By: Carefree Quill


Infineon, lost realm of magic… Somewhere in the hidden mists of time and space it began. Two great stars, one red and one blue, caught in a constant turmoil of gravity. Their opposing forces were equally matched until one day they were acted upon by an outside force. A comet collided with them and the resulting explosion divided and then combined them. The resulting creation was a multi-faceted, star shaped astral continent of Magic. Somewhere beyond the reality we see is this other world, Infineon.

The magic of Infineon was centered in two large crystals, the centers of the dual star, the Fire Stone, and the Ice Stone. Both were shattered into five shards each, separating the purity of their power, scattering and releasing it. The Fire Stone's powers were released into five Wizards, and the Ice Stone's powers were released into five Guardians. Their abilities, though varied, were fairly well balanced. Each Guardian ruled one of the five realms of Infineon: Arcadia, Asgard, Hellas, Faevond, and Mictlan. Each had one Wizard as their partner. They governed those that lived on the continent, several races of creatures; faeries, elves, giants, dwarves, goblins, and the mysterious solitaries.

But the isolation of Infineon made life predictable and boring, so they looked to earth, the world of men, for their mischief. Beginning in the earliest days of Egypt, Greece and Rome to the present day they slipped through the gateways between the worlds. Wizards were often manipulative of events and people both on Earth and in Infineon. They rarely dealt honestly with anyone about anything, serving only themselves. The gates had always been open, though somewhat unpredictable and hidden, but excessive abuse of power on earth demanded accountability. The Guardians agreed that there needed to be separation between the worlds. The Wizards and Guardians, in one act of cooperation, created five keys for five gates, one per realm. Then the search began for Gatekeepers. Each would answer to their Guardian, with the Council to govern and judge their integrity. As it turns out, it was the Gatekeepers that would hold all the power…

The following is a series of stories dealing with Infineon and our world. Who are the players? Some you will know, at least in name and others you will not know. All carry secrets, all want power, and all are not to be trusted… or are they? You be the judge.




Arcadia, Southern Realm of Infineon, is ruled by Serendipity, the Guardian called Lady Mercy. The realm is a strange mixture of contrasting peoples. It is the land of Elves, both light and dark. Light Elves are cultivators of the earth, living quiet provincial lives in the fertile valleys. Their strong family values are legendary, and though they tend to mind their own business, they are known to help strangers from time to time. Dark Elves are warriors, living in hidden fortresses in the Ice Mountains. Their barbarism is legendary, though none have had contact with them in about three hundred years. On the coast, there are a few settlements of men, descendants of those allowed to settle in Infineon many ages ago, before the Gatekeepers. Arcadia has been peaceful for a long time, but the winds of change are blowing. The seeds of turmoil are sprouting in every territory. In the mountains, the valleys, and especially Eton Harbor. Pirates had been harassing them for months, and the Trade Council was at its wits' end. The Duke of Eton had to do something, lives depended on it…

Duke Rhyvôs stalked back and forth, not even listening to the arguments anymore. The Trade Council could beat a horse to death but they couldn't come up with any solutions. There simply were not enough fighting men to withstand another attack. Most of their fleet was at sea, leaving the harbor vulnerable. He had exhausted his other options, there was but one card left to play.

"I will go to the Crystal Tower," he said flatly.

"What?" Odo exclaimed. "Why not just go to Lady Mercy? The Ice Tower is closer and this falls into her jurisdiction," he suggested.

"No, the situation calls for interference, and only the full Guardians' Council has that authority. They will meet in the Tower during solstice, and I must make my petition then. I will leave immediately," Rhyvôs said.

"And what if there is another attack before you return? What if they gain control of the…" Odo's eyes widened, realizing he nearly spoke of the treasure out loud. "Forgive me, your Grace."

Rhyvôs looked at him with sympathy, "Too well is it hidden for such barbarians to find it. It is for our people that I plead. This responsibility was placed in the hands of our people nearly an age ago. With the shadow of war on the horizon, we can no longer defend it alone. If they will not help us, they can take their precious treasure back."

There was a murmur at the table, but no one dared to defy their Duke openly. "Let us put it to a vote," Odo said.

Rhyvôs frowned, "My vote is all that matters here. We'll leave as soon as all can be prepared."

He dismissed the assembly and returned to his apartments. His daughter had already seen to the midday meal but he had no time to enjoy it. He gave her a kiss on her forehead and hugged her.

"Daughter, I must leave you today, but all will be well," Rhyvôs said. "I will gain the help of the Guardians and our ocean siege will be ended."

"But there is not enough time to reach the Council by Solstice," she protested.

"There is if we take the short road," he said seriously.

Her eyes doubled in size, "Not through the Ice Mountains, not Dark Elves territory, it is forbidden to men."

"No my dear, it was men that started that story nearly three hundred years ago to maintain the border. In truth, Dark Elves keep to themselves and bother none that do not provoke them," he said lightly. "We'll follow the road and mind our own business. They'll never notice us."

Laurel smiled at her father's confidence, "Then let me come with you father. I have never been to the Crystal Tower and the Gardens are said to be the fairest in all Infineon."

Rhyvôs' confidence suddenly wavered at the thought of putting his daughter in danger, "No, our people will need an authority figure here. In my place, that will be your responsibility."

"No it won't," she said, "It never is. Father, please, don't leave me here. I'm not afraid of a few Elves, and besides… You're not much good at diplomacy. You need me."

He sighed, trying not to let her bright blue eyes influence him, but he knew he would give in. He could never deny her what she wanted, doting on her nearly from birth. To his delight, she was never spoiled by his indulgence. She was really quite selfless, if a bit reckless at times. More than once she'd been banged up for trying to ride a horse spirited beyond her skill. She'd been lost in the forest more times than he could count, and she was nearly kidnapped by a merman while swimming in the sea. She constantly tried to escape the boundaries he'd set for her purely in the desire to explore and find adventure. Of course she'd jump at the chance to see the Ice Mountains up close.

"The Elves are barbaric," he said.

"So I won't go looking for any," she said sweetly, batting her eyes playfully.

"You will remain inside the coach until we are clear of the farthest foothills," he said firmly.

She rolled her eyes, "Of course," she said raising a hand as if swearing an oath.

He smirked at her drama, "Pack light."

She squealed with delight and hugged his neck, "Thanks Daddy!"

He sighed heavily, still plagued with worry. Some treasures were too precious to risk leaving at home. His daughter was more precious than anything in his keeping. He wished he knew where she would be safer, with him, or at home. Neither felt like the right choice.

Another quiet night on watch in the south woods and Tyrga was ready to go out of his mind with boredom. He glanced at Gyron, and his calm demeanor, and frowned.

"How can you stand it night after night? No one dares to enter our territory so why are we wasting our time out here?" Tyrga asked in annoyance.

"Because Brolyn ordered it and he is in charge," Gyron said flatly. "Or did you want to go ask him about it?"

Tyrga looked across the camp to his brooding older brother and frowned. That was not a good idea, not at all. Brolyn had been brooding for months and he was damned dangerous when he brooded. "I will suffer," he said quietly.

"Hmm, that's what I thought. No need to start a fight you can't win," Gyron said with a smirk. "There is too much going on in the shadows of late. Trouble is brewing, and he knows it will strike soon."

"Perhaps a sword through Vorgyn's heart would solve the trouble," Tyrga said flatly. "I'll wager that is where all our troubles originate."

Gyron grunted his agreement, but made no comment. Something had caught their brother's attention.

Brolyn straightened up suddenly and then stood, listening intently. He frowned and then stalked out of the protective light of the campfire without a word. His brothers sighed, and then followed. It wasn't long before they discovered what had caught his attention. Down the mountain from where their camp was hidden, they could see the road that led from the fertile valley below up to a scarcely used pass. None of the flatlanders below ever dared to enter the dark wood or the mountains for there was an ancient agreement of separation between the light elves of the valleys and the dark elves of the mountains. Brolyn stared at the small caravan in annoyance.

"What is your will?" Tyrga asked, anxious for a little excitement.

"They are on my mountain," Brolyn said flatly. "No one asked for passage, they are trespassing."

"There are few, we can easily take them," Gyron said as he plucked an arrow from his quiver and twirled it playfully between his fingertips.

Brolyn studied the caravan closely, making note of their numbers. They were not elves, but men. The thought intrigued him. "Men rarely venture so far from their territories. What are they doing here?"

"We can leave one alive and ask him," Tyrga suggested as he moved to head down the path to intercept them.

"No," Brolyn said suddenly, a slow smile creeping over his face. "I want to confront them."

"There are only three of us. Should I send for a few more warriors?" Gyron asked.

"What for? Look at them, they are harmless," Brolyn said lightly. "I want to know what they are transporting in all of those crates." And with that he skipped lightly down over the boulders that riddled the hillside and disappeared into the trees.

"What in Tartarus is he doing?" Tyrga asked.

"Smiling," Gyron said in bewilderment. "Don't ruin it, let's go."

"This is unwise, Captain. We have no business making this journey over the mountains. We should have heeded the warnings of the Elves in the valley and taken the long road," the servant said as he watched the dark trees along the road with fear. "I fear for the Duke, and his daughter. He never should have brought her on this journey."

"Light Elves have less trust for their dark brothers than we do. There is no time for fear. We must finish our promised quest before the Guardians gather at the Tower. You know that our land is in danger of invasion. Only an appeal from the Duke will sway them into intervening against this treachery," Captain Odo said firmly.

"We will not pass through the realm of the Dark Elves unchallenged…" the servant started to say, but never finished.

At that moment, a tall figure dropped out of the trees into the middle of the road ahead of them. He stood fearless and unmoving, barring their way. They'd never actually seen a Dark Elf before, so they halted and stared. In truth, he was an impressive figure, skin rather dark, yet strangely luminous in the moonlight. His face seemed chiseled from stone, stoic and hard, and his long hair was as black as the blackest shadows of the night. His eyes seemed to glow warmly, dangerously. He wore no shirt, only black leather breeches and boots along with an array of impressive weapons. He didn't seem to even notice the cold, but he obviously noticed every detail of those in the caravan.

"You are trespassing," Brolyn said simply.

The grey haired captain was ever the diplomat and quick to diffuse any argument. "Indeed, Lord, we did not mean to trespass. We were only following the road. Our business lies with the Crystal Tower," Odo said quickly.

"There is another road to the Tower," Brolyn reminded him.

"Time is short; we beg forgiveness and your leave to pass. We will disturb nothing along the way," captain Odo assured him.

"Those who ignore the laws never seek permission, but cry mercy when they're caught. What is your cargo?" Brolyn pressed. "Wine from the Evergreen Vineyards of the east perhaps? I would consider a tribute in payment of your passage."

"We are sea traders, sir. Many of our chests hold gifts for the Guardians in hope that they will lend us aid. We will give you whatever you want in payment of our passage," Odo promised before thinking better of his choice of words.

Brolyn's face turned up in a very satisfied smile as he surveyed his choices. There were two heavily loaded wagons and a grand coach. He knew these men would have few goods that would interest him, but he wanted to know who they guarded. He strolled past the lead riders and the first wagon and stood in front of the door to the coach. The coat of arms blazoned on the door was supposed to impress him, but it didn't. Suddenly, an angry man stuck his head out.

"What is the hold up? Captain Odo, why have we halted?" he barked.

Brolyn crossed his arms and waited for the irritating man to notice him, and he smiled at the gasp when he finally did. The obvious fear in the man's eyes was satisfying. He apparently knew he was in the wrong here.

"Get out of your coach," Brolyn said flatly.

"What? I'll do nothing of the kind! Odo!" Rhyvôs called to his guardsman, but there was no answer.

Captain Odo was on the ground with a dagger at his throat, and so was every other man in the caravan save the one inside the coach. Brolyn smiled, pleased that his brother brought the reinforcements after all.

"As you can see, I am in command of your caravan now. Get out, you pompous ass! You and anyone else who is in there with you," Brolyn ordered, all the humor now clearly gone from his face.

The man disappeared from the window briefly, and there was shuffling within before he finally opened the door and emerged. "Satisfied?" he asked smugly.

"No," Brolyn said with a frown. The man clearly thought he still was in charge of this situation. He was dead wrong.

Brolyn motioned to Gyron to hold the arrogant man while he examined the coach. It was very fine, as coaches go. Plush velvet seats were embroidered with intricate scrolling designs. The windows had fine silk curtains, and the floor was covered in lush thick carpet. Brolyn ran his hand over the velvet seat and noticed it was still warm, but it was not the seat that the man had occupied. He started ripping up the cushions until he found what he was looking for, a secret compartment beneath the seat. He readied his sword to meet a hidden foe, but when he lifted the cover, his heart skipped a beat. In a bundle of blue fabric was a woman, and when their eyes met, he felt a knot in his chest. Brolyn realized that his sword was at her throat and he slowly drew it away, never taking his eyes from hers. She looked utterly terrified, but said nothing, though he could hear her heart racing. He offered her a hand to help her out of her hiding place, but she shrunk back.

"Come," he ordered calmly, offering his hand again. "You are found; do not rouse my anger further by fighting."

She frowned in defeat and timidly accepted his help climbing out of her hiding place. Brolyn exited the coach, and then lifted her down to the ground. He looked at the pompous man with fury in his eyes.

"You are deceptive," Brolyn accused. "You march into my territory without so much as a 'by your leave' and then hide this woman as if I am the villain here. Nearly an age of respectful separation and peace is laid waste by your arrogance!"

"Please, I'll do anything you ask, just do not harm my daughter," he begged shakily. He'd been a fool. How could he have been so stupid?

In a split second, Brolyn made his decision. The man was arrogant and annoying. It was obvious he was accustomed to having everything go his way. Not this time.

"A bargain with an Elf is binding, and I have already made one with your captain. He offered me anything you possessed in payment of safe passage through my territory. I have chosen, you may go," Brolyn said as he grabbed the young woman by the wrist and led her away.

"No! I cannot let you take…" he couldn't finish for the pressure of the blade at his throat.

"Father, you must go to the Tower," she said, trying desperately to mask her fear in front of the Elf warriors that surrounded them. "I'm not afraid."

Brolyn was impressed, though he knew her words belied the truth, she was petrified. "No harm will come to her in my keeping. Stray from the road and you will all die." And with that, he took his tribute and disappeared into the wood.

There was a faint call, some distance away, and the rest of the Elves disappeared into the wood as well. In moments it was over, and nothing had changed. No one was hurt, they were granted passage, and he could continue on to the Tower. But they had taken his most prized possession from him. They had taken his only daughter, and duty to his people forced him to let it happen. Rhyvôs realized he was the worst kind of fool, a noble one.

Brolyn could see that she was tired from the long climb up the mountain so he halted to let her rest. She hadn't spoken since he'd dragged her away, not even to protest or complain. He had been watching her. Her golden brown hair was tightly wound into a braid and then knotted at the base of her neck. Her blue gown was very fine, for man's attire, and her figure, what he could see of it through the layers of fabric, was most pleasing. But her eyes held his gaze, fathomless blue, angry and defiant. They were framed in a delicate face with features so breathtakingly beautiful it was hard to believe she was a mere human. Her hands were graceful with long lithe fingers like a fairy's. Contact with outsiders was rare, especially with men. And now he had a human female in his possession, she was his tribute, to do with as he pleased. With all the turmoil in his territory of late, having a human woman in his keeping was the last thing he expected. He hoped she wasn't as haughty as her father. He'd hate to mar her perfectly white skin teaching her respect.

"What is your name?" Brolyn asked.

"Laurel," she said softly, still catching her breath.

"I am Brolyn, and I am master of all you see," he said.

"Felicitations," Laurel said sarcastically.

Brolyn grabbed the knot of hair at the back of her head and roughly lifted her to stand facing him. "Tempt me again with your angry words and I will show you my mastery right now," he warned. So, like father like daughter.

"What are you going to do with me?" she asked meekly.

The tone in her voice was far less defiant. All her bluster was a front, and Brolyn was suddenly aware of just how terrified she was. He released her hair and turned back to the trail, "I haven't decided yet."

Brolyn grabbed Laurel's wrist and pulled her along again, though he made an effort to be less rough. The climb to the entrance to his Keep wasn't far now, but the altitude was obviously a hinder to her breathing. As they left the cover of the trees and made their way onto the snowy slopes, Brolyn halted again, losing his patience.

"Are the daughters of men so pampered and weak that they cannot make a little climb?" he asked in annoyance.

"Forgive me Lord," she rasped through shallow breaths. "Your mountains, though beautiful from the valleys, are very steep…"

Brolyn glanced back down the path where he saw his brothers keeping a discreet distance, obviously waiting for orders. He motioned them over. "Keep a watch on the caravan until it has passed through our territory."

"What of Lord Hyrlon's mountain?" Gyron asked.

"Send a messenger ahead, offer him his choice from our Harem for their passage through his territory," Brolyn said lightly.

Tyrga looked at the woman and then looked back at his brother with obvious irritation, "Why not let that pathetic human bargain with them as he did with us?"

"He has already paid a high price, and he has nothing left of value," Brolyn said seriously as he relaxed his grip on her wrist. "Just do as I command."

"What of her?" Gyron asked with a cocked brow. "Shall we take her to the Harem with the other women?"

"Our women would not tolerate her presence and you know it," Tyrga said flatly. "She'd be mistreated if left alone with them."

"Just carry out my orders," Brolyn said.

He watched his brothers leave and then heaved a sigh, taking a deep cool breath of mountain air. The moon was high and its soft light made the glaciers glow. Once again alone with his tribute he looked her over again. She was very cold, but concealed her discomfort bravely. He wasn't a very good judge of human age, but she seemed young. He had many questions for her, but knew that he needed to get her inside. Humans are much more fragile than Elves. He released her wrist and just picked her up, cradling her in his arms. She gasped with surprise, but to her credit, refrained from speaking. He carried her the rest of the way up to his fortress without a word.

Laurel stared in wonder at the great ice columns that were cut right out of the glacier. They framed a great arched entrance carved right into the side of the mountain. A series of steps led up through the vast archway, elaborately carved in elvish scrollwork. His guards bowed as he approached, seemingly taking no notice of her. He passed through the archway into a grand hall that was half ice, half rock. The farther into the hall they went; the more the walls were made of stone until the ice was completely gone. Everything was very fine, though quite cold until they came to a set of great gold doors. The guards opened them, and Laurel felt the warmth pour out of the room deliciously washing over her as they entered. There was music and food and dancing… it looked like a… like an…

"My lord, welcome home, I see you've brought another reveler to the orgy," Kuryn said. "Human, eh?"

Brolyn noted the blush on Laurel's face and that her eyes were tightly shut and he smirked. But then he looked around at the party and the various lovers ensconced upon his couches embroiled in various stages of passionate interludes. He suddenly felt embarrassed, a completely foreign feeling for him. He knew that humans were not as open minded as Mountain Elves, but this was the most extreme of their behavior. It was full moon, and there was often an impromptu gathering of those wishing to sample a little pleasure under the moonlight.

"Keep the revelry down to a low roar, and see that you clean up," Brolyn said as he shuffled past him. "Have food sent to my chambers, and some more appropriate clothing for my…"

"Tribute," another elf finished for him.

Brolyn spun on his heels to face down Vorgyn, one of the high guards, and an ambitious back stabbing bastard of an elf. He was a plotter, but nothing had ever been proven, so Brolyn kept him close, where he could watch him.

"You leave your watch to indulge in full moon festivities? Really, Vorgyn, your consort would be horrified…" Brolyn said cuttingly.

"Give her over to the revelers, Brolyn. Human wenches are said to be most… intoxicating. Besides, how would it look if you kept her to yourself?" Vorgyn asked with a menacing smile.

"Everything in the fortress is shared amongst us all. If the Lord wants something for himself, then who are you to question it?" Kuryn spoke up in defense of his master.

"Return to your duties," Brolyn said firmly to Vorgyn.

Vorgyn just smiled and bowed before leaving the hall, strutting like a peacock.

"Why do you let him remain in your house?" Kuryn asked.

"Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer…" Brolyn said more to himself than in answer. "Now, do as I ask," he reminded him.

Kuryn gave a slight bow before running off to see to his master's needs.

Brolyn continued through the hall and into another passageway. He went straight to his chamber and kicked the door open. The fire was already going and the bed was turned down, and occupied. Brolyn stared in annoyance at the barely dressed Elf maid.

"I came to apologize and to tell you that it will never happen again," Surya said, though her remorseful look failed in favor of a jealous one. "Or have you replaced me as well?"

"Get out, woman. Go back to your lover; I have no further desire for your company. The next time you enter my chamber uninvited I will turn you out into the cold," he said angrily.

Surya knew when to be silent, and she quickly climbed from the bed and made a hasty exit, glaring at Laurel all the way. Brolyn stifled an angry growl and just sighed. He glanced down at his burden who was looking away. He set her down and stalked over to the fireplace.

"Welcome to the mountain fortress of Frostwick, Laurel," he said quietly.

Laurel backed away from him a few steps, hugging herself nervously. Now that she was here, the full reality of what was happening to her finally set in. She held her breath and waited for him to speak again.

He turned and frowned at her attire. The heavy fabric offered little protection in this climate. Humans knew nothing of preparing for the cold, "You are freezing, and your clothing isn't helping you at all." He stepped closer, but stopped when he saw the terror in her eyes. "I gave my word of honor that you were not to be harmed in my keeping. Until you adjust to our climate, you will feel cold, even within the keep. Will you trust me?"

"It is not seemly for an unmarried woman to be in a man's…"

"Elf, woman, I am an Elf and Lord of all on this mountain. I afford you more courtesy than any other, but my patience goes only so far. Remove your gown, now," Brolyn said firmly, "Or I will do it for you."

Laurel wordlessly took off the decorative jacket and then began untying the ribbons that held her bodice. She loosened it enough to slip the gown up over her head and then draped it over a chair. She stood, blushing in her undergarments. She dared to look up at him and he was just staring at her corset.

"What in the Great Realm is that contraption you are wearing?" he asked. He could see how uncomfortable it was.

"It is my corset," she said.

"Take it off," he said.


Brolyn reached for the buttons, but they were too tight. He grabbed her by the waist and realized just how tight the corset was. It was literally crushing her. She gasped at his touch and he could smell her fear. Then her breathing became so erratic he thought she would pass out. He felt the ties at her back and grabbed his dagger and cut them. The corset fell to the floor and he picked it up and flung it in the fire. He gazed at her, a startled harridan in layers of white lace just staring at her burning corset.

"Now do I understand why you could not breathe. Such devices were made by men in their desire to keep their women weak and under control. You live in my world now," he said.

There was a knock at the door, and Kuryn entered without waiting carrying a large tray. Behind him was an elf maid in servants' attire carrying several gowns and furs. Brolyn smiled and took the gowns from her and gave one to Laurel. He quickly dismissed them and bolted the door.

Laurel looked at the garment a moment, and realized that it was worn without undergarments. It looked less modest than a night dress. It was quite medieval, reminding her of that one holiday on Avalon, and yet it was different somehow. "How will this be warmer?" she asked.

"The fabric was made for this climate. Now, you can wear that gown, or you can lie in bed naked. Those are your choices," Brolyn said as he gathered up her old gown and tossed it in the fire.

"You're… watching me," she said barely above a whisper.

His eyes twinkled and his lips turned up in the slightest smile, "Yes, I am."

He sat in his chair and poured himself a glass of wine. He cocked a brow at her, daring her to challenge him, but she obviously knew better. She turned her back to him and removed her camisole. She slipped the gown over her head and then slipped her petticoats out from under it. She turned around, quite pleased with herself at having deprived him of his show.

"Sit, eat," he said as he poured her a glass of wine. He loaded her plate for her and watched as she sat and took a sip of wine. "Tribute," he said thoughtfully. "I have never taken tribute like you before. I would have been pleased with a case of wine."

"Then why…?"

"Because he hid you from me!" Brolyn said angrily. "Whatever we Elves may be we are not rapists or reavers. I was insulted, and he needed to learn a lesson."

"So, what will happen now?" she asked quietly.

"You will eat," he said gruffly, tearing off a bite of mutton from the leg he was holding.

She was well mannered when she ate. Even without utensils, she was careful to behave in a civilized manner. Brolyn found it amusing. Elf women were almost as boorish as his warriors were, that was part of their charm. You could come home from the hunt, see the woman you wanted, and take her right there in the hallway. Not only would she allow it, she'd demand more. But humans hid inside their phony sensibilities. Women were bartered for land, or power, or wealth. They called it arranged marriage, but it was little more than high priced whoring of their daughters. Elves had no use for vows. The keep was ruled by one for the good of all. Women were equals in the bedroom… or the hallway… or on the dining hall table… Brolyn smirked at the thought before returning his attention to his meal. Elves didn't marry, but they chose mates… eventually. After the first hundred years or so, they would want to settle down with one lover and have a child or two. As leader, he would need an heir someday, but he hadn't chosen yet. In truth, none from his harem interested him. They were all willing enough at his whim, but they were willing enough at anyone's whims. That was the one failing of his people's philosophy. There was, perhaps, a little too much freedom. With the meal over, he noted how quietly she sat; waiting with some dread as to what was next. She was pampered and spoiled, and different than any woman he'd ever known. He wanted her and he couldn't figure why.

"I'm sorry that we trespassed," she finally said, barely above a whisper.

Brolyn looked into her eyes, and was struck by her sincerity. "You were not to blame," he answered softly. Perhaps she was not as spoiled as he thought. There was more than fear at work here; he had misjudged her, measuring her against her father. This woman was not at all what he'd expected.

Laurel stared at the table nervously. He knew what her fear was and there was little he could do to put her mind at ease. Mountain Elves had a reputation as arrogant womanizing scoundrels. It was an earned reputation to be sure, but one detail was always left out. Their partners were always willing, that was their law. But nothing he could say to her would change the look of mistrust in her eyes.

"It is near dawn, and I am exhausted. Come to bed, Laurel," he said.

Her eyes were as big as saucers, but she couldn't speak.

"It is a very big bed, and I will be sleeping," he added as he walked away from her. He took off his boots and removed his breeches. Thankfully, he had some sort of undergarment that resembled a loin cloth. He drew back the covers and crawled in, leaving her plenty of room. "No clothing in bed," he said as he fumbled beneath the furs and tossed out his loin cloth. "You will not be warm enough."

"But, is there not another room for me?" she asked nervously.

"You are mine, Laurel, my tribute, and here you will stay," he said firmly. "You are not safe anywhere else in the keep. It has been a long time since men and elves were allies. Your presence is not appreciated. It will take time for them to see that you are not a threat."

"Threat," she repeated humorously, "That is funny."

Brolyn sat up and looked at her seriously. How could he make her understand the danger she would be in without his protection? "If you were less beautiful, perhaps, or if you were pompous and spoiled like your father, maybe. But they can see what I see. You are very dangerous, Laurel." He pulled the cover down beside him. "Do not fight me on these arrangements."

Laurel cringed, closed her eyes and removed her gown, all the while knowing he was watching her. She forced her feet to move, right, then left, then… she felt his hand on her wrist and opened her eyes.

"You will sleep in this bed, but I give you my word that I will not assail your virtue unless it is your will. Only by your expressed invitation," he clarified. "Now, sleep."

He released her hand and rolled over. She listened for a moment and realized he was already asleep. She carefully slipped between the covers and laid her head on the pillow. After the events of the night, she was exhausted. All thoughts of fear gave way to fatigue, and she fell into a deep sleep. Even shivering with cold could not keep her awake.

Captain Odo was well aware of the elves that shadowed their caravan. He kept everyone moving through the night and into the day. It would be less than foolish to oppose the elves here. Once they reached the Star Tower, they could plead their case to the Guardians. Now they not only had the impending invasion to worry about, but the theft of the Duke's daughter. It had been many years since men had dealings with the Dark Elves. Most men wisely chose to avoid them. They are a barbaric and brutal warrior race, living in caves like wild animals. No one wanted to provoke a war with them. The sooner they made it through the Ice Mountains, the better.