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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/campfires/item_id/1293010-Fade-Into-the-Darkness
Rated: ASR · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Fantasy · #1293010
A prophecy foretells the downfall of a dark queen. A small group bands around the only...
[Introduction]
For years, the large kingdom of Noklah has been wreaking havoc upon the neighboring kingdoms and wrenching control out of each's respective hands. Norah now casts a dark shadow over all the lands on the planet of Hayea. Finally, however, the prophecy of a girl child who will lead the weakest kingdoms in triumph over the Dark Reign is set to come true. However, the prophecy is not clear if the child is discovered as an infant or a young woman. The stars have aligned, and the little girl shall be marked with a mysterious sign, however, not at birth. What the prophecy calls, "A sign unmistakable to them who gaze upon it."
The army has been rallied lately to overtake a weaker kingdom, Roh. And though Roh knows of the plans, what can they do?


Please, if you have questions, visit the new forum. It's at http://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/1296375
Message for the passcode

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I will personally submit 1 character. I will bring her in when I need to, and the same for all of you.

Character Rules

Just a few guidelines to make this run smoothly.
If you submit 2 characters, try to not make them both high nobles. Please try to not make them both of the same kingdom. Such as a citizen of Roh and a noble of Roh. Try taking two different viewpoints. You can do two of the same kingdom, but it's much more exciting if you don't.


Character purpose options/descriptions:

Citizen of Roh, Noklah, or a neighboring kingdom. You can make up the name, but as soon as 5 other kingdoms have been creative, I will let no more be entered. The limit is 7, and 2 are already taken. So, if all 7 are already made, join whichever you want. If you create a kingdom, state if you are allianced with Roh or Noklah. I don't care which you choose. Noklah is bad, Roh is good.
Royal of Roh, Noklah, or a neighboring kingdom. Once more, you can be a noble of whichever kingdom you choose.
Warrior/Weapons Master/Soldier. Here's the deal with these: A warrior is alone. Not a mercenary, because he/she has an interest in what's going on and doesn't want to profit from the loss of anybody. They are not a soldier, but are alone in what they do. A Weapons Master is either Mercenary or not. You decide and let us know which you are. You are a master of all weapons. Able to massacre large amounts of soldiers single-handedly. Generally, you have studied weapons from childhood, and been taught to detach yourself from situations. A Soldier is exactly what it says. You belong to an army. You can be a general, but there is one general per army, so if it's taken, don't try to sneak past. You will not only play in as a citizen, but also will be there to fight in war scenes.
Priest/Religious Master. A Priest is an equal to the Queen or King. You are a tool of the God of this world, and communicate conceived warnings or praise. Don't go overboard, or over dramatic, please. A Religious Master is not of the accepted God, but of a different Sect. Call it what you want. No more than 3 of these.
Anything else you can think of. This could be a different race (Elfish, Dwarf, etc.), or a different position. As long as it fits in somehow, go for it!

Character Submissions


The following will be how you will first submit your character samples. I will use my character, Rhea, as an example:

Name: Rhea
Age: 35
Personality: Extremely controlling. Disdainful of everyone below her, and even anyone presumably superiour or her equal (such as a priest). Demanding, does not ask for anything. Cold-blooded, and cruel. Will do anything to get what she wants. Caesar. Tries to conquer everything, rule everything, wants everything.
Position: Queen of Noklah
Anything that will help us understand this character: Is fighting a prophecy that a child will one day undo everything. Is seeking this child to kill her and prevent the prophecy. As a child, Rhea was spoiled, given everything she wanted. She eventually stole the crown from her father by poisoning him because he wouldn't hand it over, even at the age of 83 years (human age). Has a teenage daughter, but husband is dead.
Currently: Rhea is plotting with general to overthrow Roh. She has a sinister plan in store.
____________________________________________________________________

List of Current Characters


Noklah:

Queen of Noklah: Rhea          ALL CAMPFIRE MEMBERS
Princess of Noklah: Mara          sinspirations

Roh:

Peasant girl of Roh: Amareillieillia          Amriel
Duke of Roh: Sir Dronam          sinspirations

Dierdai:

Noble of Dierdai: Acedia          bambirayne
Captain: Andreas King          Jason Simmons

Illyria:

Prince of Illyria: Baden Averone           WithyWindle
Noble from House of Illyria: T'waeak          Amriel

Aricrysta:

CHOSEN CHILD:
Princess of Aricrysta: Eiryn Dra'Klan
         artistic:x:emo
Introduction
You peer into the darkness
You look yet do not see
A warning you will find here
For only what will be
No past will be presented
For all will pass away
Instead will be the foremost
The tricks that it will play
Quickly, catch the warnings!
Before they go away.
They'll fade into the darkness,
As the curtain draws away.



         In the distance, a blood red sun slumped tiredly into the horizon, and the birds called their last goodnights and farewells before dipping into a low swoop to their nests and succumbing to the night. Rhea stepped regally out of the large, black carriage onto the dusty streets. The heavy gold and ruby crown that adorned her head slipped cockeyed before she angrily thrusted it back to its proper position. The auburn dirt stirred under her heavy footsteps as she squared her shoulders and cast disdainful glances at the groveling city people forced to stop going about their business as their Queen passed them on hers. The green eyes betrayed the conceit held beneath him, as well as the unabashed cruelty she was known for displaying. The one well in the town sat squarely in the center, and she thundered her way past the toll guard to the edge of it. Rhea snapped her finger at the waiting footman and cleared her throat. He cowered as he reached for the rope to haul up the small wooden bucket and pulled the dipper out of it to offer it to Her Majesty. All of this happened without a word, everyone presuming what she wanted, and this amused Rhea.

Name: Mara
Age: 19
Personality: Kind-hearted, fiercely loyal. Will do anything to protect those she loves, including putting her life on the line.
Position: Princess of Noklah
Anything that will help us understand this character: Mara has been under the thumb of her tyrannical mother all her life. While she has generally been allowed to do as she wishes, she can have no input in the goings on in Noklah.
Currently: Mara is plotting. Read on to find out! *Smile*

Mara stormed out of the castle after one of the more recent arguments with her mother. Her hunter green cape flowed along behind her and servants continually stepped out of her way to avoid being run over. The young woman made her way to the stable in record time, she thought. At a whistle, one of the stable boys came running with her horse. After a quick thank you, Mara hopped on and thundered away.
Name: Amareillieillia
Age: 6
Personality: docile/submissive
Position: peasant girl of Roh
Anything that will help us understand this character: lives with her father, Pon, who collects and sells found objects/garbage
Currently: unaware of the prophecy or of anything threatening the peace and safety of Roh

"I saw her again today. That girl...I don't know who she is but she's fast! Are you listening to me Amar? Come, help me get this prepared."
The girl stared blankly to the left-and-forward; and gently, softly cut the stalks of found-vegetation her father had foraged in the jungle near the river close to their current location. She can sense that her father is afraid the soldiers or richer traders may steal the horse or the items in the cart (though there is not as much and the quality not as good as last-year). She hopes what Pon has found is not poison, will not make her sick; she has no way to tell, the vegetation changing as often as the location of their home - where the cart is. As she plucks one stalk of-the greenish-purple-such, she imagines a friend who is conscious of her as she is. Smiling at the girl soon-to-be inside the soup-pot, she looks frantically for a place to allow her escape from this fate. Looking up, she sees the angry eyes of her father, who can see her plans.
Name: Raj

Age: 21

Personality: Friendly even to those that hate him. Even in battle he talks to his enemies as if they were friends. He respects most, even some that dont deserve it, but if one loses his respect they would do well not to be anywhere he can see them. Once one loses his respect he treats them as scum and even goes so far as to try to kill them when he sees them.

Position: Weapons Master of Noklah

Anything that will help us understand this character: Raj has just gained the status as a weapons master. Although he can use most weapons, he prefers a double voulge(a spear with a blade on each side.). He isnt a mercenary, but he will fight if he sees someone in danger, and if they want to pay him he will accept it, thinking that it's rude to decline an offer.

Currently: He is currently traveling around, nowhere in particular, just traveling.

Raj was walking down a dirt road with his soon to be lunch over his shoulder, it was quite har to hit three running rabbits with a bow, but he did in record time.

He was setting up a small camp when he heard a horse running down the road. He looked up and saw a girl, with a green cape flowing behind her. She looked familier, but he couldnt place who she was.

"Probably no one, I guess I could get a better look as she gets closer," Raj said to himself watching the horse come closer.
Mara looked down at the sweat-covered neck of the horse and her temper soothed. She suddenly felt very anxious for the animal and as she checked the position of the sun, realized she must have been running the poor thing for at least an hour.
"Oh, I am so sorry Dirym." She soothed as she slowed him to a walk. The labored breathing of the stallion spoke volumes of his effort. A gentle whoa brought him to a stop and she vaulted off smartly. Then she continued to walk him, with herself on foot. Mara looped the reins over her right shoulder and pulled her hair back in a smooth, yet hasty motion. "I guess I am still a bit angry, eh Dirym?"

Dirym pulled his head up from its previously exhausted position and his nostrils widened with his eyes. The sound of rustling stopped her immediately. "Easy." She whispered, petting him softly on the shoulder. Her slitted eyes easily picked out the tell-tale signs that a Weapons Master was making camp, and she sighed. Leading the horse forward a bit, she came parallel with his camp. A sign was made on the road. It was the Noklan sign, but on closer scrutiny, she saw what anybody else would recognize as mistakes. She breathed out a sigh. It was the new Weapons Master.

Tying Dirym, she whistled a slow, musical song belonging to a common wood bird, but one uncommon to the area both she and this man were in. There was a question in it. But would he know what she was asking?
The trees ebbed and flowed (as the pressure? itself relative? only the sages could understand? changed?) like a breathing organism, communicating to one another so quickly that only a mountain-witch who drank of a potion made by boiling and concetrating the stoila-cactus root could gain (and even then only-momentarily) the speed necessary to see the trees for what they are; beings like elves or people, calling and gossiping to one another as they record the vibrations (actions) of the creatures in the rings of bark for future travellers to observe, if they can unlock this precious-secret. The birds hear Princess Mara's cry, and barely-supress a chuckle or giggle, for the nuances they can detect of a similarity to their own cries are in fact there, and it is found-exciting. If either the weapons~master or the Princess are aware the trees are recording every move, every-thing spake, they seem to show no sign.
Raj was a little suprised, he had only wanted to get a closer look at this girl but she had stopped right next to his camp. She looked so familier, Raj racked his brain trying to figure out just who this person was.

She started to whistle something, once again Raj racked his brain. The song sound familier as well.

I guess knowing all about weapons isnt enough to get through this life... Raj thought, dissapointed in himself. Ah well, since she stopped I guess I should ask her to join me. He was still trying to figure out who she was.

"Why dont you join me? Im just about to make lunch," Raj held up the rabbits. She seemed a bit taken aback, almost disgusted when he held them up. Nonetheless she sat down across the fire. Raj knew that he saw her before but his head started to hurt from thinking about it so much. "Im sorry, but..." Raj looked down, a little embarassed, "who are you?"
Name: Andreas King

Age: 21

Personality: Very vigilant in his efforts to protect the innocent, and to punish the guilty. He may seem cold and distant, but he is quick to warm up to people, especially those who have gained his respect.

Position: Captain of Dierdai, a neighboring kingdom and ally of Roh. In charge of nearly 300 men.

Anything that will help us understand this character: Abandoned as a child, he was found by the King and Queen of Dierdai and raised to be like a son to them. They already had one son, so Andreas would not achieve the royal position, which was fine with him. His 'father', the King, was good friends with the General, and Andreas quickly made his way up the ranks, not by who his family was, but by skill.

Currently: Awaiting assignment to Roh, to discuss future peace treaties and allegience, and to supply them with additional troops, due to Roh's small military stance, and Dierdai's not so small military stance.
Name: Baden Averone
Age: 25
Personality: Humble, calm, collected, and just, but curious and likes to wander. He loves his land, and takes his responsibility seriously, however there is a boyishness side that appears when he gets excited.
Position: Prince of the house of Averone, one of the four princes of Illyria.
Anything that will help us understand the character: He is interested in the people of Illyria, but also of other lands. Often in his wanderings to the other kingdoms he'll go disguised so not to be bothered/recognized-even if his face may not be that well known.
Currently: Late for a council meeting.

*On Illyria: The kingdom of Illyria itself moves. It is a defense mechanism of the kingdom itself so it is not always the easiest of kingdoms to get into/find. Currently, Illyria is neutral-it doesn't really like to get involved too much, however later on it will eventually ally itself with Roh.

~*~


“Where have you been?”

Baden shrugged, sliding into a high back chair, carved into twisting vines and blooming flowers. Grabbing a heel of bread, he filled his mouth with crumbs instead of words. Tired, and travel stained he didn’t want have to put up with Cain, prince of the house of Grydon who was in the height of his imperiousness. So he chewed and watched him as his eyes grew piggish and hard, battle scarred cheeks flushed.

“You were called from your holding three turns ago! You were wandering again, yes? Out into the world beyond? Figures…you young lordlings…”

Baden, unruffled and unhurried continued to chew his bread, swallowed, and sighed. “Yes, and considering the message was sent to me late by your men, it’s a wonder I even got here.” He didn’t like being yelled at the moment he came in the door, and in his fatigue he stopped caring about diplomacy. Hye would probably have a cow if he knew.

“What are you insinuating?!” Grydon roared, rising to his feet in a spark of gold, masked and muted by crimson. Lions, the symbol of his house, marched up and down the fine sleeves of his coat and his leather boots hardly made a noise as they struck the stone floor. Standing there trembling in fury in front of the prince of the house of Averone, whose fine bones and unconscious grace made him look like royalty, even in his mud stained travel clothes, made Grydon look even more over dressed and out of place.

Baden shifted, hand moving liquidly to the leather wrapped hilt at his hip, as Grydon’s fist tightened. Baiting Grydon wasn’t really the smartest move, he realized glumly. Of the four princes of Illyria, Cain could most easily leave him weaponless and dead on the floor, despite his own ability with a sword. Good move Baden…very wise.

The house of Grydon, and its princes had always been the weapons masters, the generals, the protectors of the shifting borders of Illyria for time out of mind. And Cain was no exception. Proud, fierce, and ruthless, he was one of the strongest, most strategic, and talented of the Grydons in five generations. Baden, however, still didn’t like the man.
At least ten years his senior, Cain was arrogant, short-tempered and compassionless and he and Baden butted heads like great mountain rams. But then again, his house and Grydon and never been the greatest of friends.

Grydon took a step forward and Baden loosened his muscles, just as a voice cut through the air. “You two, stop it this instant! What do you think you’re doing?” A door had opened from behind the long table and the king’s hand slammed on the table. Baden relaxed his grip on his sword as Grydon sat, looking sheepish. “What did you two hope to accomplish by all this? Kill each other?!” King Dublain snorted. “Illyria needs its princes, all four of them or the land will fail, and you two know that, and know it well. Therefore both of you already know you will not lay a finger on each other and thus this anger is pointless.”

Baden bowed his head as Cade and Aden slipped into the room behind the king, sliding silently into their chairs as if they were ghosts. Grydon flushed, but said nothing as the king appraised him from beneath his wirey brows then nodded. “Good. Now that Averone is here, we can discuss the state of things.”

Baden nodded and passed the basket of bread down the table to Cade. Once every six months, the princes of Illyria gathered from their four holdings and met with the king. These councils were usually short, relating to defense, economy and the mysterious land in which they lived. The councils had been held as far back as the legends and histories went, all the way to the creation of the houses. According to legend, which, in Illyria accounted for much truth, the houses had been created by the land itself, for its own protection and well being, and thus the houses were inextricably tied to the land. One could not survive without the others. Grydon, Hirain, Averone, and Ridding: Four houses, four princes, one king. The king, acting as a mediator and final authority held a balance of power equal to the four princes and was supposedly impartial. However alliances and partialities still existed. Even the gods knew of the alliance between the current king and Grydon. However, Baden had to give him credit. Dublain was more impartial than most.

“Traders entered when we were North of Roh,” Cade of Hirain was saying, sliding his spectacles higher on his nose. “Accidentally however. They would like to go back, however we’re no longer near there.”

“Bloody traders,” Cain growled. “Should learn to come and leave on the same day.”

Cade was shaking his head. “It’s not that simple to get through our borders, and you know that. It can take most of the day if at all to find them. Out is easy, but then it’s ending up where you want to go…” He flourished a small notepad from his sleeve, decked in the blue and silver of Hirain. “Today, for instance, we are near…”

“Thank you, Cade,” King Dublain said, cutting him off. Cade could go on for hours unchecked. Hirain, a house of bookish academic princes, loved and valued knowledge and would rather spend their days holed up with the books of the legends that made up the history of Illyria then sitting in a twice-a-year council. The puzzles they solved, brought to them in pieces by Averone, had saved Illyria more than once. Still, they were one of the friendlier houses and had been allies with Averone ever since the first over throw. Even now Cade gave him a questioning look and Baden’s head bowed slightly in affirmation. Cain, looked back and forth between the two of them.

“Secrets again, Hirain?”

“No, no, Grydon. I just needed to find out something and asked Averone to see if he could find it. After all, of all of he never has any problems getting back into Illyria. The land is always open to him.”

The prince hurrumphed and sat back, foot tapping in displeasure. “Well can it wait until later for our dear wanderer to tell you about his latest love affair with a water sprite? This council is becoming longer than I would like and I do have borders to patrol.”

“She was frozen out of her river by the touch of winter and found her way to my fire. I gave her my cloak. That was all.” Baden’s voice, although calm as ever, hung in the air and brought silence to the table, a thread of power in the tone that reminded those at the table of house Averone once was. Now, Averone, a house steeped in mystery, the house of the wandering princes was reduced to its small holding in the Southern Marches of Illyria, but of all the houses, Averone seemed to have the closest ties to the land itself. Baden was no exception. He knew each rock, tree, and blade of grass. He knew where the firebirds sang and the sprites walked, and he always felt driven to discover more, as if urged on by an imperceptible force. How many times had he and Cade sat in the darkness, reading by the light of one poor candle, Cade saying to him ‘The land loves you, it lets no one out and no one in with as much ease as you.’ He didn’t know if it were true or not, he just knew the urgings of his feet. Cade seemed to think so, that was for sure. Once Cade had even said he reminded people of Kel. Baden had laughed at that. He may share the same shaggy black hair, but his eyes of the deep wood never belonged on the face of Kel. No, he was just the wandering prince of an old house, not the ghost of a long dead lord.

A giggle broke out across the room breaking the silence and Grydon shot a glare at Aden Ridding but said nothing. Aden Ridding. Flame haired with eyes the color of amber, most believed the youngest of the four princes to be mad, or at least partly. Grydon himself was a little afraid of him. Maybe he believed the madness was contagious, Baden didn’t know. He himself wasn’t sure if Ridding was mad, for behind those eyes lurked a cleverness and a slyness he had never before seen or known. Sometimes he thought the madness was real, at other times there were little hints that Aden Ridding knew exactly what he was doing. A fragile almost invisible respect existed between the two houses of Ridding and Averone, but Baden knew it only existed at the whim of Aden and it could be broken as easily as it was created. Even now, he could have sworn Aden gave him a small wink as Grydon scooted almost imperceptibly away. But Aden’s laugh seemed to have broken some spell and the king nodded.

“You are right, Cain. The land is peaceful and content…as always.” He sighed. “We have no more here. Until six months or sooner, in case of an emergency…” At the words of dismissal, chairs scraped against stone as the four princes of Illyia rose. Baden was gathering his pack when a he felt a tap on his shoulder and paper pressed into his palm.

“Here Bade, it came for you before you arrived.”

Baden raised his brows for a moment before he recognized the seal and the unmistakable handwriting on the envelope. “Thanks Cade.”

“Hye?”

“Yeah,” Baden grinned a little ruefully. “The retainer of my holding sending letters to berate me at my own council meeting? One would be mistaking who was the prince!”

Cade blinked, eyes startled and Baden shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, it’s okay. Just to remind me that my people need me.”

“Ah.” Fingers pushed glasses back into place.

“I have to get home. We’ll talk later Cade.”

“If you don’t go wandering…”

Baden flashed a grin at the prince of Hirain as he strode off down the hall toward the stables.
Mara was taken aback by the bold offer, but nonetheless, joined the man. She could see that he was not used to company while on his "excursions" so she smiled kindly at him and thanked him. When he asked who she was, looking greatly embarrassed, she just chuckled, not unkindly.
"Raj, as I know exactly who you are, I am surprised that the Weapons Master of my country knows less than I do. Does "Mara" ring a bell?" Again, she smiled gently, her words intended to tease, but not hurt.
The princess wanted to ask the man if he needed help, but, once again, she thought disgustedly Held back by my position. Instead, she decided to look around for any signs that he had gathered firewood. What a way to make a camp! She thought, wondering if maybe he'd done it on purpose. So she crossed into the nearby woods, placing each step carefully enough not to make a sound, and listening to every move. When her hand slipped and she accidentally snapped a branch off a nearby tree, she whispered apologies, although she did not know if the tree would hear or accept. Finally, she found some dead wood lying nearby, and gathered it to bring back to the camp. By the time she got back, dark was already descending.
"Like that, Amar," Pon showed, swinging the tree branch upward and to the right in an arc.

"If you go for the eyes it may buy you time to escape." Amareillieillia did not understand why people would wish to hurt others or run away. Her thoughts drifted to her mother, who is not there. Amareillieillia understands that her mother had gone to be with the trees, that her spirit is one with the Essence, that the Essence is a conglomerated mass of ghosts that does not control the actions of people not yet with the Essense, but can assist-such if called out to humbly and with-sincerity (by controlling the actions of all that beyond free-will actions of the living).

"Essense help me!" Amareillieillia cries as she swings her (own) tree branch, but the wind created by her turning motion stings her eyes that she involuntarily closes. Falling over to her right-side, her father approaches, criticising...

"Essense ASSIST me, Amar, the Essense will never listen to an un~humble cry"

Amareillieillia knows that her father is wrong; the Essense is understanding, and could forgive (a) breach in protocol, as long as the request was sincere and of an ethicality synonymous with the collective will of-such.

"I wish I would not be called 'Amar'" Amareillieillia thought silently to herself, "ever since she joined the Essense Pon calls me that."

"I hear something, Amareillieillia GET IN THE CART!" Pon says assertively.
Raj was confused once again, Mara did indeed ring a bell. Why was the princess here instead of the palace Raj was sure she belonged in? He slapped his head in embarassment for not knowing his country's own princess. He was about to say something then saw that she had gone into the nearby woods.

Wonder what she's doing Raj thought as he began cleaning the rabbits for cooking. He had already skinned the rabbits now he needed to take off the meat, even though there wasnt much. He reached into his bag and got a makeshift pot. He added water to the pot and was about to put the meat in along with some herbs he found on the road side.

Mara came back and dropped some dead wood next to Raj. He was suprised once again. Any nobles or royalty he had ever met had people do stuff for them, not the other way around.

Raj looked up, and just noticed it was already getting dark. "Thanks...uh..." He wasnt sure if he could call her by name, most royalty he met never wanted common people to call them by name, as if they needed to confirm their status. Even though Raj was a weapons master he was still considered a commoner.

"Just call me Mara," She smiled gently.

This girl is full of suprises."Ok, so um, its getting late, even though we are close to the capital, Im sure you know it's dangerous to travel at night, especially for someone of your status."

"Yes, I know that."

"So...um...what do you plan to do? If you hurry you could get back to the city before nightfall." Raj really couldnt imagine that a princess would stay here, in a camp like this. If she did stay, he only had one bed roll, he would gladly let her use it, but he couldnt see someone even wanting to sleep out here when they are used to a palace.
"Captain King," General Thadeus greeted Andreas as he prepared his men for departure. Andreas currently had his own troop of 300 men on standby, awaiting their journey to Roh, and another 150 to supply to the country of Roh, as a gesture of continued alliegance.

"How are you this morning, General?" Andreas asked, aware of the General's current decline in health. The general pulled Andreas to the side so as to discuss the situation further.

"You, my boy, have known me for a very long time. As you can see, I'm not as young as I was when I first met you. But times have changed. I'm not well, and, by the time of your return, I will most likely have passed."

"Don't talk like that, sir." Thadeus let out a laugh, that was quickly followed by a cough. He smiled at Andreas.

"I haven't even given you the position yet, and you're already giving me orders. But, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. When I pass, I am appointing you to replace me as General of the Dierdian Army."
Hye was going to skin the lad. Skin him and dispose of the body somehow. How he had managed to sneak in without him knowing it, and be sitting calmly in Hye’s own chambers (not that it really surprised him) eating cheese, the retainer of Greenwood Hold didn’t know. But he knew he was going to skin the lad.

“Bae! By the gods, boy, one wouldn’t think we would have to drag you back to your own hold!”

“I sent a note,” Baden replied lamely, looking up. Hye could have killed the boy.

“Sent…a…note. Because a note will stand before the people of this holding! Because a note will answer the letters! Oh let me send a note he says…” He stopped at a raised brow from Baden and looked toward the door. A serving girl stood there, holding wine and two goblets, most likely summoned by Baden’s manservant. Her eyes were wide and her mouth open in surprise at the sight of the retainer berating the prince of Averone.

Hye cursed and the girl began backing toward the door in fright. He cursed some more, not like it mattered now. Baden cast him a disparaging glance and rose as Hye stormed to the high windows to cool his temper.

It had to be after midnight, and the stars were out, blinking sharp and white in the cool night sky. He took a deep breath trying to find a center of calm. He wasn’t meant for this. He had fought along side Baden’s father, before taking the position as a retainer after the sword stroke that almost took off his leg, but his temperament was far more meant for the battlefield than as a retainer. But still, his loyalty to the Averone’s ran deep, from father to son.

“Here, it’s alright…” Baden was saying and the clink of glasses on the table soon followed. That girl, Hye mused, was barely old enough to be out from her mother’s skirts, better yet suddenly finding herself having to serve wine to one of the princes of Illyria and his temperamental retainer.

“Here now, Hye, she’s gone. We can pour ourselves. We’re strong fellows. Now you were yelling…?”

“Oh shut it, Bae,” Hye sighed, running fingers through his graying locks and turning from the window. His jokes sometimes sounded so much like his father’s. With a groan he sat in a chair across from the young lord and shook his head. “I’m getting too old for this.”

“For what?”

“Chasing your family all over the damned kingdoms.”

Baden smirked as he poured wine. “Dad was never much of a wanderer though.”

“Compared to you, no. Especially not after your mother died.” Baden said nothing as he poured for himself and Hye watched as the firelight played over his well molded features. Not for the first time, he wondered what he was thinking. But the boy had always been private, and he had never seen him grieve.

“Well then,” Baden said, as if waking from a dream, “what was so important that I come back?”

Hye snorted, they were themselves again. “Besides that in and of itself?” he sighed. “Well, since you just came from the council you may already know, but Nylissa is pregnant.”

That made Baden’s brows rise. “So,” he whistled lowly. “A legitimate prince comes to the house of Grydon, besides Cain himself of course. I’m surprised he didn’t’ say something. Cain likes to trumpet achievements like that.”

“Well its not like he wasn’t a father before. Who knows how many bastards he’s fathered.”

Baden nodded his dark head. “Willingly or unwillingly.” He finished his wine and poured water into his glass. “I wonder what this will do to our delicate balance and the subtle games we play.” He sighed and raised his glass. “Well, I will pray to the gods for his son.”

Hye grunted. “He has designs on the throne, and with another prince to hold his place and thus Illyria, there is nothing holding him back from doing what he wants and taking risks.”

“Since the current king is his ally, and Dublain has no heirs, it was bound to happen.”

Hye blinked at his blasé air. “Don’t you realize the implications for your house if that happens? You and he are far from friendly. He could lock you in a dungeon, take your land…”

“I am well aware of the implications, Hye.” Iron ran through the tone and Hye found himself suddenly silence, trapped in a gaze the color of leaves, and he was reminded again of the power held in the house of Averone. It was often easy to forget with a man like Baden, who seemed, on the surface not to care or disinterested in the little power squabbles, that he knew far more and was more aware and talented than he was letting on. If only he would put that talent, full force, into being a prince of Illyria…Why, the rest of the princes would tremble! “Well,” Baden sighed, voice changing and breaking Hye from his spell, “I wish luck to him and his son when he is born. Maybe a son will give him a breath from that woman he married.”

“Nylissa? But she’s very beautiful…”

The prince snorted. “If your idea of beauty is a compassionless witch, with a sharp tongue and a conniving mind.”

“Point taken.”

“Any other news?”

Hy nodded his graying head. “Well, it’s a minor thing…very minor…” he said slowly. He knew this would come up and he knew where it would lead. “Just a small request from one of the wall guards…Have you eaten?”

“Which was?”

Hye cursed silently, knowing he wasn’t going to get around it. He had made his move too obvious and now it was to late. “His family is having problems getting back into Illyria,” he sighed. “They left a moon ago to sell horses in Roh but they haven’t come back. The boy needs a ranger but he hasn’t got the money. The one man he sent out, this one owed him a favor mind you, hasn’t come back either.”

“Are they dead?”

“Boy’s been getting letters from them.”

“Is he sure? Handwriting can be forged.”

“By the gods, Bae!” Hye exploded. “These are herders! Not princes or nobles or the like!”

“Just because a piece is small doesn’t mean it’s not important. Often it is the minor players whoa re most of ten overlooked.” His eyes sparked in the firelight. “Aden forgot that when he lost that game to me. Even a pawn can take a queen.”

“I forgot about that game. Aden rarely loses. What possessed you?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “But in this matter of the family, I’ll go myself.” Hye knew that was coming but now he couldn’t argue. The prince had made a good point. “It’s odd,” Baden said, frowning, “that Illyria isn’t letting them in.”

“This and is as temperamental as me Bae. And not all of us are like you.”

Baden snorted as he rose to his feet. “Whatever you say, Hye. I’ll leave in a few hourse. Watch the Walls.”

“Aye. Takin’ a horse?” Hye couldn’t resist the jab. After all Baden put him through these last few weeks, he deserved it. The young lord flushed as Hye grinned. The prince of Averone’s lack of skill when it came to horsemanship was legendary and he knew it. ‘I’m closer to the land on my feet, anyways,’ he would always respond jokingly.

“I rode all the way here, old man, and have the saddle sores to prove it. Unless you’d like to take a look…” he grinned and Hye barked a laugh.

“Get out of here you.”

~*~


Baden pulled the cowl of his monk’s hood closer around his head. It wasn’t a particularly cool night but he felt safer that way as his soft boots moved over the wet grass. He was just outside the wildwood now and he should be reaching the border soon.

He was glad for this chance. His feet, more than ever, wanted him to wander. For what end or purpose, he didn’t know, but it was as if there was some unspeakable urging or longing in his feet drawing him forward.

His hand brushed briefly over the spot where he could feel the hilt of his sword through the roughly worn fabric. Monks weren’t known for carrying swords, and it probably wasn’t a good idea to bring it, but it was as much a part of him as his hand and he couldn’t bear to leave it behind. It was one of the symbols of his house and swordsmanship flowed through the Averones like blood. If he covered it well, he decided, no one would notice. He’d done it enough before.

The border came and went, and Baden felt the momentary chill that always passed through him when he entered or exited his land. He’d be back. There were places that were calling him there, but for now he took his first steps into the country of Roh.

"Well," Mara answered. "I am sure I could make it to the castle, but there is one of a dear friend nearby."

The woman pushed herself up off the ground and dusted herself lightly. She walked over to Dirym and untied him, then led him back toward the camp.

"You do realize that as a Master, you get entrance into palaces, right? But I think I'm going to go out with Dronam..Sir Dronam's dogs and camp out. That is, if he lets me! Overprotective bastard." She laughed. "But, if you'd like to join me to the castle, you are more than welcome."

Mara vaulted up onto the horse and turned him to face Raja.
Name: T'Waeak
Age: 24
Personality: looking for exciting experience
Position: officially of the House of Averone, (but only through a weakness of Baden's!)
Anything that will help us understand this character: is a good person, fights in any army that seems right, good with communication between the varied soldiers, travels with girl friend Famba (who dresses like a soldier)

As Baden Averone enters the outskirts of Roh, a sound of hoof-steps causes Baden pause. Turning toward the source of the equestrian-sonorosity, Baden recognizes a much-needed friend.

"It's you. Can you help me?" Baden calls, "it has to be quick. One of the wall-guards needs my assistance!"

The couple approaches, looking like they have traveled well, but someone continue, as though propelled by something-else; and in fact, they are.

"Of course, but you need to hold up. They are too close! Can you wait in the glade?"

Baden throws a leather pouch to T'weak, who accepts-such, riding off with Famba. Both are attired in the manner of the soldiers of the roaming army of Illyria. Baden sighs and hides behind a large shrub that may very well be a tree.

"A Prince reduced to this! But it is for the cause!" Prince Baden begins the ever-increasing ritual of patience associated with specific-types of traders, but it will pay off. The guard needs assistance and assistance the guard shall receive!" It isn't going to be like last time...

Pon whirls and is about to thrust a tree-branch into the face (of) when one of the approaching riders is recognized:

"T'waeak, Famba. By the Essence, are you two out tonight on busniess?" Pon exclaims.

"I wasn't," T'waeak replies, "We were out looking to assemble with the others, but I have a new mission for you...if you can do it?"

"Supplies are low right now," Pon answers, "I only have a few cactus and..." Pon reaches into the cart, carefully reaching around Amareillieillia and pulling out a glistening metal object, "this..."

"Looks like someone made a friend!" Famba says a trifle loudly and the group laughs to see a silver spear-point that Pon has found foraging, now be-decked in a dress made of leaves and grass. In the cart,

"Looks like someone made a friend!" Famba says a trifle loudly and the group laughs to see a silver spear-point that Pon has found foraging, now be-decked in a dress made of leaves and grass. (In the cart, Amareillieillia tries to suppress-a-laugh).

"What can we get for this?" Pon wonders aloud, "is it silver, elven-silver?"

"Take it with you, we need to fly, if you want this done tonight" T'waeak says with the partial seriousness of one who has not the ability to give more (but not for lack of trying).

"I'll watch 'Amar' " Famba says, "go!"

Famba and Amareillieillia play and tell stories, Famba afraid for-the-child because of rumors the traders have been hearing. T'waeak and Pon return in four-and-three parts of the hour, lighter of spear-point dolls, but heavy with something else.

"Did you get it?" Famba requests quickly to Pon and T'waeak.

"Of course," T'waeak responds cooly, "you know these thing take time, but you may have to show me more reaspect, now"

"What is my soldier-friend saying?" Pon asks with amuse.

"Go ahead, tell Pon, tell Pon what you are...tee hee" Famba giggles, "a Prince of the House of Averone"

"not a Prince, just a member"

"and how did you get the-title, 'T'waek AverONE?' " Famba teased further.

"Enough of this, the Prince will already be uspet, we need to fly" T'waeak throws the Prince's embroidered-leather pouch to Pon, "here's your portion, see what you can get for the bag" T'waeak and Famba ride-off and Pon inspects the contents. Amareillieillia sees Pon holding a strange substance of a slightly luminous light-medium green.

"by the Essence, these are Ardan splinkies!" Pon involuntarily cries.

T'waek approaches the shrubbery/tree, apologizing to the Prince hiding behind.

"Sorry for the wait, my person and I had to go further, but it is well worth-it, see for yourself." T'waeak hands Baden a wrapped-leaf package, "this should help your mission, better hurry!"

Baden growls; but is filled with the rush of the soldier, and rides-off to find the wall guard to assist the family of horse traders.
Raj always stayed away from nobles and royalty if he could, but maybe those at the castle were like this princess, he doubted it.

He covered up the stew he had made.Looks like dinner will have to wait a little,he thought to himself.

"Well, I could go, I need to get some supplies anyway," Raj went behind some trees and untied his horse, it ws out of view but he was suprised his horse stay quiet for so long.

"So you had a horse," Mara said, is was more of a statement than a question.

"Of course, you dont expect me to travel throughout the whole country without a horse do you?" Raj asked jokingly

"I suppose, well is it fast?"

That almost sounds like a challenge to a race Raj thought as he said,"Well I'd say so, I dont know how he would match up against one bred in a castle though, why would you ask?"
Andreas had been shocked by the General's announcement. He, Andreas King, was to be the General of Dierdai, the Supreme Commander of the king's Army. He had to rest awhile while he thought of everything that would come with this position.

He knew good and well that this would include politics. Though not as much as his adoptive brother, Trey, would have to deal with as King, and what he was already dealing with as Prince.

Now that Andreas thought of it, he decided to go talk to his brother before setting off to Roh.
Three men sat in the Inn at the Edge of the Road, faces pressed close to mugs of a drink he didn’t recognized. There were many things that were strange or different outside of Illyria and Baden watched, tasted, and experienced in fascination. He wondered what so many other people of his land would think of the outside world and what others thought of his country. Illyria, at times, seemed so secluded, almost cut off due to its shifting borders. It’s almost as if we’re missing a richness, Baden thought as another man, a farmer most likely, came through the door wiping his days work from his brow. Illyria is full of legend, magic, old stories, but these places…these places have their own legends too.

“Good father, can I get you something else?”

Baden shook his head. Maybe a little wine would be nice but he was a monk now and had to keep his wits about him. It was easy to forget who he was now, shrouded in a monks hood and cowl, but he had to play the part. His comfort in his disguise had already been shaken by T’waeak. But, he was Illyrian, and recently raised to the house so the boy would probably remember him. Baden was private and liked to keep to himself when he wasn’t out wandering the kingdoms and he probably wasn’t as well known in his household as he should be, even though Averone was small. Hye was always getting on him for accepting more. ‘We should at least be as large as Hirain’ he would say, but Baden had to be cautious.

T’weaek had now made him double sure of that. The last thing he needed was to have the name of his house trumpeted all over the six kingdoms, as well as Illyria. Grydon would have his head. Especially if a member of his house got them involved with some trouble in another kingdom. Baden could cast them out, but would that undo any damage? He sighed, head suddenly pounding. He would write a letter to Hye, let him give the boy a lecture. If he got back into Illyria that is. Just because one was from his house, didn’t mean they had his luck.

Again he wished for a little wine. He wasn’t much of a drinker, especially being a prince of Illyria where one false move could get you into serious trouble, but now just a little to soothe his nerves…

“Here, father, some more stew for ye, on the house. Always treat a holy man right, I always say.”

It was that cursed innkeep again. Baden had purposefully chosen an obscure order in his monks disguise, but as luck would have it, this man was a fervent religious and kept appearing at Baden’s elbow with more of this and hopeful offers of that. He had to admit, though, the man was genuinely kind hearted and so devoted and reverent to make sure the holy man had everything he could ever want. At that, Baden felt a twinge of guilt. He was no monk, not really, and this man was going to great expense.

“Thank you, you are most kind and you have done too much. Heaydon bless you.” He hoped that sounded monkish, and it hit him again how he really had no idea what he was doing. He didn’t even have to feel the hilt of his sword through the rough spun cloth this time. He shifted to take some gold from his pouch, minding the sword, but the man stayed him.

“No, no father, please. The honor is mine.”

As much as Baden wanted to argue, he couldn’t and he knew it. The innkeep would be finding gold on his doorstep though if Baden had anything to do with it.

The innkeep backed away and the prince took a furtive glance around suddenly afraid the minor exchange attracted attention. He had done this many times before but for some reason, as if an extra sense hovered on the edge of his awareness, he was even more wary than usual. Maybe from T’waeak, but he didn’t know. His heart quieted and he relaxed as he noticed the farmer sipping his ale and staring blankly at a wall, and the others were too deeply engaged in their own conversation.

Baden blinked. Were they…soldiers? He looked closer from the depth of his hood. Their blades were rough, and the mud caked on the scabbards hid them against the travel stained leathers. Cloaks, fastened with a clip at their throats hid tarnished mail shirts. These had to be part of a provincial army or guard, or boys who found whatever they could to arm themselves and join a guard. Either that or the army of Roh was running out of money, skill, soldiers, or all three. No seasoned soldier in his right mind would keep his gear in such a condition.

Their words came to him then on whispered wings, feeding his curiosity.

“…heard she’s massin’ an army, that black witch. Ogden blessed, she’ll tear us apart.”

“What does she want us for?” another soldier hissed. “We’re small.”

“Obvious,” said the first. “Power.”

The third gave a disgusted snort. “What? Are you afraid of a woman? Women are only good for cooking for you during the day, and pleasuring you at night. Are you women yourselves?”

The other two looked at their companion. “She is no woman, she is one of the evil ones. I’ve heard her eyes even glow red at night.”

“I hhear she is a kinslayer. Murdered her own father, probably her husband. When she gets a hold of this land she will do the same to us. Either that or we’ll be slaves to her dark whims.”

Rhea of Noklah, Baden realized suddenly. That was who they were speaking of, no one else could fit that description. That woman, although never threatening Illyria, at least not directly, had always been an annoyance to Grydon.

“Someone should do away with her, quickly and quietly,” decided the third soldier.

The other two laughed. “She would turn your bones to dust with a look. Besides, I hear she has a daughter, and who says daughter doesn’t share mommy’s ambitions.”

“Ogden’s head, someone wanted to couple with that?”

“Even if she doesn’t, which I doubt,” the other soldier continued, “she carries the same blood. Best to wipe out the whole nest. One quick blow…” he brought his hand down on the table with a resounding thump.

“With our army…we’re so small…” The hopelessness was plain in the soldier’s voice. “Allies…we need allies!”

“We have Dierdai. We have Dierdai and their army. They have men! It’s good to see loyalty…its good to see the strong helping out the weak!”

The first soldier looked slightly mollified. “Yes…yes it’s good. Dierdai…and least we have them. And their Captain…he’s skilled I’m told. There have to be others! She can’t be looking at just us…what about Illyria?”

Baden perked at the mention of his country but the other soldier’s laughed. “Illyria?” one said. “That place is like a no man’s land, things from legends walk the night, there’s still mysteries there…they say the people aren’t like us. They say they’re even descended from a different tribe of men.”

“I didn’t know people even lived in Illyria,” grumped the other soldier. “Just gave it up to the legends.”

The first snorted. “Don’t forget it has princes. But the princes and Illyria are all too self centered…far too concerned with their own piss to care about the well being of their neighbors. Forget about them.”

“But Illyria could be a powerful ally,” mentioned the third.

“Forget about ‘em. If they get off their high places long enough to remember about us, it'll be too late.”

So this is what they think of us. Pity. Can’t say they’re too far off the mark though Baden thought sadly. But it appears as if there are dark things afoot here in the lands beyond the border.

Name: Sir Dronam
Age: 42
Personality: Loving, nurturing, concerned for Roh, good friend of
Position: Duke of Roh
Anything that will help us understand this character: Has been a great friend of Mara's since she was small. She could always trust him and he has never prejudged her to be her "mother's daughter". He sees the difference between the two and dreams for the day Mara is queen.
Currently: Is trying to build an army to protect his small piece of Roh. Is in contact with the king to formulate a plan.



"No reason." She replied, laughing. "Though good ol' Dirym wasn't born or raised in a castle, Sir. He's a colt of the Plains of Illyria. One of the finest stallions, of their pure stock. It takes more than noble standing to get their horses."

Mara winked at him. Then gestured to the North. "Shall we?"

She trotted off following what to a common man would have been a hopeless direction, but could be seen by the trained eye. The path she was taking would be shorter than by road, and less treacherous. Dirym would certainly keep her safe. Mara thought, as she rode, of when she first begged Akaryn, Lord of Horses in Illyria, for the company of one of his colts. At first the man refused adamantly, believing the girl to be after a legend of loyal horses and fairytales. Soon after, however, he gave in, if only to prove to the girl she would not be chosen. In tradition, Mara followed the herd for a fortnight, not daring to enter their precious space, but certainly within seeing distance to let them know she was there and what she wanted. Three days beyond her fortnight penance, she finally entered the herd, and the stallion as well as his lead mare, challenged her entrance. Immediately, Mara curtsied to him, going to her knees. When she looked up, the stallion stood where he had been, but was pushing a colt toward her. She'd been chosen. Now Dirym was that colt, allowing her to ride him and protecting her. Letting her know when he sensed danger, and quietly doing as she asked. Of course, that wasn't to say he didn't have his moments, and frequently played tricks on Mara. But the two had a bond only belonging to two Chosen for each other.
About two hours later, Mara looked up and saw the castle looming ahead. She smiled and sighed, remembering her old friend. It had taken her a day and a night to get here, stopping to visit with friends, but here she was.
"Come, Raj. Sir Dronam of Roh will be more than happy to see that I've brought a friend." Her statement was more of a chuckle than a command.
She urged Dirym into a gallop and asked him to push the limits of his speed. They were at the castle gates within minutes.
To the guards, she introduced herself as a dear friend of the Duke's and asked them to tell him that Ginea was here with an accomplice. After a few minutes, the Duke himself appeared. A mortifying man himself, the Duke was more like a teddy bear. After Mara dismounted, he embraced her warmly and led them to the barn to put up their horses. Then greeted Raj warmly.
"I've heard much of this new Weapons Master. Are you all they say you are, Sir Raj? Wait, don't answer that." He chuckled and led them back to the castle. He turned to Mara. "Now, my dear, what is this I hear of your mother wanting to take my dear Roh?"
"Take Roh? What on Hayea do you speak, Sir Dronam? I know nothing of my mother's plans, and this you know well." She replied, a bit surprised.
"Well, My Lady, this she has planned." His voice was grave and strained.
"I do not know what to do, Dronam. There is nothing I can do. You know I want no part in this." At that, Dronam let them into a small, but comfortable room. She sat on the edge of a small couch-like piece of furniture. Covering her head with her hands, she let her shoulders drop. Her voice wafted up to barely tickle Dronam's ears.
"Ah. Dronam, I do not wish to endanger you. But I have a favor to ask. If you do not mind terribly, I suggest you abandon this castle, and please let me remain with you until I figure out what is going on. I can send a message to my mother, hinting her to another place to find me. But please, let me harbour with you, at least until I get my bearings."
The Queen's soldiers entered fastly in the Roh'an night, with obtrusive purpose, at least to the one who had sent them. Rhea would not suffer what some may refer to as paranoid delusions to come-to-fruition. Whether the prophecy of the seeing-witch who gave counsel in the secret hovel-fortress in the mountains above Dierdai was destined or created through some-relatively similar auspice, made nary a substance. Tearing the clothes from the children and riding off, sometimes with violence against their progenitors, but not as has been explained for naugt. It was a royal-command, given in secret, issued this very evening and it was being accomplished with great speed and skill; and to one who had never witnessed such a happening, an almost miracle of precision in its execution.

"She has not the mark! Check the next camp! I saw a cart beyond the trees near the river..." the captain ordered and rode toward-such.

Through a green haze Pon looked to see a sword point in the center of, what, a vision? To call it such when it seemed only half-this, but the other half must be ignored, becuase of the sword-point.

"What's in the cart? Have you any children"

"Not the kind you're looking for" Pon answered cooly, "perhaps you would like to purchase some cactus?"

"That drive even the witches of Deirdai mad?" the captain laughed nervously, "no! I am under orders"

From the jungle Amareillieillia saw her father and the person speaking. At first it seemed trade-related, something ordinary, but she was told to hide if anyone approaches, in the cart, usually, but if a soldier of the Queen were to appear...something her father's friend had told Pon. Famba had found something out from another trader, heard a rumor. Something to do with children.

"This person does not seem like a soldier, or a trader either!" Amareillieillia thought to herself. The captain is seen looking in the family cart, then to the left...then to the right. Something happens quickly and the "person" rides off.

Amareillieillia rushes to the figure lying on the grass a flash where the light turns yellow something she remembers quickly from her child-hood; still just happening, kind of...is this what is supposed to happen?

"Don't look," the Essence tells her. Another flash blinds for-an-instant and the strange dream pushes her to the lights. Grab the splinkies and the Essence will tell her what to do.

"What is it next! ha ha wait how did I get here? Pon...that's what mommy calls dad...mommy, Famba called her 'Cay..', 'Cay-nah?', 'Cay...' got the splinkies, where are the trees? OK dad I'm finished, this dream is fun now let's stop and go back, wait...it is still happening...oh yeah Pon is on the ground, I remember, I don't like this...I need to wake...up..."

Amareillieillia rushes as fast as she can to the center of the Essence, where the trees are so thick even the light can't get in. Clutching the fancy leather bag she took...from...running...

"Why is Pon on the ground? I don't like this dream...the Essence can help me."

Back at the cart, Pon considers the blood shooting out like tendrils that seem to grab at the dust like the branches of the octadendron bush.




He found his father by the sea, wind whipping hair the color of a raven’s wing as he stared out over the crashing, foaming waves.
“Dad?”
He patted the stone next to him and Baden sat, twelve year old legs dangling.
“What are you doing, son?”
“I don’t know.”
He shook his head. “You’re not supposed to let others know that.” Baden nodded and looked shyly up. Brendan Averone had not changed. His craggy face with wisdom marked by years, eyes of slate and hair as dark as Baden’s own with glints of silver, just as it was the day he left. “Grydon, Ridding, even Hirain will swallow you if you falter. And I’ll tell you a secret. Even Kel never knew what he was doing half the time.”
Baden had stopped listening. “You always loved the sea. You loved it! And you loved Ma more. That’s why…that’s why I knew…I knew! It couldn’t have been as they said!”
Brendan turned his eyes on his son, smile small and sad. “You have your mother’s eyes. That never came from the Averones. And you were old enough. At sixteen…”
“I still missed you…I still miss you, Dad! There was so much…to learn, to say, to do…”
Brendan bowed his head. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Dad…”
“I trust you though, to rule as is needed. To do what has to be done. After all you have Kel’s face.”
Rain pattered down lightly all around them…
And Baden awoke with the sound in his ears.
He lay, staring at the ceiling, his chest hollow and empty. Who was he? Where was he? Rain or tears falling from the sky? He lay a moment longer. Rain. And I am Baden Averone, Prince of Illyria who wears the face of Kel. He closed his eyes. The family. He was looking for that family.


When he came down, the common room was empty except for a girl sweeping with a broom made of sticks.

“Child,” he said, approaching her. “Give this to your innkeep, with my thanks and blessing.”

Her eyes grew at the coins that fell into her palm. “Father…you are too generous. My master won’t accept these, beggin’ your pardon.”

“These are not from me, but rather the god with whom we both share our devotion and of whom we are both children of. I beg that he may find himself comfort in the darker days to come.”

The girl nodded, wide-eyed. If there were darker days coming, Baden didn’t know but with the soldier’s talk the night before, he didn’t believe himself too far off the mark. He didn’t linger long, afraid the innkeep would spot him again and padded out onto the street. The rain had stopped a half a candle mark before and large muddy puddles pock marked the empty road. His feet itched, moved, and he wandered, he didn’t know where, but somewhere.

He entered the village at mid afternoon, houses springing up from the road like grass and for a brief moment he thought it was just him and ghosts. Then he saw them, a few people moving here and there, most with sun bronzed skin and slanting eyes in the manner of people who characterized the grasslands of Roh.

“Where are the people, good woman?” he asked, plucking the sleeve of a woman who rushed passed with a bundle in her arms. “Surely a village of this size should have more.”

She spat into the dust. “It should shouldn’t it? You’d think so! But many o’ them have fled to a larger city, hopin’ to get some protection. They have more swords there, in those cities. But most of us can’t afford that can we?”

Baden blinked. “I am sorry, but I don’t think I understand. Why are they going?”

The woman gave him a look, shock reflecting in her eyes. “Been livin’ under a rock? Whole village north of here was massacred! Wiped, out. The street ran with blood, and I’m told not even little children were spared. Bashed their heads in against the walls they did and then ran.”

“Gods…” the curse was almost out of Baden’s mouth before he stop it but he didn’t care. Anger slid through his veins like hot lead. “And where is your king? Your lord? They just allow this slaughter?! To children…by the gods…children…” He wished he could run his hands through his hair but cloth made him pause. This really wasn’t any of his business…was it? Who was Roh’s king? He didn’t know. Cain would know, so would Cade but king weren’t something Baden usually paid attention to and now he wished he had. Not my business…not my business but… The woman was giving him a slightly frightened look. “I’m sorry, I am a wandering monk and I have not been in Roh for quite some time. I didn’t know the state of things. So why are you still here?”

“I’m not leaving my land. Not for anything.”

He wanted to question her more but drew back, knowing all the answers to his questions. This was different from the bandits and raiders these people usually got. This was more savage and they new, as if they tasted it in the wind, that it was only a portent of worse thing to come. But what these people didn’t realize that out here, in the country they still had places to escape. If the city came under siege or was attacked, they would be crushed. What worried him even more, that these attacks didn’t even seem like an army, just ranging parties…so what happened when the full force of Noklah was thrown against Roh?

He shook his head. Again, not his problem. He let the woman go and walked through the quiet streets. What about any dukes, or barons…or that lower royalty they had here in the other kingdoms? Weren’t they concerned? Let it go Baden, let it go… A falcon cried above him and he raised a wrist. A letter from Hye fell into his palm. The family had returned safely and Hye wanted him back. Hye may have wanted him back but his feet said differently and he kept his pace through the streets in an obscure village of Roh.
Footsteps padded back and forth in a dimly lit room in the middle of the night. A tall, distinguished man with a look in his eyes that spelled anger, fear, but mostly frustration made those heavy footfalls. He was heavyset, with dark eyes and dark hair, but it would astonish any strange bystander to see his eyes with anything but mirth filling them. His face seemed to have been born smiling, and though the years had been all but kind to him, one could see that optimism was his in spirit. Yet worry creased his face at present, and clouded his eyes. The grey hairs on his head stood out more than usual.
I can not believe that wench is sending out raiding parties.He thought to himself. If I was younger, my army and the soldiers of Roh would be at her doorstep by now.
Time had ensured that Dronam was no longer foolish, but experienced in the things of war though his blood still boiled and his temper flared as a young man's. Soft footsteps in the corridor stole his attention for a few seconds. Footsteps he recognized, but could not place. They were not the easy, routine footfalls of Kalyma, the palace maid, but of a different woman. Light, lithe, and graceful. But still, she moves with caution, as if doing something wrong. Dronam analyzed the sound automatically, without really thinking. In an instant, he realized that it must be Mara, the Noklan princess. She would sound cautious so as not to rouse alarm, but she knew where she was headed as sure as he knew the battles of the Ancient Earth. The tenseness that he had been feeling dropped away like an autumn breeze peeling away the leaves off of hibernating trees. A smile lit up his face. If anyone could cheer him, it would be a young woman he considered to be his own daughter. It would be Mara.
A gentle knock sounded on his door and he slowly went to meet it.
"With pleasure?" He asked, still somewhat cautious, though mostly sure.
"It is I, Ginea of Fallwater, seeking her longtime friend and trusted ally." A female voice responded.
"Then she is warmly welcomed." He replied, opening the door. "Please, come sit down and talk with me awhile. I have been concerned about Roh, and want a distraction."
The Deirdai valley mother stokes the fire as she pounds the crushed grain, mixing in the eggs of forest-birds and other substances (for flavor), and pouring the entirety into a pan carved from stone. She had made the pan as a child, it was her first, learning the craft from her own-mother. It took sloth in the sense of patience...hers would be the prize of Middlefrost, now called Medfrost, the Deirdain festival signifying the half~way point between the winter seasons, when frost was actually least likely to occur. Pawm gazed quickly at the child, sitting on the stone floor of their modest home; then carefully placed the crafted-stone-pan in the center of the blaze, where it would rise to become her entry in the festival. Looking back to the child once more, her vision illumned someone else. A solider in the royal armor of Noklah.

"Remove the child's clothes," the soldier says. In shock but in fear for her life, Pawm obeys ignoring the childs cries of confusion by squinting to purposefully blur her vision and imagining songs to replace the audiation of this outrage.

"How long has she had this wound?" the solider says as a bruise with scratches is noticed on the young girl's leg, "not that it matters...guards! take this one away!" the solider exits and a pair of Noklan soldiers grab the girl, placing her along with other girl-children into the large cart silived with beams-of-stalk from a mixture of forest and jungle products.

As the cart leaves the mother looks up again. Had this just happened? Her eyes then shift to the stone pan in the fire. Her gift to the festival will be complete soon.

Andreas strode through the corridors of the Dierdian Palace, also known as the Palace of Hope to the neighbors that looked to Dierdai for help. And Dierdai had given that protection for as long as Andreas was alive. His adoptive father was a great king, as Trey would be when he took the crown.

Thinking of his brother brought back vivid memories. Memories of fun at the early years, to playful competition in their teens. And now, with the King's and the General's healths declining, Andreas and Trey were about to be the forefront of rule in Dierdai. Trey would be king, Andreas would be General.

As he approached his brother's chambers, he heard a small giggle come from inside. Trey's wife, Alexandria, who would be queen, was laughing at something Trey had just said. Which was natural. Trey always had the better sense of humor.

Andreas lightly rapped on the large mahogany door.

"Come in," was the response from Trey. He beamed when he saw Andreas. "Andreas, my brother, join us. We were just discussing a rather interesting subject."
Three white birds and one black sat on the limb on the oak, black eyes following the dancing flames. Baden, frozen into motionlessness by their presence, slowly came back to life and tore off a piece of bread from the heel in his palm. Two sets of eyes followed his movements while the other two watched the fire.

Slowly, gently, he held out the bread. Two sets of eyes opened and closed and the other two sets focused on him.

“It’s okay,” he murmured. “See?” He took a bite. “I have plenty to share. And the fire’s warm. Come, sit and join me.” The birds shifted, looking at one another. “It’s alright. I won’t harm you. I’m sure you’re cold and hungry so please…it’s okay.” The black bird, braver, than the rest fluttered to his hand and pecked experimentally at the crumbs in his palm. The rest of the loaf he tossed a short distance away and the remaining birds fluttered to it like flakes of snow born on the wind.

“Go join your sisters,” he murmured to the little black ball of feathers in his palm. “You’ll be able to eat more that way. I have more than bread here in my pack.” The bird peeped for a moment then joined its fellows, pecking at the loaf on the ground, then in a breath they were gone and a young woman sat, hunched over the fire, picking hungrily at the crumbs with her fingers. Her nose was hooked and feathers dripped from hair like olive wood. Wispy scraps of cloth barely covered her slim, delicate frame as she scooted closer to the fire for more warmth.

“You’ve come a long way from Illyria,” Baden breathed in part wonder as he drew an apple from his pack and tossed it to her. A fledgwyn. He had only seen two, of the shy, illusive creatures before in his life. Once when he was a boy (Hirain hadn’t believed him when he told him) and just after his mother died.

“Not…Illyria,” she got out between bites. The bread was gone and she was already devouring the apple. Baden’s brows rose. Fledgwyns, were very definitely Illyrian, lifted from many of the legends and myths and sorceries, although the rare one outside the border wasn’t impossible. Nothing prevented them from coming and going.

“Do you…have family here?”

Wide, slanted eyes turned toward him as she held her fingers out to the fire. “No family. Jus’ me. Want out though…want out badly. Dark here and darkness coming more.” She shivered and pulled herself closer to the flame. “Want out.”

Baden frowned as he pulled off his monk’s cassock and settled it ‘round her shoulders. Her words were troubling, almost as troubling as finding a fledgwyn so far from Illyria. She took his robe and pulled it closely around her, then took a piece of dried meat from the prince’s fingertips.

“Illyria would be open to you,” he said after a moment. The land was always open to creatures like her. She nodded and her teeth chattered. Whether she would follow his unspoken advice and make for his country, he didn’t know. But it must be hard times indeed to find a fledgwyn so willing to come to a campfire and be in the company of a human. You have Kel’s face, Hye’s voice drifted in. Myths, legends…well, they like you. He shrugged it off. Still…he didn’t need a fledgwyn to see the danger to Roh. This Rhea would take it and crush it between her fingers like a bug. And with a practically non-existent military, it was quite possible. But why?

Baden poked at the fire with a stick, and listened to the wood crackle and pop. What did Roh have that Rhea might want? And that soldier was right, what about other allies? If the other Kingdoms were smart, they wouldn’t want to be drawn into a war…but who said this Rhea would stop with Roh? What if she was picking off the weakest first and then using their resources to gain in strength? Then it would be the business of the other kingdoms if they were next on her list! He shook his head, wondering if the other kingdoms really were looking in on this, and, not for the first time, he wished he had a bit more knowledge about the current kings and rulers of the lands not from myth and legend. Grydon would know, but it would need more than just basic curiosity to go to him.

He offered the fledgwyn some more meat, but she shook her head, eyes becoming more entranced with the fire before her. How often did fledgwyns sit by the fires? Not often, as his memory recalled.

He lapsed back into thought. If this Rhea is simply one woman, what to do? Roh could try an assassination, but then again, he didn’t know how powerful she was…and there was the daughter too. Baden hadn’t even known she had a daughter and now she was an unknown quantity. If she were just a child, an assassination could go off without a hitch, and they could hope she either didn’t remember, or held no grudge. Baden hoped Roh wouldn’t be cruel enough to kill off a child. However, if she were older, or, even worse yet, promised to some powerful lord, who would gladly take revenge for his betrothed…? He shook his head again. Sticky, and Roh indeed could be in trouble. And for the rest of the kingdoms? Time would tell. Now, he remembered why he didn’t bother with the games the lords played.

Suddenly, the fledgwyn’s head shot up and she disappeared into a flurry of feathers, Baden’s monk’s robe falling into a brown puddle on the grass. He barely had it on with the cowl pulled over his head when he heard hoof beats and soldier’s came from the shadows, armor clinking and sparking silver in the firelight. The relief on thei face was painfully obvious when they saw the monk, tending his fire with two white birds on his shoulder.

“Father, it is a dangerous night to be out,” one said, trying to peer into the depths of Baden’s hood, but failing. The prince considered letting it fall, they wouldn’t know him, but decided against it, just in case.

“I thank you for your concern,” he replied instead. “But I think I am well protected.” He had to stop himself from letting his hand slip to the hilt of his sword.

The soldier’s shifted uncomfortably. “I’m sorry Father…but you’re camping on m’lord’s land…”

“Oh! Well, I do apologize my dear sirs. I had no idea. Please forgive me, and send your apologies to your lord.”

“That’s…that’s alright father,” the soldier began, shaking his head. “He would skin us alive if he knew a holy man was on his land and he wasn’t at least offered shelter. He would insist on housing you for the night.”

“I wouldn’t want to intrude…”

“It wouldn’t be an intrusion. Not at all. We will escort you.”

Baden paused. He wanted to refuse, every part of him wanted to come up with a reason to get out of it, but this was his disguise, he had chosen it and he had to play the part. Trying not to sigh, he dumped water over his fire.
Name: Eiryn (pronounced Eye-reen) Dra'Klan
Age: 19
Personality: Quiet and observant, she is always gathering some sort of information, whether it be history, knowledge of the land she's in, or the personalities of people around her. People label her as naive and soft, but she hides a fiery soul under the sweet voice and almost dreamy quality that surrounds her. Extremely loyal and caring, she is a worshiper of the land itself, and cares deeply for its well-being. Once she sets a goal, she follows it through no matter what. She is a great leader, which is why Aricrysta adores and respects her as their Queen. Having been mostly independent all her life, she feels no need for a mate...but that could change in the near future.
Position: Elfin Queen of Aricrysta, the Elven Kingdom. Aricrysta has stayed out of the affairs of Hayea for several generations, but Eiryn has set a goal to restore light and hope to the planet.
Anything that will help us to understand this character: Eiryn is a relatively young Queen; she inherited the throne after her mother died. She knows the evils of Rhea and the land of Noklah, and aims to balance good and evil in the world at whatever cost. Her elfin powers enable her to use the land's resources as weapons. Her soul harbors a deep well of power that has yet to be untapped. She is a fierce fighter, and fights for what she believes in, which is everything good.
Currently: She is on a quest to discover who the girl of the prophecy is, not knowing that she herself is the one mentioned in the prophecy.

**Aricrysta is hidden to everyone but Elves and certain people who have been granted the right to enter.


Eiryn watched the monk from the shadows, trying to catch a glimpse of his face. Something was off about him, and she hastened to follow when the soldiers escorted him away.

She'd heard him earlier, talking to the fledgwyn. He didn't seem like a typical monk; at least, not from what she had read in books. Somehow he knew that fledgwyns would be welcome in Illyria.

Quietly she crept along, remembering to ask the trees to shelter her from view. Brushing away a strand of silvery-blond hair, she murmured her thanks to each tree as they obliged.

Eiryn had only seen the back of the monk's head, just enough to tell that he had darkish hair. She wondered what lord the soldiers were referring to, and narrowed her silver eyes at the figures some paces ahead of her.

She had to find out where she was. Stepping out of Aricrysta had proved to be difficult, especially when she realized that the land had changed. Talking to it hadn't helped either; the plants and ground were oblivious to any changes that had occurred in the past centuries.

She breathed a silent sigh as civilization came into view.

Now the only problem was getting inside without drawing too much attention. Eiryn didn't want anybody to interfere with her quest.

Perhaps, she thought, I can gain entry with the monk.


Mara laughed. "Indeed, Dronam. But that is not the reason I came to visit you tonight."
"Of course not. Well then, speak your mind, little one." Dronam shook his head and chuckled.
"I have been restless these past few nights. I feel as if I should be able to help you, but that I am restricted by much. If you can think of any possible way, Sir, that I can be of use to you, please tell me." Her dark eyes pleaded gently with him.
"My daughter, there is nothing more you can do! You have done quite enough in coming to see me through." Dronam reached out and took her hands in his. "You know you are so dear to me. I can not ask any more of you than you have already given. Your life in service to a people who will not have it. You have done so much, and received so little. Enjoy yourself while the precious moments are here."
Mara smiled as tears gathered in her eyes. "I don't want to see Roh fall."
"Alas, my dear, none of us do. And we will do what we can to preserve her, but be prepared to face what lies ahead."
"Of course!" She brought up a hand to wipe the gathering tears.
Mara gave his hands a small squeeze, then sat down on a small, green cushioned chair. Smoothing out the ruffles in her wrap, she let the youthful light return to her troubled and tired eyes.
"What shall we entertain ourselves with?"
Amareillieillia panting rushes through the jungle of trees...for three-and-a-half days she has been eating the strange green crystal substance, not sleeping, constantly drinking, the food-of-the-elves, or so it-is-said.

“Fa-find suh-suh-some-one...uh-ask suh-something...uh-uam-uh...uh-ahm-ah RAYlia...tuh-talking to mu-my,” the child babbles/murmurs in a dry gasp nonsensical and incoherent, except to one watching, “th-the ESSENCE p-PLEASE HELP MEEeeee!”

A whizzing sound attracts and sharpens the girl-child’s perception, and a head is seen to be the source. The head of a witch flying through the trees, creating a whizzing sound, and leaving a vapor-trail of smoke, like a fast-moving ball with stringy hair and other than having no body, remarkable similar to the head of an actual Dierdian sorceress.

“Wh-wha, wh-wha” Amareillieillia whispers with little breath or ability to move on.

“Take comfort, child.” A soft voice gently speaks and a large girl with translucent gossamer wings and a flowing green dress hemmed with silver filigree embroidered patterns offers a floral-cup with a warm substance, not very tasty, but “natural” to Amareillieillia, who drinks so gratefully and quickly.

“Are you from the Essence?” Amareillieillia asks, her senses returned.

“I am Enamela, what you call a fairy, guardian of the worlds between Aricrysta, Hayea, and others. The fact that I am able to be seen by you tells me something...since you are not an elf yourself, perhaps yes...you look very tired...take this, it will protect you if need be, please do return whenever you are finished in the world of Hayea and I can tell you more.”

“You can tu-tell me more now!” Amareillieillia cries with relief, “Pon is is I was tuh-we need to find the Essence”

“Drink more” the fairy requests, and Amareillieillia does, “my job as one of the portal guardians is to keep-watch between the worlds...I see creatures most mortals do not and one task I have taken upon myself for years is to trap creatures too powerful to be allowed to live safely, such as what I have given you. Amareillieillia looks at the white stone the fairy has given her and wonders what Enamela is referring to.

“The Olga are a race of giants who feed upon cattle, horses, and other large livestock... when they attempt to enter Aricrysta or Hayea from their own realm I trap them in the white stones; when released from such, they are tamed and serve those who release them, for the substance they eat of while cocooned inside is pure and sustains and builds purity of perception and action. I am sure your mother told me all about you, most-all mothers do.”

“My mother is with the Essence, I am trying to find her...the elf-food told me I was getting close to where it comes-from.” Amareillieillia explains. The fairy responds:

“One of the things the splinkies, the food-of-the-elves, does is make one more aware of areas of a larger concentration of auric property, such as is-extant around portals, entry-ways...I observed an elf-royalty passing through in this land just this day...do not trouble yourself with all of this now, someone approaches...I must not be-seen” Enamela seems almost to vaporize but actually quickly-flits to an area between-worlds (and visible to neither) once again.



BOOK TWO
~ A GATHERING RESISTANCE ~

Purple twisting pattern
Castle parlor haze
Golden sheen of memory
Itself through amber glaze

Red the lantern light
Swaying flickering odd
Blue animals
Through green meadows trod

Fire kept from fruition
And that~that lies beyond
Eleven pointed star
With image, Essence responds



“From my vantage point, I could see it by drinking the stoila, “ the Queen’s counsel illumns to such, Rhea very interested in what she has to say, lowering herself to accept the presence of one of the class of these...a mountain-dweller in the deserts above Dierdai, a drinker of the cactus, a pre-sager post-sager now-sayer, these can do all...

“Well, what did it LOOK LIKE?” the Queen Rhea demands, the two in a large chamber in the Noklan castle fortress, with flowing lavender draperies and the air fanned by guards and supported by burning spices procured by her soldiery in various trades (raids?).

“The mark resembles a star, but no ordinary star, an un-completed one, the twelfth point not-there, signifying a weakness that will un-do your majesty...” the witch responds.

“An eleven-pointed star! And how will the girl receive this mark?” the Queen nearly-shrieks but not of-a-purpose. Hers is a growing madness, involuntary, and consumed with thoughts that hover in a revolution about the concepts of not insuring prosperity for those she rules, but in stopping anything that could remotely resemble a threat to her immortal-sovereignty.

“I told you, you majesty, “ the seeing-witch relates, “the vision does not go beyond this, only that the one will not be born with it...she may receive the star-mark in an accident, through magic, there are a-multitude-of-ways...”

“(and) Where is my daughter, the Princess Mara? Is she not interested in her duties here? A rule must be built, but on something, some activity, does she sleep the whole day through?” to the guards the Queen orders, “encourage Mara in some activity...something harmless...it embarrasses me not to see her interested in royal-protocol...at-least, she should be if merely an ornament, not a useless one!”

From the ground the sound of familiar-hoof-steps is heard approaching...

“Where is the cart?” a voice says...

“T’waeak! It is you? Ohhh” Pon tries unsuccessfully to roll-over. “the soldiers took it...the Queen’s.... Amareillieillia...they got her...well she ran, maybe she escaped, but there was a party, searching for ch-children”

“Pon you must come with us...we must get help to stop her! I can speak to the Prince but we need all we can gather. The royalty is pushing-itself too far! Your village is a fraction of what is going-on out there, but Roh needs protection.” The friend of Pon acclimates-such (to-the news).

“I can’t do it right now,” Pon admits, “and you understand partially why”

“OK” T’waeak answers with a very low voice, “you’re bleeding, too”

“Move me behind a shrubbery. I can rest a bit while you summon assistance to gather help from our own. At least make it look like they took everything, though they may-have...”

“Don’t say, it, I am sure Amareillieillia got away and when she returns for you stay here. I go now...” T’waeak slowly drags Pon behind foliage, careful not to move anything in a way that will foster further harm. “Famba let’s fly!”

Name: Drakkaris Vexis from the Noble house of Vexis in Northern Nohkla

Age: 18

Personality: A shy young man who is very cautious when meeting others due to trust issues from being raised by an abusive uncle. He is friendly once someone is able to break through the barrier around himself. He is trusting but not to the point of naievety.

Appearance: Drakkarris is a very lean muscled young man in stature of over six feet, and three inches tall due to a strict diet of vegetables grown in his modest garden and wild berries from the forest. He is always seen travelling in a white under shirt and brown pantaloons. He has hair blacker than a moonless night over Nohkla. His ice blue eyes shine with an element of intrigue and surprise.

Position: A hunter and war chief for a tribe of a travelling thieves.

Anything that will help us understand this character:When he was a young lad, a rebellion happened in an old city of Nohkla named Curage. Drakkz's parents were the duke and duchess of this once magnificent city and they were slauthered from the rebels led by a knight from Roh. Drakkz's Uncle Behoman took him in inside a little hamlet near the Sieri Trinum forest. After 11 years of daily phsyical abuse, Drakkz figured he was stong enough to depart from his uncle who taught him nothing of his noble birth or ancestry, and fend for himself. He ran into a demon elf named Gihuron who led him astray out of spite, and he begtan to wander the dark, evil part of the Sieri Trinum Woods alone.

Currently: He is meandering through the woods after seven years of rough living, he runs into Gihuron again, five miles from the only way in and out of Sieri Trinum Forest.

The slight cool wind blew his long black bangs across his face as he stared through his worn cloak at the demon in front of him. His immaculate eyes shrunk down to glare at the figure he swore he would never forget again as long as he wandered the Earth. It was Gihuron. His hand immediately went to the hilt of his rusted sabre. His blood was boiling with adrenaline. He had been waiting to run into this demon again, the same one who sent him running wild through the scary old forest when he was but eleven years old. Drakkarris slowed his pace putting his left foot in front of his right foot, slowly, cautiously as to not make a sound as he was sure the demon elf had not seen or heard him. Seven years of living in the evil branch of the Sieri Trinum woods taught him to have an eagle's eye and to approach a target stealthily. He had been practicing swordplay since he was only seven years old, finally he would get the chance to prove his skills and against a demon know less. Gihuron was only five feet tall and scrawny. Drakkarris knew he could overpower and kill this scum if he would be able to keep the element of surprise.
The cart travels through the night, finally passing through the lands back to Noklah and losing a wheel just 50 paces from the drawbridge, where it is abandoned. Naked or adorned in tattered fragments, as the palace-guards attempted to ascertain the existence of a strange mark for her highness, Rhea, the children march under the watchful perception of their capturers into the main-gate. Servant girls-in-waiting in-training are there instructed to bathe the children and prepare them for her majesty's inspection in an area usually reserved for the cleansing of a more-equestrian-fare. It is here that the Princess bathes Dirym, when she is not errant. The smell of the royal stables though prefereable to other(-stable)s is not easy on the children, who although poor for the most part are well-loved by their progenitors and not treated harshly in the sense that they are considered livestock.

In the fields, T'waeak and Famba mounted-search for Baden Averone or other soliders or traders sympathetic to the idea of a Roh free from the tyranny the Queen Rhea is foisting-upon-it. A parley or muster is necessary to choose a course of action to halt the Queen's ability to gain the time necesasary to cripple these smaller domains. The wind carries the honey scent of Famba's hair to T'waeak as the couple rides giving the soldier a moment of regret...both that the life of a trader has not of-late afforded the pair time to properly enjoy one another's company and that the Queen's actions further this momentarily though-not-ignored over-bearing fate.
Andreas stepped into his brother's room. Trey looked at him with the same gleam in his eye since the first day they had met. It had been almost 20 years now, Andreas only a baby at the time. Trey was older by five years.

"How is father?" Andreas asked, clearly worried about the King's decline in health.

"He is feeling better, though weaker. How is the General?"

"He thinks he's gonna die and leave me the army by the time I get back from Roh."

"You're going to Roh?" Alexandria asked.

"Yes, I leave in the morning."

"And little do you know, little brother," Trey chimed in, "that I will be accompanying you there. That was the interesting thing I wanted to tell you. You looked surprised."

"Well, I just wasn't expecting this. You're going with us?"

"Yeah. Someone needs to protect you." At this, they all laughed. Then, Trey's face grew serious. "And when we return, I fear we may be in charge of this place we call Dierdai."

"Then let us be as wise and great as our father, King Ector, and General Thadeus."

"We shall try my brother."
WITHYWINDLE'S ENTRY

Name: Rye
Age: 18
Personality: Shy but at the same time very curious. She has a silent, internal strength and she observes more than she speaks.
Position: Servant girl in the royal castle in Roh
Anything that will help us understand this character: Rye is a ‘bread girl,’ a name for a class of servant who works in the kitchens. Bread girls are usually foundling children and are brought up learning how to make people ignore them. As such, Rye looks at herself as not really being real, or part of the world outside the kitchen. She had a unique knack for finding doorways and passageways and disappearing and moving more silently than the rest of the girls.
Currently: serving in the castle at Roh


A tray was shoved into her hands, flour flew, a white cloud dusting the air, the floor. She ducked underneath the brazed duck Mag carried, who shouted words she didn’t hear, skidded between table legs, dodging between feet and knees, as Cleo shouted for tarragon. Barley, one of the other bread girls almost collided with her and she pulled her into a dark corner.

“Oat! Wheat! Where are you girls? I have three trays going out to the main dining hall, now go!”

The two girls, hair pushed beneath lily white caps, took the trays and practically ran from the rooms on silently shot feet. That was the first rule of the bread girls. You must not be heard.

“Rye! You’re still here girl? Get you gone to the audience chamber! Barley! You’ll follow! Hurry now, before the food gets cold. Sourdough! Where is your cap?”

Rye slipped from the room, dodging between light and shadow on quickened feet. Rule number two: you are not to be noticed. Not seen if possible. You are a servant and the lords have better things to do than pay attention to you. You are to be invisible. Never let them see your hair, girl, Cleo had warned on her first day. Not one curl. It’ll only bring you trouble. So Rye kept it tucked, double checking it as she darted through a hole in the wall and appearing again behind a tapestry of ornately woven birds.

“I am a weaving, I am a milk jug, a table, a chair. I am a thing. I am nothing.” They didn’t look up as she soundlessly slid the silver tray onto the side table and began distributing glasses.

“…we’re well defended here,” the guest of the king was saying. Three stripes and a woven crown of olive leaves glistened in silver on his coat. Insignia of the army, she thought, uncorking the wine. “We can see any army coming for miles, thanks to the fields, however a few hills near the city would be nice to give us the advantage of height. Alas the gods didn’t bless us with that. Thankfully it’s hard to hide in the Meadows. If the army gets too close to the city, we can always attack from the sea, or smuggle you, majesty, out by ship.” Wine sloshed into his glass and his eyes slid over her face, forgetting and moving on.

The king shook his head firmly. “I do not wish to be ‘smuggled out’ when my city still stands.”

“But if worse comes to worse…”

“Then I fall when my city falls.” He lost the firmness in his voice and sat back heavily in his chair. “How many refugees can this city hold?” He murmured. “There are a steady stream coming in from the outlands just based on rumors alone.” Rye recorked the wine. What were they talking about? She had heard rumors too, all the bread girls, kitchen staff, and castle servants had. Were they true? “Strengthen the walls,” the king suddenly commanded. “We might need it if we cannot defeat them on the field. I would rather be prepared before they set foot on our land. Even with Dierdai’s men I’m worried.”

“And they haven’t even arrived yet,” the other grumped. “Have you sent pleas to Aricrysta? Illyria?”

Rye didn’t wait to hear the response. Her service done, she slipped from the room from behind a large flower vase, excitement building in her chest. How much of the rumors about the land beyond the loaves were true were always in speculation. But now she knew. She couldn’t wait to tell Barley.

<center>~*~</i>

Baden thought the gods were smiling on him in particular as he and the soldiers moved up the stone path toward the castle, lights moving on its parapets like will-o-the-wisps. The soldiers had no extra horses, and when they told him his he almost whooped with joy. Now he was saved the embarrassment of having to show off his less than stellar riding skills.

The soldiers, after much uncertainty and offering their own mounts to the holy man (which Baden politely declined) finally dismounted and walked along side him up to the castle.

To Baden’s surprise, the fledgwyin hadn’t left him, at least not completely. Now and then he caught the flash of a white wing through the trees, sometimes one, sometimes two. How far would she follow them? The skin on the back of his neck prickled and he stopped and looked over his shoulder.

“What is it, monk?”

Baden’s eyes scanned the blackness behind him, the moonlight glinting off the leaves. Was there something…? “Nothing good sir. I thought I heard something, that’s all.” He turned back. He hadn’t heard something, he had felt something. A feeling that something was following them. Baden hated being followed. He shook himself. It was probably nothing, travel combined with too little sleep.

“The home of Sir Dronam, Duke of the kingdom of Roh,” the soldier announced as they passed through the gates. Stable boys rushed forward to take the horses, but the soldier, whom Baden had identified as the captain, shook his head. “No, boy, we have more rounds to make. Send for the steward to make our guest comfortable.” And with that he nodded to Baden, mounted, and wheeled his horse around. The others followed him out the gates.

A hand tugged at his sleeve. “We had word of your arrival father. The steward should be here shortly…”

“Just show me to your kitchen young man,” he interrupted jovially. ‘all I need is some warm food and some good company and I’ll be blessed.” Baden had always found the kitchens the warmest place in any keep, castle, or holding, much to the chagrin of his manservant.

“Y…yes father,” the young man said uncertainly, and began leading the way. The kitchens, besides being warm, were probably also the safest place for him, he decided. Servants and cooks wouldn’t ask the same questions as lords, and were less suspicious, as well as more entertaining. Also, from the servants he could take measure of the duke.


The kitchens beneath the castle of Duke Dronam were as warm and inviting as any. The cook, a large woman with a gold tooth, shoved a large steaming bowl of rabbit stew into his hands, for which he thanked her profusely, especially at the late hour.

“No problem, dearie,” she said with a wink. “Gotta be up in a few hours anyways.”

A few of the serving staff, who were up at that early hour, crowded around him as he ate, enjoying the fire and the novelty of a stranger.

“And you just travel all around then?” a doe eyed girl asked, clinging to his sleeve.

“Yes,” he answered, “I like to see the people of the land.”

“How wonderful,” she breathed, eyes widening in admiration. “I would love to go on an adventure…” He smiled from the darkness of his hood. Adventures weren’t always what they were cracked up to be.

“So I guess you’ve heard then,” asked an old man who cracked sunflower seeds between his teeth, “about the situation Roh is in.”

“Sadly, sir, I have.”

“Why don’t you put down your hood father. Let us see your face,” the doe-eyed girl interrupted. Baden looked at her sharply, and noticed a softening in her eyes and he cursed.

It’s my voice. It sounds young and she likes the sound of it…of course she’s going to want to see my face. Not that she would recognize it…but still I can’t take that risk. And anyways, there are plenty of lechers out there but I am not that kind of monk. “I fear I cannot,” he said, spreading his hands and thinking quickly. “This is the death month of our god. Those of my order may not lower their hoods until the next full moon when it is said He ventured out of the death lands holding the sword of Ogden. Then, and only then, may we she the darkness of our cowls of mourning for the light.”

“Oh.” The girl look disappointed.

“We’re especially worried, us here,” the old man with the seeds continued as if the girl hadn’t spoken. “Roh’s important to us, but our lord has been friendly with the princess. We don’t want old Dronam gettin’ into trouble.”

Baden raised his brows. “Friendly with the princess?”

The old man spat another seed into the fire. “Princess of Noklah, and not in that way. Dronam’s too kind hearted. More like an adopted father he is to the young thing. Never knew what her mother thought about that. Wonder if she even remembers Dronam. Hope not. If she does and comes for him…I’ll fight for him. Us old folks gotta stuck together.” The man smiled toothily.

This is a good sign, Baden thought The servants are loyal, happy, and look well cared for. And this one would defend this Dronam with his life. He seems like a good man, at least from the servants. But…a connection to Noklah and the princess...? “So…the princess of Noklah…” he began, but the man cut in before he could form a question.

“Sweetheart that one,” the man said, “or at least she seems like it. I haven’t met her personally, she bein’ a princess and all. But strong willed as a young bull, gets that from her mother I’d guess.”

“She’s more like her mother then?”

“Princess Mara? Gods no! She’d never lay a finger on summon’ innocent like. She and her mother don’t get along, or so the gossip goes. Besides, she and Dronam would be as close as they are if she did. Loves Roh more than Noklah even I think. Gossip also says she disappeared.”

Baden’s brows rose again. That was a twist, and another side of the story on the princess of Noklah. But as for the disappearance…had assassins or soldiers gotten to her?

“She’s so pretty,” the doe-eyed girl sighed at Baden’s elbow. “I wish I were a princess.”

“Being royalty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, sweetling,” Baden sighed, patting her hand. He could almost hear Hye bellowing all the way from Illyria.

“But imagine dances, and balls, and the beautiful dresses,” she sighed again. “How lovely.”

“Arranged marriages aren’t so lovely,” Baden pointed out. They still held to that practice in some kingdoms. In Illyria, they were only used to secure an alliance between the houses. Once, Grydon married some cousin to Hirain to secure a vote against Averone in the council. That was the beginning of the decline, during the dark days. Since then, Averone and Hirain were back in good standing. Once, Hye suggested a match for Baden with one of Cain’s sisters. The look Baden gave him silenced the man and he never heard mention of it again. “Imagine not being able to choose who you wished to love,” he continued. “Or worse, imagine being married to someone who would beat you, or was someone so old they could barely get out of bed in the morning without help. Imagine too, being locked in a world full of tangled alliances where one false move could get you killed. On top of that you have people counting on you for protection…” he trailed off when he noticed the servants were all staring at him and he tried not to flush. Shrugging nonchalantly, he said instead, “I’ve spent some time around nobles.”

“But not all nobility is like that,” the girl said with assurance. “Sometimes it’s feasting, and hunting and just…wonderful.” She sighed again.

“Maybe it is sweetling,” he said gently, letting her keep her illusion in tact. Of course maybe she was right. Maybe it was only in Illyria.

A steward appeared beside their gathering. “father,” he said with a slight nod, “Dir Dronam, Duke of Roh will receive you in his chambers.”

“There was no need to wake him,” Baden protested. “The hospitality here is enough.”

“His lordship was already awake,” the steward replied briskly, and Baden had no choice but to rise and follow him.
Drakks snuk upon Gihuron with the stealth of which only the best of thieves could do, but once he was in striking range, Gihuron turned to face him.
"I could smell you," He said laughingly.
"Prepare to die,"Drakks said forcefully,"You have been the main cause of my past suffering."
"I merely cared about your proper upbringing, and if that is why you want to smite me, you will need to contact the weapons master of Noklah, your shitty rusted sword could not even scratch my skin," Gihuron replied to his threat and then vanished into thin air.
Drakks was dumbfounded. What the hell did the demon elf mean by his proper upbringing, and where in Noklah did he go? As for the weapons master, was there even such a man, or was this another deceitful trick?
Andreas King rides along-side adopted-sibling Trey, both for-the-nonce, unawarely blissful in their ignorance of what it seems will transpire concerning the impending-inheritance-of-royalty. The journey through the night is rough...more so than it should have been, it also seems? Both are somewhat-aware that in these times although boredom is infinitely prefereable to the type of "action" one may witness in the woods or on-the-road (the Dierdian leaders' travels lead-them through both on-this-night), especially when it concerns squabbles with the royal~soldiery, or with the actions of some traders, it is not always ("in-itself") easy to take. In other words, the journey was mostly-uneventful. Andreas spoke of concerns that the mothers of the Medfrost festival had apprised Andreas-of, that the Queen of Noklah's soldiers had literally made-off with some of their children, all of-them girls, in-fact. While this is disconcerting (again, "in-itself"), Andreas could not help but to point-out to the possibly soon-to-be King the seeming non-randomness of this Noklan action.

"Why only girls? If Rhea is attempting to assert her dominance in some symbolic way, I admit that taking children away from the people of our smaller domains is an excellent way to accomplish this, but c'mon, Trey, there seems to be something else to this, I mean doesn't there?" Andreas asks-sincerely.

"You know how Rhea is, Andreas," Trey responds, trying to sound warm-and re-assuring,
"it's a trick to confuse us! Probably nothing more!" But almost as soon-as-the-words were spoken, Trey began to harbor a secret-doubt of the veracity of-such (the-words-spoken to Andreas "them-selves"). Perhaps Andreas was on to something, it did seem kind-of-strange...why not take the future-soldiers? Was this Rhea wise beyond understanding, mad, or was there more..? "Hold...someone approaches!"

Actually two-approach, it is the riders T'waeak and Famba, T'waeak of Illyria, and Famba originally of Roh, now riding in the Illyrian style, the uniforms vague and changing.

"Who are you?" T'waeak asks.

"Are you traders?" Andreas responds, in-a-question.

"Yes, but we are on an urgent mission, those are Dierdian symbols you wear," T'waeak says quickly-but-cooly, "we are seeking support to gather forces against Noklah while it is possible, there is not time to explain, we are heading for the castle, will you-join-us?"

"The castle of Roh is our destination as-well!" Trey responds, "let us continue with due haste!"

The parlor-hag sucks the last of the cactus-residue from her glass-orban-recepticle and the journey-begins. Her eyes close involuntarily as the stoila takes-effect. She can see the woods whizzing-by, there is a small girl travelling alone, what is she doing? I have already seen this...pass-it, move on...there's that fairy, guarding the portal, and-the elf...yes she looks rather-regal, (hands write "royal-elf from portal" on a slivered-sheet of dried-fiber [from-the-desert], must-tell the Queen about this-one) AHHH! My head is on fire! It was too-much! I knew it was too much! And now...it is too late.

Eiryn is bumped by something as she travels trying to catch-up to the monk she-follows, bumped on-her arm.

"Ow!" Eiryn exclaims.

The head of the Dierdian-sorceress had passed while scanning from-an-alternate-locale through an aura of external fire, something not-yet understood that exists beyond the perception of the inhabitants of Hayea, a type of fire that refines, the image of the star she is searching-for becoming focused by the external fire and turning the witch's head into-it. In her confusion, she slams into the right arm of the elf Queen, in the ball of her shouder, the strap of her garment absorbing in one part the external fire keeping the star-mark from becoming burned-completely into her. The external fire snaps back into the witch's head that sees just quickly enough that she is the cause of her own prophecy before returning to her "self" back in the desert-mountains.

The Queen Rhea is told by a (loyal) servant that the children are ready-for-inspection and she heads regally, crown-in-place, to the court-yard where guards keep their charges in line. All have been cleansed and although some are seen to have marks, the marks are common-looking: a scratch, a bruise, nothing resembling a "star with a part-missing."

Amareillieillia runs and her perception mellows as she approaches her home, the surroundings becoming more-familiar as the woods become more jungular (the river nearer). The drink the fairy gave-her must be-wonderful. Everything is getting slower and I remember this, she thinks. Look! There's Pon! My dad!

"Pon!" she cries with relief.

"Amar... Amareillieillia!"


As Andreas and Trey head toward Roh, Andreas feels the weight of the world on his shoulder. He knows his brother feels the same. After all, they are about to go to war, more than likely. And war with Noklah, at that. It is far a worse nightmare than one can imagine.

Andreas halts at the top of the valley overlooking the peaceful kingdom of Roh. A quant, village-like kingdom, Roh spreads at the bottom of the valley. Peaceful though it looks, everyone knows the true meaning of this place. If Roh falls to the forces of Noklah, the other nations will be open to an attack from a very protected location.

Andreas continues onward, knowing that every second counts in this race of time. His men behind him, they approach the castle gates, to protect this land with such small power, but control of the known world's existence.
A horn trumpeted, a bell sounded and Rye pushed her aside one of Wheat’s voluminous sleeves.
“You see them? You see them there?” Wheat murmured to Oat excitedly. Another horn sounded and cheers came from the guards on the walls and Rye saw.

Horses streamed in through the gates, men clad in armor, some black, some bronze glinting in the sun. Light sparked from the tips of spears, swords, both long and bastard. Quarrels filled with arrows sat on the back and the hip, and some carried great cudgels and maces, one with even an axe twice the size of her own head. Armor clinked in time with the clop of the horses hooves and the standard of Dierdai rose high from one of the bannermen. Beneath that a second, and beneath that a third.

“Would you look at that?” Old Lem, the one eyed man who tended the fires breathed.

The words found Rye’s ears as she struggled for a view between the other bread girls. “Look at what?” she asked and the old man leaned heavily on the stone wall.

“They’re sendin’ us their prince. And their captain too. Two princes among us.” He laughed harshly. “Well, the second, the captain, not by blood, but he might as well be. We should be honored. But the question is: can those two boys out there fight?”

Rye gave up her struggle to see beyond sleeves and flesh and dropped back. “What do you mean? Surely they can, otherwise they wouldn’t have come. You don’t become a Captain by being unskilled. And at least they came.”

“You have a point there little cricket, but they’re still boys. War will make men out of them. A real war like this one, if the gossip is true. Many men will die and the fields will run red with blood. The queen of Nooklah is not one for mercy.”

Rye’s lips became a hard line and her eyes, the color of honey, flicked to the sounds of cheers, the clop of hooves and the sun on the new armor. Was he right? Probably. From the words she had heard in the castle Dierdei was clever and strong, but that would not stop deaths. It didn’t matter how strong the cow was, if her butchers were stronger the bread girls would be serving later to the lords. But where these men the cow or the butcher? Or maybe, just maybe neither…maybe they were a bull. The old man was right, however in one thing. Death would come to some if not most of them.

Did they know? She wondered, did they know they may never see their families again? Did the other bread girls watching, the stewards leaning over the railing, the men at the gates realize that as well? What these men were doing for them at the sake of their own lives? She shook her head. Those thoughts were very unbecoming of a bread girl. It wasn’t supposed to matter. She wasn’t supposed to care. And yet…

“Excuse me, Lem,” she murmured and disappeared down the steps. She knew where the trap door was that led to the passageway beneath the stairs, and then through the ventilation to drop her into the wine cellar. She straightened, then up the stairs to appear next to an oven when Cleo drew in a breath of air and almost dropped a bread pan.

“By the gods girl, you gave me a scare,” she said sharply, putting her hand against her chest. “Almost made my heart jump from my chest, you did.”

“I’m sorry, Cleo.”

She looked at her suspiciously for a moment. “Why aren’t you up there? Watching like everyone else.”

“I watched. I saw. But I am a bread girl. I’m here to serve.”

Cleo eyed her for a long moment before harrumphing. “I’m sure you do. And I’m sure you want to serve them. But my question is, when does a bread girl care about whom she serves?” Cleo’s wormword eyes seemed to bore into her own and she looked away. “They’re all the same to you, youngling. And I think I’ll put Oat on it. She could use the exercise. Now get you gone.”

She curtsied briefly and left the kitchen by the door, her face flat and emotionless, but her stomach sinking. This shouldn’t matter…it’s nothing…and yet… Cleo wouldn’t get the best of her. She wanted to see more of these people, take their measure. She found a shaft of light with her secret eyes and passed through it before clothing herself in cobwebs and steel. Silently she watched the hall through the joints in the suit of armor.

Eiryn couldn't keep from crying out, and clapped a hand to where a stinging pain was engulfing her entire right shoulder blade. She bit her lip and twisted her head to eye the burn mark. It seemed like a sort of symbol of sorts, but she couldn't tell.

She glanced ahead to where she was still following the monk. Thanking the trees, she stepped out of the shadows and tried to blend in with the soldiers passing through the gate.

Nearer and nearer Eiryn came to the gate, and she held her breath as she walked through, wary of any guards. However, she was lucky, and ran into no one menacing. Looking down submissively, she came closer to the monk, until she was almost touching him.

Something, Eiryn thought, is not right with him.

When the small group reached an inn and prepared to go inside, Eiryn kept by the monk until they entered the main eating area. Here, she slipped away to a table in the corner, drawing up her own hood unobtrusively as she seated herself in the shadows.

A young girl came up and asked if Eiryn would like something to eat or drink.

"I'll have a cup of tea, if you please. With the freshest herbs you can find, and no sugar. It taints the tea, takes the soothing properties away from it."

A small silence forced Eiryn's silver eyes to the waiting girl, whose large brown eyes were wide and disbelief.

"Please," Eiryn repeated, giving her a curious look. Why was this young girl unresponsive?

After a few moments the girl rushed off, her apron flapping wildly. Eiryn paid no further attention to her, and focused once more on Baden. He was now talking to a young lady whose expression suggested that she was in a fairy tale. Eiryn leaned forward a bit to catch her words.

"...Imagine dances, and balls, and the beautiful dresses. How lovely."

Eiryn snorted, and continued listening as the monk attempted to explain the reality of nobles' lives. Her curiosity grew with every word he said. He didn't sound like a monk to her. He sounded...so knowledgeable about nobles' affairs and such. Monks generally kept to themselves, did they not? And when they did talk, it was always about the divine powers and such, wasn't it?

Her train of thought was interrupted when a steward approached Baden, exchanging a few words before leading him away.

Eiryn's eyes followed the monk, and she barely found the manners to thank the girl when she brought the tea; something about that man made Eiryn want to talk to him. Be with him.

She shook herself mentally and stared at the steaming tea before her.

Her friends had always told her that she overanalyzed things constantly.

Perhaps this monk was really a monk, and she was just imagining things. After all, what could he possibly have to do with her mission?

Eiryn decided to sit and wait for the man to return.

The main chamber room was brightly decorated with an array of reds and golds. Mara now sat on a chair kitty corner to the door connecting to the main hall while Dronam chose a rather elaborately elfin-carved chair made of red malwood. Both had been astonished to hear of the priest visiting Dronam's land, but they nonetheless parted ways to change into more appropriate attire. The Duke had donned a long-sleeved loose-fitting scarlet top that complimented his dark hair and eyes. His pants were also slightly loose but not quite so much as his shirt. Black vines and sacred Rohan designs adorned the shirt and a vine sprouting elegant, yet masculine, flowers wound down the outsides of both legs. A black belt and shoe-slippers completed the now impressive-looking bear of a man.
         Mara had made her decision rather quickly, choosing an elaborately designed dress in a uniques shade of Sarodan berry. The pinkish-blue dress, which was indeed pinkish-blue and not purple (Bless the Elvs!), had the Noklahan insignia embroidered in delicate Dwarf-silver on the bottom right of her hem. With a delicate thread of true silver and gold overlapping and entwining strands, her Elvish tailor had enamored Mara with the intricate yet conservative design. It spoke of truly enjoyable days on the flowered patios of Dronam's modest castle, and the kind-eyed tailor had given her a conspiring wink as he handed it to her. The pink brought colour to her pure complexion and the blue somehow enhanced the blue-green in her olive coloured eyes. Silver slippers finished off her rather stunningly simple ensemble.
         And thus they awaited the arrival of the Father. Neither said a word, but both listened as footsteps approached the dark Nolwood door. Mara intently watched her side of the door as the butler touched his hand to the door and the locks responded, clicking their compliance.
         The princess gazed at the newcomer as he stepped through the doorway and into the room. She wondered if a priest could be proud, as the man's chin tilted in a noble way. He did not otherwise exhibit any noble-type behaviour than the barely perceptible tilt of the chin. Obviously, Dronam hadn't noticed, Mara thought as she watched the Duke reciprocate a gentlemanly bow. As the stranger turned his attention to the girl, Dronam strode to her, offering his hand to help her rise. She curtsied in response to the half-bow he gave her.
         "This is Mara Antenia, Princess of Noklah. No fear hear, though, Father. She is a gentle soul and rather unlike her mother." Dronam introduced her as a light blush coloured her cheeks.
"Sir Dronam, your flattery is unwelcome, it would seem." The priest remarked with an edge of laughter in his voice. "I have heard such talk of her. The servants praise you, My Lady, and call you kind."
         There was something in his voice, that sent an alarm, but she could not be sure what it was. The lean body shape, the eyes and the hair, all seemed familiar, yet strange. Shaking it off, Mara replied, blushing still and looking down slightly.
         "Oh, I am quite sure that it was all over exaggerated, Father. Having heard their talk, I can assure you that I am not all they make me out to be." Her soft voice carried to him.
         Through the darkness cast over his face by his cloak, Mara saw him smile. Dronam's voice cut the momentary silence.
         "Father, begging your pardon, but I can not have such a one who has eaten in my kitchen and entered my chambers hiding behind a cloak."
         Both Mara and Dronam chuckled not unkindly.
         "Indeed, sir. And then there is the matter of curiosity on the part of the Duke and myself." The princess laughed.
"They took my Mierla!" the farm-wife of Roh cries in the early-evening, "after raisin' her for thirty-six Dierdan mid~seasons! I can't run a house by my self!" Other complaints are heard as well from the fifty-two-or-so T'waeak and Famba have gathered from the farm-lands on the out-skirts of Roh.

"One of the Queen's soldiers took 199 Romarqks from my purse in exchange for elf-food, and gave me this bag of sand!" a farmer cries. At this, most of the band-of-farmers began to chuckle, though their anger was not quelled, as most of it was in due course a protrusion from the completely serious charges lain against the monarch of Noklah in the stealing of their girl-children, with no royal explanation-offered.

"We'll show this royalty what good farm folk can do! We'll burn her!"

"Aye"

"And that's just to start!"

Famba rides off to the left when the river is reached, winking at T'waeak, who leads the farmer-army toward the Rohan castle to parley with the lord-of-such. It is in-order to fulfil a promise of T'weaek's. Though the familiar cart is gone, she is seen approaching from behind the foliage.

"Famba, it is you!" Pon cries weakly.

"Famba!" Amareillieillia cries.

"T'weaek sent me to get you, so you would understand it was not forgotten but something is happening, as I have already told you. It is true what the traders have been saying and Amareillieillia is not safe! She's looking for something...a girl...I don't understand why...you can stay if you want but you are now free to leave. I am returning to the castle. We have gathered a lot to speak to the King and see what we can do to stop this action-of-Noklah" Famba smiles into a cool breeze that picks up just then from the dust swirling as the back-drop of a golden-and-orange sunset silhouettes her light auburn curls and warrior's clothes. Amareillieillia notices Famba's new necklace, made of wrought silver in the like-ness of night-bird claws encompassing a green stone. Famba and T'waeak often are wearing new clothes and accessories. This makes Amareillieillia glad that people live this way. Her father she respects also, who believes in a humble existence, free from the need to display such-ostentation.

Famba lets Amareillieillia ride with her as Pon takes a mount she has brought, a-smaller-pony, at T'weaek's counsel, illumning the companion of the friend's injuries. Riding quickly from the stream toward the Rohan strong-hold with Pon following behind, Famba's haste is quelled by what-do-you-suppose but a battle...a battle in front of the very gates of another smaller keep, a battle between the angry famers and a roaming party of eight-to-ten of the Queen's soldier's. One farmer is able to get the head off of a royal soldier with a blunt sword as another spears through the leather underlying the royal-guard's metal-plate protectant. Famba covers Amareillieillia's face with a Dierdian scarf, printed-crudely with a twisting pattern (using a wooden-press and carved-block-of-wood, the Dierdan printers have found other uses for the Queen's instruments of information~dissemination). She signals to Pon to halt.
The streets of Roh were nothing like Andreas had remembered. When he had been to Roh last, which was about seven years ago, it had been a bustling and happy place. But now, though still bustling, it was nowhere near the happiness he had felt before.

No. Now it was apprehension. The knowing of the imminent attack by the forces of Noklah. The only thing that kept these people from being driven completely mad was their duty to their small kingdom.

They went about their work, glancing at Andreas and Trey as they passed. They came upon the bakery, where bread girls were busy at work.

"Care for some bread, brother?" Andreas heard Trey ask. Andreas was indeed hungry. After all, the highly salted jerky and stale bread of the military got to a person after a while. He simply nodded. Trey gave his order to baker.

Andreas watched the baker go into the back and begin making the bread. Apparently, he was going to give his guests only the finest. A bread girl came out after about ten minutes with the bread. She looked to be about 18 or 19. For a supposed servant, she was rather beautiful.

"Thank you,..." Andreas left it open for her name.

"Rye, m'lord," she said, looking down. Andreas was not used to this. The "servants" in Dierdai were not really servants to him, or his brother. No. He thought of everyone as equals, unless they were of a malicious mind, such as the Queen of Noklah. He raised her chin up.

"You are not my servant," he said, softly. "I see you as an equal. So, please, as an equal, look at me when talking. It's more polite." He winked when she looked into his eyes. She blushed.

"Yes, m'lord." Andreas smiled and took a bite of the bread. It was delicious. He tore off half and handed it to Rye.

"You should try it, though I'm sure you have." She took it, turning even redder. "And call me Andreas."
He knew that was coming, ever since the serving girl first asked he knew and he thought he was prepared. He wasn’t expecting to want to tell them. They were such warm, people, this Dronam and Princess Mara, such warm and friendly and laughing people, not really what he was expecting at all. Dukes, barons, and minor lordlings did not exist in Illyria, but he remembered them from times when he was a child. Once in very long while either his father would go somewhere and take him with him or they would host someone at his holding as they were passing through. But that was ages ago. Half a lifetime ago and he didn’t remember them very well. More recently, he knew them only through Cain grumbling and council meetings when they would sometimes get a letter from one. He was expecting more…arrogance. Not this. Not feeling so welcomed.

However, he had told one story to the servants and he knew he had to keep it up. “I am sorry, m’lord,” Baden replied, bowing his head. “I’m afraid I cannot. This is the death month of our Holy Ogden, and I will not be lowering my hood until it is over. In honor of Him and that he will not walk alone in darkness.”

A noble answer,” Dronam replied with a nod. “I suppose your face will remain a mystery to us.”

For now at least Baden thought. But maybe I have offended too much… “I apologize if…” he began but the Duke cut him off with a laugh that set him at ease.

“No need to apologize Father…”

“Thom,” he supplied quickly. Thom had been his fathers hostler, forever despairing at Baden’s clumsiness in the saddle. The man was patient and kind, however, and every good humored despite everything Baden put him through.

“Father Thom. I would not want to impose upon your faith under my roof.”

Baden smiled to himself. He had judged the duke rightly. He was too honorable to impose. And the princess too, the servants had spoke of her rightly too. She had a sweet face, but the most cunning could hide behind a sweet face. No, it was her eyes that betrayed her. The color of olives, they brimmed with kindness and gentleness. They were good eyes to look at, he thought, and she was very pretty, just like the servant girl had said. It was hard to believe that this creature standing before him was the same blood as the black queen of Nooklah.

“But forgive me, Father,” Dronam was saying. “What are you doing upon my land? Now is not the safest time to be abroad,” he added, exchanging looks with the princess.

“I am recently returned from Illyria, “Baden nodded, taking a seat. At least that much of his tale was true. “I am a traveling monk, moving about from place to place helping those who need me.” He shifted for a moment to look at Mara and then back to the duke. He had been surprised that the duke had made no efforts to hide the lady or cover her identity. “If you do not mind, your grace, my lady, might I give council for a moment?” At their nod, he continued. “I’ve been traveling through this land of yours and the rest of Roh for the past few days, and there is much unrest. The common folk are scared, nervous, and restless, and there is much dislike of the queen…and many share the same dislike of her daughter.”

The princess gasped, eyes glinting sharply in the candlelight. “But why? I’ve done nothing. I didn’t even know of my mother’s plans!”

“I’m sorry sweetling but the common people don’t know that, and they don’t know you. They’re afraid, very afraid, and they want to take their anger, and fear, out on whomever they can. Some are afraid that, if your mother would to unexpectedly die, you would want to carry on where she left off. Now of course you wouldn’t, I can see that from where I sit. But they haven’t seen you, and they do not know you, and you are but a name to them. So I would council that you use caution when sharing who you are here in Roh. Also, I doubt your mother knows you’re here…if she is looking for you…you never know where her eyes and ears might lie. At least for now.”

“I am not my mother. These people need to know that.”

“And you’ll need to survive long enough for that to happen.” And there was another risk. This girl was the princess of Noklah, and by all rights heir to the kingdom. If her mother were to die, then she would inherit, and some men would surely take want to marry her for their own gain, whether she wanted them to or not. It was something Grydon would do, he thought, drifting back to Illyria for a moment. Thankfully, Grydon was married with an heir on the way, but would it stop him?

“Well,” Dronam’s voice broke in, lifting him from his thoughts, “she is safe here in my castle, father.”

He licked his lips for a moment, debating how he should phrase his next question. It had been tickling at the back of his mind for a while, but these people had been so kind he was again afraid he was over stepping his boundaries. But, after all, he was a monk, what could be the danger from a monk. “If you don’t mind me asking, m’lord, m’lady, why are you in Roh anyway?”

~*~


“You’re in trouble.”

Rye nodded once as she tucked her hair back beneath her cap and straightened her apron strings. Rule number two, you are not to be noticed, not to be seen.

“Cleo wants to see you.” Barely paused, eyes wide. “How did it happen? You’re the best, you come and go and slide from people’s eyes, and disappear as quickly as snow in the sun.”

She paused before deciding her answer. Barley wouldn’t understand curiosity. “He spoke to me.”

“But he saw you.” That had caught her too. No one ever saw her. I am a table, a chair, a milk jug in the corner… “And you spoke back,” the other bread girl added.

“I didn’t know what else to do.” It wasn’t the whole truth. Curiosity and astonishment, and a catch somewhere in her soul. She was uncomfortable again, as she had been before and had disappeared beneath a basket of bread into a forgotten cellar. There she had eaten the bread slowly, little bit by little bit. He was right. It was good.

Barley chewed her lip for a moment. “What will they do with you? They can’t throw you out…they can’t! You’re…the best.”

“But I was seen.” Rye shrugged. They could very well throw her out, then what? She didn’t know anything of life beyond the loaves.

“Lem says you were seen by someone important.”

Rye shrugged again. “I didn’t know who he was. But he was kind. Andreas,” she said the name and Barley’s eyes widened.

“He gave you his name?”

Rye shrugged again. It didn’t matter now. He was gone and her future was unsure. “Cleo’s waiting for me now?” Barley nodded and Rye took a breath and let it out slowly. “I’m ready then.”
Eiryn took the last sip of her tea, and made a decision. This mission was not going to go anywhere by sitting and waiting for something to happen.

She stood abruptly, reaching into her pocket and drawing out a piece of Elven coin. She stared at it distantly for a few seconds, then shrugged. It was something. Leaving it on the table, she walked the path the monk had about twenty minutes ago.

Once she reached the hallway full of doorways, she slowed. Taking each step with both grace and caution, Eiryn steadied her breath and began her search for the monk. Some plant must be able to reach out to her and give her the information she needed.

Pausing at the first doorway, Eiryn pressed a hand directly beneath the brass-plated number 10. Letting her mind drift and probe for any nature elements, she exhaled deeply and felt her senses magnify a hundredfold. A single plant, although it was dying. A rose, she thought.

Poor rose...are you alone in this room?

The answer was soft and whispered; somehow depressing and wilted.

Lonely as a rose could be in this dark, desolate place...

Eiryn inhaled and lifted her hand off the door, her silver eyes darkened with the enhancement.

As if in a trance, she moved to the next door. Surely she would find him. Surely.

A Non-Existent User
Name: Acedia
Age: 19
Personality: Acedia lives up to her rather unique name. She is unique, never the same as anyone else. This usually catches people's attention, and then her natural charm brings them in. She is naturally amusing, always making someone smile at her carefree behavior. She is kind and caring. She is loyal and independent, never wanting to seem weak.
Position: Noble of Dierdai
Anything that will help us understand this character: Acedia's father is a priest, and expects her to follow in his footsteps. She disagrees, but he will never back down. They often have fights about her future. Although she is not a weapons master, she is the master of her twin blades.
Currently: Traveling...
Mara was shocked when Father Thom suggested that she keep her identity from the public knowledge. She checked herself as her chin rose defiantly and struggled to keep her good humor. Then a thought crossed her mind: This man was not like her mother; he did not endeavor to restrain her, but was actually concerned for her safety and the safety of Roh as well as her neighbors. She did not struggle to keep her good will afloat from that point.
But as soon as the last question was out of his mouth, her thoughts were forced in the direction of her mother and her eyes turned to stone.
There was a sharpness in her tone as she said, "Father Thom, that is not a subject I would venture to answer at this moment. As you can imagine the subject is very...delicate." Mara nearly slapped herself on the forehead as soon as the words were out of her mouth. He meant no harm , she scolded herself, after all, he is a priest!
Quietly sighing, she relaxed her tense shoulders and smiled gently at him. Her eyes softened as she struggled to keep exhaustion from creeping into them.
"Forgive me, Father. I did not intend for my words to sound so edgy. After a good night's sleep I shall be up to it. Would you oblige to a walk in the woods or perhaps a ride through the country on the morrow? I have a perfectly lovely Illyrian stallion. I could see that as a forgiveness for my rudeness, so long as it does not infringe upon your religious obligations. Please, excuse me sirs. I should retire. Dronam, you will have Tekle escort the priest?"
"Of course! Nobody better in this castle! I would escort you myself, Father, but I am afraid that even it's owner doesn't know the twists and turns. I will send Tekle your way in the morn to show you to breakfast with myself alone. Mara prefers to visit her stallion in the morning." Dronam chuckled.
"Please, no more teasing! Oh! Father, I recall you say you traveled from Illyria? Should you wish to visit Dirym at any time, I shall let the stable boys know you may be down." Mara curtsied as she stepped to the door.
Placing her hand on the crevice, she felt the locks undo and the door slide open. Tekle was posted outside and bowed to her as the opening door revealed her. Mara waved him inside and slipped out, leaving the door open behind her.
The trees stop gossiping momentarily to pay heed to the skirmish that was on the verge of getting-out-of-"hand". With Famba and Amareillieillia in the lead, the group of farmers heads past the other strong-hold toward the Rohan castle, where the King has tired of waiting for those who are coming to arrive and begins to address the group who has been assembling for days upon days. Kitchen staff whirls busily to serve those whose only wish is sincerely to speak, to ask for protection.

"Hurbly-Burbly-Burbly!" the King of Roh exclaims, in a burst of throat~clearing that sounds the ut-most of the epitomization of sophistication, "I have heard through my staff from a majority of you complaints of a wish for protection-from the domain of Noklah. I myself while obligated to believe my ruled as I consider you constituents more-so than subjects, have not personally viewed any type of actions against Roh or her safety from the Queen of the larger region or her people. You do not need to understand my position, yet I will state-it. I am King and Roh is a smaller state than Noklah. To take action even if it could remotely be construed as defensive may cause the ruler of Noklah to injuct sanctions against our already possibly threatened..."

Just-then, the large oaken doors swang (sic?) open to reveal T'waeak, holding a head, still attached to a Noklan helmet.

"You need proof, your majesty?" T'waeak cooly explains, throwing the head toward the guards who wait at the foot of the throne of the Roh'an empire, "well, this isn't it, perhaps..." T'waeak sighs..."I am sorry we are late, but...there was no...huuuu" T'waeak collapses upon the grey stone floor and serving girls rush with blankets and water as angry farmers begin to enter the building.

"Is that the new Weapons Master of Roh? Raj?" Famba wonders from across the crowd as she simultaneously grieves for T'waeak's exhaustion and views someone impressive-looking.

Barely able to breathe, T'waeak's aware-ness catapults from an-asthmatic nightmare to a completory-bliss; the affected of the territory brought, as T'waeak had promised, to the gates of who-can-help. Girls of the humble-palace do their best to bring the soldier now-of Illyria to a state of communicatory-efficacity by offering loaves of a most favorable grain but baked with more, baked with love.

Andreas continued on his way through Roh with Trey towards the castle. The bread girl still plagued his mind. She was beautiful, that was easy enough to tell. But for some reason, he felt as though he might have gotten her in trouble. Trey looked over at him.

"What's her name, brother?" Trey asked slyly. Andreas barely noticed.

"Rye. She said her name was," Andreas replied oblivious. He hoped he hadn't gotten her into any trouble. If he did, what would she do. He knew the rule of the bread girls of Roh. Not to be seen.

"You mean the bread girl. My brother you just met her." He laughed. A deep booming laugh that always got Andreas' attention. Andreas looked up.

"Oh. I see what you mean. No. Nothing like that. I was just thinking I may have gotten her in trouble."

"I think you might have. You might wanna think about making amends."

"You know I can't interfere with the affairs of every day life in Roh."

"True. But if she loses her job, where is she gonna go? She'll be freelance, you know. And I think she has something to do with the bread-baking. And it was delicious."

"Are you suggesting that we take her in our steed if she leaves?"

"Why not?"

With that, Andreas turned around. He was gonna see what he could do.
She was gone before Baden could even return a proper bow and the man Tekle replaced her. He was a thin faced man with liquid blue eyes and a sallow expression, much less entertaining than either of his two hosts. And the one had deftly maneuvered away when the subject of her mother was breeched. If he hadn’t known better he would have said she had practically ran from it…well, first bitten his head off then left. He chuckled to himself. It was all done very well with the utmost courtesy, however. He couldn’t blame her really, he shouldn’t even have asked, but tact wasn’t one of his best virtues, much to Hye’s chagrin, and this wasn’t his hold where he could question people at will. And in all she had handled it well.

Though dare say I deserved it…he thought giving Tekle a courteous nod. But she had to be warned. This was a dangerous time in a dangerous place and Princess Mara was a very important player.

“Thank you again for your hospitality this night, sir. And I apologize for any offense I might…”

The duke waved it aside. “Bosh. It is nothing. The Princess is sensitive to the subject, that’s all. As well she should be,” he added as an after thought, but it was one that made Baden pause for a moment in wonderment, but the Duke continued. “She did give you leave to visit her stallion after all and she wouldn’t have done that if you had meant offense.”

Cleverly worded Baden thought, eyeing the man from the darkness of his hood. They’re friendly people, warm people, but harder than they look if need be. I need to watch them carefully, I don’t know full enough what I’m getting myself into. His mouth twisted in a wry smile. But when do I ever? “She is most gracious,” he said aloud.” He had last been to the Plains a few months before, to sit with the Horselords and drink their butter tea on the way to find the ruined city of the Ancients. The herds he had also seen and spent a night with the herds, honoring the place they gave him.

“They are fond of you,” one of the Lords had said, sweeping hair the color of bone away from his eyes. “You smell of Illyria.” He bared sharpened teeth and Baden laughed.

“I smell of sweat and dirt. I sure hope Illyria smells better than that!” The horselord had only given him a hiss of a laugh and looked at him through the firelight.

“I am indeed honored,” he added aloud, drawn out of the mists of the past. Suddenly, the skin on the back of his neck prickled for the second time that night and he noticed that his host and Tekle were both looking at something in the doorway.

He blinked. Were his eyes playing tricks on him? The apparition in the shadow of the door looked startled for a moment, then her eyes focused on him and she took a step forward. An elf? he thought wonderingly, and his neck prickled again. Yes, he was almost positive now that this was the one who had been following him out the in woods, on the way back to the castle. But an elf? It would explain a lot.

He had always wanted to go to Aricrysta a land steeped in as much mystery as Illyria, or at least it seemed that way to him. The way to Aricrysta had always been closed to him however. He was certainly no elf.

He eyes flicked again to the members in the room, light catching silver in her eyes, brighter than her wealth of moon spun hair. Baden suddenly felt the great urge to laugh. Gods, here I am in the middle of a country on the brink of war, in a godforsaken castle with one mad princess and a she-elf stalking the corridors! By the gods I have no idea what I’m getting myself into! “My lord,” he called to the duke, trying to keep the chuckle from his voice. “It appears as if your guards may need a refresher course in their duties, or is this common in Roh now to have such sudden visitors at your door? By Ogden you must be so tired of all of us by now!”

~*~


“You should have seen it!” Barley breathed and Rye winced as the other girl tightened the apron. The welts on her back were still very fresh. “I was like something from a story! Well…I didn’t hear it all myself, but Pumpkin did. Pumpkin was there and she told me!” Rye slid off the stool with a thump. Her feet were still bare. She needed to find her shoes. “He through the head into the king’s lap and it spoke!” Barley chatted before her words were suddenly stolen as she was pushed aside.

“Ignore her,” Pumpkin said, gathering another tray. “Besides we’re not really supposed to talk to you.”

“Is it true?”

Pumpkin shook her head. “The head landed at the Kings feet.”

“And then?” Pumpkin pursed her lips and she knew what that meant, but still she persisted. The story was too good. “And then?”

“Then he collapsed. T’weak he was called as we learned when we brought him ‘round. King’s going to send out a detachment to try to keep some of the trouble down. Now I can’t talk to you. You’re tainted.”

Rye dropped her eyes and stepped into a corner so the other breadgirl could pass. “Now you’re lucky for now I can only let you off with a beating,” Cleo sighed winding the strip of leather in her hand. “You were seen, you are no good to us now despite your talents…but with Dierdai here we need the hands we can use. You are confined to serving only the lowest of peoples, if that. Once they leave you have no place among us.

There was an unfamiliar lump in her throat she swallowed down as she watched Wheat pick up another tray. I am a thing. Things don’t cry, and she set her jaw fiercely and waited for someone to need her.

A tray came and went, not for her, not her name. Out into the castle and beyond it went. Maybe even into the rooms where the King could be planning his latest move, or even where the explosive and interesting guests would be held. She watched the loaves move wistfully, secret eyes finding the holes in the walls, the door behind the cabinet and her feet itched to go there.

A voice spoke her name but it was not for bread. There was fear in Barley’s eyes when she took her hand and said other voices were speaking her name.

“Go…a place was offered for me?”

“You’re lucky,” Oat grumped in passing, as she stood stunned. “Without that you’d be torn apart on the streets or worse. That’s what they say anyways.” Barley glared at the woman’s departing back then turned her eyes back to Rye.

“I’d be scared. It’s Outside. No bread, no kitchens…?” she shivered. “Unless they have breadgirls in Dierdai.”

“I don’t…I don’t think so.” She chewed her lip for a moment then bowed her head. “You can move a table to another room, so we can move too.” I am a thing, I go where I am told, even if it is strange and new…I see you as an equal… “Besides,” she said firmly, “there might be interesting things in the world beyond the loaves. Cook will let me go?”

“She doesn’t have much of a choice. You were seen, but that doesn’t mean she won’t barter a little. She’ll get what she can for you.” Barley paused, tears welling in her eyes. “You can’t go,” she breathed, “you’re my friend.”

Rye swallowed hard and wiped Barley’s tears away with gentle fingers. “Hush now. Things don’t cry.”
Eiryn was at the third door when a girl swept past her, muttering something under her breath. With her glazed eyes, Eiryn saw a man enter in the door ahead of her, and she reached out hastily to probe the fourth room. A fern, this time. Healthy as well.

A hooded stranger and two others, darling...

She caught the whisper and moved quickly to stand at the doorway. Could it be? She reluctantly released her grip on nature and peered into the room, keeping a smile from her face as she saw the monk. Stepping out of the shadows, Eiryn took a breath and calmed herself. She had no idea where her mission was going, but this man drew her to him, and she could never resist her curiosity.

"It appears as if your guards may need a refresher course in their duties, or is this common in Roh now to have such sudden visitors at your door? By Ogden you must be so tired of all of us by now!" the monk said, and she focused her silver eyes on him, intent on seeing his face. She ignored the other two men who were standing in disbelief and confusion, and walked up directly in front of the stranger who had caught her attention quite easily.

"What is your name?" she asked, watching as he shifted, apparently uncomfortable. She could sense his hesitation, and wondered if he was preparing to lie.

"Good elf, I am Father Thom," he said, his voice smooth and controlled. A good liar. Eiryn tilted her head and lifted a pale hand to brush at his hood. His own hand, larger, immediately gripped her wrist.

"I am not allowed to show my face, Elf. It is-"

"I wish to see your face. And my name, sir, is Eiryn. Surely a respected monk would not discriminate based on race."

His grip tightened, but she kept still and did not cry out.

"No, I meant no disrespect," Thom said carefully. "Eiryn, is it? Well, I am sorry to disappoint such a beautiful Elf as yourself, but I cannot show my face."

"It is forbidden, Elf," one of the men spoke up. "You see, he-"

"Flattery will not work, Father Thom," Eiryn interrupted. "I wish to see your face. Now."

((Sorry it sucks, I had like 10 minutes to write it...))
A Non-Existent User
A thin, wispy breeze sent dried leaves into Acedia's path. Tears of frusration ran from her eyes. Her latest argument between her father and herself was fiercer than ever.

She gathered a pile of wood, igniting a fire, the shadows dancing across her face. She sat cross-legged with her back against a large rock. The breeze made the fire twirl in the air, sending embers into the inky blackness of the night.

Acedia sighed, twisting her long pale red hair around her fingers.

As the flames jumped into the night, her eyes closed, the relief of rest reaching ever so close. She didn't like being angry at her father. Not at all. But she wished to go in a different direction.

The fire began to die, and Acedia trailed off into sleep.
A Non-Existent User
Name: Rebecca Britte/Ryan Brone
Age: 24
Personality: She is very sweet, but headstrong. It can be said that she is deceptive, since she has an entire army convinced that she is a man. But even though she's strong, she still has the weakness of every woman. Love.
Position: Formerly a peasant of Roh, she is now disguised as a soldier to raise money for her father's doctor.
Anything that will help us understand this character: Her father recently fell ill, and poor as they were, there was no money for a doctor. She is now in the army, sending her wages home to pay for medical treatment.
Currently: Strolling outside the barracks
---

Name: Stephen Glars
Age: 31
Personality: Very selfish and evil, but a very good liar. He pretends to be kind and generous in order to get what he wants.
Position: Prince of Vyre, an enemy of Roh
Anything that will help us understand this character: He is trying to trick Roh into believing that he is an ally in order to make defeat simple. He is willing to do anything to accomplish that goal.
Currently: Sneaking outside Roh's palace, trying to gain information.
Dronam froze when he saw the elf at the door. Immediate concern rose for Mara and he signalled to Tekle to go fetch the girl, bring her where he could see her and keep her safe. But when the elf-woman cut him off in his own home, Dronam's blood began to boil. He was kind and would offer her shelter and protection, but sneaking into his house and disrespecting him as well as his guests in it crossed the lines. The massive man strided over to where the "Father" was holding Eiryn back.
"You will let go of him and regain control of yourself, elf-woman." Dronam said sternly. "You have broken into my house, sneaked past my guards, and brought yourself into my chambers uninvited. Had you asked for entry, it would have been granted. Assaulting verbally the guests in my own home, as well as disrespecting myself, is unacceptable. I will not have you doing such things. Regardless of who this man really is, he will receive my protection and hospitality, as you will also. Now let go."

*~*

Mara was halfway down the hidden corridor that was a shortcut to her room when she heard Tekle's footsteps behind her. He was rushing and sounded out of breath. As he came into sight, she started toward him.
"What is happening?" She asked, half afraid.
"An elf...broke into...the chambers." He explained haltingly.
"Well, let's be on our way. And we'll walk." Mara smiled as she said the last.
Tekle nodded, but set a fast pace. As they maneuvered the hallways, Mara thought that out of a million people to be concerned about, why an elf? And why this elf?
A dying rose in the hallway caught her eye and Mara made a mental note to ask the maids if they would gather all the dying flowers to bring to her room to tend. The rose seemed to droop a bit more as in the other room, Eiryn received a mind-connection from it. A princess on her way.
Mara's rationalizing continued until they reached the chamber doorway, as the door still sat wide open. The princess paused, took a deep breath, forced back her shoulders and made herself appear kind but regal. As she entered Mara saw Dronam finishing up what appeared to have been a stern message to the elf-woman.
"Did I miss something?" She smiled, pausing as she made her way to the threesome.
Cocking her head slightly, she placed her hands lightly over the elf-woman's and led her gently to an ornately carved sitting bench a few paces to the left of them. As she sat with the elf-woman, she looked at Dronam.
"Her name is Eiryn." Dronam offered.
Mara nodded to him. "Eiryn, dear, we will not harm you in any way as I'm sure you could tell. But you have offended the men in this room, so I will ask them to leave momentarily."
The princess waved the other two off.
"What is it that brought you here?" Mara asked as soon as the men had gone. "Why do you need to know who Ba-Father Thom is? As we all know, he is not who he says he is. There are rifts in his story, although it is well put together. Nevertheless, we will offer him what he needs to continue on whatever errand he runs."
Eiryn stared at the door, and Mara looked over there and then back to her. "Dearest, they will return as soon as I get some answers from you. What is that?"
Mara was looking at the Elfin Queen's shoulder. "A burn mark." Like in the prophecy. A phrase popped into her head. Mara breathed in slightly.
"Bring them back in." The princess commanded. Immediately, the door opened and Dronam stepped in followed by the priest. Mara crossed the room to him and whispered something in his ear.
"Oh my." His voice sounded surprised. "Then what shall we do?"
"I suppose we must explain this to her, and to the priest. It would explain why I was here as well as the purpose of that soon-to-be scar." Mara whispered.
"Indeed, it would. Well, let us be out with it." He smiled.
In the hidden chamber behindst the throne, T'waeak pulls from a pantalonian-pocket a leaf, wrapped carefully with thin jungle-vines (pulled into strips). The parcel is opened at one end and T'waeak pours onto a smoothen surface a miniscule pile of light medium green crystals. A highly-specialized blade is removed from a holster tied with leather straps to a right leg and the crystals are expertly chopped into a fine powder. These are then placed into a metal shoe that is suspenlived from a trivet-on-cauldron-holder that sways either left or right to enable place above a fireplace behind the other in the great throne hall. As the elf-food is vaporized by the heat from the medium inferno inside the armor-shoe, a smoke seems to fill the alcove or recess, and the King and T'waeak hold secret counsel.

"Bless you, friend of Roh! Oh! I can remember my mother, things in my child-hood, so swifty it all comes back. This land is good! What should I do? I promised them action!" The King darts from subject to subject, creating an over-all confusion or cacophony to those not used to the effects the elf-food has on mortals. To T'waeak, the King of Roh's monologue is completely limpid.

"I would suggest exactly that, your majesty, some action!" T'waeak responds, "but I hope in your current state you do not over-look the obviosity of sending those best qualified. A secret as you addressed the crowd detachment force, that Rhea will not respond with violence or at least if she does, not with explainable reason to her tiwsted logic"

"Aye...aye..." the King breathes in more of the vaporized splinky-dust and vision blurs momentarily then returns, the King glancing to speak once more, "and I trust your input into this...what do you suggest, will you lead the group? Should I ask for volunteers? Only an upgrade to our regular patrols, I want no conflict if possible, perhaps spies could be secreted to Noklah to find the children, could one group accomplish both?"

T'waeak says nothing, as if waiting for the King's own natural leadership sense to take its course, then cooly advises, "I might offer each territory to appoint members on their own, you have my volunteership, lord, and I am with Illyria, but what of Dierdai? surely Trey and Andreas themselves could not be bothered with this, though we could use their service! Let me speak to them, and I will respond to their wisdom and ride along-side whomever Dierdai chooses, not as leader but helper"

"You have ever been just-that, a helper of Roh!" the King smiles, "I agree that Dierdai's leadership should choose for at least their own part, and if you will acquiesce to their counsel; well, I leave that to you. I may also suggest Dronam who inhabits the keep just south of this very-one being-apprised of our plans. Leave me now and go with my blessing, do what you must but be careful, the fate of Roh must not be compromised by rash-actions."

"Only here to help, majesty! The trade must continue, for my people...I will tell the farmers to return then and the leadership of Dierdai will I confer with...My group will represent Illyria until I can contact the leadership of-such and we shall also confer with Dronam, as you command..." T'waeak returns to the throne-chamber to confer the majesty of Roh's wishes to the assembled.

<center>~*~</i>

One solitary figure has already slipped out and rides through the evening to the location-of-intention. Rhea's spy reports what has been heard and seen.

"She has not been found yet! She must be found" Rhea-of-Noklah screams, "The bread-girls! They must be checked...Where could she be? Send spies to examine all children for the mark! and the others! What shall be done with them? Send for the seeing-witch"

"Yes,Majesty"

<center>~*~</i>

On the out-skirts of Aricrysta, one lone fairy keeps watch through the night, that roaming-monsters may be kept from entering Hayea, that the elf-portal may be kept-safe...in the deserts above Dierdai, a witch grows mad-with-guilt, of a prophecy she is no-longer sure-of...in Roh, T'waeak of the Illyrian House of Averone enters the throne hall of the castle of Roh and prepares to address the crowd of angry farmers, traders, and visiting royalty of the King's plans to assemble a force-in-secret to keep-watch for dangerous Noklan acitvity...
Andreas stood in the main hall of the granary. For a small kingdom, Roh had an expansive, and rather large, granary. Normally, granaries were made for storage only. But Roh's was more than that. It not only stored the food, but it was also quarters for the working class of the food business.

After speaking with the cook, and a woman by the name of Cleo, Andreas now awaited for Rye to be brought to him. Cleo was still trying to get Andreas higher on the price for her. He had already agreed to 500 dublons, more than anyone had ever bought anything since Andreas' stay at Dierdai.

BUt he had good reason. She was supposedly the best. But even the best at hiding were no match for Dierdian eyes. Dierdians saw more than others. Or, rather, chose to see more than others. And now, here he was, making his final bid.

"I will pay no more than 750 dublons. That should be enough," he said. Cleo merely nodded her head in acceptance. Andreas knew she and the cook were reaching for 1000, so Andreas had started small. 750 actually wasn't that bad for a 'Prince.' He heard a small noise to the side.

He looked over and saw Rye. Now that he thought about it, she really was rather beautiful. He was just glad Trey wasn't here. His brother would be jeering him the whole time about her.

When Rye saw him, she quickly tried moving into the shadows.

"Go not into the shadows, Rye," Andreas said in a commanding voice. Even Cleo looked startled at how such a young man gave orders like he had been a High General for decades. It was in Andreas' blood. Rye bowed her head and came closer.

"Yes, M'Lord," she answered. She then looked at Cleo. "You called for me, M'Lady?"

"I did. Your time with us has been great. And though I regret your last act with us was, shall I say, not worth your skill, I am glad to have had you. You are now in the employ of Dierdai. And for the handsome price of 750 Dublons, I might add. A pretty good haul for a bread-girl."

Rye looked up at Andreas with shock. He had spent that much to get her away from the kitchens? Maybe he was a great man. With a final goodbye from Rye to Cook and Cleo, she and Andreas left out to his horse. He put his hand on her back to help her, and saw her flinch.

"What was done?" he asked, concerned.

"Was nothing, M'lord. Merely a punishment for being seen." Andreas pulled the cloak back just enough to see the whip-lines that criss-crossed her back. His nostrils flared in anger. An anger not easily antagonized.

"Know this, Rye. With Dierdai, this will never happen to you. Do you understand?" She nodded. Andreas then helped her on the horse. She looked a bit confused.

"I have ridden enough today. And you look like you could sit for a while." And they headed back to where Trey awaited.
Rye’s fingers tightened on the saddle horn as the beast swayed beneath her. A horse. She had only seen nobles and soldiers riding them with in the limits of the city and if Barley could see her now her eyes would be wide with wonder. She was riding a horse. But it was hard not to fall with the sway of the creature’s body.

Around her the city moved and swelled and from her position she could even see the tops of people’s heads, in colors of browns and reds and blondes. So many colors and so many people, carrying all sorts of parcels and bags, some Rye didn’t recognize. A child fought with a mother as small beetles crawled over their feet from a broken jug, another man with weasel like eyes watched furtively from the shadows. Another man, hugged a sack of food as if his life depended on it. She leaned to get a better look when she felt herself slip and she scrabbled and gripped the saddle horn hard, heart pounding.

In the kitchens, in the castle, by the ovens it was easy to find her balance, twisting and disappearing behind a loose stone into a hidden doorway, but here…here was different. She was Outside, in the world beyond the loaves and she suddenly felt her throat tightened. This wasn’t her world, and all around there were eyes. They can see me now, she thought, stomach twisting into knots, They can see me atop this horse where a bread girl doesn’t belong. They see…they see… The eyes bored into her skin, into her bone and she stirred and looked down in hopes of hiding again in a fall of sunlight. But she couldn’t, no matter how hard she tried

They saw a bread girl, in the white and blue pattern, riding and the lord walking. He had to be a lord or someone important, she thought, looking at him through the shield of her lashes. Who else would have Seven hundred and fifty dublons to pay for her. Seven hundred and fifty! The other bread girls would be talking about this for days to come, for weeks to come. No one paid that much for a bread girl. Then again very little people paid anything for a bread girl. In Roh at least.

Dierdai, that was he kept saying. Dierdai…what kind of place is that? Is everyone so different there? Do lords always give bread girl’s their names? She watched his back, the fit of his cloak over muscular shoulders and wondered, not for the last time, what would become of her. Do they have bread girls in Dierdai? Do I just serve as I did before…but he can see me too, and he is a lord who gave me his name…Andreas The word formed in her mind and she kept it close. That is one thing I know for certain, whatever else may come.

Eiryn did not struggle when Father Thom pushed her back a ways so that his face was even less visible through the darkness of his hood.

She felt like crying, for some odd reason. She didn't know why she was being so insistent or rude. It wasn't like her.

Things were not turning out the way she had planned. All she wanted to do was find the girl in the prophecy and help her in any way she could to stop the evil that was flooding Hayea.

The same woman who had strode past her in the hallway led her to a chair, and Eiryn sat, her head swimming with thoughts of despair and trepidation. She must apologize, and soon. But her mouth would not move, even when the lady began to ask her questions. Her silver eyes were glued to the doorway, and she could not make them focus anywhere else. She tried to envision his face, tried to match it with the way his voice sounded, but she could not.

"What is that?"

Eiryn, in a small miracle, managed to turn and look at where the lady was examining her shoulder with some concern.

"A burn mark," Eiryn answered dubiously. The lady drew in a sharp breath, and commanded the others to come back in. Eiryn couldn't even breathe; the priest's (or whoever he was) aura was overwhelming. Now she was certain that he was vital to her mission.

The lady went to talk to the man who owned the house, but Eiryn did not bother to try to listen in on their whispers. Her attention was too focused on the Father; she could detect his subtle shifting beneath the folds of his cloak. Suddenly, she realized that there was an out of place bump, near to where she guessed his waist was. She refocused and narrowed her silver eyes to that spot, certain, after a few more slight movements, that the priest had a weapon concealed.

Eiryn sucked in a breath, shocked. Now he had certainly lied about his name, but his occupation? One would have to be very desperate to pose as one who is so respected and religious. Was there no end to this man's deceit?

Oh, dearie... Eiryn heard, and immediately slipped into her element, reaching out and finding again the same single, dying rose.

Are you hurting, poor thing? she asked, already knowing the answer. Waves of sadness rolled off the plant, and Eiryn nearly shook from the negative energy that was exuding from it.

Do not judge so hastily... it whispered, and Eiryn struggled to fight back tears as she could feel the plant's energy dimming more with each passing second.

Why? she cried out, trying as hard as she could to expel some of her energy to the rose. She couldn't let this one die. She pushed her power to the brink, willing some to flow to the rose, desperately hoping and pleading with all of Nature.

A flash of white blinded her eyes, and she felt a great wrenching of her soul. Collapsing to the floor, Eiryn began to scream as pain enveloped her entire being. Tears flowed unbidden from her silver eyes, and she tore at her hair, wishing for the pain to stop, stop, stop.

Opening her eyes wide in agony, Eiryn glimpsed something silvery and transparent glide from her chest and head straight for the room where the rose was.

Slowly, the pain receded, and she was able to breathe normally again. The monk had knelt by her side, and she looked at him wearily, with all the world atop her shoulders.

Once more, Eiryn lifted a small hand, so pale it looked fragile, and brushed at the Father's hood. Darkness pervaded her senses, and she let her head and hand drop, sinking into a deep unconsciousness.

In the other room, the dying rose blossomed, crimson petals and deep green stem whole and healthy again, as if some force had willed it to come to life.
A Non-Existent User
Acedia stood at the edge of the empire of Diredai, watching the last of the town move about the markets, closing up shop and scuttling to their homes. She walked down the path, entering the front gates and walking to her own home, stopping short wih her hand on the handle, inhaling deeply.

"Father?" She called into her home, her voice holding a small quiver.

"I have a job for you. I would like you to go to the Kingdom of Roh, and give these to a man they call Albert. He's a priest...I would like to share some...thoughts, if you will." A voice shot through the darkness, and her father emerged, handing her three pieces of parchment, shooing her through the door.

"O...K?"
A Non-Existent User
Rebecca took a step outside, enjoying the fresh night air while the others finished eating. It was her ritual, the only time of day that she could be alone. She missed that.

As she rounded the corner, she took off her helmet and shook out her hair, stowing it behind reeds. In that same place, she withdrew her cloak and wrapped it around herself to ward off the chill and hide her uniform. It was a nice night, and she didn't want anything to spoil it.

-----

Stephen watched the woman pull away her disguise, excited at his good luck. Surely he could withdraw information from her easier than the last soldier he had tortured. But with this one, he shouldn't even have to draw his weapon. She would freely give him what he needed.

He walked into the moonlight, where she could see him. She froze and began to back away, but he was too quick.

"Excuse me, do you know where I can get some food? My sister is starving, and I was told I could get rations here." He added panic and worry to his voice, so that his story would be convincing.

She seemed to regard him with suspicion at first, but her face softened at the mention of his sister.

"It's over behind that building. You will have to wait until morning, though. Do you have somewhere to stay?"

He shook his head, finding it hard to hold back his glee at the simplicity of it.

She pushed some coins into his hand. "Here. This should be enough for a night at the Dragon Claw. Do you know where that is?"

Stephen nodded, hope dancing in his eyes. With a few tears, he kissed her hand, thanking her countless times before returning down the path.

Knowlege of the food storage and some silver to boot. This was going to be no problem.
Mara nearly cursed as the queen withdrew and faded. She had only seen this once before and had been but a girl-child then. It was just her luck that it would happen this day, this night. The princess dropped to her knees beside the queen and pulled the elf up so that she supported the majority of her body. As Baden-disguised-as-priest knelt beside Mara, the woman's breathing began to return to normal and she lifted up a pale, fragile hand to brush at his hood once more. Mara caught and held the "Father's" eyes, hers questioning momentarily. Eiryn slowly drifted in unconsciousness and Mara signalled Dronam and Thom together to carry the girl.
"Follow me." Mara said quietly, her face full of worry.
She led them out of Dronam's chambers and down the dark corridor to the room next to and linked with hers. This way, if the queen needed anything, she could easily call on Mara. Tekle lit the fire in the corner of the room and Mara sent a handmaid for some mild and gentle tea as well as a soft towel and bowl of hot water. She drew up a chair beside Eiryn's bed as the men lay her gently on it. Mara tugged the quilted cover over Eiryn's shoulders and tucked it lightly.
"That should do. Thank you. We shall discuss other matters later." She cast a pointed look at Dronam, who smiled and nodded.
Dronam escorted Father Thom out of the room. The princess turned her attention to the elf-queen. She was worried and confused. The woman was obviously looking for answers. But was she scared that she couldn't just ask directly?
"Oh, Dear, don't you understand that you may trust us?" Mara whispered.
A handmaid knocked on the door and stepped in with the towel and bowl of water.
"Thank you." The princess smiled at the girl, then started to dab at the queen's forehead. "Rest well, dear one. The world shall need you to rescue it. For now, let me tell you a tale."
Mara was certain that the queen couldn't hear her, but she talked anyway hoping that in some way the woman would remember her. She told her the story of her mother. And the story of her brother, the one who remained hidden.
"My mother always favored him. Said that he was the one who would bring Noklah to her greatest. And what was I? But a servant to his every whim. To fetch him water and caramelized apples and to groom and catch his horse. One day, he stormed into my room after his last dispute with our mother. He told me what a failure I would be now that I was Mother's favorite, that nothing I could do would ever please her. He said that I was so weak that I would fall into Mother's ways and become her puppet and bring the other nations to their knees. I would persecute people to win her approval. Maybe it was his way of keeping me from crossing over, maybe not. I'll never know. He disappeared that night. I haven't seen or heard from him since."
Mara smiled gently and wrung out the now cold towel, dipping it in so that it was hot again and returning to dab Eiryn's forehead and neck.
"I guess I shall thank him if I ever do see him again."
Mara's story is interruptted by what do you suppose but a knocking sound from the center chamber of Dronam's keep. The door is heard opening and Mara flits to listen at the edge of the second-ensconce.

"Dronam, it is well with you, I hope! The King has ordered me to start a hidden patrol until we find the reason for the current madness protuding from Noklah! My situation is this: I can ask for assistance for this patrol and am letting you understand what-transpires one way or the other. Trey and Andreas have moved on before I had a chance to ask for Deirdain members of the patrol-party and the farmers I have gathered are too busy running their businesses. If only there were a way to bring this group together! If somehow I or someone else had the ability to communicate tele-pathically! If trees could speak and relay messages ha ha ha...I am just not sure how to get messages out fast-ly"

Mara listens to T'waeak's monologue then glances back at the sleeping elf-maiden..."Don't the elves have such abilities?" Mara wonders to herself in silence...

Andreas walked his horse through the Rohan streets on the way to meet back with his brother. The stares he recieved from the people around him erked him beyond anything. He simply stared them down. Their eyes quickly diverted away from them.

He looked up at Rye, who was looking at him with concern and yet gratitude. She smiled at him. He could tell she wanted beyond anything to ask him questions. Andreas merely smiled back and sighed.

"Anything you want to ask, Rye, you can do. You do not need my position. You are free from the kitchens, and under my service. And under my service, you are truly under no one's service. You just have to return with my brother and I to Dierdai."

He saw her face lighten a little. She thought long and hard about her questions that she would ask the Dierdian Captain.

"Why would you pay 750 dublons for an insignificant breadgirl such as myself?" Andreas was not caught off guard by this question. He had actually thought that it might come up. He had thought about his reply since paying the cook.

"Because Dierdian's have a servitude issue. And I can see the potential you have, beyond any kitchen. You were born for greater things. I saw that, beyond just seeing you when you weren't supposed to be." She smiled at his reply.

Rye was the first to spot Trent awaiting them. He stood with his arms crossed, smiling, shaking his head. Andreas would hear about this.
Eiryn awoke as if from death. The first thing she saw was the woman who had tried to calm her before-...what?

The rose, she remembered. Was it okay?

She stared into the lady's olive eyes, feeling a sense of sympathy. Why was that? She gazed deeper into the other's eyes, and vaguely recalled listening to a story...perhaps it would come to her later. For now, she had to check the rose...and find the pretend monk.

Struggling to sit up, Eiryn felt frustation when the lady pushed her back down with an exclamation.

"No, Eiryn! You must rest!"

Eiryn sighed and settled back into the pillows, glancing about her. A bowl of water and a cloth lay on the table beside her bed, and she realized the woman had been taking care of her.

"Who are you?" she asked, discovering that her voice was softer and more dreamy than usual. The woman smiled gently.

"My name is Mara. You, young Queen, are of particular interest to me. Why have you come?"

Eiryn didn't answer for a long while, choosing instead to observe her surroundings. They were alone.

"I have come to find the girl in the prophecy, so I may help her overcome the evils of Rhea and Noklah. My people have sent me off with goodwill, expecting that I will be the first Elf in a long while to help the inhabitants of Hayea. I must not fail."

Eiryn noted with satisfaction that although her voice was soft, her words had come out with the force she intended them to. People must know of the urgency that had possessed her. She would not let Noklah or Rhea destroy Hayea.

Mara nodded, glancing sharply at the door, which had just opened. A figure stepped inside.

A Non-Existent User
Rebecca hurriedly donned her disguise once more and returned to the barracks. She always tried to find a private corner, to avoid being caught between too many of the men. She had learned earlier how unpleasant that could be.

"Retiring early, are we?" One of the soldiers she didn't know looked up from his manuscript. "I thought you would have liked to enjoy another glass of whine."

She threw her voice into a whisper to hide its feminine sound. "I had quite enough, thank you."

He pulled out a bottle. "You sure?"

With a sigh, she sat beside him. What could be the harm? There was much in her mind she wanted to leave behind.

---

Stephen laughed as he held the torch closer to the wheat. Soon, all of their precious stores would be in flames.
As the Elfin queen started to wake, Mara was recalled back to the present.
When she started to rise, Mara pushed her gently back, saying, "No, Eiryn! You must rest!"
Eiryn began to describe her journey, her purpose for coming out of Aricrysta.
Nodding, Mara smiled. If only the girl-queen knew... But Mara would not explain her suspicions at present. She would wait until Dronam and the "priest" were in the room.
"Dearest, I can understand how anxious you must be to return to your mission. But I would ask you to stay at least until tomorrow morning. Then we could at least make sure that you are okay. And, of course, there are a few things that maybe we could help you with." Mara said gently.
While T'waeak is speaking with Sir Dronam in the castle of such, a small group stirs with impatience and fear. Famba smiles toward Amareillieillia, glad that her accoutregirlts give her veste~feint veracity (that her warrior's outfit looks believable) and doubly that she is extant in unaware-ness-of-it. Pon shifts nervously; constantly glancing at the castle, (then toward) the trees. Busy with a self-conversation, such-are not paying much-attention to the gathered-group. At-last Pon turns to-ward Famba (and speaks).

"I cannot do this right now, T'waeak understands what I am saying, and why..." Pon explains, "I am going to take Amar back to the stream to try to establish trade once-more for now...I have considered this much more than you understand and am sorry...we will miss you and hope you stop by regularly, but I am in no condition to fight and grow sick with rest-less-ness. If we are required for the effort, we will help in any way that we can!"

"OK, Pon and 'Amar'" Famba smiles. "Don't worry about us and we will try to get you information as much-as-possible...see that Amar keeps up her...studies..."

"I want to stay" Pon continues, tears gathering...

"You will be safer near the river" Famba consoles.

Pon and Amareillieillia leave on the small pony, taxing its abilities in the new-found-heft of the load travelled (sic). Neither bit is pulled at, nor other tack utilised for equestrian-abuse as the familial pair approach a choice.

"What way do we go, dad?" Amareillieillia
smiles, "we can take the dirty road or the trees..."

"Hmm...I am not sure" Pon says, tired, "what do you think, Amareillieillia?"

"Thanks for calling me my name" Amareillieillia replies...

Pon once again forces back ocular-moisture suggestive of relatively positive emotive-examplation as the couple of ways are compared.

"Let's take the trees!" Amareillieillia
cries and Pon is glad...The two enter the short-cut back to the out-skirts of Roh, traveling toward the only safety they have ever understood in Roh, the familiarity of the trade-trails greeting at times near the river (in others, near high-level trade or noble habitations), "I hope we don't see any monsters!"

Pon looks at the daughter child with questioning relative-belief.

"I was out for a while, Ammy, what happened when I fell? Where-from would such an idea procede? Is that the right word? procede? or is it more come?" Pon tries to qiestion.

"I saw the fairy! She..."

"Shh!"

The conversation stops as a sound is heard and parent-and-child stoop within shrubs as a party of Noklan warriors passes near-close, luckily by-passing (seeing) the-family.

"Sorry, Amareillieillia!" Pon says at terse-legnth, "It is safe now, you were saying..."

"She helped you from where she is, sometimes not here, sometimes here"

"Here?" Pon quizzes.

"Hayaea"...

Pon was unsure (if Famba was telling tales or) where Amareillieillia had received this expanse of vocablulary. Could what the child says be true? Are there other worlds? Hmm...





Baden stretched, working a crick out from between his shoulder blades. Sleep, something that had been alien to him for several days had done him wonders. Looks like I haven’t been day for three days. That’s an improvement I suppose, he thought, splashing his face with cold water and drawing on his monks cowled robe. He was in a lords house, wearing day old traveling clothing and a monk’s threadbare cloak. He grinned at the thought. His manservant would be having a fit right now.

He slipped quietly from his room as his mind slipped back to the present. The elf…now that was a rarity, and why was she so obsessed with seeing his face? First demanding it, then trying with her last effort to flip the hood from his eyes. He was positive he had never seen her before. Elves were a rarity in Illyria, if they even made it there at all. The land seemed shy of them, and Illyria never had dealings with Aricrysta . In fact he was almost positive that she would have no idea who he was. And yet it was almost as if some other insane drive in the young woman was pulling her forward.

And then there was the collapse and the spiriting away and Baden got the distinct feeling that there was some great secret afoot that he was being left out of. He wasn’t as curious as Hirain but his feet had led him here, to this castle, to this place and he still liked to have some control over the events in his life.

With kind words, he weaned a tray of cheese, breads, and fruit, from the kitchens and threaded his way easily through the corridors. I feel almost like a thief, he thought happily. Can’t do this in my own hold without someone pouncing on me, or me scaring the hell out of them when I turn up somewhere they’re not expecting. Illyria…Gods I’ve been avoiding that. Hye was bound to have missed him by now, and he wondered what was afoot in his own land. What did Grydon think of Noklah? Probably considered it no more than a buzzing gnat. But who really knew.

He found the door he was looking for, swung it open, and stepped inside. “My ladies, I thought you might be hungry,” he said shuffling over and sliding the tray onto a bedside table as Mara and the elf watched him. “It’s been a long night, and you, my lady,” he said to the elf, “especially should probably eat something.”

“Thank you, Father Thom,” Mara said graciously. “But please, stay a moment. There’s something…” she hesitated and Baden raised his brows in the darkness of his hood. “There’s something that I think concerns us all.”
Andreas met with Trey where they had earlier agreed. It was just outside the castle of Roh, but hidden enough to have a private conversation with one another. Trey looked at Rye with the same care any Dierdian would, but with the apprehension of the presence of an outsider.

"Relax, brother, she is a Dierdian now," Andreas reassured him. "She is under our ward. And as such, she should know anything any other Dierdian would know." Trey nodded his head, and relaxed a little. He smiled slyly.

"So how much did my brother pay for such a talented being, who thought she could hide from Dierdian eyes?" Trey asked, amused.

"750 Dublons." Trey merely nodded.

"A good price, for a new Dierdian." It was then that both of them saw the expression on Rye's face. Andreas leaned towards her.

"Anything you want to ask, just do so. Never forget that." She nodded, ready to burst with the question that had been haunting her this whole time.

"What is to happen with me on our return to Dierdai? That is, if I go with you?" She was very timid about the question. After all, she had never known anything outside of the breadhouses.

"Whatever you wish, within normal, Dierdian, standards." Andreas answered.

"And, what are those standards." Andreas and Trey smiled.

"Pretty much whatever you wish," Trey answered, chuckling. And they all had a good laugh about it.
The priest walked in, bearing food, and Eiryn sat up quickly, eying the fruit hungrily. He set it down on the table beside the bed, and, after nodding her thanks, she snatched a handful of various berries.

Eiryn felt as though she hadn't eaten in days; her stomach was burning from hunger. Ravenous, she devoured the berries within a few moments, and then reached for the bread, pausing only to hear Mara speak.

"There's something that I think concerns us all."

Eiryn glanced curiously at the lady, mindlessly tearing off pieces of bread and eating them. Her silver eyes darted to the priest, who stood for a moment, as though indecisive, before sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the bed that Mara was on.

"We shall have to wait for Sir Dronam," Mara continued, "but I am sure he will not be long."

A heavy silence reigned, in which Eiryn continued to eat and observe the other two.

Mara seemed a bit excited, she noted, but nervous as well. Her tone had suggested something important was to happen, but what?

Her attention turned to Father Thom. He seemed calm, to say the least. She thought she glimpsed the tip of his nose as he shifted, but the shadows of his hood quickly concealed him again. Eiryn had a sudden thought.

"Father Thom, when does your...belief...allow you to remove your hood? The lady Mara has told me that this month is the death month for your god. She did not say when the month would end. My land has a different way of measuring time, you see, and I am curious to know when I will finally be able to see your face."

The priest shifted again, and Eiryn waited patiently.

"Well, the death month ends at the next full moon. So I suppose you won't have to wait long to see my face, Elf."

"Eiryn," she corrected gently, a thoughtful look on her face. "Five days, is it not? Mara has tried to explain your method of measuring time, and I think I may understand some of it. Is five days right?"

Mara broke in.

"Actually, dear, it's six days. Off by one, but it's not a matter of importance right now."

"It is to me," Eiryn whispered. Mara's olive eyes studied Eiryn for a few moments.

"I'm sorry," Eiryn said suddenly. "I've eaten nearly all the food, and I don't think you've had any. Would you like me to find you some more?"

Mara shook her head slowly, still watching the elf carefully.

"No, I will be fine for a little while longer. But thank you, good Queen."

"Please," Eiryn insisted, feeling a bit faint all of a sudden, "just Eiryn."

"My dear, are you okay?" the princess asked with concern as a deep red flush began to creep over Eiryn's cheeks. The elf lady nodded, her silver eyes darkening as her mouth opened to let out a soft sigh.

Mara and Father Thom both felt a slight stirring of the wind, although there were no windows in this room. Eiryn, Mara noticed suddenly, was speaking softly in Elven tongue.

"Is she...is she okay?" the priest asked, but Mara shushed him quietly. The elf was communicating with nature again, and was curious to see the process.

"The rose is alive," Eiryn exclaimed, making the other two jump. "I've healed it, it's come back to life and it-..." she cut off, and the blush on her cheeks grew deeper.

"Thank you," she murmured. Slowly, her silver eyes lightened to their normal hue, and her translucent skin erased the rose from her cheeks.

"What happened?" Mara asked, barely able to contain herself. Eiryn looked at her solemnly.

"I've a message from my people, of which I shall reveal later. As to the present...Sir Dronam is making his way to this room as we speak."
A Non-Existent User
Rebecca awoke late the next morning, her head pounding from the previous night's alcohol. She stumbled to her feet and strapped on her sword belt while rubbing her eyes.

"Someone had a rough night, eh?" One of her bunkmates laughed.

She simply nodded and checked that the feminine areas were concealed. She had no strength for games today.

"Oh, by the way." He added slyly. "You were due at the castle an hour ago."

Rebecca's heart leapt into her throat. She raced out of the barracks, only after smacking him across the head with her shoe.

---

Stephen was far from happy that morning. His plans to destroy the food stores had not gone well. Only a bushel or two caught fire before someone saw the flames. Now there were guards posted at every hour. Needless to say, he would have to come up with a new plan.

He slowly ate his breakfast and pondered his next move. Perhaps he would take a look about the neighboring villages today. Surely an idea would come to him.

With a sigh, he crossed the room, prepared for his bath. Ah, no such luck. He was supposed to be posing as a peasant. No one thought twice about giving them information.

Oh well, he could live with it for a day or so. Just until he found a way to destroy the stronghold of Noklah.
Mara had felt more than seen Eiryn's attention slip away from their conversation, which was a bit unusual. But the princess simply shrugged the feeling away.
"Sir Dronam is making his way to this room as we speak." Eiryn said, more to herself than to them.
Mara nodded, motioning to Tekle to find Dronam and urge him to the room faster. The man slipped out quietly and within a matter of moments, Dronam was in the room. Mara smiled at Tekle.
"Thank you, Tekle. Your assistance will not be needed for a few moments." But before he went out the door, she stopped him. "Actually, you may play a part in this. Please, stay."
Tekle simply chuckled and shook his head before stepping back from the door and bolting it.
"Now that we are all here, I have something rather important to tell you all."
Mara went into detail about her mother's seer. About the child, who would lead them all in great victory, or in great defeat. Without help, the child would fail. With corrupted hep, she would die. But if the balance fell just right, the kingdom would survive.
She spoke of the identification, a strange mark known only to those around her, and a revelation would speak of it as a half-star, some of a half-moon, or sun. But always a celestial object.
She showed them all Eiryn's mark, with her permission, of course.
And lastly, she revealed what she thought about the places of her helpers. As supporters, but necessary. If anyone died, or anyone gave up, the mission was lost forever.
"And so, Eiryn, as you must have guessed already, I think...I think you are the chosen. I think it is you."
BOOK THREE
~ REALMS; RESPONSE REVEALED ~

Harken and re-call
mother's careful voice
Instructing, reminding
is it necessary, the choice?

An action, judged
is it still what it is?
Viewed through the portal
time and what it gives

Relativity and story
average lives employ
Escape from the turmoil
inspire (and even enjoy)


Rhea scans from the railing; suspends from raised level, watching the captive children working; turning grind-mills, socializing, and some contemplating escape. Straining her experienced audiation toward-such, its cardinal constituents become clear.

"Noone understands how I feel!" Richa, a child appropriated explains carefully to another, "it's not just about how people get-along together! It is...um...but, maybe not"

"I think I understand what you are saying" Soryya replies, with a smile that pierces the smudge of labor and cruel-conduct concerning corporal-cleanliness. Rhea fights back a momentary twinge of guilt, do these captured matter? NO! THEY ARE MERE OFFAL...

"It's not that..." Richa begins, "I miss my parents, um I mean I miss my parents but I..."

"Ooh, is it that its about the plants and things, too? Not just people getting along when they make families, but about all the other things?" Sorrya offers.

"No, I mean yes that's true but I mean well...yes you are right, but not just trees and bushes and things...like clothes would be one thing, but not that, so much...like OTHER things; like people don't even know about yet!" Richa lays it down.

"What do you think there is?"

Rhea watches as the guards lash the children to keep them silent and subservient in stable-and-steady submission.

A moment of...hesitation?..NO! Whirling, the Queen whispers to her general an elucidation of her royal-wishes...MORE CHILDREN! LET THEM STOP ME, I MUST FIND THE ONE WHO WILL DESTROY ME! BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE...WHAT THE WITCH SAID, I TRUST HER...

Rhea has since child-hood enjoyed the privilege of royal education....while others toil and slave to create the most fundamental and basic of those essentials neceesary to create the clay, in royal hands such may be shaped to purpose...it has an importance that those not in such vantages have not the opportunity to view, and that is why mercy must not be shown to these. How could they know of the mountains of Hayea and its secret-fruits? The humble and reserved lives Rhea studied of in her child-hood-lessons. A mountain-seer eats not to prolong life nor to endanger it...she spends her days tripping the balance between the two poles, always forced to develop that extra sense...the one that measures the balance between all of the various worlds she inhabits, most (obviously) invisible to those concerned merely with the first world, that of survival. The sense that allows her to communicate with the spirits and forces or what-ever one chooses to label those entities-beyond. It is only by living this way that she may be useful to ascertain prophecies; and by working with royalty, that such prophecies may be accepted or rejected not by some arbitration, but through careful and educated choice-making. And now...her cultivated sophistication coupled with the mountain witch and her lifetime of devotion to self-actualization of the awareness of the out-side realms allows her to funnel this decision-making into a channel with substance...such starkening contrast to the filthy-ness of these little girls and their familial familiarity, their lives of dirt, scrabbling for mereties.



At some point he had made it to the window. It was an old habit of his, leaning against it sill and looking out at the landscape below. Only this one was so much different from the high keep at Greenwood hold, and he had no wine goblet in his hand to swirl idly as he thought. Something about the prophecy tugged at his mind. Had he heard it before? Maybe...it was possible. It was as if something about it was just beyond reach. Hirain would know. This was his field more than Baden’s, even though they both had spent many evenings peering over dusty tombs as boys. In fact it was how Baden had found out many of the things about Illyria that he did. That and some instinctive urge inside of him that led him through the wilds of his own country.

And now here he was, far away from Illyria, looking at a landscape not his own. “Me?” he heard the elf say. Of course, he thought. My feet didn’t lead me here for no reason… He kept his eyes trained on the stone of the window and the trees beyond, becoming no more than a dark statue by the window.

“Yes,” the princess was saying. “It…well…it makes sense. And that means us…all of us here…are in this together.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? he thought. Gods, Illyria is wrapped in enough legend and myth its hard not to tell when I’m part of one but…why? Why me? Unless Illyria is threatened… He frowned in the shadow of his hood. Yes, if this Queen gets powerful enough and takes Grydon unawares, and as pompous as that man is it could indeed happen. If she gets a hold of Roh her power grows exponentially. And then there’s another problem…Gods curse it the moon is in six days! I can’t avoid getting involved in this now, and if I get involved it means I involve Illyria which I can’t do without the consent of the council. Which means one needs to be called, and Grydon would try to block me at every turn… His mind raced, and lapsed into silent thought.

“Does the Queen know?” He asked suddenly, startling the women out of their conversation.

Princess Mara blinked then shook her head. “She knows about the prophecy but…not about Eiryn…I think.”

“Good, ignorance is a weapon for us then. And hopefully there are no spies in this castle?” He looked in askance at Dronam who sighed.

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Good.” Baden lapsed back into silence.

~*~


Rye tightened her grip on the saddlehorn. What was so funny? Didn’t they understand? To find herself one moment groundless, and then taken from the only life she had ever known was enough to make her stomach swirl…and now, whatever she wished?

She blushed and looked down, feeling foolish. No more questions, she decided. Just watch and learn. But then…who was this new man…and who was the person who bought her? Maybe just one more question…

“My lords!” A man approached in the colors of Roh, breathless and eyes worried. “My lords, there was an attempt on our stores! I fear we might have an intruder, or a spy in our midst!”

Lords…I knew it…but who…

Andreas’s expression hardened and he traded glances with the other man whom he had called brother.

“This is serious news,” he said finally. “We will deal with it immediately.”

“Of course, your highnesses,” the man said with a slight bow.

“Highnesses?” The word escaped from her lips before she could stop it, and she looked at the two with undisguised surprise.
Andreas sighed. So now the true question that was plaguing Rye had been revealed to her. Andreas looked at Trey. Trey nodded and followed after the Lieutenant who had informed them of the news. Andreas would stay behind to explain.

"Yes, Rye," he said. "I had figured that was the question you were really wanting to ask. On whether or not we were men of significant importance to Dierdai. Well. We are. My brother, Trey, and I are the sons of King Ector. He, by blood. Myself. Well, raised in their home as their son."

"I just didn't expect them to send the two of you out to Roh," Rye replied, clearly concerned on what this turn of events would do for the Queen of Noklah. If the Queen knew that the Princes of the only kingdom that truly stood between her and completely domination were here, in Roh, she would advance her plans to ensure the two were done away with.

"Well, as the Captain of the Dierdian Army, I have to go on these missions. Trey came as the Ambassador, as he is next-in-line to the Throne." Rey let all of this sink in. And to think, a mere breadgirl had been purchased, or rather, set free, by Princes.

"We must go, though, as we do not know where the spy may be amongst us." And with that said, they hurried towards Trey's location, which was inside the very Palace of Roh.
"Me?" Eiryn asked, feeling foolish. How could it be her? It did make sense, as the princess said, but still...

Eiryn shivered, her pale skin breaking out in goosebumps. Could it really be her? Destined to lead Roh and the other kingdoms to victory against Noklah? Was she ready to lead so many of an entirely different race?

Elves were hardly different from humans, as far as personalities, but could she, a young Queen, be able to unite entire kingdoms and actually triumph? She had no experience, after all; her people loved her, and there were hardly any disputes in Aricrysta, none of any importance at least.

A sudden determination took hold of her, and she straightened unconsciously. She had made a promise to herself to help the girl in the prophecy to overcome Noklah. Nothing had changed; only now she knew who to help, and she also knew that she had, already, some who would support her.

After all, even enemies would unite against a common enemy; she had learned this long ago.

But what about the land?

Eiryn's heart almost stopped. Would the land be ravaged in the war? Most likely, she reflected, but it would also be for the greater good, wouldn't it?

Shame befell her, and she dropped her eyes to her hands. They were so small and delicate. She fingered a strand of her hair: soft and silky. She was but a young girl, fresh from the earth and hardly knowledgeable in such matters as war. How could she possibly make a difference? She could not even decide what was the greater good, for her heart cried out to save the land, and just go home, let these people decide how to save themselves.

But her mind was telling her to do something else. Do something for the innocents, it urged, and Eiryn sighed. The land was innocent, yes, but it was also likely, even certain, that the land would last a great deal longer than the people living on it. She straightened once more.

Eiryn would fight this war with all she had, to save the land and the innocent people. No matter what she had to do, she would make sure that Noklah and Rhea were stopped.
A Non-Existent User
Rebecca stumbled into the court, saluting the general hastily before she received a rebuke.

"Why are you late to your summons?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"I apologize, sir." she wheezed. "The messenger did not wake me."

He grunted. "Well, then. I have word that our enemies have entered the western wood. Now, the troops we have sent are ten miles east of there. I need you to inform them of the change of plans."

He handed her a scroll. "This will grant you safe passage, as well as the message you are to deliver. Any questions?"

"One, sir. Am I to do this alone?"

"You will attract less attention that way. Is that a problem?"

"No, sir."

"Then you are dismissed. Pack your things and leave at once."

---

Stephen walked through the village, biting into the apple he had purchased earlier. So far he hadn't found out anything worth knowing. Perhaps he should offer his services in the fields. Men usually discussed weaknesses of the nation there. Who knows? He may even be able to rally support for a revolt.

---

Rebecca slowed her horse to a walk as he began to tire. The wood was unusually quiet for that time of day. It gave her the shuddering feeling that she was not alone.

She drew her sword and continued, wary of all around her. There seemed to be footsteps and muted voices a few yards away. She nudged Bree forward and held her breath as she came upon them.
T'waeak, Famba, and the rest of the secret detachment force hastily halt as a small squadron in the dark armor of Noklah approaches just beyond normal vision...a brick wall is hidden behind...

"Stay back and look for children...I think we can take 'em, but lets not rush..." T'waeak whispers to King Roh's resistance party.

~*~

Lightning plunges across grey-gradated streaks of air billowing with black moisture near one of the larger portals to the other worlds Enamela is aware of. A farm is the unwilling battle-ground as three black shapes occlude the late harvest moon shadowly.

Grabbing her green-leathern pouch, clutching it to her ample and humble bosom, the fairy warns the family.

"Get the children and spouse into the barn! Quick! Cover their eyes and run HURRY!" Enamela cries.

The rain begins to pound as the farmer grabs the two children. One looks back then quickly assists father and sibling into the brown painted barn-structure. The spouse is seen frozen and the farmer runs back finding a necessity to pull the farm wife inside...her eyes do not move...

Enamela stands to face the entering shapes, her white stones ready as the barn door shuts. Children shiver one more than the other, the other not out of non-fear but shivering not because of an abundance of such ("I must never remember")...Farmer comforts wife who soon snaps awake. She screams then is calmed..."it's raining!"

"You fell asleep during late-melon harvest." the farmer "explains"

"What is it?" the younger of the children cries.

"Don't worry about it, right dad?" the other child exudes.

"Th-that's rigght" The farmer seconds.

In a moment it is over and Enamela knocks respectfully to tell the family all is safe.



One more…enough? Who knows what’ll tempt him…Done. With a final flourish Baden finished the last letter and signed his name. That should do it…but only the gods know, he thought bitterly as he rolled it into a tight, compact tube and attached it to the leg of a waiting falcon. It was long over due.

A cold wind breathed through the open window and the prince of Illyria scrubbed his dark hair with a hand. Was this wise?

What is wisdom? Asked the man in his dream, his father who was not his father.
I don’t know…
Wisdom cannot coexist with ignorance and you’ve been walking a thin line so far.
Twelve year old Baden bowed his head. I know…I know

I know… breathed the wind and his head came up. Had he dozed off then? Maybe. It had been a while since he had slept and so much since Princess Mara had declared her suspicions to them all. The elf queen seem shocked, as if the ground had been ripped away from her feet, a feeling he couldn’t blame her for.

As for his role in this? No, he had been trapped neatly and thoroughly and there was no reason to fight it. The question was did the others realize the danger they were all now in? For Eiryn herself, the danger was obvious. Nora would come after her like a moth to a candle flame now, because the elf queen would give the people of Roh, in fact all of the kingdoms a very dangerous weapon: hope. And Mara was also in danger, still because she was the Queen’s daughter, but now so intimately involved. Who knew what wrath the Queen of Noklah would visit on her daughter if caught.

He rubbed his eyes. A tricky problem, and then there was the even trickier one. What in the name of the Elder Tree Lords were they supposed to do? There were what? Four of them? Hye would laugh in his face if he told them they were going to lead a force of four against one of the most powerful women in the kingdoms. Well, laugh in his face andcall him an idiot.

And then there was his own problem. Five days now. Five days until the full moon. The wind sighed through the window, I know… and a small black bird sat on the window sill. “I know,” he said, frowning at it. “I have a plan. I’m going home.” And he stood.


He knew it was early for a meeting and he sincerely hoped the others didn’t hate him for it, but it needed to be done. Eiryn, still recovering from the still unknown trauma yawned behind her hand. He watched her for a moment. Was she alright? Healthy? Would she be able to make a journey, even though it wasn’t bound to take to long. Mara looked awake and smelled of horses. She had been at the stables.

Great…we do go, I’m going to have to ride a horse. Just great…

“I’m sorry, my ladies,” he nodded, “my lord,” he nodded to Dronam who had joined them. “But this morning, during my ruminations to his holiness this morning, I was struck with an idea. We have several problems, of which you would all agree upon I’m sure. First,” he began, ticking points off on his fingers, “we’re sitting ducks here. My lord I’m sure your castle is strong, but Noklah is stronger, and sitting in one place isn’t going to do any good. Two,” he ticked off another finger, “what exactly can we do? Four people cannot defeat an entire army, no matter what a prophecy might say. So what can defeat an army? Another army of course.

I have been thinking of this, long and hard, and Roh must be defended. We need to raise the armies of the surrounding kingdoms! Dierdai is already there, and I am not sure of the military prowess of the elves but I’m sure if my lady,” he inclined his head toward Eiryn, “wanted, it would be no trouble to call them to arms. However, I am not aware of the military prowess of the elves. Something I am familiar with, very familiar, is the military of Illyria. I have spent much time in that land, and as strange as it is, it has a sizeable force with a strategic genius controlling the military. We must convince Illyria to march, and I believe that as the chosen child, Eiryn, could do that.”

“What?” she looked startled. “How?”

He began to pace. “Illyria, as you may or may not know, is divided into fourths and ruled by four princes. Any big decision affecting the country, must be discussed and decided upon by the high council, which consists of the four princes and the king-who would only act as a tie breaker. Three-fourths is needed to march. I say we travel to Illyria- yes it’s borders move but I am confident I could find it again- call a council and convince them to march. We have the chosen child after all. What say you?”
As Andreas and Rye continued towards the castle, Andreas explained his link to the Prince and the throne of Dierdai.

"I was left at the doorsteps of the the castle in Dierdai. The only thing my birth parents left was a note, with my name on it. You see, Andreas King is not the name that King Ector and Queen Labelle gave to me. Had they given my name, it's last would be Irridium, like theirs and Trey's."

"So your first name was also left by your birth parents?" Rye asked, clearly interested now. Andreas nodded.

"King Ector thought it wise that I know my true name, and not have the name of royalty to cover my true identity. He believed that one should always know oneself before he or she knows another. And with that, I agree."

"So where are we headed now?"

"To the palace, to discover what the plan for dealing with the Queen of Noklah will be. From what I have heard, the Queen of the Elves is here, as is a representative of Illyria. Both will come in handy."

"I hope all this goes well," Rye thought aloud, not realizing that she had. So do I, Rye. So do I.

Eiryn's mouth could not keep from dropping open.

Everything was happening so fast, and her senses could hardly keep track. She needed to calm down, think rationally.

She agreed that Illyria would be of great assistance; after all, they were practically famous for being so...well, undefeated. And smart, as well. She shrugged, mostly to herself. All she remembered learning about Illyria was that it was not to be interfered with, as their strength was nigh unmatchable.

Eiryn wondered how her people would fight. She'd never seen an actual battle; those had happened long ago, when Aricrysta wasn't so peaceful. And war was supposed to be even bloodier than battle. She stared moodily at the simple design on the quilt that covered her. She was still having self-doubts. The priest himself had said that there were only four of them, and with an unknown amount of time to act...what was she to do?

Eiryn stifled a sob, and blinked her tears away furiously. This was no time to panic. This couldn't be any different than leading her own people. She just had to be logical, and rely on others for strengths that she didn't have...like military prowess.

"Do you really think the four Princes could be convinced to march?" she asked, catching the monk's attention easily.

"Oh, yes. Well, that is...it has to be presented in a way that will be...sensible...to them. They won't fight for a hopeless cause, you see."

"It's not a hopeless cause," Eiryn pointed out. "We just...we just need to show people that we can do something about this evil! No one is helpless here! We've all been cowering under Rhea's reign, waiting for someone to step up and do something! It's only a psychological fear, don't you see? If we can get the Princes into the mindset that all is not lost, and everyone is capable of providing some resource, then they will march gladly, whether or not it be into Death!"

She finished, her chest heaving and silver eyes aglow with newfound faith. Looking around the room, she was satisfied to note the looks of astonishment.

"I understand," the Priest said slowly. The hooded head lifted, and Eiryn could almost feel his eyes on her. "On to Illyria, then?"

"Yes," Eiryn said, throwing the covers off excitedly, beginning a search for her normal clothes. "On to Illyria."

A knock sounded on the door, which then slid open to reveal a tall man, accompanied by a golden-haired girl.

"Andreas King, captain of Dierdai, at your service," announced the man, whose dark blue eyes scanned the room quickly. He nodded politely to Eiryn and the monk, and went to greet Mara and Dronam.

"I see that Princess Mara has joined the forces of good?" he questioned. Mara nodded, and Dronam spoke up.

"Yes, we were just discussing...well," he broke off and glanced at the priest and Eiryn.

"We're going to save the world," Eiryn offered. The captain stared at her for a moment, taking her pointed ears and her moonspun hair. He breathed in deeply.

"So it is true! The Queen of Aricrysta herself...how fare you, Elf Lady?"

Eiryn paused, a little taken aback.

"It's just Eiryn...sir. I-..." she stopped, at a loss for words. "What do you mean, it is true? Do people know I'm here?"

Mara glanced at Dronam, who shook his head.

"No one should know, but sometimes servants tend to...well...talk," she said evenly. Eiryn nodded.

"Well, Captain, you came just in time!" she beamed up at him, uncaring that she was at least a good ten inches shorter. He looked at her, still plainly confused.

"We are in need of military forces, and we had just decided to travel to Illyria, to ask for aid. I suppose, being the Captain of Dierdai, that you have a force of men with you?"

"Well, yes," Andreas admitted. "About 300 men are at my disposal. What, exactly, are you planning?"

Eiryn felt airy, and much more confident than she had a little while ago. Things were shaping up...

"Whatever we're planning, in the end, we will fight Noklah's army and Rhea. Would you be so kind as to assist us?" Eiryn asked, her wide, serious eyes gazing up at Andreas.

"Will you?"
A Non-Existent User
Rebecca's eyes darted over the group, quickly noticing that Princess Mara was among them. She sheathed her sword and dismounted, walking toward them as quickly as she dared. Once she was in their range of view, she knelt and bowed her head.

"My lady, my services are yours." she called. "I am only delivering a message to my brothers in arms. May I continue?"

Mara seemed to regard her questioningly, and the man accompanying her didn't look too friendly either. They looked at each other and spoke in low voices. She studied the other's faces while their conversation continued. There was a girl with them that didn't have the appearance of a noble of Noklah. She had a face far fairer and gentler. Rebecca knew immediately that she was of a higher race.

"How are we to know that you are who you say you are?" the man asked finally. "You could be a bandit that came across a fallen soldier."

Her blood boiled at such insinuation, and she had to work to control her temper. "I swear to you I am nothing of the kind. If you do not believe me, here is my mark."

She tugged her sleeve back to reveal the brand that was present on every soldier of Noklah, hoping that it erased their doubts.
Mara watched the discussion passively. It was all going as it needed to, her input would be worth nothing here except an echo of the others' thoughts. When finally Andreas had agreed to use his forces for at least an escort, she approached Eiryn.
"Dear, may we talk privately, just for a moment?"
Eiryn looked surprised, but nodded. Mara led her to a side room through a panel in the wall. The room they entered was much smaller than Eiryn's chamber. It was the room that Mara had elected to sleep in since the Elf Queen had arrived, just in case danger came creeping in the night. The walls were bare and the room was slightly cold. On the far side of the room, a wash basin stood, obviously placed there just for the Noklan princess's use. A small bed stood opposite of that, and a skinny walking rug spanned the length of the room, right down the middle. Mara signaled that Eiryn could have a seat on the bed side, but opted to remain standing.
"I know this seems impossible, unreal. But this is it, Eiryn. This is the end of the world as we know it, the end of free humanity, if we fail. We must not fail. I am aware that you feel the same pressure as I do. The reign of my mother's kingdom falls upon my shoulders if she dies. I receive the burden of righting so many years of misuse of power and oppression of my people. Had I been able to fight, believe that I would. My best use, or so I thought, stood in remaining alive for my people, so that when my mother finally passed I could be there to return Noklah to her former glory. Do you understand?"
Eiryn nodded, her eyes still curious. Mara could see that the queen was wondering why she had been brought to this room.
Mara sighed. "I am so weary of this, Eiryn. We all are. Our fates rest with you. You understand this, I can see it in you. But remember that all of the people in the other room, including myself, we're here to make that responsibility a little lighter. We're here to get you where you need to be, even if it means our lives. Freedom is worth the cost. Defeating my mother is worth the cost.
"Come, we must return. They will begin to miss us. There is no time for questions, we must go back. If you have any questions, you may ask later."
After the meeting, Mara began to busy herself with preparations. She certainly couldn't leave such things to Dronam, smart as he was. He was a man, he didn't understand the things that must be taken along. When they finally set out, Mara was almost relieved. She had never been in one place for so long. She walked around the leaving party, making note of everything and ensuring that all was as it should be. She took her place at the second line of the riders, with Dronam, behind Andreas. Before long she dropped to the back and just observed everyone. The group was engaged in small conversations, but it looked like even if everything else went wrong, they would stick together. And that's what mattered. That was the key.
"They have children...two I can see." T'waeak whispers.

From behind the barrier the party observes the small group of four Noklan guards travelling north, children on leashes-of-rope. T'waeak considers attacking but is unsure. If the attack is successful, the children may be set free and returned to their-parents. If not, Roh's hope will lessen at the loss of the patrollers. Just as T'waeak is about to call-off the attack to the others, something miraculous happens...

"We approach to join you, patrol-party, and ask to connect with our mission further northward into Illyria..." the voice tells T'waeak...it is neither audible nor non-extant, like a voice one can hear, but not prove...

"What are you?" T'waeak wonders silently...

"I am the elf queen, and I may commune with whomever I choose in-this-way, I can sense an enemy patrol near-by...stave-off your attack until we arrive as a reinforcing-assistance." the voice replies.

"T'waeak we need you what are you doing?" Famba whsipers, seeing T'waeak on the verge of leading the attack then grabbing hair and ears and getting lost into a personal kind of introspection momentarily, with no visible explanation.

"Hold off, I am receiving a message" T'waeak answers.

"I hear something behind the wall COME OUT!" the soldier's captain orders, "we surround you"

Keeping-silent, biding-for-time, the group silently awaits the arrival of Eiryn and party as the soldiers approach the-crumbling-barrier. Caught, an explanation is required.

"What are you doing, armed in that fashion. Have you any children with you? We are under orders, RESPOND!" second-in-command Groulf barks.

"We are traders, hiding from the possibility of a raid by those unscrupulous in-our-business."

"If you are traders, then WHERE ARE YOU WARES?" Groulf continues.

"We hid them close-by when we saw your group approach...you are soldiers to assist us?" T'waeak fights back the nerviosity.
Rye grasped the pommel of the saddle and leaned, trying to get a glimpse of his back, shoulder, arm, anything. Instead she saw flashes of green of another well dressed man just as she was about to slip. She wanted to talk to him, she needed to talk to him, but he rode in the front and she in the middle, separate but defensive necessity.

Andreas…She liked saying his name, she realized and almost blushed at the thought. But it’s not a royal name he could be…he could be just like me. He talks to me that way. But he’s still royalty. The thought still blew her away. If it were he alone right now she would ride up and tell him what she wanted to tell him, but this wasn’t Dierdai and he was surrounded with nobles. She shied.

No had missed her back at the castle when she disappeared to explore pathways made from shadow and light and cobweb. Pathways and passageways that had taken her between stones and behind a drapery in a room where a princess and a queen spoke. You can trust them, she thought, speaking in her mind what she wished she could speak outloud. They want peace and they want freedom…you can trust them if you worry about that kind of thing. I don’t know if you do worry but…you don’t have to worry about that.

A noise brought her out of her thoughts and she saw the priest, now riding next to her seemed to be having as much trouble on his horse as she was, if not worse. She didn’t realize she was staring until he managed a weak laugh.

“Sorry, I’ve never been good at this kind of thing. I’ve always preferred my feet. That’s where men should belong, don’t you agree?” She looked down, startled. “It’s alright, sweetling,” the priest said, his voice soothing and gentle, “you’re just part of an escort that just cares about getting us safely to the border, nothing more. Besides, I’m just a priest who’s about to fall off his horse at any moment.”

Well that looked certainly true enough. “Is…is it true,” she blurted suddenly, “that you’ve been to Illyria?” That was a name she had heard before, in front of warm fires at midwinter in the depths of the kitchen, told by the old hostler until cook shushed him.

“I’ve spent some time there,” the priest nodded, then a frown entered his voice. “I hope we stop at the border. I don’t know how the place will like the smell of foreign steel.”

“The…?”

The priest shook his cowled head. “I’m sorry my dear but it’s hard to explain. The country is just as much alive as you and me. And a lot of the legends you hear about it are true. The place can be fickle.” He paused, and looked toward the head of the line considering. “We’re so bloody obvious like this,” he muttered suddenly, “anyone for miles around can tell something important is going on with a trail like this…” he trailed off for a moment then looked at her. “Your Andreas…Is he a smart one?”

She nodded. Of course he was.

The priest grunted, then after a moment of silence continued. “Do you think he would wait for us at the border? Or if he can’t, he does have a castle to defend, at least send word to Cain Grydon asking for assistance? Or even better, coming up with a strategic plan in which to use Illyria? The houses of Grydon is very proud and, well if your general is intelligent then Grydon probably knows his name. If he were to ask for Grydon’s assistance maybe that will play enough to the man’s pride. That or a letter from general to general may impress him. We’d need every edge we can get.”

“I can ask, m’…” she stopped, almost finishing the sentence with m’lord. But this was no lord. Only a priest that couldn’t ride.

“That would be kind. Or I could do it myself, no need to bother you if you didn’t want to.” He paused and cocked his head at her. “You have most unusual coloring my dear. Are you from Dierdai?” She looked down, suddenly very uncomfortable, and shook her head. “Ah,” the priest said and they rode on.
Andreas rode near the front of the line alongside Trey and the others. He looked back. Rye was too far back to see, but he could sense her. He knew she was there, but couldn't go. Trey looked over at him and smiled, but said nothing.

Good, Andreas thought. Now is not the time. Andreas knew where they were headed. He didn't like this. Going to war was not what he liked, but it was his duty. ANd he kept that promise to himself. Always.

He had sent a meesenger before they left Roh requesting 10,000 men. They would need it in this upcoming battle. And the messenger would arrive with the news and location of the army before the army itself did.

10,000 men. Out of the near 500,000 of the Dierdian Guard, and the 50,000 of the Dierdian Militia. Some would say it a healthy number. But it paled in comparison to Noklah.

Noklah. An army so vast, that one could not count. The last known recorded men-at-arms for Noklah neared 2,000,000. But most would stay in Noklah. And if they did go, then all of Dierdai would go.

Two horses pulled up beside him, one on his left, another on his right. On his left was Rye. She looked as if she had something important to ask, moreso than questions of Dierdai. The other was the messenger. Rye motioned for the messenger to speak first.

"Go on, I can wait for the Captain," she said, falling back just out of peripheral. The messenger nodded solemnly.

"Actually, it's not Captain Andreas and Prince Trey I need to talk to. It's General Andreas, and King Trey. I'm sorry. King Ector passed nigh three nights ago, shortly after your departure. General Thadeus just yesterday. But the army is on the way. And not the 10,000 you requested."

Andreas frowned. The messenger continued.

"As General now, you have command of at least half the army and militia. So near 300,000 men are coming from Dierdai." Andreas nodded and motioned for the messenger to join rank. He then turned to Rye.

"Yes, Rye?"
Eiryn shifted uncomfortably. While she had no aversion to horses, she still preferred walking. She glanced around her, silver eyes alighting on Mara.

How, she wondered, could such an evil Queen bear such a child whose personality was the exact opposite of the Queen's own?

Her eyes moved again, this time settling on a knot of trees far ahead. Exhaling slowly, she probed the area, finding a small group, apparently hiding. Branching out further, she found soldiers, accompanied by children, passing right by the small group.

Snapping back into herself, Eiryn quickly reviewed her options. Should the group ahead be found, the soldiers would seize them and possibly harm them. Hastily, she probed the soldiers again, and was shocked by nature's report.

The soldiers had captured several small children and bound them like dogs to trail after them in captivity. What madness was this? She sent a quick message to one of the small group, and hoped for the best as she rode up to Andreas.

He looked a little pale, she noticed, but that could be questioned later.

"Captain!" she called out as she neared. The borwn-haired man turned slightly, and spotted her.

"Actually, it's General now," he said shortly, before gesturing. "What is it you need?"

"There are soldiers ahead, with small children as their hostages. A small group of what must be rebels are about to attack them, but it won't do much good. We have to help them!"

The General looked at her for a long moment.

"We don't need to call attention to our troops. Perhaps if we catch up to them later, we can rescue the children."

Eiryn puffed out her cheeks in frustration.

"What about the rebels? They could get killed!" she exclaimed. Andreas sighed, rubbing his temple.

"Look," he said finally, "we can't help everyone who needs it. This is shaping out to be a war, and in a war, there are always casualties. I'm sorry."

Silver eyes battled with dark blue, and after several moments, Eiryn broke the gaze and kicked the horse, hard.

"Go!" she yelled, spurring the horse to go faster, leaving Andreas and the rest in the dust. The horse galloped wildly, but she hung on determinedly. Inhaling this time, she called out her song to Nature, and was filled with its chaotic, unpredictable rush.

Attack, she whispered.

There were distant shouts both behind and ahead of her, but she went on, unmindful.

By the time she reached the scene and dismounted, four Noklan soldiers were wrapped up in vines, their mouths covered with moss to stop their shouts.

The small group Eiryn had contacted stood frozen, shell-shocked by the sudden outburst of earthly fury.

Seven young children sat huddled together, wary of both the rebels, soldiers, and Eiryn. She spoke soothingly as she undid their leashes and collars.

"It's all right now, we'll have you returned to your families soon," she said, glancing at the group of rebels questioningly. They nodded, and stowed away their weapons.

"Who might you be?" she asked one rebel, whose thin appearance almost distracted from the steely, light blue eyes.

He opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, Andreas, Mara, and the priest came crashing through the underbrush.

"What in seven Hells were you thinking?" Andreas roared, and Eiryn turned to face him, silver eyes cold.

"I was just rejoicing for those little ones, who are no longer bound in captivity. I would expect you'd be doing the same, General."
A Non-Existent User
Stephen leaned against the well, smirking while the men cheered. It was pretty easy to rile up the farmers, considering the heavy taxes. He only had to unleash their fury on his enemy.

"My countrymen!" he shouted. "Too long have you been oppressed by this wretch of a queen. Too long has she feasted on your children's meat. But follow me, and I can promise that you will live in peace and comfort."

They screamed in triumph and lifted him onto their shoulders. The revolt had begun.

-------

Rebecca crept closer to the group, watching them carefully. They didn't seem to be a large threat, but there were enough swords to keep a sharp eye. Yet there was no other way around, and she must deliver her message or make camp.

She clamped her hand around Bree's muzzle and drew him close to her. Her heart was beating so loudly in her ears that she was surprised they didn't notice her.

They were frozen in place for several minutes while the group conversed. Then, in one heart sickening second, she was found.
Mara was shocked by Eiryn's sudden flight from the group. She locked eyes with Andreas, wondering what he could have possibly done to set her off, then dug her heels into Dirym's sides and felt him launch from a slow walk to a dead gallop after the girl-Queen. As she watched Eiryn disappear, through the brush, she pulled Dirym to a slding halt beside Andreas.

"Do something." She said coldly, holding his gaze as Dirym fidgeted below her, and then releasing her horse to his full potential.

Mara had never realized how much Dirym's being an Illyrian stallion had meant until this moment, when he was at the top of his game, stretching out and quickly covering ground as his steady, rhythmic three-beat gait thumped beneath her. They crashed through the underbrush, heard the sounds of others behind them, and came to a dead stop at the sight of the soldiers restricted by the angered vines of the forest.

The three of them, Mara, Andreas, and Baden, stood for a moment, a bit suprised. Andreas recovered first, shouting at Eiryn. Then Mara moved to the children, shushing and comforting them. She caught Baden's eye and waved him over.
"We need to get these children to the main group. They need food, a warm fire. I know this place is not ideal for camp, but we must do this thing." Mara said quietly.
Amareillieillia fingers the object in her pocket as she watches her father's tears-in-fear.

"I did everything I could! They knocked me senseless; oh, I'm sorry Amareillieillia, trade is slow this time of year. It's just after Medfrost...I don't want to burden you with all of this, I love you! <<sob sob>>" Pon "explains."

"It's ok dad!" Amareillieillia smiles. "What is Medfrost? I have heard of it. I think it was from Famba."

"It's a festival, started in Deirdai, you've never been there..." Pon continues.

"What is it like(-there)?" Amareillieillia asks.

"Well, there are mountains on the West border covered with snow, yet a desert underneath and for nine parts of eleven in the year! There is a great-valley in the center, where most people live...we trade with a lot of people there, but this time of year the snow blocks the major routes. People usually do not wish to risk the ice for what we can give them. The King is old here, and proud. A lot of the people here in Roh wonder if we should change our ways of life and offer more; but even more like to keep it the way it is...the way it has always been." Pon smiles and Amareillieillia returns it.

"That's just in Hayea, right?" Amareillieillia says, "about the snows?"

"Huh?" Pon is confused and lost in memories of Deirdai and the lands to the north, where once..."sorry Ammy, I was remembering your mother..." Pon starts crying-again.

"Famba told me about her...her name is um...I forget...oh yeah Cayna? Something like that I couldn't say, I have never heard that name before, when she told me." Amareillieillia relays.

"Something like that? I can't believe Famba would tell you that! Hmm...well now that you have heard...no...it's not important...now it's getting late...I'm going to start a fire..."

In Noklah, the Queen listens to reports from her secret-captain/spy...

"My queen, the patrols are out and have returned with news the farmers are resisting and even...fighting...some of our patrols are reporting kills of ours! One party is un-heard from." the chief-in-command Graic reports.

"So. They think they can fight back? Well, let's increase our efforts-a-little. Send the Grom...the beast may help quelch their resistance...See that it accompanies the next patrol!"

"Yes, my liege" Graic answers, and leaves for the large walled-up area behind the Noklan castle stables; where one of Rhea's secret-weapons is kept..."Prepare the Grom for travel!" Captain Graic orders to the Queen's loyal animal-keepers, we send her out tonight with forces."

The Grom is unchained...a hulking beast, two-stories-high, covered in yellow matted fur with teeth as-of spears...the spiked polished-iron collar with leash of rope is pulled to coax the creature out of its-holding-pen; soldiers used to its stench, trained for this very purpose leading the brute out the gate and past the court-yard where urns of cement hold poisonous and spidery flowering reaching plants...

"The main group is here!" T'waeak exclaims to the Princess Mara, "and must I say, you RESCUED us!"

Soldiers squirm against the grappling-vines-in futility, half-in a-stake-of shock (as if viewing plant-life from another-world; or more appropriately, as-if for the first time.

"Well, our elven-friend did, anyway!" Mara responds-in-a-smile, "These abilities of hers are fascinating, I must say...what can be accomplished"

"It's a simple matter to be aware of what one is surrounded by," the Elf Queen Eiryn states, gazing up-ward; toward, and even past the pink stripes, borderd in purple that paint-the portrait of the setting of Hayea's light for the-nonce, in-preparation for the second-cycle, "I suppose those in this world raised in castles threatens the ancient-ways, here...but the elves will never give-up!" Eiryn smiles at T'waeak and motions the smile-across all-those gathered.

As T'waeak prepares a fire, Andreas helps and Famba, Mara, and Eiryn attend to the re-leased children. Famba is told by one of the farmers that they will leave the following morning to return the children to their homes, as the rest of the party continues across the river then sharply north-ward to attempt the brave pass over the Post-Medfrost mountains above Deirdai and their attendant-weather, on the resistance-mission's journey on-ward.

* * *
If Andreas was angry, then Baden was just as angry, maybe more. They had freed the children, but the means? As they moved slowly back to the main group, children clustered on saddles, he clumsily sidled his horse along side the elf’s.

“That was a foolish thing you did,” he murmured lowly to the woman, keeping his eyes ahead.

She looked sharply at him and tossed her hair. “Foolish? It would have been foolish to abandon them to gods knows what fate. Do you wish to go back and let the Queen have them?”

“Stop being an idiot,” he snapped. Fiery this one, and impetuous! “You know well that none of us wish these children ill and to imply it is insulting. You insulted the captain, excuse me, General now with your words. He is our ally. You would do well to learn diplomacy.” That was what was really bothering him. How would she behave in Illyria? In front of the council? Her tongue could be an asset or a curse, depending but that fire leads to rashness. If we even make it too Illyria I may have to coach her a little.

“So what would you have me do? Abandon them? We’ve captured the Noklan’s, and no word will reach back so we are in no danger.”

He shook his head. “You didn’t know that before. With all of our talents, we could have easily put together something less…chancy.” He was calmer now. “Something that rash could get us all killed. Especially in Illyria. It’s something to think on.”

Taking a deep breath he looked around at the children coming back with them to camp. This ragtag group keeps getting larger. Now what? Someone has to see these children somewhere safe. But we’ll see how it goes.

~*~


People moved like shades in the camp, flickering shadows in the firelight. There were children now, blankets wrapped around their small shoulders. They had all returned, bringing with them captives and now the new additions to the camp.

Rye had watched from the shadows, slipping from one to another as the tents were raised, sentries were mounted and the captives were taken into a tent separate from the others. And Rye watched and waited. She still needed to deliver the message from the priest but with so much going on, she didn’t want to disturb him. Only when the camp settled with the sunset did she find her way from shadow to shadow and stepped out of a circle of candlelight in his tent and waited for him to see her.

“Rye? Where did you come from?”

She had avoided the guards of course, as she would have as a bread girl. But she wasn’t a bread girl now and old habits died hard. She swallowed it and bowed her head. “I have a message from the priest.” And she repeated it, word for word. When she was done she paused, then added in a softer voice, “And I’m sorry. About those who were dear to you.”
Andreas had been in the tent since they had made camp. He and Trey had secretively mourned for about an hour before they met with their security council. According to the messenger, Claudis, the army was but a day's march away. which would mean that they would stay at this camp until it arrived.

After his meeting with the council, he had been asked to be left alone, unless it was important, or if Trey or Rye wished to see him. He had mentioned Rye for multiple reasons. One of which was that she had needed to tell him something, but had never gotten the chance.

That was when he saw her standing in front of him.

"Rye. Where did you come from?" he asked, slightly startled at how quietly she had come in. Although, he should have expected that from a former breadgirl of Roh. She told him of the message from the priest, which Andreas took into deep consideration. Then, on a less business note, she said:

"And I'm sorry. About those who were dear to you." She turned away to leave. He stopped her.

"Wait, Rye, stay awhile, of you would."
“Something that rash could get us all killed. Especially in Illyria. It’s something to think on.”

The priest's words echoed in Eiryn's head, and she shook it heavily. That had been rash; she'd admitted that to herself soon after the priest said it. And now, gazing upon the flickering fire filled with indistinguishable images and hints of the future, the Elf Queen was now thoroughly depressed.

She'd never had much of a temper; so what had caused her to become this new persona? She felt lost, and her downcast eyes shifted to the mark on her shoulder, barely visible from her angle.

Perhaps it was the fact that all heroes she had read about were daring, brave, and fiercely loyal to their subjects. Loyal Eiryn was, but until now, she had never been daring or even brave. Just...peaceful. Was some part of her struggling to reidentify and adjust herself to these tense conditions?

She shrugged helplessly to herself, and then turned her wide silver eyes to the sky, only starry patches visible through the branches of the trees.

If there was a need to adjust, then maybe she could start with diplomacy. Her tongue had not been under conscious control for the past day or two, and the more she thought about it, the more she realized that the priest was right.

She could not win over the Princes of Illyria by being rash. She needed to learn to control this new voice her tongue had acquired.

Rising gracefully, Eiryn made her way to her tent, and resolved to talk to the priest come morning.


A Non-Existent User
Rebecca faced the bandits with clenched teeth. It was unusual for them to attack a soldier, even a solitary one. She drew her sword slowly and surveyed her surroundings. There were five of them, but she could take them if she put her back to the tree.

She circled them slowly, making her way slowly to the trunk. They attacked then, and she lunged for it. Her cloak brushed against the bark, catching. She discarded it and received the first blow with her own steel.

Two had pitted themselves against her, but her extensive training gave her the power to conquer them both. Then the other three decided that they should aid their fallen companions.

She accepted their challenge willingly. It had been a while since she took on more than two. They were not quite as skilled as the first, so it did not take as long as before.

In a moment, they too were at her feet. She pressed her hand to her forehead and knelt to wipe her blade in the grass.

"It is not often a soldier walks alone. So why do you?"

She winced as the point of a sword was laid against her throat. Her eyes darted back, catching only a glimpse of the man that threatened her.

"How do you know I am alone?" she asked, subtly pushing the scroll deeper into her shirt. "My men could only be a footfall away."

He laughed softly. "I know you lie. But still, you may be of some use. Isn't that right, my lady?"

Rebecca turned her head slightly to see the lady he was reffering to, widening her eyes with shock.

Princess Mara? A traitor?
"Quite right, Stephen. Now let her up, I doubt she shall be a nuisance once I explain myself to her. Let us walk." Mara signalled to Rebecca.

She watched the girl get up hesitantly, so she laughed kindly.

"Do not fear our company. No harm shall come to you here, unless you try to do harm first." The princess looked pointedly at the men on the ground. "No worry. All will be forgiven. After all, I do believe our men threatened you first?"

At Rebecca's affirmative nod, Mara nodded too. She offered her hand to the girl, looking pointedly at Stephen to remain behind, and set off on a path that only a tracker could see. At first, the princess listened to the silence in the woods, noticing that the girl seemed to be absorbed in her own thoughts.

"What is your name?" Mara finally asked.

"Ryan Brone. I am a soldier in the Noklahan army." Came the rough voice.

"I shall keep this between us, between women. Yes, dear, you are a woman of that I'm sure. Maybe the men do not take the time to notice, but there is more air about you than you think." Mara smiled. "Away with this pretense, if you will. This shall stay between us. Our secret."

Mara knew that to the woman-soldier, she was a traitor, and that wouldn't help her to believe the promise she'd just made. But she tried it anyway, stopping and forcing Rebecca ("Ryan") to turn and look at her.

Finally, the guard dropped. "You are our princess, my Lady. What is it that brings you with these...rebels."

"Ah, heavy questions. Yes, those are heavy questions. There is a matter of some...delicacy. You may not understand it immediately, but it will make sense in the end. That it will." Mara stopped speaking and whistled loudly, then continued. "My mother, Queen Rhea, has decided to murder, in cold blood, thousands upon thousands in her quest for land."

At Rebecca's protestation, she held her hand up. "Yes, it seems bizarre, but please consider her actions. She has conquered two neighboring kingdoms. You may say it's because they were rebellious. Was there the need for her to conquer just to quell a rebellion? That I am not sure of. No, I am sure there was no need. These people suffer, my dear. Their backs break with their labour and their hearts break with the tears of their children. You will see a band of children we rescued just last night from the soldiers of my mother. They are beaten, starved. Oh, yes. The poor dears."

A sudden crash sounded behind them. She placed a comforting hand over Rebecca's arm and whistled once more. Suddenly, two horses came barging through the brush.

"Dirym. You brought a friend?" Mara laughed. "I had not been expecting two."

"Dearest, this shall be your mount. We keep a few of the horses saddled at most times, just in case a quick escape is needed. Go on, mount up. I will show you." Mara vaulted effortlessly onto the stallion and waited for Rebecca to do the same.

"Please, what is your woman-name?" The princess barely managed without chuckling.

"It is Rebecca Britte."

"Rebecca, it is. Come along."

The two rode down the path a little longer before it widened into a field. Glancing back, Mara noticed that they were being followed by two soldiers belonging to Mara's crew, and she signalled to Rebecca, who then noticed. They passed poor farms on which children as young as five had to work doing the labour of thirty-year-olds. Rebecca's face showed what she was feeling. They passed rebel proceedings, at which Mara offered Rebecca a cloak to cover her Noklahan uniform. Mothers were crowded on streets, standing next to their husbands and looking forelorn.

"These have lost their children." Mara whispered to Rebecca.

The devastation was incredible. Whole fields drowned in rain water. Streets muddied, and people dirtier even than the mud their horses splashed through.

"So is the land ruled by my mother. So are the conquered children." Mara said as they hit the top of a hill overlooking the land they had just surveyed. "So I choose a different path. I offer you the same opportunity."
"If I do it again, just to make sure...this time there will be no question...if I see the mark there on her arm before my traveling-spirit hit it, I can be sure it was not me!" the mountain witch without-a-name (one of perhaps thousands) relates to noone (sic) in particular. "So dry...so dry I cannot swallow but I must swa-wallow the cactus GAK! There it iss...I will take too much, there...I can be of use to the mighty one of the Western lands...prove myself and perhaps gain from my service. Leave these deserts." The witch gags down the dried cactus, living in the desert having no water (her supply-gone)...The primitive art hanging in the wall of the straw hovel crafted from what sophistication calls symbolism becoming wavy to the perception that is seen to stretch out like a thick fiber created by an illusion partly-there, partly-not (as appears to be the case sometimes to the witch who "sees")...her spirit body lifts up and grabs the time-fiber and pinches it and folds it back and once again her-consciousness becomes focused as a flaming head that shoots through the trees searching for threats to Rhea's power. Finding the place with ease ("it gets easier, these impossible things, the more I do them...checkle chuckle akK! I need WATER!") the witch sees Eiryn approach in the "past" once-again (the scene playing itself)...just before the arm can be seen with enough resolution to register the extancy of the prophetic-symbol the head starts-fizzling completely in a light explosion, tiny lesser-fairies perceive from below amongst the Hallywarts, Lavenderbelles, and Gluecoathians (to them an event!) It being a case of too much consciousness and not enough water to keep the spirit-anchor ("body") in the third position to open the sacred-triangle that thread-travel exists in one of the possible third "areas", Queen Rhea's counsels begins becoming dissipant before ascertaining the nature of the symbol seen on the previous "journey" but is saved by a friend atop the lonely witch-fort in the desert moutains, a bird who drops the moisture procured to save her friend; a witch who once did the same for her, her wing broken dropped to desicate until lifted and carried-in-a-hat to safety; curing remarkably expeidently under the watchful-care of the waste-land-seer.

"I will never forget what you did for me moutain-friend" the bird cries in its own language, and the witch's vision continues back to itself, where she plops against the hovel-wall...

"Well, I can try it again!" she cackles.

At the same time below in the area west of the forest on the western side of the Dierdian mountains a small army marches northward, keeping the razor sharp ropes from slicing them open with gloves crafted from the skins of beasts-similar to the Grom (they lead), the soldiers of the Queen march; following orders and preparing to crush resistance to control with more certaintly as the up-graded patrols perform their purpose (the will of the Noklan-majesty)...sensing no pride in the humble-farm folk no will to stand against the overwhelming might of the creature that is perhaps but a taste of the tricks her-majesty's velvet-lined satin with precious-metallic-filigree-hemmed sleeves contain (figuratively speaking). Not to be mistaken; however, the farmers' humility is a thin-thing, and it is on the verge of being past-tested, a way being sought by the way of the people of Roh's will, to penetrate any forseeable weakness in her majesty's armor, for the love of their kind; and even more incorrectly, for revenge.
Baden watched the sun rise over a line of hills known as the seven sisters, birds beginning to rise with it. He hadn’t slept that night, instead moving quietly through camp watching the soldiers, watching the people, sleepless due to a strange restlessness in his blood. The fledgwyn had settled by a small fire he had set for her, disappearing into bird form with the dawn. Now he was alone, cleaning up the small remains of his camp.

He didn’t hear her coming, didn’t even see her until he saw an unfamiliar shadow at his feet.

“My lady,” he said, bowing his head to the Elfin queen. “I didn’t hear you approach, but so I’ve heard are the ways of the elves.”

She favored him with a flickering smile before she took a breath and released it. “I came to tell you that you were right. It was rash and if I face the Princes of Illyria…well, I have to be careful.”

He appraised her from the shadows within his hood. She had noted her fault and was willing to correct it? Willing and wanting to correct it. It was a sign of a good leader. He nodded. “You do your country proud, m’lady. But this is good. I’ve been meaning to speak with both you and the Princess Mara. The soldiers talked of an army that should be here with in the day. This is not a place for us now, or by any means, not a place for these children. We need to press on. The border is close and we should reach it soon.” That was what it was that had been keeping him up last night, he realized suddenly. Illyria. It was calling to him, and his blood was answering.

He chewed his lip for a moment. “Are you packed?” She shook her head. “Let me help you, and we can work and talk.”

Having taken down and set up multiple campsites over many years, Eiryn’s would be no problem. “You needn’t convince the whole council,” he said, tying the folded fabric around the tent poles, “just a majority. Since that’s the case you need to know the allies and enemies, for if you get one prince you can probably get more. Averone and Hirain are allies. If Averone goes one way, Hirain will most likely follow, and usually the other way around as well. Grydon, led by a man named Cain- who by the way is a nasty piece of work- hates Averone and would love to appose him at every turn. The king is allied with Grydon.” He paused for a moment, “Ridding…” By the gods I almost called him Aden…I have to be careful how I present this… “is swayed by whimsy. Now, Grydon is the house in charge of Illyria’s military, so even if he rubs you the wrong way, try not to offend him too badly.” He could already foresee possible trouble between Cain and Eiryn, not that he would blame Eiryn for anything. Cain had little respect for women, and now one showing up saying he needed to mobilize the troops, no matter in what form, wouldn’t make him happy. However if she got the majority…

“Do you understand so far?”
Andreas awoke in the early hours of the morning, earlier than most would even feel comfortable about. He guessed it to be around an hour before sunrise, as he could see two or three nearly invisible stripes of color in the Eastern Horizon. He heard footsteps behind him. He grabbed the hilt of his sword.

But it was just Rye, her eyes wide awake. Though this shouldn't be uncommon for a breadgirl, Andreas wondered how anyone other than military could get up so early. Hell, his first few weeks of the military, he could barely get up this early. Now, it was natural. And Rye had probably had it drilled into her her whole life.

Andreas looked down the hill, and could make out an outline. A very large outline. The outline of an army. Apparently, so had the watchmen, as they blew horns awakening and alerting everyone. Could this be Noklah's Army so soon? It couldn't be. Soon, Andreas found himself sorrounded by his guard, and Trey at his side.

But everyone's worries soon subsided when the lead flag's insignia came into view. It was the army from Dierdai. They had finally arrived. And not a moment too soon. Andreas quickly got his horse together to go and meet them, and was shocked when Trey and Rye had joined him.

"Well, alright then," he said. And they made a quick gallop to meet up with the oncoming army. Andreas just wished it were enough.
"Yes," Eiryn said slowly. "The thing is, it sounds like we might not be able to sway the majority. If Averone and Hirain are on one side, the King and Grydon on the other, then it would all fall to Ridding to break the tie. But we do need Grydon more, so...I suppose I should talk mostly to Grydon and Ridding."

The priest watched Eiryn from the corner of his eye as he finished packing up the tent. The Elf had fallen silent, lost in her speculations.

"We have time yet to puzzle over the way you should approach them," he assured her as she let out a sigh.

Horns sounded suddenly, and Eiryn's silver eyes flew wide open.

"What's that?" she asked the priest, whose face had broken into a huge smile.

"That, m'lady, is the army of Dierdai."

"Oh," Eiryn nodded. "Well...that's good, I suppose."

"It is. You see, if Grydon sees that Dierdai has raised its banners, then he would be more inclined to join us." He sounded excited.

"I see," she said, scanning the camp. Most were already finished packing, and General Andreas was talking with the newly come army. Princess Mara caught her eye, and Eiryn motioned for her to come.

"Well, we're all together now. The only question I have is where are we headed?" Mara asked upon her arrival.

"I have been meaning to tell you, Princess. Illyria's borders are close, and we need to move fast in order to reach them. As soon as everyone is assembled, we must press on."

Mara looked at him shrewdly.

"All right. I'll pass the word on to the General."
A Non-Existent User
Rebecca did not have time to make a decision before she was dragged into a flurry of activity. They seemed to be preparing to cross a border. She furrowed her brow and stared at them. They didn't look to be evil, nor did the women with them have the proud look she was used to.

She whistled for her horse and mounted hesitantly. There was a new feeling in her, somewhat like excitement, but so much more.

With a sigh, she slung her bow over her shoulder and nudged her mount to a walk.

Something new was beginning.
As Mara crossed the camp to find Andreas, her mind was slightly troubled. How could they get the camp packed in time? Of course, Andreas had made sure that the camp was ready to move in the case of an emergency, but that didn't mean that everyone could be ready in time to cross through Illyria's ever-shifting borders. For once, Mara cursed the magic of the land that kept it moving from place to place. Safe, yes, but in this case, dangerous.

Finally, the princess reached the general's tent. A new guard stood over the door, one she hadn't seen before. He leaned his staff across the entrance, and Mara turned sharply at him. Never in her life had she felt so much animosity. It was probably due to the weariness of travelling with her mind constantly on scouting for danger and making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be; updates were streaming through her at all moments, even sleep never came easily, or for long, or heavily. The state of alert she'd thrown herself into was beyond anything she'd experienced before.

Luckily, she checked herself enough so that her voice didn't raise, but it still sounded cold as she glared at him. "I am the Princess of Noklah. You will let me pass."

The guard realized his error and moved quickly back to his place at attention, not even able to stutter an apology. Shaking her head tiredly, Mara reached out to the guard, wanting to apologize. But she couldn't. There was no time, she needed to find Andreas and relate to him what she had been told.

"We're packing up, and moving out." She said to Andreas' exposed back. She noted a bruise across the shoulder and strode across to soothe her hand gently down it.

He jumped at her touch, and turned to look at her. "You should take better care of yourself, Andreas. I will send Rye to tend to that," she smiled knowingly at him, "and you will report to me what happened at your meeting with Dierdai. Oh, and Andreas, in the future, I would like to be included in such talks."

She turned and walked out. Rye stood just outside the cooking tent. The poor girl was barely holding onto what she held dear, the only thing she'd ever known: the kitchen. Upon arriving at her side, Mara touched her gently on the shoulder. "Rye, dear. I would appreciate it if you could see after Andreas. He managed to bruise himself on the shoulder. A nasty mark from a nasty blow. Probably during Eiryn's little stunt with the children. If, of course, you can be spared?"

Mara glanced at the kitchen and then back at Rye. "Of course! I'll be there in a moment." Rye dropped for a curtsy, and the princess noticed that the breadgirl had never actually looked at her.

"Rye, please don't curtsy to me. In this adventure, I am your equal." Mara reached out gently to tilt Rye's chin up. "Look at me. Look in my eyes. There is nothing you need to fear here, except the enemy."

The woman smiled gently at the girl, and then hurried off to find Dirym and pack her own belongings. Rebecca found her in her tent, preoccupied.

"My Lady?" Rebecca questioned cautiously.

Mara turned and smiled. "We are preparing to cross into Illyria. You would do well to remain to the side until we are off. Wait. Will you help me? I haven't much more to do, but some company would do me well."

"Of course, my Lady." Rebecca set to work clearing things.

Finally, everything was packed and rolled, and only the tent was standing. Mara motioned for the soldier to leave, and then became absorbed in tedious activities involving things needing her approval. Dronam approached her out of nowhere.

"Are you feeling better, dear?" Mara asked.

"Much better. Just old." He laughed. "We are moving out?"

"We are about to cross over into Illyria. I will send for a soldier to bring about your mount." The princess shouted at a young dark haired man, who dashed off to find the Duke's horse. "Will you ride up with Rebecca and myself?"

"Of course! I wouldn't leave your side for anything!"

"You are wonderful, Father." Mara giggled and reached up to give Dronam a kiss on the cheek.

As she mounted Dirym and was riding after Rebecca, she noticed Baden on his horse. The man looked very uncomfortable, but stable enough. She wanted to ask him some questions anyhow.

Mara reached the "priest" and rode alongside silently for a minute or two. She knew that he was aware of her presence.

"Father, do you mind if I inquire about more about your person?" She asked cautiously, not wanting to press beyond what was courteous.
T'waeak, by the side of lady-companion Famba watches the Princess (of legend heard since T'waeak's tough-child-hood) Mara engage the priest Baden of Averone; while, perhaps due to some coincidence; far to the West and slightly North of the plains of Deirdai where the resistance army is marching into the changing Illyrian border, T'waeak's closest friend also considers one if the Princes of the houses of the land-of-fable.

"I wonder if Illyria will join the army" Pon considers to Pon's self, "and if it does, will...will the one from Grydon...be...with them?"

"What'cha thinkin' bout, dad" Amareillieillia queries.

"Nothing, Amareillieillia...well, something...have you ever wanted to tell someone something, but couldn't?" Pon responds.

"No. But I saw the fairy in the woods, though. That was neat for me! Wait until YOU see her! Then you'll see. I'm telling the truth, dad, I actually am!!!" Amareillieillia cries with vindication.

A rushing sound is heard in the distance and the shrubbery moved behind near the jungle river on the Northern borders; themselves, just below the unknown wilderness; the sound coming from the south.

"It might be them! Remember, I have to call you 'Amar' now, but it will be a secret between us that whenever I say 'Amar' I will actually be calling you 'Amareillieillia,' okay?"

Amareillieillia begins to cry.

"I'm scared, I don't like this! I hope T'waeak can stop ALL of them!" she cries.

Pon sees through the fronds of the fern foliage an approaching group; two, in fact...some, familiar farmers, fighting a large group of enemy soliders who seem to bring something...something else...something never before seen...

"RRARRRR" the GREAT YELLOW BEAST resounds and the small river valley is filled with unspeakable horror to young Amareillieillia.

Farmers fight her majesty's army with spears as the Grom eats them one-at-a-time. Amareillieillia understands what she needs to do; but trepidaciously, for she is un-sure of her ability to contact the fairy again, in the case this is her only chance.

She throws the white stone toward the approaching conflict; and when it hits the ground, one of the olga is released-from-thence. The olga, those creatures of legend existing in the boundaries of imagination, the dimension of monsters, and the world of Hayea (and other such small domains of people or even-elves)...three stories tall, the giant of white shadow, capable of eating cattle or night-mares of advanced-children (whose dreams are sufficiently substantial), rises to greet its challenge. This one, like a considerable amount, was captured by Enamela and given to the child of the humble-trader for protection. Its purpose is understood (reading the consciousness of its keeper), it understands from Amareillieillia's thoughts what it-must-do.

Back and forth the creatures gnarl and slash at each other; creating fissures and tears of animant yellow and green flesh, and parcels of flagelated spirit. First the olga has the advantage, frightening the Grom; and such is beaten and eaten almost to its transition into that world-unknown...then a rallying of awareness of its consciousness gaining-anchor occurs and it slashes back with reverant furiosity to protect its Queen's wishes. This antagonist-creature though unfamiliar is seen with complete limpidity to be a stumbling block in the completion of Rhea's army's control of the world-of-Hayea.

Finally, both behemoths' wills nearly spent, the olga wins out (due to its overwhelmingly larger and more powerful strength [to begin with]) and "the Grom" falls to its side whimpering then stopping altogether, where its carcass will rot; becoming sustenence for the eco-culture of the junglular river system's bottom-feeders.

Pon and Amareillieillia watch in fear then choose quickly to run as the soldiers ponder the source of the olga, who then turns on-such; granting them safe course into the northern expanse of trees.
The grass sighed, and leaves on a nearby oak flashed revealing their golden underbelly in recognition and Baden reined in his horse. Already? So soon? How…? The fledgwyn gave a sharp squawk and launched itself from his shoulder to flit away toward a line of trees that seemed to be slowly creeping away from them on their roots.

Illyria? We’re already in Illyria…but how? I never knew it was so close and yet…and yet I feel every inch of it.

“Father Thom? Is something wrong? You shivered.”

He raised a brow at her from the shadows of his hood. What did she know anyways? Ever since they had left she had been peppering him (oh so politely though) with questions about where he came from, his order, his travels. And he had answered, as generally as possible. But there was something in those eyes of hers, something that wanted to winnow out everything and a look like she would enjoy a challenge. He didn’t know how long he would be able to keep dodging her.

“I think…no, I know,” he answered, “we’ve crossed the border. We’re in Illyria. We’re in Illyria with an army at our backs.” An army…if I’m discovered leading an army into Illyria…. He could hear Grydon now, roaring at him across the council table and Aden giggling in the background. Grydon would never approve it, even now, would he?

“Yes,” Mara agreed breaking into his thoughts, “but that can’t be helped.

He supposed not, but still. Suddenly, a call went up and Baden shielded his eyes. Horsemen were coming at them from across the field. “Draw!” someone shouted and he heard the sound of steel. He ignored them and concentrated on the riders.

“Damn.” The princess raised a brow at him and he sighed. “It’s just…I think I’m going to be yelled at,” he told her conspiratorially.

She blinked. “Are you not supposed to be here, father? I thought you…”

“No, it’s not that,” he said, waving it aside. “It’s just, well, I haven’t been very cooperative.” She looked like she was about to say something else, but then he saw the soldiers readying bows and spurred his horse forward, praying he wouldn’t fall. “Hold!” he commanded, holding out an arm. The archers traded glances, lost in to whom they should listen. The command of their soldier of the command held in the voice of the priest.

Andreas came riding up, lips a firm line. “What are you doing, do you…”

“…know these people?” Mara finished, joining him, with Eiryn bringing up the rear.

“These are my troops,” Andreas was continuing. “And you have no right to command them.”
Baden was ignoring them, all of them, keeping his eyes focused on the riders. They would be fine, he on the other hand…

Eiryn’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “You warned me on caution, Father Thom. Don’t you listen to your own words?”

“Look,” he turned to her, “it’s not…”

“What the hell to you think you’re playin’ at?!” Hye roared, bringing his horse to a sudden halt before them. The rest of Baden’s personal guard spread out, the sword and star blazoned on their breasts, and on the banner the last rider bore.

Great…just great. Full honors. I bet Hye’s doing this on purpose, punishing the boy for running off…I bet he’s enjoying this too. “Gently,” he murmured, “you’re scaring the men with the bows.”

Hye gritted his teeth. “I don’t bloody care if I’m scaring the men with the bows! They’re on your land anyways and it looks like you’re leadin’ them on this way! What the hell do you think you’re playin’ at?! Do you think that Grydon is just going let you casually waltz into Illyria with…with all this? It’s such a blatant grab for power if he can’t let it go…if he did he might as well cut his own throat! And…”

“Stop.” Hye’s paused, and Baden continued, “First, I’m not playing at anything. Second I’m not leading, I’m part of this group,” he gestured to those around him. Lastly, I don’t want power, you know that Hye. Do you honestly believe I would even be on a horse unless I had a good reason?”

The older man eyed him. “What have you been doing, Bae? You have responsibility here, you’ve been ignoring my letters and I’m your damn retainer!” There it was, the old problem and Baden rubbed his temples. He had been ignoring the letters but for everyone’s safety. And for his own. “And,” Hye added with an extra bite to his voice, “what is your damned cousin doing in our holding?!”

That brought Baden’s head up. “What?”

“Ridding. Showed up several days ago and has commenced scaring the household.” Hye’s roar had been reduced to a grumble and the prince knew most of the storm was over.

Baden’s heart caught. He had been hoping for many things, none such as this. “He’s there,” he said, “because I wrote to him.”

“You…wrote to him?”

“Yes,” he said briskly. “I wrote to him. I wrote to him so the Eiryn, excuse me, Queen Eiryn Dra'Klan of Aricrysta,” he gestured to Eiryn, “can convince him to vote in our favor at a council meeting and send troops to defeat the Queen of Noklah.” He paused beginning to shrug off his monks robe. He had meant to introduce himself to them in a more proper way, and apologize, but it was all shot to hell now anyways. “We’re a small little group, that’s become sort of large over the past week,” he continued, voice muffled by the folds of the cloak. “That contains some very…distinguished members.”

That was better. He inhaled the sweet air as the last of the cloak was gone and he tossed it to Hye. Gods he had missed Illyria and the wind on his face. “Now let me introduce you to Princess Mara of Noklah, don’t worry she’s not like her mother, General Andreas King of Dierdai, I’ve already mentioned her majesty Eiryn, and also Sir Dronam a Duke of Roh. So you see, it’s quite a little alliance. And a very important one. We have room for them at the Greenwood?”

Hye was blinking, then scratched at his beard. “Oh aye, but not for that army. How’re you going to hide that.”

“Haven’t got that figured out yet. It may not be important.”

Hye snorted a laugh. “Well we can’t leave all these fine people standing around in the cold.” He addressed the group. “Welcome, my lords and ladies, to Illyria. And in the hospitality of my lord, Prince Averone, welcome your presence at Greenwood hold.”
So formal. Hye offered a sly ‘this is what you get look’ at the prince. Baden rolled his eyes. No matter how close the hold was, it was going to be a long trip home.
Mara chuckled inwardly as dawning fell over her. Maybe Father Thom had not been up-to-date on royal politics, but she had. As Hye had begun to curse Baden, she realized that he was indeed no scholar of the church. He was, in fact, the infamous Prince of Averon, known for his excursions and skirting duties befitting a prince. At her smile, she saw Baden give her a curious look, but she just looked away and drove Dirym to follow the crowd. She had questions for Hye.

As she approached Hye, she saw a look on the prince's face that meant he knew exactly why she was riding up and was clearly tired of the questions.

"Fear not, rebel prince." She laughed. "I have but few questions and none for you. Not now, at least."

Hye didn't look like one to answer well. She would have to be tactful, but he would know. He would know that she searched for answers, and he would know that she was trying to sneak around his defenses. Not for the first time on this adventure, she wished she could just know, without asking. She was tired of having things hidden from her, tired of having to ask questions. Tired, for once, of being strong against the tide and bearing everyone else's burdens. Mara had been quiet since that joking comment to Baden, and Hye gave her a questioning look.

"It is nothing, really. I shall leave you two to your...conversations. Pardon my interruption." She nodded acknowledgment to Baden and Hye before pushing her horse into a canter ahead of the group.

She found Rebecca and Dronam easily. They were riding near the front of the gathering and laughing about something. Suddenly, Mara felt the deep need to get away. Something she hadn't felt since her days under her mother. It had only been a few months, but it seemed like a different lifetime. She'd grown up more in the last three months than she realized.

"I am going to take a bunny trail. If anyone questions, tell them I will be fine." At Dronam's critical look, she rushed to continue. "I know Illyria, not as well as some, but Illyria runs in the blood of my mount. I will return to Greenwood before supper. If not by then, you may send out for searching. But not an instant before."

At that, she turned Dirym toward the leathersmith and dismounted, pulling off his saddle. They were taken aback, but would ask no questions. Mara was thankful that she'd decided to wear riding pants under her long skirt as she vaulted up on Dirym.

"Off we go, love." She said to him in a hushed voice.

He took off at a speedy canter and then led her on a trail through the trees. Maybe she could not hear Illyria as the natives could, but she felt the comfort of the place. Of the magic and its warmth. Dirym was still leading her from the group. Mara was not concerned. She knew Dirym would know the path back. He was a fine Illyrian stallion, born and bred in this country and at home here like nowhere else. In his instincts and his blood ran these trails and directions, so she trusted him completely. It must have been nearly an hour later when they arrived a small glen in the woods. Just big enough to fit a tent into, Mara thought. She would remember this place. Dirym slowed here, and she pulled him to a stop as she slipped off and removed his bridle.

"Be free while you can, dear." She smiled and gave him a pat.

His ears perked and he trotted off a little way, close enough to be near her, but far enough to be unconcerned with her actions. Time passed slowly as she relaxed underneath the sky graciously allowed to show in the clearing. Then a noise. A crack or two of branches. Dirym's head popped up and his nostrils flared. He trotted up in front of Mara and watched intently in the direction of the noise, then bent his head down to eat. Whatever it was obviously was no cause for concern. Otherwise, Dirym would have been nervous and dangerous.

A dark head came into view. It was Baden, of course.

"I see you found the glade?" He said roughly.

Mara nodded. "Peaceful."

No response came from him and Mara whistled to her stallion. Dirym came up to her and allowed her to slip the bridle over his head, the bit in his mouth, without objection. The man watched, then became absorbed in some far off thought. Mara vaulted back up on the horse and turned him toward the way they had come, asking him to move forward. He was unwilling. This was home, he thought she was taking him away again.

"We are not leaving Illyria, Dirym. It is safe to move on." She whispered gently, stroking him.

Her calm words must have assured him, as he began to pick his way back through the woods. They had not gone far when she heard Baden behind her.

Baden called from behind, obviously a bit irritated with her. "You would do well to not wander off alone. There are things here that are beyond even my knowledge."

Mara stopped Dirym and waited for Baden to pull alongside her. Still, she did not move and forced him to stop.

"Moments of peace and serenity are rare in this life, Prince, as I'm sure you have witnessed. To be alone just long enough to gather oneself up to make it through the next few days in a land dearly loved but strange is a rare occurrence." She breathed, but did not look up at him as her voice lowered slightly. "It is not easy knowing that one mistake could be the downfall of the four kingdoms under my mother's oppression, and to be helpless to do anything except look to tedious details and try to keep safe the woman upon whom all our hopes rest."

Silence.

"I will continue on my own, if you please." She urged Dirym forward, finding it hard to keep her head up, her back tall.

Baden continued to accompany her, following a half a length behind. Suddenly, Dirym pulled forward, galloping through the forest. She heard him curse behind her, obviously thinking it was her doing. Upon reaching Greenwood, Dirym was sweating.

"What were you doing?!" She said sternly to the animal. "To go careening through the forest like that! I could have fallen, you could have been hurt!"

Mara loosed the horse and slapped his rump. Enjoying thoroughly the look of agitation on the horse's face, and the look of sheer anger on Baden's face, she was escorted to a room in the hold intended for her.
As they approached Illyria, Andreas couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. Not about where they were, or why they were here, but something, elsewhere. Elusive. He couldn't quite grasp it, but it plagued his mind, causing him to lose his concentration on his conversation with Trey.

"Oi, brother, are you listening?" Trey's words broke through Andreas' fog. He looked up. Trey and Rye were smiling at him. He had to smile himself. Trey was used to Andreas' behavior of thinking too much on the future, and not enough on the present. But he shrugged it off.

"You know me, Trey. Once I start thinking about something, it would take Noklah's Army to snap me out of it." At this they all laughed, quickly becoming somber because of the situation. They continued on in silence for a few minutes. It was Rye who broke the silence.

"So, how do you think the Illyrians will take this news of war?"

"It is hard to tell," Andreas answered. "They're not ones to willfully jump into battle. Especially against Noklah. But we'll find out when we get there."
"I thank you for your warm welcome," Eiryn responded, giving a little curtsy. She had to remember her manners and mind her tongue here. Hye gave her a curious look, and then nodded politely to the rest of those who introduced themselves as well. Baden, was it? She'd have to get used to calling him Baden instead of Father Thom. She wondered why he'd kept his identity as a secret.

She gave a sudden start as she realized that they were on the move again. She hesitated, wondering what to do, when Baden rode up beside her.

"We're almost there," he said reassuringly. "You'll be able to rest in the Greenwood Hold soon, and have time to prepare for your speech."

Eiryn dipped her head in acquiescence. They rode in silence for a while, with Eiryn formulating her argument and Baden looking thoughtful.

After a while, Baden snapped his head up sharply and frowned. Eiryn looked at him curiously.

"I've got to go check on something," he said, a little crease forming between his brows. Before she had time to wonder at his captivating green eyes, he was off. Eiryn watched him go, realizing that this was the first time she'd taken note of what he looked like. She was so used to seeing him with a hood on that she had barely noticed the difference when he'd taken it off.

Now it was all too clear how handsome he was.

The elf queen found herself blushing, and scolded herself. She must think about her position here. She was a guest, and any misspoken word or misunderstood glance could easily gain her hostility. Sighing, she went back to her argument.

"Queen Dra'Klan, is it?" a voice questioned from behind her, interrupting her thoughts. She turned in her saddle and found Hye staring straight at her.

"Just Eiryn, if you please," she said politely. Hye nodded, reining in his horse to ride beside her.

"So, how did you come to meet Baden?" he asked directly, sharp eyes seeming to calculate just how, exactly, she had come to be here.

"It's a long story, kind of," Eiryn stumbled over her words, pushing back stray silver hairs from her face. How was she to explain that she had practically stalked the Prince of Averone because of her insatiable curiosity? Hye nodded again.

"Well, we've got a bit of time left before we reach Greenwood. Care to share?"

Eiryn hesitated, feeling flustered.

"It might seem weird, but I saw him in the woods when I was traveling. He--" she paused, unsure of how to go on. "He was talking to a fledgwyn, and I just got a feeling about him that told me I needed to find out who he was." She shrugged uncomfortably. "So I followed him, and I found him with Princess Mara, and everything got jumbled up, and the rose was dying, but I think I healed it...I never checked on it!" Eiryn exclaimed, startling the horse. Hye stared at her. Eiryn felt her cheeks heat up.

"Anyway...there was a discussion..." she stopped, suddenly wary. How much could she tell Hye? Perhaps it may be better to wait, she told herself. "And we just...ended up here. Going to see the Princes of Illyria." She smiled weakly, lowering her silvery eyes. Hye grunted.

"Interesting," he said, recognizing her unwillingness to expand on the discussion. "I'm sure we'll all be more informed later on. Tomorrow, perhaps?"

"Perhaps," Eiryn answered, peeking at him through her lashes as he looked at her for a moment before riding off to the front of the group.
A Non-Existent User
Rebecca pulled her hood over her helmet, though there was no need for it. Some of the others were looking at her curiously, and it made her wonder if they knew her secret. She began to linger behind, favoring to look at the scenery over hiding her identity in a conversation.

There were more trees now, which brought back bittersweet memories. She remembered hiding among the branches when she was a child, and firing arrows at them when she was training. These seemed much more majestic than she was used to, and she couldn't help but be in awe of them.

"Beautiful, aren't they?"

"Yes." she replied without thinking. Once it sunk in that someone was beside her, she turned to greet the stranger. Yet somehow, she didn't wish to reveal her soldier name, nor did she with to ask for his.

"They remind me of home." she said sadly, covering her voice less than usual. "When it was more peaceful."

He nodded. "These are dangerous times, and much that was beautiful is now being destroyed."

Rebecca sighed. "I have seen much destruction, and I fear my home may be next."

"Why?"

"I have just betrayed my allegiance. The queen will not take it lightly. I fear for my father."
Something about the soldier brought-to-attention something...something familiar.

"Why does she seem like some-one I know?" Famba wondered in silence.

"We are in Illyria now, can you feel that...that..." T'waeak speaks

"Feel what?" Famba stirs, shaken.

"Oh, I don't know, that 'sense' or something, like the yellow in the air is ALIVE, like the dust beneath us is READING MY MIND...I used to think it would be cool, but it is totally scary." T'waeak offers.

"Why? What did you do? Oh C'mon I am just teasing with you, T'waeak, you know I am?" Famba consoles.

"Oh? I do?" T'waeak teases in like-kind, in-reply.

"Do you recognize that soldier riding with us, the one who seems...you know, seems...well...I am not sure." Famba inqueries.

"You mean that one?" T'waeak points.

"Don't point, that's is SO RUDE, you are so bad, T'waeak!" Famba teases yet again.

"And where did the Princess go?" T'waeak smiles, "and when do we get a break, are we gonna get some privacy sometime at this 'Greenwood hold' I hear so much about? Hey, we may have a new market here, do you suppose these Illyrians 'talk to the elves' the way the Roh'ans and rich Dierdans do?"

Andreas, Trey and Rye followed the procession about midway in the frontlines. The conversation had ceased since the discussion on the Illyrians. Andreas kept an eye on the very front, where Eiryn and Baden were. He worried about how the Illyrians would react to this ragtag team of Elves, Roh'ans, and Dierdians. Would they see this as a sign of good tidings, or as an omen of a possible dark future.

BUt the Illyrians knew, as most did, that Noklah, and by Noklah they meant Rhea, would not wait around for a heavy resistance to form. It was bad enough for Rhea that the Roh'ans and Dierdians were already united, but she wouldn't let the Illyrians, the Elves, possibly the Dwarves, if this group could get around to meeting with them. But that would have to wait.

He heard a trumpet in the distance, anouncing the arrival of the group to the Illyrians. It was time for the moment of truth.
Baden stroked the horse’s muzzle. “I’m sorry about that m’lord,” he said, eyes on the back of the retreating woman, and then shook his head. “I’m also sorry about not greeting you earlier. Welcome. I will make sure you’re fed and watered and a place has been prepared for you.” It would not be said, ever, that an Illyrian horse was ever be mistreated under his roof.

His roof. He groaned a little and leaned against the wall as Dirym was led into the depths of the stables. He was back to everything, with a whole rats nest of problems dropped firmly in his lap, and the worst of it was his own fault. Would his father have done this? Would Kel?

He ran his hands over his face. One problem at a time, and the first of those was the mad prince of Ridding stalking through his corridors. He could trust Hye and his manservant Alan to make sure everyone had rooms, or was sheltered. There was enough room in the Greenwood to host an army. In fact, that was what it was originally built for, when each of the princes used to keep small detachments of troops in their own holdings. Now his retainers, and the armed guards- dwarfed even by the not so powerful house of Hirain, barely could fill a corner of the spacious halls.

The Greenwood was riddled with strange doors and passages, and Baden snuck through a door in the basement and emerged on the second floor hall. Knowing Ridding, he wasn’t going to stay to his quarters and would turn up at the most inopportune moment. That or find a way to harass his guests as they moved toward their own quarters. It was the last thing he needed, Aden accosting Eiryn on the way to her quarters. He was more worried about her in that case than him because…well…Aden was different.

As if on cue from his thoughts he heard a giggle from the corner and the glint of amber in the darkness. He blinked and shook his head. “Aden…why are you sitting in the corner. In the dust and the darkness?” The eyes rose and the Prince of Ridding clapped him on a shoulder.

“It’s amazing what you can see when no one is watching, little lording. My, don’t you look like hell.”

He sighed. “I just got in. You wouldn’t…”

“Oh I know, and I also know that little building you wrote me from in Roh. Roh, ho, ho,” he trilled, trailing off into a giggle. Baden paused, his eyes narrowing. How had he known. He had had no spies following, that he was sure of. How had Aden…?”

“And I saw you’re little friends, some of the best parading through these hall. Lovely aren’t they?”

“Ridding, let’s talk in my quarters.”

Twenty minutes later, Aden sat looking at him over a gold cup which sparked in the firelight as Baden stood by the window, looking out into Illyria beyond. This was what happened when one came home, when one became grounded. Piles and troubles all built up when out there…out there was where there real adventures were, the real stories, the real peace.

“You really do have the face of Kel.”

The Prince of Averone looked over. “What? What does that have to do with anything, Aden?”

He shrugged, eyes locked on him like a cat watching his prey. “Unwise game you played, Averone, leading an army into Illyria.”

Baden winced. “Not much of one. We left a bigger one of the other side of the border.”

“At least your own men aren’t leading this one.” That made him pause. His own men? What was he talking about? He had gone into Roh alone, and Hye certainly wasn’t fool enough to bring men across the border. A grin lit Aden’s pale face. “You don’t know? Oh fantastic.” He took a sip of his wine, watching Baden as he turned.

“What do you mean, Ridding.”

“Exactly what I said Averone. A member of your house, a T’weak I believe helped get the farmers and common people all riled up. Even declaring things in your own name. Oh it’s quite delicious. Just like this vintage. Aw, does your head hurt now, princeling?”

Baden was rubbing his temples. T’weak? No, he had written to Hye, told him to call the boy back. What had been done? What irreparable damage had the boy done?! If Grydon knew…gods if Grydon knew they could kiss any help goodbye and the council might even vote to restrict his own holding! Countermove…countermove…

“Don’t worry, Grydon doesn’t know. He will soon, or rather he will soon know that the Dierdain General is now in Illyria. Then that might be a problem.”

“What do you know, Ridding? How do you…”

“I’m special,” he giggled. “But I am not the one who matters is it? Oh for my council vote? Yes, yes I do because I have not decided yet, simply because I want to hear your pretty little songbird sing her tune to me. But you’re the one that matters anyways. Grydon won’t be able to touch you, because Illyria recognizes something in all this. And you always were her favorite.”

“Are you special, Aden,” Baden asked, narrowing his eyes, “or are you more clever than any of us imagine?”

The redhaired prince looked at him a long moment, and a look of respect and understanding passed through their eyes before he burst out laughing. “Maybe, and that is another reason you’re her favorite.”

Riddles. Ridding always loved to speak and riddles and this one seemed important but what exactly? He didn’t know and it was late and fatigue washed over him in a wave. “Tomorrow is another day. We will deal with this tomorrow. Hye will send for you for our next meeting.” He sighed and poured his own goblet of wine. “And do me a favor? Please don’t wander the halls and scare my guests?”

The other rose and paused in the door way, picking a piece of lint off his fine coat. “I’ll do what I can, Baden. But I can’t promise anything.” And he was gone.

Baden stood for a moment at the window, tired but knowing he wouldn’t be able to sleep. Instead he found his way outside, to the parapets, where he sat on the wall, back leaning against the cold stone of a neighboring tower and looking out to where a flock of glowbirds were feeding on a faraway lake. Illyria…I’m one of her favorites. Averone has always been close but…Does this war go that deep? The wind blew, caressing his cheek and whipping his black hair into his face. Maybe it does, maybe it does.
The sun was setting, and Eiryn stood on the balcony, watching the creamy colors of the sky darken slowly to deeper hues. She rested her head on her arms and sighed. It was all up to her now. She'd have to do her best, play whatever game she sensed was going on. Eiryn could already feel the whispers following her, and the stares. Those were the worst; but she held her head high, reminding herself that any wrong move could cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

Such a burden, and yet, deep within her was a blossom of excitement. She'd gone from knowing nothing but myths and tales about the outside world of Hayea, knowing nothing but the peaceful groves and hills she'd grown up in, only to find herself suddenly immersed in this new world, unsure yet excited. All the books were only half-true, she had decided. Nothing could ever describe this planet, rich with the same things of Aricrysta yet full of oddities that piqued her curiosity.

The Elven Queen's thoughts turned to Baden. A Prince! She wondered why she hadn't even thought about it, never even considered that he was someone so important. But, she mused, he was one of the four that had needed to be convinced to march against Noklah, and so her job was done as far as he was concerned. And since he knew more than he'd let on at first, she was fairly confident about her speech. However, it was up to her to find the right words; he could not do that for her.

Eiryn decided she would have to take a day or two to meet with King Dublain and the other three Princes. One had to know their audience in order to speak to them properly. Perhaps she could speak to Baden; ask if there was any way she could speak to each in private.

A knock sounded on the door, and she turned gracefully, combing long, pale fingers through silvery hair hurriedly. Walking through the lavish bedroom and the marble-floored sitting room, thinking to herself that this was really too much decoration, she reached the door and opened it.

To her surprise, it was Baden. She gave a small curtsy in response to his bow and ushered him inside, saying, "Really, there's no need to act so...formal, Prince Baden."

"If I didn't show you the proper respect, Eiryn, no one will," he said after she closed the door. "It's important that people get the right impression of you. Especially Illyrians, considering the situation we're in."

"Oh," she said, sitting on a plush chair, inviting him to do the same. "Well then, what have you come to talk about? It's kind of late for you to be out and about, isn't it?"

Glancing out the far window, she saw that the sun was fully set, and the inky sky was dotted with diamond stars. Baden nodded.

"Yes, but I thought it might be a good idea to talk to you. About any questions, you have, I mean."

Well this is a nice coincidence, Eiryn thought, and smiled.

"I was wondering if it would be at all possible to speak to the remaining Princes and the King Dublain before meeting with them all together formally. I need to prepare as best as I can, see," she explained, and Baden nodded. "I just want to know what they're like, and what tactics are best to use when convincing them."

"Well..." Baden said, thinking. "I think, maybe..."

A Non-Existent User
Rebecca was so glad to be rid of her soldier's uniform. It reminded her too much of her past. Thankfully, she had been given new clothes, men's of course. At the moment, she prefered to keep her identity a secret.

She stripped her boots from her feet and tossed them aside. They were getting old anyway. She rubbed her soles for a moment before removing her heavy wool socks. Each item removed made her feel lighter both physically and emotionally.

Her new attire was black, which would make night travel easier. There was also a new sword and longbow. She cherished these, though unsure why she received them. It seemed fate was dealing her a fair hand lately.

Except for her father.

She pushed the thought aside and finished dressing, tying her hair and sliding her helm on for a finishing touch. Then she turned her attention to her new weapon. It was light yet sturdy. She swung it back and forth, feeling its power in her fingers.

Her mind wandered with the flashes of light off of the steel, interrupted only by a knock at the door.

She sighed and resheathed it, making sure her femininity was concealed before turning her attention to it.

"Come in." she called.
"Please tell your worthy lord that I respectfully decline his request. You may tell him that I am ill." The princess watched the retreating back of the servant as the maid shut the door quietly behind her.

More than likely, Hye would be mildly provoked by her refusal, as was his right, but in all honesty, Mara was quite tired. She quickly changed into a comfortable sapphire long-sleeved shirt and pants from the suffocating gown she had donned upon her arrival in her chambers, on the off chance that she was required. The evening had gone quietly so far, and she had no reason to think she would be summoned against her will. This was, after all, Illyria. People here stood on tradition and prided themselves on their good honor. They were surprisingly willing to change, but nevertheless stood on values and morals of the last few hundred years.

"If only more kings and queens lived the way these nobles do, maybe they would fit their titles." Mara muttered to the silence.

When she had pulled her hair back with a black ribbon and slipped downstairs through a backway. It paid to know castles as well as she did. As soon as she reached the outside, she pressed her back against the wall and tilted her head up to watch the stars. A sudden noise startled her into movement, and she half-trotted to the barn, where Dirym was stabled. The horse greeted her with a muffled nicker. Mara looked into the stall and suppressed the urge to laugh.

"They don't know us as well as they think, now do they?" She whispered with a conspirational wink to the stallion.

At one point, Dirym had obviously been well bedded down with straw. Half of the cover he had pushed up against a side wall, and the rest was in a corner. He was laying quite comfortably in the back of his stall, on the ground. The princess motioned to him to get up, and he came obediently to her.

"A walk, dear friend?" She asked him, and he began to paw at the ground.

They were well on their way through the fields, walking side by side, when Mara stopped and sat in the long grass. Dirym stood facing the long plain and letting the wild wind run its caressing fingers through his mane and tail. A thought occurred to Mara, so she spoke it aloud.

"Dear one," She waited until Dirym turned back to her. "Would you...You do so love...You wouldn't want to leave here again, would you?"

The stallion blinked at her and turned back to the plains, flaring his nostrils and nickering excitedly as a group of Illyrian horses thundered in the distance. The horses were far from visible, but Dirym knew they ran just beyond his reach, and Mara could feel his desire. Her heart soared with his, longed with his, to gallop those plains again, as he had when he was but a colt, and they had when they first found each other.

"Oh, Dirym. I've never treated you awfully, have I? I have never kept you against your will. You know that if you wanted to, if you needed to, you could go, yes? It would break my heart to know you have felt trapped these long years together."

The princess and her stallion felt their hearts tug to each other, and Mara stood to reach her hand out to him. He came to her, as he always had, out of loyalty, devotion. She saw that in his movements and leaned down to kiss his nose. Mara turned back to face the castle rising in the distance; Dirym nudged her gently as she wiped the tears off of her cheeks.

"Must I go back? Oh, what a silly question. Of course, I must. Why us, Dirym? Why us? Are we so much stronger, or wiser? No, I don't think so. I think we are all fools, willing to die for something so desperately impossible. But it's beautiful, as in the fairy tales of old. Maybe we'll triumph, probably not. Still, I feel drawn into this, as if I have no choice. If I stood aside, could it survive without me? Fate has always had a strange way of working around flaws in prophecy, hasn't it, Dirym?" She paused and saw the horse looking at her with a gleam of amusement and sorrow. "Yes, we will all be involved in some way or another, whether we want to or not. Don't get me wrong, I do want to take part in this. I just feel so overwhelmed. Well, 'buck up, little one' as Papa said before he died. 'Don't let them see you break.'"

Dirym offered, and Mara vaulted onto his back. They walked slowly back to the stable, and Mara once more ascended the stairs to her chambers. Just as she was going to open her door, a voice called down the hallway to her.
"Princess?"

* * *

"You look like a Princess" the stranger said, "I can tell you have what it requires, and can pull the strings to get you ANYTHING you ever wanted, what do you want, name it!"

"I... I have travelled far...all my life...tried to find something...all through Hayea, until giving everything I had I began to hear whispers...whispers of this place, 'the Hidden Kingdom,' 'the Land of Legend,' 'the World of the Changing Borders'...I...I didn't think it actually existed at first...but it turned out to be true...a lifetime of devotion to high standards just to get..."

"enough! so you found Illyria...what I am interested in is you! now!"

The figure grabs the young girl, taking her into the hold, ravishing her like so many others before; and in the morning, servants take her to the edges of the borders of the Hidden Land. This one will find herself soon with child in blossom...a voice seems to come from elsewhere:

"Dad," Amareillieillia cries, "what are you thinking about?"

* * *

"Ah, a soldier come to visit us?" the Prince, Cain, of the Noble Illyrian House of Grydon greets Rebecca in her chamber, "I am Cain...my my my you look sturdy! What has my brother Baden brought us this time?"

* * *

in another of the rooms in Greenwood Hold, T'waeak swings a newly acquired sword.

"Nice of Baden to get us these new weapons, eh Famba? At least we have a distraction, until the Princes can get together with the Elf and Mara to figure out a plan of attack...we...Famba? huh I guess you are sleeping...I would believe you would be trying out that nice Illyrian cross~bow! well I am not sleeping THAT'S FOR SURE! and since I am up, I am going to see what the others are doing while we wait for this counsel to figure out our strategy..."

T'waeak quietly exits the room leaving Famba to rest, padding along the candle-in-sconce-lit hall-ways with floors of polished gem and smooth stone, mosaic-like, worthy of the Kingdom of Legends...the land T'waeak would do anything to be a part of, even resorting to black-mail...

A figure is seen entering the mythical estate from the area of the horse stables, a person T'waeak has long sought to get alone; to get to know better...Mara...

"Princess?" T'waeak calls to the approaching figure.

Andreas, Trey and Rye prepared the Dierdian royal tent set-up for the night. As Rye had no other place to feel comfortable, Trey and Andreas had offered the space of the royal tent. It had only two cots, so Andreas had volunteered to sleep on a makeshift layout on the floor. He saw that this had bothered Rye, but assured her that she needed a better place to sleep than he.

Trey and Andreas walked around the rest of the Dierdian camp on the outskirts of the Illyrian frontier. Rye had already retired, and Trey and Andreas took the opportunity to go over with each other their current position. They both trusted Rye, but their doubts were something they kept between themselves. Not even their mother or Trey's wife new of the doubts the two shared with each other.

But the doubt they carried with them in this conversation was more expansive than anything they had ever before spoke of. Because this time, it was over the rule of Dierdai. With Trey now King, and Andreas now the utmost military figure of the Dierdian Army, the weight of the world seemed to be on their shoulders.

"What now, brother?" Trey asked, half laughingly. Andreas just shook his head. After the war concluded, if the Noklan Army ever moved against them, well, it all depended on how the war went. If they died, there would be no after. But, luckily, they had chosen competent successors. They had done so when they realised the ailment of the former King and General, and the approaching trouble with Noklah.

Andreas heard a silent rustle behind them. He had to smile to himself. He thought that she was asleep when they left.

"Come on out from hiding, Rye."
He pursed his lips and ran his fingers through his hair. “Well…you can. Aden…Ridding, I mean is here anyways for that very purpose.” Baden paused and drummed his fingers on his knee. Why was he worried? He himself had summoned the Prince to his holding. Because he didn’t really trust Ridding, that was why, and Eiryn didn’t know what she was getting herself into.

“Look,” he said suddenly with a tired sigh. “It probably will be best for you to talk to Ridding because if you don’t come to him, he’ll come to you. But…Ridding is…tricky. He knows more than he lets on, and people believe him to be mad. I, personally, don’t know if he is or not but…just be careful around him, yeah? Don’t try to impress him or anything like that because that would probably only make him laugh.” Baden remembered clearly the time a king from one of the other seven kingdoms had shown up before their council and Aden had laughed so hard at him he had fell out of his chair. The man left in a huff with a blush on his cheeks and they never heard from him again. It was funny, he had to admit, but Grydon had been furious.

“If you insist…” she said slowly.

“I do,” he cut in before she could get anything else out. Good, one thing down. He began pacing. “Hirain will be no problem. He’s a good person, we grew up together and he is an ally of mine. Likely, he’ll vote the way we do. He’s a scholar, like all of his house, and logical. He’ll easily listen to reason. Grydon…” he trailed off. “Grydon you shouldn’t have to meet with if you have all three of us. It is the majority, and the majority is all you need.”

“But if he is the one who controls the army.”

He paused. “Maybe later…” He trailed off. He knew one thing with certainty in his gut. He didn’t want her alone with that man. Gods, why am I being so protective? She’s a companion and a queen, and what kind of person would I be if I let her get hurt by my enemy.




Rye blushed and came forward, stepping from the shadow of a tree. The moment they crossed the border the shadows and the pathways seemed easier to find than her other secret ways in the castles of Roh. Even now the trees seemed to gather to make shadowed routes under their boughs. She thought she had been quiet enough, but as she came forward, she guessed she had been wrong. And there was no use pretending she hadn’t been listening.

“I’m…sorry,” she stammered uselessly, but he just smiled and waved her off. That always startled her. Wasn’t he ever going to yell at her? Sometimes it felt as if she were caught up in whirlwind, thinking only a few weeks ago she was in the palace kitchens. Now she was here, in the presence of what she had now heard to be the two greatest powers in the neighboring country of Dierdai. Even sharing the royal tent. She tried not to blush at that thought alone! And yet…why was she getting so comfortable here? Before that question could come, others dropped from her lips.

“How are you?” It surprised her as much as him, but his eyes answered her better than any words could. They were tired, pressured, as if there were problems far beyond what his words could say. “Well…um…if it helps, the Queen is going to try to speak with the other Princes individually. Maybe that will make things quicker. The princess just returned and two members of the Priest turn Prince’s household are planning some sort of attack…thought you two would like to know.” For once it didn’t take everything in her power to try not to curtsy.


Eiryn peered at Baden, who had trailed off. She sensed he didn't want to discuss Grydon, so she let it go.

"I shall seek Aden Ridding out on the morrow," she decided. "If I happen to bump into Hirain, I'll talk to him and explain my reasoning as best as I can while I can speak freely."

"Don't speak too freely," Baden cautioned, and she nodded slowly. "There are eyes and ears within the walls, and while you are safe, you must guard your tongue at all times. The only true safe place is outside, in the forests, where the listeners can't report what you say."

Ah, Eiryn thought. Illyria cannot speak to everyone here.

"I will speak with care," she assured the Prince, feeling as though she was trying to alleviate both of their fears. There was so much to consider, so many decisions to be made here that would have enormous impact upon Hayea. He nodded, looking tired. Eiryn glanced out the window, seeing even more stars than before. Night had fallen deeply, and she knew dawn would bring its trials. She must be ready.

"I'll take my leave now," Baden said after a few moments, sizing her up. Eiryn looked down, fingering a long strand of silver-blond hair. "You will be prepared for what comes next, I hope?"

She could hear the underlying warning in his words. No more indecision. She would have to step up. Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself that calmness and confidence were key. She would perform a ritual tonight, before the moon set. Time was on her side, for now. She straightened, looking him in the eye.

"Come morning, I will be ready to face whatever comes. Thank you for your concern, my lord. You had best get some sleep as well."

Baden nodded, a smile tugging at his lips. "No thanks is needed, and I'm not sure if 'my lord' is the correct title, but I appreciate it all the same. Goodnight, my Queen," he said, gently teasing her. She bowed her head, and he turned to leave. Before he closed the door, he spoke once more.

"Really, with Aden, do try to be yourself. He does want what's best for Illyria, just sometimes he has his own ways of provision. He'll recognize any lie in a heartbeat, and never let on that he knows. It takes a certain kind to be able to get through to him, but I think you'll do just fine."

There was an awkward silence before Eiryn answered.

"I shall see to it that I do not lie."

This time, she glimpsed a full smile spread across his face as he shut the door. Grinning ruefully to herself, she walked to the bed, clambering up on top, clothes and all. She laid on her back, with her hands folded across her stomach. She wanted to see what Illyria was made of.

Probing gently, she found the castle's northeast forest, brimming with life. She sank deeper in, and found herself enveloped with a warm peace that contented her being. Life was calm and natural here; no human presence had soiled the atmosphere. Drifting along, she encountered a young sapling, growing on the edge of a small clearing.

All is beautiful here, she said to it in Elven tongue. The sapling shifted its branches, and replied in a language she didn't know. But she could tell it was at peace, and was content to leave it and search farther. She roamed the forest, observing everything, marveling at the absolute harmony that ruled.

A definite change in atmosphere clouded her senses, and she realized she must have crossed the border. Pulling back slowly but steadily, she was once again drawn into the serenity of Illyria. She floated a while, simply existing as one with nature.

These explorations had always calmed her insecurity or moodiness, and she was glad to be able to experience this strange but wonderful land. It felt good to immerse herself so firmly within this it, feel its gentle but deep power within her. They were one, and this was where she belonged.

She didn't know how long she stayed in her trance, resting and dancing in turns with nature, but when she awakened, she felt as though she had woken from a deep, dreamless, completely satisfying sleep. Stretching, she sent a message out to the whole of Illyria, sincerely thanking it for lending her strength for what lay ahead. Sitting up, Eiryn's silver eyes rested on the lightened sky outside her window. Dawn would come soon, and with it, meetings that would determine the Council's decision.

She felt confident.

A Non-Existent User
Rebecca's door opened to an unfamiliar figure. She stood and nodded, as he seemed to be some sort of official. Wait, she noted the bars on his coat, a captain.

"My lord requests your presence in the hall." he said with authority.

She nodded again, not trusting her voice over the pounding of her heart. What could they want?

---------

"Brone, I hear you have joined our cause of late."

Rebecca shifted in the uncomfortable chair, resting her elbows on the table in front of her. "Yes, I have."

"May I ask what made you change your mind?"

She closed her eyes briefly at the memory of it. "The lady Mara showed the destruction the queen was causing, and I... I realized for the first time that what I was aiding was a reign of terror. Though I fear for my father, I cannot go back to that life. I cannot kill the good that is left in this world."

She sat back. "I can only hope that I may yet restore what has been destroyed. Every day now, I wish it. The images of fire and blood sit in my mind like spoiled food on my tongue. I wish I could spit them out, but they are not to be rid of so easily."

The man questioning her stood and gazed deeply into her eyes, as though penetrating her soul. She felt that he was searching her mind, unearthing every dark secret she kept.

"I am afraid, then, that what I may ask of you will be difficult." he began. "Though I want to test your loyalty further over these next few weeks, I will eventually ask you to return to the queen's army."

He held a hand up, cutting off any protest she might have. "I do not ask you to serve her, but we need someone on the inside, someone who can inform us of her plans."

"My lord, I fear she already knows of my betrayal."

He smiled a little. "Then you may paint her a picture. A brave and loyal soldier, captured by his lady's enemies, withstands brutal interrogations. But he becomes aware of their plans and eventually escapes. We may even leave you with a few bruises to make it more convincing."

She stood, indecision racking her brain. "My lord, may I have tonight to think on it."

That did not seem to be the answer he wanted, but he dismissed her anyway. "You may retire to your room, then."

He shook his head as if to clear it. "I trust you will sleep well, though I am afraid that Oren tends to snore rather loudly."

She whirled back, suddenly fearful. "Oren?"

He seemed confused. "Yes, you did not believe you would be alone in your room, did you?"

"No." she stammered. "I am just surprised. I was not told of this."

"I apologize that we did not inform you earlier, but there is nothing we can do now but rest. Goodnight."

She walked away, with the sinking feeling that her life was just about to get much more complicated.
"Yes? Your name is T'waeak, is it not?" Mara replied half-gingerly, "I have seen you in our company with the other girl, who is your riding companion?"

"Famba and I go way back, it's true...so..." T'waeak continued cooly, "Peradventure thou wouldst fain this thing mustneeds become accomplished, your grace?"

"What?" the Princess responds. "I'm sorry. What did you say?"

"Wherefore would you rather I must say, the deed be done, that is..." T'waeak begins, then is cut-short.

"No, what you said the first-time; again, say it slower...I think I can make it out...I am also familiar with the 'eldritch communique' ha ha, I AM a Princess, after all tee hee" Mara teases.

"I was just makin' conversation...so...with-in the encasing of a nut, so to tweak, SPEAK, sorry...so we're gonna DO THIS THING? Attack you mom, I mean that's gotta be weird, hard...I don't think I could do it, even if my mom were; I mean, not to say that..."
thankfully T'waeak is (once-again) cut-short.

"It's okay, you can say it" Mara looks down toward the shiny polished floors lining the hall-way of Greenwood Hold..."even if my mom is a bit..."

"But she's your mom!" T'waeak continues.

"Even if my mom is a bit eccentric, I was going to say..." Mara says sadly, with emotion that does not embrace lugubriation, yet broaches upon its outer boundaries, Mara carefully-controlling every nuance of her speech.

"It can't be easy, Princess, may I call you Princess, or Mara or Princess Mara" then T'waeak whispers coyly, "or what?" T'waeak smiles playfully and Mara can sense T'waeak is not teasing nor in any way disrespecting relations-with-Famba, not being forward with her high-ness, but rather trying rather succesfully to set her at ease, and for a brief-moment Princess Mara smiles, glad of the companionship that alleviates the otherwise completely serious mission she and the others who long for a free Hayea must embark-upon.

* * *

Pon returns Amareillieillia's stare and pulls something out of a pack.

"This is a sifter!" Pon explains, "What does it remind you of, Ammy?"

Amareillieillia looks at the rusted piece of bluish-metal; it is round and hollow, yet covered on one end with a woven mesh of fine metal wire. "You use it to cook." Amareillieillia replies, glad that she understands the object's purpose, "you put the white stuff in there and the rocks and lumps come out, like when you make..."

"That's right," Pon smiles "when somebody is going to make bread, you pour the stuff inside you are going to make it with, and look what happens, I'll use dirt..." Pon pours a hand-ful of dirt from a few feet away from the south part of the river-bank where it is more dry. Amareillieillia watches with love in a kind of trance as the finer-particles of dirt and dust ("dirst" she thinks, laughingly to herself, and smiles) passes through said mesh-work leaving not but rocks and small tree branch pieces behind. "See how the rocks can't get through?" Pon continues, now look just across the river and tell me what do you see?"

"TREES!" Amareillieillia replies.

"That's right, now remember the y-yellow m-monster?" Pon makes an effort to speak calmly, still obviously shaken by the pair's encounter with the Queen Rhea's beast-servant.

"Yes..." Amareillieillia speaks with a similar fear.

"Now just suppose the Queen sends out another one, and it comes to attack us, remember the sifter, Ammy, the wires are like the trees, and the monsters are like the rocks...run as fast and
as far as you can into the trees if you see one, don't wait for me, I don't think the monsters can get through all those branches and stumps to get you if you go far and deep enough; and I will follow you. If we see another one." Pon shakes looking left-then-right up along the river-bank. "I wonder when they are coming back?" Pon says silently, half-to-self.

Mara sighed heavily and closed her eyes for a moment at the mention of her name. Turning around, she forced a smile.

"Yes?" She recognized the man as a member of the party and chided herself. She didn't really know his name. I have to work on knowing my people better.

"Well, then, T'waeak, come along with me. Let's walk." She waved him beside her. "Now, what is your standing in the house?"

"I am Baden's shadow, if you must know." T'waeak replied.

"Certainly you must be honored by such a position?"

T'waeak blinked at her. "In all ways I can."

Mara smiled at him. Yes, he is a good person. A bit misled, but good at heart.
Footsteps sounded down the corridor the two were walking. The princess turned to see a courier sprinting along toward them. Mara stopped and motioned for T'waeak to do the same.

"Your presence is requested, your Highness. In the meeting room." The young boy was breathless.

"Of course." Mara turned to offer T'waeak her hand to shake. "It was wonderful talking with you. Please come share my company soon."

The courier led the way at a much slower pace. They made their way to the upper hall and at the heavy wood door barring entrance to the meeting room, the princess of Noklah paused to smooth her gown. After motioning to the guard, the door was heaved open before her and she saw a council room fit for the Illyrian legend. All in the room rose, as was custom, and she was led to her seat on the third tier. The fourth tier was reserved for the princes (or on rare occasion, a princess) of the land, except for Baden, lending to the fabled princes an air of supreme rule. On the third tier sat all visiting high-royals (only the highest station in a given country). The second tier held all the lesser-nobility. And lastly sat the petitioners.

Normally, Mara would have sat with Eiryn, Baden, and the General, but tradition called for her to speak in support from a position of power. She would join the rest on the floor when their position was called before the council, after she spoke in favor.

"The meeting of Illyria is called to order. All those present announce yourselves and your position on that matter of which you have been briefed. Keep in mind the precariousness of the issue and the powers involved. Offense will not be taken lightly in this room. To anybody, at any time. This is a just court. Petitioners, speak your part."
A Non-Existent User
Rebecca watched the meeting from the edge of the room. She had not been asked, and perhaps it was wrong to be here, but she could not stay away. The warmth of the room and the urgency of the matter drew her in.

She lingered away from the others, desperately hoping she would not be noticed. As she waited, she continually rubbed her temple. She had hardly slept the night before, and it left her full of aches and exhaustion.

Of course, she was used to sharing a room with men, but somehow she thought she would not have to face that here. It had been unrealistic of her to think that her problems would be magically solved because she had joined the right side.

She gently rested her head against the wall, thinking over her situation. The decision she never made still weighed heavily on her chest. How could they ask her to go back? Did they not realize the danger?

It had never been in her before to shrink away from danger, but she must have changed in the past few days. She knew it was selfish, yet she could not comprehend the humiliation she would face if she were caught.

In the end, she knew what she had to do, though she refused to admit it to herself. She could only hope that those close to her would not suffer from her mistakes.

Exhausted, she pushed these thoughts from her mind and turned to Mara, who had begun to speak.
Eiryn kept from wringing her hands. She was nervous beyond compare. She had no way of knowing what would come out of her mouth; there was no speech memorized or specific arguments to use...none that she could think of anyway, due to the pressure. Usually Eiryn dealt with pressure fairly well, but this was different. More burdensome to her if she failed to convince the council. She breathed: in through her nose, out through her mouth. It helped. The General and Baden sat to either side of her, and she could feel the tension emanating from them as well.

"Petitioners, speak your part," she heard, and Baden nudged her gently as he stood.

"I am Baden Averone, Prince of House Averone which is bound to Illyria."

"I am Andreas King, General of the presently assembled forces of Roh."

It was her turn.

"I am Eiryn Dra'Klan, Queen of Aricrysta."

Mutters escaped some of the audience. She bowed her head slightly, feeling extremely vulnerable. Cain Grydon, Aden Ridding, Cade Hirain, and King Dublain were all watching her intently. Baden cleared his throat.

"As you may or may not know, the kingdom of Noklah has been terrorizing the other kingdoms under the command of its Queen, Rhea. We are here today to present our views on how this should be handled." He nodded to Eiryn.

"I came to Hayea with no intentions save for that of restoring peace. Aricrysta has been independent of this planet for some time, and I would have been too, if not for the prophecy."

Utter silence. She wasn't sure where to go now; she had debated endlessly and without conclusion about whether or not to even bring up the prophecy. She assumed everyone knew about it, but King Dublain spoke up.

"Tell us in detail of this prophecy," he commanded, not without warmth. She took a breath, pushed silvery hair behind her pointed ears.

"I heard tell of it when I was little. Everyone told it differently, as is common, but each had a ring of truth to it. The most detailed and truthful one I heard from my mother. She spoke of the coming destruction and terror that would befall Hayea, and how there was only one hope to the planet. She told me that when the need was great and the timing exactly right, a young female, marked with a symbol of sorts, would ascend quickly in the hearts of those she encountered, and would inspire a rebellion against the evil forces. This young female would then lead whoever followed in a movement destined to reshape the planet and restore much needed peace and happiness."

"I see," the King said softly. "Do go on."

"I believe now, after some discovery, that I am that female. It sounds precocious and egotistical, I know, but...I have the mark to prove it."

"Do let us see it," Aden spoke, his eyes boring into her slyly. Eiryn nodded; she had been prepared for this. Turning her back to the council, she let the right shoulder of the silver-threaded dress she wore fall just enough to bare the star, missing its twelfth point. More silence.

"How did you come to receive this mark?" Cain Grydon asked, seemingly bored. Eiryn adjusted her clothes before answering.

"I was following Prince Baden on the edge of the woods, and something just...hit me, I suppose you could say, and it burnt that star on my shoulder blade. I didn't think much of it at the time; I was too preoccupied."

"Why were you following Baden?" Grydon went on. She frowned.

"I have not finished presenting our case. This is no time for questions, Prince Grydon."

"Perhaps. Or are you simply avoiding the question?"

This was infuriating. Baden touched her arm quickly, reminding her silently that too much was at stake to lose her temper. Another deep breath.

"I'm not avoiding anything. I would simply like to present our case without any irrelevancies. Now, it was not coincidence that I came into contact with Baden, Princess Mara, and the General within the same time period. I believe that I am called to reunite the fragments of what's left of the goodness of Hayea and fight back against Rhea. I've been told that Illyria would be of great aid to this cause, and we are here to ask you if you would give consent to help us. I'll let the General take over and give you the details of what he's been thinking as far as military strategies."

T'waeak stands behind the heavy wooden double doors, pondering, listening to the conversation of nobles occurring on the other side for a moment, then returns down the hall to the chamber shared for the nonce with friend, riding companion, and more, Famba. Famba is now awake and T'waeak apprises her of the goings~on in Greenwood.

In a familiar farm outside of Roh, the day wanes as Enamela returns to the family she has recently helped, and asks for privacy from the children while she discusses a matter of great importance to their father.

"Go ahead, and on to bed, children!" their father explains softly, "I have something to uh talk-about with um, just get on now! Um..."

The children's mother sits in a corner, staring at the wall, unaware of any intrusion, and working at half-speed at a knitted blouse of animal fur fiber stained-with berries procured in trade from the oases beyond the deserts of Deirdai, just over the moutains; where most do not believe witches dwell.

"You handled that well!" Enamela smiles, the fairy's extra large wings flapping gently in the breeze outside the barn as the farmer follows. She remembers the occasion she trapped the other-worldy denizens from beyond Hayea. She fingers her pouch of lime green velvet with silver filigree trim, woven in fancy curls and reminiscient almost of what was created and prized in Noklah, in the times of Rhea's grand-mother, when Noklah was not feared but rightfully respected. It was a time of "high-culture." The white stones are few in Enamela's pouch and the fairy continues speaking-with-urgency. "Two of your children, the young girl this very night and the elder of the two boys in two-days-hence will shed their masticatory-apparati to create room for the mature-replacements that will serve their chewing functions." Enamela fidgets, then continues, "Farmer Brauwhyenn, I urge you to consider...the creatures I strive to save your world from...they hunger...GREATLY...no other force in this or any other world I am familiar with can assauge their beastly and monstrous wrath...the teeth...I must have their teeth...the substance is thick, serves to trap their souls and make them docile as they feed in their captivity...there is no other way...I"

"Easy, good-fairy" John Brauwhyenn consoles, "I have not forgotten how you saved this very farm from attack by these...creatures...alas, my poor spouse, she still does not speak for an affright she became-afflicted with ever since...that night, something in her eyes...I still pray and hope that it returns...the light of her youth, now behind...it is as if her eyes are turned back-wards...you may have whatever you wish!..the teeth of my children? Are you sure that is all you require?"

"That...that will suffice in my efforts..." Enamela repsonds with relief, "I can continue to trap the spirits of the Olga and other similar inter-dimensional beings that families such as yourselves can continue to do the efforts of day-to-day farming essentials, your children continuing to be blissfully unaware while they may of the realms outside of Hayea. War is brewing in the primary plane, there shall be sufficent toil and grief for all in this planet without the fear of what may threaten all from beyond...it is a duty I gladly bear!"

"How...how shall it become accomplished?" farmer Brauwhyenn inquires with wonder.

"When they are plucked, save them in a pouch placed under their sleeping-cushions...I shall return for them in the night as they slumber, and perhaps leave them some small token as recompense...I need these items desperately for my struggle..." Enamela leaves, wings fluttering into the dusk as she continues to the next farm, collecting teeth she will file into smooth white stones that will serve to entrap such as is extant beyond...that that suffers not the will of common folk be accomplished...

As the general concluded his description of the military strategy, Mara motioned to the Keeper. He nodded assent to her before opening the floor for questions about the general's plans. It was times like these in which Mara wished she was versed in war-lore. She understood very little about the plan laid before council, though she could tell from the reluctant nods of those in the room that the plan was well thought out. Finally the Keeper brought the round of questions to a close and opened the floor to her. Now it was time to be a politician.

"My dear friends," She began and heard a laughing cough in the background, "As I hope I may call you. It has not been easy for any in this room to watch the destruction cast down by the soldiers of Noklah. Let me assure you, it has hardly been easy to watch from a seat in that kingdom, or from the seat in which I now approach you. The few of you who have visited the dark kingdom know that the soldiers and queen have not spared their own from the terrible desolation. To say the least, my people are suffering. And it is from that view that I humbly come before your council."

Mara paused to glance around the room at the wary faces. "If I had come boding ill, believe that I could have called it down by now. I am all ready in Illyria. I am all ready in the confidence of those on the floor, and that of Sir Dronam of Roh's, who knows me better than any in this room, who has known me since I was but a child. I come to be of what service I can, though I know that may prove to be very little. It would be my greatest pleasure to see those in power of the kingdom of Noklah be brought to their knees and subject to trial for their crimes. I speak in favor of those petitioners you see before you. I will join them, as I have been with them in the past, even to the darkest of dangers. I only wish you would grant them, and myself, the chance to do what is right."

Here, Mara regained her composure and tilted her chin in the slightest of motions. "If we have come to suffer fools whose only wish is to cower in castles while their people are slaughtered in the severest ways and demeaned to the lowest, please tell us now, so that we may go forth to find fellowship among those whose bravery has outwitted fear. If, however, as we all have hoped so dearly, we have come to see a kingdom rise against its oppressors, no matter the odds, so that evil may not find its home in the seats of our kingdoms, we heartily welcome the help and gesture of comradery. Whether to victory, or death, this evil shall not go unchallenged!"

Ending her speech, Mara slipped out of her place on the third tier and made her way to where the petitioners stood. Standing beside Eiryn, Mara stared up at Grydon. "And I do not believe you are fools."
Eiryn couldn't help but smile at Mara as she made her way down to them. Such eloquence, she thought, feeling confident now that the council knew Mara was on their side for the right reason.

"Give us a moment," King Dublain said, giving a small smile before walking out with the three Princes. Eiryn turned to Mara.

"That was an amazing speech, my Lady," she said, not disguising the reverence in her tone. "I do believe you've persuaded them to help us."

"We should certainly hope so," Mara replied, her olive eyes seeming slightly darker as she gazed at the door the council had gone through.

Baden nudged the thoughtful elf queen.

"You didn't do so bad yourself," he said, smiling down at her. Eiryn smiled, large silver eyes lighting up.

"I just hope it's enough. We don't have anything right now but hope, and sometimes even that can be lost."

The Prince of Averone looked at her shrewdly.

"There's always hope. As long as you can think, you can hope," he said shortly, holding her gaze for a few moments as if to reiterate his point before turning to the General.

Oh dear, Eiryn thought sadly. I've said something again, haven't I?

The door opened, and the King and Princes walked out and took their seats again.

"We have reached a decision, petitioners," the King announced, looking at all of them impassively.

T'waeak listened gingerly, on account of not only being unsure of being worthy of being in the room but because of an over-use of the elf-food. T'waeak justified it by admitting one almost needed the food-of-the other-worlders, out of respect not just for the dignity of the members of the greeting, but for a respect of the moment and its obvious future importance in time! The sustenence gave one an intensity of attention, the abillity to "wrap one's vision around the happening."

Here was Hayea in its glory, in a pivotal moment! To miss being behind-the-scenes is un-considerable! Still, Famba as on previous occasions, had to surpress the idea of belittlilng T'waeak's actions, partly because (although) it seemed appropriate to reprimand but even more importantly, on the other side, (because in) an argument, she understood that T'waeak had a valid point. Here was something to see! Rhea would get hers at last...and the children..."the children at last have a chance!" she exclaimed to herself in relief.

The king stood somberly, then raised his head and gazed off into a more positive future time: "WE MARCH!"



BOOK FOUR
~MARCH ON NOKLAH~

"March on! ladies, Kings, and soldiers,
equal now we stand.
Dependant upon our efforts,
children of Hayea...in our hand.

Queen of frozen heights,
standing aloft so long...
Silently and with malice,
accomplishing that that is wrong!

Let them quake and tremble!
she and those that serve...
At last, wicked Queen Rhea,
may get what she deserves... "
Andreas knew that this moment, the moment most of the people in the room had been feeling for months and possible years, would change Hayea forever. It had been postponed for far too long. After the decision, he and Trey gathered the forces of Dierdai together to discuss the military plan. He knew that Dierdai would have to be the main front against Noklah, and his men understood. They were ready.

Everyone had begun packing tents, preparing to move out, when a messenger ran up to him. What the messenger whispered in his ear came as both as a shock and terrible news for Andreas. He quickly made his way to his brother, needing to get this news as soon as possible to him. His heart was racing, something that normally didn't happen. He finally found his brother, who was standing with the other leaders.

"The Dwarves in Kel have been attacked by Noklah!" Andreas blurted out. "The Dwarves in Ryok and B'Dol are preparing their armies for attack against Noklah. They request we get there as soon as we can."
T'waeak stood near-by, hearing the news. This changed much...with the added support of the Dwarves of Ryok and B'Dol, the already massive forces of Dierdai coupled with the rag-tag group of angry farmers T'waeak had mobilised, that had in itself just been upgraded with the support of the armies of the four houses of Illyria, seemed to have hope against Queen Rhea and the armies of Noklah!

"Did you hear that T'waeak?" Famba inquired, "the Dwarves! The Dwarves joining with us traders in combat! Is this a dream? This strange place makes it seem like everything is possible! To think just three weeks ago I was not even sure Illyria even existed!"

"I told you it did! Yeah, Famba! They just pushed us too far...we had to do something then...don't forget about the reason we are doing this...the children need us." T'waeak responds, "But I know what you mean! Here we were gathering whatever help we could, then were almost slain by the passing night patrol! If it were not for the Elf Queen and her rescue party we would have been crisp bread turned to ashes in the camp-fire or how the expression is now!" T'waeak stops and wonders in awe, "but the trees came alive, and stopped them! It was the Elf! I just know it! She can control things...And that Baden was able to find Illyria so easily this time! I was worried, so worried...I could not have done it, but Baden is blessed with something, it is like he understands the place like it were an internal thing in him...but we made it back in, and it all seemed to go so quickly; the counsel, finding our way around that Greenwood Hold! Huh huh, the Illyrian monarch announcing the counsel's decision and now, here when we are ready to unleash ourselves on Noklah we hear this! You're right, It just keeps getting weirder!"

"To be honest T'waeak, I didn't know if the Dwarves still existed, but apparently....they do and I am afraid, but yes...the children...we must do this!" Famba replies, still-in-shock, helping the armies fold the tents...

"Still...I get the feeling I could have made better choices with Illyria somehow...not as if they are upset with me...but...well now that we have a common goal, maybe they will look at me more 'favorably' " T'waeak laughs nervously, wrapping a cluster of folded tents with rope and attaching it to a pack-horse cart.

"What are you talking about, T'waeak?" Famba says stunned.

"I have not been completely honest with you about Baden, not that I lied, I just haven't told you everything...how I got 'in' to the 'Illyrian house of Averone'...it wasn't exactly due to my, um, merit..." T'waeak says with a look as cold as ice.

Off in the distance, as the equipment is finshed being packed, the trumpters announce the marching first of the Dierdian forces, camped just outside the Illyrian borders.


A Non-Existent User
Rebecca slipped back to her room as soon as the commotion began. She had to follow through before she changed her mind, before she let either logic or emotion take over. She closed the door firmly and locked it, if only to keep out her unfortunate bunkmate. He could not see her like this, as she had to keep up the charade a little longer.

She pulled a shirt of chain mail over her tunic, watching as it fell, sparkling, almost to her knees. It made her want to cry, though she did not see any reason. Perhaps it was the memory of the battle and the slain. Next she tugged on her leather jerkin and tied it tightly around her. She began to strap on weapons and the colors of the guard, though she now bore them with loathing.

A story formed in her mind, how she came to be here, and she took her knife and tore them off, leaving stray threads exposed. She cut them away until little trace remained. Immediately she was able to breathe easy and look at herself in the glass.

Her hair had grown longer, creating a feminine frame for her face. She looked for a moment, mesmerized by her own reflection. It was far too soft and pretty for someone like her. She fingered a cheekbone just to make sure it was real. It was amazing to see oneself grown without ever noticing it.

A fist began to pound against the door, most likely that of Oren. She put on her helmet and slowly walked to the door, unlocking it and pulling it open. Oren looked at her mischeviously.

"May I ask what required the doors to be locked?"

"You may," she took her cloak from its hook and fastened it as she left, "but I will not answer."

His laughter accompanied her down the hall.
Baden tapped his fingers on the hardwood of the table, annoyed that the vote wasn’t done in the open. His vote was already known, and of course Grydon would oppose. He had too. Baden had, after all, led a foreign militia on Illyrian soil and had also managed to strike a sort of alliance without the consent of the council. If Grydon simply accepted that without a fight, then he would have allowed Baden to assume too much real power. More than he already held. Hirian was a vote for them, that much was a given, the king…he frowned in thought.

Mara had given a stirring speech and the evidence, especially from Eiryn, was mounted in their favor. Could the King be swayed out of his alliance by reason? It was possible. He felt nervous energy spark within his blood and his drumming on the table became more persistent while his other hand fingered the hilt of his sword.

The door opened suddenly and he froze, feeling his companions do the same, and he felt relief wash over him. He didn’t need to here the result, it was written plainly on Grydon’s disgruntled face. Cade’s face looked almost curious and Baden made a mental note to ask his friend about it later. Ridding was grinning, more from Grydon’s discomfort than anything else.

“We have made our decision,” Dublain stated. “We have voted ‘aye’ in your favor, Averone. We will arm our people. We must.”

“I hope you are happy,” Grydon spat, his eyes narrowing on Eiryn and Mara and Baden unconsciously rose, hand gripping his hilt.

“The votes were cast as was in order, Grydon,” he murmured lowly, not taking his eyes off his rival. “The decision was made, and you are now bound to it. Don’t,” his voice snapped, power running through it like iron, “make me have to hold you to it.” Grydon backed up a few paces, glare broken, eyes wide at Baden, but then, cutting the tension in the room like a knife, Aden giggled.

All eyes turned to the Prince of Ridding who looked at them all with amusement. “Considering Noklah is already attacking the Dwarves and the army the followed Baden here so kindly is preparing to go…think we ought to too? But then again, that is more Grydon’s expertise.”

Grydon looked at the younger man and cursed. Baden knew he’d somehow find the repercussions of this on his head, but for now the General was trapped. “Alright, alright,” the Grydon growled. “So be it! I will assemble the army and we will move out behind that already assembled. I’ll leave a small detachment behind for guarding are borders but those hopefully will remain closed. The rest of you,” he barked at the other princes, “assemble your personal guards, and you will follow the armies and closely as you can! Averone,” he rounded on Baden, “there are those of this country that live by their own rules and cultures and you seem to get alone better with them than anyone else. Get them to follow. I will see all of you on the field.”

And with that he turned on his heel and left.
Relief flooded through her veins. What more was there to say? In her darkest dreams, Mara was hunted by the darkness. But here in its purest, unadulterated form was light! Feeling much the less burdened, the princess would have thrown her arms around Eiryn and allowed the bump in her throat become a full sob were it not for the strictures built into her blood by long lecture. However, Eiryn followed no such guidelines and happily laughed while embracing Mara, the action of which was returned whole-heartedly.

Grydon's ice-tinted voice and glare cut into her happiness. Suddenly, the world grew much smaller, to the sphere of the petitioners and Grydon. Instinctively, Mara nearly imperceptibly shifted her weight to the edge of the chair and slightly in front of the elf-queen. Whatever may come, this one could not be spared. Baden's sharp reply interrupted Grydon's focus, though Mara didn't allow herself to lower guard.

"Come, elf-queen." Mara rose, addressed her warmly and formally, aware that their reactions were being watched. "Let's clean up and see to as much of a celebration as we can allow the faithfuls."

Turning back, she carefully moved herself and Eiryn around Baden, putting distance between the elf-queen and the disappearing Grydon. She dropped a deep curtsy and held it, affording Dublain superiority, a thing which had not been done by a seated Noklahan ruler in the histories of that country. Ever had Noklah been the recognized superior kingdom, so that it was unexpected. She heard a disorderly gasp in the audience and whispers. "You have my sincerest thanks, my liege. You have no idea how much this means to my people," she continued, "to our peoples."

Dublain good-naturedly handed her up. "There is no need for thanks, my lady. Besides, how could I turn your quest down when a woman less than half my years was sounding about bravery?"

Mara blushed, at that, and smiled congenially. "I would beg forgiveness, my lord, if my intent had not been to prick your pride in the first place. Now I must beg your dismissal. There is yet much preparation, and, lest I forget!, celebration, to see to."

"Of course." Dublain gave the half-nod customary for equals, and Mara curtsied lightly before turning to Baden.

"Do I assume correctly that you require no more of Eiryn? I would love her help, and her companionship, in setting up what little cheering we may accomplish."

"There is nothing more you need do at the moment, Eiryn. You have done very well. I have armies to see to." He replied.

As they walked away, Mara caught Baden's eye, and lowered her hand to where a dagger hilt lay in a secret pocket and saw him nod imperceptibly. She muttered to Eiryn as she turned back, "I am in dire need of your help, and not for festivities. It is time to find Rebecca."
Eiryn wished, as Mara set a measured pace beside her, that she could help with festivities. This castle, while elegant and finely built and furnished, needed more greenery.

Mara was quiet, Eiryn noticed, and observed the firm line her mouth was set in. Trouble brewing already? She had mentioned something of finding Rebecca, but Eiryn could not recall who that was. Hard as she tried, she could not remember meeting anyone by that name. But according to the tense aura she could feel emanating from Mara, this Rebecca was important.

Eiryn was gazing at a tapestry woven in a whirling array of color when she heard Mara give a startled 'oof' as she ran into a soldier. Turning fluidly to assess the scene, Eiryn just barely caught the words that flew from the Princess's mouth in a whisper, directed towards the soldier: "There is a patch of forest that rests near to the stables. You will recognize it by the two large ash trees that shelter the wells behind the stables. Meet us a little ways into the forest in ten minutes."

Eiryn struggled to keep the confused look from her face as Mara straightened and smiled.

"My apologies, dear one. I did not mean to startle you so. Are you quite all right?"

The soldier straightened slowly, and replied, "Quite, my lady. I accept your...apologies. Excuse me, if you will."

Eiryn watched in curiosity as the soldier hurried off, and caught a surprising sense that the soldier was a girl. She flashed back to the face as her and Mara set off again, noting the features that were more feminine than usual and then reflecting on the soldier's stride: powerful, but somehow delicate and graceful. Men did not possess that fluid gait.

Her thoughts were broken for a second as she swept past a large gilded mirror that covered a good five yards of the wall beside her, and drew in a startled breath, stopping. She was unaccustomed to looking-glasses, and had cared little for seeing her reflection, unlike many humans, but the figure that stared back at her in the mirror was almost foreign.

"Eiryn?" Mara had stopped a few feet away, puzzled. "What's the matter?"

Mute, Eiryn could only stare at her reflection. She looked young, as all elves did, and yet there was a certain maturity in her features that she hadn't known she possessed. Her silver hair shone like stars woven into thick silken thread, and her skin, though pale, was fair and radiant. She peered closer into her eyes and saw a reflection of her reflection in its silvery depths framed by dark lashes, and for the first time, she noticed that there were flecks of pastel blues, greens, and lavender. Her head spun. Surely this was not her, not this celestial beauty that seemed to emanate authority tempered by gentleness.

She had changed, she realized, so much more than she had thought. This journey had opened her eyes, made her believe in things outside of herself and her world of Aricrysta. She remembered her mother speaking to her of a certain blossoming that would take place in her life, one which happened to only the ones sure to fulfill their entire destiny, or taevar. In this change, this blossom, the elf would realize full potential and be able to draw more wisdom and knowledge than before from both Nature and the people surrounding her.

Eiryn felt a tingle of excitement run down her spine and she saw the woman in the mirror part her full lips in a smile. So much was going to happen, least of all this realization of mere beauty. She could possibly learn to tap into her inner self, where she knew, from what her mother had told her before her passing, an immense power lurked, just waiting to be used.

And use it she would, the Elf Queen thought wondrously. So many more could be helped and saved if she were stronger.

All these thoughts ran through her head and were comprehended perfectly in less than twenty seconds. She turned to Mara happily and rejoined her, walking in step.

"I am well," Eiryn said, and she smiled again when she heard the delight in her voice. Mara gave a small smile, still confused, but let it pass. They made their way to the stables.

"Cydi air...Eir air vyrordi" T'waeak says, riding seemingly in a trance...

"Sidey what?" Famba replies, giggling.

"Oh, uh I was saying hope wait, what did I say? I thought it was something I was...I was thinking about the Elf and the words just came to me...elf words I think! When I thought of her it was like the words just came out; somehow, like they could come through the air, or the plants; like the powers of Illyria has, but now that we have passed the borders, like powers from the Elf world is allowing us to communicate on some other level, some 'HIGHER' level!" T'waeak replies excitedly, the mount responding in a positive way rocking gently side-to-side as the group gallops on-ward toward the domain of the Dwarves of Kel, North of Deirdai (just-South of where the group had initially entered Illyria.) "The words...'HOPE IS...ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE' was what I heard, then when you asked me I remembered saying some-thing in a language I am not very familiar with, but I am pretty sure it is Elvish! I recognize some of the sounds the words have, beautiful and mysterious, better than magical."

"T'waeak, you are amazing! When I met you, I thought you were like me, opportunistic, and you are, but there is something noble about you almost, and I know you would never say so, but I can see it" Famba adds.

King Trey of Deirdai marches in the lead, and T'waeak and Famba can from their position in the marching armies barely see the Dierdan leadership and the following standards. "This is proof of the mettle of the Deirdans" T'waeak considers, "that the assistance to friends comes before safety, these 'monarchs' putting themselves into what they believe, not hiding behind slaves, they deserve to be rulers, the Deirdans!" T'waeak is proud to be honored by existing amongst such company.

"I wonder where Mara is?" Famba queries to herself, half-silently, "I had hoped us girls would ride together during parts of this 'sub-mission' before we must face battle."

T'waeak tries to consider the elves and Eiryn consciously, but the same words keep coming: "Cydi air...Eir air vyrordi...Cydi air...Eir air vyrordi...Cydi air...Eir air vyrordi"



A Non-Existent User
Rebecca's heart beat in her throat as she walked the hall. Though she felt that she could trust Mara, she had been burned too many times to enter this meeting without caution. Several emotions whirled through her head, each fighting for her attention. She became incredibly aware of herself, how her steps echoed, how her breathing cooled the thin layer of sweat on her face.

She felt that those she passed gave her strange looks, that they did not trust this new stranger, this soldier of their enemy. Perhaps it was her own paranoia, but she knew she could not slip to the stables unnoticed. She would need a disguise. One disguise within another, she thought grimly. Or perhaps the tearing away of one.

With shaking hands, she ducked into a doorway. From what she could gather, the room belonged to a scribe, modest yet well dressed. It was just the kind of room one could accidentally wander into.

With new feminine interest, she took in the vase of flowers on the small writing table, the open window, and the small wardrobe in the corner. She felt in her purse as she fumbled with the latch, her fingers closing timidly over coins. With a quick breath and a glance that the door was securely locked, she turned her attention to the dresses.

Many were simple robes, but she noticed a couple riding gowns that would not attract too much attention. She fingered them, loving the way the soft fabric felt after years of rough leather and chains. Of course, she was plagued with guilt, but at this point there was no other option to blend in to the crowd. Without another thought, she pulled out from the back a brown dress with simple trim and closed the door to the wardrobe.

She quickly undressed, unsure of when the scribe would return to her room. There was not much time for vanity, but she did unbind and brush her hair to avoid the wild look that would surely draw eyes to her. She took a quick look at her reflection to make sure there was nothing out of place. Glowing skin, an appearance of soft demeanor, everything that made up a woman. There was no trace of male identity in her, which was surprising.

The little bird in her chest fluttered as she hid her soldier's uniform in a scribe's pack and stepped out the door. She kept her head bowed to appear subservient, but also to obscure her features. So far, no one so much as glanced her way. She breathed a little easier at that, and began to walk with more purpose.

It had grown cooler outside, which was refreshing. She smiled, feeling as free as she could possibly be. She never realized how tiring it was to hide herself from the world, and would try to do it as little as possible from now on.

But that was up to Mara.
“How many of my guard do we have here at the Greenwood?”

“Maybe one hundred and fifty if we’re lucky,” Hye said, setting a cup of mulled wine at Baden’s elbow. “The rest of the troops are with the main body of the army.”

Baden loosened the collar of his tunic, rolled up his sleeves to the elbow, leaned his head back against the back of the chair and heaved a sigh. “One hundred and fifty.” It wasn’t much especially in proportion to the Greenwood’s size. In the days of Kel, triple that number would find their home in its halls. Now…He ran a hand through his hair, mussing the dark locks. “They’ll stay.”

“All of them?”

“Yes. No. Most of them. My personal guard only will come, but without all that fanfare you greeted me with at the border. Thanks by the way.”

“I thought you could use it.”

“Hell you did.” He brought his head up. Hye didn’t even bother to hide his grin as he poured himself wine and sat down in a chair near the fire. Baden took his own cup in his hand and took a sip. He was tired, tired to the bone. Dealing with the meeting always took energy out of him and left him with urge to get away. Only now he was going to be getting away. Just not in the way he was expecting. His eyes strayed out the window, to the land of Illyria beyond. Just get away, where its peaceful. Quiet. And I won’t have to deal with this…Just for five minutes.

“You ready for this?”

“Honestly?” the prince asked turning his head back to Hye. “I’m not really sure. We’ll see what the next step is.”

Hye nodded and let silence settle between the two. “We should put guards around the Princess and the Queen…” he mused to himself, but Baden shook his head.

“No. Mara’s smart and she’s watching out for Eiryn. Plus here, with all of us and so much attention…I think they’ll be fine.” And I don’t think they really want to be harassed and followed around.

“Then what about what Grydon said? Getting a hold of…”

“Already taken care of.”

Hye raised his brows. “Really? Considering you haven’t done anything except come straight here since the meeting…”

“I said it was already taken care of.”
“How do you know?”

“I just do,” Baden answered grumpily, rising to his feet and pacing over to the window. “Just trust me on this Hye.” It was cool outside in the night, the trees dark shadows outlined by the light of the stars. Hye was saying something else but Baden was distracted by shapes below, stealing out into the darkness. He took another sip of his wine and leaned slightly out. Where are they going?
Upon arriving at the stable, Mara pulled the stableboy aside.

"I will need Dirym saddled and left in his stall that way, as well as the Queen's mount and a third mount. Yris would work, I think."

The stable boy bowed and murmured his assent before striding away to make ready the three horses. Mara then smiled at Eiryn. "Shall we?"

"Pardon me, but shall we...what?" Eiryn asked curiously.

"Well, my lady, a task has been set to us that I think you will find most enjoyable, to some degree. Do you remember when we..or rather you, rescued those children from the Noklahan soldiers? There was one soldier in particular, a soldier we captured who was more than willing to become a spy, of sorts. I think she may be of some help to us, now. Reports have streamed in of a labor camp in Dierdai. I feel the need to...liberate the workers. I wish I could say my motives were purely that I wished them safe, and I do, but more importantly they may be of some use to us in the fight ahead. That soldier, the same in the hall, is waiting for us." Mara concluded and began walking briskly to the back of the barn and out to the wooding behind the barn.

A young woman awaited them, dressed in a fine common gown and looking rather nervous on the edges of her composer. Mara greeted her with a curtsy, which the other returned with a grace belying her previous disguise.

"Rebecca, this is Queen Eiryn. I don't believe the two of you have met. Eiryn, this is the soldier I spoke to you about." Mara paused, allowing the two to greet each other. "Rebecca, I have one last mission for you. It may require the use of your disguise once more. Do you know of the labor camp in Dierdai?"

"I have heard of it, my lady." Rebecca replied, with a sinking feeling of awareness of Mara's plan. "I do not know its exact location, but I know of the city that lies near it, where the soldiers are housed."

"Then I have one more favor to ask of you, and I do not do it lightly. Would there be a way for you, there, to find out where it is at? Through infiltration or otherwise?"

Rebecca eyed Mara for a silent second. What was going on in her mind, Mara had no idea. "I could try."

"Thank you, dear. I have told Eiryn, just minutes ago, of the labor camp. I intend to find a way to free the workers, and because you've been a part of the forces, I would like for you to accompany. As a member of the Rohan army, undisguised, or purely as a woman. It is up to you. Do you feel up to this?" Rebecca nodded. "We will meet again tonight: after dark, when the constellation Divther shines clearly in the southeastern sky. We will meet you here and set out." She smiled mischeviously. "How would you like to play the part of a woman for the day, for a change?"

Startled, Rebecca was silent for a beat. "Oh...Really?"

"Yes. Eiryn and I have committed ourselves to the planning of celebratory feast." She laughed. "I have a feeling we shall need plenty of help to get this thing planned before its execution tonight!"

Rebecca smiled, and Mara thought it suit her very well. "I would love to."

"Brilliant!" Mara said. "Let's be on our way."

______________________________________

The grounds were finally dark. Only a few of the castle's inhabitants still were awake, but they were all holed up in their respective rooms with lights blazing. Important people, lights brightening their rooms enough to blind them to the movements outside their windows. Mara thought, shaking her head. It may have been Rhea's paranoia and childhood teachings coming through Mara but she hardly thought it worth disregarding. In times of war a sense of alertness must be maintained. The nobles' disregard for wartime actions made abundantly clear the fact that peace had occupied these lands for many years.

In her rough spun black gown, Mara crept through the corridors toward Eiryn's quarters on unshod feet. Mara found her where she was supposed to be waiting, just inside the door and dressed appropriately. At her coded knock, Eiryn opened the door and slipped out, shod but silent, in the way of elves. Mara waved her hand in dismissal of all formalities and signaled for Eiryn to follow. As they gained the outer door, Eiryn reached out to touch Mara's arm. As the princess turned to face her, Eiryn motioned for her to listen. Cocking her head, Mara closed her eyes and breathed silently, and heard the distant sound of voices. Turning back, she found Eiryn moving away toward the kitchens. Mara quickly caught up and followed the queen through a false wall and out a side door.

"I found this passage while wandering. I could hear the voices of the growing plants stronger and..." She shrugged.

"Well done!" Mara whispered excitedly as they made their way to the stables.

They entered the low building and found the horses saddled and ready, as Mara had commanded before the preparing of the celebration feast. Rebecca appeared in the riding gown that she had borrowed from the scribe, who, when she had attempted to return it, had gifted it to her, and with a pack containing the other clothes that she had chosen from the many Mara had given her to choose from. The three looked at each other in the dark, frightened and excited in the same breath.
All of a sudden, the party was accompanied by an intruder.

"It's just me, Famba" the intruder adds, "I got the message...T'waeak and I were heading out with the armored party riding to attack Noklah when I sensed the clusters of grass at my mount's feet 'communicating' something that sounded like ENTULESSE...YANWE LYE yet somehow, I knew it was saying 'come back...join us...' it is Elvish .right?"

"Yes, Famba," Eiryn explained, "I was telling you from afar, as we elves are proficient in accomplishing such communications. I had hoped the Elvish would make itself known to your common human speech. Mara here has an idea for us all to get together, us four girls, to assist a party trapped as slaves in Dierdai? Do I get that right, Mara?"

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