|War at Out Door
Author: CheshiresSmile PM
Wars are old, but when one destroyed a race supposed to be the Vessel of a higher entity, both elves and humans felt the consequences, and wanted to end it. Longer and better summary inside.Rated: Fiction M - English - Fantasy/Drama - Chapters: 4 - Words: 10,361 - Reviews: 1 - Updated: 05-17-12 - Published: 04-22-12 - id: 3015944
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
...The King Vanishes
Alerium left the castle a week before his daughter arrived in the capital of the realm. He left in the middle of the night, without the three soldiers he was so determined to follow; no one even saw him leaving. When Valerima arrived in Dragonsfall, her mother had been buried for four days already. It was a damp night when she reached the Castle, each step of her horse making a sucking sound as it galloped on the muddy road. It had been raining and the air was cold, her breath coming out in little clouds of steam. She was not used to that kind of weather anymore, due to so much time spent on the far south. Seaboil had a name that described it very well; the heat there was always the boiling kind. Now that the winter was setting, it was a comfortable place, even, especially close to what the men of the North had to endure; they considered leaving Snowhold that year, so cold it was.
As they came near the Castle, they saw the wall surrounding it, high and tall. They were approaching it by the forested side of the city, fingers of grove touching the walls of the King's home. Her blue fur cape trembling behind her as she galloped to her house at full speed, the wind finding its way through her clothes and giving her a spasm of cold. The Princess stopped the horse in a sudden as she saw the gate – high, thick and oaken – get closer and the forest was left behind. Her hand, dressed in a white glove of ermine, raised and pushed the hood covering her head back. The albescent hair shining in the moon light as a guard in duty as sentinel screamed from one of the battlements.
"Who goes there?" It was a hoarse voice, the kind of voice that isn't usually used or the one that belongs to a man that doesn't drink a drop of water in years.
"Princess Valerima, the heiress of Prince Almeryn, the Late Born!" She shouted back at him. The gates started to open with a scream of husky hinges as she conduced the white horse to the insides of the dark-greened walls. The soldiers guarding the yard bowed before her, whispering condolences and a dozen of different treatment pronouns.
She dismounted as a stable hand, a young lad, came to guide her horse to the Royal stables and take care of it. The boy was short and very thin, with ginger hair, a big nose and countless freckles all over his face. He also murmured something to her, though the Princess didn't listen, wouldn't listen. In front of her, completely dressed in armor and with a smile on his face, was her brother. She jumped, letting go a shriek of happiness, running towards the Prince. They hugged, a tight hug that smelled like home and brotherly love for Valerima.
"I missed you brother." She said as they took a step backward. "I missed being here. I missed dad and I missed mom..." Tears stung her eyes and she rubbed them with her hands.
"Mom is buried already, I'm sorry... She's been for four days." He sighed passing an arm around her shoulders, leading her through the courtyard to the Bear's Fortress, the walls protecting the inner castle way higher than the ones outside, that protected the courtyards.
"Where's dad, then?" She asked, turning watered blue eyes to Almeryn.
"He's... He left a week ago-" He started, her sudden sobs interrupting him. He tightened the hug around her shoulders, pulling her closer. "But, he left you a letter. It's sealed, as a legit royal document, I think it's important."
She nodded, but kept on crying, her face turned down. They passed through the portcullis, also wooden. The Princess always wandered why the two most important gates of the castle were wooden, and not even reforced with iron, she thought that maybe there was a good reason, but couldn't see which. There was no one in the inner courtyard; the wind blew alone and coldly through the empty space separating the castle itself from the chapel, and the chapel from the Party Room. They led to the castle, a structure of yellowish gray stone with nine towers that by itself was already a fortres,s with the eight smaller towers disposed in a circle around the higher one, from which the other structures – saloons, kitchens, other bedrooms, the Hall of the Throne – seemed to be born. They entered through the door of the Child's Tower, the smallest of the nine. The maze of corridors and staircases of stone that once she knew so well were now complete strangers, she'd be lost without Almeryn. They walked for what seemed forever to the tired Princess that had been traveling for a week. Her escort was to arrive in the morning, they were camping not far into the woods.
Her brother led her to a bedroom after they walked up a long spiral staircase in its narrow well; around it, dozens and dozens of oaken doors were closed, they had got to the Ring's Tower, then? Once they entered in the bedroom destined to the royal Princess, she was delighted to see how the room was comfortable, with wooden floor and a window in the wall opposite to the willow wood door. The bed had a feathers' mattress with silk sheets and a wool blanket, it was a double bed much larger than she needed. In the wall in front of the bed there was a hearth without fire nor firewood. Valerima sat down on the bed, the feet expressing their relief through a thousand ghost nips to her heel. She sighed and embraced herself; the bedroom was still a cold one. Her brother called for a servant to light up the fire and sat himself by her side.
"So, little sister, how's the life in Seaboil?" He asked with a smirk.
"Hot, wet and full of Ladies." She sighed in return, a smile drawing itself on her own lips.
"Oh, don't worry, the only difference here is that is not always hot." The Prince laughed at his own joke.
Valerima let herself fall back, appreciating the softness of the mattress. She was oh, so tired! The door opened and a maid, as quick and dressed in brown as a mouse, entered to light up the fire. Almeryn sighed and scratched his head, a circle on his hair from where the crown of the King has been laid on, while her brother assumed the place of Prince Regent. They didn't opened their mouths before the servant had left, a delicacy she quickly gave. The lads and maids, once they started to be trained to serve in the Castle, learned that "Royal talk is meant for Royal ears" and were severely punished by their superiors if they didn't obey such order. As she closed the door behind her, the two siblings looked at each other, trying to keep straight faces, but cracking on a laughter. They didn't even knew why they were laughing, they just were. They took long minutes to stop it, and even longer to have their breaths at normal pace again. The Princess, looking again at the brother's armor, now with more attention, realized he wore it not long ago, which meant an actual fight, plus, it was full of scratches and little stains of blood; she couldn't believe he had been fighting, after all, what was there for him to fight against? She turned on her side, holding her body up supported on her elbow. Almeryn met her gaze with a curious look.
"What do you look with such intensity, little sister?" He asked, a chuckle escaping his mouth.
"You fought recently, didn't you?" Said Valerima with a frown, both curious and suspicious.
"Yes, I... I returned from Rivershold about two weeks ago, soon before mom... died. But there are bandits in the woods right now, even the one close to Dragonsfall. They're mostly humans, but there are some elves..." He paused and took a deep breath. "That's why I didn't want you to come... You and your escort were in terrible danger out there, no one knows if they're going to attack or not, the soldiers you left behind can die tonight, or tomorrow morning."
The Princess was astonished. The elves had never, ever, went so far into the High-Lands! They were still attacking the frontier, yes, but traveling all the way to Dragonsfall just to join some bandits? That was getting way worse than it seemed at first sight. Almeryn had warned her about the dangers of the forests around the capital city, but he never said it was so bad! She suddenly felt worried for her brother and for every citizen that lived around and inside the castle trusting they'd be protected better than anywhere else. Thousands of 'what if's were flying across her head, the worst possibilities taking shape in her mind.
"But father left you a letter, a proper document, so I'm in charge of giving it to you." Said the Prince, breaking the tense silence that settled down on them. He produced a paper roll from behind himself; it was sealed with golden wax, a proper document indeed.
She took it from his hands in a delicate move, breaking the seal quickly. She opened the paper, the message within began as a personal letter from a father to a daughter: affection and love in every word, but it gradually changed into political affairs bigger than she could imagine.
My dear Valerima,
I'm sorry I was not able to stay in Dragonsfall for any longer amount of time. I fear that your mother's death affected me deeper than I thought. I left for Rivershold to resolve a great amount of problems and I also fear I may not see you again, my dear. I'm getting old and the dangers in the woods are many, after all. If this happen, know that I loved you your entire life and what I did, I did to protect you. Seaboil was a solution, my dear, a solution to your marriage. My daughter, you were supposed to be betrothed since you were born. I avoided it for your sake, so you could be able to have a choice: whether to marry for love – which I do and I do not recommend, my dear – or for political affairs.
Now, I will not return to Dragonsfall, and I'll not be able to fight this war against elves and one bigger, my darling, a bigger war is yet to come. For this reason, I'm now pronouncing you my heiress and Almeryn your heir. He's going to be the Superior General in the Flooding Lands and the region of Raven's Hall.
Congratulations, my daughter, you are now the Queen of the High-Lands. Your brother must depart immediately. Don't question why I do this, and don't forget it: I do for your and your brother's sake.
Under all of it, her father's name – clearly wrote by him – was turning those few lines into law. A dangerous law. Almeryn could simply say no, burn the letter and take the Throne for himself. He could go to the west and die in the war. No way was free of risks, but in a way or another, she had to do that. Valerima passed the document to her brother, which read it quickly, gripping it so tight at the extend of kneading the paper. She could see his anger, and could understand it. His entire life being raised as the heir of the realm, the future King, just to be passed by his non-married little sister to become a Superior General, a man with no lands, an heir older than the lordship? The man gave her the paper back with a trembling hand.
He stormed out of the bedroom, anger in human form. The Queen was even more astonished, her brother never reacted like that. What would she do? What could she do? She decided to follow him, only to find herself unsuccessful. He disappeared and was nowhere to be found. The sun was lighting the horizon when Valerima fell on her knees on the Inner Courtyard. She was desperate, crying heavy tears; she felt people raising her, carrying her somewhere, but it was hard to focus, hard to assimilate all that. Her mother died, her father was gone and now her brother left her behind? Left her because of a mere Throne? Her tears were bitter with sadness and anger and missing and loneliness. Someone took off her clothes and laid her on a bed, her mind was misty with tiredness and a handful of bitter feelings. She felt the warm blankets and pelts being put over her and fell asleep with only the sound of her own sobs to fill the empty, silent bedroom.
Forty years go as quick as beers, the Queen thought, looking at the polished silver mirror. Her face was at least fifteen years younger, if not more. Her body, still strong and firm like the one of a young woman. The potioner would say it was in her blood, after all, her father was a thirty years-old with seventy-eight years on his back. She'd smile and agree, but come back asking why was her husband getting weaker everyday and she was simply... her? The truth was that not even the potioner knew what she had, or had not. She'd dare to keep her fantasies alive, sometimes imagining she was blessed by the Entities, which was highly unlikely, due to whom her father was, other, and much rarer, times, she'd catch herself with a shy smile, wandering if she didn't have elven blood. Of course she didn't.
Valerima had been running the kingdom with the best she could, not being trained as heiress, it was indeed very hard; though the times of war were still there, and would always be, the kingdom wasn't dying, yet. Black Arsenal had tried and, unfortunately, succeeded at, as they called it, "their fight for freedom". Now, the five small islands, the greatest military force of all High-Lands was no longer the greatest military force of High-Lands, was simply Black Arsenal. It was also said that a secretive elven guild was supporting them with supplies and money. Sure, the politics in the elvish side of the Continent were rather... divided. Most of the powerful elven families were divided in small guilds, all of them with their secrets, but few could be as secretive as Laefk-Zahfzel, or Black Glade. Sure they would prefer to be called Small Councils of Prosperous Families, after all, how could one imagine elves plotting and scheming against each other? Never! Of course, sometimes plotting against someone was needed, then they would. Problem was: for the elves of any kind, the time to plot was anytime. And no elf in Neiefelleaetr would dare raise a finger to stop the damn thieves, hired thugs and murderers that had the annoying habit of fleeing from their forsaken forests to High-Lands, making the already crumbling political stability of the human realm to crumble in both anger and fear. Was she able to kill all the elves that crossed the frontier, she would.
The royal woman was leaning against her dresser, the mirror resting over the same. The Queen was bored, to say the truth. They haven't had any tournament or wars for many years. Not a single battle to help her boredom. She sighed deeply as she heard her husband cough and choke in the other room, he was dying and she was going to live through the same fate as her father. Living longer than anyone was no blessing, but a curse. Valerima held tears back; somewhere, out in the elven woods, her brother was alive, waiting to be found, someone that would last as long as her. Many said he died, but she wouldn't believe them, she knew – felt – he was alive. She clenched her hands on both sides of the mirror, observing the myriad of intrincate details with the form of various fruits and flowers; the silver was starting to get stained, it was older than her, after all. Out of her reverie, she realized someone was knocking at the door quickly, as if such person had no time to spare. The woman looked in the direction of the wooden barrier as if wanting to burn it to crisps, or perhaps the person behind it.
"Come in, for the Five's sake!" She shouted, turning around to see the young boy with red courier clothes come in, rushing and red-faces, covered in sweat. "What is it, boy?"
She held back a barking laugh at how her voice sounded: a non-humored old lady. The boy knelt before her, keeping his eye son the ground. He had a languid yellowish gray hair; so her brother had a little but of fun before departing? Doubtlessly, this was her grandnephew. While the Queen kept her gaze on him, he said.
"My Queen, Lady of the domains of the great realm of High-Lands from South to North, I, a humble courier, bring you a message." In his rush, she could barely understand what he was saying, as the words were almost too fast and low to be heard.
"Get up, boy, and spit it out. Who sent me what message?" She croaked, her voice was accurately even with her age.
"I fear I might be insane, my lady." The boy said, nothing more than a whisper, getting up with weak movements. "It was your brother, asking for you to meet him somewhere he called 'our private Flooding Lands', he said you'd knew what it is."
Valerima swallowed hard, leaning against the dresser as her knees became too loose to keep her standing by themselves. She knew it, she always knew it. He wasn't dead, and he was waiting for her.