Chapter 9: The Hills of Fae
Table of Contents|
Chapter 9, part 2 appeared
in issue 130.
“Do you really love him?” he asked suddenly.
“Of course,” she said, her voice a low hush. The unexpected question brought a large sense of longing within her.
“Sorry, my lady,” he apologized. “I can see that you love him very much. I did not mean to surprise you.”
She sat back into her cushioned bench. She felt the slight rocking of the carriage acutely. Andina grabbed the folds of her gown and twisted them between her fingers. “I want to be with him, Renson. I really do.”
“I know you do, my lady. I have seen him many times in your thoughts. Back in Stonegate, of course,” he said hurriedly as she looked at him sharply.
“Just know that we are going to meet resistance and defiance by many people,” she said. “I don’t know how everyone will see me as the first Seer-Queen.”
“Ah, my lady, they will see a beautiful woman who is one of the people. They will see hope in your eyes and salvation in your actions.”
“Or a threat,” she added. “I’ve never considered my marriage to Palance to be a danger to anyone.”
“Andina,” Renson moved closer to her. He grabbed her hands and held them in his. “Listen, Alias Demondread is a powerful man. He has countless armies that are at his disposal, not including this Iinnin Lodar regime that belongs to Palance. Who would dare come after you? Nobody! Nobody out there has the power to dispose of you.”
“Open war is not needed,” she told him. “A knife in the back is all it takes. Assassins can be bought and hired by any noble or petty peasant with money. Light, we don’t even know how the royals will take this. What if there is some jealous girl out there who feels she was cheated? She will bring us trouble no doubt.”
Renson shook his head. “No one would ever dare strike at a Seer, so why worry?”
She wasn’t convinced, but he let her be. He would let his words sink in for a while. She kept silent, too. She thought of everything. There was danger lurking ahead of her and for all of them. She knew it was only a matter of time before someone struck at her. Palance had kept everything secret, and she had done her part, as well. But one could never be too sure.
She looked out to the hills. What better time to strike than out here right before she reached Acrene Tarrynth? If she were to strike at someone, she would do it here, now. She felt her worry rising.
It would not be good to get attacked out here in the plains.
Renson did not doubt that all of Acrene Tarrynth would jump to her defense if trouble arose from her marriage. He told her plenty of times of his confidence. Acrene Tarrynth, he reasoned to her, was a powerful Nation. With one of the largest armies in the lands, to strike at a future queen would be suicidal. Striking at a Seer was beyond comprehension.
Again, with worry clouding her mind, she thought it would not be good to be attacked out in the Hills of Fae. They were almost to the border. Trouble could come from anywhere. Palance had warned her of the danger. They had planned and planned to make sure she arrived in Acrene Tarrynth safely. He would be there. He would.
Just one more night, she fretted. One more night and she would be with her love. How she would be glad to be with him again.
* * *
Renson watched Andina quietly. She would be the Light of Acrene Tarrynth one day. He would make sure she stayed alive until that day came. He knew she worried. She would make a fine queen. The citizens of Acrene Tarrynth would be very lucky.
Night was quickly drawing closer. It would be dark soon. He thought of the things that dwelled inside the Hills of Fae. He didn’t doubt he had the power to deal with whatever came, but he hoped it would not come to that. Such distractions could be fatal if someone else, someone looking for Andina, happened to seize the opportunity of confusion that would surely follow.
He glanced nervously out the carriage’s window. There was enough light remaining for him to see so far away with his keen eyes. The horizon to the west was empty and free from movement. He turned to the east and found the situation the same. He relaxed slightly.
He would not let his guard down until they were in the safe hands of her prince.
Renson thought for a moment. For the first time, he gave the matter of Palance Demondread a deep thought. How he wished the prince were there. Renson had never met the man, but being under the wings of the Iinnin Lodar was not such a bad idea.
The mage knew something was amiss. Andina had dismissed the storm of the previous night with the receding of it. But he hadn’t. He had lived too long for him not to recognize an unseen danger. Twice, thunderbolts had missed the carriage by less than several yards. Only his powers and Kendel’s keen senses had diverted disaster.
The Wreathleak were watching him. He knew it. He didn’t have to see them to know they were there. The storm had been a product of something vile and corrupted. Only they would do something like that. He would have to tell Palance once they reached him. He refused to tell Andina. The girl would only be alarmed. Renson did not want to make her uneasy. She already had plenty to think about.
Andina brought him out of his thoughts. “I’m willing to live if death comes my way.” She hadn’t been asleep for very long.
Renson stared at her curiously. Maybe he had been right, after all. “My lady, such thoughts are bad omens. Especially with night falling upon us. Why would you go and say such a thing?”
She went on. “Most Seers live a miserable life. They give up their lives to accept their Talent. I will not. I refuse to give up what is mine to take. I will not be a hermit.”
He nodded agreement. “Of course, Andina, you won’t have to be a hermit. I thought we already went through all of this? If you were to be a hermit, we wouldn’t be on our way to Acrene Tarrynth. We’d probably be on our way somewhere else. And far away from this prince of yours, more than likely.”
He continued. “But if death comes our way, we must fulfill our destiny and not fight it.” He held his breath. He just wanted to hear her say it, and he would grant her wish. Say it, he thought.
She looked at him gravely. “If death comes for me, then it claims you, as well. I don’t know how you survived your other charges’ deaths, but I don’t think you can handle another one. The pain must be great. No other mage has ever survived the death of their charge.”
Renson looked her over. He understood what she was getting at. She wanted to convince him to help her live if her death ever appeared. She didn’t know that he was already convinced. He thought of the pain of losing a charge. True, he told himself, I don’t think I can bear to lose another one.
“I’m prepared for that,” he replied coolly. “Stonegate disciplined me, remember? I know my place in this world.” He threw the net to draw her in. He would do it, but he needed her to speak it out loud. “Do you?”
It was obvious she thought he was displeased. “Renson, who said that if a Seer Sees his or her own death, they had to accept it?”
“Stonegate, my lady,” Renson’s tone was flat. “It has been this way since I can remember. Do not question tradition, Andina.” Question it, please, he wanted to scream, rise against the stupid rule!
“And why not, Renson?” There was a spark of that fire he had detected upon her arrival at Stonegate in her voice now. “Who is to say that all those Seers in the past who were murdered or suffered horrible accidental deaths weren’t destined for greater things?”
He didn’t answer. Ask me to help you defy death, and I shall grant it, he wanted to tell her. But he couldn’t. This had to be done on her own accord.
“What if Seeing is supposed to warn us?” She pressed on after he didn’t respond. “If death is to claim us, then it shouldn’t matter if we fight it. If fate decrees we are to die, then we will die no matter what we do to prevent it.”
“You’ve been thinking about this for a long time, haven’t you?” He asked her simply.
She looked down at her hands. “Yes,” she said looking back up at him. Her jaw was clenched firmly and her hands stopped moving. Her gaze was steady. “I’ve made up my mind, Renson. I will not accept my death without fighting it. Once I’ve fought it and I lose, then Stonegate’s discipline will allow me to accept it. Not before then. The choice is yours if you want to help me.”
Renson’s energy burned. He let his lips curve into a grin. He had been right about her. She had the spirit to change things. He would see to it that she did. He would turn her fire and make it rage like a burning inferno. “It seems you have learned well. It is not every day that a Seer questions Stonegate. It’s even rarer yet when a Seer contemplates his or her own death. Usually, they are terrified of thinking about death, too afraid it might call upon them too soon. They think such thoughts will curse them and have death knocking at their door.”
“I’m anything but fearful of my own death.” she stated confidently. “I have Palance to think about.”
“So it seems that you do,” he said, nodding that he was in agreement with her. “We have much to think about. We already know the dangers that might await us. We are aware of the trouble we could cause should the Nations find out your plans before you are wedded. Let us hope we can get to Acrene Tarrynth safely. From there, who knows what the future holds for us?”
She relaxed visibly. “So you will help me?”
“Of course,” he said immediately. “I am linked with you, remember? I will do as you ask, my lady.”
“Thank you, Renson.” She leaned back against the wall of the carriage. “We will be with him soon. After that, the immediate dangers will be behind us. Then we can look forward towards everything else that our actions will bring us.”
Renson watched her until she fell asleep. He gazed at her soft features and delicate skin. This was a woman of true virtue. Her brown curls hung loosely, hiding her eyes, but he could still see the slope of her tender nose. He would make sure nothing happened to the girl.
She had spoken her wish, and he would grant it. Palance Demondread would marry a virtuous bride. She was honorable, loyal to her people, and not afraid to thwart tradition. These were all good qualities, if not essential, for a future queen.
He took a deep breath to steady himself. He could feel the storm coming. Not a storm of rain and thunder and lighting, but a storm of the darkest breeds. It would come soon, he knew. It would bring many evil and vile things. It would bring animals from the nightmares of men and creatures from the darkest pits.
Renson looked out the window. The sky was black. Stars twinkled overhead, but he paid them no mind. He would have to trust in Kendel to keep watch this time. He had his own things to do now. When that storm came, he would be prepared for it. He would unleash his mightiest powers against it and make it cower. He would show the Nations what it was to fight back with vengeance. He would make an example out of the creatures that hid in the dark.
It was time they started fighting back. Renson was tired of watching cities in Ramendae and all over the lands cower and hunker down like battered dogs to a merciless master. He didn’t want to see men, women, and children run to the safety of their homes just because the sun started its descent.
He looked over at Andina again. Now he had the one person to help him in his battle. He would soon have the Prince of Acrene Tarrynth fighting for his cause, as well. They would lead many people and many people would follow. Many would resist too. He would handle the obstacles as they came.
Until then, he would watch Andina. He needed her to have a vision. It had been a long time since she had had her last one. Any day now, and her power would reveal another secret. Another glimpse into a future he hoped would be filled with hope. He hoped he didn’t have to wait that long.
But then she twitched in her sleep and he smiled. Maybe he didn’t have to wait that long.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler