A/N: Hi there everyone. I'm sorry that it's been so long since my last update: one of my newer stories has been taking up all my time. However, I am about half way through chapter 8 of this story so I thought I'd give you something to read, if you guys and gals are still reading, that is. xD. Anyway, without further ado, chapter Four.
Farrion was woken roughly. A senior general was reporting back on the overnight battle resulting from the raid that Ulran had sent. Bleary eyed, Farrion looked unblinking into the face of one of his most trusted men, his vision spinning it and out of focus.
'There were more this time your highness, more than ever before.'
Farrion sighed and dragged his hand across his face, an open sign of his frustration, incidentally wiping the dry sleep from his eyes. He sat up: he'd get no more sleep now. Dragging back the rumpled covers, he stumbled out of bed and searched the room for discarded clothes on the floor of his bed chamber: he had no time to waste digging out clothes that were worth wearing. They'd be ruined where he was going.
The prince looked up to take in the sight of his general. Evan Blanton waited patiently, straight backed and awkwardly rigid, at the side of Farrion's bed. He hadn't moved an inch since the prince had awoken and he didn't intend to. He could wait. There was a deep gash across his cheek, seeping blood and pus. It appeared to be infected. He bore no other obvious injuries. His hand rested near the scabbard of his sword, twitching, ready for danger. These were the signs of a successful and experienced soldier, resilient in his discomfort.
Yanking his coat on any which way over his crinkled shirt, Farrion turned his complete attention onto Evan.
'Yes my prince?'
'How many were injured?' Prepared for bad news, Farrion's face was stony.
'My rough estimate is fifty.'
The prince gulped before nodding, nervous. He threw his armour on over his clothes and slid his sword into its scabbard, ready for trouble should it return. Before Evan could do so much as blink, Farrion had strode forward and placed his hand over the infected cut, erasing it; no trace of his magic was to be seen and no mar remained on Evan's stubbled cheek.
'But-' Evan soon cut himself off: Farrion had already vanished, likely to find the injured so that he could lend a helping hand where he was able.
Ordinarily Evan would've taken this opportune moment to rid his head of post battle exhaustion but this night the option wasn't available to him: he had urgent news to bestow.
One hand resting on the hilt of his sword as he moved, he jogged to catch up to the departed prince. His scabbard swung as he travelled but under the burden of his well placed and experienced hand it held still, calm.
'Prince Farrion!' Evan called out to his superior across a good third of the wasted expanse of space lying on the north side of town. This was the direction from which Ulran's delightful horrors always attacked.
The prince did not answer the call so in reaction Evan did all he could to quicken his pace to a sprint, his worn, aching muscles screaming in defiance and rebellion. They shrieked for rest and with every lurch refused to do what he willed with a persistence that would have brought an untrained man to his knees.
To Evan's benefit, his heavy footfalls, occurring as he stumbled through haste, eventually alerted Farrion to someone's incoming arrival. Long-engrained training kicked in, forcing him to spin around, sword at the ready, ready to battle what stalked him.
'Oh,' Farrion lowered his sword, 'it's only you Evan.'
'Didn't I dismiss you? I imagined you well on the way to your bed and your personal dream world by now. You look like you could do with a rest.'
Evan recognised this surprise as subtle admonishment since he'd disobeyed his unspoken orders.
'I'm sorry Sir.'
'It's fine Evan. Quick, tell me your news so that you can run off to your bed and your wife before she starts to fret with worry.'
'It's Giros Sir: he's injured,' Evan phrased his words with care.
Farrion sighed, still exhausted and missing his bed down to his weary, shaking toes.
'Many people must have gotten hurt at some hour of last night's trouble Evan.' Farrion waved his hands, encompassing the scene. The blood, the gore and the corpses, the stagnant air let the stench waft in a choking haze across the battlefield, coating the area with an atmosphere that screamed of pain, death and misery.
Discarded weapons littered the floor, their lethal points and barbs glittering in the slow rising sun's light. Within a set radius, the centre of the fight, the earth was stained red with blood.
'…Why bring Giros, out of everyone who has their duty here last night, to my attention? Are you sure that you're quite okay?' Farrion was concerned, tearing his eyes away from the torment of his citizens, all those that were whimpering for his help, to pay attention to his general.
'I only thought that you may want to know, Giros has been taken to the town hospital, that's all.'
Farrion's lips thinned; his walk came to a stand still and his body turned cold, hairs on end in unison. This was terrible news.
'Evan, wake Jonvar: he can heal the injured on the battlefield. I-I must go see….someone.' He shifted his mass from foot to foot, agitated and anxious to run elsewhere. It was only his duty holding him still long enough to issue orders.
'Are you sure Farrion?'
He bit his lip. 'I have no choice.'
Evan accepted this and nodded, allowing the frantic man to be on his way.
He wasted no time. He turned and ran, feet pounding the packed, footprint engrained earth. Sprinting at top speed, he hoped that she hadn't found out and that Avaia hadn't woken up. All the warning bells he possessed were clanging, shrilly screaming, in his mind.
Coming to a halt, Farrion stood stiff and awkward; he was in front of Avaia's front door.
Sense leaving him, he disregarded all thought of decency at the early hour and yelled.
'Avaia, Open up! I need to talk to you. Avaia!'
Racing footfalls clattered down the stairs and the door was wrenched open by Mina.
'What is it? What's wrong?'
'I-is Avaia still asleep?' His breath was ragged, air scraping down his throat until it burned.
He coughed and spluttered. Mina knew this as a sign of being overtaxed and so, doing as she'd learnt all those years ago in her own training, she lead him into the living room. Farrion shook as he followed her, the after effects of his exertion.
'Pace a while before you sit,' she instructed. 'You have to get your heart rate back to normal. This is no fit state in which to tell us any kind of news.'
'Is she up?' he wheezed as he walked, still desperate to hug that one shred of knowledge to his torn body.
A moment later the creaking stairs put rest to his fears. To judge whether it was prudent to interrupt, Avaia poked her head around the doorframe. As she passed through the wooden archway, she smiled at Farrion and chased away all of his worries.
'Mother, Farrion…what's all this commotion about? I'm not used to wheezes, coughs and yelling when the sun is this far from its zenith.' She giggled, muffling the sound to one more soft with a carefully placed hand.
Every last scrap of Farrion's breath left him in one blow. He had cut short his enforced march the second she'd entered. She always calmed him down on sight. His stride as he walked over to her rid him of all remaining pent up anxiety and, his throat no longer constricted, he was now able to breathe with more ease. He took Avaia's hands in his own and guided her to a chair.
'Avvie, honey, I have something to tell you.'
'What is it?' Avaia talked trough clenched teeth, the sound of her voice sharp as enamel ground against enamel.
'Your father is in hospital.'
A single tear trailed down Avaia's cheek.
'What happened to him?'
Farrion reached over the space between them and laid a comforting hand on his love's shoulder.
'I haven't seen him yet. I've only just been informed that Giros has been admitted into the town hospital following last night's raid.'
Avaia bit her lip, brought her knees up to her chest, and gulped back tears. In a similar state Mina paced the room, her hands ploughing through her mahogany hair again and again, causing loose strands to become disarrayed. Stress showed as every miniscule wrinkle in her face stood up sharp in a frown.
'Yes Mina?' His head jerked up opposite his love to be polite to Mina as she addressed him.
'Why are you here? Why not let us be notified as everyone else is, by him not returning?'
Even in an atmosphere as charged with worry as it was, Farrion found he blushed.
'I-Uh…I wanted to make sure that you weren't left in the lurch, left waiting for someone that wouldn't come home, at least not tonight. I also, may I be as bold to reveal, found that I couldn't let myself have Avaia find out about this that way.'
Understanding his love for her daughter, Mina nodded. The paternal emotions that came following her understanding seemed to focus her thoughts and actions into more productive methods of continuing.
'I see. Avaia?'
In the time it had taken for their conversation to develop, Avaia had lost her reserves of calm and her head lay buried beneath crossed arms. She'd made her hands into tight fists to keep in the feelings threatening to rip out of her. The outsides of her hands glistened with something akin to water.
Mina soon took notice of her daughter's state and, following the shift of her attention, she was at Avaia's side, her hand rubbing over her back, a gentle and soothing presence. Knowing not to smother her daughter through long experience, Mina instead waited until Avaia herself uncrossed her arms and hid her face against her mother's waiting shoulder.
'Shh, shush, come on now. It'll be okay honey.' Mina's hands formed small circles over Avaia's back.
Once her daughter's breathing had returned to something resembling normal, the wracking gasps at oxygen no longer causing her body to shudder, Mina stood. She took Avaia with her as she rose and placed her daughter on the ground with gentle hands.
'Are you okay now?' she asked, wiping away stray tears with a paint-blotched thumb.
'I-I think so mum.'
'Okay,' Mina crossed her arms in conviction, 'let's go see your father.'
Mute, Avaia nodded.
'M-May I come too?' Farrion stuttered, fidgeting without realising his hands' movements.
A moments pause and Mina, one protective arm slung around Avaia's shoulders, holding her upright, gestured to Farrion with her free arm. He was to follow on behind.
'Time to go,' she mumbled.
They walked together through the knee high fallows, gravel-dotted trails and dense evergreen trees with the early morning sunlight covering the scene in a fuchsia pink too jolly for the occasion.
Stumbling, they came within view of the secluded hospital. Hidden in a clearing of the close grown trees, it truly was isolated. The building was clinical, stark white, giving away its purpose with no fight. The windows were tinted on purpose to allow the patients some relief from the bright sunlight.
Avaia shuddered, her arms wrapped tight around herself: she could smell disinfectant rolling towards her even from the still significant distance away from it that they were.
'I'd hoped we'd never have to come here,' she whispered under her breath.
'I'd rather it was my family than yours Avvie,' an eavesdropping Farrion offered his commiseration in the only way he knew how.
Avaia shook her head in dismissal of that sentiment.
'Don't say that,' her voice was stern, brooking no quarrels.
Farrion pursed his lips and remained silent until they crossed over the threshold of the building: she was right.
'I-I'm sorry. I wouldn't wish this on anyone.
Avaia nodded absently, intent on reaching the reception desk sitting opposite the entrance. Walking over to the wooden barrier it provided and leaning against it, she tapped the silver bell on the counter top.
The ding reverberated through the scrubbed clean corridors to the small corner office where one exhausted but patient nurse waited for its call; the receptionist was still asleep.
The three sat huddled together on the provided waiting chairs. They were spongy yet old, having seen many others' grief, the atmosphere amplified by their race's ordinarily long life spans and the many extra years of history that that provided.
The door behind the counter stood open. A nurse, her hair scraped back into a hygienic bun, was smaller than the average elf and so had to rise on tiptoes to be seen over the desk.
'Ah,' she'd caught sight of them, 'who are you looking for?'
In preparation the woman sorted through the files that she'd taken from a locked cupboard underneath the counter.
'Who are you here for?' she prompted, rephrasing slightly.
'My husband Giros.' Appearing fascinated by them, Mina stared at her interweaved hands as she spoke.
'I see. Come this way please.'
The nurse led the three down cold, tiled hallways, left then right, through a labyrinth of turns, complicated to the point that their unstable minds had little chance of following or remembering the direction that they were travelling in.
'In here,' she announced, pushing open one whitewashed door halfway down a corridor filled with entrances identical to it.
The group stepped inside without a word, the nurse closing the door behind them in order to lend some semblance of privacy. Plunged into the artificial semi-dark of dusk caused by the windows, they all paused for a moment, waiting for their eyes to adjust enough to see.
'Dad?' Avaia queried, squinting into the darkness.
'I-Is that my A-Avvie?' His voice was croaky and strained.
Her reply was absent: she was busy pinpointing the sound of his voice to determine his location: a standard white sheet covered wooden bed. She scampered to his side. Without further preamble, she reached across to hold his hand. He was in a pitiful state. New deep cuts littered his scarred hands, his head was bandaged and the covers, bunched up around his waist, didn't hide the dark black and blue bruises covering his chest as a new skin. A lone tear rolled down Avaia's cheek.
'Hey, come on now lassie. It's just a scratch. No tears: I'm fine.
Avaia ran her eyes over his broken body once more before forcing a smile for his own sake. She knew she should reward his positive attitude: she knew it to be the best state in which to heal.
'Okay dad, I believe you.'
Giros managed an inseparable mix of a wince and a smile.
'Is that your mother I see over there?'
'Yes dad.' Avaia gently released her hold on her father's hand. 'Do you want me to go call her over to you?'
'Please lassie…only…listen well for a moment. Don't stop your training because I'm cooped up here and don't you dare come visit me every five minutes. Stick to what you're doing; god knows I've seen worse than this before.'
'I'm not a child anymore father. I know that I need to uphold my responsibilities.'
'I know lassie…just allow me this once, please.'
A tension-filled moment passed. Avaia nodded. As if sealing a business deal, Giros mirrored the action. One sharp turn, using her heel as a pivot, and Avaia strode back to her mother. She stopped right in front of her.
'He wants to see you.' her orders filed out, the stress and strain that had tensed up her muscles disappeared and they slackened in relief. 'I'm going to go …I don't know where but I must leave.'
'Why don't you show me your artwork at your house Avaia? I'll give you the day off of training.'
Avaia looked down at her feet and pondered if this truly was a good idea: she'd just promised to her father to keep up to par in training and not stop on his account and yet she wanted to show Farrion her hobbies, the things that gave her true joy. She shuffled her feet.
'Okay, just this once.'
Farrion nodded in mock seriousness. 'As you demand, my lady,' he teased.
Avaia scowled once more and stormed out of the room, leaving Farrion to follow in her footsteps or be left far behind. As the journey back to her home progressed, the young elf grew a fraction happier. Skipping down the trail, so used to the path she didn't bother watching where her feet landed, she began to hum a song of her own creation.
Wind blowing through the trees,
Treetops blowing in the breeze;
Can't you tell what a day this will be?
Take me with you,
Set me free.
It was a sombre song, the slow and low pitched syllables serving as chains to bind any listener into a sad disposition.
'Mmm?' She span around in a jump as if caught misbehaving. 'What is it?'
'That…song…you made it up?'
She grinned, relieved. 'Yeah, I did. Do you like it?'
'It's amazing. Are all your songs that good?'
Avaia blushed so deep she almost turned purple.
'It-uh…they're okay. I wouldn't say they're good, any of them.'
During the end half of this conversation the lone couple had stumbled up the final short path to Avaia's home. The young elf squeaked in shock: she was one step away from bonking her nose on the hard wood of her own front door. Noticing what was about to happen, Farrion had fended off a nosebleed with quick thinking; his hands, showing no strain, even though Avaia was still pushing against them with her momentum, held her back from the door.
Making use of her long reddy brown hair to hide her face, the girl lowered her head, attempting to secrete away the blush that dominated her cheeks. Farrion cautiously took a hand off of her shoulder to brush her hair back behind her ears. Lightning fast, Avaia snapped her head around, out of his reach; her hair slipped through his fingers like water through cupped palms. Supporting her choice, albeit with reluctance running through every tendon, the prince jerked his hand back; it now being out of proximity to Avaia, her tensed back muscles relaxed and she rooted around in her pocket for the key to the front door.
Key in the hole, a click, a push and an open doorway. Turning to each other as they stepped over the threshold, Avaia and Farrion shared a sheepish smile. Without a word, Avaia closed the door behind the prince and locked it. Tossing the key on an end table by the door, she rushed upstairs to her room, expecting Farrion to follow.
Slower than he would ordinarily, still feeling rejected, the prince pursued Avaia's disappearing back. He watched as she bounded up the stairs, her enthusiasm for what she was about to show him bursting out of every movement as strong as energy radiating the sun. The strength of this force encouraged Farrion to overcome his new found shyness and regain his snubbed confidence along with his determinably upbeat mood.
Farrion smiled on entering Avaia's room: two easels stood aside the window, taking advantage of the natural light that it provided. One frame held a finished painting and the other was in progress. Sheet music littered the desk, covered in Avaia's unmistakable scrawl, characteristic of the sudden bursts of creativity that she could often lay claim to.
'What would you like to see first?' She asked, her arms wide, twirling on the spot and almost toppling to the ground.
'A closer look at your artwork sounds like a good plan.'
Avaia smiled, raced forward, and took Farrion's hand in her own. She tugged, drawing him over to the first finished painting. She waited for his comment, idly casting her mind back to her inspiration for the piece.
Smiling eyes shot out of the picture at Farrion. These were set in the face of a tall individual, some strands of his sandy blonde hair tied into plaits. Shaking in stunned shock, he realized that this was a portrait of himself. He blushed.
'This is…thank you.'
'You like it?' She rose on her toes a little, pressing closer, her eyes wide and hopeful.
'No, I don't.'
Avaia's face fell and she slumped, defeated.
Reacting fast, Farrion took her still free hand into his, swinging the two in the space between them: he hadn't meant it.
'I love it.'
'Oh.' Fascinated by the path of their joined hands, she didn't know what to say.
Farrion focused on that meant more to him than a mere action: his eyes were on his love's face. He couldn't tear them away and he didn't want to: he was busy memorising every detail of her face. The morning light shone through the glass of the window and hit her cheeks whilst glints of reflected light danced delightfully in her eyes. He couldn't help himself. He was losing his reserve in the depths of those eyes.
He kissed her.
Once tender lips met, the world melted away and ran over the waterfall. Only the two of them mattered in this new world and, as tongue brushed sweet tasting tongue, the couple forgot their problems, surrendering to the feeling.
They were dazed when they eventually stepped away from each other. Their breathing was slightly heavier that it was before, the one mark of their first shared kiss.
A moment passed. Avaia blushed crimson, her eyes fixed on the floor as if questioning the sense of what she'd just allowed to occur.
'Avvie?' Farrion whispered, tilting her face up to his eyelevel with a gentle hand.
Startled, she let him manipulate her and met his eyes, still red. The prince brushed his fingertips over her cheek and, on the reassurance of a sheepish smile, transferred his hands to lie around her waist, drawing her close.
Resting his head atop hers, nuzzling against her by moving his head from side to side, he relocated one hand to her long hair. Stroking it with care, his eyes were soft with care, watching his hand's progress.
The young elf took refuge against the prince's chest, the cold armour that her cheek and forehead rested against comforting her. Its wintry steely feel fitted her emotions to perfection. All of a sudden she no longer grieved: her father was still alive and she knew he'd get better. He had seen worse in his lifetime, as he'd told her many a time.
Shaking her head a few times to clear her thoughts, resolving to think about issues she could change, Avaia caught the attention of Farrion.
'What is it?' he mumbled, head pressed close against her hair, his breath ruffling strands that tickled her scalp.
'Nothing.' Her voice, unused to speech for such a long length of time, was croaky, saliva lacking.
'I was just…keeping my mind away from sore nerves.'
Her head shifted a little to simulate a nod.
'Anything else you wanted to show me?' Farrion asked in the hope that she could find something else, anything else, that would do fit to divert her thoughts from her father's condition.
She nodded without a sound, her hands clenching together behind Farrion's back, making clear her wish for the hug to last but, after many minutes past, she loosened her hold. She knew she couldn't stand in the middle of her bedroom hugging her prince forever; it was impractical.
Having resigned herself to find something else to entertain her love, Avaia took her hands from around Farrion's waist and once more made sure they were enveloped in his reassuring hold. Walking backwards, she pulled him to her desk. With reluctance she dragged one hand out of her love's and used it to open a drawer. Out of it she took a thick hardback book.
The pages were bound tight into their cover and three ribbons, lilac, baby blue and white, reached out of the page that she'd most recently touched. These ribbons appeared to be attached to the book. Where they exited the page, all three were tied in cute bows suited to Avaia's personality.
'This isn't your diary or something is it?'
'No,' Avaia giggled, 'this is my story.'
'Story? What story?'
'I write books…it's one of my hobbies and always has been.'
'I see.' Farrion mused on this.
Avaia laughed wholeheartedly.
'Well, come on, it's not like there's anything better to do for an elf not yet enrolled in training. The days are long; it's better to fill them with something, anything.'
'Hmm…well at least now I know why you always carried some sort of book like an extra limb when you used to come to my training sessions.'
'Your lessons gave me inspiration for some of my stories…'
'Yeah.' Uncomfortable, Avaia wiped her sweaty hand on her trouser leg, 'The way of battle and war is one thing, the training needed to prepare another entirely.'
Farrion nodded, beginning to understand.
'I see. Speaking of training, are you happy that I gave you the day off?' A knowing smile edged at the corners of his mouth.
Her shyness had flown away on light butterfly wings; Avaia smiled right back at him.
'You could say that.' Her tongue swept her lips in an unconscious slow slide.
Farrion grinned: that was a good sign.