A gentle breeze blew through the grove, its soft winds ruffling the grass as it shuffled the dead leaves within. It was the kind of breeze one would expect from a day as lazy as this, a breeze that was sure to fill all who felt it with peace and tranquillity.

But there was only one within the grove, a young girl whose head was filled with laughter, and whose limbs were filled with a desire to dance. It was little Naeve Earthchild, her eyes closed as she darted and glided through the grass, her soft voice humming a tune as she danced. There was a smile upon the young girl’s lips, and with the lightness of her steps, it was clear this little girl was at peace in her own thoughts. And thus did she dance, the breeze her only companion, till at last, her song ended.

“Not bad,” came a voice from behind Naeve, startling her for all she was worth.

Spinning on her heels, little Naeve faced the utterer.

“Not quite Tirinel’s steps, but close enough. Though I rather doubt dancing with your eyes closed is such a good idea.”

As the little girl’s eyes fell upon the intruder, her gaze hardened and, gritting her teeth, she spun about once more and began dancing once again.

Sighing, Amala shook her head at the fuming youth.

“Still not speaking to me, then?” she said.

Her words were met with silence.

“Oh, come now, Naeve. It’s been…what, twelve days now? Thirteen? How long will this continue on for?”

Still, Naeve paid her no mind.

Shaking her head, Amala wandered to the only bench within the grove, and as she sat upon it, a deep sigh escaped her lips as she stared at the dancing child.

“No, no,” she said after a spell, “you lunge at that step, Naeve, not spin. The spin is three steps from here, you…”

Stopping, young Naeve turned and glared at the silver-haired woman.


Kissing her teeth, the little girl spun about once more, and as silence returned, she carried on with her dance.

“Oh gods, Naeve, don’t do that turn like that, you’ll hurt yourself!” Amala cried after a spell. “You must first lean with your–”

“Do you mind?” Naeve snapped as she spun about once more.

“Oh, so you are speaking to me!”

“I came here for some peace and quiet,” little Naeve said. “Would you mind just going away now?”

“Naeve, you’re being silly,” Amala replied.

“Leave, please.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Fine,” Naeve replied, raising her chin to the woman before her. “Stay if you want. I’ll just ignore you.”


But the little girl had spun about once more, and had once again resumed her dancing and her humming, save this time her hums were much louder than before.

Sighing once more, Amala sat back into the bench and watched the little girl a spell.

“You’re being a child, Naeve,” she said at last.

“I am a child,” Naeve growled, “or hadn’t you noticed?”

“The Naeve I know wouldn’t be this petty.”

“Is that so?”


“And what would the Naeve you know be–”

With a sharp cry, little Naeve’s eyes sprang open as she toppled to the ground.

“Naeve!” Amala cried as she dove towards the fallen child.

“You see?” she added as she grasped hold of the little girl. “This is why you shouldn’t dance with–”

“Oh, spare me the bloody lectures!” Naeve barked as she rose, but promptly fell back again as another pained cry escaped her lips.

“Oh dear.” Amala winced, her gaze upon Naeve’s foot.

“What?” Naeve said as she sat up and stared at her foot.

“I think you sprained it.”

“Oh, bloody hells!” the little girl spat as she rose. “That’s all I need. Master Kittleworth is so going to love telling me off again.”

“Naeve, you do know I can–“

“I don’t need your help,” the little girl interjected, then began hobbling towards the grove’s entrance.


“I don’t need your help! Leave me alone!”

“This is so stupid!” Amala shot back as she rose. “Would you just–”

“Leave me alone!”

“Gods damn it, girl!” Amala roared as she marched after the little girl.

“Get back here,” Amala snarled as she reached the seething child, grabbing hold of the little girl’s shoulder.

“Leave me alone!” Naeve repeated as she smacked the woman’s hand off her shoulder.

“I said get back here!” Amala barked, grabbing the little girl’s shoulder with a vice grip and spinning her about.

“Leave me alone!” little Naeve shrieked.

“What has gotten into you?”

“Are you deaf? Is that it? I don’t want anything to do with you, alright? Not now, not ever! Leave! Me! Alone!”

Amala stood stunned, her gaze upon the seething ball of rage before her.

“All this over a story?” she asked at last.

“Yeah,” Naeve sneered as she stood tall, “you keep telling yourself that. It’s just the story, nothing else.”

Then, the little girl turned to leave.

“No, Naeve,” Amala said as she reached for the girl once more, “wait, we–“

“What is wrong with you?” Naeve yelled as she slapped Amala’s hand away. “Stop acting like you care, you don’t!”

“What do you mean, of course I bloody care!”

“What, a dead thing like you? You don’t know how to care, you never did! You just go around pretending! Mother should just do us all a favour, drive a stake through that shrivelled up thing you call a heart and be done with it!”

A suffocating silence fell upon the pair as Amala stared open-mouthed at the youth before her.

“What…” she breathed. “What did you say?”

Cowering, little Naeve pouted as she slowly lowered her gaze.

“Why would you say something like that?”

Naeve held her peace.

“Answer me!” Amala snapped, her voice quivering.

“Because you hurt me, Amala!” little Naeve threw back as a tear ran down her face. “You’re supposed to be my friend. You’re supposed to be the one person who understands what it’s like.”

“And I do.”

“No, you don’t! You just pretend you do! You don’t know what it’s like to not have any friends! You don’t know what it’s like to be stuck in-doors having lesson after lesson while everyone my age is allowed to run around and enjoy themselves!”

“But I–”

“I didn’t ask to be the Matriarch’s daughter, you know! I didn’t ask for any of this! And I certainly didn’t bloody ask for every single bloody person in that bloody Tower to act like if I so much as fart wrong, I’ll bring an end to the whole Earthchild line!”

Amala could only stare at the little girl, and as the silence returned, Naeve’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“I thought you were different,” Naeve said at last, her tears running free. “I thought you knew what it’s like, that you were my friend. But the moment you got me that stupid present, you became just like everyone else. And that story, comparing me to Alanis. Really? Really, Amala? I…I just…”

Falling silent, Naeve stared at the woman before her as she pouted. Amala, for her part, stared at the child with a gaze that broke the young girl’s heart. And then, when the silence was suffocating and Amala’s gaze unbearable, little Naeve lowered her gaze and sniffled.

Amala stared at the little girl for a spell longer before at last stepping forth, pulling the girl close and hugging her tight. At first, young Naeve fought the woman’s grip, but soon she succumbed to the embrace and hugged her dear friend in turn.

At last, the pair parted, and as they did, Amala went on one knee.

“I am your friend,” she said, her voice soft and heavy. “I am.”

Pouting, little Naeve lowered her gaze.

“Come,” Amala continued, sniffling as she rose. “Let’s see to that ankle.”

“I don’t need your help,” little Naeve muttered.

“Naeve, please.”

Gritting her teeth, Naeve glared at the woman before her a spell, but she soon relented and allowed herself to be led back to the bench.

“Right,” Amala sighed as she lifted her little friend onto the bench before going on one knee, “let’s see what we’re dealing with.”

“Ah!” Naeve winced and recoiled as Amala felt her ankle.

“Hrm,” Amala said, her brow furrowed as she nodded at the ankle. “It’s sprained, alright, but not too badly at least.” Then, raising her gaze to Naeve, she smiled. “This might tingle a little.”

“Oh, joy,” Naeve muttered.

“Oh, hush you. You know you like it.”

Before Naeve could respond, the silver-haired elf clasped a soft hand upon little Naeve’s foot, raised it to her lips and whispered words of arcane upon it. As she whispered, the grove fell silent, as if the birds of the air had stopped to listen to the woman’s words. Even little Naeve held her peace, and as she watched, wisps of white floated from the elven woman’s lips to her foot, wrapping lazily about her ankle, and as a familiar tingle emanated from her ankle, the little girl bit her lip as as it spread across her whole foot. Then, as Amala’s whispers faded, so too did the tingles.

“There!” Amala beamed as she rose. “How’s that?”

Naeve rolled her ankle about. No pain. Then, she hopped off the bench and stomped her foot. Nothing.

“It’s alright,” she said at last.

“Alright?” Amala replied raising a royal eyebrow. “Kittleworth couldn’t have done any better.”

“You wish!”

“Ugh!” Amala growled as she sat. “There’s just no pleasing some people.”

Forcing back a smile, Naeve instead sighed, but while her feet itched to dance once more, she remained unmoving.

“Uhm, Amala,” she began, then bit her lip as the elven stared at her.

“About what I said, the whole stake in the heart thing, I didn’t mean it.“

Amala smiled. “I know.”

Grinning, Naeve nodded.

“But you were right,” Amala continued as she breathed deep, “I did become like everyone else.”

Naeve shrugged at this. “But why?”

“Because…well…” Amala began, then fell silent.

As the silence grew, little Naeve wandered back to the bench and sat upon it.

“Because…?” she said.

Smiling, Amala cocked her head to the side. “Because I’m afraid.”

“Afraid?” little Naeve said, her brow furrowed deep. “You?”

Grinning, Amala nodded. “Yes, me.” Then, her grin faded. “I’m afraid of what I’m turning you into.”

“I don’t understand.”

Sitting tall, Amala turned to face the little girl square. “My darling, you’re growing up so fast. All I need do is blink, and you’re no longer this wonderful, huggable little bundle of pain and suffering…”


“…but a grown woman, one upon whose shoulders will sit a very big and very real responsibility. And I’m afraid all the naughty things I’m teaching you, enabling you to miss lessons and suchlike, will make you grow up into a woman that I’ll come to…loathe.”

“What on earth…” the little girl began, her confusion plain. Then, without warning, Naeve sat ramrod straight as her eyes burned with rage.

“Mother…” she snarled.

“No,” Amala replied, her voice firm. “No. Your mother has nothing to do with this.”

“But she’s the one who’s always–”

“She scolded me for making you run out on me last time. This has nothing to do with her, upon my honour. This is all me.”

“Ugh!” the little girl replied as she sat deeper into the bench.

“Listen, Naeve–”

“I’m not going to turn into some spoilt brat because you’re my friend, Amala,” the little girl interjected. “If anything having you as you is why I’m still sane.”

A cheeky smile parted the elven woman’s lips. “That’s hardly reassuring.”

“Oh, ha-ha!”

Shaking her head, Amala raised a soft hand to her little friend’s cheek and sighed. “But I see now I may have been a little heavy handed.”

“A little?”

“You’re one to judge! Do you have any idea how humiliating it was to promise so many people you’ll be attending all your lessons without issue, only for you to miss the very next lesson you had after my promise?”

“Wait, what?”




“Well then…next time don’t make such a silly promise!”



Shaking her head, Amala sighed as a warm smile parted her lips. Little Naeve pouted in response and began swinging her legs beneath the bench.

Shaking her head once more, Amala sat back and breathed deep as she let the calming silence embrace her. Then, the little girl turned to her once more.

“So, what did happen to Alanis?” she asked. “After Fern died, I mean.”

Amala smiled and shook her head. “Things didn’t end well, Naeve.”


“Yes.” Amala nodded. “I’d added her story to the tome, in fact. To show the dangers of letting your hate rule you. Especially when wielding the power of the Tower.”

“Oh, please,” Naeve growled as she sat back once more, rolling her eyes as she did so.

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you knew what she did.”

“What did she do, then?”

“Well, she blamed House Derigurn for what happened, as did Marin. It was a Derigurn that did the killing, after all. So she declared war on the House, and when her Magister at the time stood in her way, she stripped him of his rank, made Marin her new Magister and the two of them saw to it that House Derigurn no longer exists.”

“What do you mean, no longer exists?”

“She hunted them all down, Naeve, killed them all. Along with any who offered a Derigurn sanctuary, friend or foe. By the time she was done, none lived that had any blood ties of any kind to House Derigurn.”

“And everyone just let her?” the little girl gasped.

“No, Naeve, people didn’t just let her. Many spoke up, some even left. But she was Matriarch, and for many, her word was law.”

“Oh my gods.”

“Mhm.” Amala nodded. “But that’s not the worst part. There are tales of her driving ice lances through the wombs of child bearing women while their husbands watched, and other…less savoury acts.”

“And you wanted me to read that?” Naeve yelled.

“Oh, for goodness sake, I didn’t put that in the tome! Have a little faith!”

Naeve glared at her friend for a spell, but held her peace.

“You want to know what else?” Amala continued.

“I really don’t want to hear anymore, Amala.”

Smiling, Amala nodded, and in response, the little girl sat back once more.

“I’m going to have to go back soon, aren’t I?” she said after a spell.

Amala stared at her little friend. The responsible part of her beckoned her to agree, to ensure Naeve went back to her lessons, but the sadness within the little girl’s words had cut her deep, and so instead, Amala hugged her close and kissed her on her head.

“We haven’t done this in a while,” she said. “How about we stay here a moment longer?”

With eyes bright, little Naeve stared at Amala and grinned.

“Sure!” she replied, then snuggled closer to Amala.

Amala, for her part, laughed and hugged Naeve once more.

“So, uhm…” Naeve said after a spell. “Is it…did I break it?”

Taking a deep breath, Amala let it out slowly. “Yes.”

“Oh,” Naeve replied as her face fell.

“Hey,” Amala said, nudging the little girl. “I said it was broken, not that it was destroyed completely.”

Naeve’s grin returned at Amala’s words. “So I can still use it?”

“Mhm.” Amala nodded as she reached into her pocket. “I was able to salvage its core. I’m still waiting for parts to craft a new bracelet housing for it, but I can still conjure the tome whenever I wish.”


“Mhm.” Amala nodded once more. “Want to read something?”

The little girl moved to speak, but caught herself, and as her smile faded, she shook her head.

“No more lessons for now. Maybe later.”

“Oh. Well, not every story in there has a lesson to it. Some of them are just stories.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“Well…” Amala began as she pondered the question, then smiled. “Remember how you’d once asked me how come the Tower was always run by women?”

“I remember,” Naeve replied as she sat up, “and you said we’ve had men leaders in the past.”

“Yes.” Amala nodded. “Care to read about one of them?”


“Alright,” Amala replied, and pulling free a small gem from her pocket, she clasped it tight and whispered words of arcane, and as she whispered, the tome faded into being before the pair.

“Now,” Amala continued, drawing the tome closer before turning its pages, “let’s see … ah, here we are!”

“Eliran…” Naeve muttered as she read the name in bold upon the page before her. Then, as she snuggled against her dear friend once more, the little girl reached out her hand, turned the page and began to read.




It was the hurried footsteps that told the Mage Adept all was not well, but it wasn’t till he stared deep into the eyes of his friend that he realised how dire the news was.

“What is it?” the Mage Adept said as he rose, wiping the grass and soil upon his fingers onto his trousers.

“Ill news,” his Mage Adept friend gasped, “about your aunt.”

“What? What happened?”

“Her convoy was attacked. She’s missing.”

“What?” the Mage Adept gasped as he turned to the Tower.

“The Tower’s in an uproar. Come, hurry.”

But the young Mage Adept remained where he was, all blood draining from his face.


Startled, he turned to his friend.

“Come. Leisle’s looking for you.”

Young Eliran Earthchild stared from the Tower to his dear friend and back again, and without a word, broke into a dead sprint, his friend close behind. As he ran, the young Mage Adept’s mind raced, but each thought that crossed his mind was more frightening than the last, each one fuelling his limbs to carry him forth faster, till at last, bursting through the ornate double doors of the grand meeting room, the young Mage Adept stared wide eyes as he panted furiously.

“Where the hells have you been?” one of those within the room thundered.

“Apologies, Magister Thornmarch,” Eliran gasped, “I was–”

“You were playing with those blasted flowers again, weren’t you?”

“Magister, please, now’s not the time to–“

“Don’t talk down to me, boy, you don’t–“

“Magister, please,” said the young elf at the head of the mighty oak table spanning the length of the room, “now truly isn’t the time for this.”

Panting still, Eliran walked toward the elven woman.

“Leisle,” he continued, his heart now in his throat, “what’s happened?”

The young Matriarch-in-waiting stared at her cousin as she swallowed hard.

“There’s been dire tidings, Eliran, and…”

Just then, hurried footsteps reached the ears of all within. As one, all turned.

“I see you found him, Narla,” Leisle said, a soft smile upon her lips as Eliran’s friend came into view.

Smiling, the young Mage Adept nodded. “He’s always at his flower bed at this hour.”

“Thank you,” Leisle replied as her smile grew. “But now I must ask you to leave us. We have much to discuss.”

“Of course, Matriarch,” Narla said as she bowed.

“Hold, Matriarch?” Eliran cried as he stared from Narla to Leisle. “Is Aunt Areta dead?”

“Calm yourself, Eliran,” Leisle said, her voice soft and comforting. “Sit, please.”

The Mage Adept scanned the table till his eyes fell upon an empty chair, then began heading towards it.

“I still say this matter is too delicate to involve him,” muttered another of the gathered, words that drew murmurs from a few others.

“Your doubt is noted, Archmage Danlion, but as I explained previous, his mother was Matriarch before mine–”

“Your loyalty to him is commendable, Leisle,” the Magister growled, “but these are dire times, and we must tread carefully. It’s been an age since we’ve been in such dire straits, and both our allies and our enemies will be watching us closely.”

“I agree,” Archmage Danlion muttered, fiddling with the handkerchief tucked within the cuff of her robe as she spoke. “His mother may have been Matriarch, but the Law of Succession is clear; this is your burden, not his. Eliran can never lead the Tower while you or Enda may have yet live, so having him here makes it seem as though you can’t stand without his counsel.”

“Eliran is not leaving,” Leisle replied in a tone that silenced the room and drew a smile to Eliran’s lips.

“So,” Leisle continued, “now that we have come to some agreement on Eliran’s presence…” She turned to the elf sitting on the other side of the Magister.

“…Archmage Sungrove?”

“Thank you, Matriarch.” The Archmage bowed, then carried his gaze about the room.

“We’ve come to know Matriarch Areta’s convoy was attacked on their way down the mountains. The highland barons confirmed there was none alive at the site of the attack. Both the guards they assigned to the Matriarch for protection, and those of our number accompanying her were found dead. As for the Matriarch, she was nowhere to be seen.”

A sea of murmurs floated about the room.

“According to the highland barons,” the Archmage continued, “there was no trace of the Matriarch. No blood, no tracks, nothing. It was as if she teleported away, or was teleported.”

Then, the Archmage paused as he drew breath,

“Continue, Archmage Sungrove,” Leisle urged once the ensuing silence began to grow.

Swallowing hard, the Archmage nodded, then continued.

“According…to the barons, there was no trace of anyone other than our people and their guards. Again, no tracks, no blood, nothing. Worse still, they suspect they were all…poisoned.”

“What?” Magister Thornmarch barked.

“Of course,” Eliran muttered, nodding distractedly as he spoke.

“What do you mean of course!” the irate Magister demanded.

Frowning, Eliran turned to him. “Aunt Areta’s convoy was staffed with our most capable battle mages. I can see no way to overpower them all so swiftly save foul play.” Then, he turned to Archmage Sungrove. “Do the barons know what poison was used, or how it was administered?”

“What difference does that make?” Archmage Danlion frowned.

With his frown deepening, Eliran turn to the woman.

“To give us some insights as to who the traitor is, of course,” he said.

“Traitor?” one of the seated said. “Who said anything about a traitor?”

Shaking his head, Eliran turned to the utterer. “Archmage Seawall, that convoy was staffed with Archmages, truly capable Archmages. A simple poison would mean no more than a moment’s discomfort before it is dispelled or cured. So, for this poison to have killed even one of them, it would have to have been exceedingly potent.”


“Archmage, from the first death, the others would’ve easily surmised what had occurred, and would’ve immediately begun purifying themselves. So, for them all to have succumbed, we can safely assume their deaths were either at once or quick succession, which therefore means the poison must’ve been administered either at once or in quick succession. That the barons simply sent word, as opposed to an emissary must mean they died some distance down the mountain side, and if you take the potency of this poison into account, it had to have been administered–”

“Eliran, be quiet,” Archmage Danlion sighed, her eyes closed and a hand rubbing her temple, “your prattling is giving me a headache.”

“I’d still like to hear his thoughts,” Leisle said, a tight frown upon her lips as she stared hard at the Archmage.

“Well, I don’t,” Magister Thornmarch growled. “The answer lies before us. How the deed was done is irrelevant.”

“Magister Thornmarch, I–” Leisle began.

“This is a waste of time, girl,” the Magister interjected. “The only thing of note from that boy’s lips is that there was a traitor within that caravan, and us dancing about the issue does no-one any good.”

“Magister Thornmarch, you must–”

“Ah,” the Magister said as he waved the young elf’s words away before carrying his gaze about the table. “We must now decide–”

“Magister Thornmarch!” the young Matriarch thundered, her voice reverberating about the room and silencing all within

“How dare–” the Magister began.

“In my mother’s absence, I am Matriarch, not you. You do not command here, I do! You do not tell me to be quiet, I tell you! And if you so much as part you lips again when I speak, I shall strip you of your rank here and now and send you out of this hall. Do I make myself clear?”

“Girl, have you gone–”

“Do I make myself clear?” young Leisle bellowed.

A suffocating silence fell upon the room as Magister and Matriarch glared at each other. But in the end, there could only be one outcome.

“Forgive me, Matriarch,” the Magister said as he bowed.

Sitting tall, Leisle raised her chin to the man a spell, then turned to Eliran.

“Thaddeus is right, Leisle,” Archmage Danlion said before Leisle could draw breath. “I know she’s your mother, and I know how deeply you care for her, but the signs are all there. Everyone died save her, no signs of any other parties, and no sign of a struggle of any kind. There’s just no sense in Areta seeing her people dead or dying, then simply vanishing unless…well…”

“What?” Eliran said, his tone incredulous. “You think Aunt Areta killed her own people and just left?”

The Archmage sighed. “It pains me to say it, but–“

“That’s nonsense!”

“Don’t you take that tone with me, boy!”

“Leisle, tell them!” Eliran pleaded, turning to his cousin. “Aunt Areta would never do such a thing!”

It was young Leisle’s pause that hurt the elf more than anything.

“You…” Eliran began as he slowly sat back into his chair. “You’re not truly thinking–”

“What I think is of no consequence right now, Eliran,” Leisle replied. “Our allies will no doubt think the same of Mother. My priority now must be to lessen the damage to our name.”


“We will get to the truth, cousin, this I vow. We will. But first thing’s first. Alright?”

Eliran stared open-mouthed at his cousin for a moment, then rose from his seat and headed for the door.

Pacing before his flowerbed, his brow furrowed deep and his hands wringing, young Eliran Earthchild turned the events of only a few moments prior over in his mind.

“Eliran,” came a voice, drawing him from his thoughts.

Stopping, he turned to the utterer. It was Narla.

“Enda has returned.”

“Good.” Eliran nodded as he turned his gaze to the Tower. “Leisle could use her sister’s shoulder at a time like this.”

“So it’s true?”

“Hrm?” Eliran frowned as he turned to his friend.

“They say Areta has betrayed us,” the Mage Adept replied, “slaughtered her own convoy.”

Shaking his head, Eliran gritted his teeth.

“Gods damn them all,“ he spat as he crumpled to the earth.

Hurrying to his side, young Narla threw her arm about her friend and held him close, his head upon her shoulder.

“It’s alright, Eliran,” she soothed. “It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not!” Eliran retorted as he sprang to his feet. “Those fools are too stupid and blind to see they’re being lead by the nose!”

“Well,” Narla began, but swiftly fell silent.


The young Mage Adept moved to speak, but once again fell silent.

As Eliran stared at her, his gaze darkened. “You too, hunh?”

“Well, can you blame me?” Narla replied as she shot to her feet. “I mean…come now, Eliran, can you truly blame me?”

“Alright, well, yes,” Eliran nodded, “it was no secret, Aunt Areta hated being Matriarch. And yes, she was happier here with me amongst our flowers than out there parleying with idiots and morons. But killing her own? Truly? She loved this place! The Tower was her home! She would never have harmed a soul here!”

“Then, how do you explain what she did?”

“Narla, it doesn’t fit!”

“What doesn’t fit?”

“Oh dear, gods, Narla, the tapestry, remember? Do not just look at each thread on its own, you must–”

“See the full tapestry. Yes, yes, so you keep saying.”

“Then see the full tapestry!”

“I am, damn it! And all I see is your aunt losing her mind, doing the unspeakable and running off to only gods know where!”

Stunned, young Eliran took a step back. “Gods give me strength.”

“Alright then,” Narla said, sitting cross-legged as she spoke. “What tapestry do you see?”

Gritting his teeth, Eliran fought for calm. Then, breathing deep, he sat cross-legged before his friend.

“First,” he began, “if Aunt Areta was so close to the edge, why would she take such a personal role in working out this new accord with the highland barons? Why not send old Thaddeus?”

Narla shrugged. “Because she didn’t trust him.”



Sighing, Eliran shook his head, an act that brought a barely suppressed smile to Narla’s lips.

“Aunt desperately wanted this accord done, and done to perfection. We, the Tower, stand to gain a great deal over the next seventeen decades should the accord play out to Aunt’s satisfaction. Seventeen decades at least!”


“So does that sound like a woman who hated her role so badly she’d rather slay her number and run than simply stand aside?”

Narla shook her head at this. “She can’t just stand aside, Eliran. You know the fate that awaits a Matriarch at the end of her reign.”

“Yes,” Eliran nodded, “I do. But you make it sound like a fate worse than death. It’s not. But we digress. The bartering with the highland barons meant much to her, far more than it would mean to someone meaning to run away. Do you not agree?”

Once more, Narla shook her head. “Your argument is not a safe one. The killing happened after the deal had been brokered, not before. She may well have decided this deal was her salvation, hence why she was so desperate to see it through. She gains this deal for us, and thus uses it to salve her conscience.”

“Well…yes, that…that’s a fair statement to make.”

“Thank you.”

“But why kill anyone? Why not claim to need to empty her bowels, step away and simply vanish when all backs were turned? Why wade through all that blood?”

“Well…” Narla began, words failed her.

“Also, how was she to administer the poison?” Eliran continued. “They were clear of the city, on their way down the mountains. She couldn’t possibly have administered it in the city, the poison was too potent, it had to have been administered on the trek itself. But how?”

Narla shrugged. “Food, drink, I don’t know!”

Eliran shook his head. “The High Guards of Aderelas would never consume food when on duty and on a trek, Narla, their pride would never allow it. That and the knowledge that their highland baron masters would have their hide if they ever acted in a manner akin to uncouth barbarians.”

Narla frowned. “Eating on a trek is something only an uncouth barbarian does?”

“I’ve seen those people refuse a single nut while on duty. Pride is all-consuming for them.”

Shaking her head, Narla sighed. “So drink, then.”

Once more, Eliran shook his head. “Too risky. If you give ten different people a goblet of the finest wine, they will drink it at ten different paces. By the time the first one to finish drains their goblet, there’ll still be one who hadn’t even tasted the wine.”

“So…how, then?”

“That’s the key! How were they poisoned! I cannot fathom it, but I am convinced once we know how, it will be easy to work out who.”

“That still doesn’t prove it’s not her,” Narla warned.

“No?” Eliran replied. “Then you explain the how and the why?”

“Alright, yes,” Narla said as she nodded reluctantly, “if you ponder the why, then, yes, you do make a compelling argument.”

“Thank you!”

“Did Leisle believe you?”

Sighing, Eliran shook her head. “Leisle has bigger worries.”

Narla frowned at this. “What’s bigger than clearing her mother’s name?”

“Our allies would’ve heard about this by now. Those highland barons would’ve wasted no time using this news to win some of them over. Leisle will have her hands full trying to stop them.”

“Oh,” Narla muttered.

“Yes.” Eliran sighed, then shook his head. “There is a traitor in our midst, Narla. Someone here somehow killed all those people and took Aunt’s body away to make it seem like it was her.”

Narla cast a sideways glance at her friend. “Your aunt’s body? You think she’s dead?”

“It’s the only logical conclusion.”

“Eliran, you’ve been wrong before. Are you sure you’re not wrong now?”

“I…I don’t know, I…”

Shaking her head, Narla forced a hand into Eliran’s. “You often say never draw conclusions till you’re sure of all the facts. Are you sure she’s dead?”

Sighing, Eliran smiled. “No. How can I be? I’m not sure of all the facts.”

Smiling herself, Narla nodded. “Precisely.” Then, she frowned. “So, what now?”

“Now,” Eliran replied, sighing once more, “we tread carefully. This traitor could be anyone–”

“Even me?”

“Yes, even…” Eliran began, then fell silent as his eyes slowly grew wide.

Chuckling, Narla shook her head. “You’re supposed to say No, of course not!

Grinning, Eliran shook his head. “Sometimes, Narla…”


“Anyhow! We must tread carefully. We know not who to trust.”

“So, what do we do?”

“Well,” Eliran sighed, his brow furrowing. “First, we must know precisely what occurred, before, during and shortly after.”

“You mean go to Aderelas, speak to the locals.”

“Yes.” Eliran nodded. “We must find someone we can trust to go and learn as much as they can.”

Narla frowned at this. “Why don’t you go?”


“Why don’t you go?”



“Oh, no,” Eliran said as he shook his head vehemently. “No, no, no, no. I can’t, I can’t. I simply can’t–”

“You said we can’t trust anyone.”

“I know, but–”

“And that we must tread carefully.”

“Yes, but–”

“Do you not wish to learn what happened to your aunt?”

“Of course I do!”

“So, what’s the issue?”

“I’m…well…I’m not much of a battle mage.”

Narla shrugged. “Then I’ll come with you.”

“You?” Eliran cried.

“Mhm.” Narla nodded.


“Well, you need someone to remind you to eat…”


“…and I am much better than you at battle spells.”

“Well, yes, but–”

“Good, you agree.”

“Hold a moment, I didn’t–”

“We will need supplies…” Narla continued as she rose.

“No, Narla, hold a moment,” Eliran said as he too rose.

“…and horses…”

“Narla, no, stop–”

“It’s going to take forever to get to Aderelas by horseback though. We need a portal point…”

“Damn it, Narla, would you stop–”

“I know! I still have memories of Ishkall. We can get horses from there instead! Should be…what, a day’s ride to Aderelas from there? Two?”

“Narla!” Eliran barked.

“Hrm?” Narla said as she smiled sweetly at Eliran.

“You can’t…I mean this isn’t…we just can’t…”

Through it all, Narla stared at her friend with the same sweet, simple smile.

Sighing at last, Eliran shook his head.

“I’ll see to the provisions,” he muttered, then turned and trundled towards the Tower.


Sitting in the corner of the tavern, the door kept firmly in the corner of his eye, Eliran scanned the sea of faces as he lifted his mead to his lips.

“Where in the hells are you, woman,” he muttered as he lowered his tankard.

Just then, the door swung open, and as Eliran beheld the woman standing in the door frame, his features softened as he sat tall and waited for the woman to see him. As their eyes met, Eliran smiled and nodded, then turned and gestured to a nearby serving maid.

“Another mead, please,” he said when the maid neared, and as the maid left, the woman arrived.

“Took your sweet time,” Eliran muttered.

“Don’t start,” Narla growled as she sat opposite.

“What’s eating at you?” Eliran frowned.

“My stomach,” was the elven woman’s dour reply.

“And whose idea was it to begin our search this morning without first dining?”

“Eliran, dearest friend,” Narla said as she leant forward, “please stop talking and get me some food before I devour your hands, your arms, and quite possibly your face as well.”

Eliran stared at Narla for a spell, then turned to find a serving maid.

“Duck and lentils, please,” he said.

“Of course,” the serving maid replied, then hurried on.

“So,” Eliran sighed. “What did you learn today?”

Narla shook her head. “You first, this time.”

Eliran frowned. “What difference does it make?”

“Oh no, you will not be picking holes in my tale before I’ve had a chance to do the same to yours. You first.”

Eliran frowned at her a spell, then sighed and reached for his mead.

“I have nothing new today,” he said at last, then lifted his tankard to his lips.


Eliran shook his head.

“Hunh…so all that talk you keep giving of watching your quarry closely, learning how their body reacts to each question and using that to garner which questions to ask and which to avoid, all that wondrous knowledge of yours on how to interrogate people…and you have nothing new. Again.”

“Are you finished?” Eliran muttered as he lowered his tankard.

A slow smile parted Narla’s lips. “For now.”

“Right,” Eliran said as he burped. “What did you find?”

“Well, I…” Narla began, then fell silent as a serving maid approached.

At Narla’s silence, the hairs on the back of Eliran’s neck stood ramrod straight. This level of caution was far more than she had ever shown.

“Narla?” Eliran said once they were alone.

The gaze his friend held him in called forth a ball of fear in the pits of his stomach.

“What is it?”

Narla stared at her friend a spell, then quickly filled her mouth before washing it all down with a deep gulp from her tankard.

“Narla!” Eliran hissed.

Narla stared at him a spell longer, then leant forward.

“One of the stable hands remembers your aunt’s arrival,” she said. “At first, he said the same thing as everyone else we’ve spoken to.”


“But he remembers there was another traveller in the city that day.”

“Oh?” Eliran said as he leant forward.

Narla nodded. “Yes. She arrived a little while after your aunt.”

“What’s so special about this traveller?” Eliran replied. “Many travellers come here each day.”

Narla nodded once more. “I said much the same, you know what he said?”


“Her saddle.”

Eliran frowned. “Whose saddle?”

“The traveller’s saddle. It was the same as that of your aunt and her convoy. The leather, the shape, the cut, the colour, all of it. It was the same.”

Eliran slowly sat up. “You mean the saddle came from the Tower.”

Narla nodded. “Yes.”

“Did he describe this traveller?”

“He did. Woman. Tall. Slim. Old. Had an emerald handkerchief hidden within the left cuff of her tunic.”

A cold sweat gripped Eliran as he listened.

“The traveller kept fiddling with the handkerchief,” Narla continued, “and had a high, raspy voice.”

“Danlion,” Eliran said at last.

“Yes,” Narla nodded. “It does sound just like Archmage Danlion, doesn’t it?”

As his dread grew to full bloom, Eliran sat back into his chair.

“I was so sure it was the Magister,” Narla said. “It just fitted so perfectly.”

“What do you mean?” Eliran frowned.

“Well, the old bastard and your aunt warred almost daily, didn’t they? And he was always the first to berate her for tending to her flowers over her duties. So, with the way he was always talking down to Leisle, I’d felt sure he’d done the deed to replace one troublesome Matriarch with one he can control.”

Eliran smiled. “Leisle is anything but docile.”

“You’re sure of that?”

Eliran nodded. “Only reason Leisle holds her tongue is because Aunt ordered her to. Aunt wanted to deal with Thornmarch her way.”

“Hunh…” Narla muttered before picking up another morsel.

“And besides, where does Danlion fit in all that?” Eliran replied. “And how in the world did she get to administer the poison? My aunt doesn’t trust her. Her heckles rise the moment she sees that shrivelled up old crow.”

Sighing, Narla nodded. “That’s true. Not many trust her.” Then, she turned to Eliran. “But who else could it be?”

“I don’t know.” Eliran shook his head as he reached for his tankard.

“Well, I still think Thornmarch is involved somehow. I mean, why else would he have spent so much time with Leisle?”

Eliran rose his gaze to his friend. “What?”

Narla nodded. “While your aunt was away, Thornmarch spent a great deal of time in Leisle’s company. Looking back, it’s almost as if he was trying to ensure he was seen within Tower grounds, establish a whereabouts for himself.”

“Did he?”

“Hm.” Narla nodded. “And regardless of what you say about Leisle, he’s still the one that has the most to gain from your aunt’s disappearance. Troublesome Matriarch and all that.”

At Narla’s words, Eliran sat ramrod straight as he stared wide-eyed at his friend.

“Oh gods,” he breathed.

“What? What is it?”

Then, the horrified elf stared deep into the ether as his face whitened.

“Oh gods,” he repeated.

“Eliran, what is it?” asked a worried Narla.

But Eliran was silent, his gaze upon horrors unseen.

“Eliran!” Narla hissed as she grasped his hand. “What is it?”

“Dryad’s Kiss,” Eliran replied as he stared at his friend.


“It’s a scent. Do you know it?”


“Do you know it?” Eliran pressed, his gaze growing in intensity with each passing moment.

“Uhm…no, but there are many scent stalls not far from here, we can–”

“Let’s go,” interjected as he rose.

“What, now?”

“Yes,” the wild-eyes Mage Adept said as he turned to his friend.

“Eliran, you–”

“I know who did this,” he said. “I know how the poison was administered, and I know why it was done. But I pray to the gods that I’m wrong.”

Narla swallowed hard as she stared at her friend.

“I must smell this Dryad’s Kiss for myself to be sure,” Eliran continued.

“Why? What does it prove?”

“Do you remember the bottle we found at the site?”

Narla frowned. “What bottle? The site was cleaned by the time we got there.”

“Yes, but there was a broken bottle, remember?”

“There was a fair number of broken bottles.”

“A broken bottle!” Eliran pressed as he sat once more. “Or vial, rather. Small and blue. Its pieces were pressed into the earth and–”

“I remember,” Narla interjected. “You kept sniffing it and kept asking me to sniff it.”

“Yes, that one!”

“Dryad’s Kiss?”

Eliran nodded as he stared on with a haunted gaze. “But I pray I am wrong.”

Sitting tall, Narla stared at her friend, then at her meal.

“To the hells with it,” she said at last, then rose. “Let’s go.”

“Yes.” Eliran nodded, then rose and, together, the pair headed for the door.


“So, we’re all in agreement?” Archmage Danlion said as she cast her gaze about those seated about her.

I am,” Enda replied, nodding at the Archmage before turning her gaze to her sister. “It pains me to forsake my own mother, but it’s been almost three weeks since the incident, and there’s been no word. Either she’s dead or she’s guilty, no other reason for her to be silent for so long.”

“Any voices in dissent?” the elderly Archmage said.

None spoke.

“Then it’s settled. We must make immediate preparations to name Leisle our Matriarch in full.”

“Lucky us,” Magister Thornmarch growled as he rose and headed for the door.

“What was that?” Enda said as she and the others rose.

“Ignore him,” Leisle said. “And I thank you, Sister, for your support.”

Enda smiled. “Anytime, Sister.”

Just then, the ornate doors swung open as Eliran and Narla marched in.

“Ah, Eliran!” Leisle cried as she smiled.

“There you are!” Enda added as she hurried over to her cousin. “Where in the world have you been?”

But, as she neared her cousin, the young elf slowed. There was no smile on his face, no mirth in his eyes.

“Eliran, what is it?”

A sad smile parted young Eliran’s lips. “I know what happened to your mother.”

“What?” the Magister thundered.

“Impossible!” Archmage Danlion stammered. “How could you know anything?”

“Eliran,” Leisle said, her voice soft, yet commanding, “this is neither the time, nor the place for your–”

“Do you not wish to know who killed your mother?” Narla shot back.

“Areta’s dead?” Magister Thornmarch gasped.

“Yes,” Eliran nodded, his gaze fixed upon Leisle.

“I am not amused, Eliran,” Leisle said, her voice hardening. “This is not–”

“I can prove it,” Eliran interjected.

The young Matriarch fell silent as her lips fell agape.

“Well, get on with it, then?” the Magister barked when silence filled the air.

“Magister Thornmarch,” Leisle snapped as she rounded on the elderly mage, “must I again remind you–”

“She is you mother, gods damn it!” the elderly mage shot back. “You owe her this!”

“From Eliran?”

“Was it not you who demanded he be involved in this? Well, he is, and now you must hear him out!”

“This is–”

“Girl, you will hear him out and that’s the end of it!” the Magister bellowed.

“I have had enough of you, you old fool!” Leisle thundered, her eyes ablaze. “You are hereby stripped of your–”

“We went to Aderelas,” Eliran said.

“What?” Leisle frowned as she turned to her cousin.

Eliran nodded. “We went to Aderelas. Narla and I.”

“Who gave you leave to go?”

“Nevermind all that, what did you learn?” Magister Thornmarch cut in.

“Thornmarch!” Leisle snapped.

“They remembered you, Archmage,” Eliran said, his gaze upon the elderly mage standing beside Leisle.

Archmage Danlion frowned. “Remembered me? What do you mean?”

“A stable hand remembered you,” Eliran replied.

“That’s absurd, I’ve never–”

“Quiet, both of you!” Leisle barked.

“Described you in detail…” Eliran continued.

“Eliran!” Leisle warned.

“…even described your handkerchief.”

“I said be quiet!”

“But it wasn’t you, was it?”

“Enough! Eliran!”

“You were never there, were you?”

“I am warning you!”

“But someone wanted people to think you were.”



“Shut up, damn you! Shut up!” Leisle shrieked as she raised both hands to her cousin, lightning dancing between her fingers.

Frozen, Eliran watched as his cousin conjured his death. So stunned was he that he did not notice young Narla dart before him, her gaze hardened and fierce, and just as Leisle was about to unleash her wrath upon her cousin, a gust of wind burst forth between them, slamming against young Leisle with enough force to fling her into the mighty oak table behind her, her head hitting it hard enough to ensure darkness claimed her before her body touched the floor.

“You little whore!” Enda screamed.

As one, Eliran and Narla turned to the young elf, only to watch as she lunged at Narla, blade in hand. But, as the pair watched her sail through the air, a thunderous roar filled the room as lightning struck young Enda’s arm, flinging her from the pair and sending her sliding into the far wall.

As a deafening silence fell upon the room, all eyes turned to the source of the spell.

“What?” Magister Thornmarch growled. “She’s alive, isn’t she?”

Grinning, Eliran shook his head as he turned to the cowering Archmage.

“Archmage Danlion?” he said.

The elderly Archmage tore her gaze from Enda’s unmoving body to Eliran.

“Tell us what happened.”

“Uh…” the elderly Archmage began, then carried her gaze about the room. There wasn’t a friendly face to be found.

“Archmage Danlion,” Eliran repeated.

The Archmage turned her gaze to Eliran

“You owe them no allegiance. They had planned from the start to paint you as the sole culprit. Tell us what happened.”

The elderly mage stared in silence for a spell, but soon sighed and shook her head.

“It was Enda who approached me,” she began.

“Shut up, you stupid bitch!” Enda cried as she sat against the wall, cradling her arm.

“Quiet!” Magister Thornmarch barked. “Or would you rather I strike you down again?”

Fighting back the tears, young Enda bowed her head.

“Carry on, Archmage,” Eliran said.

“She…told me she and her sister were sick of how their mother was making a mockery of her office, and she said Leisle would make me Magister should I aid them.”

“Woman, what did you do?” Magister Thornmarch breathed.

“Magister, please,” Narla said.

“Continue, Archmage,” Eliran urged.

Shaking her head, the elderly Archmage wandered towards the table and sat upon one of the seats before it.

“The poison was Leisle’s idea, and–”

“Liar!” Enda shrieked.

“I know the full truth, Archmage,” Eliran warned. “Please do not make me say it. It’s much better if it all came from you.”

The Archmage stared at Eliran, her eyes pleading, but her gaze was met with a cold glare. Then, sighing, the elderly mage shook her head and began again.

“Very well, it was my idea. I used to be a jeweller after all, so it was no issue to craft enchanted rings in secret. The plan was that I craft the rings, but they deliver them, so all our hands were stained.”

“It was Enda who delivered the rings, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.” The Archmage nodded. “I met her in Ieran two days after her mother set out, gave her the rings and she went after her mother.”

“And the Matriarch?” Narla asked.

Archmage Danlion nodded. “I made one for her too.”

“Rings?” the Magister frowned. “You expect me to believe Enda handed out poison rings and nobody noticed the barbs on them?”

“There were no barbs, you fool,” Archmage Danlion spat. “I was a master jeweller and a highly sought-after enchantress. I don’t need something as crass as barbs to administer poison.”

“It was a poisoning spell enchanted into the ring,” Eliran replied. “An enchantment that was awoken by a particular song.”

Archmage Danlion frowned. “How did you–”

“Enda and her mother liked to sing together. And Enda always did have a flair for theatrics.”

Smiling, Archmage Danlion shook her head. “Enda picked the song. One of her mother’s favourite. Once the song was sung in its entirety, all who wore one of those rings and had heard the song would be poisoned in unison.”

“Good gods,” gasped one of the mages within the room.

“And when they were dead, Enda would take the rings and whisk her mother away,” Eliran finished.

Archmage Danlion nodded, then turned to Enda. “I know not how she got them to all wear it. Her mother, I can fathom, but the others? And the High Guards?”

Eliran turned to his cousin as a sad smile parted her lips. “She’s always been the one with the charm.”

“That she has.” Archmage Danlion nodded.

As the silence returned, young Enda lowered her head and held her peace.

“In all my years…” Magister Thornmarch said at last, his voice quivering as he glared at Enda, then at Leisle.

“In all my years…”

“You’re one to talk!” Archmage Danlion barked. “All you do is shout and and stomp about the place. I deserve to be Magister, Thaddeus! I’ve earned it!”

“Well, you’ve earned something else, now,” the Magister said, then nodded at the others within the room.

In response, those within the room wandered towards the three and led them quietly out of the room.

“So,” the Magister said once the doors were closed. “How did you know?”

“Dryad’s Kiss,” Narla said before Eliran drew breath.

“What?” The Magister frowned.

“Dryad’s Kiss,” Eliran repeated. “The time before last when Aunt Areta went to Aderelas, Enda had asked her to buy her a vial. Aunt Areta forgot and the two warred over it.”

The Magister shrugged. “So?”

“I know my aunt, and I know how much her frequent quarrels with Enda hurt her, so I knew she’d be sure to buy a vial this time.”


“Eliran found a vial of it at the site. It was shattered, its pieces driven deep into the earth, as if someone had stomped on it.”

“And from that, you surmised it was Enda?”

“From that, I surmised it was someone who hated its contents, but I only knew for certain when Narla mentioned how you were always seen in Leisle’s company when Aunt went to Aderelas, as if you were establishing your whereabouts.”

“Did she now?” the Magister growled as he glowered at a cowering Narla.

“But it wasn’t you who was establishing your whereabouts,” Eliran continued, “it was Leisle. When I realised that, I realised why someone would pretend to be Archmage Danlion, kill my aunt and stomp that vial into the earth.”

“I see,” the Magister said, taking a deep breath before letting it out slowly.

“Yes,” Eliran said as he nodded.

Then, Narla grinned. “I wager Leisle will be berating herself for insisting on your involvement, when she awakes.”

Eliran shrugged. “She didn’t have much choice.”


“I love my aunt, Narla…loved my aunt. Leisle knew there was no way she could keep me from probing. She and Danlion were merely trying to still my mind before I probed too far.”

“Idiots,” the Magister growled. “Leisle of all people should’ve known just how pig-headed you can be.”

Eliran frowned as he turned to the Magister square. “Is that a compliment or an insult?”

“Both,” Narla replied before the elderly mage could draw breath.

“Narla…” Magister Thornmarch growled.

“Shutting up now, Magister,” Narla said solemnly.

“Good,” the Magister muttered, then took a deep breath.

“Gods, what a mess this is,” he said as he let it out.

“It is, isn’t it?” Eliran replied.

“Yes.” The Magister nodded, then turned to Eliran square. “So what shall we do now?”

Eliran frowned. “Why are you asking me?”

The Magister frowned. “What do you mean, why am I asking you? Who else is there to ask?”

With his frown growing, Eliran stared from the Magister to Narla and back.

“Hold a moment,” Narla said, a smile parting her lips. “Don’t tell me you haven’t realised.”

“Realised what?”

“Leisle can no longer be Matriarch.”

“Of course not.”

“And neither can Enda,” Magister Thornmarch added.

“Yes, I know,” Eliran said as he nodded at the man. “They killed their mother.”

“So that leaves…” Narla said.

With his frown returning, Eliran stared from one to the other. Then, he stood ramrod straight.

“No,” he said, shaking his head vehemently.

“Yes.” Narla nodded.

“No,” Eliran repeated, his face whitening as he backed away from the pair.

“Yes,” Magister Thornmarch nodded.

“No, no, no, no, no!” Eliran screamed, then spun on his heels and fled from the room.

“Damn it, boy,” Magister Thornmarch sighed, then turned to Narla.

“Go,” he said.

A wide grin parted the young Mage Adept’s lips, and, licking her lips, she spun about and raced after her friend.




“Oh. My. Gods!” little Naeve cried as she sat up, her eyes sparkling as she grinned at her friend. “Seriously?”

“Mhm.” Amala nodded, a smile upon her own lips.

“Woah,” the little girl said as she fell back upon Amala just as the tome faded from view.

“I’m glad you like it,” Amala said as her smile widened.

“Like it? I loved it!”

Amala chuckled in response.

Then, the little girl rose once more.

“Did those two uhm…?”

Amala cocked her head to the side. “Narla and Eliran.”

Naeve nodded.

“Yes.” Amala nodded. “And, they had three children.”

Sighing, Naeve rested her head on her friend once more. “Perfect.”

“It was, wasn’t it?”

“Hm.” Naeve nodded, then frowned. “Were his children boys or girls?”

“All girls.”

“Really?” Naeve sighed as her frown grew.


“So we went straight back to having Matriarchs after him.”


“Damn it.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“I suppose,” the little girl sighed, then closed her eyes. “It was still a nice story.”

“Yes,” Amala nodded as she gently ran her fingers through the little girl’s hair, “it was.”

A calm silence fell upon the grove, and in the silence both Naeve and Amala sat in peaceful bliss.

“So, uhm, Naeve,” Amala said after a spell.

“Hm?” Naeve said as she stared at her friend.

“You haven’t told anyone, have you?”

Naeve frowned. “Told anyone what?”

“About me, and my–“

“Oh, gods, Amala!” the little girl cried as she sat up.

“What?” Amala threw back. “I just–”

“I didn’t alright? I may be a lot of things, but I keep my promises! I do that much at least!”

“Alright, alright!” Amala smiled as she placed a calming hand upon her young friend’s shoulder. “I believe you.”

“Forgive the intrusion…” came a voice from the grove’s entrance.

Upon hearing those words, little Naeve’s face fell and Amala’s heart ached.

“…but Mistress Naeve is late for her evening lessons.”

Pouting, Naeve moved to rise, but Amala placed a firm hand upon the little girl’s shoulder and turned to the utterer.

“She’ll be there in a moment.”

“But Mistress Fellspire–“

“In a moment!”

For a brief spell, the young messenger held Amala’s gaze, but it wasn’t long before he nodded and bowed.

“As you wish,” he said, then hurried out.

“You do know he’ll go tell Mother,” little Naeve said. “Don’t you?”

Amala smiled as she turned to her dear friend. “Your mother is currently attending to the Lockmar Dwarf delegates. And you know how long those run for.”

A wide grin parted young Naeve’s lips, and with a chuckle, the little girl laid down upon the bench, her head upon Amala’s lap, and as silence returned, the silver haired woman gently ran her fingers through little Naeve’s hair, humming to the little girl.