The young elven girl sat quiet within the Kitchens, an elbow resting upon her raised knee and her head upon her palm as she read the tome opened before her. Sighing at last, she lowered her leg and yawned, stretching her arms as wide as they would go. Then, opening her eyes wide, she shook her head, sat tall and turned to the tome once more.
In that moment footsteps echoed from the corridor, drawing the girl’s gaze to the door, but as her stared upon the face of the one who’d entered, the young girl slowly sat tall as all mirth drained from her features.
“Oh!” Archmage Fellspire gasped, a hand flying to her chest. “Naeve! Gods, you startled me!”
“Morning, Mistress Fellspire,” the young girl replied in her most polite voice.
“What on earth are you doing here?” the woman demanded. “Half the Tower’s still asleep!”
The young girl forced a smile and shrugged. “Master Netyam was tutoring me on the War of the Plains last night, but it was getting late, so he left the tome out for me to read through in the morning.”
“Oh?” the woman frowned. “So you’re here…studying?”
The young girl paused for a spell, her gaze drifting to the ether as she pondered the woman’s words. Then, smiling, she turned woman once more and shrugged. “I suppose, yes.”
“You weren’t this enthused when I was your tutor,” Fellspire muttered.
The young girl smiled. “It’s because Master Netyam’s lessons are quite engaging.”
As those words left her lips, the young elf’s smile faded as her eyes went wide. Her words were not meant as a barb in any way, but she knew the woman before her, and as she stared deep into the woman’s eyes, she steeled herself for what was to come.
But then, the woman smiled, an act that sent a deep shiver racing down the young girl’s spine.
“Well, he does have a knack for the theatrical,” the woman said at last, then cast her eye about her.
Naeve knew not what to say.
“So, where is Netyam anyhow?” Fellspire soon asked.
The young girl shook her head, finding her voice at last. “The place was empty when I got here.”
Fellspire frowned at this. “He wasn’t here?”
The young girl shook her head.
“Hrm,” the woman muttered before turning to the stools by the counter. “I suppose I shall have to wait, then.”
It took all what Naeve had to keep her growl from her lips, and instead, she sat stock still and watched the woman make her way toward the counter before breathing deep and returning her gaze to the tome before her.
But soon, silence fell upon the room once again, and young Naeve was once more lost within the pages of the tome.
“Uh, Naeve…?” Fellspire called out after a spell.
“Oh, bloody hells,” Naeve growled beneath her breath before forcing a smile and turning to the woman.
“Yes, Mistress Fellspire?” she said.
“There’s…uhm…” the woman said as she fidgeted where she sat.
Naeve held her peace and held firm her smile, her gaze upon the woman still.
The mage cleared her throat and sat tall.
“When last we saw each other,” she said, “before your mother assigned me to aid your father, I mean, I might’ve…said some harmful things to you.”
“You might’ve?” the young elf spat in her mind, her smile undimmed.
“That was wrong of me,” the Archmage continued. “You weren’t the object of my ire, and there was no reason for me to treat you in that manner, and so I…I apologise.”
As those last two words echoed in Naeve’s ear, the young girl stared hard at the woman before her, her lips agape.
“Well?” Fellspire said at last. “Say something.”
The young girl turned to the ether as she sought to form her words.
“Or you think me insincere?”
“No, it’s not that,” Naeve replied, turning to the seated woman. “It’s…”
Then, she smiled.
“Thank you. Mistress Fellspire,” she said, sitting tall as she spoke. “I know it wasn’t an easy thing for you to say.”
The seated mage breathed deep and sat tall herself, her chin raised.
“Yes, well,” she added, nodding, “it needed saying nonetheless.”
Young Naeve’s smile widened at this.
“Well, then,” Fellspire continued, “return to your studies. Don’t let anyone say I denied you a chance to gain knowledge.”
Naeve giggled at the woman’s words, then turned to her tome once more, and as she read on, a calming silence fell upon the room.
“Uhm, Naeve…” Fellspire said after a spell.
“Hrm?” Naeve replied, turning a distracted eye to the woman.
“There is…something else I must speak to you on. Though I fear you’ll think my earlier apology empty words should I say this. But say it I must.”
Slowly, the young elf turned to her former tutor till she held the woman’s gaze square.
“What is it?” she asked, her brow furrowed deep.
“It’s about Amala,” Fellspire replied.
“What about her?”
“I fear she’s… This is so difficult to say…”
“Just say it,” Naeve urged. “I’m not going to–”
“She’s a vampire, my dear,” Fellspire blurted. “She truly is.”
Almost at once , the young girl’s eyes began to glaze over as the barest traces of a sneer danced at the edges of her lips.
“Hear me, please,” the seated woman hastily added. “Please. I–”
“There is nothing to hear, Mistress Fellspire,” Naeve interjected, her tone biting as she turned to her tome once more. “Amala isn’t a vampire. You might enjoy dabbling in rumours, but I have better things to do with my time.”
“I can prove it.”
Once more, the woman’s words held the young girl rigid, and slowly, Naeve turned her former mentor once more.
The seated woman nodded. “I can.”
“Go on, then,” Naeve demanded, her tone carrying more fire than her heart did.
Breathing deep, the woman sat tall and nodded once more.
“Very well,” she replied, then leant forward once again. “There is a tale in the highlands, of an…incident that happened some centuries ago in a human settlement far to the south of here, and–“
“Really…?” Naeve cut in, arching a royal eyebrow as she spoke.
“You’re going to use some rumour as your proof? Really?”
“Of course it’s not a rumour!”the woman snapped. “It’s an incident! It happened!”
“Hrm,” Naeve nodded, “right… Some random incident happened in a human settlement, and the highland barons decided to record it for posterity. Of course! That can’t possibly be a load of utter gobshite, now can it?”
“How dare y–”
“And wait, let me guess, this random human settlement no longer exists, right?”
“Well, no, it doesn’t but–”
“Right, right. And, tell me, did this…incident happen so long ago there just so happens to be no other record anywhere about it other than in the head of whoever told you?”
As the young girl stared into the seated woman’s eyes, she saw once more the rage and disgust she’d long become accustomed to seeing within them, and as a charged silence fell upon the Kitchens, young Naeve sat silent as the fire within the woman’s eyes grew, the defiance within her giving her the resolve to hold the woman’s stare.
Then, the woman smiled and sighed.
“You don’t believe me,” she said.
“No.” Was Naeve’s simple answer.
The mage nodded. “I don’t blame you. But there are parts of this tale that make it more than just a rumour.”
“Well, firstly, the settlement is mentioned in the Library.”
The young girl’s frown returned as she stared hard at the woman.
“What’s it called?” she asked at last.
Naeve shook her head. “Never heard of it.”
The woman smiled. “My dear, you’ve only heard of a fraction of the places named within the Library. But if you think me a liar, search for its records the next time you’re there.”
Naeve stared at the woman in silence, her mind awhirl.
“And second?” she soon asked.
“Second,” Fellspire sighed, “the Tower records of the demise of Cedar Valley match that which I read in the highlands, but with one crucial difference.”
The mage smiled once more. “The Tower’s records make no mention of who destroyed the town. Almost as if that part was…erased.”
“Bollocks!” the girl cried.
“I speak the truth.”
“If you remove so much as a single bloody word from any book in the Library, Mistress Duskwhisper and her people will know. They always know!”
“This was before Neera’s time, Naeve.”
“It doesn’t matter. Whoever was in charge of the Library back then would be every bit the pain the arse Mistress Duskwhisper is!”
“They’ll know! They always know!”
The seated woman stared at the glaring child in silence for a spell, as if weighing her words.
“You’re right,” she said at last. “It’s difficult to imagine anyone being able to change anything within the Tower’s records without being found out, which is why, at first, I didn’t believe it. Till I realise the third thing.”
“What bloody third thing?” the young girl snapped.
“The woman who destroyed Cedar Valley, and it was a woman, was described in great detail within the records I read, and she matched Amala perfectly.”
“Oh, for the love of–”
“The resemblance was no passing coincidence, Naeve. The records–”
“Amala’s not the only bloody woman in the world with silver bloody hair! Gods!”
“I never said it was her hair that matched.”
“Then, what did? Her eyes?”
“Yes,” the woman replied, “and her stature…”
Naeve scoffed at this.
“…and her love for adding whisperwood nectar to dwarven aged ale.”
“What?” Naeve gasped as a cold hand gripped her insides.
The seated woman nodded. “The woman in the tale had a fondness for having whisperwood nectar and dwarven aged ale in the same mug”
Naeve stared at the woman in silence for a spell, unsure what to say.
“Amala’s not the only woman in the world to drink that crap,” she said at last.
“Perhaps, ” Fellspire replied, nodding, “but can you name another? And with silver eyes.”
The young girl stared in silence for a spell longer, but soon shook her head.
“You’re lying,” she said.
“Am I, now?”
“Yes,” Naeve replied, a deep snarl twisting her lips. “You know Amala loves that stuff, and you know there’s no way in all hells I can check what you’re saying, so you’re just making things up. Aren’t you?”
The seated woman sighed and shook her head. “Child…”
“Aren’t you?” Naeve yelled.
The woman smiled. “Say what you will of me, but I speak the truth.”
Naeve glared at the woman as her snarl turned into a sneer.
“You know, you did tell the truth about one thing today,” she said.
“Oh?” Fellspire frowned. “What’s that?”
“I do think the sorry you said before was utter bollocks, yeah. You’re too much of a bloody cow to ever be sorry.”
The seated woman’s rage returned, but Naeve was beyond caring, and springing to her feet, she turned her back to the woman and began gathering her things.
“She drained a child, you fool,” Fellspire soon added.
“What?” Naeve growled, turning to the woman once more.
“An infant,” Fellspire replied. “Drained him of all his blood, right in front of his father, then tossed the boy’s husk at the man.”
“What in the bloody–“
“She’s a vampire, Naeve,” the seated woman interjected. “When the thirst takes her, nobody, and I mean nobody, is safe.”
Naeve stared at the woman with the deepest sneer she could call forth, then shook her head and grabbed her belongings.
“I’m merely saying this–“
“Shut up!” Naeve snapped and marched towards the door. “Just bloody shut up! You stupid bloody cow!”
As she reached the door, however, her steps were halted by the appearance of the Master of the Kitchens.
“Oh, Naeve!” Netyam grinned. “How long have you–”
“I need some air,” Naeve growled before shouldering past the man and storming forth.
“I need some air!”
Netyam stood stunned as he stared at his pupil a spell, then turned to the woman seated by the counter.
“What did you say to her?” He frowned.
Fellspire shrugged and turned to face the counter. “I merely told her the truth.”
“Truth about what?”
The woman shrugged once more, placing her hands upon the counter as she did so.
“Truth about what?” Netyam repeated.
“Is there anything to drink?” Fellspire asked in response. “I thirst something awful.”
Fighting back a snarl, the seething mage marched forth before gripping the seated woman’s arm tight and spinning her about.
“Hey!” Fellspire cried as she was spun.
“Truth. About. What?” Netyam seethed, staring deep into the seated woman’s eyes.
“Oh, for gods’ sake, Netyam” Fellspire replied, struggling to hold the man’s gaze. “Whatever you think–”
In response, Netyam clasped a hand about the seated woman’s chin and held it tight, her eyes locked to his.
“Now, you listen to me, woman, and you listen close,” he snarled, his breath hot upon her face, “I have sacrificed more than you ever will on this–”
“Don’t speak to me of sacrifices, Netyam,” Fellspire interjected as she moved to slap the man’s hand from her face, “I have–”
“I have shared that creature’s bed, you stupid bitch!” Netyam spat. “Every day, I am in her presence, my lungs filling with her vile air! Her very touch makes my skin crawl, yet I stand there smiling like some love-sick fool! And all you have sacrificed is having your sorry arse banished to the highlands. Don’t you speak to me of sacrifices, you hear me?”
“Netyam, let go,” Fellspire said, the barest hint of a tremble in her words.
“What. Did. You. Say?”
“Don’t lie to me!” Netyam hissed, shaking the woman’s face as he spoke. “What did you say?”
“Alright! Gods, I told her about Amala alright?” Fellspire gasped. “I told her about Cedar Valley! There, happy?”
At those words, the blood drained from Netyam’s face as he stared wide-eyed at the woman before him.
“I mean it’s not as if…” Fellspire began, but her words died in her throat as the fire returned to the eyes of the man glaring at her.
As Fellspire fell silent, Netyam drew close to her till he was but a hair’s breath from her face.
“If your actions today mean all that I have endured has been in vain, woman, you will answer for it. Do you hear me? You will answer for it.”
“You answer to me, Netyam!” Fellspire seethed, her words carrying more fire than was in her belly. “You answer to me!”
The seething mage’s sneer returned at those words.
“I never answered to you, woman,” he growled. “None of us did. What we do, we do for the Tower.”
Then, he let go of the woman’s face. “Leave. Now.”
The Archmage glared at Netyam with all the might she could muster, till at last, gritting her teeth, she rose and hurried forth just as her eyes began to glisten.
With her blood boiling still, Naeve wandered the halls of the Tower, her feet taking her wherever they would as the vile words of her former tutor echoed in her mind.
“Stupid cow,” she growled for the hundredth time. “Stupid bloody cow.”
Then, the young elf noticed an open door not far from her, and gritting her teeth, she marched forth and stormed into the garden outside, her gait unbroken till she was seated upon a nearby bench.
“Imagine saying Amala drained a baby!” she hissed. “A baby! What the hells? Amala would never do that! She’d–”
“Naeve?” came a voice from the door, drawing the elf from her thoughts and her gaze back the way she came.
“Amala?” she breathed. “You’re up early.”
“I was about to say the same,” the silver-haired woman replied, her brow furrowed deep. “Is all well?”
Forcing a smile, the seated child nodded.
“You’re sure?”” Amala pressed. “You looked well and truly enraged.”
The young elf’s smile widened. “I’m okay. Just letting off some steam.”
Once more, the young elf nodded, then sat tall. “What’re you doing up so early anyway?”
A slow, impish smile parted the silver-haired woman’s lips. “Let’s just say…I had someone in my bed keeping me awake.”
“Oh, gods,” Naeve replied, pulling a face as she spoke.
Throwing her head back, Amala laughed and made her way toward the seated elf.
“What’re you doing out her so early, though?” she asked as she reached the child.
Breathing deep, the young elf shook her head as Amala sat beside her. “Master Netyam and I were going over the War of the Plains last night, but it got late, and he left the tome out for me to go through this morning.”
“Hold…” Amala replied as she cast a slow sideways glance at the young elf beside her. “You mean you rose early to…study?”
The young elf scoffed and rolled her eyes at her friend as a deep sigh escaped her lips.
“I wasn’t studying, alright? I was reading!”
“Reading a subject your tutor was mentoring you on.”
“That’s called studying, Naeve.”
“It’s…” Naeve began, then shook her head. “You know what, nevermind. I’ll just go to my room and go back to bed, shall I?”
“Naeve, no, hold!” Amala gasped, grabbing hold of the elven child as she rose.
“There’s nothing wrong with studying this early, truly,” she added as she gently pulled Naeve back onto the bench. “I was just…surprised, that’s all. But in a good way!”
“Whatever,” Naeve growled, folding her arms and lowering her gaze as she spoke.
“Oh, don’t be like that!” Amala cried, throwing an arm about the young girl and pulling her close. “I truly didn’t mean anything by it.”
As Naeve turned to Amala and moved to speak, she breathed in the woman’s air, and as she did so, her nostrils were filled with the faint smell of iron. Forcing a smile, Naeve shrugged and shook her head.
“It’s okay,” she said. “Guess I’m just a little cranky. It really is a little early for me.”
“I’ll say!” Amala cried. Then, she smiled. “Want to know what happened after the war?”
Naeve frowned at this. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…want to know what happened next?”
Young Naeve’s frown deepened at this, but as the meaning behind her friend’s words dawned on her, she smiled and shook her head. “You have a story on it, don’t you?”
Amala grinned and nodded.
“Why am I not surprised?”
“Well?” Amala pressed. “Do you?”
Naeve shook her head at her friend.
“Oh, go on, then,” she sighed.
“Excellent!” Amala cried, then reached into her pocket.
Sighing once more, Naeve rose and walked round to the other side of the seated elf.
“What’re you…?” Amala began, her brow furrowed deep.
“Oh! Right!” she soon added, then shuffled to the edge of the bench as Naeve sat.
“Thank you!” Naeve grinned, then swung her legs onto the bench as the tome shimmered into view.
Then, as Amala turned the pages of the tome, the young elf lowered her head onto her friend’s lap, and as she breathed deep, she sighed as Amala pulled the tome closer to her.
“Here we are,” Amala said as she placed a gentle hand upon Naeve’s head.
“Reyna,” Naeve muttered, her gaze upon the page before her and the single word upon it.
Then, as Amala began stroking her hair, Naeve snuggled closer onto her dear friend’s lap, turned the page and began to read.
Slowly, the Matriarch turned toward the window, a soft groan escaping her lips as the morning sun basked her in its golden glow. Breathing deep, the waking mage sighed as her hand stretched of its own accord across the bed upon which she lay, but the space beside her was fallow, with nary a trace of warmth upon it. Opening her eyes at last, the Matriarch rose, her gaze upon the unruffled pillow beside her, and as she sat tall, she sighed once more.
Just then, there came a soft knock at the door.
“Mother?” came a child’s voice. “Are you awake now?”
The Matriarch smiled and shook her head.
“No,” she called back in response.
Her words were met with a giggle as the door swung open and her daughters raced in before bounding as one onto the bed and leaping into their mother’s arms.
“Oof!” the Matriarch cried as the weight of her daughters sent her falling back onto her bed.
“Morning, Mother!” the elder of the girls cried as she grinned at her mother.
“Morning, Mother!” the younger echoed, her lips parted wide with a grin of her own
“Morning, you two,” she said, then, with an almighty groan, sat tall once more, her daughters clinging to her throughout.
“So,” she said, “how many times did you knock today, then?”
“Only once today!” the younger of the two cried.
“That’s because I held you back,” the elder daughter added.
“No, you never!”
“Yes, I did!”
“No, you never!”
“Yes, I did!”
“Alright, alright!”the Matriarch snapped, the grin upon her lips at odds with steel in her words. “Please, girls, I just woke up! Can you not grant me even a moment of peace? Hunh? Please?”
The children glanced at each other and giggled as one.
“Very well,” they intoned.
“Oh!” the elder child cried, sitting tall as all mirth left her face. “Something’s happening downstairs, Mother!”
“Oh, yeah!” her sister added with an eager nod. “Sirius said we had to stay away from the Central Hall.”
The Matriarch frowned at this. “Why would he warn you away from the Central Hall?”
“Don’t know,” said the older child, shaking her head as her sister shrugged.
“But we heard him say some people were coming for sanctity though,” the younger daughter added.
“Sanctuary, Helena,” the child’s sister corrected. “Sanctuary.”
“That’s what I said!”
“Someone’s coming to seek sanctuary.” the Matriarch replied before her older daughter could draw breath.
The children turned to their mother and nodded.
“So, he warned you both away from the Central Hall.”
Once more, they nodded.
The Matriarch’s frown deepened at she stared hard at her children.
“Where is he?” she asked at last
“He was in the Central Hall when we saw him last,” the elder daughter replied.
“Hrm,” the Matriarch muttered, turning to her door.
“Go to your rooms and stay there,” she soon added as she ushered her children off the bed.
“Aww!” the children whined as one.
“Go! I’ll send for you when all’s clear.”
The children paused and glanced at their mother, then, with their shoulders sagged, they trundled out of the room
The Matriarch watched her children for a spell, her brow furrowed deep and her lips unmoving, but as the door closed, the pensive mage swung her feet off her bed and rose, then reached for her robes.
With his arms folded behind him, the Magister Sirius Darkmoon stared down the corridor with the darkest of gazes, his lips drawn to a thin line as he waited with bated breath for the calamity that approached.
“What in the hells are they thinking coming here?” he growled. “Here!”
“Magister?” asked one of the mages arrayed behind him.
The scowling Magister turned to shake his head at the mage, but as he did so, a shimmer at the edge of his vision caught his eye, and as he turned, he gritted his teeth as his gaze fell upon the Matriarch as she stepped off the portal stone.
“Wonderful,” the Magister muttered, then steel himself for the whirlwind bearing down upon him.
“Sirius!” the Matriarch barked, her countenance as fierce as his. “What’s going on?”
“I can handle this, Reyna,” the Magister replied.
The Magister fell silent, as if weighing his words with care.
“Handle. What?” the Matriarch repeated.
The Magister breathed deep once more, then slowly sighed and shook his head.
“We have centaurs approaching,” he said at last.
An odd silence fell upon the room as the Matriarch stared at her Magister.
“Repeat that,” the Matriarch soon said.
“We have centaurs approaching.”
The Magister nodded.
Once more, the Magister nodded.
“If you’re jesting, Sirius, I swear to you, I’ll–”
“I would never jest over something like this, Reyna. Ever.”
“Well, how in the hells can they be coming here? They’d have to go through Demus’s lands to get to us, and they’d be slaughtered on sight.”
“And yet, they approach.”
“They were spotted near the outskirts of Ieran not long before dawn.”
“And you’re sure they’re coming here?”
The Magister nodded. “Quite sure.”
The Matriarch frowned and turned to stare down the corridor, her mind awhirl.
“Reyna,” the Magister said after a spell.
“Hrm?” the Matriarch frowned, turning to her Magister once more.
“If they come seeking sanctuary, will you grant it?”
At those words, all warmth drained from the Matriarch’s eyes till her gaze was of such to freeze a demon’s soul.
“The war is over, Reyna,” the Magister said after a spell, “and the Tower has never refused anyone seeking sanctuary on pain of death.”
“They’re not dying, Sirius,” the Matriarch replied, “they’re fleeing.”
“Not quite,” the Magister replied. “Demus knows of their presence. He’s dispatched riders to put an end to them.”
The Matriarch’s frown returned. “Will the riders reach them before they reach us?”
The Magister shrugged. “Hard to say.”
The Matriarch turned to the door once more.
“I’ve sent mages to our border,” Sirius continued, “with orders to escort them safely back should they reach our lands, but to not interfere in any way should battle be joined on woodland soil.”
The Matriarch turned to the door once more, her lips pulled to a thin line.
“I’ll be joining them,” she said at last, then marched forth.
“There’s no need, Reyna,” Sirius called after his Magister. “ The mages I sent will be more than enough.”
“I’m going, Sirius,” Reyna replied, her gait unbroken.
“That’s not a good idea, Reyna. Reyna!”
The Matriarch marched on, her lips unmoving.
“Amdrus is amongst them!” the Magister called out, words that brought the Matriarch to a screeching halt. “Igmar too.”
Slowly, the Matriarch turned, her freezing glare returned. Then, without a word, the Matriarch turned her gaze forward and marched forth once more, her gait greater than before.
“Gods damn it all,” Sirius muttered, then hurried after his Matriarch.
The young centaur raced forth as a fire burned in her lungs, her eyes darting from the centaurs before her to the soft earth beneath her hooves.
“Hurry, great King!” the centaur beside her yelled. “Hurry! They’re gaining!”
Those were words the young centaur had fervently wished not to hear, and as they echoed in her ears, she dug deep and raced forth with all she had.
“Hurry, Nedhi!” barked the great centaur behind her, his booming voice filling the air. “You can gallop faster than this!”
“I’m trying, E’da!” the young centaur cried between pants, “but my hooves keep sinking into the earth!”
“Hurry, girl! They’re behind us!”
“Barking won’t do any good, Amdrus!” yelled the elderly centaur beside him. “She’s going as fast as she can!”
“But they’re behind us, E’da!” the great centaur threw back. “They’re almost upon us!”
“And how is–!”
“Volley!” came a cry from the behind the men. “Get down!”
As one, the centaurs dove to their knees, some with shrieks, others with gritted teeth. All save for the elderly centaur, for he alone stood tall, his fierce gaze upon the cloud of death fast approaching. Raising the staff in his hand, the elderly centaur’s lips parted, and from them came forth a melodious chord, one that called forth a gust of wind to swirl about the cowering centaurs before rushing skywards and scattering the volley of arrows bearing down upon them.
“Run!” the centaur barked as the winds faded, and as one, the centaurs rose and raced forth once more.
“Almost there!” the centaur at the fore cried as they raced on. “We’re almost there, my King!”
“Almost there, E’da!” the young centaur panted. “Almost there!”
“Don’t slow!” the great centaur threw back as he ran abreast her. “Don’t stop!”
The young centaur shook her head in response, her grin wide as the shapes in the distance grew larger.
“Oh, gods, I can see them!” one of the centaurs behind Nedhi shrieked. “I can see them!”
“Hunh?” the young centaur said, turning to stare behind her.
But, as she did so, her footing slipped, and with a sharp cry, the young centaur stumbled to the earth, the centaurs racing on behind her crashing into her and falling into a heap about her.
“E’da! Nedhi!” cried the great centaur as he came to a screeching halt before turning and preparing to race forth.
“No, my King!” yelled the centaurs beside him as they grasped hold of him and dragged him towards the mages in the distance. “No!”
“Let go of me, damn you!”
“Get to safety! We’ll return!”
“Gods damn you, let go of…”
But the great centaur’s words were cut short by the darkened cloud that rose from the elven soldiers in the distance, one that sailed through the air before bearing down upon the fallen centaurs.
“No!” the great centaur gasped, his eyes wide, but all he could do was watch as the volley of elven arrows rained from the sky, intent on robbing him of the only family he had left.
“E’da!” he shrieked, his tears forming as his heart broke at what was about to unfold
Except, just as the arrows were about to pierce their quarry, a dome of fire and light engulfed the fallen centaurs, reducing the arrows to ash as they pierced its surface.
“What…?” the great centaur gasped before spinning about and staring at the mages in the distance.
One of them had a hand outstretched, the air about his fingers shimmering.
“What did you just do?” Reyna growled, her fiery glare upon the Archmage whose hand was held aloft.
“I…uh…” the mage stammered.
“You were to stand your ground, Tidus,” Sirius interjected. “No interfering with what transpires on woodland soil.”
“But they’re unarmed.”
“And?” Reyna snarled.
The mage stared wide-eyed at his Matriarch, then slowly lowered his hand as the shimmer about his fingers faded.
The Matriarch glared at him or a spell longer, then turned to what lay before them
“Get up, damn you!” the great centaur yelled as the dome faded. “Get up!”
The fallen centaurs scrambled to their feet in response, and, with arms about those who could not so easily stand, hurried forth once more.
“Thank the spirits,” the great centaur gasped.
“Hurry!” he yelled, stomping his hooves as he did so.
With his heart in his throat, the centaur watched his companions draw near, and as they reached him, he grasped hold of the elderly centaur in their midst, wrapping an arm about the stumbling centaur’s waist and guiding him towards sanctuary
“Hurry, they’re gaining fast!” came a cry from behind him.
Gritting his teeth, the great centaur hurried forth with all the strength he could muster, his eyes upon the band of mages in the distance, and though their pace had greatly slowed, he refused to give up hope. They would reach sanctuary, they must.
And then, at long last, they crossed the border as one, the centaurs stumbling forth with their breaths lost to them as some fell to their knees while other staggered to the side gasping and panting.
Through it all, the centaur king stared at the woman at the fore of the elves. There was hate in her eyes, a seething rage he knew all too well. She was casting her eye about his companions, and while she did so, the centaur stood tall, his lips unmoving as he fought to catch his breath.
Then, at last, their gazes met.
“We meet again, Reyna,” he said, forcing a smile.
“Amdrus,” the woman snarled.
The centaur moved to speak, but fell silent as his gaze wandered to the elderly centaur by his side.
“Igmar’s injured,” he said, gesturing to the elderly centaur. “Can your people see to him?”
The woman remained unmoving.
“Reyna, please,” the centaur pleaded. “I know our past has been bloody, but that was war. The war is over. Please.”
“You must speak the words, Amdrus,” said the elf behind the woman. “Till then, we cannot aid you.”
“Oh, uh,” the centaur said, then turned to the woman.
“Reyna, Matriarch of the Shimmering Tower, we come to you as we are, seeking sanctuary from those who would claim our lives. Will you grant it?”
“Not quite,” the elf muttered, “but it’ll do, I suppose.” Then, he turned to the woman.
“Reyna?” he said.
The woman glared at the centaur for a spell, then turned from him.
“Attend them,” she muttered as she turned, then made her way towards the soldiers milling at their border.
“These centaurs have asked for sanctuary, and we have granted it. Return to your king and tell him thus.”
The soldiers stared at each other for a spell, then returned their gazed to the woman.
Slowly, one-by-one, the soldiers turned their steeds and headed back the way they’d come. The great centaur watched the soldiers in silence as waves of euphoric relief washed over him, but as he turned to the woman, his relief swiftly faded. She was staring at him.
“Thank you,” he said, forcing a smile to his lips.
The woman held the centaur in a gaze that drew all the warmth from his smile before turning to the elf that had stood behind her.
“You and the others stay and do what you can. When they’re all fit to make the journey, escort them back. I’ll go ahead and begin preparations.”
“Alright.” The elf nodded.
Then, she turned to the other mages. “Stay, all of you. Lend your Magister whatever aid he needs.”
“Yes, Matriarch,” the mages intoned.
Nodding, the Matriarch turned and held the great centaur in one last freezing glare before spinning about and marching forth.
“Told you we wouldn’t be welcome here,” hissed the young centaur that had snuck to this side.
“I said we’d be safe,” the centaur king whispered in response, “not welcome.”
Then, as Nedhi growled at her father, Amdrus turned and knelt beside the elderly centaur that was Igmar as the elf before him tended to the old shaman’s wounds.
Walking on amongst her people, young Nedhi smiled as she breathed deep the air about her. It was richer and fuller than she’d expected, and of a kind to leave her heady with delight. Sighing as her smile widened, the young centaur raised her gaze to the heavens and closed her eyes, basking in the warm sun before breathing deep once more.
“Easy, Nedhi,” whispered the elderly centaur beside her.
Coming to her senses, Nedhi turned as a sheepish grin parted her lips.
“Forgive me, Eda’a,” she replied, “it’s just…”
The wise old centaur chuckled. “There is nothing to forgive, my dear, I’ve been where you are now.”
At those words, the young centaur’s eyes went wide.
“You’ve been here before?” she hissed. “When?”
Throwing his head back, the elderly centaur laughed.
“No, child,” he replied, “I mean I’ve wandered through a forest enchanted by elven magic before.”
“Oh?” Nedhi frowned before casting her gaze about her. “It’s enchanted?”
“Mhm.” The wise old centaur nodded. “Though I’ve never wandered through one where the magic is this potent, or runs this deep into the earth.”
Young Nedhi pondered her grandfather’s words for a spell, her gaze upon the earth beneath her hooves. Then, she raised her gaze to the elves at the fore, and as she did so, her gaze darkened greatly.
“You’re snarling again,” Igmar whispered into the young centaur’s ear.
Startled, Nedhi forced a smile to her lips before turning to her grandfather.
“Forgive me,” she said, “I just…I mean–”
“It’s alright, my child,” the elderly centaur interjected. “The scars of the war are still fresh in all our hearts.”
“Then, why did we come here?” Nedhi growled.
The elderly centaur cast a slow sideways glance at his granddaughter. “You asked your father that question before we left the Plains. Was his answer not enough for you?”
Nedhi moved to speak, but her words failed her.
“Come,” Igmar added, “we’ll be at their Tower soon. Things will look better once you’ve bathed and fed.”
The young centaur smiled at her grandfather, but as she stared at him, her eyes fell upon the cut on his forehead and she winced.
“I’m sorry I made you fall earlier,” she said.
“Ah,” Igmar replied, waving his granddaughter’s words away. “These things happen. If anything it was my fault for not strengthening our footing when I had the chance. But what’s done is done. Yes?”
The young centaur nodded as her smile returned, and returning her gaze to what lay before her, she savoured the scent of the forest as they wandered on.
Standing upon her balcony, the Matriarch of the Shimmering Tower stared off into the distance as she caressed the amulet in her hand, her teeth gritted hard as a single tear ran down her cheek. Then, there came a knock at the door, pulling her from her thoughts and her gaze to her bedroom behind her. Turning, the mage wiped her tear away as she sniffled softly, then marched inside.
“Enter!” she called as she closed the balcony door behind her.
“Ah, Sirius,” she added as her Magister entered, “you’ve returned.”
The Magister smiled at her, but his smile was fleeting.
“How do you fare?” he asked, his voice soft.
“How do I fare?” Reyna repeated as a bitter smile twisted her lips. “The gods saw fit to end that blasted war before my vengeance was complete, and yet, here we are, with the two bastards whose hands are stained with my beloved’s blood within my grasp, and there isn’t a single damned thing I can do to them. How do I fare? Do you truly wish me answer that one, Sirius?”
Sirius smiled in response, and as his Matriarch breathed deep he watched in silence as she shook her head and wandered over to her bed, and though every fibre of his being called out to him to speak some words of comfort to her, he stood in utter silence as she sat, for he knew not what to say.
“What in the hells are they doing here, anyway?” Reyna soon added, turning to her Magister. “Why would they make the journey here of all places?”
“I don’t know, Reyna,” Sirius replied, shaking his head as he wandered forth to sit across from his Matriarch.
“I thought of nothing else on the way back,” he added as he sat, “but it’s a conundrum I couldn’t unravel.”
“Conundrum is right,” Reyna muttered. “I mean, that Amdrus is many things, but I never figured him to ever turn his back on his tribe like this.”
“Then why? Why leave his tribe behind and come here?”
Sirius shrugged at this. “Perhaps the unrest we’ve been hearing about amongst the other tribes of his alliance is more serious than we thought.”
Frowning, Reyna shook her head. “We had those tales checked, remember? As did Demus. Most of the tribes still see him and his father as heroes.”
“Then, why is he here?”
“How in the hells should I know?” Reyna hissed, words that drew a soft smile to her Magister’s lips.
“Where are they now?” Reyna soon added.
“Amdrus and Igmar are in one of the greeting rooms,” Sirius replied. “I sent them there to await you.”
“No,” Reyna replied, “have them brought to the Ceremonial Hall. I will not have it said we didn’t treat them as our custom dictates.
“Very well,” the mage seated before her replied.
“What about the others?”
“Well,” Sirius sighed, “I’ve charged Vesa and Tidus with preparing a place for them to bathe.”
“Bathe?” Reyna frowned.
The Magister nodded. “They were most insistent.”
The Matriarch pulled a face at this. ”As if anything we have can cleanse their stench.”
Sirius smiled at this, but his smile was fleeting. “If you’d rather, I can see to Amdrus and Igmar on my own.”
“No,” Reyna replied, her voice firm. “I will not hide from those two.”
“I understand,” Sirius replied, nodding. Then, he rose. “Shall we?”
“Yeah,” Reyna sighed and rose, “let’s.”
Then, she turned and headed for the door, her Magister in tow.
Sitting tall, the Matriarch stared at the grand doors of the Ceremonial Hall as it slowly swung open, and as the procession marched in, she breathed deep and forced a smile to her lips.
“I believe this is the first time we’ve entreated your kind within these halls, Amdrus,” her hands gripping her chair tightly as the warmth of her smile filled the room.
“Ah,” the centaur at the centre of the procession replied as he bowed low, “I am deeply honoured.”
“Hrm, quite,” Reyna replied. Then, she breathed deep. “Earlier, you asked for sanctuary, and the Shimmering Tower has never refused sanctuary to one who asks on pain of death, and, as was seen by all gathered at the time, your need was great.”
“I thank you, Matriarch,” the great centaur said, bowing as he spoke, the others bowing along with him.
“However,” the Matriarch continued, “there is much we must decide, namely how long we shall grant you sanctuary for.”
The great centaur frowned at this. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, we must decide how long before you leave, Amdrus.”
The other centaurs turned to their king, some with eyes filled with fear.
“Reyna,” the centaur king said, taking a step forth, “if we ever step out of here, we will be killed. You do know that, don’t you?”
“And that is another matter we must discuss, Amdrus,” Sirius spoke up, “why come here at all? Nevermind that you trespassed on elven lands to get here, an act that could very well spell the end to your treaty with Demus, but why abandon your people and come here? We were at the point of each other’s swords a mere five months ago, is leaving your people to come claim sanctuary from those whose hands are stained with your very people’s blood not an act of great dishonour?”
“We didn’t abandon them, Sirius,” the elderly centaur within the procession spoke up. “They abandoned us.”
“What?” Sirius frowned.
“My father speaks the truth,” Amdrus sighed. “Since our defeat, the centaur alliance has faltered, and, well, many feel I am to blame. They feel a new alliance lord is needed, one that can save our people, or at the least, negotiate something that will mean we regain some of our honour.”
“But Amdrus can’t exactly step down, now, can he?” Igmar added. “The dishonour that would bring to our family would be too great.”
“Which leaves only one option,” Amdrus continued, “and I am not going to sit around waiting for my own people to end my life, or that of my blood, so I took what few warriors that are still loyal to me and came here.”
Then, the centaur took a step forth. “But that’s not what you’re asking, is it?”
“Meaning?” the Matriarch replied, her Magister’s frown spreading to her lips.
“You’re asking why you should grant sanctuary to those who killed your husband.”
At those words, a deep chill fell upon the hall as all warmth left the Matriarch’s gaze.
Amdrus nodded. “Isn’t it?”
Reyna kept her peace and instead stared on, her teeth gritted hard.
“My father has a saying; The scars of war run deep on both sides. You lost your beloved to us, yes, but I lost my mother to elven archers, my brothers to elven riders, and my wife, son and daughters to you and your mages. Nedhi is all I have left…”
At mention of her name, the young centaur stood tall, raising her chin at the Matriarch.
“…and when I say I know the hate that burns in your heart, I mean it, for that same hate burns in mine, even as I stand here before you. I don’t want to be here, Reyna, any more than you want me to be here. But I have no choice. Nedhi is all the light I have left in this life, and I would do anything, sacrifice anything, to see her safe. I ask for sanctuary, not for me, or even my father, but for Nedhi, and the brave warriors that have journeyed here with me.”
Then, the centaur took another step forth. “But if I ask too much, then grant sanctuary to my daughter only…”
“E’da!” the young centaur cried.
“Quiet, child!” Igmar barked.
“…and the rest of us will leave here and take our chance with Demus’s soldiers.”
The Matriarch stared hard at the centaurs arrayed before her, her knuckles greatly whitened as a sneer danced upon the edges of her lips. But as she drew breath to speak, a quick knock came at the door.
Frowning, she turned to her Magister as murmurs rippled through the room. The frown upon Sirius’s lips matched hers square, and as her Magister shrugged at her, she turned to the door.
“Enter!” she called out.
In response, the grand doors swung open and the door’s attendants stepped in, then went on one knee.
“Forgive us, Matriarch, but Lord Dreamthistle, is at the gates, and is demanding an audience.”
Once more, the Matriarch turned to her Magister.
“I suppose it couldn’t be helped,” the man muttered.
“Matriarch, he insists on speaking to you regarding our guests,” the attendant continued. “He claims it is of the utmost urgency.”
Reyna stared at the attendant in silence for a spell, then nodded. “Show him in.”
“Reyna!” the great centaur cried. “That man will demand our eviction! You can’t possibly–”
“You don’t command here, Amdrus!” Reyna snapped. “Don’t you dare tell me–”
“Reyna…” Sirius whispered, his soothing tone calming the fire within his Matriarch.
Slowly, Reyna sat tall and breathed deep.
“Thaerin is a personal advisor to our staunchest ally,” she soon added, “and as such, he deserves to be heard.”
“But if he–”
“I have granted you sanctuary, that does not change. You and your people may remain here till such a time as I can make certain your life will no longer be endangered by Demus or your people. It’s the best I can do.”
Breathing deep, the centaur nodded. “Fair.”
The Matriarch turned to the attendant.
“Reyna,” Amdrus said, drawing the woman’s gaze. “Thank you.”
The Matriarch held him in a gaze that was utterly devoid of emotion, then turned to the attendant once more.
“Show Lord Dreamthistle to one of our greeting rooms. I will speak with him there.”
“At once, Matriarch” the attendant said, bowing as he spoke. Then, as he rose, he spun on his heels and hurried forth.
As he left, the Matriarch and her Magister rose, and as silence fell upon the room, the pair made their way to the door and out of it, and as they left, the mages within began rising and leaving.
“So, you were planning on leaving me here all along,” Nedhi growled, drawing the gaze of her companions.
“Not now, Nedhi.” Amdrus sighed, turning to his daughter. “I have much to think about.”
“Right,” the young centaur replied, a deep sneer upon her lips, “I’m so important you’d gladly stride out to a warrior’s death to protect me, but I’m not so important you will spend even a moment of your time listening to.”
“That’s not what I…” Amdrus began, but his words fell away as the young centaur turned and hurried from the hall.
“Spirits give me strength,” Amdrus whispered.
“Give her time,” said one of the elves that had formed their procession. “If she’s anything like elven youth, she just needs to be by herself a spell.”
Amdrus smiled at the man. “You’re probably right.”
Then, he turned to the other centaurs. “Still, she can be prone to acts of silliness when she’s like this. Find her and make sure she doesn’t do something we’ll all regret.”
The centaurs grinned.
“At once, great King,” they intoned, bowing as they spoke, then hurried after their companion.
“Come, Amdrus,” Igmar added, throwing an arm about his son. “You look like you could use some time to clear your own head. Walk with me.”
“Come!” Igmar insisted, and led his son from the hall.
But as the pair left and wandered on, the elderly centaur glanced behind him, and seeing none of their procession following, he turned his gaze forth and leant close to his son till his lips were near his ear.
“A bit bold of you, I’nu,” he whispered, “speaking to her hate like that.”
Amdrus shrugged as a smug smile parted his lips. “Hate was all that was on the stupid wench’s mind. I merely used it to my advantage.”
“But still, prodding her like that could’ve gone badly.”
“True, but not prodding her could also have gone badly.”
“Either way, the first phase of our plan is done with.”
The elderly centaur smiled. “And without any blood shed, thank the spirits.”
“Yes, thank the spirits! We’ll need every arm we have when the time comes.”
“Though, I stillsay leaving Nedhi in the dark on this is folly, Amdrus.”
“That brat is a coward and an oaf, E’da,” Amdrus growled, “you know that better than everyone!”
“She is still your daughter, Amdrus.”
“Please stop reminding me.”
The elderly centaur stopped and stared hard at his son, who stared back with the calmest of gazes.
“Regardless of how we may see Nedhi,” Igmar whispered after a spell as he stepped forth once more, his son walking apace him, “this next phase hinges on this Thaerin elf upholding his end of the bargain.”
“I know.” Amdrus sighed, “and I am loathed to trust one his kind, but we need him if we’re ever to get close to Demus.”
“But are you sure you can trust him?” Igmar pressed. “I mean he was supposed to ensure no riders come after us till after we were clear of that Ieran town.”
“I know, E’da, I know. But what choice do we have?”
“Hrm,” the elderly centaur muttered, his gaze in the ether.
“I still don’t like it,” he said at last.
“I don’t either, but we lack alternatives.”
“True… Let’s just hope Dricul gets the listening stone from his men before they leave.”
“He will, E’da. He has yet to fail me.”
“I suppose there’s no sense pondering these things till we hear from Dricul,” the elderly centaur muttered.
“Suppose not.” Amdrus grinned. Then, he frowned. “Do you regret it?”
“Regret what?” Igmar replied as he too frowned.
“Abandoning our home for this fool scheme of mine.”
The elderly centaur smiled. “I have lived a full life, I’nu, and if my death means our people can gallop free in our homeland once again, I have no regrets.”
Amdrus smiled at his father. “Then, neither do I.”
And with that, the pair walked on in silence, their hearts at peace.
Grinning from ear-to-ear, the little Matriarch-in-waiting stood tall as she held the pumpkin in her hands aloft.
“How’s this?” she said, turning to the Archmage nearby.
Standing tall, the toiling mage wiped the sweat from her brow and turned to the child.
“Woah! Silvie!” cried the girl beside the mage. “That’s huge!”
“Well done,” the mage said, nodding at the grinning child. “Seems you’re becoming adept at the Song of Growth.”
“Oh, she’s more than just adept now!” cried the child beside the mage. “She made hers bigger that yours! By miles!”
“Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Helena,” the mage chided, turning to the excited child beside her. “My song isn’t even half sung yet.”
“It’s alright, Mistress Silkspinner,” replied Silvie, her grin still upon her lips. “I know yours will be much bigger.”
“Hrm,” the mages replied, smiling. As she moved to speak, however, a soft swoosh filled the air, then another, and then another, and as the sounds carried on, the sisters stopped and turned to stare at the hedge behind them.
“Sounds like she’s at it again,” muttered the younger child.
“Hm.” Silvie nodded.
Then, the pair turned to the mage, a grin upon their lips and a question in their gazes.
The mage tore her gaze from the hedge to stare at the children, but as she held their gazes, her smile was slowly replaced by a tight frown.
“Just keep your distance,” she said at last. “Alright?”
“Yes!” Helena hissed.
“We will!” Silvie added.
As one, the pair raced forth, rounding the hedge and clambering up the ridge behind it before falling on their stomach and staring at the centaur in the distance, and as they settled into the soft earth, they watched in calm silence as the centaur danced amongst the trees about her, the staff in her hand a blur as she leapt and pranced.
“I wish I knew what she’s doing?” young Helena said at last.
“I already told you,” Silvie replied, “she’s practising.”
“Yeah, but practising what? Dancing? Fighting? What?”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Well, whoever heard of a centaur dancing?”
“What do you mean?” the young child frowned.
“They have hooves, Helena,” Silvie replied, “not legs! How can they be dancing if they’ve not got legs.”
“But Master Honeysuckle does that walk with his horse sometimes. He calls it dancing.”
“Yeah, well, centaurs don’t dance.”
“Yes they do!”
“No, they don’t!”
“Yes they do!” Helena cried, her voice rising.
“No, they don’t!” Silvie threw back, raising her voice above her sister’s.
“Yes! They! Do!” Helena yelled in response.
“Who goes there?” thundered a voice in the distance, silencing the pair in an instant, a sharp gasp escaping their lips as they fell to the soft earth.
Sharing a glance, the pair lay perfectly still.
“Show yourselves!” the voice barked. “I will not ask again!”
Wincing, the pair slowly stood, but as they did so, hurried footsteps behind them drew their gazes.
“It’s alright, Mistress Silkspinner,” Silvie said, smiling at the hurrying mage. “Truly.”
Then, she turned to the centaur.
“We didn’t mean to interrupt your practise!” she shouted.
“Or dancing!” Helena added.
“She is not dancing!” Silvie hissed at her sister.
“How do you know?” Helena shot back.
“Dancing?” the centaur shouted in response. “What do you mean?”
Throwing her sister a triumphant grin, the young Matriarch-in-waiting stood tall and smiled at the centaur.
“My sister thought you were dancing, but I tried to tell her you can’t possibly be dancing, you were practising. Only she wouldn’t listen, she–”
“And what makes you think I couldn’t be dancing?”
“Oh…” Silvie began, her cheeks reddening. “Well, I mean…uhm…”
“You think centaurs can’t dance, do you?”
“Well, no, of course not! I mean–”
“Yes, she does!” Helena yelled.
“Helena!” Silvie and the Archmage cried in unison.
“That’s what she said” Helena continued, grinning.
“You speak utter nonsense, child,” the centaur threw back. “And you can never hope to compare to us!”
“What?” the Archmage behind the children cried. “And you say they speak nonsense?” Then, shaking her head, she reached for the children.
“Come, children,” she added, her voice carrying far enough to reach the centaur’s ears, “let’s leave her to her delusions.”
“Have you ever witnessed one of our dance rituals, then?” the centaur called out.
“I don’t need to see it to know you’re deluded!”
“Well, then,” the centaur shouted in response, throwing her staff to the side. “Is this a delusion?”
Then, in the silence that returned, the young centaur began to dance. It was as sublime as it was enthralling, her grace and poise stealing the breaths of the children as they watched with lips agape, till at last, the young centaur stood tall, her chin raised to the children.
“Oh. My. Gods!” Silvie gasped.
“Silvie, did you see that?” Helena cried.
The young centaur raised a chin at the children, but it was clear, even at her distance, she struggled to keep a smile from her lips. Then, she turned and headed for her staff.
“Can you teach us?” Helena yelled.
“What?” the centaur called out.
“Hunh?” Silvie added.
Ignoring her sister, young Helena wandered forth, her eyes bright and her gaze upon the centaur.
“Can you teach us?” she shouted as she went.
“Helena!” Silvie hissed. “Get back here!”
Had the young child heard, she made no show of it.
“Can you?” she asked as she went.
“I cannot,” the centaur replied, shaking her head as she bent to pick up her staff. “My e’ndi taught me, and I can only teach it to women of my tribe.”
“Endi?” Helena frowned.
“It means mother,” came a voice from behind the children, one with steel enough to halt young Helena in her steps and call forth a sharp cry from her lips.
“Mother!” she gasped as she spun about. “It’s not what you think, I–”
“What did I tell you about going near them?” Reyna interjected, her gaze as hardened as her voice.
“Lisbeth, was I not clear on my instructions about keeping my children away from those creatures?”
“Creatures?” Helena cried as the centaur’s gaze upon the Matriarch began to harden.
“Forgive me, Matriarch,” Archmage Silkspinner said, bowing to her Matriarch. “They were–”
“I am not interested in your excuses, Lisbeth!” the Matriarch snapped. “You’re excused.”
The smarting Archmage turned to the children, who pouted at her, their gazes full of shame.
“At once, Matriarch,” the Archmage said, then bowed and hurried away.
“Be on your way, Nedhi,” Reyna continued, “You need not speak to my children.”
“Why are you so mean to her?” Helena spoke up as the centaur moved to leave.
“Quiet, Helena,” Reyna warned.
“You’re not mean to all those horrible people who come calling, so why are you mean to her?”
“There’s much here you don’t under–”
“Is it because her people killed Father? Is that it?”
“Helena!” Silvie hissed. “Enough!”
“Is that it, Mother?” Helena demanded. “Is that it?”
“I will not discuss this with you, Helena,” the Matriarch replied, her voice one brooking no insolence.
“You said Father died in war,” Helena continued.
“Helena!” Silvie cried. “Enough!”
“No, it’s not enough!” Helena threw back. “She’s always saying we should be kind to everyone, that we should show compassion. But she’s always so mean to them. Why should we have to show compassion but not her?”
“Because they killed Father!” Silvie threw back through gritted teeth.
“But was it her, though?” Helena demanded.
At this, Silvie turned to her mother, who was glaring at the defiant child.
“Well, was it, Mother?” Helena demanded.
Reyna glared at her child for a spell, but soon breathed deep and stood tall.
“No,” she said at last.
“Then why are you being mean to her?”
The Matriarch had no words.
“I bet you killed some of her people too, didn’t you?”
“Helena, that’s enough!” Silvie barked.
“Yes, I did,” Reyna replied before wandering towards her daughter. “I killed her brother and her sisters right in front of her. As for her mother, Sirius did that, while she cowered behind an arrow cart.”
Then, reaching her daughter, Reyna went on one knee. “Anything else you’d like to know?”
As Helena stared deep into her mother’s eyes, the young child began to cower and wilt as the utter coldness in the woman’s gaze froze her soul, till at last, the young elf’s eyes began to glisten as she lowered her gaze, a deep pout upon her lips.
“Oh, come here, you,” the Matriarch gasped and pulled her daughter close.
“Why must you be so blasted pig-headed?” she added as she comforted her daughter.
Young Helena sniffled in response, but said nary a word
Parting at last, Reyna smiled at her daughter, but the gaze Helena held her in wiped the smile from her lips, and, breathing deep, she rose, her gaze upon her daughter throughout.
“Mother,” came a soft voice beside the Matriarch, drawing her gaze.
“I’ll take her.”
Reyna smiled at her elder, then stepped aside as the young Matriarch-in-waiting reached for her sister.
As little Helena wandered past her mother, she raised her head and held her mother with a gaze filled with pain and disgust, a gaze that bore into the woman, tearing at her heart and leaving her speechless. Then, the little girl lowered her gaze once more.
“Helena!” Reyna said as her children wandered past her.
The girls stopped, turning as one to their mother.
“I’m not evil,” the Matriarch said, “I just…it’s just…when your father died, I…”
“It’s alright, Mother,” Silvie offered. “It was war. Things happen in war that we’re not always proud of. I’ll make her understand.”
“We’re not at war, though, are we?” little Helena growled, her gaze at her feet, “and Mother called her a creature.”
A heavy silence fell upon the three, and, tearing her gaze from her children, she turned to the centaur in the distance
“Why do you come here?” she called out.
The young centaur shrugged. “The smell of the trees reminds me of the Plains. Of home.”
“I see,” Reyna said, then turned to little Helena once more.
The little child’s gaze was fixed upon her feet still.
“You’re right,” Reyna said at last. “We’re no longer at war, are we?”
Tearing her gaze at last from her daughter, the Matriarch sighed and turned to the centaur once more.
“Would you care to teach my daughters of the Plains?” she asked.
“What?” Nedhi gasped.
“Hunh?” the children intoned as one.
“But have a care about this one,” the Matriarch continued, gesturing to Helena with a smile upon her lips. “She loves to ask questions.”
Then, she turned to her children. “Go on.”
As one, the pair squealed and raced forth, and as they did so, the Matriarch sat upon the soft earth and watched her children hurl question after question at the bemused centaur, and as she watched, she felt the flames within her heart dim ever so slightly.
Sauntering through the grove, the young centaur raised the glazed apple in her hand to her lips and savoured another bite. Granted, it was her ninth that day, but it still tasted as succulent as her first, and breathing deep, she let out a long sigh as she sucked on the apple’s juices before any could run down her hand. Then, she took another bite, hastening her steps as she did so. It was late, and she was meant to have been home already, but, as ever, Helena had a thousand questions that needed answering, and a thousand more after that.
“Spirits, that girl can talk!” Nedhi muttered, smiling as she went.
Just then, movement in the corner of her vision caught her eye, and as she turned, she caught a glimpse of a shaman’s staff in the night’s sun. It was brief, barely a glance, but she was sure of what she saw.
“Eda’a?” she frowned. “Where are you off to this late?”
Standing still, the centaur stared in the direction she’d seen the staff, but soon her curiosity got the better of her, and, haunching forward, she made her way forth, her steps as light as she could make them.
Before long, she reached the the shed she’d seen the staff disappear behind, and, holding her breath, she peeked behind it.
Frowning, Nedhi stood tall, then shrugged.
“Must’ve imagined it,” she muttered, then turned and headed back the way she’d come.
As she raised her glazed apple to her lips, however, the young centaur realised something. The hairs on the back of her arm were straight, and that only happened when shaman magic was used around her.
“Eda’a,” she whispered, smiling as she spun about once more.
“You’re hiding something, aren’t you?” she added. “Well, two can play that game.”
Breathing deep, the young centaur cleared her mind and gripped the staff in her other hand tight, and as she stood tall, a soft song escaped her lips, its verses calling forth a cloak about the centaur, till at last, she was hidden from view. Satisfied, she wandered forth, but she knew she had to tread with care, for though she was hidden from view, she was not hidden from touch.
Making her way back to the shed, the young centaur carefully inched around it, feeling the air before her with her hoof with as much care as she could, till at last, she felt the edge of the dome of concealment she felt sure was before her.
“Found you!” she gasped in her mind.
Slowly, ever so carefully, young Nedhi inched into the dome, and as she went, she smiled as her father and grandfather swam into view, along with her father’s guards, but then, Nedhi’s smile began to fade, for her gaze now rested upon the blade in the hand of the centaur named Dricul.
“Would you stop worrying about that child?” she heard her father snap. “We have more pressing matters at hand!”
“Forgive me, great King,” the centaur named Dricul intoned, bowing to her father as he spoke.
“So, what did the elf say?” Nedhi’s grandfather said, his gaze upon her father.
“All is in place. The elf king rides to his autumn retreat in the morning. So long as we arrive before noon, we should be able to slip in unnoticed. He will have people waiting for us at the usual meeting place near the border. They will arrange passage for us.”
Nedhi brow deepened at those words. The elf king? Why would her father wish to go see him after all that they’d endured? Or had he finally lost all his honour?
“Our arms and armaments?”
Nedhi’s felt a cold hand grip her heart at her grandfather’s words.
“Thaerin will have them waiting for us,” her father replied, then grinned. “It will be good to wield my greatsword once again.”
“Ha! I’m sure!” Nedhi’s grandfather grinned.
“You’re going after him!” the young centaur thought, her lisp agape. “Spirits, he’ll slaughter you all!”
Then, Nedhi watched her father turn to the centaur beside Dricul.
“Is all ready for our departure tomorrow?”
The centaur nodded. “Yes, great King. The long-ears still think we intend to have a grand meditation within the woods. I’ve found the perfect spot where the trees hide us enough from view that we can slip away unseen, and they will be none the wiser.”
“Excellent!” Nedhi’s father grinned. “You shall lead the procession tomorrow, then.”
“As you command, great King,” the centaur bowed.
“Good.” Nedhi’s father nodded. Then, he turned to Dricul. “Are you set for tomorrow?”
Dricul bowed. “Of course, great King.”
“So, how do you intend to lure those girls away from their tutors?”
“What?” Nedhi thought, her eyes wide as she stood ramrod straight.
“I left them a note, in Nedhi’s hand, asking them to meet me on the other side of the grove at noon tomorrow.”
Nedhi’s father frowned at his. “How can you be sure they’ll attend?”
Dricul smiled. “I claimed to be planning to teach them the Maiden’s Dance.”
“Ha!” the great centaur cried as Nedhi fought to keep her lips unmoving.
“Your sacrifice will not be forgotten, Dricul,” the great centaur continued, “and though your death at their hands may be cruel, you will have earned your place amongst our ancestors.”
“I live to serve, my King!” Dricul gasped, bowing low, an act that widened the centaur king’s smile
“Just remember,” Nedhi’s father continued, “kill only the younger one, she’s the favoured child. But make sure her sister witnesses it all. And once they capture you, wait till you’re nearing the end before telling them who’s bidding it was.”
“I will, great King,” Dricul replied, nodding, “I will not fail you.” Then, he frowned. “What of your daughter?”
“What of her?” Nedhi’s father frowned.
“Were she to interfere…?”
“What?” Nedhi gasped.
As the word left her lips, Nedhi winced, then watched as the startled centaurs turned to where she stood, and before long, she felt her cloak pulled from her.
“I’m impressed,” Nedhi’s grandfather muttered, lowering his outstretched hand as a nearby centaur relieved Nedhi of her staff. “I never even felt your presence. Your e’ndi taught you well.”
Tearing her gaze from her grandfather, Nedhi turned to her father, her teeth bared.
“I am your daughter, E’da!” she thundered. “And you would order my death so easily? What in–”
“Oh, shut up, girl!” the great centaur snapped. “Yes, you are my daughter, but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish you weren’t!”
Those words struck the young centaur hard and it showed.
“What, did you truly think I would forgive your cowardice so easily? You stood gawping as they butchered my beloved! Your own mother! Had it been Darku, or Finta, they would at least have used the arrow cart to buy their e’ndi time to escape, but no, no you just stood there, gawping like some fool! And if that’s not enough, what was it you did when they slaughtered your siblings?”
“E’da, that’s unfair, I–”
“What did you do, girl?”
“I didn’t mean for E’ndi to die like that, I–”
“What did you do?” the great centaur roared, stamping his hoof as he glared at his daughter. “What did you do?”
“I couldn’t do anything,” Nedhi said, tears running down her cheeks. “I couldn’t! They were so many, I–”
“Would Finta have abandoned you?” Nedhi’s grandfather intoned. “Would Darku?”
Nedhi turned to the elderly centaur, and though her lips remained unmoving.
“But you abandoned them,” the centaur king sneered.
“Yes, I fled!” Nedhi spat, rounding on her father. “Happy, E’da? Happy? Yes, I fled! I fled while they butchered my siblings! And yes, I froze while they killed E’ndi! But there had not been a day since that I have not carried that shame–”
“Do not speak to me of shame,” her father snarled. “You know nothing of the word, for if you did, you’d have opened your veins long ago, spared us all your presence.”
Then, as a heavy silence fell upon the centaurs, the great king took a step forward.
“Do you know what angers me the most, though?” he snarled. “You cavorting with those brats! Their mother killed your siblings, and yet you act as if they are of your tribe! They are your enemies!”
Nedhi shook her head. “E’da, I–”
“Silence!” the centaur king roared. “What I have decreed will come to pass, Nedhi, but I shall grant you this one chance to reclaim your honour. Kill those children and your past misdeeds will be forgotten.”
As a heavy silence fell upon the gathered, young Nedhi stared at her father as the voices and laughter of her siblings rang in her ears, her heart remembering an ache she’d fought so hard to ignore. But then, even as the laugher echoed in her ears, her mind’s eye began to see before it young Silvie’s simple smile and little Helena’s ever warm grin, and in that moment, she knew there could only be one answer.
“I won’t kill them, E’da,” she said at last. “You’re right, I failed my siblings, I failed E’ndi, and I failed you. But those children’s hands are not stained with our people’s bloods. I cannot do as you ask. I will not.”
“Then, you die here,” Nedhi’s father snarled before clenching a fist and stepping forth.
Breathing deep, young Nedhi steeled her self for battle, but as her lips began to move, her grandfather’s voice drifted to her ears, carrying a song she knew all to well, and as her heart raced up her throat, Nedhi could only watch as her whole frame froze, as if turned to stone, and thus did she stand, utterly unmoving, as her father crashed a mighty fist against her temple, the darkness claiming her before she even touched the earth.
With a soft groan, Nedhi raised a hand to her head as she slowly sat tall, the soft rustle of leaves filling her ears.
“What the…?” she muttered before forcing her eyes open.
The moment they opened, however, the young centaur winced as the sun’s rays blinded her and left her with a most crippling headache.
“Ugh!” she cried as she crumpled into a pile before holding her head in her hands.
But then, as the young centaur cowed, two things swiftly dawned on her. First, she was alive. Second, the sun was up.
As that second realisation set in, the young centaur raised her gaze to the heavens, shielding her eyes from the full fury of the sun with her hand.
“It’s not noon!” she gasped after a spell. “Spirits, it’s not noon yet!”
Scrambling to her feet, a hand cradling her head, young Nedhi breathed deep as she fought for calm.
“I can still stop him,” she gasped. “It’s not too late.”
Lowering her hand at last, the young centaur took stock of her surrounds, but frowned as she did so. Her staff was nowhere to be seen. But, worse still…
“Where am I?” she muttered, her brow furrowed deep as she slowly spun about.
Nothing seemed familiar. Not the trees, not the paths… Nothing.
“Think, girl, think,” she growled. “You must reach the grove before they do. Which way?”
Once more, she spun about, but each path before her looked as foreign as the last. Then, the young centaur breathed deep, and as she did so, she smiled. There was a scent in the air. It was faint, but she recognised it, and there was only one place within Tower grounds that had that scent. If she could get to it, she could find her way to the grove. Or at least, she thought there was only one place.
“This is no time for doubt, Nedhi,” she growled, then turned in the direction her nose commanded her
“Hold fast, you two,” she added. “I’m coming!”
Breathing deep once more, the young stumbled forth, her nose her guide.
“So, what do you think made her change her mind, then?” Helena asked as she wandered beside her sister.
“Who knows,” Silvie replied, shrugging. “But I thought you’d be pleased.”
“Oh, I am! Just seems odd she’d want to teach it to us now, after all the times she’d said no.”
“Yeah,” Silvie muttered, nodding, “it not like her to have such a change of heart. But then again, had you asked me when they first arrived whether or not Nedhi would be playing with us at all, I wouldn’t have believed you, so…”
“True.” Helena nodded. Then, the child grinned. “Can you imagine the look on Mother’s face when we do the dance for her?”
The young Matriarch-in-waiting grinned. “Oh, she’d be more than a little surprised, for sure!”
“For sure, for sure!” Helena grinned.
Reaching the meeting spot at last, the pair slowed.
“Well, this is it,” Silvie said as she cast her eyes about her. “But…I don’t see her.”
“Hrm,” Helena muttered. “Me neither. Perhaps we’re–”
“Looking for someone?” came a voice from the trees behind the children, startling the pair.
Turning as one, the children’s gazes fell upon the centaur sauntering out into the open.
“Oh, Dricul, it’s you!”Silvie grinned. “We thought you were…”
The young elf’s words died in her throat as her eyes fell upon the blade in his hand.
“Why do you have that?” Helena asked as her sister’s gaze hardened upon the centaur’s face.
The centaur’s gait remained unbroken, and as he neared, the young Matriarch-in-waiting grabbed hold of her sister and pulled her close before backing away from the centaur.
“Now, where might you be going?” Dricul asked, the coldest of smiles parting his lips.
Young Silvie’s steely gaze remained unwavering upon the centaur’s face as her young sister glanced from centaur to her sister and back.
“Come, children,” Dricul added. “Let me take you to Nedhi. She’s waiting just over yonder.”
“We’re leaving,” Silvie growled in response. “Step aside.”
“Oh, you’re not going anywhere,” the centaur replied, his smile now a deep snarl.
Then, he lunged at the children.
In response, the young Matriarch-in-waiting raised a hand and called forth a gust of wind to strike the centaur square in the chest, knocking the wind out of his lungs and sending him stumbling to his knees.
“Run!” Silvie yelled, spinning her sister round before racing forth with all the might she could muster, a firm grip on her sister beside her.
“Get back here!” they heard the centaur roar behind them, words that leant the children strength.
“I said get back here!” Dricul soon added as he ran abreast the children before grabbing hold of Silvie’s tunic and tossing the child aside, then knocking young Helena to the earth.
As the little child shrieked and rolled onto her back, the sneering centaur paused and darted to her side, then raised his front hooves, his eyes filled with death.
“Wretched child,” he growled, then brought his hooves down hard towards little Helena’s chest.
The little child couldn’t even scream, her eyes wide as she watched her death approach. But then, just as the centaur’s hooves were about to crush her chest, a shape barrelled into the centaur, appearing as if out of the very air itself before latching onto the centaur and sending him clattering to the soft earth in a heap.
“Run!” screamed the shape. “Get out of here!”
“Wha…?” little Helena began, her eyes upon the shape as her sister scrambled to her feet.
“Nedhi!” Helena cried, springing to her feet as she watched the young centaur wrestle with Dricul.
“Run!” Nedhi shrieked. “Run, run, run!”
“Come!” Silvie barked, grabbing hold of Helena and forcing her forth.
“But we can’t just leave her!” Helena cried, fighting her sister’s grip to no avail.
“We’re not, we’re going for Mother! Hurry!”
Young Helena stared deep into the terrified eyes of her centaur friend, then turned her gaze forth and raced on with every ounce of strength she had.
As Nedhi watched the pair race off, she felt her heart swell. She’d done it, she’d saved them!
“Get off me, damn you!” Dricul roared as he fought her grip.
Nedhi turned her gaze to the warrior and tightened her hold upon him.
“You’re not killing them, Dricul!” she spat through gritted teeth.
“Spirits claim you, woman, get off me!”
Nedhi shook her head, fighting with all she had to keep her grip upon him.
“I said get off me!” Dricul roared.
It was the shock, more than the pain, that loosened Nedhi’s grip, a sharp yelp escaping her lips as she scrambled free of the warrior, and as she rose, she glanced at her lower shoulder, then at the bloodied blade in Dricul’s hand.
“What is wrong with you, woman?” the centaur thundered. “They are the children of our enemy!”
Nedhi shook her head at him. “They have done us no wrong, Dricul.”
Snarling, the warrior turned from Nedhi to the fleeing children, then gripped his blade tight.
“I know not how you survived Igmar’s song, but Amdrus has given me leave to kill you should you interfere, and kill you I shall. You first, then that brat.”
Nedhi glanced from the blade to Dricul and back. She knew in her heart she could never hope to stand against him in open combat, not without her staff, nor could she allow him chase after her elven friends, and that meant only one thing. And so, breathing deep, young Nedhi stared deep into the warrior’s eyes and sneered.
“Come then, Dricul,” she seethed. “End me, if you can!”
With a roar, the warrior charged forth, but Nedhi stood firm and met his charge with her head held high.
Yawning wide, the Matriarch stretched as her Magister stared at her with a smile upon his lips.
“Dear gods, that man is boring!” she gasped.
“Reyna, he can hear you,” Sirius muttered. “The door’s still open.”
“What?” Reyna frowned, turning to the meeting room door, only to meet the gaze of an irate human noble.
“Ah!” she muttered, grinning through gritted teeth. “You could’ve said something.”
“I did,” Sirius replied as he gently closed the door.
“Next time, say it sooner,” Reyna growled before turning to wander forth.
As she did so, however, loud voices reached her ears, and frowning, she hastened her steps.
“Silvie?” she called out as she went.
“Mother!” young Silvie cried as her mother came into view. “Come quick! He’s trying to kill Nedhi!”
“Hurry!” Helena shrieked beside her sister, gesturing wildly at her mother. “He’s going to kill her!”
“Slow down, who’s killing whom?”
“There’s no time!” Silvie yelled. “Come! Quick!”
“I think you’d better follow them,” Sirius said as he stepped beside his Matriarch. “Whatever this is, it can’t be good.”
Reyna glanced at her Magister, then at her children. “Lead on!”
Young Nedhi coughed and spluttered as blood flowed from her lips, her gaze upon the unmoving body that was Dricul. Her plan had worked to perfection, Dricul was dead, and the girls were safe.
“It is done,” she sighed, before coughing up more blood.
Wincing, the young centaur lowered her gaze to the blade lodged within her chest. She had expected a great deal more pain when it pierced her flesh, but instead, all she’d felt was a calm she’d not known in years, and that calm had given her the strength she needed to complete her spell and end her killer before he could pull free his blade. But now, it was time to rest. It was time to see her family again.
Sighing once more, the young centaur fell to her knees before slowly lying upon the soft earth, and as she did so, she smiled.
“To die for elves, who would’ve thought,” she said before coughing and spluttering once more.
Then, her smile began to fade, and as she felt her strength draining, she filled her nostrils with the scent of the trees once more, then closed her eyes and became still.
But even as she breathed what she felt to be her last, the young centaur heard voices in the distance, voices calling her name. The voices seemed familiar, and seemed filled with a sense of great fear and urgency, and as her mind sought to make sense of that which she heard, the young centaur felt a sharp pain tear through her as the blade lodged in her chest was wrenched free, and as she gasped, she opened her eyes to stare wide-eyed at the Matriarch of the Shimmering Tower kneeling beside her with bloodied hands clasped upon her wound, hands that shimmered as a soothing warmth filled her whole frame.
“Hang on, Nedhi!” called one of the voices.
“Don’t die!” cried the other.
Then, at last, Nedhi realised whose voices they were, and as the warmth faded, her smile returned as she moved to rise.
“No!” the Matriarch ordered, placing a firm hand upon the centaur’s chest. “No! You need rest after a blow like that. By rights, you should’ve died when the sword went in.”
Nedhi did as the woman had bidden, closing her eyes as she fell back onto the grass.
“What happened here, Nedhi?” the Matriarch demanded.
“E’da,” Nedhi gasped, “he ordered Dricul to kill Helena and make Silvie watch.”
“What?” Reyna cried. “Why?”
“And why kill me?” Helena added.
Nedhi smiled. “Because you’re the favoured child, Helena.”
“No, I’m not!” Helena cried.
“Yes, you are,” Silvie replied, her tone calm and even. Then, as she caught her mother’s gaze, she smiled and shrugged. “I don’t blame you, Mother, she looks more like Father than I do.”
The Matriarch moved to speak, but instead swallowed hard and shook her head, then turned to the healing centaur once more.
“Where’s your father now?” she demanded.
“He’s off to meet an elf,” Nedhi replied.
“Who’s off to meet an elf?” Sirius asked as he reached the gathering.
“Amdrus sent Dricul to kill Helena,” Reyna replied, her gaze upon Nedhi still.
The Matriarch nodded. “Nedhi stopped him.”
Once more, the Matriarch nodded. “It very nearly cost her her life.”
The Magister turned to the crumpled centaur, his lips agape and his words lost to him.
“Where’s your father, Nedhi?” Reyna repeated “And who’s this elf he’s meeting?”
“He is called Thaerin.”
“Thaerin?” Sirius frowned. “Demus’s personal advisor?”
Nedhi shrugged and shook her head. “I don’t know. The name sounds familiar, but…in truth, I don’t know who he is, and that he has an autumn retreat his king is visiting today.”
The Matriarch and her Magister turned to each other.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Sirius said.
Reyna nodded and rose. “That little snake intends to have Amdrus slaughter Demus and his family.”
“And with Demus’s line ended, he inherits the throne, half-brother and all that,” Sirius replied.
“Precisely.” Reyna nodded, then snarled. “And we’ve granted Amdrus sanctuary.”
“Yeah.” Sirius nodded. “He’s going to use that to shift the blame of the slaughter onto us.”
“Yeah.” Reyna nodded. “Bastard must’ve been working with Amdrus from the beginning. Those two have been playing us for fools the whole time.”
“We have to stop them, Reyna.”
“Damned right we do,” Reyna replied, nodding, “but we can’t just rush in after them. Our treaty forbids we shed blood on woodland soil, remember?”
“Oh gods, yeah,” Sirius winced, “and with how Demus is always trying to wrangle concessions from us…”
“We rush in there, win or lose, he’ll use it as an excuse to squeeze more out of us.”
“But there must be something you can do!” Silvie pressed.
“Yeah!” Helena cried. “You can’t let them get away with this!”
Reyna turned to her children and smiled.
“There might be,” she said, then frowned, “but you two need to return, and do not leave Lisbeth’s side till we return. Alright?”
“Yes, Mother,” the girls said in unison, then moved to leave.
“Yes, Mother?” the young girl said, turning to her mother.
“It’s alright, Mother,” Silvie interjected, a soft smile upon her lips. “Truly. We all cope with loss in different ways.” Then, she put an arm about her sister and headed back.
“She’ll make a fine Matriarch, that girl,” Sirius said after a spell.
The Matriarch breathed deep and nodded.
“Yes,” she sighed, “she will at that.”
“You’re going to kill him, aren’t you?” came a tired voice behind the pair.
“E’da,” Nedhi added as the pair turned to her.
Reyna glanced at her Magister before turning to the wounded centaur and breathing deep. “I aim to stop him, Nedhi, in any way I can. For what you’ve done here today, I give you my word, if there is a way to spare him, I shall take it above all else. But this is Demus we speak of, the man who began the war in the first place.”
Nedhi stared at the elf before her for a spell, then, with a heavy grunt, rose on unstable legs.
“Then, I’m coming with you,” the centaur said.
“No, Nedhi,” Reyna replied, her tone broking no insolence. “Your wound–”
“I’m coming with you!” the centaur snapped. “You may not be able to reach him, but I might.”
“He ordered your death, Nedhi,” Sirius replied. “I think it’s fair to say he’s not going to listen to anything you have to say.”
Nedhi turned to the elf. “Eda’a spared me. E’da moved to kill me, but he stepped in. I felt sure his spell would stop my heart and grant me a peaceful death, but he spared me. If I can get through to Eda’a, he–”
“He may be able to speak some sense into Amdrus,” Reyna mused. “Possible.” Then, she shook her head. “But in your state, you’re more likely to keel over before we’re clear of our border.”
The young centaur shook her head at this. “I’ll be alright, my strength will return soon enough.”
“I’m coming, damn it!”
“If Igmar fails to get through to your father and Demus is harmed,” Sirius spoke up, “we may have to kill them ourselves to lessen the blow of your father’s treachery. Are you truly prepared to witness that?”
The young centaur paused at those words, their weight bearing heavy upon her.
“Nobody would think you coward if you stay, Nedhi,” Sirius continued. “You’ve already done much for us, and what happens from here is upon your father, not you.”
Young Nedhi stared at the mage in silence for a spell, but soon shook her head.
“They are all I have,” she replied. “If they die, I’ll be all alone. I must go. I must try.”
The Matriarch and her Magister exchanged glances before turning to the young centaur and sighing.
“Very well,” Reyna said, “but best steel yourself for heartache.”
“We’ll see,” Nedhi replied, then hurried forth, the others close behind her
Reaching the grand gates of the autumn retreat of the woodland king’s personal advisor, the procession of elven riders gathered as their leader rose in his saddle, a sweet smile upon his lips.
“Darius, is that you?” one of the gate guards called out.
“It is indeed,” the lead rider replied, his smile growing.
“Almost didn’t recognise you there. New horses?”
“Aye.” The rider nodded, his smile now a grin. “The old man sent us down to pick them up and break them in.”
“You lucky bastard,” the gate guard growled.
Before long, the gate swung open, and as its loud creak filled the air, the rider and his companions led their horses into the estate, their eyes forward and their lips unmoving, and it was in that silence they rode till they reached the stables, and entering, they dismounted as one and tended to their horses in silence
But their actions were slow and with such uncommon care that, before long, they were the last ones remaining in the stables.
“Shut the door,” the man named Darius ordered, and in response, the riders closest to the stables doors swung them closed then barred them.
Once alone, the riders formed a circle about their horses and, bowing their heads, began chanting as one.
“One more moment, long-ears, and I would’ve ripped your head off with my bare hands,” Amdrus growled as the illusion cast upon him was undone.
Darius smirked at the centaur, but held his peace and wandered to a nearby stall. As he did so, so too did some of the others, moving aside bales of hay to reveal centaur arms and armaments.
“This is where you kept them?” Igmar muttered, the disdain in his voice unmistakable. “Amongst horses?”
“What?” Darius replied. “Isn’t that what you all are?”
“Why you…” began one of the centaurs.
“Enough!” Amdrus snapped, then turned to Darius. “What does Thaerin have planned?”
“That’s Lord Dreamthistle to you.” Darius sneered.
“You have no idea what he is to me,” Amdrus threw back. “What does he have planned?”
The rider glared at the centaur king for a spell, then breathed deep. “If the king hasn’t arrived by now, he should be arriving shortly. Lord Dreamthistle will lead him on a tour of his menagerie–”
“And where’s that?”
“Shut up, worm, and listen.”
Amdrus glared hard at the man, but held his peace.
“Lord Dreamthistle will lead the king on a tour of his menagerie just before lunch,” Darius continued, “and once at the far end, you are to breach the walls of the menagerie, which is, that wall…” the elf pointed to the wall on the other side of the stables, “ …and, uh, do what you do best.”
Amdrus turned to the wall and turned back.
“How will we know they’re in place?”
Darius shrugged. “The wall is thin, you’ll hear their voices come through.”
“And what are we to breach it with?”
“What part of the wall is thin didn’t make sense to you?” Darius replied. “Give it a good kick or two, that should crack it. Or just smash your heads against it, I suppose.”
“Or your head…” Igmar growled.
The rider smirked at this, but said nary a word
“Where will your lord be when we begin?” Amdrus asked after a spell.
“Oh, you needn’t worry about Lord Dreamthistle,” the man smiled, “I will be leading him to a safe spot for him to hide in till the whole slaughter is over.”
“And where is that?”
The man’s smile widened. “Why, you wish to join him?”
“No,” Amdrus growled, “it’s to know where not to attack.”
“Oh, don’t you worry your simple little mind about that, Amdrus,” the rider replied, “one such as you can never reach anyone inside it.”
Amdrus shrugged at this. “If you say so.”
“Oh, I do say so.”
“Mhm,” the centaur king muttered, then sauntered over to his greatsword. “Will you be aiding us?”
“Don’t be stupid, we’ll be trying to kill you! Or at least, make it seem like we’re trying to kill you. But don’t worry, we won’t harm a hair on your pretty heads till your task is done, then we truly will kill you. Every single one of you. Whichever one of you is left alive, that is.”
“Chances are good Demus’s guards will outnumber us if his wife and sons are in attendance–” Amdrus began, hefting his beloved greatsword as he spoke.
“So?” Darius interjected.
“So, if your glorious master wants this deed done, he’ll need to do more to tip the scale in our favour.”
“Aw, and here I thought the great Amdrus would rise to the challenge.”
The centaur king stared at the smirking elf in silence.
“We’ll be serving everyone tea beforehand,” Darius added after a spell. “A special brew, one that leadens your limbs the faster your heart beats, and I’m sure you’ll have no issue putting the fear of the gods in them. Or, at least, sending them into a frenzy with your stench. It won’t make them utterly useless, but, well, at least you’ll be able to manage.”
“Hm,” Amdrus muttered, tearing his gaze from his greatsword to the smirking elf.
“Oh, and, uhm,” Darius added, taking a step forth, “if you even think of betraying us, my lord will escape safely, and once he’s free of this place, I have made arrangements for safe passage for him to the garrison nearby, and I’m sure you can imagine what he’ll do once he’s there. You will die, Amdrus. By our blade or theirs, you will die this day. And if it’s by theirs, when my lord is king, he will return to your pitiful little tribe and slaughter every single one of them. Understand?”
“I understand perfectly,” Amdrus growled.
“Excellent!” Darius grinned. “So! Any other inane questions?”
“I take it we won’t be disturbed here?” Igmar asked.
Darius turned to him and smiled. “Not unless you intend on doing any of your stupid chanting…?”
Igmar glared hard at the elf, but held his peace.
“Let’s go,” Darius soon said, then stepped forth.
“One more question,” Amdrus called out, wandering over to the man.
“What is it?” Darius sighed.
“How sharp are our weapons?”
“How sharp are they?”
“How in the hells should I know? They’re in the same state they were when you gave them to us.”
Amdrus smiled at this. “Would you mind if I tested mine, then?”
“Do whatever in the hells you wish,” Darius replied, glaring at the centaur king, “just do it in here, alright?”
The great centaur smiled and nodded.
“Alright,” he said, then swung his blade at the rider’s neck.
A deathly silence fell upon the stables as the other riders watched in horror as their leader’s headless body convulsed before crumpling to the ground.
“Warriors!” Amdrus called out, his voice drawing the gaze of all within. “Test your blades!”
The screams that followed were many, but brief.
As the door to the royal carriage opened, the master of the manor stepped forth, a warm smile upon his lips as he wiped his hands upon his trousers.
“Welcome, your Highness,” he said, bowing at the wizened elf that alighted before him.
“Oh, come now, Thaerin,” the king smiled, “must you continue with formalities? We’re brothers, are we not?”
“Forgive me, Demus,” the master of the manor replied as his smile widened. “Force of habit.”
“Ah, Adrillia,” he added, turning to the elven woman alighting behind her husband, “I’m glad you could make it.”
“Yes, I’m sure you are,” growled one of the three elves sauntering up behind the royal couple, their features a blend of both king and queen’s.
“Tarun,” the king sighed, turning to the outspoken elf, “what did I say before we left?”
The elf named Tarun glared at his uncle before turning to his father. “You said no rancour, Father.”
“And what would you call what you just said?”
The young elf fell silent.
“I do not wish to lose my temper with you, boy,” the king continued, “so, don’t test me. Not today.”
“Forgive me, Father,” Tarun replied, bowing to his father.
“Good,” the king replied, then turned to his other sons. “Shall we?”
“Of course, Father,” they replied as one.
“Excellent!” Thaerin cried, then spun about and led the gathering towards the grand doors of the manor house.
“So, Thaerin,” the king said, walking abreast his half-brother, “what do you have planned for us today? This retreat was your idea after all.”
“Well, “Thaerin replied, grinning, “I thought we’d start with tea in the menagerie.”
“Hm.” The man nodded. “I’ve acquired some especially exotic animals I think you’ll find fascinating, Brother.”
“Oh?” the king grinned. “Have you now?”
The elf named Thaerin nodded in response.
“Oh, I can’t wait to see them!”
“And I can’t wait to show them to you, this way!”
With his grin firmly in place, the master of the manor led his guests and their personal guards through the manor house and down to the menagerie, the air about them filled with laughter and idle banter.
“Here we are!” Thaerin said as they reached the ebony gates of the menagerie. “Are you ready to be enthralled.”
“Just get on with it,” Tarun muttered, words that earned him a withering glare from his mother.
“Go on, then,” Demus said, ignoring his son, “let’s see these animals!”
“This way,” Thaerin replied, then swung the gate opened and stepped aside before falling silent as his gets wandered in.
Then, as the last of this guests entered, the scheming elf turned to one of his personal guards, his smile long gone as he gripped the man’s arm hard.
“Where’s Darius?” he hissed. “He knows I can’t open that infernal dome by myself!”
“I don’t know, my lord,” the man whispered.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” the elf seethed. “Has he returned at least?”
“Yes, my lord,” the guard replied. “Returned not too long ago.”
“Thaerin?” came the king’s voice.
“Find him!” Thaerin hissed. “Quickly!”
“Of course, my lord!”
Shoving the man aside, his grin back in place, Thaerin sauntered into the menagerie.
“I can hear them,” Igmar muttered, drawing the gaze of the other centaurs.
“Then, it’s time,” Amdrus replied, nodding as he spoke.
Standing tall, the centaur king turned to his companions, a smile upon his lips.
“Warriors!” he cried. “You have followed me into the jaws of death a great many times! Together, we have slaughtered countless numbers of our enemies, and always, you have shown me fealty! Even now, as we stand at the cusp of our own death, you do not yield, you do not shy from my side. I thank you for your loyalty, and I am grateful I go to my ancestors in the company of such as you!”
As he carried his gaze about the warriors before him, Amdrus’s heart swelled at the fire he saw burning bright in their eyes.
“We kill till we are killed! Thaerin thinks we are under his thumb, but we will prove him wrong today! Do not stay your blade from any long-eared throat, my warriors! Demus and his family are not our only quarry, everyone is! Swing your blades till you can no longer swing, my warriors! Make them all feel the pain that they visited upon us when they took our homes from us! Leave. None. Alive!”
As one, the centaurs roared, their blades held high as their lust for battle overcame them.
“Secure the gate, E’da,” Amdrus continued, turning to his father.
“I shall.” The elderly centaur nodded.
“Good.” Amdrus nodded, then turned to the wall. “Mind doing the honours?”
The elderly shaman breathed deep and, raising his staff, sang a soft verse of the earth, words that called forth a low rumble beneath the very wall behind which lay their quarry, and as the elderly shaman’s voice grew, so too did the rumble, till at last, the wall and those about it fell away.
“Forward!” Amdrus roared, then leapt forth
As one, the centaurs charged into the menagerie and descended upon the elves within, the suddenness of their charge meant the first wave of elves to die did so without drawing their blades, the surprise etched upon their lifeless faces mirrored upon the faces of their companions.
But the centaurs were far from done, charging forth and carving a bloody swathe through those who stood before them, their glorious king at the fore, his enchanted greatsword swinging through the air like an infernal scythe.
Except the royal elven guards were truly the best of the elven soldiers, and though the tide of battle was against them, it wasn’t long before they’d master their fears and had their charges huddled and shielded.
Pulling his blade free of three of Thaerin’s guard that he’d impaled, Amdrus turned to the great huddle and grinned.
“We meet again, Demus,” he called out as his centaurs regrouped about him.
“What in the hells are you doing here?” the king called out, his steely voice at odds with the trembling whimpers from the others about him. “Did Reyna put you up to this? Is that why she was so insistent on lending you her protection?”
The great centaur laughed.
“You always were a fool, Demus,” Amdrus replied as he sauntered forth, his centaurs formed behind him. “If you truly wish to know why I’m here, why don’t you ask your half-brother?”
“What?” The king frowned, turning to the cowering elf behind him.
“What?” Amdrus smirked. “Surprised? How else was I able to come so far into your realm without being noticed?”
“You told Reyna you joined a caravan disguised as horses,” Demus replied, turning to the centaur.
Amdrus smiled at this. “And whose coin hired the caravan?”
Demus fell silent at this.
“Even the call that came from your Ieran, that would not have happened so soon had the little worm done his duty properly and made sure the caravaners knew to wait till we were clear of the town before sounding the alarm.”
Slowly, the king turned to his half-brother. “You…?”
“He lies!” Thaerin gasped. “He…he lies!”
“And just what do I gain from lying?” Amdrus asked, pausing as he hefted his greatsword onto his shoulder. “Eh?”
Demus glared hard at the cowering elf, but had no words.
“He planned it, Demus, all of it. The rancour within my tribe, the clamour for my exile, ensuring I had elven riders on my tail when I reached Reyna so she couldn’t deny me sanctuary, it was all him. Your darling little brother.”
“But what, Demus?” Amdrus interjected, sauntering forth once more, his warriors in step behind him. “Why? Please, why else? I end your line, he becomes king.”
“No,” Demus replied. “Why ally with him?”
“Ah,” Amdrus smiled, “he thinks I do this because of his promise to return our lands to us once he’s king, but no, I do this to turn your people and your blasted Tower against each other.”
“Now, you’re just being a fool, Amdrus,” Demus growled. “Reyna would never turn on me.”
“Oh?” Amdrus grinned, wielding his greatsword once more as he neared striking distance of the closest elf. “Are you sure?”
The elven king held his peace, choosing instead to glare at the centaur before him.
“By now, Reyna’s younger is dead, Demus…”
“Dear gods,” Demus gasped, as his face began to whiten at last, “you killed Helena?”
“…and the entire Tower will be thinking her death was on Thaerin’s bidding–”
“No!” the cowering elf cried “No, that wasn’t part of the plan!”
“No, Thaerin,” Amdrus grinned, coming to a halt, “it was part of my plan.”
“That woman will never listen to reason,” Demus muttered, his voice soft and his gaze in the ether.
“No, she won’t,” Amdrus replied, “and she thinks Thaerin’s is to blame.”
“What is wrong with you?” Thaerin blurted, his shrieking voice rising high. “You could’ve had your lands back! We could’ve both had what we wanted!”
“Oh, but I’m still going to have what I want, Thaerin. You see, while you and your precious Tower allies are slaughtering one another, my people will be free to reclaim their lands without any aid from a worm like you.”
Thaerin stared open-mouthed at the centaur king, his face turning whiter with each passing moment.
“Seems he’s made a fool of you, Thaerin,” Demus said, his eyes filled with hate and fixed square upon his brother. “Good thing you’re dying here with me. Good for you.”
“Now,” Amdrus said, standing tall, “shall we end this?”
“E’da!” came a cry behind the great earthen mound that had moulded about the gates, drawing the centaur king’s gaze.
“Nedhi?” he gasped
But, as the king turned to his father, his confusion plain, a great tremor gripped the mound, shaking it apart till the gates burst open and elven soldiers poured in, their bows notched and drawn.
“Hope we’re not too late, Demus,” a triumphant Sirius called out as he raced in with the archers, “but we stopped by one of your garrisons on the way over.”
Roaring in frustration, the great centaur king raised his great blade and leapt forth, his gaze fixed upon the elven king, but as he did so, the tremor returned, this time filling the entire menagerie and robbing all within of their footing.
“Nedhi, what are you doing?” Amdrus cried, his eyes wide as he stared at his daughter.
But the young centaur sang on, her head raised and her footing unspoiled as tears ran down her cheeks.
“Archers!” the elven king roared. “ Fire!”
“Great King!” the centaurs cried, diving at their king as a vicious wind roared into being, engulfing the centaurs and rendering the archers’ arrows useless.
An awkward silence fell upon the menagerie as the elves stared at the raging tempest in their midst, its swirling sands hiding what lay within, but even as its roars filled the air, it was not enough to hide the loud voices emanating from within, till at last, the tempest fell away as suddenly as it began, and as the gathered saw what lay within it, a single cry echoed within the menagerie as young Nedhi raced forth towards her stricken grandfather.
“No! Nedhi, no!” Reyna cried, calling forth binding roots to hold the centaur fast.
“Eda’a!” the young centaur shrieked as she watched the elderly shaman stumble to the earth, a dagger in his chest as he watched his companions drag his son away from him.
“Ah, Nedhi,” the centaur sighed, a soft smile upon his lips as he turned his gaze to his granddaughter. “Will you ever forgive me?”
The young centaur shook her head and fell to her knees. “Eda’a…”
Then, she turned to her father, and as she did so, her rage grew.
“No, child,” the fallen shaman pleaded. “No. It was hate that drove him to this. Do not let your hate taint you as it has him.”
“I am not the one tainted, E’da!” Amdrus roared. “You are! You betrayed us! You should’ve killed her! Why didn’t you kill her?”
The elderly centaur turned his gaze to his son. “To spill the blood of your own, I’nu, is the greatest dishonour you can call upon yourself. What I did, I did for us. For you.”
“Liar!” Amdrus roared as he fought against his warriors’ grip.
“Enough of this,” the elven king growled. “Archers! Notch!”
“No!”Nedhi cried. “Eda’a, no!”
“Demus!” Reyna barked. “They are no longer attacking you, you cannot–”
“Save your words, Reyna!” the king spat. “They came here to kill me. They’ve killed many of my guards. Now, they die.”
“You loose those arrows, the world will know how the great Demus Stonecarver got his arse saved by a centaur shaman,” the Matriarch threw back. “How will that play in your court?”
The king stood as if slapped, then turned to the Matriarch.
“They’re here because of your incompetence, woman!” he spat.
“And yet you still live, because of this centaur’s resolve,” was the Matriarch’s cool response.
Gritting his teeth, the king turned from Reyna to Nedhi and back, then spun to face Amdrus square.
“I shall give you a day’s headstart–”
“No!” Amdrus snapped. “This ends here!”
“Amdrus–” Reyna began.
“I will not be hunted like an animal!” the centaur king spat.
“Neither will I,” growled one of his guards as he stood beside his king.
“Nor I,” said another, as he too stood tall beside his king.
And thus did the centaurs all stand beside their king, choosing death before dishonour.
“It needn’t end like this,” Sirius began, “you made your way here safely once, you can–”
“No! This ends here!”
“Then, death it is.” Demus sneered, and made to raise his hand.
“Oh, Tarun,” the king said, pausing as he turned to his half-brother.
“Yes, Father?” the elf named Tarun said.
“Take good care of your uncle. He and I are going to have a long discussion when this is done with.”
The cowering elf whimpered as his self control began to leave him.
“Oh, I will, Father,” Tarun sneered, “you can be sure of that.”
“I’nu,” Igmar gasped, a hand outstretched to his son as the whimpering noble was bundled to the earth, “help me up.”
The centaur king glared at his father, but the rage in his eyes had long faded.
Smiling the dying shaman nodded. “Help me up, I’nu. We shall go to your mother together.”
Amdrus glared at his father for a spell, but soon, his eyes glistened as his glare began to fade, and for a time, none moved. Then, two of his companions stepped forth and raised the shaman, holding him aloft between them.
“Ah,” Igmar sighed, his smile undimmed and his gaze unwavering upon his son.
Then, he turned to Nedhi.
“Here, child,” he said, tossing her his staff. “It was to be Darku’s, but you clearly have more skill than he did.”
“Get her out of here, Reyna,” the elven king growled, “lest you wish her witness this.”
“Come, Nedhi,” Reyna said, hurrying to the centaur’s side. “They’ve chosen.”
“But–” Nedhi began.
“Go, child, “Igmar added. “Leave this place.”
“No!” Nedhi pleaded. “Please! Without you, I have no-one!”
Smiling once more, Igmar turned to the Matriarch, and as she stared deep into his eyes, a bitter chill ran up her spine as the words he could not say filled her mind, and, nodding, she turned to Nedhi.
“We’re your tribe now, Nedhi,” she said, words that stunned all within. “Come. Let’s go home.”
The young centaur stared from the Matriarch to her grandfather, who nodded at her, his smile widening. Then, she turned to her father, and all she saw was a rage that tore at her soul.
“Come,” Reyna repeated, picking up the shaman’s staff and gently pulling Nedhi away. “Come.”
The young centaur turned at last, her gaze unwavering upon her father.
“E’da?” she called out as she turned, but she was met with silence.
“Archers! Notch!” Demus barked.
“Warriors! To me!” Amdrus roared, ignoring his daughter completely.
Nedhi turned her gaze forward and winced as she made her way towards the gate.
The last thing the young centaur heard as she stepped free of the menagerie was the brief thunder of hooves, then a deafening silence that was to haunt her thoughts for years to come.
“Do not blame yourself for this, Nedhi,” Sirius soothed. “They chose.”
“It was my song that stayed their blade from the elf king’s throat,” Nedhi said as her tears ran free. “It was my presence that made E’da hurt–”
“Don’t do that, Nedhi,” Reyna interjected “There’s no peace down that path. The archers would’ve stopped them before they reached Demus.”
“But E’da went to his death hating me. My own father. How do I–”
“Do not look upon that, Nedhi,” Reyna soothed. “Amdrus could not see what we see, what Igmar saw. He did not hate you, he was simply filled with hate. Listen to someone who has let her grief eat away at her heart. What he saw is not who you are. See past that.”
“No buts, Nedhi,” Reyna continued. “You are not to blame for any of this. His hate is not your doing. To walk down this path of blame will only lead to suffering.”
“Yes,” Sirius nodded. “And lest we forget, Helena would not be here had it not been for you. For that we all owe you a debt we can never repay..”
Nedhi stared from one to another, her lips unmoving.
Stepping forward, Reyna slipped a hand into the young centaur’s and smiled.
“Let’s go home, Nedhi,” Reyna said. “We have yet to find a way to aid your people.”
The young centaur stopped and stared hard at the Matriarch. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Reyna nodded.
Sniffling, Nedhi stared past the pair to the open gates, then at the Matriarch once more, before nodding at last.
“Alright,” she said, breathing deep as she reached out her other hand. “Let’s.”
Reyna smiled at the centaur, and sighing, placed Igmar’s staff into the young centaur’s hand, and in the silence that followed, the three wandered back the way they’d come.
Breathing deep, Naeve rose as the tome faded from view.
“Naeve?” Amala said, a calm hand upon the young elf’s back.
Naeve turned to the silver-haired woman, her brow furrowed deep. “I don’t get it.”
“Thaerin’s play. And Amdrus’s for that matter. It sounds so…messy.”
“Messy in what sense?”
“Well, why did Thaerin make Amdrus come to the Tower in the first place? And why in the world did Amdrus think killing Helena would make Reyna want to go to war with Demus? I mean, Thaerin had nothing to gain from killing Helena, so why did he think Reyna would fall for it?”
Smiling, Amala nodded at the girl beside her. “Fair questions.” Then, she sat tall. “Think of this. We are surrounded on all sides by elven lands of the woodland realm. There are many, in Court, who think we should be bending knee to the Woodland throne. Thaerin was one such person, and everyone knew it. By making Reyna grant Amdrus sanctuary, then have Amdrus kill Demus, that would give him the perfect ruse to demand our mutual allies sever all ties with us, and also give him strong leverage to keep all but our very staunchest allies away. He was looking to isolate us, my darling, bleed us dry till we came crawling back to him.”
Naeve scoffed at that. “Like we’d ever do that?”
Amala grinned. “Precisely.” Then, her smile faded. “As for Amdrus, killing Helena was his act of revenge for all the lives dear to him Reyna had taken, but if the deed was simply done, Reyna’s rage would’ve been directed at his people, something Amdrus would rather not have visited upon them, so by having Dricul lie and claim it was Thaerin–”
“He was hoping to draw her wrath away from his people,” Naeve mused.
“Not just away from his people, but directed in a manner that would be most beneficial to his people.
“Yes.” Naeve nodded. “We’ll never truly know if Reyna would’ve believe such, though, I mean, she was quite the clever Matriarch, but then again, the loss of ones child can be rather… blinding.”
“Hrm,” Naeve muttered, her gaze in the ether.
Then, she turned to Amala once more. “Don’t think I’ve ever heard of us having a centaur for a mage.”
Amala’s smile returned. “On paper, we haven’t. Nedhi never became of the Tower, she felt doing so would rob her of all ties to her people. But she lived her days within these walls, never to venture outside again.”
“Oh,” Naeve frowned, “that’s so sad.”
“Hardly!” Amala grinned. “She was never without company, she just chose not to venture forth because she felt all she needed was right here.”
“Oh!” Naeve grinned. “I see.”
“Good!” Amala nodded. Then, she rose. “And now, I’d best get to my duties. And you, young lady, you’d best get back to your studies!”
Naeve’s grin widened. “I will.”
“Good!” Amala grinned, and, with a gentle caress of her dear friend’s cheek, she turned and headed indoors.
Naeve watched Amala leave in silence, her grin firmly in place, but as Amala fell from view, the young elf’s grin faded as she remember once more the iron smell within the silver-haired woman’s breath, and the vile words spoken to her earlier.
“Amala’s not that kind of person,” she growled at last, turning her gaze forward. “She’s not.”
But still, a part of her mind raced, the questions raging within tearing at her heart.
“She’s not!” Naeve repeated, shaking her head as she gritted her teeth. “She’s not.”
The questions remained still.
Shaking her head once more, the young elf sprang to her feet and marched forth, her gait unbroken till she reached the Tower Library, and breathing deep, she wandered in till a fairy attendant flitted towards her.
Naeve gritted her teeth as a war raged deep within her, her eyes locked upon the fairy as her lips fought to utter words that seemed akin to betrayal to the young elf.
But, as with all wars, the battles came to an end, and breathing deep, Naeve nodded at the fairy as her lips parted at last
“Cedar Valley,” she said, and as the fairy flew away, she felt her heart sink in her chest.
Yes, it was betrayal, but she had to know. She had to be sure. And so, shaking her head, the tired elf wandered to a nearby table and slumped into the chair beside it as she waited for the fairy’s return.
“I do trust you, Amala,” she whispered. “But I just want be sure. I just need to know.”
Soon, the fairy returned, placing several tomes before the young elf, and as the fairy flew away, young Naeve breathed deep, sat tall once more, and pulled the largest one close, then began turning its pages.