Wars heal like wounds. Pain fades slowly, but surely. Peace replaces agony and joy surpasses sorrow.
But not all wounds heal quickly and some never do. Ralaeri and Jessin watched others grieve without anyone to give life back where it had been lost. There were no more starlords. Jessin felt the deaths of the changelings most of all. They were his people and he had led them into a bloody battle.
No one grieved for King Dyear and his body was burned and scattered, best forgotten. With his death, came the defeat of the Dorans.
The shocked, but somewhat relieved kings of the Doran alliance divided the fallen king's country amongst themselves and eagerly signed the treaty with King Morel and King Rallon.
Was it really over? Days, weeks, months said that it was. But sometimes it seemed so close, like last night's dream.
"I can't believe he's a tree," Iordin said, staring out the palace window. He was grinning, back to his customary eternally good humoured self.
"I can," Jessin said. "It's just like him to turn into something so mysterious. Can he really still hear us? Is he really alive or is it different now? He never did like being comprehensible."
Iordin danced to his feet in customary unicorn fashion. "I'm leaving now! My cousin and sisters and I are going to explore all of Imaldrin now that we have all the time in the world. The elves love us!"
"How could they not," murmured Jessin.
"So I'll come back and visit for the coronation, of course," Iordin said happily, winking at Ralaeri. "Don't start any wars while I'm away."
And he was gone.
The two kings of the Sindarin Alliance entered the room moments later, smiling about some joke or another. They looked at the occupants of the room and their smiles widened. Rallon's eyes dwelled mostly on his daughter, the one he'd lost and regained. The one he was ceding the throne to at the end of the customary Peace Year which comes after a war. Morel looked at his younger brother, the one he'd denied and abused, the one who had forgiven him everything. The one who had been married now for three months.
"You had both better leave now before the ambassadors arrive. You know how they are," Morel warned the young couple.
Jessin's blue eyes widened in horror. "Not the mysterious elven lords of the far east! I can't stand them."
"Hold your tongue, you barbarian!" Ralaeri glared and poked his arm. "They happen to be distant relatives."
"I'm sorry," Jessin said, all penitence. Then he smiled wickedly. "No one should have to have relatives as awful as all that." Ralaeri couldn't help smiling back. "Besides, even the terrifying eastern elves ought to know that it's never wise to irritate a dragon."
"They've not seen you irritated yet, dear," said his princess.
"They will if we don't get out of here now!" growled the changeling prince. He leaped up and pulled Ralaeri to her feet. "All they want to know is about the deep and unfathomable past of the changelings and their interpersonal relationship with the race of starlords and just why both died out and will the starlords reappear the way the changelings did and can you really truly breathe fire?"
Ralaeri was still laughing as Jessin ranted. They disappeared through the doorway, leaning closer to each other with every step.
"Will you be returning home soon?" Rallon asked the other king. "Wretha needs you a great deal, even if the war has been over these many months. They need to see their king alive and well, and happy."
"Yes." Morel stared at nothing.
"What troubles you?" asked the elven king.
"Nothing troubles me. I just think it strange," said Morel, "that not so many years ago, there was no war with the Dorans. There were no changelings. I had no thoughts but justly ruling my country and loving my family. Jessin was a normal, human boy and daemons and such things were legends of another time. It seems as if the entire world has changed into something so different, I don't think I know it anymore."
"Everything changes. Well," Rallon smiled, "sometimes things appear to change, but they haven't really. I sound like the starlord now. Think about the changelings. They disappeared, but I think they were just waiting for the right time to emerge once more. They were never truly gone. And perhaps the starlords will come back one day as well."
"The changelings waited a thousand years to reappear in order to help keep the little kingdom of Wretha out of the hands of the Doran Alliance?" Morel's smile was disbelieving. "Many kingdoms have risen and fallen in the last thousand years."
Rallon turned to gaze out the window at his city. He folded his hands behind his back and Morel watched his expression change from peaceful to slightly worried.
"No," he finally said. "No, it is likely not that at all. Something else has woken the changeling magic. Something larger, that will effect us all. The question is- what?"
Keilara la-Shani shrieked and kicked at a snowdrift blocking her path. She ran as hard as she could, but her legs were too short. Three feet of snow could deter even the most resolute eight year old. Her pursuer growled ferociously and bore down on her. She saw his shadow just before he reached her.
"Dere, put me down! Put me down now! You scare me too much. Mere said to stop scaring me so much!"
Her father twirled her around as the snow swirled in a sudden gust of wind. Northern lights sparkled in the distance as twilight settled onto the heavy mountains like a dark, star-littered blanket.
"But I like scaring my little Keily! She makes such funny noises." He tickled her and she giggled as he pushed his way strongly through the snow drifts. Smoke rose from the large stone house at the top of the rise. A half-cleared pathway led them up to the warm, dark brown door.
"Mere, Dere chased me again. He pretended to be an ice wolf! You told him not to scare me anymore. Punish him!"
Shani la-Nina smiled at her daughter, then shook her head in mock consternation at the evils of her husband. Lucius li-Alian dropped his chin to his chest and sighed.
"I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"
"We'll see. Maybe if you help me with this pot roast," Shani told him sternly.
Keily danced around the table. Her large, shaggy mountain spaniel trotted along behind her, tongue lolling. He barked sharply.
"Stop it, Chap. Mere says not to bark in the house."
Chap barked again, louder. He jumped around Keily, almost in a frenzy. He ran to the window and leaned against the sill, staring out at the lightly falling snow. The northern lights had faded into purple darkness.
"Chap! Be a good dog or Dere will make you stay with the horses tonight," Keily warned him.
"What is it, my boy?" Lucius asked the dog, patting his head. He knew a warning bark when he heard one. Chap whimpered and barked again.
"Luc, what is it?" Shani came in from the kitchen with a salad bowl on her hip.
A figure appeared at the crest of a hilltop nearby. Lucius frowned. That hill was much too far away, but the figure stood clear and tall. Too tall.
Chap yipped and whined. He backed away from the window, nostrils widening, and whimpered once more before running from the dining room into the large living room to hide under the couch.
"Keily, you and your mere need to go down into the cellar and stay there. Wait for me. I'll be there in a moment."
"Dere, don't frighten me."
He smiled down at her but his eyes were as serious as she had ever seen them.
"Now, Keily. No arguments."
"Luc, be careful."
Keily and Shani waited in the cellar. Lucius stood at the window and watched the figure begin to walk slowly down the hill. Or it looked slow, but its steps were so large that it quickly grew in size as it came nearer. Lucius's eyes widened in horror. It was no man.
Wings the color of old blood and leathery like a dragon's extended and it swung long, taloned arms on either side, brushing the snow as it came closer. It seemed to grin, baring rows of reddish teeth. Even its eyes burned with bloodfire.
Lucius ran to the cellar and closed it swiftly behind him, climbing the long stairs down and following the lanter until he found his wife and daughter curled up in a corner.
"What is it, Luc?"
Lucius looked at Keily. At that moment, he promised himself that he would never sneak up on her in their frozen world again. He would never growl and pretend to be a mountain-dwelling ice wolf. He never wanted to hear her cry out in fear. Ever. But now, now he had to tell the truth.
"The daemons have woken."