Slowly, the young elf turned as the last vestiges of sleep left her and her senses began to wake, and as a mighty yawn gripped her, she stretched her limbs and arched her back, a soft moan escaping her lips, and with a sigh, she opened her eyes at last. Rising as a smile parted her lips, she carried her gaze about her room and sighed once more, then, shrugging, she flung her bed covers off her body and shuffled off her bed before slipping on her shoes and wandering towards her door and out of it.
Shambling on in silence, her eyes bleary as she scratched the many phantom itches about her, the young girl made her way through the Tower, the few denizens she passed smiling and shaking their head at her passing, till at last, she shuffled into the Tower Kitchens, and as she entered, the young girl came to a halt, her smile returned.
“You’re up early,” said the figure seated at the counter, her back to the door and her gaze upon what lay before her.
Shaking her head in response, the young girl bounded forth and threw her arms about the seated woman before placing her head upon the woman’s back, a soft giggle upon her lips.
Sighing in response, the woman turned and held the young girl in a hard stare, but the smile upon the woman’s lips quelled the fire within her gaze.
“Good morning, Naeve,” the woman said at last.
“Good morning, Amala,” the young girl replied.
The young girl nodded. “Yes, breakfast.”
“Good!” The woman nodded before patting the seat beside her. “Come, then.”
Letting go of her friend, young Naeve wandered over to the seat before turning to the mage on the other side of the counter.
“Morning, Master Netyam.” She smiled.
“Good morning, Naeve,” the man replied, his smile as wide hers. “What would you like for breakfast?”
“Uh…” Naeve began, then turned to the woman. “What’re you having?”
“Poached elbst eggs on yinta bread.”
“Hey! Don’t judge till you’ve tried it.”
“I have. So, ew…”
“Whatever…” the woman growled, shaking her head before shoving a generous helping into her mouth and sucking on it.
The young elf recoiled at this, then shook her head and turned to the Archmage.
“Winterberry and oat, please,” she said.
“So,” the woman continued, sniffing as she spoke, “having breakfast before bathing I see.”
“Hey, it’s my day off! I’m allowed.”
“Hrm…” Amala muttered, but said nary a word further.
Grinning, Naeve turned to the elven woman square. “How come you’re up so early, though?”
The silver-haired woman rolled her eyes and sighed. “I couldn’t sleep much.”
The young girl slowly sat tall at this, then turned to the Archmage across the counter before holding him in a knowing stare.
“Gods, Naeve!” Amala cried. “Not that!”
“Well, sorry!” Naeve threw back, turning to the woman once more, “but every time you say you can’t sleep, that’s usually what you mean!”
“Well, not this time!”
“So, what was it, then?” the young girl replied, a frown upon her lips.
Breathing deep, Amala sighed and shook her head. “It’s…”
“Is it because of yesterday?” Naeve asked, her voice soft and her gaze pained.
The elven woman smiled, raising a soft hand to her dear friend’s cheek as she did so. “Yes and no.”
“What do you mean?” Naeve replied, her brow furrowed deep.
“Well…” Amala began, sighing once more, “something you said yesterday held true, and…I’ve never truly come to terms with it, and having you saying all so plainly yesterday, it…”
The young girl’s face fell at those words, and as Amala saw her friend’s pain, her smile returned as she slipped a hand into Naeve’s.
“Don’t feel bad, my darling,” she continued. “I don’t blame you, and, in truth, were I to go through it all again, I don’t think the outcome would be any different. It’s just…well…some wounds take time to heal, and this hasn’t healed yet.” Then, she turned to the girl square, reaching forth and grasping Naeve’s other hand. “But I don’t blame you for yesterday. Not one bit.”
The young girl frowned. “You don’t blame me, but you blame someone?”
The woman’s smile grew, but the warmth in her eyes were gone, and leaning forth, she kissed her dear friend upon her forehead.
“You don’t worry about that,” the woman added, her tone one that sent a very real shiver down Naeve’s spine, and with the woman’s smile widening, she turned and wolfed down her meal before rising.
“I’ll be in the Gardens if you need me for anything,” she said, turning to the young girl once more.
“Does needing someone to bother because I’m bored count?” the young girl replied as she forced a smile to her lips.
The elven woman sighed and shook her head. Then, with a gentle caress of the young girl’s cheek, she leant forward and kissed Naeve upon her forehead, then smiled at the Archmage before turning and heading for the door.
Naeve watched her leave in silence, then turned to the bowl before her.
“Oh, thank you!” she cried, then reached for the spoon beside it.
Grinning wide, the young girl leant forward and began gorging on what lay before her, an odd silence falling upon the Kitchens as she scoffed heaped spoonfuls of her sumptuous meal, till at last, she paused and raised her gaze.
“What?” she mumbled, a frown upon her lips as she caught the gaze of the Archmage before her.
The Archmage stood silent, staring at the young girl as if weighing his words, and as the silence drew on, the young girl slowly sat tall, her frown deepening as she chewed upon what lay in her mouth.
Then, the Archmage leant forward.
“Naeve,” he said, leaning upon the counter and reaching for the child’s hand. “There is something I must ask of you, but I fear you’ll never speak to me again should I ask it.”
Naeve cocked her head to the side at this, her brow furrowed deep once more. “Then, why ask?”
“Because…” the Archmage began, then sighed. “Because I’d never forgive myself if events go as I expect and I did nothing.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
The Archmage smiled and nodded. “I know.”
Naeve stared at the man a spell, his words echoing in her ears.
“So, what is it, then?” she asked at last.
The Archmage shook his head. “Not here. You remember the grove you used to hide in to escape my lessons?”
The young girl nodded.
“Good.” The Archmage nodded. “Meet me there after breakfast. Alright?”
The young girl stared in silence once more, then nodded. “Okay.”
“Alright, then,” the Archmage breathed, his smile returned as he turned and wandered deeper into the Kitchens.
Naeve watched him a spell, her mind awhirl. But it wasn’t long before she returned to her meal, and though much of its taste was now lost to her, she emptied her bowl nonetheless, then rose and headed for the door, uttering nary a word throughout.
Sighing, young Naeve swung her legs beneath the bench upon which she sat before pouting and staring at the birds in the trees before her.
“Bloody late is what he is,” she muttered, then lowered her gaze to her dress.
As she began picking at the folds upon it, footsteps drifted to the young girl’s ears, and tuning, she watched as the Archmage Aeden Netyam wandered into the clearing, but as Naeve stared at him, a deep frown twisted her lips as she slowly sat tall. Never had she seen him look so contrite.
“What is it?” she asked.
Breathing deep, the Archmage forced a smile and wandered towards the seated girl.
Naeve watched the man approach, unsure what to make of his demeanour, and as he sat beside her, she turned to face him square.
The Archmage breathed deep and move to speak, then fell silent, his words catching in his throat as a sigh escaped his lips.
“What is it?” Naeve repeated.
“Naeve,” the Archmage began at last, turning to face the seated girl square, “what I’m about to say… Before I say it, I just want you to know that…none of it holds true anymore. You’re like a daughter to me now. My own blood.”
Naeve stared hard at the man, her heart climbing up her throat. “Master Netyam, you’re scaring me.”
The Archmage smiled and shook his head. “Forgive me child, that is the last thing–”
The young elf placed a hand upon the Archmage’s shoulder. “What. Is. It?”
The Archmage breathed deep once more, then move to speak, but once again, his words failed him.
“Gods, just say!“ Naeve cried, her tone curt as she pushed hard against him.
“I know Amala’s a vampire,” the Archmage said at last.
“What?” Naeve gasped.
The Archmage nodded. “She’s a day-walker, isn’t she?”
“I know Fellspire’s vowed to expose her nature to the Tower, and remove your mother from office in doing so.”
“What? Mother?” Naeve gasped as the blood drained from her face.
“And I know about Cedar Valley.”
Naeve fell silent and stared open-mouthed at the man seated beside her.
The Archmage nodded. “I know about all of it because…I’m in Fellspire’s confidence.”
At those words, a cold hand gripped the young girl’s heart, freezing her to her core.
“What…what do you mean, you’re in her confidence?” she stammered.
The Archmage sighed and shook his head, then sat back, his gaze falling to his hands.
“What do you mean, you’re in her confidence?” Naeve demanded, her voice quivering.
The Archmage turned to Naeve once more.
“She asked me to be your tutor, Naeve,” the man replied. “To use you to get closer to Amala.”
Once more, the Archmage nodded. “My task was to find something, anything, that proves Amala’s true nature.”
“So…” Naeve began, “all those things you said. About me, and Amala, they were lies?”
The Archmage sighed and shook his head before closing his eyes and bowing his head.
Naeve stared at the man in numbed silence, words lost to her.
“So, all this time, you were using us?” she said at last. “You were using us?”
“I was, Naeve, yes,” Netyam added, then reached for Naeve.
“Don’t touch me!” the young girl barked, scrambling to her feet and darting back from the bench. “Don’t you bloody touch me!”
The Archmage’s face fell at this, crumpling into himself as he stared at the seething youth.
“I was using you, yes,” he said at last. “Was. But no longer. I care for you, Naeve. And Amala.”
Then, the Archmage smiled as his gaze wandered into the ether.
“Gods, that woman…” he breathed. “She made me feel something I didn’t even know existed.”
“Well, you can kiss that feeling good bye, Master Netyam,” Naeve spat, “because as soon as I tell her what you just said, she will never want anything to do with you, ever again.”
“Naeve, no, hold, listen–” Netyam began, rising and reaching for the young girl as he spoke.
“I said don’t touch me!” Naeve shrieked, darting back once more as her cries brought the man to a halt as he slowly lowered his hand.
“And just so you know,” Naeve continued, “Amala is not a vampire! Not even a day…whatever you bloody called her!”
“Whatever! She’s not, okay! And I’d have thought you of all people would know not to listen to bloody rumours!”
Then, the young girl turned to storm out of the clearing.
“No, Naeve, hold,” Netyam begged,reaching for the young girl once more.
“I said don’t bloody touch me!” Naeve yelled, pulling her arm away from the man and hurrying her steps.
“Fellspire’s going to kill her!” Netyam yelled as Naeve neared the clearing’s exit.
“What?” Naeve said, coming to a halt and turning to face the man.
“Fellspire’s going to kill her, Naeve,” Netyam repeated. “That’s why I’m telling you all this.”
The young girl shook her head. “What…what do you mean?”
Sighing, the Archmage sat.
“That woman is dying, Naeve,” he soon added. “Something happened in the highlands, I don’t know what, but whatever it was, it was bad. Truly bad. I don’t know how long she has to live, but it’s not long.”
Naeve stared at the man a spell, unsure what to say.
“Why doesn’t she just go to the Infirmary?” Naeve asked at last.
“Ha!” Netyam cried. “Why doesn’t she just go to the Infirmary, you ask, as if I haven’t badgered her to do just that!”
“Well, why doesn’t she?”
Netyam glanced over his shoulder at the young girl, then shook his head and turned to stare at his hands as he massaged his palm with his thumb.
“I don’t know, child,” he said. “I just don’t know. All I know is, she’s convinced she only has weeks to live, and she’s determined to take Amala to the hells with her. That’s all she speaks on; How she’ll end that creature before her time ends. ”
Naeve stood silent as the numbing cold returned.
Shaking his head, the Archmage sighed. “Creature. That’s what she calls Amala, you know. A bloody creature.” Then, he turned to stare behind him once more. “Do you know the true reason she told you of Cedar Valley?”
Naeve shook her head.
“Would you like to know?”
Once more, Naeve shook her head .
Netyam smiled and turned his gaze forth once more. “I don’t blame you.”
“Why?” Naeve found herself asking.
Smiling, Netyam turned to her once again. “So you could tell Amala, enrage Amala enough to want blood.”
Naeve frowned. “She wants Amala to kill her?”
The seated mage nodded. “She has a listening stone upon her at all times. She’s enchanted it to seal upon her death and with all the that is said about her in the moments leading to her death, then vanish and reappear in a safe place”
The Archmage nodded once more. “She intends to goad Amala into gloating, admitting what she is.”
“That’s just stupid!”
“Yeah! I mean, even if, and that’s a big if, Amala decides to kill her, she’s not going to be stupid enough to stand about gloating, now is she?”
The Archmage turned to stare square at the young girl. “Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure Amala won’t gloat about how Fellspire’s failed to destroy her if she felt she and Fellspire were completely alone?”
Naeve could not answer.
“Yeah,” Netyam nodded, “me neither.”
“You’re lying,” Naeve said at last.
“Am I?” the mage replied.
Naeve nodded. “Amala’s not a vampire…”
“ … she’s never been a vampire…”
“…we’re past the pretence.”
“…but people like you just won’t leave her alone.”
“If I’m lying, why spin such a yarn?” the mage demanded. “Hunh? Why?”
The young girl couldn’t answer.
“Naeve,” the mage sighed, “all I ask is that you speak to Amala, warn her off her plans to end Fellspire. She–”
“Amala’s not trying to kill–”
“For gods’ sake, girl, we’re past the pretence!” the mage yelled. “Just speak to her, alright? Tell her she mustn’t! Or at the very least she…she must be swift.” Then, he leant forward. “Will you tell her?”
The young girl stood silent.
The Archmage leant forward some more. “Will. You. Tell. Her?”
Biting her lip, Naeve pondered the mage’s words, her gaze upon the man.
“Gods damn it, Naeve, answer me! Will you tell her?”
“Don’t shout at me!”
“Then answer me! Will you tell her!”
“I said don’t shout!”
Then, answer, gods damn it!”
“Alright!” Naeve thundered. “Alright! I’ll tell her!”
“Thank you,” the Archmage said, his voice calm once more.
“Anything else?” the young girl spat.
The Archmage shook his head.
“Fine,” Naeve added. “Bye, then.” And without waiting for a response, the seething youth spun on her heels and marched out of the clearing.
The Archmage watched her leave in silence, but as she dropped from view, the most wicked of grins parted his lips, and reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a glimmering stone. Clasping it tight, he closed his eyes a spell, then opening opened them as the glimmer of the stone faded. Then, he lifted the stone to his ear, and as he listened to the words held within it, his grin grew even wider.
“Idiot child,” he muttered, then rose and hurried from the clearing.
Sitting within the Gardens, a book in upon her lap, Amala stared into the ether as her thoughts wandered once more to events from a past life. She’d thought she’d she’d put those ghosts to rest, but it was clear the lives she took at Warrington Castle still weighed heavy upon her.
Breathing deep, she shook her head and pulled her thoughts to the present, then picked up her book and began reading once more. That was till the sound of footsteps reached her ears, and with a frown, she turned to see who it was. What she witnessed stole her breath from her.
“Still here, then?” the Archmage Aeden Netyam called out, a deep smirk upon his lips.
It was not the sight of her beloved that had froze her heart so, but of those that walked alongside him, for their presence meant a truth she’s once pondered, but had wished to never be true. Breathing deep, she bit back against the pain and sat tall, her gaze wandering to the woman beside him, and the air of triumph about her.
“What are you doing here?” Amala said, her frown deep as she glared at the woman.
“She’s here to witness a momentous occasion,” Netyam replied.
“Indeed, I am,” Fellspire added, her smirk mirroring his perfectly, “and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
As they neared, Amala cast her gaze about the others. All, she knew by name. Some, she knew had, on many occasion, fed the rumours of her being a vampire, and all had the self-same air about them. Then, at last, they reached her, surrounding her as they did so. Amala kept a firm grip on her composure, her gaze upon Netyam and her eyes cold and empty as she stared at him.
The Archmage giggled.
“Look at her,” he sneered. “She thinks giving me the evil eye will cower me.”
A ripple of laughter floated through the others.
“What do you want?” was Amala’s cold reply.
With his smile returned, the Archmage offered Amala a whispering stone.
“Here,” he said, “you’ll enjoy this.”
Amala lowered her gaze to the offered stone. “What’s in it?”
“Your little brat friend giving us all we need to expose you and your protector,” Fellspire replied.
“What?” Amala gasped, her eyes wide as she turned to the woman.
“I’ve held it at the best moment,” Netyam added, offering the stone once more. “Listen.”
The seated day-walker turned to the stone once more before snatching it and holding it to her ear, and as a heavy silence full upon the group, Amala stared into the ether and listened.
“Filthy liars!” she spat after a spell, flinging the stone at Netyam as she did so. “She said nothing of note!”
“I never expected you to be this big a fool, Amala,” Fellspire replied.
“What did you say?” Amala said, her voice soft and her tone biting.
“You might not have heard that little hells-spawn admit to you being what you are,” Netyam said, his smirk returned, “but, you did hear her give us all we need to expose you.”
Amala cocked her head to the side, turning to the man as she did so.
“You know,” she said after a spell, “I can’t decide whether you’re a complete fool or utterly desperate.” Then, she smiled. “Oh, hold…you have a listening stone upon you right now, don’t you? You poor dear!”
The Archmage laughed. “No, my dear, we don’t need your confession, but sadly, you are the fool, it seems.”
“Hm,” Amala smiled, “am I?”
“Oh, yes.” The Archmage nodded, then leant forward. “What you heard was me telling your brat friend to tell you to be swift. Or, to put it more simply…which is clearly what you need, in truth…I told her to tell you to be swift in killing a mage of the Tower, and she made no mention of my words being at odds with our single greatest tenet. Nor, I wager, has she told anyone that I am complicit in the possible killing of a Tower mage on Tower grounds.”
Then, the man lowered himself into a crouch, staring at the day-walker square. “Do you know what that means?”
With her smile now a smirk, Amala leant towards him. “It means you’re a worthless, petty little shite. Do you knowhow many times a day mages within these walls declare their desire to kill each other? Even the Matriarch has threatened to kill me before, within earshot of others, and yet, nobody was up in arms. So, my dearest Aeden–”
“Don’t call me that!” the Archmage snapped.
The silver-haired woman chuckled. “Oh, did I touch a nerve…Aeden?”
The seething Archmage glared at Amala for a spell, his teeth bared, but kept his peace.
“That tenet you gloat about being broken,” Amala continued, “people only considered it broken if that talk becomes a reality, otherwise, nobody cares.”
At last, the Archmage smiled once more. “My, my, you truly are dense.”
“Dense?” Amala grinned. “Is that the best you can do?”
“What people think is broken, and what the tenet says are two different things, my darling little blood-drinker,” the Archmage replied, “and if someone were to demand answers, nobody, not even the Matriarch herself, can countermand them.”
Rolling her eye, the seated day-walker sighed. “Meaning?”
“Meaning you have till noon tomorrow to call an assembly and admit to all present that you’re a day-walker under the protection of that bitch Matriarch of ours…” Fellspire interjected.
Amala snorted at the woman before throwing her head back and laughing.
“…or I shall call one and tell them all I found evidence Netyam and that bitch of a child are conspiring to kill me.”
“Oh, will you, now?” Amala grinned, then turned to Netyam. “And I suppose you will step forth to answer?”
“Naturally,” Netyam replied, his smile widening.
“And I’ll be demanding he be Compelled,” Fellspire added.
“Which is when I confirm it all being true,” Netyam continued, “and all being done to protect your true nature.”
At those words, the smile began to fade form Amala’s lips as her face slowly turned ashen.
“Ah, now you see!” Netyam grinned.
Then, Amala’s smile returned.
“How many people have seen you two walk about side-by-side today, Aeden dearest?” she said. “Do you not think such a display of camaraderie will dent your credibility?”
Shaking his head, the Archmage sighed.
“You still can’t see it,” he muttered, then glanced at the woman beside him. “She still can’t see it.”
“No,” Fellspire sighed. “Dense as a pole, this one.”
Returning his gaze to Amala, Netyam smiled. “To your question, my dear, yes, I definitely think our being seen together will dent our credibility, yes.”
“More like shatter it,” Fellspire added.
The seated woman frowned at the pair, unsure what to make of their words.
“But what do you think people will say once it’s Naeve’s turn and she is asked if what is in the stone is true, and, if you truly are a vampire?” Netyam asked
Amala sneered. “She will never ans…”
But then, Amala saw at long last what it was the pair had planned, and as the truth became clear to her, she could only stare, her lips agape and her heart in her throat.
“Oh, gods be good!” Fellspire smiled. “I think she’s finally seen it!”
“Oh! I think you’re right!” Netyam grinned.
The seated day-walker lowered her gaze, her hand falling to the grassy earth as she stared into the ether, her eyes wide and her mind awhirl.
Smirking once more, the crouching Archmage rose.
“It was never about me, was it?” Amala said at last, turning to the man she once loved. “It was Naeve you were after all along.”
The Archmage’s smirk grew at those words, saying nary a word.
“You scum. You were planning on having a child that young tear her family apart and live with the guilt of it. You vile, vile little man.”
The Archmage’s smirk turned into a snarl as he leant forward. “At least I’m not a filthy parasite.”
Amala shook her head at the man. “Damn you, Aeden. Damn you to all the hells for this.”
The Archmage’s smile returned as he breathed deep and let out a most satisfied sigh.
“You have till noon tomorrow to spare your little friend the shame,” he said. “You don’t, well…then, damn you!”
The seated woman gritted her teeth and held the man’s gaze, the pain in her heart boring into her.
Then, the Archmage kicked the whispering stone within the grass to her.
“That clone is yours,” he said, “we have more than enough to spare.”
And with no more words to say, the friends turned and headed back inside, leaving the day-walker where she sat, her soul crushed and her heart shattered.
“Dear gods, it’s good to be home!” the Matriarch cried as she marched into her quarters.
“Please let’s never do that again,” her beloved added, entering after her and closing the door behind him. “Let’s just send someone else next time, alright?”
“What?” the Matriarch replied, turning to her husband as a soft smile parted her lips, “and put someone else through that torture? That wouldn’t make me a very good Matriarch, now, would it?”
“Well, no, but–”
“And besides,” she added, sauntering over to him and wrapping her arms about his neck, “now that we’re back, I can think of a few things we can do to…wash a way the pain.”
“A few things,” the Patriarch replied, his wife’s smile spreading to him as he placed his hands upon her hips.
“Well, more like…one thing we can do a few different way.”
“Oh?” the Patriarch said, his smile widening as he pulled his beloved closer. “Do tell…”
“Or…” the Matriarch replied, an impish glimmer in her eye, “I could showyou in–”
“You’re not alone,” came a voice from the shadows, startling the pair and, as one, they spun about to face the darkness, arcane power pulsing between their fingers.
“There’s no need for that,” Amala said, stepping from the shadows. “It’s only me.”
“Amala?” the Matriarch said. “What in the bloody–”
“Just hear me, alright?” Amala interjected, raising a hand as she took another step forth.
“No!” the Matriarch replied, her voice firm. “You gave me your word, no more secret meetings in my bed-chamber! What the hells, Amala! I need some privacy, you know!”
“Darling,” the Patriarch said, placing a soft hand upon his beloved’s shoulder as he spoke. “I don’t think she had a choice.”
“What’re you–” the Matriarch began, turning to her husband.
“She’s been crying.”
“What?” the Matriarch said, turning to Amala, and it was only then she noticed the tear stains upon her cheek.
“Oh, gods!” she gasped before hurrying to her friend’s side and hugging her close.
Amala stood still for a spell, but soon, she wrapped her hands about her dear friend and wept, a haunting wail that tore at the souls of the pair within the room.
“I’ll leave you two to speak,” the Patriarch said at last, turning for the door.
“No!” Amala cried, sniffling as she shook her head. “No, you must hear this too.”
The pair exchanged glances, then turned to Amala.
“That bad?” the Matriarch said.
“I…” Amala began, then, sniffling loudly, forced a smile and wiped her tears as she pulled free of her friend.
“Gods, I thought I was done!” she said, forcing her smile wider as she fought for calm.
“How long have you been in here?” the Matriarch added.
“All day,” Amala replied.
“All day?” The Patriarch frowned.
“Amala nodded. “I couldn’t see her. I just…I just couldn’t.”
“See who?” the Matriarch pressed.
“Perhaps we should start from the beginning,” the Patriarch offered, wandering to a nearby seat.
“Yeah.” The Matriarch nodded as she too sat.”What’s going on, Amala?”
Amala watched the pair a spell, then shook her head and breathed deep, her gaze drifting to the Matriarch.
“That person I said was close to me and aiding Fellspire…?” she said.
“It was Netyam.”
“What?” the pair cried as one.
“You told him?” Amala frowned.
“Well…” the Matriarch shrugged, “yeah. He might’ve known of some posting I’d forgotten about.”
“Are you sure it was Neytam?” the Patriarch asked.
Amala nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
“The little bastard.” The Matriarch seethed.
“Oh, he’s more than that.”
The Matriarch frowned at this. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t think he was after me,” Amala replied.
The Matriarch’s frown deepened at this. “What do you mean?”
“I mean the only reason he became Naeve’s tutor was so he could turn her against the both of us. Make her confess in public to what I was, and that you’d known all along.”
A heavy silence fell upon the room as the couple stared at Amala.
“I’m going to kill that man,” the Matriarch snarled at last.
“Not if I get to him first,” her husband growled.
“Well,” Amala sighed, “if intend to kill him, you must do so before noon tomorrow.”
The couple exchanged glances at this.
“Why, what’s happening at noon tomorrow?” the Patriarch asked.
Amala turned to the man. “Netyam has a whispering stone of he and Naeve conspiring to aid me in killing Fellspire, and if I don’t call an assembly tomorrow admitting what I am and that your wife has been shielding me all this time, Fellspire’s going to call one and present the stone as hers.”
The couple exchanged glances, their confusion plain.
“How is Fellspire making an arse of herself in front of the whole Tower bad for us?” the Matriarch frowned.
“Yeah,” the Patriarch added. “If she wishes to call an assembly over something so asinine, all power to her. Why should that bother us?”
“Because with this pretext, you can’t deny her calling the assembly.”
“True,” The Matriarch nodded, “I can’t. But it’s still a shite pretext. She’ll just end up a laughing stock.”
Amala shook her head. “You can’t deny her demanding Aeden and Naeve be called forward and Compelled to answer either.”
The Matriarch shook her head in turn. “Doesn’t matter, I’m the one who’ll be asking the questions, not her.”
“And if she demands Aeden be called first, and he says it was all done because they both wished to hide the fact that I’m a vampire? Do you truly think you can stop everyone demanding you ask Naeve to clarify?”
At those words, the Matriarch fell silent, her lips agape as the blood drained from her face.
“But hold,” the Patriarch said. “Netyam will be Compelled, won’t he? He can’t lie like that.”
Amala shook her head. “He won’t be. He tricked Naeve, made her say just enough that his words will be broadly true”
“Dear gods,” the Patriarch breathed. “He’s truly going to make Naeve destroy her own mother.”
“Yes,” Amala nodded, “he is.”
“I’m going to be sick,” the Matriarch said at last, rising as she spoke. “Oh, gods… I’m going to be sick.”
Springing to his feet, the Patriarch hurried to his beloved and pulled her close before hugging her tight.
“Tell me you have an answer,” he said, his eyes pleading as he turned to Amala.
“I do.” Amala nodded, her voice soft as she spoke.
Then, she sighed as she sat at last upon the arm of the chair beside her.
“Well?” the Matriarch demanded.
Amala turned to the couple. “Amala must die.”
“What? No! No!” the Matriarch cried, shaking her head as she spoke. “This isn’t the time for some bloody stupid heroic. You’re not killing yourself, you hear me? We’ll figure this out some other way!”
The seated day-walker smiled. “I didn’t say I was killing myself, my dear, I said Amala must die.”
The Matriarch stared at the seated elf for a spell, her brow furrowed deep. But then, as the meaning to the day-walker’s words became clear, the Matriarch’s eyes grew wide as her heart began to break.
“No,” she said with a vehement shake of her head.
The day-walker’s smile grew. “It must be done, my darling.”
“No! Amala, no!”
“To win this, we must turn their words against them, there’s no other way. And if everyone thinks Amala took her life because of their actions, we win.”
“No! No! There’s always another way!”
Smiling still, Amala shook her head. “Not this time.”
Pulling free of her husband, the Matriarch darted to her friend, then fell on her knees before the silver-haired elf, her eyes glistening as she stared up at the elf.
“Amala, please, I beg of you,” she said. “Don’t do this. There’s another way. There’s always another way!”
“Oh, my child,” Amala replied, raising a soft hand to the Matriarch’s cheek, “my dear, sweet child. You and I have known for a long time that this day would come–”
“Amala, please,” the Matriarch pleaded as her tears broke free at last. “You’re one of the only true friends I have left. I can’t do this without you.”
“Yes, you can,” Amala replied, her voice soft as she wiped the woman’s tears away. “And you are. You are Matriarch, my darling, not I. You are the one making this place greater than it was. You, not I. No, child, you don’t need me, not anymore.”
“So, where will you go?” the Patriarch asked.
Turning to the man, Amala breathed deep. “Ungul Drien. There’s an old friend there I wish to see again.” Then, she turned to the Matriarch, smiling. “You remember her, don’t you?”
The Matriarch moved to speak, but her words would not come forth, and in the end, she lowered her gaze and nodded.
“Will we ever see you again?” the Patriarch asked.
Amala smiled and shook her head. “For Amala to die, this must be our good-bye.”
“And Naeve?” the Matriarch asked.
Amala turned to the kneeling woman.
“Will she ever see you again?”
Amala shook her head. “I–”
“Don’t you dare, Amala!” the Matriarch cried. “Don’t you dare! She’ll need to see you again! This thing could break her, you know she’ll blame herself for it! Walk out of our lives if you must, but you have to return for her.”
“If I return, people will–”
“I don’t care what people think! Come back!”
Amala stared in silence at the woman before her.
The Matriarch forced a hand into Amala’s gripping it tight. “Promise me you’ll come back!”
Amala stared on in silence.
“Promise me!” the Matriarch yelled.
“Alright,” Amala said at last, nodding as she spoke. “Alright, I promise.”
The Matriarch nodded at this, her composure returning. “Thank you.”
“Will you at least say farewell to her?” the Patriarch asked.
Amala turned to the man. “How can I? She’ll ask questions. Do I lie to her? Will that not make the pain that will follow worse?”
“She’ll need something to remember you by, Amala.”
“And she’ll have it,” Amala replied, pulling free a gem from her pocket. “I’ve added my tale to the tome. It will only show when she’s alone, or with one of you. It’ll tell her–”
“Those are mere words,,” the Patriarch interjected. “She’s a child, needs a memory.”
“Go to her. Give her a memory she can hold on to when the day is darkest.”
The silver-haired woman shook her head.
“No,” she said, her eyes pleading. “No, I can’t face her.”
The standing elf smiled. “However hard this may be for you, do you not think the next few decades will be much worse for her if you don’t do this?”
Amala stared at the man for a spell, then sat tall and breathed deep.
“Very well,” she said, her fingers clasping about the gem. “I’ll go say farewell.”
Then, turning to the kneeling woman, Amala smiled and rose, then turned and wandered into the shadows.
The Patriarch watched her step from view, then wandered over to his wife and, kneeling beside her, pulled her close and hugged her tight as the heavy silence returned.
Seated upon the floor beside her bed, the young elf held her head in her hands, her eyes closed as she ran through in her mind all the places she’d searched for Amala. There must’ve been something she missed, some special place the elven woman loved to visit that she’d forgotten, some…
Just then, a soft knock came at the door, drawing the child from her thoughts.
“Who is it?” she demanded.
“It’s me,” replied a voice, and though the voice was soft, it nonetheless sent a thunderbolt through young Naeve, her eyes going wide as she leapt to her feet and bounded for the door.
“Where the bloody hells were you?” she seethed the moment her eyes were upon the woman upon the other side of it.
As her gaze fell upon the stains upon the woman’s cheeks, however, the young girl fell silent, the fierceness of her gaze swiftly replaced by one of deep concern.
“Amala, what’s wrong?” she said.
Amala smiled and sniffed, then shook her head. “Nothing, my darling, I am well.”
“Nothing my arse, you’ve been crying!”
“Yes,” Amala nodded, “I have. But I am well now, truly.”
“Gods, Amala, when are you going to stop treating me like a bloody baby!” the girl cried, her frustration plain. “What’s wrong?”
The silver-haired woman’s smile grew as she reached for the child.
“Very well,” she said, placing a soft hand upon Naeve’s shoulder. “I received word a dear friend of mine will not survive the night.”
“Oh,” Naeve replied, her voice soft. “And he was close to you?”
“She,” Amala corrected, “and yes, she’s been a part of me for…years.”
“Oh… Is she suffering?”
The silver-haired woman breathed deep, then let out a ragged sigh and nodded.
“Oh…” was all Naeve could say.
“Are you busy?”
The young girl shook her head. “You want company?”
Nodding, Naeve stepped aside.
“Thank you,” Amala said, then stepped into the room.
Closing the door behind the woman, Naeve watched in silence as Amala made her way towards the bed, the young girl unsure of what to say.
“What’s your friend’s name?” she asked at last.
Stopping, Amala turned to the young girl and smiled, then shook her head. “Let’s not talk about her. Please.”
The young girl nodded. “Sure, uhm… What do you want to talk about?”
“Well,” the day-walker said as she sat upon the bed, “what have you been up to? I haven’t seen you since breakfast.”
At those words, memories of the clearing filled the young girls mind, but as she stared into the pain-filled eyes of the dear friend, she knew those words could not be said just yet, and so instead, she smiled and, clasping her hands behind her, wandered over to the bed before sitting upon it and regaling her friend of a retelling of the many rumours and goings-on she’d heard and witnessed during her many antics, pouring as much humour into the telling as she could, and before long, the room was filled with the sound of the elven woman’s laughter, a sound that warmed young Naeve’s heart and spurred her on till at last, there were no more tales to share.
“And you did all of that in one day?” Amala asked once Naeve fell silent.
“Eh.” Naeve shrugged. “Some days are bloody boring, some days aren’t.” Then, she turned to stare at her friend square. “You’re feeling better though?”
Breathing deep, Amala nodded and ran a hand through her young friend’s hair. “Much.”
“Good.” Naeve smiled. But once again, her smile was not to last.
“It’s not easy, is it,” she said, “living forever.”
The silver-haired woman frowned. “Why would you say that?”
“Well, you get to watch all your friends die.”
Breathing deep once more, the elven woman let out a ragged sigh before smiling at the young girl.
“No,” she said at last, shaking her head as she spoke, “it’s not fun, no.”
“You regret it sometimes?”
Once more, the elven woman frowned. “Regret what, being turned?”
Smiling once again, Amala shook her head. “My dear, I was not given a choice.”
The young girl stared at her friend in silence for a spell, till a soft pout twisted her lips, and as it grew, she wrapped her hands about the woman and hugged her close, placing her head upon the woman’s bosom as she did so.
“Oh, my dear.” Amala gasped, reaching for the young girl’s arm. “There’s no need for that.”
Pulling free, Naeve stared at her and nodded, her gaze one all seriousness. “Yes, there was.”
The silver-haired woman moved to speak, but her words caught in her throat, and, swallowing hard, held firm to her smile and ran a hand through Naeve’s hair.
“I’m not sure I’d want to live forever, though,” Naeve continued. “Not sure I’d be able to take the pain.”
“Your not living forever doesn’t make you immune to it, my darling.”
“Oh?” Naeve frowned, cocking her head to the side.
Amala nodded. “Some races age faster than we do, and there have been many elves over the years who’ve given their hearts to members of those races, and thus been forced to watch those loved ones grow old and die before their eyes.”
“Oh,” Naeve winced. “You mean like humans.”
“Yes,” Amala nodded, “like humans.”
“Yeah, they don’t live long, do they.”
Amala shook her head. “Most of them don’t, no.”
Then, why did they do it?” Naeve frowned. “The elves, I mean.”
The elven woman shrugged. “Your heart will want who it wants, and you can either ignore it and suffer then, or embrace it and suffer later.”
The young elf pulled a face. “That’s…not much of a choice.”
The silver-haired woman smiled at this. “You forget the many years in-between where life is bliss, should you embrace it.”
Naeve shook her head at this. “I don’t see how they can enjoy anything knowing how it’ll all end.”
Amala nodded in response. “I suppose it’s hard to imagine unless you live it.” Then, she smiled once more. “But there have been many over the centuries who would disagree with you.”
“Well, uh…” Amala began, frowning as she stared into the ether. Then, as her smile returned, she turned to her young friend and reached into her pocket. “How about you read of one such person? Hm?”
The seated child’s gaze went from her dear friend’s face to her hand and back again, then shrugged.
“Go on, then,” she said before shuffling a bit from Amala and placing her head upon the elven woman’s lap, swinging her feet into her bed as she did so.
“Very well,” Amala replied, pulling free her hand and calling forth the tome.
Then, as Naeve nestled onto her lap, Amala turned the pages of the tome, then stopped and placed her hand upon Naeve’s head, a soft smile upon her lips as she began stroking the young girl’s hair.
“Adanus,” Naeve muttered, her gaze upon the page before her and the single word within it.
Then, as Amala’s soft hand stroked her hair, she reached out a hand, turned the page and began to read.
Breathing deep, the elven mage wiped his tears and smiled as he wiped the dust from the obsidian headstone before him, and though the stone bore no writing upon it, the mage placed a tender hand upon the stone before tracing a finger down its edge, gritting his teeth as his eyes filled with tears once more.
“Adanus?” came a soft voice behind the mage.
Sniffling, the mage wiped his eyes and sprang from his knees to his feet, fighting for composure as he went.
“She said not to mourn for her, Adanus,” the voice continued. “She said–”
“I know what she said, alright!” the mage snapped. “I’m not that forgetful!”
The figure behind the mage fell silent as a soft sigh escaped her lips.
Shaking his head, the mage sniffed and spun about, a sheepish smile upon his lips.
“Forgive me,” he said as he turned, “it’s just that…”
The figure smiled. “There’s nothing to forgive. I’ve been where you are, and I know how much it hurts.”
At those words, the mage’s smile faded.
“How do you go on?” he asked, his face gaunt.
The figure’s smile widened as she breathed deep. “You hold on to the memories you have, dear boy. They don’t dull the pain, only time can do that, but they at least give you the strength to endure.”
The mage turned to the headstone once more.
“I don’t want to endure,” he said, raising a hand to the stone, “I just want her back.”
The figure stared at the mage in silence for a spell, then breathed deep and crossed her arms behind her.
“Do you remember the first time you two met?” she soon asked.
The mage smiled. “Of course I remember. She got me in trouble with Mother!”
“So, tell me.”
The mage frowned, turning to the woman behind him. “Tell you what?”
The figure shrugged. “Tell me of the first time you two met.”
The mage’s frown deepened. “What do you mean, tell you? You were there for most of it.”
“I know.” The figure nodded. “But tell me all the same.”
“Deriliah–” the mage began.
“Trust me, Adanus,” the figure interjected. “Tell me.”
The mage stared in silence, his confusion plain.
Smiling, the woman named Deriliah wandered towards a nearby stone bench, then as she sat upon it, she turned to stare square at the standing mage.
“Come tell me, Adanus,” she said, patting the space beside her. “Tell me as you remember it.”
Adanus stared at the figure for a spell, but soon shook his head and wandered over to her. Sitting beside her, he stared in silence for a spell longer, his lips unmoving.
“Trust me,” the figure soothed. “Tell me.”
The mage breathed deep, his gaze boring into the figure beside him but at last, he sighed and parted his lips and began to speak.
The elven child squirmed in his seat in silence before pouting as he swung his feet beneath the high chair upon which he sat.
“What a bore,” he muttered.
“Quiet, Adanus!” the woman to his side hissed.
“But it is, though,” the little boy whined.
“Sit still and be quiet, boy,” growled the man seated on the other side of the woman, his gaze upon the ceremony before them. “You’re embarrassing us.”
Though he’d heard those words a thousand times, they still stung, and lowering his gaze, the little elf pouted once more before squirming in his seat once again.
“Adanus!” the woman snapped, her voice a harsh whisper, but loud enough to startle the young elf. “Sit still”
“But I can’t, though,” the boy replied, his voice a soft whimper, “the seat’s hurting my rear.”
“I don’t care! Sit. Still!”
Adanus stared at the woman a spell, but soon lowered his gaze and nodded.
“Yes, Mother,” he mumbled, sitting tall as he did so.
“You’d better!” the elven woman snarled before returning her gaze to the ceremony before them.
Young Adanus turned to his father, his gaze seeking words of comfort, but when none was forthcoming, he sighed and lowered his gaze, his shoulders sagging as he stared at his boots, a soft frown upon his lips.
But it was not long before the ache returned, and though at first, the young elf made to squirm, he caught himself just before and, gritting his teeth, arched his back and carried his gaze about the hall, eager for a distraction. Only, everywhere he looked, all he beheld were sombre faces and empty gazes, some were elven, most were human, all turned towards the raised dais before them and the man seated in the ornate chair upon it.
Pouting once more, the young elf turned to the dais and the robed man standing beside it, an unfurled parchment in his hands. But soon, boredom overcame him once again, and sighing he turned from the scene. As he turned, however, he locked gazes with a young human girl seated not overly far from him. Similar in stature, she had the same pout he wore, the same restless gaze, and the same arch in her back, and as the pair held each other’s gaze, a slow smile parted their lips as they sat tall.
But then, Adanus had the most impish of thoughts, and, casting a cautious glance at his mother, he turned to the little girl and grinned, then stuck his tongue out at her and pulled a face.
The little girl giggled at him, glanced at the woman beside her, then pulled a face at him in turn.
Little Adanus chuckled at the little girl’s response, then made ready with a retort of his own.
“What’re you doing?” came a stiff voice from beside him.
“Nothing!” said the startled elf, spinning to face his mother square.
The elven woman glared at her son, then followed the path of his gaze the moment before till her eyes fell upon the little girl, and as she turned to hold him in a heated glare, the little boy began to squirm.
“Truly, Adanus?” she said, her voice barely above a whisper, “you would mingle with her? Truly?”
A confused frown twisted the little elf’s lips as he turned from his mother to the little girl and back.
“What’s wrong with her?” he asked at last.
Shaking her head, the elven woman sighed and returned her gaze to the scene before her.
“Just witness the ceremony, alright?”
The little elf stared at his mother for a spell, then glanced at the little girl.
The little girl pouted at him, then parted her lips.
“Sorry,” she mouthed.
Adanus smiled and shrugged.
“It’s alright,” he mouthed back.
“What’s your name?” he added.
The little girl’s smile returned.
“My name is–” she began, but the woman beside her slapped her on her knee and whispered some sharp words at her, throwing caustic glances at little Adanus as she did so.
The little elf watched in silence as the human girl’s frown returned and she turned her gaze forward, only to slowly cast a sideways glance at him.
“Sorry,” Adanus mouthed.
“It’s okay,” the little girl mouthed.
The children grinned at each other a spell, then turned their gazes forward and did their best to witness the rest of the ceremony.
Sitting in the shadows, the Archmage Deriliah Nightsinger stared up at the stars, a wistful sigh upon her lips as she turned her thoughts to her childhood and the happy moments therein.
“Deriliah!” came a cry above the din around the mage, pulling her from her thoughts.
“Yes, Matriarch?” she called out in response, bounding to her feet and stepping out into the light.
“There, you are!” The Matriarch sighed, then gently shoved the little boy by her side towards her.
“Take him, please,” she added. “All he does is complain about how bored he is.”
Deriliah turned to the little pouting elf and smiled before returning her gaze to the elven woman.
“Of course, Matriarch,” she replied.
“Thank you!” the Matriarch gasped, then turned and hurried back.
The elven mage watched her Matriarch for a spell, then turned to her little charge, a smile upon her lips.
“What?” little Adanus demanded after a spell.
“You must’ve truly gotten under your mother’s skin for her to come all the way out here just to hand you over to me.”
“Eh.” The little elf shrugged before following the elven woman’s footsteps in the snow back to her resting place in the shadows.
“So, what did you do, then?”
“Nothing!” Adanus cried. “I just told her I was bored, that’s all.”
“Mhm.” Deriliah nodded. “And how many times did you tell her?”
Once more, the little elf shrugged, but kept his gaze at his feet.
“That many, hunh?”
Young Adanus kept his peace and his gaze where it was.
Sighing, the Archmage wandered to her little charge’s side.
“Listen,” she said as she went, “I know coronations are stuffy, boring events, but they are exceedingly important, especially since you’re destined to be Patriarch.”
“Oh, great,” Adanus growled, rolling his eyes as he sat, “this speech again.”
“Yes, young man,” Deriliah replied, her hands upon her hips, “this speech again. And till you take this seriously, you will hear this speech on a very regular basis. Do you understand?”
“It’s not as if I want to be Patriarch,” the little boy growled.
“Well, tough! We don’t always get what we wish in life. We must instead face–”
“Face life head on with what we are given,” little Adanus interjected, his tone mocking.
The Archmage stared at her young charge for a spell, then sighed.
“Move over,” she added, marching to sit beside the little boy.
Then, she opened her palm before him.
As little Adanus’s gaze fell upon his protector’s palm, his eyes went wide as he glanced behind him.
“Your parents aren’t here,” the Archmage said, then gestured with her palm.
Adanus turned from the woman to the open palm and back.
“What should I make?” he said.
Deriliah shrugged. “Surprise me.”
“Hrm.” Adanus pondered a spell, then gasped and sat tall.
Then, breathing deep, the little elf raised a hand and leant forward before breathing onto the Archmage’s palm, whispering words of arcane as he did so, and as he breathed, the ghostly image of a tiny bird swam into view above the Archmage’s palm, its feathers white as snow as it swam through ghostly waters, is long neck bent forward as it wrapped its wings about its body.
“Oh,” Deriliah smiled, “wherever did you get that from?”
Little Adanus sat tall as the illusion faded, his smile wide.
“Saw a painting of it in the palace,” he said, gesturing to the grand building behind them. Then, he frowned. “Do you know what it is?”
“Yeah.” Deriliah nodded. “They’re called swans.”
“Are they common?”
The Archmage smiled. “Well, there used to be a bevy–”
“Bevy…?” The little boy frowned.
The Archmage nodded. “Yes, there used to be a family of them in the Gardens.”
“What happened to them?” the little boy asked, his frown returned.
“Well,” the Archmage sighed, “some fool idiot of a noble let his little dog off its lead in the Gardens, and the thing bolted straight for the swans and their chicks. The parents battered the dog of course, I mean, what do you expect. They battered the blasted thing till it drowned.”
“Yes. Only, our dear fool noble got incensed by it all, complained to that idiot king who agreed the swans were far too dangerous for the Gardens and had them removed.”
“Yeah.” Deriliah sighed once more. “Shame, I used to enjoy watching them.”
Then, she turned to her young charge. “You are much improved, Adanus. You should feel proud.”
The little elf pulled a face. “I’ll feel proud when Mother stops calling it a waste of time.”
“Eh.” Deriliah shrugged. “Many in the Tower call it a waste of time. But trust me, it isn’t.”
“I trust you,” Adanus replied, then smiled. “And I like it.”
As his smile turned to a grin, the little elf glanced past his protector, and the that which he beheld wiped the grin from his lips.
“Hrm?” Deriliah frowned, turning, but what she saw soured her features greatly.
“Can we go say hello?”
With her eyes going wide, Deriliah spun to face her young charge, her mouth agape.
“What…?” the little boy said.
“Do you not know who they are?”
Little Adanus shook his head.
“Those are the Hilburns.”
The little boy held his protector in a blank stare.
“Hilburns!” Deriliah repeated, pointing to the family wandering towards a waiting coach, armed guards about them. “They rule Tangiens!”
Still, the little boy stared on.
Slowly, Adanus shook his head.
“Goodness, Adanus,” Deriliah gasped, “you truly need to pay attention in your lessons.”
“But can we say hello, though?”
“No! Certainly not!”
“Ask your tutor tomorrow!”
The Archmage glared at her young charge, but remained unmoving.
“Please, though,” Adanus whined. “Please!”
The Archmage glowered at her charge for a spell, but she could never truly stay firm with him, and, shaking her head, she sighed at last and sprang to her feet.
“Come then, but quickly!”
“Yay!” Adanus cried and sprang to his feet before hurrying over to the little human girl from before.
“Hello!” the little elf cried as they neared.
In response, the guards at the fore reached for the blades, but a single glare from Deriliah froze their hands upon their blades’ grip.
“Oh, hello there!” cried the little girl from behind the guards, the girl pushing past the guards before turning to her parents.
“It’s the boy I was telling you about, Mother!” she said before turning to Adanus, a wide grin upon her lips. “We meet at last.”
“Yes!” Adanus nodded, then turned to the little girl’s mother. “She’s your mother, not the other one?”
“What?” The woman frowned.
“Oh, he means Darla,” the little girl said, turning to her mother. “She was sitting between us, remember?”
“Ah, quite,” the woman said, then glanced at little Adanus before turning to her husband.
The king had stared at Adanus throughout, and as his wife turned to him, he smiled and turned to his daughter.
“Why don’t you stay and talk to your friend a little. We’ll wait for you by the coach.”
“But–” the Queen began.
“Come along, dear,” her husband interjected, grabbing hold of her arm.
“Come along, dear,” the King repeated, dragging his wife along.
“That’s the Shimmering Tower boy,” he hissed. “Move!”
Throwing the little elf a wide grin and her daughter a knowing nod, the Queen fell in step beside her husband as they made their way towards their carriage, with three of the guards standing behind the little girl.
The little elf saw it all, and it turned his stomach no end.
“Right,” he growled, his gaze dark as he watched the pair leave. “Shimmering Tower boy, of course.”
“Don’t be mad,” the little girl said, drawing the little elf’s gaze. “Father’s always doing that. To everyone. He doesn’t see friends like I do.”
Adanus turned to the little girl, his demeanour unchanged.
The little girl smiled a spell, then turned to the guard behind her.
“You may go,” she said.
“Of course, Princess,” they intoned as they bowed, then marched toward the coach.
As they left, the little girl turned to Adanus.
“My name’s Elizabeth,” she said.
“Adanus,” Adanus replied.
The little girl smiled. “I know. Shimmering Tower boy, and all that.”
The little elf glowered at this. “Is that why you were smiling at me?”
The little girl’s smile widened. “I’m not like my father, okay? I don’t treat people like that. I didn’t even know who you were back then! I was just smiling because you looked as bored as I was. And that thing was really boring.”
Adanus couldn’t help but smile at this. “Yeah, it was.”
“Glad it’s over though.” The little girl sighed.
“Are you?” Deriliah replied. “With his coronation complete, there’s now nothing stopping that man in there from making a play for Tangiens.”
The little girl shrugged. “We’re prepared.”
“Are you truly?”
Once more, the little girl shrugged. “Father says we’re prepared, and I believe him.”
Adanus stared with a confused frown at the pair, unsure what to make of their words.
The little girl turned to Adanus once more, her smile returned. “Sorry I got you in trouble with your mother.”
Adanus grinned. “It’s alright. I returned the favour.”
“Heh, you did.” The little girl grinned, then glanced past Adanus at her parents.
“Well, I must be going,” she said.
“Alright,” Adanus replied, then stepped aside.
“Perhaps you can come visit sometime,” he added as the little girl walked past.
“What?” she frowned, turning as she spoke. “You mean at the Tower?”
“Yeah.” Adanus nodded.
The little elf shrugged. “Why not. People come visit us all the time.”
The little girl stared hard at Adanus for a spell, as if unsure what to make of his words. Then, a soft smile parted her lips.
“Maybe I will,” she said, then waved and skipped over to her parents.
Adanus watched her leave, a grin upon his lips, but as he spun about to face his protector, his grin dissipate the moment he caught sight of her gaze.
“What?” he said. “What did I do?”
The Archmage stared hard at her young charge for a spell, words lost to her.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?” she said at last.
The little boy swallowed hard at those words.
“Is it bad?” he squeaked.
Closing her eyes, the Archmage breathed deep and let it out slowly. Then, as she stared at him once more, she smiled.
“Just do me this one favour, “she replied. “Should they truly visit the Tower, whatever you do, do not tell your mother it was your idea, alright? For both our sakes.”
The little elf stared at his protector a spell, unsure what to say, and as the Archmage turned and headed back, little Adanus cast a glance at the little girl’s coach before hurrying after his protector.
Deriliah smiled as her gaze fell upon the wistful smile upon her charge’s lips.
“She was quite something even back then, wasn’t she?” she said.
Sitting tall, Adanus nodded, his gaze in the ether before turning to the woman beside him. “She was.”
“A few months younger than you, and already she was acting like a queen.”
“Or a bossy-boots as she’d say.” Adanus grinned.
“Ha!” Deriliah chuckled. “She would, wouldn’t she?”
The mage snickered. “Yeah, she did.” Then, he grinned, turning to face Deriliah square. “Do you remember the time she called Mother that in error?”
“Oh, gods, yeah!” The woman laughed. “You had to keep her out of your mother’s sight for…what was it…three months?”
The figure nodded. “I’d felt sure Mother was set to incinerate her.”
“Ha!” Adanus grinned, but his grin dissipated the moment he saw the solemnity in his protector’s gaze. “Hold, truly?”
Deriliah nodded. “It didn’t help that her parents forced your mother into taking her in.”
Adanus winced at this. “Yeah, that was rather despicable. I don’t even think Mother’s forgiven me for giving them that opening.”
“I did warn you never to admit you’d extended an invitation to them.”
“Hey! I was a child! How as I to know what her father was like?”
The figure grinned at her charge, but as her smile faded, she sat tall.
“You remember that day, then?” she said. “The day they forced your mother to take her in.”
“How can I forget?”
“Tell me about it.”
“What?” Adanus frowned.
“Tell me about it, Adanus. Tell me as you remember it.”
The mage stared hard at his protector. “What are you after, Deriliah?”
the Archmage shook her head. “Tell me, Adanus. Tell me.”
The mage stared hard at the woman seated beside him a spell, his lips unmoving. Then, he sighed.
“Very well,” he said, then breathed deep and parted his lips once more.
It was the hushed whispers that caught the little elf’s attention, drawing his gaze from the tome to those seated about him. It was not uncommon for whispers to be heard within the Tower Library. But from this many…?
Closing his tome, the little elf frowned and rose before trying to catch the eye of one of the whisperers, but as he did so, hurried footsteps reached his ears. Turning, he stared at the Library entrance as the Archmage Deriliah Nightsinger marched into view. In silence, the elven child watched as the Archmage’s gaze scanned the Library before catching his, and as he stared into the inferno raging behind her eyes, the little boy cowered as she marched towards him.
“Come with me, Adanus,” she said as she reached him. “Now.”
“What did I do?” the little boy whined.
The little boy stared in silence for a spell, then turned to those about him. The Library had fallen silent, all eyes upon them. Slowly, the boy rose, his gaze darting from those staring at him to his protector, till at last he was standing tall, and as she turned and marched forth, he fell in step behind her.
“Deriliah?” he said, once outside the Library. “What did I do?”
The Archmage marched on in silence.
“Deriliah…?” the little boy pleaded, pulling at the Archmage’s tunic.
Stopping, the Archmage spun about to face the little boy square.
“Do you remember that little girl from the coronation in Servinia?” she said
Adanus frowned. “What little–”
“The human one. Called herself Elizabeth.”
“Eliz…” Adanus began, his frown deepening. Then, his eyes went wide. “Oh, her!”
“Yes,” Deriliah hissed. ”Her.”
The little boy’s frown returned. “But what did I do wrong? I haven’t spoken to her in years!”
“Two years,” Deriliah corrected, “give or take.”
“So what did I–”
“She’s here, Adanus!”
The Archmage nodded. “She’s here in secret with her keepers, pleading for sanctuary.”
“Oh, dear gods, Adanus, what is wrong with you?” Deriliah snapped. “Do you sleep through your lessons?”
“Tangiens is losing the war. Servinia claimed two more cities this month alone.”
“I knew that!”
“Yeah,” Deriliah nodded, “of course you did!”
“What I meant was, why is she here? They haven’t lost yet.”
The Archmage’s gaze softened at last. “Because three nights ago, an assassin tried to kill the girl. Her mother got in the way of the blade. The girl saw it all.”
“Yes.” Deriliah sighed. “And now, her father’s trying to cart her off to whatever bolthole he can keep her in.”
“But why here? Mother banned her and her family!”
“Clean your ears, boy,” Deriliah snapped. “She’s here seeking sanctuary!”
“But she can’t be here!” Adanus stressed. “None of them can set foot on Tower soil!”
At this, the Archmage’s gaze darkened once more. “Yes, but you gave her leave to come calling when she wished. And now she’s come calling for sanctuary.”
“No, I never!” the little boy gasped.
“Good!” the Archmage cried, pointing at Adanus. “Good! You stick to that tale, you hear me? When they ask you, you tell them precisely that, and perhaps we can survive this with our tails intact.”
“Come,” the Archmage continued, spinning about. “Your mother awaits.”
“But,” Adanus began as the Archmage began marching, “did I truly give her leave to come?”
“Of course you bloody did!” the Archmage cried.
“What?” the little elf gasped.
Skidding to a halt, the Archmage spin about, her eyes ablaze once more.
“But you didn’t!” she spat. “Understand?”
“But, you just said–”
“Nevermind what I said! You never gave her leave to come calling!”
The little elf stared in utter confusion. “But you just said I did.”
“Nevermind what just I said, gods damn it! You never gave her leave, alright?”
The little elf nodded at last. “Alright.”
“Good!” the Archmage replied, standing tall. “Now, come along!”
And with that, the pair marched on in silence, their gazes forward till they stood before one of the smaller greeting rooms. Pausing at the door, the Archmage breathed deep, then threw a dark glance at her young charge before swinging the door open and stepping inside and to the side.
“Your son, Matriarch,” she said as she stood tall.
Adanus stepped in on hesitant legs, his gaze taking in the room as he went, but soon, his eyes rested upon the three humans knelt before his parents, their hands upon the floor before them and their foreheads rested upon their hands. Frowning, he stopped and turned to his mother.
“Come, Adanus,” the Matriarch said, gesturing to the space beside her. “Come.”
“Yes, Mother.” Adanus nodded and stepped forth.
As he went, the smallest of the three humans raised her head, and as he stared into the little girl’s eyes, he slowed to a halt as a chilling numbness gripped his heart and spread through his whole being. It wasn’t the state of the little girl’s dress that tore at the little elf, nor was it the dust and mud upon her face, or even the deep redness of her eyes, no. It was the pure terror in the those eyes. It was of a kind the little elf had never seen in another being in all his years, and as he stared, his feet turned to lead and his lips fell agape as his heart climbed up his throat.
“Adanus, come–” the Matriarch began.
“I gave her leave to come, Mother,” Adanus interjected, spinning to his mother and nodding. “I did.”
The little girl’s ecstatic cry filled the room, and as one, Adanus and his parents turned to her, but her gaze was firm upon Adanus, her eyes glistening as a grateful smile parted her lips.
As the Matriarch cleared her throat, Adanus turned to her, and as their eyes met, the little elf swallowed hard and bowed as his self-control threatened to leave him.
“F…forgive me, Mother,” he stammered. “I…I just–”
“Be quiet,” the Matriarch said, and though her voice was soft, her tone was anything but.
“Matriarch, if I may,” began one of the other humans. “Now that your son has confirmed what–”
“I said be quiet,” the Matriarch repeated, turning her gaze to the human and silencing him in an instant.
Then, the woman turned to her son. “The girl is your responsibility, Adanus…”
“ … you will teach her our ways and our laws.”
“And since she’s here as our guest, you are not to teach her any of our magic. Is that clear?”
“Is. That. Clear?”
The little boy moved to speak, to protest some more, but the more he stared into his mother’s eyes, the more he wilted, till at, he nodded.
“Good,” the Matriarch said, then turned to the other humans. “Tell your king my son’s offer only holds true this once. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Matriarch,” they intoned.
“Good,” she replied, then rose.
As she rose, Adanus bowed, his gaze fixed upon his boots as his parents wandered past.
“Come, you two,” Deriliah called out after a spell, her gaze upon him the darkest Adanus had ever seen it as she gestured to the humans. “I shall see you out.”
Adanus watched the humans turn to each other, then to the little girl before each giving her a tight hug and rising to their feet before following Deriliah from the room.
The moment they were alone, however, the little girl sprang to her feet and leapt at her saviour, wrapping her arms about his neck and hugging him tight.
“Thank you?” she said. “Gods, I didn’t think you’d remember me!”
“Uh…yeah…of course I remember you.”
As they parted, the little girl grinned. “You have no idea what you’ve just done for me.”
She was right, he didn’t, but still, the little elf smiled and slipped a hand into the little girl’s.
“Come,” he said. “Let’s get you bathed and fed.”
And with that, he led his little charge from the room.
“You know, I felt sure Mother was going to give me a hiding there and then,” Adanus said, a chuckle not far behind.
“I was contemplating doing the same thing, in truth.” Deriliah grinned.
Then, the mage sighed. “Gods, Mother must’ve truly hated me for admitting to it in that room. Made an utter fool of her, didn’t I?”
At this, a soft smile parted her lips. “You wish to hear the honest truth?”
“What truth?” The mage frowned.
“I don’t think your parents have ever been as proud of you as they were in that moment.”
“Mhm.” The woman nodded.
“Oh, come off it, Deriliah, I defied Mother! She made my life a misery after that! And yours! For ages!”
“Yes, yes, gods yes, and yes. But I do believe the mere fact you were willing to stand against her on such a matter without any prompting knowing that it would cost you dearly swelled her heart with pride like nothing you’ve ever done before or since.”
“Oh…” Adanus said before turning to the ether. “Hunh.”
“Yeah.” the Archmage nodded, her smile widening.
Then, the mage smiled. “You remember the look on Elizabeth’s face when she first realised she’d have to do her own chores?”
Deriliah threw her head back and laughed. “Do I? How can I ever forget! I don’t think I’ve ever seen her grin so wide.”
“Precisely!” the mage cried. “I was expecting her to throw a tantrum or something, but she just stood there, grinning from ear-to-ear!”
“Oh, it wasn’t just you expecting a temper tantrum. Remember what your mother said?”
“Oh! Oh, uh…” the mage began, closing his eyes and searching his thoughts. “Gods, what was it…uhm…”
“For as long as you’re a ward of the Tower, Elizabeth, you shall have to endure life without the trappings of your title,” the figure said, her tone a near perfect copy of the Matriarch’s sternest tone. “And that means no more Princess, no more having people wait on you hand and foot, and no more…why are you smiling like that?”
“Ha!” the mage cried, pointing to the woman beside him as a wide grin parted his lips. “That’s it! That’s precisely it! Mother just stood there staring!”
“Yeah!” Deriliah laughed. “And you were staring as if your jaw had become unhinged.”
Adanus giggled and shrugged.
“Ah, she truly was something, “the Archmage added. “Always so inquisitive, always so…happy.”
“Yeah, well…” Adanus sighed as his smile faded.
The Archmage frowned. “Well…what?”
“Well, she was only smiling when there were others around. When we were alone, she was almost always sad. The war in Tangiens, it hurt her.”
“Oh. I didn’t know.”
The seated mage shook his head. “She didn’t want anyone to know. It was her burden, as she’d put it, no sense making others awkward.”
A soft smile parted the elven woman’s lips as she turned to the obsidian headstone.
“You truly were something, Elizabeth,” she said.
“Yeah.” Adanus nodded, turning to the headstone as well. “She was.”
Then, the Archmage smiled once more and turned to her charge. “You remember that silly, piteous look she’d wear when she wanted to get her way.”
“Oh, gods,” Adanus said, rolling his eyes, “how can I forget? She was always using it on me.”
“Oh, not just you, Adanus. She used it on everyone.”
“I know.” The mage sighed. “She got away with so much with that look.” Then, he smiled. “But she never got to my parents though, even though she and tried, and tried!”
“Well, your father may not have succumbed, but your mother…”
Adanus frowned at this. “What do you mean?”
Smiling, Deriliah leant against the seated mage. “Let’s just say…we all knew of the magic lessons you gave her behind our backs, but were instructed to turn a blind eye.”
Adanus fell silent at this, his lips falling agape as the blood drained from his face.
Sitting tall, Deriliah patted the stunned mage on his knee. “You’re not as subtle as you think, Adanus.”
“Bloody hells,” Adanus breathed, words that called forth a chuckle from the woman beside him.
Then, as a calm silence fell upon the pair, the mage’s gaze wandering to the headstone as his protector stared at him.
“Do you remember when she left?” he said after a spell, turning to Deriliah as he spoke.
The Archmage sighed and nodded, a sad smile upon her lips.
“Yeah.” Adanus nodded, returning his gaze to the headstone. “Yeah…”
The elven woman cocked her head to the side and watched the sadness return to her charge’s eyes, its presence drawing her lips to a tight line.
“Tell me about it,” she said.
“What?” Adanus frowned, turning to her once more.
“Tell me about when she left.”
“Gods, Deriliah, you were there!”
“I know,” Deriliah nodded, “but tell me all the same.”
The mage stared hard at his companion.
“Tell me, Adanus.”
Adanus stared a spell longer, but soon breathed deep and began to speak.
Sitting in the shade, his legs crossed and his back against the tree granting the shade, young Adanus closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as he listened to the human on the other side of the tree practice her Galiyen, but it was tortuous. Her every word grated on him, the tone and inflection of her utterances hurting his ears and clawing at his mind. But he had to be silent, he had to allow her practice, she’d asked him there for support after all, and not to tear her down.
“She’s not as bad as she was last Spring,” he thought to himself. “She’s improving. Truly. She is. Just give her time.”
Then, for a mercy, she stopped.
“So,” the young human said, a smile upon her lips as she turned round the tree to stare at him. “How was that?”
“Hrm,” Adanus began, his mind awhirl.
“Well…?” the human said after a spell.
“Well…you’re…much improved from last Spring, without a doubt.”
The human glared at Adanus in silence for a spell.
“Are you saying I’m still rubbish?”
“No! Of course not!”
“Then, what are you saying?”
“Well…you know what the words are, which is a great improvement, but…well…when it comes to the utterance of the words, you’re…not exactly Mother.”
The young human’s gaze darkened further at those words.
“You’re not exactly your mother either, Adanus,” she spat.
“Hey! I was only–”
“Elizabeth!” came a cry from the Tower, drawing the gaze of the pair.
As one, the pair turned and watched as the Archmage Deriliah Nightsinger made her way towards them.
“There you are!” she said as she reached them, a smile on her lips. “You have visitors!”
Adanus stared at the Archmage before them, and though she wore a smile, the gaze with which she held his friend set him on edge.
“What sort of visitors?” he heard Elizabeth ask, and from her tone, it was clear she was just as unnerved.
“Come and see!”
The human girl stared hard at the Archmage a spell, then cocked her head to the side, a deep frown upon her lips.
“Is everything alright, Deriliah?” she asked.
“Of course, why wouldn’t it be?”
“Because you look like you’re dying inside and trying to hide it.”
At last, the Archmage’s smile faded as a deep sigh escaped her lips.
“You need to come with me, my dear,” was all the Archmage said.
“Deriliah what…” Adanus began, but a raised hand silenced him.
“Please,” Deriliah continued, her gaze upon the human. “Now.”
The seated pair exchanged glances, then rose as one.
“I’m coming too,” Adanus said when the Archmage turned to him.
“Very well,” Deriliah replied, then turned and headed in.
The pair exchanged glances once more, then fell in step behind the Archmage, walking on in silence till they reached the Central Hall. As they entered, the young couple’s steps began to slow as two humans came into view.
“You know…” Adanus began, turning to cast a sideways glance at Elizabeth.
But in that moment, the young human’s eyes grew in size, and as a wide grin parted her lips, she shrieked and raced forth.
“Darla!” she cried as she ran. “Darla!”
Reaching the elder of the humans, the young girl leapt into the woman’s arms as her ecstatic laugher filled the air.
“Adanus!” she soon cried, spinning to the elf and gesturing him close. “Come! It’s Darla! My nursemaid! Come!”
“Adanus, stay,” came a voice within the Central Hall.
Those words drew the pair’s gazes to the Matriarch, her husband by her side, their sombre gazes drawing all mirth from the young human’s lips.
“Matriarch, what’s going on?” Elizabeth said, standing tall and forcing a smile to her lips as she turned to face the elven woman square.
The Matriarch breathed deep and smiled, the sadness in her gaze boring deep into the human girl.
“This is farewell, my child,” she said, her voice soft.
“What?” the young couple cried as one.
“Hold, Mother, what do you mean fare–”
“Not now, son,” the Patriarch interjected. “Not now.”
As silence fell upon the Hall, Elizabeth turned to her nursemaid, and it was only then she noticed the bags behind her.
“Wait, those are mine!” she said, stepping about the elderly woman to stare closely at the bags.
Then, she spun to face her old nursemaid. “What’re you doing with my bags?”
The elderly woman smiled. “I’m here to take you home, Princess.”
“What?” the young couple breathed, their eyes going wide as they turned to one another.
“King Hilburn has finally brokered peace with Servinia, and has sent loyal servants to bring you home,” the Matriarch added
“Mother! You can’t just throw–”
“We packed your belongings, my dear,” the Matriarch continued, her words drowning out her son. “We took special care in including all you brought with you, and all you’ve earned and acquired while with us.” Then, the Matriarch smiled. “And we’ve also added a few things we hope will bring a smile to your face.”
The young girl stared in utter silence, her face ashen as she locked gaze with the Matriarch.
“Well, say something, girl!” the elderly human said after a spell. “You’re going home!”
Coming to herself, the young human bowed at the Matriarch. “I thank you for protecting me all these years, and I am grateful for all that you have blessed me with.”
“It was our pleasure to have you amongst us, Elizabeth Hilburn, and our sorrow that you must leave us this day.”
“For gods’ sake Mother,” Adanus cried, “you can’t just–”
“It’s alright, Adanus,” Elizabeth said, her voice quivering. “Really, it’s alright. I always knew this day would come, I just didn’t expect it to be this…sudden, you know.”
The young elf turned to his dearest friend, swallowing hard as the pain in his heart tore at him.
“Thank you for everything,,” she continued, her eyes glistening as she spoke. “Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for looking after me. Thank you for…for caring for me.”
“I…” Adanus began. “Gods, I…”
Sniffling, the young girl smiled and turned to the Matriarch.
“And thank you, Matriarch,” she continued, bowing once more, “for the care and attention you and yours have shown me. It will never be forgotten.”
The Matriarch smiled at the girl. “It was our pleasure, my dear.”
“That it was,” added the Patriarch.
“I shall have some of my mages accompany you to your palace gates,” the Matriarch continued, “ensure your safety.”
At those words, the young couple turned to each other once more.
“No,” the Matriarch said, her tone absolute. “He stays.”
“Mother, this is–” Adanus began.
“Son…” the Patriarch interjected, turning to stare hard at his son.
Young Adanus gritted his teeth in response and held his peace.
Sniffling once more, the young human stared at her young friend till they locked gazes once more, then smiled.
“We really need to go, Princess,” the elderly human urged.
“Don’t forget me,” she pleaded, then tore her gaze from young Adanus and turned to reach for her bags.
“No!” the humans cried as one.
“We’ll carry them!” said one of the other humans.
“Oh, yeah,” Elizabeth smiled, “of course.”
Then, she stepped aside and watched as her bags were lifted and taken forth. Squaring her shoulders, the human girl breathed deep and fell in step behind her entourage. But, on her third step, she stopped as her shoulders sagged till at last, shaking her head, she spun on her heels and darted towards her young friend, and reaching him, placed her hands upon his chest and kissed him softly, the yearning in her heart flowing to him.
Then, as they parted, she smiled, the pain in her gaze boring into Adanus.
“I love you,” she breathed, then turned and raced after her nursemaid.
And all Adanus could do was watch as she walked out of the Tower and out of his life.
“Your mother didn’t have a choice, you know” Deriliah said.
“Oh, I know that now,” the mage replied, “but back then, well…”
The smiled smiled. “Yeah, you were quite the bastard for a while, weren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Adanus grinned, “I suppose I was.” Then, his smile faded. “I am glad Mother didn’t tell me why at the time, though. I doubt I’d have stood idly by had I known what was truly transpiring.”
“Oh, I know you wouldn’t have, we all did.”
Adanus smiled at this. “Was I that easy to read?”
“Oh, more than that, Adanus.”
“Meaning?” The mage frowned.
“Well,” Deriliah shrugged, “you two were the only ones in the Tower blind to how strong your affections were for each other”
The elven woman grinned. “Do I lie, though?”
The mage pulled a face, but held his peace.
“But yeah,” she sighed, “her telling you Elizabeth was being betrothed in the sort of mind you were in wouldn’t have been the smartest thing in the world.”
“Still, I wish she’d found a way to tell me,” Adanus muttered. “Finding out the way I did…that hurt.”
“Whose fault was that?” the Archmage cried. “You should’ve known better than to go sauntering into your mother’s office while she was attending to guests!”
“Well, Mother should’ve known better than to leave the wedding invitation just lying there!”
“You should not have gone into her office in her absence!”
“Hey! I needed her! Urgently!”
“Urgently my arse, you could’ve waited!”
The mage moved to speak, but the glare from the woman beside him still his tongue, and instead, he snarled and turned his gaze to the headstone.
“But still,” the woman continued, sighing, “no matter how much it hurt you, spare a thought for Elizabeth.”
“Yeah,” the mage replied, nodding. “Yeah, she suffered far more than I. One moment, she’s living with us, the next, she’s being carted off as a trophy for some bastard king’s son.”
Lowering his gaze, the mage rubbed his palm with this thumb. “I can’t imagine what that’s like.”
“I can’t imagine what it’s like to watch your children being raised to treat you like a slave!” Deriliah replied.
Adanus closed his eyes and gritted his teeth for a spell, then opened them and returned his gaze to the headstone, and as he did so, he rose and walked towards it.
“She suffered more than she deserved to,” he said as he went.
“Yes,” the Archmage nodded, “she did.”
“And I did nothing to stop it,” Adanus added, his face long as he placed a soft hand upon the headstone.
“Oh, for gods’ sake, Adanus, truly? Must we go over this again? You didn’t fail her, alright? It’s stupid of you to think so!”
“Adanus, your mother is the Matriarch of the Shimmering Tower and even she could do nothing save watch Elizabeth suffer her fate! And if she was powerless, what in the bloody hells do you think you could’ve done?”
The mage fell silent at this, breathing deep as he ran a hand across the top of the headstone.
“If anyone is to blame, it’s her idiot of a father,” Deriliah continued. “It was his treacherous greed that left his kingdom bereft of any true allies and him vulnerable to attack from Servinia. To be fair to the man, I wasn’t expecting him to hold Servinia at bay for as long as he did, but his fate was sealed long before the war even began! He failed to protect his kingdom, and he failed to shield his daughter from the consequences of their fall. He failed her, Adanus, not you!”
The mage remained silent still, his back stiff and his head bowed.
The seated figure stared at her charge for a spell, unsure of what else to say. Then, she smiled and sat back into her seat.
“You remember when that missive of hers arrived for you?” she said.
“I’m not recounting any other memories for you, Deriliah,” was Adanus’s curt reply.
“I will not play this game anymore. I came here to grieve, please leave me.”
The seated woman moved to speak, but sighed instead.
“Leave, Deriliah,” Adanus continued. “Leave me be.”
“What you’re doing is not grieving, Adanus.”
“And you’re an expert in this matter?”
With a deep frown, the seated woman nodded. “I am, yes.” Then, she turned to face the standing mage square. “I have done precisely what you are doing, and it did me little good, as it will do you.”
“I don’t care, I just–”
“Adanus, you’re wallowing in your pain. That is not grieving, and it never ends well. If you insist on this, it will consume you, and the path that leads is not pleasant.”
“So, what,” the mage demanded, spinning round to glare at his protector, “you think me standing here spouting all this nonsense from memory will ease my pain?”
“No,” the Archmage shook her head, “not ease. Make it more bearable.”
“That is such utter horse-shite.”
Shaking her head, the seated woman sat forward. “How did you feel recalling when you and her first met?”
“What do you mean, how did I feel?”
“What do you think I mean?”
The mage moved to speak, but fell silent as the frown upon his lips dimmed ever so slightly.
“Precisely. And when you recalled her words to you just before she left us?”
The mage stared hard at the figure, then slowly spun about, lowering his gaze and his hand to the headstone once more.
“This is a better way to grieve, Adanus. With happy memories, touching memories. Memories that will make you celebrate her life over mourning her death. That is why I do this.”
The mage held his peace for a spell longer, then breathed deep and began to speak once more
With hurried footsteps, Adanus made his way down the corridor before him, his gaze upon the back of the Archmage Deriliah Nightsinger.
“Can’t you at least give me a hint?” he said.
Stopping, the Archmage spun on her heels to glare at her charge. “Adanus, this is a serious matter…”
“Yes, you keep saying that, but–”
“… and not the sort of matter you give hints to. What you are about to hear can never be spoken to anyone else, so do me the courtesy of treating the occasion with the solemnity it bloody deserves!”
The woman glared at her charge for a spell, before spinning on her heels once more and resuming her march.
Adanus watched her a spell before pulling a face and mocking her outburst, then hurrying after her. The pair marched on in silence till they reached the Matriarch’s office, and as they came to a halt, the Archmage knocked.
“It’s us,” she said.
“Come!” came the Matriarch’s voice.
Swinging the door open, the Archmage marched in and turned to Adanus.
The young elf stared at her a spell, then stared past her to what lay within, and what he saw gave him pause.
“Just bloody get in!” the Archmage hissed.
Springing to life, Adanus hurried in, and as the door closed behind him, he carried his gaze to his parents as they stood silent in each other’s arms.
“What is it?” the elf said.
“Well, it’s…” the Matriarch began, then turned to her beloved, who nodded at her, a smile on his lips.
Smiling in turn, she turned to her son. “A missive came for you, Adanus.”
The young elf frowned. “A missive is making you this on edge?”
“It’s from Servinia,” the Patriarch replied.
“And bears the seal of Tangiens,” the Matriarch added.
At those words, the blood drained from the young elf’s cheeks as his heart began to beat loud in his ears.
“What did it say?” he asked at last.
The Patriarch shook her head. “Well, we haven’t read it–”
“Of course you bloody have!” Adanus threw back. “Why else would you call me in here?”
“Adanus!” the Matriarch snapped. “Mind your words!”
“What did it say?” Adanus said in response.
“She’s asking for sanctuary, Adanus,” Deriliah replied, pulling the young elf’s gaze to her. “And for what it’s worth, I read it, not them.”
The young mage frowned at his protector. “Why…why is she asking for sanctuary now?”
The Archmage frowned. “You mean you’ve not heard what happened to her husband?”
“Of course I have, he drowned a few months. Everyone in his Court called it an accident, though you’d be a fool to think that. But her eldest has taken the throne, and he’s kind to her.”
“No,” the Matriarch replied, shaking her head. “He’s only kind to her in public. In private, he’s just as cruel as the others.”
“Except now, her children think she killed their father,” Deriliah added.
“Yeah.” The Patriarch nodded.
The young elf stared hard at his father. “They intend to kill her to avenge his death, aren’t they?”
The Patriarch nodded once more. “Once her official mourning is done with.”
Snarling, the young elf turned to his mother. “Have you already sent her word she can return?”
Breathing deep, the Matriarch glanced at her beloved, then sighed and turned to her son once more.
“It’s not so simple, Adanus,”
What do you mean, it’s not so simple?”
“I banished her father, remember? He and his bloodline are forbidden from setting foot on Tower soil.”
“Oh, for gods’ sake, Mother, you allowed her live here with us!”
“Yes,” the Matriarch nodded, her face gaunt, “but that was because you gave her leave to come, and I allowed it just that once.”
“And besides,” Deriliah added, “Servinia is an ally, Tangiens is not. If we grant her sanctuary and her children demand we rescind it, were we to say no, we will be seen to be turning our back on an ally in favour of a kingdom that’s betrayed us at every opportunity. It will cost us dearly.”
“So, what? You’re simply going to let her die?” the young elf yelled. “She lived with us!”
The Matriarch raised her chin at her son. “That changes nothing, Adanus.”
The young elf stared hard at his mother, words lost to him.
“Then, why am I even here?” he said at last.
Breathing deep, the Matriarch moved to speak, but glanced at her beloved once more, who smiled at her and nodded. Then, smiling once more, she stood tall and turned to her son.
“Last summer, you said you wished to see the world. To spread your wings a little and meet new friends. Remember?”
The elf frowned. “Yeah. You told me to pull my head out of the clouds. What does that have to do…”
As the meaning to his mother’s words became clear to him, Adanus gasped and stared at his mother, his lips agape.
“Do you still wish too?”
The elf nodded eagerly in response.
The Matriarch smiled and nodded. “Good.” Then, she turned to Deriliah. “Will you go with him? Keep him from harm.”
“Do I have a choice?” The Archmage grinned.
Adanus’s gaze darted from one woman to the other, then shook his head. “Well, when do we start?”
“When do you wish to start?” Deriliah asked.
“Well then, let’s be off!” Deriliah cried in response, opening the door as she did so.
Adanus stared from her to the open door and darted right through before racing for the portal stone at the end of the corridor beyond.
“Deriliah,” the Matriarch said as the Archmage moved to follow.
“Yes, Matriarch?” she said, turning to the woman.
“Look after my son.”
The Archmage smiled. “Always.”
Then, with a bow, she stepped beyond the door and closed it behind her before hurrying for the portal stone herself.
“Ugh!” the young elf snarled beneath his hood. “Must we stand beside the fishmongers?”
“Would you stop bloody complaining?” snapped the woman beside him. “This is the best vantage point that’ll allow us see our quarry clearly and grant us clear egress to our departure point.”
“Would you stop calling her our quarry? Her name is Elizabeth!”
“Would you stop bloody saying her name aloud? You’ll get us caught!”
Adanus glared at the woman beside him, who held his gaze firm with a glare of her own. But soon, the young elf shook his head and turned his gaze forward.
“Are you sure this’ll work?”
“Without you, perfectly sure. With you, however…”
The woman grinned, but her grin swiftly faded as the sound of horses on cobblestone reached her ears.
“Hold,” she hissed, lowering her head and stepping further into the shadows within which they stood.”They come!”
In response, the young elf strained his neck and stared down the street, but as he did so, a heavy hand fell upon his arm and pulled him into the shadows.
“Shut up and hide!”
Adanus glared at his companion a spell, but as the sound of a carriage rumbling forth reached them, the pair turned and watched as the royal carriage rolled down the street, the carriage flanked by royal guards on horseback as they kept the path clear and the denizens at bay.
But Adanus had eyes solely for the woman within the carriage, and as he stared, his heart stopped as memories of their last parting came flooding back till at last, touching his lips, he smiled and stood tall.
The Archmage Nightsinger stared at her young charge with a soft smile upon her lips, then turned to the little face staring out of a window further up the road and nodded.
“Come,” she whispered, lowering her head and stepping from the shadows before grabbing hold of her charge’s arm. “It’s begun.”
“Oh!” Adanus gasped. “Right!”
Falling in step beside the Archmage, Adanus lowered his gaze and pulled his hood lower as they hurried down the street, eager to reach the juncture beyond before it was too late.
“Get ready,” Deriliah whispered as they neared the juncture, reaching into the pouch about her waist as she spoke.
“Right,” Adanus whispered as he did the same.
Then, as they reached the juncture, the pair stood in silence and waited as the carriage and its guardians neared. But, as it neared the juncture, a small ball rolled into the street, followed by a group of children, all of whom laughed and screamed as they chased the ball.
“Halt!” cried one of the riders as the guards, and indeed the driver of the carriage, pulled hard on their reins, for the children had run close to the entourage.
“What in the bloody hells are you lot doing out here?” the rider thundered, rising in his saddle. “Can’t you see the Queen Mother is passing?”
“Hear, don’t you be shouting at my children!” barked an apron-clad woman as she marched out into the street, her face crimson as she glared at the outspoken rider.
“Let’s go,” Deriliah whispered, turning as she spoke and retracing her steps.
Adanus watched the woman and the rider exchange heated words for a spell, then hurried after the Archmage till they came level with the carriage itself. The elf turned to the woman in the street and waited. Two other riders had joined the first.
Standing in silence, his heart in his throat, Adanus watched the scene before his eyes with as much calm as he could call forth, till at last, the woman turned and began gathering her children, and upon seeing this, the young elf pulled free two blackened orbs from his pouch, both as big as his fist. Then, he turned to the woman beside him.
“Wait till they’re clear,” she whispered.
Adanus nodded and turned to the scene once more.
Then, the woman began shepherding the children back to the side of the street.
Adanus gripped the orbs tight.
“Remember,” Deriliah whispered, “whatever happens, no magic.”
“Right,” Adanus whispered, nodding as he did so, then breathed deep and waited.
Then, the riders turned and headed for the carriage once more.
“Now!” Deriliah hissed, and flung two orbs towards the carriage.
Adanus flung the ones in his hands after the elven woman’s, then turned and closed his eyes tight while covering his ears.
In that moment, a blinding flash filled the air, swiftly followed by another, the ear-splitting explosions that accompanied them deafening all about the carriage as the flashes whitened their vision and left them dazed. But then, before any could even think, two more blasts filled the air, both softer than the ones before, and both ushering around the carriage a thick fog of smoke that rasped the throat of any who breathed it in and made their eyes water.
“Go!” Deriliah cried, pulling down a mask from beneath her hood to cover her face. “Go, go!”
Pulling down his own, Adanus charged forth, dodging the panicked horses and the wild swings of their riders to reach the carriage and wrench the door open. But then, he paused, his gaze locked on the terrified woman within, one with a hand outstretched and another covering her nose, her eyes watering as she cowered away from him at the other side of the carriage.
“Move, damn you!” Deriliah barked, bringing the elf back to life.
Shaking his head, Adanus reached into the carriage to grab hold of the woman, and with a shriek the woman flung a tiny spark of lightning at him, hitting him square between the eyes and whitening his vision.
“Get away from me!” the woman shrieked. “Don’t bloody touch me!”
Then, she called forth another spark.
Gritting his teeth, Adanus smacked the woman’s hand skywards, the conjured spark slamming into the carriage’s roof as he grabbed hold of her hand and dragged her to the carriage’s entrance before putting her over his shoulder.
“Unhand me!” she shrieked. “Unhand me this–”
“Oh, shut up!” Deriliah hissed, shoving a scarf into the woman’s mouth and tying it tight before turning and racing for the fishmonger.
Grunting, Adanus hurried after her, his hand firm on the writhing bundle upon his shoulder as he darted between the flailing denizens of the city on his way to their point of egress. Reaching the fishmongers, the Archmage darted past the fish on display and pulled the fishmonger to the side as Adanus approached.
“You didn’t tell me you was taking the bloody Queen Mother!” the man gasped, his eyes wide and his face ashen. “What have you done?”
“We have done nothing, old man,” Deriliah growled, tossing a heavy purse at the man as she spoke. “Understand?”
But the bag fell to the floor, the man’s gaze following Adanus as he entered the man’s shop. “The peacekeepers are going to kill me!”
At this, the Archmage grabbed the man by the collar and pulled him in after Adanus before slamming him against the wall and putting a blade to his throat.
“Now, you listen to me, you blathering little goat. You have been paid for your efforts, and your silence. Do you understand?”
The man nodded.
“Good! For if I hear that even a sliver of a rumour that you told on us, I’ll come back and burn your family alive, and I’ll make you watch. Understand?”
Once more, the man nodded. This time more eagerly than before.
“Good!” the Archmage hissed, then darted after Adanus.
Adanus watched the woman in stunned silence for a spell, and as she neared, he turned and hurried through the shop.
“Was that truly necessary?” he hissed.
“Yes, it was,” the Archmage hissed. “Now, hurry up!”
The pair hurried on in silence, the human woman’s muffled cries doing little to aid their frantic race, but as they reached a nearby alley, the pair raced in, and upon reaching the darkened end, and the bags in the corner, the pair stopped as the air about them shimmered briefly. Then, Adanus placed the woman upon her feet just as she loosened her gag at last.
“Who the bloody…“ the woman began, her voice echoing about them, but as Adanus and Deriliah pulled free their masks and hoods, her words died in her throat as her eyes went wide and a hand flew to her lips as a sharp gasp escaped her lips.
“Hello, Elizabeth.” Adanus grinned.
With her eyes glistening, the woman lunged at Adanus, wrapping her arms about him and hugging him tight. “I thought you’d never come!”
“Well,” Adanus grinned, “we needed time to plan our attack, that’s all.”
Parting, the woman frowned. “It took you that long to plan?”
Adanus shrugged. “Well, I wouldn’t say three weeks is long, but–”
“Three weeks?” the woman interjected, her frown deepening.
“Yeah,” Adanus replied, the woman’s frown spreading to him. “Why?”
The woman stared hard at Adanus for a spell.
“I sent my missive five months ago.”
At those words, a deep chill gripped the young elf as he turned to his protector.
The Archmage shrugged in response. “We had to be sure she wasn’t lying.”
“It took you five months to be sure?”
“Yes,” Deriliah replied, “because we also had to be sure on whether or not she killed her husband.” Then, she turned to the woman. “And she did.”
“What?” Adanus gasped, turning to the woman.
The human woman cowered from the pair, shrinking into her self as she did so.
“Now is not the time for all this, though,” Deriliah continued, turning to Adanus. “Soon, this whole city will be flooded with peacekeepers, including this alley. Now, hurry.”
“Adanus, the killing was justified. Hurry!”
Adanus stared at the cowering woman a spell, then swallowed hard and stepped forth.
“Hold still,” he said, his voice soft, then placed a hand upon her cheek and closed his eyes as he whispered words of arcane.
Opening his eyes, he carried his gaze about the woman and smiled, then nodded. “Perfect.”
“I’ll say,” Deriliah added, grinning.
“What?” Elizabeth said, frowning as she stared at herself. “What did you–”
“Later,” the Archmage interjected, then placed one hand upon her chest and closed her eyes before whispering words of arcane. As she did so, the young elf placed a hand upon his own chest and closed his eyes before whispering the same words of arcane, and as they did so, the human woman’s eyes went wide as she watched the elves’ countenances morph and change till before her stood an elderly human woman and her human son.
“How do I look?” Deriliah asked.
Adanus nodded. “Perfect. Me?”
The Archmage nodded. “You’ll do.”
“What about me?” Elizabeth asked. “What am I now?”
“You’re my daughter,” Deriliah replied before reaching for the bags and pulling free a gown.
“Hurry,” she said, tossing the gown at the human.
Then, the elves turned their backs to her.
Elizabeth stared from them to the gown in her hand and back again. Then, shaking her head, she draped the gown over her shoulder and began undoing her garments.
“Did you truly kill your husband?” Adanus asked, words that froze the woman where she stood.
“Adanus…” Deriliah warned.
“Did you?” Adanus pressed, ignoring the Archmage.
Shaking her head, Elizabeth sighed and shook her head.
“Yes,” she said at last, her shoulders sagging. “I pushed him over when we were alone, then returned and acted like nothing was amiss. He’d been drinking. It made it easier.”
“Because I was tired, alright? I was tired of the beatings. I was tired of him forcing himself on me whenever he felt like, regardless of who was around, or having one of his personal guards do it while he watched. I was tired of him treating me less than he treated his slaves. I bore his children, Adanus and he treated me like filth. He even turned my own them against me.”
“But…you were Queen.”
“Ha!” The woman laughed, it was a bitter, pain-filled laugh. “That counts for shite-all here. I may as well have been given the title Slave, or Worthless Piece Of Meat, even. I have no coin to my name, no earthly possession to call my own. Even this bloody dress I wear doesn’t belong to me.” Then, the woman sighed. “In that palace, I’m nothing.”
“People!” the Archmage hissed through gritted teeth. “We don’t have time for this!”
Ignoring the elven woman once more, Adanus turned to face the human woman square.
“Why did you send me that missive?” he asked. “Why me, and not Mother?”
The human woman shrugged. “Because your mother couldn’t help me. I’m still of my father’s blood, and her banishment of Father dearest and his bloodline still stands.”
“So, you were using me, then?”
“No!” the woman gasped, hurrying forth and reaching for the elf. “Gods, no!”
Reaching the young elf, the human woman stretched a hand to his cheek, but stopped and, clenching her fist, lowered her hand to her side.
“I never forgot you, Adanus. Not ever. I sent that missive to you because I was…because I was hoping you hadn’t forgotten me.”
The human woman stared deep into Adanus’s eyes as she forced a smile to her lips, her eyes glistening as she did so.
Adanus stared at the woman in silence for a spell, his heart and head at war, but in the end, he smiled, and as his smile slowly widened, the young elf reached out a hand and gently caressed the human woman’s cheek, an act that called forth a soft gasp from the woman.
“Elizabeth…?” he said.
“Yes?” Elizabeth breathed, her smile warming with each passing moment.
“Would you like to be my guest at the Tower?”
“Guest?” Elizabeth frowned.
“We can’t offer you sanctuary,” Deriliah replied. “Even if we pretend that you didn’t kill your husband, your son will demand we cut you adrift could we grant you sanctuary and word reach him. But you did kill your husband, an ally of the Tower. A tenuous ally, but an ally nonetheless. By rights, we should wash our hands of you.”
“So, being a guest is better?” the human woman said, her voice quivering as her frown deepened.
“Yes.” Adanus smiled.
“There will be no official proclamation of your arrival,” Deriliah replied. “Nothing on record to say you’re even there. Even our Library will only have you down as Guest of the Matriarch’s son. It won’t even have your name, save for the records that are for Matriarch’s eyes only, of course. But regardless, without official proof of your presence, your children can scream all they want, we will simply deny them.”
Once more, the woman gasped, her tears flowing freely as she raised her hand to her lips.
“So, will you be my guest?” Adanus asked.
The former Queen nodded, her grin wide.
“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes!”
“Good.” Adanus grinned. “Now, hurry, before Deriliah’s head explodes.”
The elven woman growled at that remark an act that elicited a heady chuckled from the human as she turned her attention to her royal robes once more. Then, once again, she stopped, standing tall to hold the young elf in a knowing stare.
“What?” Adanus asked, fighting back a grin.
The human cocked her head to the side, the intensity of her gaze growing
“Oh, for gods’ sake!” the Archmage cried before gripping the elf by the arms and spinning him about.
“Hey!” Adanus cried.
“Don’t Hey me, damn it, we don’t have time for this! Now, hold still!”
The young elf pulled a face at his protector, then smiled as the human woman’s laughter rang out once more, and with a sigh, he turned his gaze forward, his heart a-flutter and his mind at peace.
“You think she cared for me?” Adanus asked. “Back then, I mean.”
“What do you mean?” Deriliah frowned.
“I mean, did she truly care for me back then, when we went to save her, or was it desperation driving her actions.”
“Oh, boy.” Deriliah sighed, shaking her head as she did so. “She never stopped caring for you, alright? Even when that bastard king was using her face for punching practice.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because you can learn a lot in five months, Adanus, and that was one thing I made sure of.”
Adanus frowned at this. “Mother sent you?”
Grinning the seated Archmage shook her head. “No. If she had, you’d have known something was afoot. No, she charged me with learning the truth and I sent others in my stead.”
“Ah,” Adanus nodded, “I see.”
A heavy silence fell upon the pair as the mage turned to the headstone once more.
“You made her happy, Adanus,” Deriliah said after a spell.” You gave her the life she’d dreamed of as a child, a life she only had but a taste when she first stayed with us. Take heart and cherish that.”
“How can I?” Adanus said. “She died so soon.”
The Archmage smiled. “Fifty years may not seem like much to us, but it’s a lifetime for humans. You gave her a lifetime of love, happiness and peace. Most nobles settle for just two of those three, but you allowed her taste all three without interrupt for fifty years. Celebrate what you did for her, Adanus. Grieve, but never forget how she lived!”
The silence returned, though this time not as charged as before. Then, at last, the young mage turned, a smile upon his lips.
“I’m not going to stop coming, you know,” he said.
The Archmage smiled. “I’d smack your arse if you did.”
“What?” Deriliah cried. “You’re not Archmage yet! I’m well within my rights to smack your arse if I need to!”
The mage glared at the seated woman, then shook his head and turned to the headstone before running his hand across it one more time.
“Come,” Deriliah said, rising. “The Birthing Grove is no place for you to spend the evening. Besides, it’ll be time for supper soon. You haven’t eaten all day.”
The mage turned to her once.
“Yeah, I suppose I should eat something. I can always come back tomorrow.”
The Archmage nodded. “That you can.”
Sniffling, the mage breathed deep and stood tall, then nodded.
Breathing deep herself, the Archmage smiled and nodded, then turned and made her way from the grove, her young charge falling in step behind her.
Slowly, Naeve rose, her gaze in the ether.
“Well?” Amala said, rubbing the young girl’s back. “Now, do you see?”
Breathing deep, Naeve turned to her and nodded. “They were happy for a bit.”
“Yes.” Amala nodded. “They were.”
“Like you and your friend?”
The elven woman breathed deep as a soft smile parted her lips.
“Yes,” she said at last, nodding. “And I hope, were our roles reversed, she would think of me as much as I will think of her.”
“Would I have liked your friend?”
Amala stared into her young friend’s eyes as once more, her words were caught in her throat, and as she gritted her teeth, her smile widened as tears ran down her cheeks.
“I think so,” she breathed at last
“Oh, bloody hells, Amala,” Naeve replied, her voice quivering as she threw her arms about the elven woman’s neck.
“Oh, my darling,” Amala sighed, hugging the child close. “Oh…my darling.”
A comforting silence fell upon the pair, till at last, they parted, and as Amala laid eyes upon the tears on young Naeve’s face, she giggled.
“It’s not funny!” Naeve cried, wiping her tears. “It’s your bloody fault I’m crying!”
“Forgive me,” Amala replied. “It’s just…”
“Hey,” Amala said shoving the young girl softly.
Naeve glared at her friend as spell, but the smile dancing on her lips drew all the venom from her glare.
“Well,” Amala breathed, “I’d best leave you to sleep. We don’t want you all cranky in the morning, now do we.”
“Oh, don’t start that again!”
Shrugging, the silver-haired woman rose.
“I’m not that bad, alright!” Naeve spat as she crawled into bed.
Shrugging once more, Amala wandered over to the door, but as she reached it, she turned to face the elven girl square
“Hrm?” Naeve replied, turning to the woman.
“No matter what happens, no matter what you ever hear of me, know that I love you with all my heart, and will do till the day I die. Alright?”
“Bloody hells, Amala,” Naeve replied, her cheeks reddening, “bit late to be laying it on this thick, isn’t it?”
The silver-haired woman smiled and shook her head. “Perhaps.” Then, her smile faded. “But you do know that, don’t you?”
Smiling, Naeve sighed and nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“Good.” Amala smiled.
“And I love you too,” Naeve replied. “Most days.”
“Most… You cheeky little…!”
Snickering, young Naeve bounded beneath her blanket and lay her head upon her pillow.
Breathing deep, Amala shook her head, her smile wide.
“Good night, my darling. Sleep well.”
“See you tomorrow, Amala.”
The elven woman did not respond.
Then, as Naeve turned to her side, Amala sighed and opened the door, then stepped outside and closed the door behind her, her smile long gone.
“And then, there’s the Irunai!” the Matriarch gasped, her eyes red and her cheeks stained as she sat upon the floor, her head against her beloved’s chest and his arms about her. “She’s the one who got those bloody bastards talking to those bastard barons again, not me! Left to me, they’d still be tearing each other’s hearts out! How am I supposed to–”
“You’ll find a way,” the Patriarch soothed. “You always do.”
“He’s right, my dear,” came a voice from the shadows. “You always do.”
Scrambling to her feet, the Matriarch watched as Amala stepped forth.
“How is she?” she asked.
Amala smiled. “She’s sleeping now.”
“All went well, then?” the Patriarch asked.
Amala breathed deep and turned to the man. “She suspects, I think, but… I think all went as well as it could’ve.”
Sighing, the seated man nodded. “That should be enough, I suppose.”
“So, this is it, then?”
Amala turned to the Matriarch, her smile widening as her eyes began to glisten.
“Yes,” was all she could say.
Reaching into her pocket, she pulled free the gem once more, then wandered towards the Matriarch, placing the stone in the woman’s hand as she reached her.
“Look after her,” Amala asked, raising her gaze to the woman’s.
The Matriarch nodded and smiled. “Of course.”
Amala smiled. “Forgive me.” Then, her smile faded. “Remember, you must reach that birthing tree before everyone else. If they scry it before you–”
“Bloody hells, Amala, I helped you put the bloody enchantments on that bloody tree! I know what to do, alright?”
Amala’s smile returned. “I know you do.”
Then, clasping the woman’s hand tight, she sighed, then turned to leave.
“Don’t forget me,” the Matriarch pleaded.
Amala stopped and turned, her smile returned. “Never, my darling. Never, ever.”
The elven woman smiled at this, her tears falling once more.
“Farewell, my darling,” Amala added as tears ran down her cheeks. “Till we meet again in the next life.”
“Goodbye, Amala,” the elven woman replied, “dearest of my ancestors.”
Amala snickered at this. “I’m the only ancestor you’ve met, you cheeky little…”
“So? Still makes it true, doesn’t it?”
Amala shook her head at this and, breathing deep, wiped her tears and stared at the woman before her, a ragged sigh escaping her lips, and for the longest of spells, the two held each other’s gaze. But there were no more words to say, and with a final smile, the silver-haired woman nodded, turned about and slipped into the shadows.
The Matriarch stared at the shadows for what seemed an eternity, till at last, the Patriarch grasped her hand.
“Come, my darling,” he said as he gently pulled her towards him. “She’s gone.”
The Matriarch didn’t resist, and as she fell into his arms, the broken woman hugged her beloved tight, her soft wails the only sound that night.