down on the edge of his bed. “Father,” she began, “I wanted to talk to you … about-”

“I know,” Ander smiled, sitting next to her and putting one arm around her shoulders. “I know. You want permission to go along with them on their travels.” He sighed and pulled her close so that her head was against his shoulder. “How far would you go with them?”

“I hope to see the rest of the Four Lands,” Wren replied quietly, “and if they sail afterwards, I would like very much to go along with them then as well.”

Her father sighed softly and for a moment he didn’t say anything. His eyes were troubled, not that his daughter could see in the position they were in.

“Wren …”

“If you’re going to say something about danger,” Wren said quickly, knowing full well how her father’s mind worked, “then think about the fact that four of their group are from those countries that they went to, and that they’ve been there multiple times without any problems.”

“None of them are in the position that you are,” her father countered. “You are the only princess of our nation. You are needed here.”

“That’s never stopped me from traveling before,” Wren pointed out. She raised her head from his shoulder and looked up at him. As tall as she was, he was still taller, and she had long ago given up trying to attain his height. “Father, you’ve allowed me to travel before, even on my own, and it’s far more dangerous to travel here in the Four Lands than on the sea, or to any of those other countries. They’re all peaceful lands, which is more than we can say about our borders.”

She smiled. “Besides, you can look at it this way – I’m a princess off to greet other countries with whom we have an opportunity to have a diplomatic alliance. We could open trade of goods and knowledge with them; it would be a good opportunity for the Westland.”

Ander stood abruptly and crossed the room, his expression agitated. Clearly he was trying to think of a way to debate his daughter’s arguments, though even he had to admit that they were quite good ones. She was asking to do exactly what he had always wanted her to – but still, he didn’t want her to go. Wren knew this, and she waited patiently while her father paced the room. She understood that he was just being overprotective. At least, so she assumed. But the more that he paced, the more confused she became. If that were it, he would simply have said so, would he not? And yet what else could it be?

“Father?” she asked softly, her eyes filled with concern.

He looked over at her again, then returned to stand in front of her and knelt down, taking her hands and looking up into her face. “I am so terrified that you will not return to me if you leave,” he whispered softly.

Wren was confused now. “I told you, Father, it’s quite safe. The lands they visit are safe, and they travel with healers, and Roydon has the magic necessary to help them with sailing …”

She trailed off as it slowly dawned on her that that might not be what her father had meant – though she had no idea what it might be, then. She watched him for a moment longer, then shook her head and sighed. “I don’t understand the source of your concern. If it’s not for my safety, then what is it?”

Ander lowered his gaze. “That you won’t want to return to me.”

That stunned her. “What …”

Her father rose again and resumed his pacing. “Wren … out there, you will meet many people who are … very much like you. Adventurous. Spirited. People who live lives full of excitement and wonder, so different from your life here. I’m afraid that if you experience that for an extended time … you will have no desire to return to me. To your home. Or that you might finally find the person with whom you will want to spend the rest of your life, and that you will remain there with that person, without coming home to me …”

“Father,” Wren interrupted him, rising to her feet and walking to him, “you needn’t be afraid of such things.” She put her hands on his shoulders and turned him to face her, and smiled up at him. “I won’t deny, Father, that I might meet someone, or that I might be very attracted to the excitement. I don’t know the future, after all, and it is true already that I love adventure. But I would never leave you forever. That isn’t something you would have to worry about. I may not feel as if I was meant for the role of a princess, I would never run away from it either. I know that with my mother gone, I have duties here, more perhaps than I might have if she were still alive. To help our people, yes, but also and perhaps more importantly, it’s up to me to continue the Elessedil line. I know you have no intentions of remarrying, and that it’s up to me to produce an heir for you. But Father, perhaps that’s the reason I should go with them. I’ve been around our lands so many times, and never met anyone that interests me – perhaps the person I’m meant to find is out there somewhere.”

Ander put his arms around her and held her close. “And if he is?” he asked her softly. “How can you know that you will come home to me? What if you decide to stay away with him?”

Wren giggled at that. “You know I can’t do that,” she teased him. “I can’t get married without your blessing anyways. We would have to come back here.”

At that, her father cracked a small smile. “You mean there’s actually a tradition that you would hold to willingly?”

She laughed and squeezed her father in a tight hug. “More than willingly,” she giggled at him. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Ander chuckled and hugged her just as tightly. “I’ll think about your words,” he told her softly, still smiling. “I’ll let you know my answer in the morning, all right?” He kissed her on the forehead. “Now get some sleep. You’ve guests to take care of tomorrow.”

Wren smiled. “Thank you, Father. And you rest, too. I expect you to be in full form tomorrow.”

He laughed. “Good night.”

“Good night, Father.” Wren smiled at him one last time before returning to her room for the night.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:17 pm

Bit of Helpful Advice
Location: Chansond’eau, Westland
Year: 113 F.A.
Status: Summer

Halmír stayed behind at the football field with the shy little Jess as the rest of his party headed on towards the city for new clothes. At first, it seemed that Jess didn’t expect Halmír to stay with him: after waving goodbye to his new friends, he bent over to pick up his ball and – presumably - head home. Halmír however called out to him, startling him and causing him to drop the ball again.

“Sorry,” Halmír apologized, picking the ball up for him and handing it to the wide-eyed boy.

Jess stared up at Halmír. “Um … thanks,” he said shyly, taking the ball cautiously. His blue eyes flickered up at the ex-soldier’s grizzled face. “Um … you’re … you’re River’s grandfather, right?”

Halmír grinned. “You bet. My name is Halmír. You?”


Halmír studied the boy. He wanted to talk to Jess, but he needed the boy to open up to him first, and he needed to find some common ground with him. So far, the only thing he knew of that he could use was River, but how would that even be possible?

He eyed the ball in Jess’s hand. “You much good with that thing?” he asked, pointing at it.

Jess looked at the ball and then looked up at Halmír again. “Sometimes,” he said softly.

Halmír pffted. “Come on, I saw you playing with it. You’re pretty good!”

Jess blushed hotly. “If you say so, sir.”

Halmír held out his hands. “Here, toss me the ball,” he grinned. “Let me see if I can still do this.”

Jess blinked at him. “You play?” He tossed Halmír the ball obediently, and Halmír dropped it to the ground and put one foot on it.

“It’s been close to a hundred years,” he mused, “but I think I remember enough to get by.” He kicked the ball from one food to the other and back, getting used to the feel of it. Then he started dribbling it forward, towards Jess.

The boy grinned, knowing exactly what Halmír was doing, and he ran at him, sticking one foot forward to steal the ball. He succeeded, pulling it away from Halmír and then kicking it past him, ran around him, and continued forward.

“Go for the goal!” Halmír laughed, turning and running after the boy. He caught up quickly and tried to get the ball from him, but Jess tapped it with his foot, stopping it dead, then kicked it to the side and got it around Halmír again. Twice more he got it around Halmír, laughing as he did so, and it brought him right up to the goal.

“Goal!” he cried, throwing his hands in the air as he scored a goal past Halmír’s defense.

Halmír high-fived the boy. “Good job!” he chuckled. “You’re the first person to get a ball around me like that!”

Jess grinned at him, his cheeks flushed brightly. “Really?”

“I don’t lie,” Halmír laughed. “And I used to play a lot when I was a kid! You must be first pick for the teams when you play here.”

At that, Jess slowed almost to a stop as he headed to get the ball again. Halmír watched him carefully. He was silent now, all laughter gone, and his shoulders, which had been held back proudly while they’d been playing, were now slumped.

He waited until the boy had picked up the ball before giving him a gentle verbal prod. “Jess?”

The boy turned around, his entire face red, his eyes lowered to the ground. “No one wants me on their team,” he mumbled quietly. “I’m the last one picked, and then they sometimes argue over which team has to take me.”

Halmír was surprised by that. “A skilled player like you?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “I’m small and weak. I’m the same age as everyone else but I’m a lot smaller than any of them.”

Halmír pursed his lips, his scars curling grotesquely. No wonder the boy was so shy. And Halmír liked the other children less and less, the more he heard about them. He approached the boy slowly and put one hand on his shoulder. “Tell you what,” he said softly. “The next time that happens, you challenge the best of them to a one-on-one. Show them what you’re made of.”

He held up one finger and stepped closer again. “Look. I’ll show you what makes you so good.”

Jess stared at him, blinking slowly. He gave the ball to Halmír, who put it on the ground. He explained about size and reach, and how sometimes being smaller was better, because he could get in and out of places that others couldn’t, and he could remain primarily unnoticed until he was in place to make his move – and sometimes even longer. Jess soaked up the information like a sponge, and Halmír was quite pleased when he made use of it as easily as he listened to it. But Halmír wasn’t finished there.

“The same principles apply when you’re fighting,” he explained. “Now it’s a lot more dangerous to get close when you’re fighting someone, but you can still use it to your advantage. Bigger people need more space to wind up for a kick, a punch, whatever it might be. You can get close enough to them that they can’t do that. You’re also small enough to get in, get them, and get out before they can do anything. Don’t let them talk down to you because you’re smaller than them – it doesn’t make them better than you.”

He grinned at the boy. “You’ve probably heard this from River, Miyuki and Amalirahc already, but it’s not what’s on the outside that counts. It’s what’s inside that makes someone a person. Take me for example. If you were to look at me, what would you think?”

Jess looked up at Halmír and blushed again. He averted his eyes and mumbled something so quietly that even Halmír couldn’t hear.

“Eh?” Halmír leaned forward, cupping one hand behind his ear.

Jess swallowed hard. “S-scary,” he stuttered awkwardly.

Halmír laughed. “You’ve got that right! And it comes in handy sometimes, I tell you. But come on, have I been scaring you at all?”

Jess smiled and shook his head slowly. “No … you’re really nice.”

“And so are you.” Halmír grinned and put one hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Don’t you ever let anyone push you around, son. You’re a good kid. A lot better than those boys who wouldn’t play with Miyuki because she’s different, or who didn’t like my granddaughter because she doesn’t look like them. You are someone I would be proud to claim as my own son. You tell your parents that. They can be proud of you.”

Jess’s face was beet red by this point, but he was smiling widely. “Thank you, sir,” he said, his shoulders thrown back proudly. “Thank you so much!”

He looked like he wanted to hug Halmír, but he knew that hugging wasn’t proper behavior, and so he bowed instead. When he straightened, he had a hesitant look on his face.

“You have a question?” Halmír asked, kneeling down so that he was looking up into Jess’s face instead of the other way around.

Jess looked at him, chewing on his lower lip timidly. “Will … will I see you again, sir? Before you leave the city? River said you’re only going to be here a little while …”

Halmír smiled and put one hand on the boy’s shoulder. “We’ll meet again,” he grinned. “I promise. If we don’t meet up by accident, then I’ll be sure to come and look for you.”

He straightened up again. “Now, I really should go find my wife and granddaughter. You going to stick around a bit?”

Jess shook his head. “I’ve gotta head home for dinner,” he replied. “I’ll see you around!”

And with a wave, the boy ran off. Halmír waved back, grinning widely, and headed off in the other direction, towards the tailor’s, to find his family.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:18 pm

A Sweet Farewell
Location: Chansond’eau, Westland
Year: 113 F.A.
Status: Late Summer

Two and a half weeks the group had spent in the Westland capital of Chansond’eau, and during that time, River had grown quite fond of Jess, the boy they’d met on their second day there. She had also gotten his attention, and at the night of the banquet he had presented her with two gifts, a bag and a ball he had made himself, to let her know how he felt. Now, half a week later, it was time for the group of travelers to leave, and River didn’t want to go.

“Grandmama,” she said as her grandparents finished up their packing, “before we leave the city, I want to see Jess. I want to tell him goodbye.”

She had already finished her packing a while ago, so it wasn’t as if she still had work to do before they left.

Arthael, though, was still working, folding her and Halmír’s clothes so that they could be put into their bag. She had given up on getting River to help her; the girl had been quite morose since waking up that morning. The fact that she was speaking up now was a good sign, Arthael thought.

“Master Jeremiah’s shop is on the way to the city gate,” she said slowly, still folding clothes. “I know you know the city well by now, and you know what to do if Ioreth shows up … why don’t you go ahead on your own right now and we can pick you up on the way out of the city?”

River’s head snapped up in surprise and she stared at her grandmother. “What?” she asked, not certain she had heard correctly.

Arthael smiled at her. “After you’ve properly thanked their Majesties, and said goodbye to them,” she said firmly.

River squealed and hugged Arthael tightly around the waist, then ran for the door.

“River!” her grandmother called after her.

River paused in the doorway and turned to see what her grandmother wanted. “Yes?”

Arthael nodded at River’s pile of belongings. “Don’t forget your things.”

River blushed and darted back to grab her two bags (one of them being her new one, holding only her new ball, the other being the one she’d originally taken with her, with all of her other things), her bokken, and her bow. “Sorry, Grandmama.”

Arthael chuckled softly. “Go on. Be careful.”

River didn’t waste any time, but turned on her heel and took off for the door once again.

After bidding farewell and expressing her gratitude to the king and queen for her stay in their home, she made her way to the city. Despite the distance, she was still full of energy when she finally arrived at the tannery. She stopped outside the door to catch her breath a moment before entering slowly so that she wouldn’t interrupt any potential customers.

Inside, she looked around. There didn’t seem to be any customers in the shop, and there was no one behind the counter either. She could hear someone working in the back though, and, feeling quite at home in the shop by this time, she slipped through the curtain that cut the work space off from the display and sales area.

Jeremiah was in the process of softening a large piece of stiff leather, soaking it in a chemical compound that would eventually leave it as soft as satin, stretching it with his fingers. He glanced up when he heard the curtain move and smiled upon seeing River.

“Hello, River,” he said warmly. “You look like you’re on your way again.”

River nodded, her smile faltering again. “Yes … the others are still packing their things, but Grandmama said that I could come and say goodbye to Jess.” She hesitated a moment, her eyes skimming the shop, and then asked, “Is … he home?”

She knew there was a very good chance he might be out playing football, though of late he had waited for her here before heading to the game field. Still, part of her was afraid that he might have already left, assuming that she would head there instead.

Jeremiah smiled gently. “He’s here. Upstairs. Go on up.”

“Thank you!” River bowed and then ran for the stairs on the other side of the room, the stairs that would lead up to the second floor of the building where the family lived. She took the steps two at a time, her baggage not holding her back a whit. At the top of the stairs, she stopped just long enough to knock before opening the door and stepping into the living room.

“Hello?” she called out, her heart pounding in her chest.

Jacinthe was sitting in a rocking chair, embroidering what looked like a salwar, her feet up on a leather footrest. Jasta was sitting across from her, reading to her from a book, and when River called out her greeting she smiled widely and set the book aside.

“Good morning, River!” she said brightly. She blinked. “Oh – you have your bags! Are you … are you leaving?”

River nodded. “I have a little bit of time before the others come to get me on the way out of the city,” she explained again. “But Grandmama let me come here to say goodbye.”

Jasta’s face fell. “Oh. Well, you wait here and I’ll go get Jess, okay?”

River nodded gratefully and set her things on the floor. They were getting heavy after all of that running.

As Jasta ran off, Jacinthe shifted in her chair and put her feet on the floor, setting her embroidery aside. She leaned forward slightly, folding her hands and setting them on her enormous belly.

“Go on and take a seat,” she said softly, nodding at the couch. As River did so, she leaned back in her chair again and began to rock gently back and forth. “You know, your departure is going to leave quite a hole in our lives. We’ve gotten quite used to your visits.”

River blushed slightly. “If I could stay longer, I would,” she replied quietly. “And I know it’s going to be quite a while before I get home yet. Still … I want to ask Mama and Papa if they would be willing to take a trip out here after I’m back. With the slavery issue dealt with, it really would be fine if they leave the ranch for a while.”

Jacinthe smiled. “If they would like, we would be happy to have your family stay here. We haven’t much room, but …”

“Thank you,” River murmured, “but I think they would prefer to stay in the inn so as not to intrude.”

“Nevertheless,” the woman replied with a kind, warm smile, “the offer stands.”

From the hallway, there was the pounding of feet as Jess and Jasta returned. Jess was the first to arrive, as Jasta was unable to run, but even he was out of breath. His golden hair was in disarray, sticking up every which way, his blue eyes wide, looking a bit wild.

“You’re leaving?” he blurted, sounding as if he were panicking.

River nodded slowly, her eyes growing misty. “I wish I could stay,” she told him, her voice catching. “But it’s time for us to keep going. There are so many places to go, so many people to meet …”

Jess swallowed hard. “You’ll meet new friends,” he said quietly.

River couldn’t tell if he was trying to encourage her that it would be fine for her to leave or if he was afraid. She nodded slowly. “Yes … I suppose so.”

Jess sniffled a bit and rubbed his nose with the back of one hand to hide it. “Promise - promise you won’t forget me? If you find someone you like more?”

River blinked. “What? No! Jess!” She stood up and hugged him tightly. “Don’t be silly! There’s nobody I could ever like more than you!”

“But you don’t know who you’ll meet!” Jess replied, returning the hug.

“That doesn’t matter.” River smiled at him. “I know you, and I know how I feel about you. That’s all I need to know, to know that I’ll never like anyone more than I like you.”

Jess blushed hotly and averted his eyes. “But you’re going far away, and who knows when you’ll be back? Or even if you’ll be able to come back?”

River held her friend at arm’s length and waited until he looked back at her so that she could look him in the eyes.

“I will return,” she promised him solemnly. “I swear it. No matter how long it takes, no matter what I have to do to make it happen, I will be back.”

She pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment, then held up one finger. “Stay here a second,” she ordered him, and turned around to kneel by her things. Jess looked questioningly at Jasta, who had taken her seat on the couch again, and then at his mother, who was still sitting nearby, before looking back at River to see what she was doing. When she turned back to Jess, she had her bow, her brand new gold-runed, ebony bow, in her hand.

“This is my most prized possession, other than the gifts from you,” she told Jess seriously, holding the bow as if it were fragile. “I won this at our Mettarë festival this year by outshooting everyone else in the Borderlands.”

Jess nodded to show his understanding, and blinked in surprise when River thrust it out at him. “What …”

“Keep it,” River told him, her tone disallowing any argument. “Hold on to it for me. That way you have a part of me here, just like I have a part of you with the bag and the ball you made for me. And whenever you look at it, remember that I’ll be back someday to get it back from you. Understand?”

Jess was astonished. “But – but if you won this …”

River shook her head to stop his protest. “That’s why you know I’ll be back for it,” she told him. “Don’t argue it.”

Jess blushed hotly and took the bow from her, clutching it awkwardly in his hands. He had clearly never held one before, but that didn’t bother River one bit.

“So how much time do we have before you have to leave?” he asked River, almost as shy now as the day they had first met.

River smiled and tugged him to the couch so that they could sit down. “I don’t know. Whenever they show up, I guess. I’m not going to worry about it until they get here.”

Jess grinned. “Want to play a game?”

River giggled. “Sure. Jasta?”

Jasta shook her head. “I’m reading to Mama. You two go ahead.”

River grinned and took Jess’s hand to lead him to their games room (a room they had because there was little else Jasta could do for fun), and as she dragged him from the room, Jess mouthed over his shoulder to his sister, Thanks!

Jasta grinned after the two until they were out of sight.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:19 pm

Unexpected Reunion
Location: New Kaliningrad
Year: 113 F.A.
Status: Early Autumn

Iorlas hurried down the side street of New Kaliningrad, trying to catch up to the person she had seen. The Eastland had a pretty equal number of Light and Dark Elves, and a large (and growing) number of elves of mixed blood, but she was certain that she had seen that particular blond-haired woman before.

She turned another corner and looked down the street on which she found herself. In the sea of unfamiliar faces, she wasn’t sure she would be able to find the person she was hoping for. But then, what were the odds that she would even-

She let out a gasp when, ahead of her, a woman turned her head, allowing Iorlas to see her face clearly. There she was!

“Lancaeriel,” she breathed, breaking into a run. She rushed forward. “Lancaeriel!”

The woman ahead of her turned around completely, looking to see who had called her name. Her hair, a pale platinum blond, fell in layers around her face and halfway down her back, and the lavender of her clothes matched her lips. Her eyes, a cloudy gray, became startled when she spotted Iorlas.

“Iorlas?” She brushed past the people who were walking past her, heading towards the other woman.

Iorlas fell to her knees before the pale-haired woman. “I’ve found you,” she cried.

Lancaeriel took Iorlas by the arm and pulled her back to her feet. “Please,” she murmured. “Don’t create a scene.”

Iorlas looked up at her anxiously, but the woman was smiling at her, her expression warm. “It’s wonderful to see you again, Iorlas. You look as if you’re doing well.”

Iorlas smiled widely at her. “Yes … yes I am, thanks to you. I … wanted to thank you … and there’s something I wanted to ask you.” She hesitated. “But … I don’t know … perhaps we should go somewhere private …”

Lancaeriel put one hand on her shoulder. “Where are you staying?” she asked.

“At the palace,” Iorlas said slowly. “But … I have no rank, I can’t just invite people …”

That made the other woman smile. “Well, I have a room at the inn, we could talk there if you like,” she offered.

Iorlas hesitated again, then shook her head. “I have people waiting for me,” she said softly. “I can’t leave them waiting for long, I told them I would be right back. But … perhaps … if you have the time, would you like to come with me to talk to them?”

Her green eyes lit up with hope, and Lancaeriel could only smile at her. “I am in no rush,” she laughed. “And I must admit, I’m intrigued. Please do take me to your friends, I would like very much to meet them. And while we’re on our way, I want you to tell me how you’re doing now. I’ve seen you a few times since we first met now, but this is the first time I’ve seen you excited about anything.”

Iorlas blushed as she started leading Lancaeriel down the street. “You’ve been watching me?”

“Well, it’s good to know how my greatest achievement has worked out,” Lancaeriel teased her. “And to know how long it’s lasting.”

Iorlas had to smile at that, and while they two women went off in search of the carpenter’s, she told Lancaeriel all about what had happened to her since Lancaeriel had first given Iorlas the opportunity to live life as an elf instead of as a dragon.

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Post by Nara-pyon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:19 pm

Location: Palace, Wing Hove, Amon Darthir
Year: 115 F.A.
Status: First day of Stirring

Iorlas had been thinking long and hard since Miyuki had approached her and told her about the queen’s desire to speak to a non-threatening dragon. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about Miyuki telling the queen about her – even without naming her – but she did understand that Miyuki didn’t want Aerin to believe that all dragons were killers.

But the day was quickly approaching when the group would be leaving, and she had no idea when – or if – she would ever be back again, and she didn’t want to leave Aerin believing that all the dragons on the island needed to be exterminated like mice. Really, it didn’t leave her with much choice. She had to speak with the queen, no matter how much she didn’t like it.

Things had been very quiet since Aethos and Alassëa’s wedding only two days before, but with the Zephyr’s departure imminent, her time was running out. So it was that after dinner on this night, rather than returning to her and Daeron’s room for the evening, she sought out the queen and invited her for a walk outside.

Aerin was puzzled by the invitation, but she graciously accepted, asking Caranthir to make sure Cameron went to bed immediately before sending for her cloak.

“Courtyard or outer yard?” Aerin asked as she and Iorlas made their way down the palace’s main corridor.

Iorlas was too thoughtful to smile. “Whichever is more private,” she replied softly.

Aerin’s brow furrowed slightly with worry, but she nodded and steered them towards the courtyard. Neither woman spoke until they were outside, and then Aerin waited until they were past the point where people could eavesdrop from windows – if indeed anyone would want their windows open in this cold weather – before she addressed Iorlas.

“Is something the matter?” she asked softly, worriedly. “Has something happened?”

Iorlas shook her head and smiled faintly. “I’m sorry. No, Your Majesty, there is nothing wrong. Miyuki told me that you wished to speak with me, that is all … and I would really rather this remain between us.”

Aerin frowned. It had been a few weeks since the dragon attack on the children, and she had forgotten about that particular conversation, other than to recall, from time to time, that there was – somewhere – living proof that not all dragons were alike.

“I’m afraid I don’t-”

“It took me some time to make the decision to speak with you,” Iorlas added before Aerin could get her thoughts together. “And I decided to do so only because she promised me that you would keep this between us.”

At Aerin’s bewildered look, she pressed, “About who I am. About what I am.”

It took still a moment more before Aerin realized what Iorlas was talking about.

“You?” She was astonished.

Iorlas couldn’t help but smile and tilt her head at the queen’s reaction. “Is it really so surprising?” she asked softly.

Aerin was still grasping for words. “But I thought … if anyone … surely, Lancaeriel …”

Iorlas laughed softly, somehow amused by the thought of Lancaeriel as a dragon. “Ah … well, I suppose I can understand that. She has a certain something about her, doesn’t she? Her ancientness … her power …”

Aerin nodded dumbly. That was exactly why she had thought it would be her.

Iorlas shook her head. “No. She is indeed old, and very powerful – probably the most powerful person I have ever heard of. But she was born elven, and has always been so.” She smiled. “In fact, it was she who changed me. In many ways.”

They reached the marble gazebo, and Aerin automatically sat down. Iorlas followed suit without complaining. It was probably the most private place on the entire palace grounds. There, she explained about her beginnings: how she had been the same as any other dragon, seeking the death of any elf or human she met; how Lancaeriel had healed her rather than kill her for having murdered the woman’s husband; how Ioreth had killed Lancaeriel, which had led to their long and unusual feud; how, millennia later, Iorlas had once more met up with Lancaeriel, who had long since been reborn; how Lancaeriel had placed the conditional change on both Iorlas and Ioreth; about meeting the Aldriches and their traveling party; how she had found herself succumbing to her elven emotions and had fallen in love with Daeron, and the decisions she had made so that they could have a chance at a life together: the death of her sister as the price of becoming a real and true elf.

“I do not wish to imply that dragons are not dangerous; they are,” she concluded. “But … it is possible that they also do not merit death simply because of what they are. For what they do, yes. But only what they do. Bears are as dangerous, and so are griffins … but you do not seek to exterminate them simply because of what they are.”

Aerin nodded. Her thoughts swirled about in her head. She had never imagined such a thing. And there were implications beyond what Iorlas had told her. Daeron had married a dragon – or one who had used to be a dragon. Knowingly? She was sure of it. Miyuki knew, and Iorlas struck her as honest. Did others know? How many? And what did that mean for Iorlas? Was she as elven as those born as elves? Did she gain a soul? Did the laws that prevented children from being born from couples of very different races prevent Iorlas and Daeron from having children? It was none of her business, she would be the first to admit, but she couldn’t help but wonder. Were her senses the same? Her attributes?

Iorlas was still watching her anxiously. “Your Majesty?” she murmured.

Aerin blinked, her thoughts dissipating. “I – forgive me, you have given me much to think about.”

Iorlas nodded slowly. She didn’t want to rush the queen.

“That being said,” Aerin added softly, “I thank you for speaking to me about this. I must admit, my opinion has always been a bit coloured where dragons are concerned. I was young when my younger brother was killed by a dragon. I spent four hundred years in the Four Lands hunting dragons. I-”

Iorlas gaped at Aerin in open-mouthed astonishment. “That was you?”

Aerin was stunned. “Me? I – wait, don’t tell me … I hunted you?” Her eyes narrowed. “Silver?”

Iorlas blushed. “You nearly had us a few times.”

Aerin laughed. Suddenly the whole thing seemed funny, though she wasn’t sure why. Very soon, Iorlas found herself laughing along.

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