Hatred, Anger, and Despair
Dark, thick woods surrounded Gideone, Stavros, Vayan, and Phautina, hiding them from sight. The silver rays of the moon shone down through the spaces between the leaves overhead, dotting the ground with pale light. Phautina lay on her stomach upon a soft, grassy spot of earth and tried to keep still as Stavros and Vayan examined her shoulder. Stavros looked utterly exhausted. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, and it seemed to take all his energy to simply concentrate on Phautina's wound.
Gideone sat on a nearby fallen tree. His head was in his hands, and he moaned to himself, "He lies. He has to be lying."
Phautina's left sleeve had been cut off so Stavros and Vayan could work more freely. The shaft of the arrow stuck out and angled slightly toward her spine, and the head was firmly embedded in her shoulder. Though Stavros touched the area around her wound as gently as possible, she still sobbed in pain.
"It appears nothing vital was struck," Stavros determined after a moment.
Gideone's brow was furrowed in anger. "Abiel must lie; Eagle promised herself to me."
Stavros cast an annoyed look at Gideone and then turned back to Phautina.
“The arrow pierced deeply,” he murmured. "If it’s pulled out we run the risk of having the arrowhead break off inside the body."
"He’ll regret lying," the prince growled as he stood up.
"I could use some silence," Stavros muttered as he scowled at Gideone, but the prince, either not hearing or not caring, continued talking to himself.
With an exaggerated sigh, Stavros turned back to Phautina. "I’m going to have to push the arrow all the way through your shoulder and out the other side."
"Tnaka will pay too," Gideone continued, his voice growing louder as his anger waxed greater.
Stavros sighed loudly, opened his mouth, and turned to Gideone, but before he could speak Phautina said with a groan, "Hurry up and just do it."
"He never deserved her," the prince growled.
"This is going to hurt," Stavros said, still clearly angered by Gideone.
"As if it doesn't hurt already," Phautina muttered, still fighting the pain.
"Does he think that simply because he’s a Power and I'm only a prince that he’s more worthy of her than I?"
Stavros reached out and took the shaft of the arrow in both hands. He realized he had forgotten to tell her that the feather had to be broken off before the arrow could be pushed through.
"I swear I’ll make him pay," Gideone cried.
Stavros cast another angry look at the prince.
"All three of the Powers will pay!"
"Would you be quiet!" Stavros thundered as he snapped the arrow in two. Phautina cried out in pain.
"Do you realize how much sleep I’ve had since we left the elves?" Stavros demanded as he jumped to his feet and faced Gideone. "Practically none! Why? Because, despite your bravado, you needed to sleep so I took your bloody watch. I’ve had no sleep for the last twenty hours. I’m out here in the middle of a forest in the middle of the night, trying to tend to a wounded woman, and all you can do is stand by and snivel over an insult thrown out in the midst of battle by a man who’s barely worthy to bear a sword? What is wrong with you?"
"How dare you talk to me like that!" cried the prince.
Phautina gasped with pain. "Vayan, can you finish this?"
"Aye," Vayan said as he knelt down where his father had been. He took the arrow in both hands.
"Abiel’s a worthless cur," growled Gideone. "Why shouldn’t I be angry at his lies?"
"All right," Vayan murmured to himself, "I can do this." He had never caused pain to a woman before.
"His lies?!" Stavros cried.
"Yes, do it!" Phautina groaned.
"If it’s lies that anger you, Gideone, did it ever occur to you that Tnaka and Eagle have been married for three years? I doubt Abiel’s lying."
Gideone sent his fist slamming into Stavros' jaw, and Stavros reeled back.
Phautina screamed as Vayan pushed the arrow through her shoulder.
"It's all right. It's all right," Vayan said, nearly as relieved as Phautina. He helped her sit up then pulled the arrow free.
"What’s she still doing here?" Gideone growled as he turned to face her.
Stavros, holding his hand to his chin, picked himself up off the ground.
Vayan put his hand over Phautina's wound. Immediately it was healed, leaving only a small scar. He turned, his jaw clenched, and looked up at Gideone.
"I thought I said she could only come as far as Jwassax," snarled the prince.
"What’s wrong with ye?" Vayan demanded as he jumped to his feet. "Ye've hated h’r since th' momen' ye set eyes on h’r, but she's saved y’r life twice already!"
"She never saved my life!"
"D’ye actually think we could o' outrun Abiel's men if she hadna stopped them wit‘her magic? Or do ye forge' tha' less than an hour ago had she no' been ridin' behind ye, you would o' been th' one with th‘ arrow in y‘r back?"
Gideone took a step back and looked wildly at Stavros and Vayan. "First Orion betrayed me, and now you!"
"How dare ye say tha'!" Vayan cried. "Orion's m' friend, an' I know he'd never betray anyone."
"He betrayed me," Gideone snarled as he drew his sword. "He escaped, but you won’t!" He rushed at Stavros and Vayan, and they drew their swords to defend themselves.
"Stop!" Phautina's cry rose loud and clear through the night. Her brown eyes flashed, and her homely face bore such a look of nobility and command that the three men could not help but draw up short.
"Stavros, you’re exhausted," she said. "Gideone, you’re exhausted and wounded. Both of you will sleep, and Vayan and I will stand watch."
"No!" Gideone cried weakly as he stumbled forward. His face had suddenly turned ashen, and his hands had begun to tremble. Gasping for breath, he said, "I will stand watch over the..." His sword fell from his hands, and, with a groan, he sank to the ground.
Stavros rushed forward, but, before he could reach him, Phautina was at the fallen man’s side. She looked up at Stavros, and there was something in her eyes that made him stop and step back. She held the prince's head in her arms and looked down at him, and with his dark eyes, he stared weakly back up at her.
Softly–so softly that neither Stavros nor Vayan could hear her words–she spoke. "I know why it is you wish to stand guard. These dreams which haunt your sleep and make you long for the light of day are brought by no man save yourself. They’re your hatred, and your anger, and your despair which fill up your heart and consume your mind and from which you cannot free yourself. They’ll drive you to insanity if you find no deliverance from them. But that day has not yet come. This night Joretham will give you peace that you might sleep, and perchance upon the morrow you’ll awake a wiser man."
He said nothing in reply. His eyes closed, and she lay his head back down upon the earth.
"What did you do?" Stavros demanded as he rushed forward.
"'Twas but a small spell," she answered as she turned to him. "I suggest you check his wound, for it’s obviously worsened. Then you should also sleep."
"Thank you," he breathed. When he realized that for one night he would be able to sleep and not worry about Gideone, a burden seemed to drop from him. "I swear you must be sent from Joretham."
She smiled in return. "Perhaps I am."
* * *
The pale rays of the early morning sun shone out across the golden city of Leilaora, and already the towers and spires of the castles and temples and cathedrals sparkled in the light. Though early, the streets were already filled with people, and through this throng the Dark Sorcerer, with Orion riding beside him, made his way.
The Sorcerer sat tall and proud upon his horse, not deigning to look upon the people who crowded the streets. On the other hand, all strength was gone from Orion. His long, dirty, hair, washed in his own blood and sweat, hung down and nearly covered his face. He slumped forward in his saddle, and had no strength to raise his eyes and look about him.
As they rode through the streets the people's eyes turned toward them. They looked in awe upon the dark magnificence of the Sorcerer and in pity upon his prisoner. Orion could feel their stares upon him, but he could not bear to look back at them or gaze upon the city he had left ten years before.
Up through the glorious city of Leilaora he was brought by the Dark Sorcerer, and through the marble gates of the palace he was led. They stopped in the middle of the quiet courtyard of the palace; the Dark Sorcerer stepped to the ground and practically had to pull Orion from his horse. The warrior was so weak he fell to his knees, and it was only then that he raised his head to look at the small group of people gathered there. He recognized Provenna, Tnaka, and Eagle who all stared in surprise and horror at his condition, but behind them, arms crossed, scowling, was a young man Orion did not know.
The queen started toward him. Orion’s lips turned up in a sad half-smile as he breathed, "Hello, Mother." With a sigh, he fell forward, unconscious.
Provenna rushed forward. As she did so, the Dark Sorcerer also knelt to help the fallen man. Slaves were quickly called, and Orion was carried away to a private room where the palace healer was called to tend to his wounds.
* * *
Provenna stood in a spacious, dimly lit room and looked down upon Orion who lay asleep upon a large, soft bed. His wounds had been washed and bound, and he had been made to feel as comfortable as possible, but even in sleep, he did not seem entirely at ease. His mouth was firmly shut, and his brow was slightly furrowed.
Provenna reached out and touched his forehead.
"Orion," she said, "I doubt you can hear me–perhaps 'tis better you cannot, for you were ever one to frown upon familial affection–but I cannot help but speak. I missed you so much, and I doubt you will ever know how overjoyed I am that you are once again here in Leilaora.
"I wish I could have spared you the pain you suffered at the hands of Kozan. One day–perhaps very soon–he will pay for his insolence. Perhaps it will be you yourself who takes revenge.
"'Twas funny," she continued with a laughed, "for ten long years I prayed you would return to me, and when you finally did I could only stand, unmoving, and in horror look upon what Kozan had done to you.
"You have been unconscious since you were first brought here, but I would be a fool if I could not see that you have changed much over the years you have been gone. I looked into your eyes for but a few moments, and I could see in them an experience and a profoundness that they never held before."
She laughed. "Oh, but listen to me ramble whilst you cannot even hear me."
She bent and kissed his forehead.
"Goodnight, Orion. I love you, my son."
With that she turned and walked from the room.
The Dark Sorcerer stood in the corridor outside. He had obviously been waiting anxiously for her.
"Your Majesty," he said and started toward her, "please forgive me. Had I known he was your son I would have written the moment Kozan captured him."
She smiled softly at his anxious expression. "Trouble not yourself, Sir Sorcerer, for how could you have known Orion was my son? And worry not. As you’ve probably seen, he’s not entirely human, and, now that he can rest, his body will quickly heal."
"Still, I‘m sorry I didn‘t tell you sooner."
"You have no need to be. Indeed, I wish only I could have honored your request to have Mystia brought here as well, but that would have angered Kozan far more than I could deal with at this moment." Her features darkened at the thought of her former lover.
"I understand, Your Majesty."
Provenna suddenly brightened and, smiling, asked, "Will you join me at the feast?"
"I would count it a great honor, Your Majesty," the Dark Sorcerer answered, inclining his head to her. He offered her his arm, which she took, and they began to walk down the corridor toward the banquet hall.
Her gaze fell upon the ring which she wore on her finger. The Dark Sorcerer, in his letter, had asked that she demand that ring from Kozan. It was a very beautiful ring to be sure–the stone was unlike any she had ever before seen–but she could not understand why the Sorcerer found it so important.
"Sir Sorcerer," she began. He turned his face to her.
"All day," she continued, "I’ve meant to ask you what this ring is and why you found it important enough to ask me to demand it of Kozan."
He looked at the ring for a moment then said, "The ring itself is unimportant, Your Majesty. It was a gift to Prince Orion from Mystia. Both of them held it precious, and I thought it deserved to be kept by one more worthy than Kozan. Perhaps when the prince has recovered you can return it to him."
"You can rest assured I will treat it with care, and, when he has recovered, return it to the one to whom it was given."
"I did not doubt you would," he answered.
* * *
Queen Eagle sat alone in the palace gardens. Darkness had but recently fallen and the night was yet warm. The silver moon shone down upon her and cast the whole garden in a beautiful light. She sat upon a marble bench and leaned her back against a tree as she looked up at the stars. The faint sound of music drifted across the garden from the palace where Provenna celebrated her son‘s return, and occasionally she could hear the merry voices of people who walked along one of the paths which winded their way through the trees and shrubs.
As she sat, she suddenly had the feeling she was being watched. Turning, she found Tnaka gazing silently upon her, standing in the shadow of a tree. Realizing he had been caught, he stirred and, walking forward, laughed. "I knew I would find you here. Not a day has passed since we first arrived in Leilaora that you’ve not come to this place."
"I’m honored you would count that knowledge worthy to obtain, Lord," she told him as she rose.
He took her hand and, smiling, answered, "I would count any knowledge of you worthy to obtain." He raised her hand to his lips.
She hesitated then said, "You seem quite merry this night, sir."
He laughed. "I not only seem it; I am." He sat down upon the bench.
Eagle looked somewhat confused as she also sat down. "I pray you will not think this too forward of me, Lord, but I fail to understand why you’re so lifted up in spirits now that Orion has been brought here, when just recently you were so troubled by the thought of his arrival."
"'Twas not Orion's arrival that troubled me but how Kozan would react to it. Kozan bears Orion an enormous grudge, and it wasn’t clear what he might do if the prince was taken from him. But, now that Orion’s been brought here, the danger is passed."
He was silent for a moment and grew more thoughtful.
"I’m also happy because now Provenna is reunited with the son she has missed for so long," he continued. "Perhaps now at least some of the anger and bitterness within her will disappear. Orion is a capable man, and perhaps he’ll find a way to deal with Kozan. And perhaps, with Kozan destroyed and Provenna appeased, the wars which tear this land apart will be ended. I’ll no longer have to conquer but can instead return to Kerril and live out the rest of my days in peace."
"Those are three very large 'perhapses', Lord."
"Yes," he said with a sigh, "I know. Large 'perhapses' they may be, but still they are my wishes."
He took her hands in his and looked intently into her eyes. "I wearied of war before it ever began, and throughout the years of conquering the countries of Lairannare for Provenna I’ve wished only for peace." He gave a small smile. "Eagle, I’ve waited so long, and at times I despaired of anything ever changing, but now in my heart I feel soon everything will indeed be changed. The day I’ve longed for will come, and I await it with open arms."
Eagle was silent for a moment then said, "I await it too, my Lord."
Tnaka smiled again, but this time it was not in joy. Eagle was taken aback, for, though he had been laughing and merry but a moment before, his eyes suddenly bore a look of pain and sadness.
"Lord, what is it?" she cried as she reached out and touched his arm.
He gave a wry smile and said, "Eagle, must you always call me Lord or Master? I swear, you address me so in every single sentence you speak to me."
"What would you have me call you?"
"Eagle, must you even ask?" He rose to his feet and with opened arms turned and faced her. "For three years have we been married, and in that time you’ve called me by every title under the sun–'sir', 'lord', 'majesty', 'your majesty', 'my lord', 'good sir', 'kind sir', and a myriad more that slip my mind. But you’ve never called my by the one thing I wish to be called. Why have you never called me 'Tnaka'?"
She paused for a moment before answering. "You are the king of Kerril. I am a citizen of Kerril and your humble servant. 'Tis not my place to call you anything but Lord and Master."
"Eagle," he cried, "you’re my wife. If you aren’t in a place to call me by my name then who is?"
She bit her lip. “Is it not the place of a wife to honor her husband?"
"You can honor me without calling me by titles."
She could think of nothing to say in reply and gazed down at her hands.
"Eagle," he began but then stopped. He searched to find the words to convey that which filled his heart.
"Eagle," he said again, sitting once more down beside her, "there was a time–it seems like a lifetime ago–when you were the proudest, most noble woman in the whole of Lairannare. You had knowledge and wisdom far beyond your years. Your wit, your skill in conversation and argument, and your un-tamable spirit were renowned throughout the Realm, and you had a courage that would put many a man to shame. That was the woman I thought I married."
She was silent for a long moment before raising her gaze to him, her gray eyes filled with sorrow.
"Lord, you speak of things as they once were." Her voice was tinged with bitterness. "They are no longer that way. Everything changes–spring to winter, sun to rain, youth to maturity. Ask me not to be Princess Eagle of the Sky Elves who was young, impetuous, foolhardy; who fought with swords, and rode eagles." She fought against tears. "I am Queen Eagle of the Wood Elves whose spirit has been tempered, who speaks her mind less impetuously, who tries to serve and support her husband faithfully, and who long ago gave up swords and eagles and the skies of Scalavori."
She rose quickly and walked a few paces away, but not before a sob escaped her lips.
Tnaka waited for a moment then quietly rose and walked to where she stood. He placed his hand gently upon her arm. "Eagle, I came to you this night to give you something. I pray you will accept it."
"What?" Her voice trembled as, brushing the tears from her eyes, she turned.
"Here," he said, a hopeful look upon his face, as he held out his other hand.
Her eyes grew wide with awe as she saw what he held. In his hand were three beautiful flowers. The pure, white petals had only begun to open and did not yet reveal the silvery-blue pistils within them. The long, silver stems curved gracefully beneath the flowers' weight and shimmered in the soft light of the moon.
"Lumellia," she breathed as she took them. "The flowers of the snow." She could feel the silver stems against her hand. "And they’re real." She looked up at him in amazement. "Wherever did you get them?"
He smiled and said softly, "That is my secret."
He held up his other hand and in it he held another flower. He reached up and began to fasten it in her hair. She tried to turn away, but he stopped her with a whisper. "Eagle."
He quickly finished his work and stepped back.
"Stand there." He motioned with his hand. Hesitantly, she walked to where she thought he motioned.
"Yes," he said when she looked questioningly at him, "right there where the moon shines full upon you."
She straightened and stood still and silently as he looked upon her.
After a long, long moment he spoke. "You truly are a child of the snow and the mountains. You were meant to soar with the eagles not sit at home all day among the trees of the forest. Noble woman, ever have your eyes been turned toward your native country, and ever has your heart yearned for the home of your youth, but never once did you complain when I saw not the look which was so plain upon your face." He took a step toward her. "When my business with Provenna is completed, you and I shall travel to the Mountains of Scalavori. You’ll see the father from whom you’ve been so long absent, and you’ll ride the eagles you’ve so longed for. We shall stay there a month, a year, as long as you desire, and, after we’ve left, we shall return far more than we have in the past three years. This I promise you."
"Oh, Lord," she said, her voice trembling with more tears that threatened to fall, "thank you."
He walked to her and put his hands around her waist.
"'Tis but a small thing to do for the wife I love."
He kissed her brow.
"I love you, Eagle," he told her softly. "But," he continued as he took a step back, "I think I have neglected you. 'Tis a sin for which I pray you will forgive me, and I want you to know that I will do my utmost to let it not happen again."
She looked up at him. Her large, gray eyes were filled with gratitude. Her long, blonde hair fell down about her, and the moon lighted her soft, beautiful features. As Tnaka looked upon her, he could say with certainty he knew of no woman more beautiful than she.