The lynx sniffed at the small, round berries. She prodded at them with a small mist of green magic, testing the juices inside. Then, with a satisfied trill, the bobcat plucked off several berries with her magic, and carried them closely to her body. She then set off down a small forest trail, leapt off it suddenly, and came to where some leaves had been nibbled at not too long before. She sniffed at the leaves and followed the faint trail until she came upon a small area where several different scents, old and new, over lapped each other. She dropped the berries, then bolted from the area. She found a sturdy tree and climbed it, her claws leaving deep scars in the wood.
She walked out onto a thick branch that over looked the berries she had placed, and dropped to her stomach, hugging the branch with her large paws, humming to herself.
And she waited.
Just as she was dozing off, a soft rustling caught her attention. Her ears were suddenly erect, and her sharp, grass green eyes pierced the dark below her. Moon light had replaced sunlight during her wait, and the trees caused the light to shimmer as something small hesitantly sniffed at the suspicious berries on the ground.
The lynx's muscles tensed as she slowly, silently raised herself into a crouch. She watched the small rabbit as he hopped about from berry to berry, eating each one he deemed safe. The rabbit's ears twitched when it heard the slight cracking of the tree branch. The lynx sprang, flying towards her prey. She landed with a thump, and the rabbit emitted a slight squeak before falling limp in her powerful jaws. The lynx trotted away from the area, smugness guiding her steps.
She soon reached a large tree, which she climbed. Several gouges from her claws already marked the hard wood. She stopped at a thick branch and sat at the base of it, then proceeded to eat her kill.
She ate rather delicately, for a lynx, taking care to keep her whiskers and chin clean. Her stumpy tail flicked happily as she finished her meal, gnawing the bones to be sure she got all of the meat off.
She then swiped at the bones and let them fall at the base of the tree, and climbed up to a slightly higher branch. She lay on her belly and sighed contentedly, purring.
She grabbed several leaves and pine needles from the surrounding trees. She stabbed the needles into the leaves, until she had made a small, green rabbit. She made the rabbit hop around, before pressing it against the tree's trunk. A bright light in the shape of the leafy rabbit flared, leaving behind a print burned into the side of the tree, leading several other leaf animals- most of them rabbits as well- around the tree trunk. The lynx became solemn, "thank you for the nutrition," she said, "may Elanna bring good fortunes to your family."
She then rested her head on her great paws and slept.
Niamh read over the papers again, making sure she hadn't missed a single detail. All the while, her mind seemed at odds with itself.
'I'm engaged!' it would happily squeal one second.
'I'm engaged…' it would tiredly say the next.
She gently placed the papers on her desk and rubbed the sides of her head, wincing. Why was planning for a wedding, which was supposed to be one of the happiest days of her life, so stressful? She glared at the papers as a headache flared, blaming and cursing them for their cruel attacks.
"Perhaps a ride would help clear your head, My lady?" Jenni asked without looking up from her cross stitch.
"I'm not sure I'd be able to get Saorail saddled properly with this ache." Niamh groaned pathetically.
"Well, whining about it certainly isn't going to help." Jenni replied.
Niamh heaved a sigh, then stood up from her small desk. She walked to her bed and sat heavily on it. "I think I need a nap." She said, rubbing the back of her neck.
"Words I never thought I'd hear from you." Jenni said, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, I never thought I'd have to deal with this! I thought for sure that there would be someone to help!" Niamh said, falling backwards on her bed.
"It's your wedding." Jenni said.
"Yes, so why must it be so… so…" The girl groaned as the ache in her head spiked. She covered her eyes with a hand, shielding them from the piercing light.
"Arduous? Stressful? Taxing?" Jenni offered obnoxiously.
"All of the above." Niamh groaned. She glanced out from under her hand to briefly glare at her hand maid. "And more." She added.
Jenni smiled and lightly shook her head. She stood up, gathering her materials. "Well, if you wish to nap, then I will leave you to it." She said. She opened the door, stepped out, then said, "Sleep soundly. And try not to think of the mountains of work ahead of you."
Niamh repositioned herself on her bed and shot another glare at Jenni, though the maid had already closed the door.
"It's not mountains." The young woman growled, holding the sides of her pillow to her ears. "It's worlds."
She sat up to blow out the small candle by her bedside, and lay down again. Moments later, she got out of bed to close the curtains properly, as ray of light had somehow found its way to her face. As she was attempted to pull the heavy curtains over the bump on the curtain rod, she noticed a small carriage exiting the forest, heading towards the mansion. Flags decorated the ornate carriage, which was a deep blue and gold. She couldn't see the flags, but she knew exactly who it was.
Niamh cursed then blessed the man. Perhaps she could convince him to take a little of the load off her shoulders. She knew it wasn't likely, the man had several duties he had to attend to. It was probably by a miracle that he was able to visit her. Either that, or business with her father. She sighed and closed the curtains, then turned and stared at her bed.
"To sleep, or not to sleep?" she asked herself.
Suddenly, the door opened to reveal Jenni. "Your fiancé has arrived." She announced.
Niamh nodded, "I can sleep later." She sighed. She stared longingly at her bed, then followed Jenni from her room, fixing her hair.
When they came to the small foyer, several servants and her Father were already stationed there, prepared to greet the man as he walked through the doors. Niamh took her place beside her father, chin held high and a pleasant smile decorating her face.
The butler opened the door to reveal the High Lord's son. His deep brown hair was well groomed, and his clothes still looked fresh despite the several days of travel it had taken him to arrive at the mansion. He bowed respectfully to Cillian, and offered his hand to Niamh. She placed her own hand in his, and he gently kissed it, as though afraid she would break should he be careless. She withdrew her hand as he took his back, and curtsied to him.
"A pleasure to see you, High Lord Artiar." Cillian said respectfully.
"A great pleasure," Niamh added.
"The pleasure is ours to share." Artiar responded in his deep, kind voice. "I was hoping to visit for a while before I continued on my way inspecting the lands of the other Lords."
"You know that, as a future son, you are always welcome here." Cillian said, gesturing around the room.
"Thank you." Artiar nodded respectfully. The servants, after they had bowed or curtsied in respect, were sent back to their chores. Cillian then left, as well, leaving Jenni, Artiar, and Niamh.
"So, how do the wedding preparations go?" Artiar asked, his brown eyes shining.
"Well," Niamh said, shrugging slightly, "they're going."
"That doesn't sound to enthusiastic."
"I just need some more time. And help. And sleep."
Artiar looked her up and down. "You know I can't do much else. I can send some of my father's favorite wedding planners."
"That would be wonderful!" Niamh said, "How come you never mentioned them before?"
"They had been unavailable. One of my sisters was recently married, and my father had enlisted all of their help for the wedding." Artiar explained. He stepped closer to Niamh, taking a small letter from his breast pocket. "Now, they are at your beck and call." He smiled.
Niamh opened the letter and read the names listed inside. She gasped, and nearly dropped the paper. "These are… These are big names! How can I even begin to afford this?"
"My father will take care of it." Artiar assured her, laughing at the look on her face. "Don't worry! You can leave it entirely to them! All will be taken care of."
Niamh let out a sigh of relief. "Well, not entirely. I still want to be sure they're not just going to throw together a generic wedding."
Artiar was taken aback, "Generic? These people have worked for the king himself! They've traveled the world! I assure you, it will be far from generic." He paused a moment, then added, "And you will have a say in all that they do and decide. Everything will be run by you first, but the heavy lifting is what they will be doing."
Niamh thought over his words, then nodded. "Sounds good." She smiled brightly at him. "When can they start?"
"Send a letter any time, and they will be here before the month is up!" Artiar said. "I must warn you, though, they may be a little… eccentric. Their travels have left them very… well, 'refreshed', as they like to call it."
Niamh waved her hand as though clearing candle smoke. "I'm sure I can work with that. It'll be fun to see what ideas and methods they gathered from the different countries!" She glanced at the list again. "I wish it were possible for them to start now."
"Well," Artiar said, "send them a notice, and see how fast they get to work."
"Perhaps I should do that now." Niamh said, looking back up at her fiancé.
"Here," Artiar reached into a belt pouched and produced a small, wooden seal, "use this. It's a lesser one I have, but it should still help them realize that your letter is of upmost priority."
Niamh smiled as she grabbed the seal, letting her hand linger in his before putting the object in a belt pouch of her own. "Always looking out for me." She said, still grinning.
"Well, somebody has to." Artiar responded. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead, then straitened. He placed an arm around her waist and gestured toward the hall. The two walked to a sitting room, adorned with several, well cushioned chairs and couches, and two fireplaces at opposite ends of the room. A large window faced the forest, and a couch and a chair sat next to each other, that friends may enjoy the view together.
That two, very good friends could have enjoyed the view together.
Artiar followed as Niamh lead the way to a small desk that was hiding in a corner of the room. She sat down and pulled a sheet of parchment from the drawer, unstoppered a small jar of ink, dipped in a quill, and began writing her requests to the wedding planners. Once she had finished, and had made sure that Artiar approved of her notes, she folded the letters and sealed them with Artiar's small seal.
Artiar took the letters, "I'll have these taken care of for you." He offered her his hand as she rose from her chair. "And, with these letters, My dear, lovely lady, you are now set free from worry." He lightly kissed her hand.
"Well, I may have more free time, but I wouldn't say that I'm free from worry." Niamh sighed.
"Well, you soon will be." Artiar replied.
"Hm," Niamh turned to look out the window. A small cart was exiting the forest, doubtless with the hunters catches.
"My father will be busy with his own work, I should be there to greet the hunters." Niamh said. She gave Artiar a quick kiss on the cheek, then walked swiftly from the room, followed by Artiar.
The hunter loaded his wagon with the fresh kills of the day, climbed into the driver's seat, and flicked the thick horse's reins. His apprentice, who had climbed into the back of the wagon to tie down the meat, let out a slight yelp of surprise as the cart began moving under his feet.
"Careful back there." The hunter called back, smiling.
"Uh, sir?" The boy's voice floated back to him, wavering.
"If we've got a scavenger following us, just use your bow and be done with it!" The hunter growled.
"I don't think I should…" The boy responded.
"And why n-?" The hunter stopped his horse and turned to look behind him. They were, indeed, being followed by a hungry carnivore. A lynx, half again the normal size of any lynx he had ever seen, with bright green eyes and an odd, black, swirling mark on both of her shoulders. What was even more odd was the long braid that started from the base of one ear, and ended behind her fluffy cheeks. Two fangs protruded over her bottom lip, like those of an ancient saber. The lynx didn't growl, it wasn't even crouching. It stood, watching the two men, her head held her, her ears erect and pushed forward. Her short, stumpy tail was in the air, twitching slightly. The lynx's nose also twitched every now and then, and her eyes would dart towards the meat, then back to the two men.
Then, the unnatural looking cat smiled, revealing more long, sharp teeth. Her fangs were well kept and clean, as though the cat put aside the time to properly care for them.
"Sir, is that-? Don't those markings make it-?" The boy stammered, his eyes never leaving those of the lynx.
"Aye, it's akin to what the fox was." The hunter answered. He stood up on the cart's seat, and addressed the lynx. "What is it that you require of us? Passage? Directions?" the hunter paused and licked his lips before adding, "Food?"
The lynx's mouth pulled up into a feline smile, and it licked its lips. "I don't have anything to give you, but you may be able to bargain with the lord to which we are returning. If it pleases you."
The lynx seemed to think for a moment. It sniffed at the air, its dark pink nose twitching. It then nodded, watching the hunter expectantly.
"All right, then." The hunter shakily sat back down and flicked his nervous horse back into motion.