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The Changeling of Par'Lamer

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CHAPTER ONE
The Fair Kings

The city of Par'Lamer shone dull white under the rays of the late Summer sun.  Dust rose from the streets as children squealed and chased one another in pursuit of their whimsical games, dodging around the ankles of far-less carefree adults.  The low cry of gulls rose up from the docks at the eastern border of the thriving fishing locale.  Lazy donkeys plodded up and down, carrying carts full of wares and travelers behind them.  Traders cried out from stalls in the city center, adding to the noise and bustle that flowed through Par'Lamer like a throbbing heartbeat, vital and ever-present.

This city was a flourishing trade-hub to the Human lands of Pausalis.  It sat right upon the very edge of the Bahar, the Great Sea, and so received the life of its waters as well as the boon of its imports.  Yes, naturally it had it's poorer folk and its richer folk as all cities of Men are wont to do, but the gulf between the two was not quite so pronounced as it was in other parts of the realm.  For the most part, its citizens enjoyed a level of peace and prosperity by the lull of the waves, their lands lush and bountiful and graced with the presence of all the world's pilgrims. 

Indeed, people of all kinds made Par'Lamer a prominent stop during their journeys for there they could find fine smiths, comfortable inns and all the goods they should need.  Dwarves from all the Kingdom of Gojjell came through in search of pelts and woodworks that could not be found in their cavern citadels.  Animal Folk of the Wildekinde Tribe trekked all the way from their untamed homes on the Whispering Plains and even the elusive Elves of the Amsinai Kingdom deigned to stop in blessed Par'Lamer when it suited them (though their visits were rare indeed).  The darker races of the world kept their distance, a fact which didn't do much to hurt anyone's feelings.

Near the western border of Par'Lamer, just by the grand city gates, there was a humble inn by the name of the Blue Maiden.  It had stood in the same spot nigh on unchanged for the last 60 years, run by a very old man named Pasha and his equally elderly wife named Bryony.  They had acquired the inn together when they had moved into the city, running it with such warmth and fairness that it continued to be a favoured spot despite larger and less-humble inns springing up nearer to the eastern edge of town.  Any weary traveler could find good food and a warm bed at the Blue Maiden, no matter the hour or the fullness of the inn and it was said that the owners were happy to negotiate prices for even the poorest of wayfarers. 

The kindness and energy of Pasha and Bryony was very nearly legendary.

It was nearing the third hour of the afternoon when Bryony looked up from polishing glasses at the bar, drawn by the sound of hoofbeats outside the door.  She was no younger than 80, yes, but her ears were as sharp and keen as they had been in her girlhood.  She was never one to keep visitors waiting and so shuffled out from behind the smooth oaken counter to see to the new guests they were surely going to have.  A hot breeze caught her whispy white braid and tossed it gently as she opened the door, peering out to see who had come that she might greet them appropriately.  She was most surprised by what she saw.

Beyond the door of the Blue Maiden waited a small host of willowy beings, pale as starlight and regal as kings astride slender-legged steeds of chestnut, silver and white.  They wore sleek riding leathers, half in deep greens and browns and mottled grays, the other half in soft blues and fawns and silvers.  Their eyes were bright as moons and sharp as daggers, almond shaped and sat beneath cool brows.  Their ears were the shapes of new Spring leaves, tucked beneath falls of silken hair and ornate braids.  Two among their number wore woven circlets upon their brows as delicate looking as sapling vines.

Elves had come to the Blue Maiden.

Now, it was true that the Elves came to Par'Lamer when the occasion suited them.  However, occasion had not suited the fair children of Amsinai for nearly a century.  Elves were secretive, you see, and chose not to leave their hidden homes often and to creatures as long-lived as these, a century was but a twinkling.  That Elves came to Par'Lamer was more a known fact than an experienced thing by those currently living within her boundaries.  Still, despite her shock and awe, Bryony nodded her head politely.

She said, "Good Masters, can I be of service?"

One of the two wearing coronets, one of the Elves in blue and silver with hair as black as deepest night swung down from his horse.  Two hunting knives hung from his belt, but his eyes were very kind as he replied in the Common Dialect (though musically accented).

"Grandmother," he replied, "My company and I wish to know if there is room at this inn to house us for a day or two.  We have need of supplies and to have our weapons seen to."

Bryony smiled, "Oh, I am no grandmother, but room can be found for you all just the same.  There will even be room in the stables for your horses and perhaps if my son returns in due time he can see to your weapons.  He has some skill as a Smith."

The dark-haired Elf touched a hand to his brow in gratitude, "We shall see our horses to the stable, then.  Might we have food and drink inside?"

"Of course, of course," she said in a way that suggested he was silly even to ask and that it was a given.

Bryony watched long enough to be sure her guests found the way to the stable attached to the back of the Inn before bustling inside as fast as her knobbly knees could carry her.  She tottered back into the kitchen where Pasha was working away and informed him of the strange happenings.  The wreathe of kindness that had been upon her face dropped into deep worry.

"Pasha, we have guests.  They ask for food and drink to be prepared.  There were six riders in all," she said, her voice thick with concern.

Pasha, a jolly old man full of wrinkles and cheer, flapped his hands at her, "Bryony, my mountain flower, you would think an entire army of Rock Goblins had descended upon us by looking at that face.  What troubles you? Six is not such a hardship."

"They are Elves, Pasha.  I've never seen the like!" his wife said.

Silence fell for a few heartbeats, heavy and thick.

The old man swallowed deeply before he spoke again, "Are you sure, my love? Truly?"

"As sure as I still have eyes in this old head, I know what I saw," she held a hand up in a demonstration of her honesty.

Her silvery-haired husband rubbed at his chin, "Well, there's nothing for it.  We shall simply treat them as any other guest.  Go and see that they're settled whilst I prepare food and drink for their company."

"But what of - " she began, but did not finish, silenced by a look from Pasha.

"That is a bridge we shall cross if ever the time comes.  Now then, we've work to do!"

And that was that.


~~~


Outside in the stables, the two Elf leaders watered their horses, conversing lightly in their own tongue which leapt and danced like water in their mouths.
The taller of the two with hair as pale as the dawn and eyes of jade marveled, ~How very wizened she was! I almost mistook her for a Trow when first I saw her.  How peculiar human aging is.~

The other, the one with the kind eyes and black hair rebuffed him good-naturedly, ~Be not unkind, Amrunil.  She is accomodating.~

~Perhaps so, but I fear any help we may get from her son.  Why, the woman is so old that any child of hers must be well into his dotage by now as well.  I doubt his hands would lack the skill required to see to Elfish weaponry,~ replied Amrunil flippantly.

~And yet we are left with little choice but to see whether his skill is worth our time lest we continue the journey on to Miskas with damaged arms.  While I know well the pride you carry in the defense of your own realm, I trust not the roads leading to it.  Our way has already been fraught with hardship,~ the ebony haired Elf chided.

The pale king's lips thinned, ~Never would I dare suggest a journey un-armed.~

~With good reason!~ Morloth replied in their birdlike tongue, ~Already we have been attacked as we departed Isbali...I do not recall the Goblins being nearly so bold even a century ago when last we made this journey.~

~You speak true when you say their boldness has grown...but their cruelty is the same as ever I recall,~ stern Amrunil said, his eyes distant, ~More the reason to have worthy hands repair our weapons for the final leg.~

Morloth's refined brow creased in memory of his friend's long-remembered pain, ~Truly, you would know best the wickedness of the untamed beasts of the road.~

His companion banished the topic with a sharp gesture, falling back into the flippant arrogance he was accustomed to, ~This is not a conversation I wish to have.  Besides, we have left the Trow woman and her ancient family waiting.  I am giddy to see what doddering mess she foists off on us as some great smith.~

His companion very nearly rolled his eyes, though he was admittedly relieved at the much-lightened mood, ~Will it truly be such a trial to endure humanity but for the brief span of days before we set out for your Kingdom once again?~

~Morloth, sarcasm is unbecoming one of your regal nature,~ snipped Amrunil in reply.

~As is whining yours,~ the dark-haired Elf returned, black eyes twinkling with mirth.

Amrunil snorted and tossed his bright hair like an irritated horse at being caught out so by the other King.  It only drew a soft laugh from the other, who bade him come away from the stables and into the Inn itself where they might continue their banter in more comfortable surroundings.  They were joined by two warriors of their respective cities, a small honour guard as was proper when nobility went journeying out beyond their borders.  Though Morloth and Amrunil were warriors in their own right, notably so, it was always safer in numbers.


~~~~~


The inside of the Blue Maiden was not lavish nor fit for royalty, but the host of Elves was pleased to note that it was more than enough for weary travelers.  It was homely within, rough hewn from old wood with white-washed walls and great oaken beams spanning the ceiling above their heads.  The floor in front of the bar was dotted here and there with sturdy tables and sturdier chairs, many of which were drawn up to the dwindling embers of a comfortable fire.  While it was the tail end of a glorious Summer, the evenings still grew chill on the coast and so such warmth was welcome.  Food and drink was provided, simple but hearty and the air was filled with the mixed voices of Men, rough-hewn Dwarves and soft-singing Elves.  Scent, song and the last vestiges of the day's heat drifted up towards the ceiling, radiating calm and welcome.

Many of the Men gathered in the Inn to drink found themselves sneaking surreptitious glances at the Elves.  Men and Elves had ever been allies, true, but so elusive were the Fair Children that not many of the shorter lived race of Men ever laid eyes upon them.  The Dwarves were less inclined to gaze, for their trade with their bright cousins was more frequent and their lives longer than Men by far.  The Elves pretended not to notice as was their way, though in honesty they noticed everything (as was even more their way).

Bryony gazed on them with Rheumy eyes, seeming lost in her thoughts while Pasha worked away behind the bar.  Even as the shadows of evening drew long, she marvelled at the light that seemed to cling to their unmarked skin.  She watched the final fingers of the day's radiance sift through their hair and glint in their eyes.  Her mind wandered while she looked on, lingering on one who was not present at this merry gathering. 

Her own distraction and the lusty strains of a Dwarvish drinking catch masked the approach of the dark-haired Elf king as he descended from the rooms above.  He stood behind her left shoulder, still as a shadow.

"You are lost in your thoughts," Morloth said, his voice like velvet over silver bells.

The frail old woman started and placed a hand over her fluttering heart, "Goodness, your lordship.  You gave this old heart a fright!"

His smile was yet small, "Forgive me, for it was not my intent.  Be at peace.  I only observed that you seem to be somewhere other than here."

The laugh lines around Bryony's eyes crinkled as she acknowledged him, "I suppose you are right.  I find that my thoughts often wander to my son when he is not at home."

"He is very late in returning," Morloth said as he looked at the gathering dark beyond the windows, "And it is unsafe to travel these roads when the sun sleeps.  I understand your concern."

"Ah, but he is a willful boy.  He will arrive when he chooses and not a moment sooner.  He is like wind," the old woman said fondly, "But please, do not concern yourself overmuch, your lordship.  I do promise that he shall return in due time to oversee your repairs."

"Peace.  One day more or less matters little to our kind.  I only wonder at the imprudence of traveling after dark," the Elf King expressed.

"He is a reckless boy at times, acting as though he will live forever," Bryony said before she seemed to notice the words she spoke and who she spoke them to. 
She immediately looked chastised.

Morloth was reminded once again how very much like children all humans seemed even when they were reaching the end of their life and his fair face softened.  He had always felt a great deal kinder towards the mortal races of the world than Amrunil.  He sought to reassure their host.

"I take no offense, madame.  I pray that your son returns safely.  For now, I beg your pardon," he half-bowed to her and excused himself to stand over by his kin.

He could not shake a sense of oddness from his thoughts.  He understood parental concern, especially the fierce sort that came in the mortal folk, of course.  It was not that which baffled him.  It was the way the elder Bryony spoke of her son.  There was a ring to her words as though he were still a very young man...still a wayward youth.  He lingered on it but a little before banishing it from his thoughts.

Ah, the peculiarities of Man.


~~~~~


Soon the lengthening shadows of evening became the full darkness of a near-starless night.  Even the moon hid her face, peeping out only very little towards the sea.  A scant breeze blew down the quiet streets, rustling the dust softly.  The hour was late and it seemed that even the buildings of Par'Lamer had lapsed into the land of dreams.  Even the rowdiest guests of the Blue Maiden had either gone up  to their beds or continued on their way.  The windows were dark and the only living thing on the street was perhaps a stray cat or a night watchman.

Imagine then how the sharp clapping of a horse's hooves echoed over the roads of the drowsing city.  They began at the gates and bellied down the avenue towards the Blue Maiden itself.  They came quick and urgent, each hoofbeat a swift tattoo shattering the quiet.

To the more drunk and less aware of the Inn's guests it was not a sounds worth rousing for.  Indeed, they barely heard it in the fume of deepest sleep, merely rolling in their beds or shifting their heads with a bare furrow in their brows.  Only the Elves, the lightest of sleepers to begin with, woke.  Morloth and Amrunil rose swiftly when the horse's noisy path clattered towards the Inn, both regarding each other with quiet concern.  The Pale King slipped from his bed and withdrew his bow from where it rested near the door before going over to the window.

Amrunil had no need to squint in the darkness, for an Elf's vision was clear for quite a distance so long as even a scrap of moonlight graced the skies.  He watched as a great, fluffy-fetlocked farm-horse rounded towards the stables bearing a dark-cloaked rider.

Morloth spoke, soft as rustling grass, ~What do you see?~

~A lone rider in black.  The steed has gone to the stables.~

~A late guest, do you suppose? Or perhaps the son of our host and hostess making his promised return?~

Amrunil snorted, derision thick in his tone, ~Foolish, either way, to make such a din after sundown on the road.  If we heard the beast's hooves, it is sure others did.~

~Yet I hear no others,~ Morloth reminded his fellow king.

Still watchful, Amrunil merely muttered, ~Then luck was with the foolish thing.~

His pale green eyes stayed on the stable until the cloaked rider emerged, whistling of all things, and walked into the Inn proper.  His leaf-shaped ears twitched as he sought the sound of the rider's footsteps down below.  He was almost surprised to find that for all the racket their new arrival made, there were no footsteps to be heard.  Amrunil watched Morloth's ears cock, seeking the same sounds he did and he noted the look of surprise on the other's face when he came to the same conclusion.  The whistling from below became the first soft notes of plaintive song, masculine in tone, yet sweet.

The Pale King remained unimpressed, ~If the fool's tongue were as quiet as his feet, I might venture to be impressed.~

Morloth raised a brow at his friend, watching as Amrunil set his bow aside in its original place.  The Black King could only smirk faintly and shake his head as his fellow ventured downstairs, likely to give the foolish young rider a proper tongue-lashing for being disturbed so.  Though the Lord of Isbali was called 'Black', it was his equal who had the dark temperment...often to his amusement. 


~~~~~


Amrunil went down the old staircase that led from the guest rooms to the tavern on silent feet, an arch expression on his face.  The rider had shed his cloak and settled himself down in a creaking chair before the low-smouldering embers still in the fireplace, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle.  He had shed his cloak and it was clear to see that he was a lean thing, lithe as a cat and not overly tall either.  He had long, elegant fingers that were currently endeavouring to light a pipe.  There was no more that the Pale King could see at the moment, for the rider had his back to the Elf.

His voice was full of consternation as he addressed the newcomer in flat tones, "I am sure the landlord of this establishment would be displeased with the lateness of the hour at which new guests choose to invite themselves in and disturb the rest of others."

The rider jumped as though shot and he turned quickly, the light song he had been in the middle of ending abruptly. 

Amrunil's brow furrowed even more deeply when he got a close look at the youth's face, for surely it was a youth.  His face was fine-boned and sculpted, smooth as an egg and pale.  Beneath slim brows sat a pair of twinkling sapphire eyes, wide with surprise, yet clearly taking everything in, missing nothing.  He wore a rough woolen cap atop his head, but strands of short-shorn golden hair escaped from beneath its brim.  His lips were pale as late Winter roses and there was...something more.

The boy stared in awe and the Pale King was forced to remind himself that few humans had first-hand memory of his kind.

"Well?" he prompted, aloof and regal.

"Begging your pardon, sir.  I did not mean to rouse you," the youth said, his voice a smooth, light tenor.

"And yet you have done just that," Amrunil said loftily.

Continuing to stare, the boy tried to explain his failing, "Forgive me sir, I am unused to the sensitivity of...you are an Elf, aren't you?"

"Well, you have eyes and at least half of a mind.  What is your NAME, boy?"

"Ber Tarwe, son of Pasha and Bryony Tarwe.  My parents own this Inn and I do apologize for waking you, but I have only just returned from a journey," the golden-haired boy explained, taking great care to speak in hushed tones now.

The Elf took care to hide his surprise behind a bland mask of cool superiority.  This was the child of the elderly inkeepers?

He sniffed and turned to venture back upstairs, "With the din you make, you are lucky you did not bring half the fell monsters of Pausalis behind you."

The boy had the nerve to look affronted at the insult, his blue eyes gone fiery, "I have more care than that."

 "Well, exercise that care and do not waken me again," warned the King and disappeared upstairs.

This was an unexpected development indeed.


~~~~~


Amrunil spoke nothing of his discovery to Morloth, instead choosing to mull over the information himself through the night.  The next day, the Black King and three of their number disappeared into the city to seek provisions for the last leg of their journey, leaving the Pale King to his own devices and to see to the weaponry.  While his fellow decided on finding breakfast in the city that day, the Lord of Miskas opted instead to eat in the tavern with Limhen, his old friend and the Captain of his Guard.  They sat in a corner and spoke in the uncanny, soft voices of the Elves, so faint that only they could hear what was said. 

~You say the boy was young and fair, my lord?~ inquired Limhen, his head bent to keep their conversation private despite speaking in a tongue none outside of Elfkind knew.

~Aye, not even in his first whiskers.  It is so,~ replied Amrunil.

~Yet those who are supposed to have given him life are firmly in twilight,~ added Limhen, but continued, ~Still, it matters little.  The strange affairs of mortals have never interested you before.~

~True, old friend,~ the Pale King conceded, ~Yet it is a conundrum and there is still the issue of our arms.  The boy is but a sapling and a fiery, reckless one at that.  How are we to trust him with our weapons?~

Limhen put a hand to his chin and considered it for a moment before offering, ~There is naught to say I could not inspect his work, my lord.  I know much of weapons though I have not the skill to repair them myself.~

Amrunil inclined his platinum head, ~Do so.~

His friend rose gracefully from the table and bowed politely to his lord before departing.  It was not hard to find the smithy where the boy supposedly worked, merely a simple matter of walking out the front door and following the billow of black smoke that belched into the air from the back of the Inn.  It made sense that the lad would not work far from home, for smithing would bring in more business, so Limhen had reasoned very quickly that he would not have to search far.  From the clanging that filled the breeze, it seemed that the boy had gotten an early start and was already ahead of him by at least an hour.  Singing filled the air in counterpoint to the harsh tune of metal and fire and Limhen cocked an ear to it, following.

The smithy itself was nothing impressive, really.  It was an over-large shack placed on the small lawn behind the Blue Maiden, open at one end to allow the heat and smoke to escape while its occupant worked away.  A humble bellows encouraged flame and smoke for a pot-bellied forge near the back wall and an anvil stood not five feet from it.  Upon the anvil was a sword with sparks flying from its white-hot blade as a young man worked upon it.

It was the lad from the night before, though Limhen had not seen him.  It was hard to mistake.  He was narrow, but vital of frame with deceptively strong muscles hidden in his willowy arms and rabbit-thin chest.  He wore a homespun shirt with the sleeves rolled up and smudged trousers tucked into heavy boots, all besmirched with soot.   Sweat rolled down his ruddy brow from beneath the cap he still wore tucked atop his head.  His lips moved absently in bracing song even as he swung the hammer again.

Limhen cleared his throat and stood at attention, waiting for the smith to see him.

The boy turned his sapphire eyes upon the Captain of the Guard and blinked.

"Lord Elf," he said, his hammer's rhythm failing and stopping.

The warden dipped his head in polite greeting (though not so deeply as he would for one of his kin), "My King bade me seek the smith who works here."

"I am he," said the boy, smiling but a little though his eyes were still fixed and full of wonder, "I am Ber.  What service can I offer?"

"A chance to see one of your weapons that I may judge the level of your skill," said the Warden, "We find our own in need of repair, but my King will permit no novice hand upon his arms."

High spots of colour formed in the boy's cheeks and Limhen was secretly amused to note the rising pique in the mortal's expression.  Apparently the lad took his prudent concern as an affront.  Ah, the pride of the Small Flames.

"Here, look you to this and see that I am no novice," snapped Ber with heat, stomping over to a corner and withdrawing a sheathed weapon from the rack.

Limhen was intrigued to note that, even when angered, the boy's feet were quiet as a deer in snow.

He found the blade pushed into his hands while Ber stood before him, arms folded, his face a mask of proud indignation and challenge.  Stifling a haughty smirk at the childishness of Men, Limhen withdrew the sword from its scabbard and immediately found his humour quelled.  What he held in his hands was no neophyte effort.  The sword was elegant and sparkled like the sun on an icy river.  Its edges were razor keen and straight as the raven flies.  Its weight in his hand was like coming home, the balance sure as he spun it in a lazy moulinet.  This was a work of love and care that spoke of a skill beyond this child's meager years.

The Captain looked upon him with a weathered eye.

"Say you to me that you have made this blade?" He asked with suspicion, noting the glint of smug satisfaction in Ber's face.

Ber nodded, a dimple marking his cheek, "Aye.  Three Summers gone."

Limhen re-sheathed the sword crisply, "I would claim falsehood from you."

Ah, and the fire returned to Ber's young face, rising like an inferno.  Here was no suggested insult as before.  This was an outright attack to his honour.

"Arrogance!" the youth spat, "You are so lofty as to think a mere Man could not have made it?"

"I am so wise as to know that no green boy could have crafted something so fine," Limhen retorted calmly.

"I am no child!" barked Ber.

Suspicion rising in his breast, the Captain challenged, "Then how many Summers are you, Ber?"

Both of his aristocratic eyebrows rose high when the youth drew back quickly, his lips slamming shut faster than a Goblin trap.  His eyes were guarded and his back was ramrod straight.  The Captain of the Miskas Guard had an inkling, a strange one, and one that he sought to satisfy with a little test.

~How many Summers, Ber?~ he inquired in the silvery tongue of the Elves.

The fire of inquisition was dimmed, but not smothered when a look of honest confusion passed over the Man's face. 

"I am afraid I speak not your tongue," Ber said slowly, "but the years I have passed matter little.  I say to you I have made that sword and that I have the skill to repair your arms.  You may not take me at my word, but I am no liar."

At last, Limhen relented, "Peace, Master Smith, peace.  I will take you at your word.  I see in your eyes the pride of an abused craftsman, not a dishonest youngster.  I will deliver what needs repair by the eventide.  How long will you require to work?"

Pacified, but still wary, the pale boy took back his sword and replied, "If the damage is not grave, it should take me no more than the span of a day or two."

"Very well then," Limhen said with a bow before turning to go, "That is acceptable."

He did not need to see the look of open suspicion Ber cast upon his turned back as he departed.  He had his own notions which needed seeing to and much to do before he would report back to his King at the evening meal.  Ber was a riddle that he had not counted on and he prided himself on his canny way with such things. 


~~~~~


Once the weapons had been delivered and another merry din was up in the tavern, Limhen found himself once again in the secluded corner with his King.  Morloth was away on an evening stroll by the waterfront, not one to enjoy confinement for too long and the rest of their party looked to the horses.  It gave Amrunil and his Captain a degree of privacy which both of the more withdrawn Elves enjoyed.  It was well known that those Fair Children of Miskas were the most reclusive by far (at least by those who yet knew anything of Elves in this day and age).

~Well, does the boy have the skill?~ asked Amrunil, watching his Captain intently.

Limhen nodded, his gaze distant as he wandered the paths of deep thought, ~Aye, and what skill it is.  I have delivered our weapons to have new edges put upon them and the damage removed.~

~You are pensive.  Speak.~

The Captain turned his focus more fully upon his King, ~It is that very skill which perplexes me.  Ber is but an infant, but I have seen aged smiths of our folk produce work which rival his own.  His face is young, yet his hands are much aged.~

~There is yet more.~

~You are ever perceptive, Lord.  Yes, I suspected perhaps he might be of our kind...perhaps some exile hiding in human lands.  I spoke to him in our tongue perhaps to lure him out.  He quite honestly understood nothing.~

Amrunil offered a wry smirk to his friend, ~Twas a canny guess, though a pity it was incorrect, Limhen.~

The other Elf shook his head, causing his delicate braids to shift against the fall of his mane, ~There is something about him.  His feet are quiet and his skill surpasses his years.  Years, I feel compelled to add, that he is wary of sharing.  Yet he has the temper of a Man...and the manners of one.~

~Settle your brain, old friend.  Even amongst a race so common and predictable as Man, there are yet aberrations to be found.  Perhaps simply a prodigy, then?~

~Aye,~ Limhen conceded.

~Best to leave the lad to fix the weapons and then we can be on our way home all the faster,~ The Pale King counseled, turning his gaze into the light of the fire.

~Wise as ever, my King.  My eyes do sorely wish to gaze upon the Sentinels of Miskas once more,~ Limhen turned his gaze to match his Lords and the two lapsed into silence.


~~~~~


Two more halcyon Summer days passed in Par'Lamer, marked only by the crash of the sea and the piercing call of the gulls overhead.  Come the next dawn, it would be time for the Elven Company to depart (so Ber had explained using Bryony as an intermediary).  Then would King Morloth the Black and King Amrunil the Pale venture back onto the Great Jaunt together til it split, one road to the North and one to the South.  Then would the Kings part ways for their own kingdoms of Miskas in the Eternal Glen beyond the Singing Falls and Isbali in the Fanged Forest, their diplomatic mission over for another Generation of Men. 

Once again this evening Morloth chose to take the air, for there was naught else to do and the moon was high.  The others had already gone abed, the tavern was quiet and he found himself needing little sleep (as was common for his folk) so he thought to see to the horses in the stables.  As he stepped out, he could still hear the ringing of a hammer and the low singing he had come to learn was from Ber, the son of their hosts.  Peculiar that the child could work so hard for so long and still be labouring this far after sundown.  The Black King altered his course for the smithy to investigate. 

He approached the entrance quietly, feeling the heat roll out from within.  Ber stood at the forge, just laying his hammer to rest on the anvil by a horse shoe he had been working on.  Sweat dripped from him and his skin was pink from exertion, though he didn't look winded as a Man might after so much work.  Interest overtook Morloth as the lad, shirtless, reached out for a small rag and mopped his brow of the dewy perspiration.  Believing himself alone, the youth reached up and removed the hat which he always wore and what was there nearly stole the Black King's breath which was no small feat.

Nestled there beneath the golden strands of hair was the unmistakeable curve of a leaf-shaped ear which no Man in all the world possessed. 

Ber was no Man.  Indeed, he never had been.

Wide-eyed, Morloth stepped intot he light of the smithy, "Child..."

The youth turned on his heel at the breathy exclamation and let out a low cry when he saw who had joined him, reaching to tug his hat back on.  The Elf King was at his side in a flash, gripping his wrist and impeding him, still looking with wonder upon the ears he had fought to conceal.  He studied every inch of the boy's face while the other struggled against him.

"Unhand me!" Ber demanded with a note of panic in his fair voice.

"Why hide this? Why, child?" the King asked, floored by confusion, "You are my kinsman!"

"I will not ask you again to release me, Lord! I have no wish to strike you, but I will do so if you do not let me go!" the boy's voice rang out clear.

"Be calm, child! I do not mean to hurt you!" Morloth tried to reassure even as he heard footsteps rushing towards the smithy.

Both heads turned when Amrunil appeared with fleet steps, flanked at his left shoulder by Limhen and their guards.  All had their weapons drawn, though they were halted when the Pale King raised a hand, taking in the scene with narrowed eyes.  It took him no longer than a twinkling to see what had so stunned Morloth and his face turned tempestuous.  Beside him, Limhen's brows rose at what he saw.  So the riddle chose to unriddle itself on the eve before their departure.

Amrunil approached with deadly calm and took hold of Ber's chin in his steely fingers.

When he spoke, his voice was deadly calm and full of grim authority, "Explain this."

Ber regarded him with deep blue eyes full of dread and panic, his tongue locked behind his teeth though his struggles had stilled.

"I commanded you to speak, child! Do you deny a King? Or have you something more to hide? How came an Elf to hide even from his own kin? Are you an exile? A traitor?" the Pale King prompted sharply, giving Ber's chin a small shake.

~Amrunil, he is frightened,~ Morloth tried to counsel.

~He may yet have cause to be, depending on his answer,~ the other king rumbled before returning to a Common tongue, "I will not tell you again, boy."

"I am no traitor!" cried Ber, "I am a Smith and I have ever been so!"

"Where do you hail from?" Amrunil asked in a way that was more of a demand.

"I know not! I have only known the care of my mother and father," the youth exclaimed.

The Pale King pushed him until he was seated upon a cool section of his anvil before turning to Limhen, ~Fetch the Innkeepers.  I would have done with this mystery.~

His Captain bowed deeply and returned the way he came to collect Bryony and Pasha.  It took him no time at all to gather them and reappeared in a twinkling with the elderly humans.  They were clad in their sleeping clothes and their faces grew pale with alarm as they took in the scene before them.  Amrunil turned a baleful gaze upon them even while Morloth laid his long hands over Ber's shoulders to soothe him in the face of his friend's wrath. 

"Who is this boy? I see he is no true son of yours," Amrunil wasted no time with pleasantries, his voice like a death knell.

Bryony let out a soft sound and tried to go to Ber, but she was blocked by Limhen.  Pasha reached for his wife to comfort her, tucking her head against his collarbone.

He answered the King's query in a quavering voice, "He is as true a son as any man may have.  We have raised him from infancy, my lord."

The pale Elf's face was dangerous, "How came you upon him?"

"When my wife and I were but newly wed, we left our village in search of better fortunes.  We stopped to camp one eve before reaching the Great Jaunt and found us there a scene of carnage.  We were greatly a-feared and would have left that fell place had not we heard a cry.  My wife has been a tender woman since e'er I knew her and braved the wreckage to find a poor bairn hidden beneath a fallen corpse.  We pitied the babe and took him in," Pasha explained.

"You took an Elfling for your own?!" Amrunil raged.

Pasha stumbled back a step and held up a hand, "What were we to do? All his kin were slain and we knew not where to find an Elvish city...for Elvish cities will not be found unless they wish to be...and where else were we to find another who might take him? There was no other choice."

"Surely someone in this fool city would see how slowly he aged, for you are no young newlyweds any longer.  How has he been kept secret all this time?" Limhen ventured, curiosity eating at him.

Bryony raised her head to answer this time, "Our first home was in Chrisanthis, not here.  We only came to Par'Lamer when we saw how our boy would not age nigh on 30 years past.  We journeyed here to spend the rest of our days after that time.  Ber is 60 Summers now."

Something weighed heavily on Morloth's mind even while Amrunil stewed in his anger, "You say you discovered him in the wreckage of a battle 60 years ago.  What village did you travel from before you came upon the Great Jaunt?"

"Why, from Wisterin in the foothills of the White Teeth, my Lord," Pasha said, his rheumy eyes locked on his son who's face had gone blank with dread.

Amrunil straightened up as if a shock had passed through him, "What is the boy's TRUE name? Speak it!"

"Ber IS my true name!" the Elfling in question protested.

He found pale green eyes full of impatience leveled on him, "You will not speak out of turn, Elfling." 

"We know not, great King.  There were none alive to speak it to us.  The only thing he had in the world were the blanket in which he was swaddled and a small trinket on a thong about his little neck," Pasha's rickety wife said a trifle desperately, seeing the anger the Elf King directed at her son.

"Trinket?!" The Pale King said sharply.

"Aye, a long bead carved of yellow diamond and gold.  A most peculiar flower was etched into it."

Morloth's head jerked to stare at his friend's rigid back and then to the youth still sat upon the anvil, "It cannot be..."

Amrunil's voice had gone low again, "You will produce this bead."

"I...I have it..."

Ber found every pair of eyes in the room turned upon him after he spoke.  It froze him for a moment even as the Black King gave him an encouraging look.  The boy reached into the pocket of his trousers and rummaged for a minute until he withdrew one pale fist.  He hesitated, his knuckles going white.  He only released his grip when Morloth reached over and gently coaxed his hand open, gasping silently at what he saw there. 

The bead lay nestled in his palm, polished from years of absent handling, but undiminished in its beauty.

Morloth studied it and asked kindly, "Boy, know you what this is?"

"Nay..."

"It is a Betrothal Token.  The flower upon it is the Moon Lily...the sigil of my house...and the only one given in an age was to the infant son of King Berethel of Filirunde, the Lost City of the Western Elves.  The child and his family were lost when a tribe of Mountain Trolls attacked their caravan while they journeyed to seek shelter in my Kingdom.  His name was Faenthia and he was to be raised in my household, trained and cared for until he came of marriagable age," Amrunil said, looking upon the boy with new consideration.

Ber looked stricken by this information, the bead tumbling from his hand.  It would have hit the floor had not Morloth caught it and pressed it back into his palm.

The pale Elf's green gaze was full of hidden emotion, "Long have I thought you dead."

Bryony and Pasha looked worried where they stood amongst the royal guard of the kings and even now Ber's eyes turned to them.  For all that he was not their blood, they had raised him and now he sought their comfort as the world slipped from beneath his feet.  They looked upon their boy helplessly, knowing they were all at the mercy of the Pale King now.

Pasha, his noble father, was the first to venture the question that weighed heavily on their minds, "...What shall happen now?"

"Faenthia shall return to Miskas where he has always belonged and been long absent from.  He shall depart with us on the morrow and his people shall celebrate his return for they shall have a Prince...and a Smith of no small account," Amrunil replied matter-of-factly.

Ber shot up from his seat and took a daring step forward, eyes wide, "Nay! I shall not go! This is my home and what is more, I shall not abandon my parents."
Morloth spoke this time and his voice was remorseful, but firm, "I am afraid it cannot be so, little one.  Promises were made long ago and as your lifegivers do not live to sever them, it falls to you to honour them."

Hard as steel came the Pale King's voice, "Go and collect your things, Faenthia.  You will ride with us on the morrow whether willing or no.  Human lands are no place for you any longer.  Go now."

With a flick of his hand, he dismissed the Elfling and his parents to go and prepare as they needed, sending also his guards with them to ensure that they did not flee. 

The boy's heart sank down below the earth and he feared it would never rise again.


~~~~~


As dawn began to whisper of arrival over the sea, Ber and his human guardians sat upon his bed together.  He had packed with a heavy heart and the help of his parents, but now he could not find the will to carry on and so he simply sat.  He basked in the presence of the two who had raised him with such care, seeing their advanced age and knowing he would never see them again.    Desperation clawed at his throat like a feral animal.  He did not wish to go, especially not to marriage with grim King Amrunil amongst a people he did not know.

"I could slip from the window and flee until they left," he said, looking dolefully at his mother.

She clasped his hand within her withered one and shook her aged head, "Nay, my ray of sunshine, it is of no use.  Elven warriors are swift and sure.  You would be caught."

"What shall I do?" the boy lamented.

"Go down the path that has been set before you, my dearest one," his mother said while Pasha sat as a silent source of warmth.

Ber-now-Faenthia shook his head, lips trembling, "I cannot leave you."

"Yet the time is fast coming when we would be forced to part from you anyway, my child.  You would have had to choose a new path soon enough, hard though it be to accept.  We have been all too lucky as it is, to have you at our sides for 60 long years.  Most parents are forced to give their children up to marriage far sooner...and our hearts are comforted knowing you shall be cared for."

"Cared for?!" Faenthia scoffed, head jerking back upon his swan-slender neck, "by the fell King of the Elves? I shall be a slave."

"If what he says is true, you were a Prince before we found you and so a Prince you must be again...and if you are a Prince then truly no Man or Elf can make you a slave.  Hold high your head, my sunbeam," Bryony said, holding her son's cheeks and lifting his head for him.

Her old eyes softened when she spied regality in his sculpted face as she sometimes did, "You, dear child, are destined for better things than this, but you must be strong and fight against the rising current.  I wish for you to promise me this.  Do it quickly, for the sun now peers over the waves."

Fighting the burning in his eyes and the thickness in his chest, the golden-haired Elfling nodded his assent.  He did not trust his voice.  He nearly let out a sob when he heard a soft knock upon the door as the Elf Guards summoned him to go.  It was a polite knock, but to his ears it sounded like a key turning in the lock.  It was the blow of a headsman's axe.  He felt despair settle like led on his heart even as his mother and father coaxed him up and led him to the door.

"Fear not," Bryony whispered in a voice like spiderwebs, "We are at peace, our lives have been worth something.  Think fondly on us."

With that, she embraced him, followed by Pasha, and sent him out to the Guards.  They would not watch him go.  It would be easier for him to sever the ties now than to linger over the coming losses and regrets.  His oceanic blue eyes followed them as long as they could until he was whisked downstairs and out to the waiting horses.  He had not even been permitted to dress in his own clothes for the ride, instead given a set of green and grey riding leathers in the livery of his fiance.  He had never looked more like an Elf and never felt less like himself.

He ducked his head as his new Lord looked upon him with distant fondness, reaching up to run slender fingers over his shorn hair, "Ai, but this pains me.  You will be radiant as your name when it grows long again and you can wear proper braids."

Faenthia turned his head away from the touch and mounted up on his charger with one last forlorn look into the uppermost window of the Inn.
Morloth's more nimble steed cantered up to his side, the Dark King upon its back.  The blue-clad Elf in his circlet of silver gave the youth a reassuring glance before urging the other riders on.  The time had come and the Elves were leaving Par'Lamer for their own lands.  Golden-haired Faethian with all of his sadness was swept up in their tide.

He was never to see his mother and father again.

Chapter Text

The Changeling of Par'Lamer
Chapter Two


Two days upon the road and Faenthia's opinion of the whole adventure had only changed in the sense that it had gotten worse.  He felt out of place amongst these delicate yet fierce creatures who rode alongside him.  They were the epitome of elegance and grace down to the very way they sat astride their horses.  Faenthia (who had yet to fully embrace the name) felt awkward and ungainly upon his charger's expansive back.  Even the horses of the Elves were light of foot and barely made a sound as they cantered along the Great Jaunt while every hoofbeat of the golden haired Elfling's charger sounded like thunder.  He longed for the safety and familiarity of the Blue Maiden once again, these wishes now without number.

It didn't help that none of his companions, save perhaps Morloth, endeavored to make him feel more welcome.  King Amunril had not spoken to him since their departure, keeping at the head of the party and only occasionally bantering with Limhen.  The other guards stayed relatively silent and, if they chose to speak, it was never to Faenthia and it was always in the alien language of the Elves which was entirely unknown to the youth.  Once or twice he caught one of the others looking upon him with something that was not quite pity and not quite disgust and it made him feel lower than his horse's hooves.

It was evening on that second day, the sky just beginning to turn a bruised purple as the sun hid itself away once again.  Faenthia was lingering near the back of the party, lost in thought, when Morloth's chestnut horse pulled in alongside his, the King offering him one of those strangely compassionate half-smiles that just turned up one side of his mouth.  The breezes caught his long ebony hair, sending it dancing and once again the youth beside him felt oddly lesser.  Morloth slowed his horse and laid a hand on the boy's shoulder.

"I have seen thunderclouds with more cheer, little one.  Could you not at least attempt a smile? Who knows, perhaps you might find yourself enjoying it," he teased, his accent airy around the Common tongue.

Faenthia gave him a withering look with his stormy blue eyes, "What reason is there for cheer, my lord?"

"Well, you may not think so, but the Spirits have blessed us with a fine evening and even finer weather for the journey home.  A prince long thought dead by his people returns to Miskas and the opportunities are vast," replied the jovial king.

"What opportunities could there be for me?" asked Faethian bitterly.

"Your life is not so simple any longer, little one.  You can no longer worry only for yourself," said Morloth, "You represent more than that and you are more even than just a Prince.  Know you anything of the Fair Children's histories?"

"Few Men do, save that you all but disappeared from the mortal world ten centuries ago," the golden child told him.

Morloth could see the first spark of interest blooming in the boy's eyes and so he continued, "And do you know why it is that we chose to seclude ourselves then where we had not before?"

Perhaps this would all be easier for the boy if he could but make him see.

Faenthia didn't wish to be interested in anything the Elves had to say, yet he found himself drawn in against his will.  He had always been insatiably curious and even though his means had changed, his mannerisms had not.  They had taken away his mortal name, but the rest of him remained.

"Nay.  Your reasons for disappearing are as mysterious to Men in this age as your seclusion itself," he ventured.

The normally jovial king grew quiet for a moment and when he spoke again he seemed much unlike his merry self, "There was a war, little one, one thousand Summers ago.  It was a foolish war the likes of which had never been fought before and which would have never come to pass save for our pride and wrath.  It brought about the downfall of the greatest Elven city in existence and the shame of the rest."

"...Did you fight in this war, my lord?" asked Faenthia is a voice so soft it could have been the wind.

"Aye, much to my great horror, I did.  I was among the chiefest of calamities which befell the Shining City of the West.  It is a dishonour I can never wipe clean from my soul, but one which Miskas and Isbali have long sought to make reparations for," Morloth said, suddenly seeming far older to his young companion's eyes.

The Black King looked upon the younger Elf for a long moment, looking almost as if he had seen a ghost.  He studied the bright hair not unlike golden sunshine and the deep blue eyes which resembled the polished gems of Dwarfish mines in their richness.  

"The Fair Children of Filirunde were shattered after the war, their king slain and their city razed.  Only Berethel, the crown prince, survived along with his bride and he led what was left of his people into the four winds."

A light sparked behind Faenthia's eyes, "King Amrunil said that Berethil was my father's name."

"Aye, and so it was.  After nine hundred and forty Summers, the Prince and his lady wife conceived a son and Berethil meant to do well by his people so he forged a contract.  In return for peace and the chance for a new home for the Filirundi, his first-born would be given up in marriage to Amunril.  You were to be brought to Miskas after your birth to be raised up in that city as a proper Prince of our people and a beacon of hope to the Fair Children yet lost in shadow."

Morloth looked at the boy's stricken expression and finished, very gently, "Your loss and the death of your father meant that Miskas and Isbali could never undo the evils they had done upon the Shining Elves of the West...and it was the death knell of what remained of the Filirundi."

"So he offered me up to one of the men who had killed his father and routed his people?" the youngling asked, mutiny in his face.

"Nay, young one.  Amrunil is yet a young King.  He did not rule the Miskani during the Fall of Filirunde.  He came into power later," Morloth reassured, seeking to ease bad blood between the betrothed before it could begin.

Faenthia's smooth face took on an expression of surprise, "He is young?"

"By my reckoning, friend Amrunil is yet only 600 Summers."

"He is ten times my age!" the youngling said quite loudly, drawing some stares from the other Elves.

~Morloth, you old badger, do you seek to frighten away my fiance?~ called back Amunril, his voice tinged with dry humour.

~Keep your ears to yourself, young stormcloud,~ called back Morloth gaily before returning his attention to his companion, "Do not worry, Faenthia! You will not even wed him for another four decades.  Not until you have come of age amongst the Miskani."

"Come of age? But I am already grown amongst Men!" objected the proud young Elfling.

"So does that mean you wish to wed him now?" hedged Morloth, nearly bursting into laughter when Faenthia's teeth clicked shut.

The youngster's silence bought for a moment, he said, "You may be grown in the world of Men, but in our culture, an Elfling may not wear the braids of majority until they are at least a century old.  I should think this would be a comfort to you...you have forty Summers now to learn of your home and your people before you must step up to lead them."

"I am no leader," said the golden haired boy softly.

"And yet," Morloth spake with soft warmth and gentleness, "you must be."

With a final encouraging glance, the Black King of Isbali urged his horse forward to ride alongside Amrunil.  He knew the boy would need some privacy to digest the new information without some old man hovering over him.  To be honest, he'd need a lot more time than they could reasonably give him, but this would be a start.

~~~~~

That night as they made camp, Amrunil and Morloth stood aside beneath the boughs of a great tree.  They looked upon the waxing moon together, counted the twinkling stars as they dotted the velvet curtain of night.  They stood as sentinels by each others' side, their thoughts their own until Amrunil broke the silence, his voice pitched low so their conversation would be private even from the guards who spoke their tongue.

~You spoke with him at length, I noticed,~ he began.

~I thought to cool the fires of enmity before the raged out of control.  He has been raised among Men and so has the temper and pride of one,~ Morloth admitted.

Amrunil sighed, ~And he is of the Filirundi...emotions naturally run hot in his blood as they have not done in our kind for a millenia.~

Morloth's dark, gentle eyes rested on his old friend.  He took in the stooped shoulders of the much-younger king.  So often he allowed himself to forget that Amrunil had not stood at his shoulder during the Fall of Filirunde, so burdened by history was the Pale King.  He had seen much tragedy for one so young yet and the road ahead was destined to deliver more hardship at his feet.

~You will need to step lightly, Amrunil.~

The other canted his head to the side, birdlike with curiosity, ~What counsel is this now, friend Morloth?~

~The counsel of one who has seen tides come and go, fortunes rise and fall.  The counsel of one who has known you since you slipped, naked and whimpering, into this world,~ the dark-haired King replied.

~And how would you counsel me?~

Morloth turned away from the moon to look fully upon his friend, ~The path ahead of you is unclear and treacherous.  You are not without temper yourself, young friend, and if you let it get the better of you in the years to come, I fear you may drive Faenthia from your side.  The marriage will bind, yes, but I would not see either of you so encumbered with an uneven partnership.~

~You are fond of the boy already,~ said Amrunil with a touch of resignation.

~No more than I am of you,~ ammended the Black King.

The younger king turned a suspicious glance upon him, ~Why all the concern for him, then?~

~Enough people have been injured by pride and avarice and a war long dead.  I do not wish to add another name to the innumerable sins we bear,~ Morloth said with an unnatural melancholy.

It quieted Amrunil and the light Elf cleaved to his friend's side, resting a hand upon his deceptively strong shoulder, ~...And what other counsel would you give me, wise king?~

It lured a soft smile from the taller Elf, ~I would counsel you to mind your people.  There are those in your city who are old enough to have heard the old prejudices, but yet too young to remember the price paid for heeding them.  There are also those wary of outsiders, an unfortunate effect of our self-enforced exile.  Despite the fact that Faenthia wears our appearance and is of our blood, many will see him as something else.  Protect him.~

Amrunil nodded, ~I hear your words...I only hope I have the wisdom to heed them.~

~We stand upon the edge of a knife, my friend, sharpened by a thousand years of self-loathing and enmity.  Keep your balance,~ the Black King said solemnly, but not unkindly.

His pale counterpart threw back his shining head and let loose with a soft, self-deprecating laugh.  It was brief, perhaps one or two bright bubbles of sound before he lowered his head once more.  Slim fingertips stole up to remove the coronet from his brow and he gazed on it with green eyes full of an almost distant disdain.  The circlet was a lovely, sweeping piece of weaving meant to dance across his forehead and denote his rank to all.  It looked light as moonlight, yet it had never felt more heavy.

~Would that you were yet ready to step down from your throne in Isbali! I would have you as my chief advisor in the span of a sparrow's heartbeat.  When I think that we must part again in only a few days' time, I despair!~ It was melodramatic, but Morloth could read the truth in it plainly.

He chuckled softly, ~I fear I am not yet ready to abdicate my ancient throne and you, my firebrand, need something resembling private time with your fiance.  You know as well as I that you shall not see him for forty years once the tutors and trainers get hold of him.~

~I almost look forward to that,~ groused Amrunil.

~You were so eager to have him and now you would distance yourself from him.  You've not spoken a word to him since you tore him from his parents,~ chastised Morloth.

~I allowed the elation of having discovered him to overwhelm me and I did not think clearly...though I shall snatch your tongue from your head if ever you repeat it,~ Amrunil said, pinching his friend's shoulder a bit.

The other king swatted at him, ~Your fit of hot-temper is safe with me...though I fear you'll give yourself away sooner than I ever shall.  Yet come now, tell me of your concerns.~

~It is simply that...now that I have him and am faced with the disaster he has become, I know not what to do with him.  He is more Man than Elf, knows nothing of our language, knows nothing of our customs...and what is more, he already feels he has reason to hate me, yet you tell me I must wed AND love him.  The task seems insurmountable.~

~Even the tallest mountain is scaled by small footsteps,~ Morloth said sagely before tugging a lock of his friend's near-white hair, ~And you can start by not making a habit of insulting your fiance or you shall slip and do it when he can actually understand you.~

~Your consternation is duly noted, o Black King of the Fanged Forest,~  mocked the blonde king playfully.

His companion would have none of it and continued, ~Perhaps you might endeavor to try talking to him tonight? He's destined to be your consort, not a pretty bauble.  Best you start treating him like one.~

Amunril went quiet, his jade eyes unsure before he ventured a quiet, ~...I cannot promise anything but that I shall try.~

~~~~~

When the moon had risen full in the night sky and the very last of the sunlight had slipped away, the company of Elves were settled into their camp.  They burned no fire, but Elfin eyes could see clearly in the dark with the starlight to guide their vision.  The Fair Children didn't require much sleep, so for now all of the company was yet gathered in small groups, speaking so softly that even the wind could not carry their voices.  Morloth was off taking in the air with Limhen and young Faenthia sat in the lowest boughs of the tall tree, peering at the moon from between the branches.

He looked down sharply when he felt a light touch on the bottom of his booted foot.  Amrunil stood below him, looking far less severe than he had for the past two days and it made the youngling wary.  

"What is it?" He called down, drawing his feet up beneath him.

"Well, I had thought perhaps you might come down and we might talk, you and I...if you are not too busy learning to be a squirrel?" Quipped the Pale King.

Faenthia frowned, but slipped down quietly, his feet touching down in a springy tussock of grass.  He tucked his slim, work-roughened hands behind him and turned his sapphire eyes down, not wanting to face the scrutiny of his fiance.  Amrunil sighed at the evasive behaviour and crushed the dancing spark of irritation that started to bubble in his breast, instead trying for humour again.

"You know, little one, talking is usually easier when we actually talk...and you do not look so much at your feet," he reached out with one white hand to tilt the short-haired elf's chin up.

Grudgingly, the golden Elfling said, "What do you wish to talk about, your Majesty?"

"Amrunil will serve well enough, little one.  I would not stand on formality all the way out here upon the road," he tried, softening his voice as he knew Morloth would counsel him to do.

"...Very well.  You still didn't answer my question," Faenthia challenged.

The Pale King pursed his lips, swearing he could see a spark of enjoyment in his fiance's eyes.  The irrascible little monster was enjoying making this difficult!

With as much grace as he could muster, he replied, "You make a fair point.  I did not.  I suppose I wished to talk about you."

That took the younger Elf off guard and he blinked those jewel-toned eyes.  Almost against his own will, the King felt his breath catching in his chest when the moonlight caught their depths just so.  While he waited for the younger Elf to make sense of his thoughts, Amrunil walked the two of them out from under the spreading reach of the tree and towards the more open grasslands just beyond it.  He wanted a little privacy for this chat for his own sanity and for Faenthia's.

"About me? Of what interest am I?" Faenthia asked softly.

Both of Amrunil's fine eyebrows raised up, "Of great interest.  You are my fiance and yet I know nothing of you.  You have been hidden from me for many years...and it seems that, if I allow you to, you will continue to be so."

"It seemed to me like you knew everything you wanted to about me naught but two days ago," retorted his fiery young one.

"Little one..." Amrunil tried, doing his best to keep the conversation on an appropriate track.

"I will tell you something of myself.  I despise it when you call me 'little one' or 'young one'.  I am neither!" Faenthia said sharply.

"Perhaps not in the world of Men, but you are coming to live among the Elves now and you are but a child to our kind," the King said, lips pursed in frustration.

"Well, I hate that! I was respected with a business all my own and now I cannot even be called an adult! I feel disrespected and belittled constantly and have felt so since you decided that a BEAD and some history were enough to decide my future for me!" snarled the golden-haired princeling.

"A bead and some history decided BOTH of our futures and I would thank you to remember that!"

Faenthia's head snapped back in surprise at the sudden flare of temper.  His elder could only groan internally.  This wasn't how their chat was supposed to go.  This was exactly the opposite of how he had intended for it to go.  He could already hear Morloth rolling his eyes at him for letting his temper get the better of him yet again.  He had to salvage what he could before his fiance retreated back into his shell.

Reaching out, Amrunil lifted up the bead which even now rested on a fine chain around his fiance's swanlike throat, "...Forgive me."

The younger of the two hot-blooded Elves sensed that the apology was for more than just any one thing, but he was curious enough to be gracious, "For what, Amunril?"

Green eyes went a little softer at the use of his name.  It was a small concession, but perhaps it was meant to be a peace offering?  The King took it.

"For letting my temper best me.  There are times, you see, when you are so quiet and still...when I catch you watching the sky and all I see, even with your locks cut so short still, is a lovely, promising Elfling.  I allow myself to forget that you were brought up differently and do not see things as your kin do," Amrunil granted.

The other blushed at being called lovely, but replied, "I...also apologize for losing my temper..."

"Come, let us forgive together and perhaps try again?" offered the King.

"May I begin with a question?" asked Faenthia and when Amunril nodded softly, he continued, "What is to be my future now?"

"When we return to Miskas, you will be presented to our people.  Then you shall be presented to your new tutors.  They will spend the next forty Summers teaching you statecraft, the histories, our language and what will be expected of your when you ascend to the Consort's Throne," Amunril explained evenly.

"Will it only ever be studies for me? Forever indoors and away from the sun?" lamented the young Elf.

"Nay, for you will be expected to serve your people as well.  You will be inducted into Limhen's Guard and you shall take shifts protecting the realm."

Amunril almost allowed himself an amused smirk when Faenthia's face lit up in delight.  It was a comfort, although small, to know that he would not be required to hang up sword and become an ornament...yet another thing that the golden haired Elf would have to learn about his people.  Elves, while lovely as pure starlight, were wily and ferocious.  A quick mind and a strong arm were both required to gain respect as any Consort of Miskas.  

"Did you think I would do my utmost to bring you misery, Faenthia?" the Pale King teased.

The other grew very silent and Amunril worried he had stepped over a boundary again.

At last, the boy turned away and looked back to the sky, "...I had simply imagined that you did not care."

From where he stood, Amunril spoke firmly, "My Radiance, I am a cold man.  I am often overtaken by my own humours.  I suspect we shall quarrel often.  I suspect there are times you shall hate me even more than you do now and times I shall want to wring your pretty neck...yet never think of me that I do not care."

The blonde Elf turned, hearing the note of painful honesty in his fiance's voice, "...I don't hate you.  I just don't know you."

"Then perhaps - "

Amunril was holding out his hand in a gesture of peace when suddenly an arrow tore through the sleeve of his riding leathers.  He hissed and drew his arm to him, bright eyes already searching the darkness for his assailant.   The quiet accord he had been drawing towards was shattered and Faenthia loosed a low cry, unsheathing a light dagger from where it had been tucked into his boot.  He'd unbuckled his sword during the long ride and even now it was with his loyal Charger, so this was the only weapon he had to hand, glinting like a silver fang in the starlight.  There was a fey, dangerous look sparking in the young Elf's eyes.

The two had wandered far from the guardian tree under which their companions rested while they had talked and now it was but a shadow in the distance.  They could neither of them dash back for aid as gnarled figures began to peel themselves away from the deepening darkness that gathered between the great stones that jutted out of the treacherous terrain.  All that Amunril could do was to leave off nursing his wounded arm and draw his own sword so recently repaired by Faenthia.  He eased himself so that he was back to back with his fiance.

Daring a glance down, the King's eyes widened when he noted the make of the arrow that had rent his flesh.

Cauldlings.

The Pale King watched as the dark creatures began to take more definite shape beneath the silvery moon.  They were wretched, rangy beasts that closely resembled naked men, their bodies all covered in apelike hair.  Long, unkempt claws dragged from the tip of each finger and in their hands they held twisted weapons, all stolen.  The one who had shot him held a decrepit Elven bow while another held only a grotty meat-cleaver.  Their ruthless eyes gleamed, ever ravenous, for these were the wretched remnants of highway brigands who had dared to thieve from the accursed tombs of a powerful wizard many unnumbered centuries ago.  Amunril felt a chill go through his heart as he considered the young man at his back so pale and so slight. 

"We are cold.  We are hungry," chanted the Cauldling band, their voices slithering one over the other like snakes.

"Faenthia...go.  Please, I beg of you.  Run for the others," whispered the King.

"So hungry," the little cannibals slavered.

He could not bear the idea of the Elfling falling prey to the savagery of the beasts, but he was thwarted when he only felt the golden one press closer against his back.

"Nay.  I have seen monsters such as these before.  Their numbers would overwhelm you.  With the two of us, we have yet a chance," his radiant one whispered back.

"Then shall we fight on together?"

The first of the Cauldling's lunged forward, trying his luck with the two pale Elves all alone on the lonely, windswept field.  His needle-like teeth were bared, yellowed with old gore, as he meant to bury his maw in the flesh of his victims.  He never made it so far.  With one shining sweep of his blade, the Pale King swept the Cauldling's scruffy head from its shoulders.  All the world seemed to hold its breath as the awful burden bounced onto the ground and rolled.  It was like a growing storm.

The Cauldlings lunged.

They came in a terrible flurry of limbs and steel, shrieking and gibbering their insatiable hunger and intent to add the flesh of the Fair Children to their bellies.  Elvish steel danced, cutting through the first ones as easily as a knife through butter.  The reek of Cauldling innards splashed across all and sundry, yet the two fighters didn't stop moving.  They couldn't.  For every cannibal goblin they struck down, two more rose to take their place, slashing with stolen knives, tugging at clothing and tangling their awful fingers in silken hair. 

Faenthia cried out as a rusty knife bit deep into his side before his glinting dagger buried itself into the culprit's neck.  Amunril could barely stifle a roar of pain as a claw raked itself over his brow, hot blood pouring into his left eye as he tore the beast off and dashed it across a stone.  Still, they fought on.  Every Cauldling that landed a blow against them died, broken beneath their fierce desire to survive.  There was hardly enough room to maneuver, let alone fight, yet somehow the Pale King and his Radiant One found a rhythm born of necessity and something deeper.

"Feast!" shrieked the Cauldlings.

Far beyond, back at the camp, Amrunil heard the first stirrings of their comrades.  It seemed that the sounds of combat had finally reached the guards who had remained behind on watch and they ran to fetch Morloth.  It was encouraging, but the Pale King suspected in his heart of hearts that it would be too late.  True, he and Faenthia had littered the ground with the corpses of their enemies, but there were yet too many.  The ground was growing slippery beneath their feet and the little monsters more desperate by the second.  He winced when Faenthia screamed behind him, one of the Cauldlings sinking its teeth into the youngling's neck.

Letting loose a fierce battlecry, the Pale King of Miskas reached back with his free hand and pried the creature off, throwing it back into its fellows.  It was a mistake.  The force of his throw unseated his footing on the gore beneath his boots.  He could have regained it in an instant, but it was all the weakness the awful man-eaters needed.  He found himself falling as one of them latched onto his chest, sending him to the side.  It left Faenthia's back wide open and greatly decreased their chances of survival.

"Run!" Amrunil beseeched one final time, fending off the creatures with his sword as best he could.

"I will never leave anyone behind!" yelled back the other to him before driving his dagger home into the belly of a Cauldling.

The Elves had not fought long....perhaps not even longer than a few brief moments, but that was the way of frays in the wide world.  They usually did not last long at all and by now both the King and his fiance were overwhelmed, a hundred small wounds all contributing to their weakening defense.  The tide was turning against them far too swiftly even as he battled desperately to throw one of their attackers away from his face.

He heard Faenthia shout from above him, "Get up! Something else is coming! Get up, hurry!"

The warrior king tried to fight his way up, but was hingered when a screeching Cauldling jumped onto his belly bearing half a spear.  It was raised up above its head, meaning to drive the point down into his vulnerable stomach.  It was happening too fast even as time seemed to slow down.  He would be impaled even now as a new threat approached.

Imagine his surprise when the little monster went flying with a sickening thud instead of liberating his guts.

Standing above the King was a hooded and cloaked figure with a sturdy hammer in its hands.  It stood only a moment over him before moving on, sweeping through the thinned herd of Cauldlings with great sweeps of the hammer, leaving Amrunil to stagger upright, looking desperately about for Faenthia.  His heart rose in his breast when he realized that the fickle tide had turned again and this time in their favour.  The formidable stranger was cutting swathes throught he Cauldlings, giving the golden youngster room to move and dance about with his deadly little dagger.  He could even hear Morloth and the guard running to them, all gathered now.

The remainder of the battle was blessedly short.

Morloth didn't even bother to clean his blade when it was done before he was turning to the guards, "Fetch water and bandages! King Amrunil and the Consort Elect are wounded!"

The guards dashed to gather what they had been sent for, leaving only Morloth, Amrunil, Faenthia and the Stranger in the aftermath of the battle.  The Pale King sank down to his knees in the grass yet dewed with blood, closing his eyes and trying to get his breath back and re-collect his wits from the battle.  He found the Black King at his shoulder, dark eyes nearly molten with worry.  Morloth gripped his friend's hand.

~We came as swiftly as we were able,~ he said in low tones so as not to startle.

The Pale King shook his head, ~Faenthia?~

Morloth squeezed his hand and nodded a little ways away, ~He fares better than you, old friend.  He yet stands, though I suspect a sharp wind could change matters.  You have both lost much blood.~

~Cauldlings...~ he managed to reply.

~Aye.  You left enough for us to see that much.  What are they doing so far away from the High Sepulcher?~ the Black King marveled, ~How fierce your little one must have been to slay so many at your side...~

Amrunil bowed his head in exhaustion, pointing to where the hooded stranger still stood, ~We had aid.~

The darker of the Elves looked over to the stranger, able to discern nothing from beneath the hood.  He stood to his full height and held reclaimed his hand from his friend, holding it out to the other in welcome.

"Friend, you are welcome here for having saved this, my brother in arms.  Come closer and remove your hood that we may thank a fellow servant of good."

The stranger cocked its head on the side almost in amusement and stepped forward as bidden, pushing back its hood.  Beneath the hood was a half-smiling man of shocking appearance.  He was no taller than a Man's shoulder with shoulder-length mane of russet gold shot through with the occasional rosy highlight, nowhere near as tidy as an Elf's and decorated with draping braids.  Around the end of each braid was an elaborate iron bead in the fashion of the Dwarves of Grotta Ghar.  He bore laughing brown eyes, his body wrapped in the rough gray leathers of a traveler.  None of this was shocking.

What brought a look of addled statlement to the Black King's face were features which ought never have existed together.  Pointed ears poked out from the lion-ish falls of bright hair, yet that smirking mouth was surrounded by a short, scruffy beard.  His height sat between Dwarf and Elf, body short but build more lithesome than the rock-dwelling miners.  Morloth had heard that, after the fall of Filirunde, creatures like this had come into existence as the scattered people sought to carve out a survival for themselves...but never had he seen one with his own eyes.

It was a Perdel...half Elf and half Dwarf.

The Perdel thumped his hammer down onto the blood streaked earth and leaned upon it, nodding in Faenthia's direction, ~Name's Mabakhel...and someone oughta go sit the Elfling down before he falls down.~

Chapter Text

A/N - Short chapter this time, sorry. I meant to right more, but the boys just sort of said what needed to be said and I felt like adding more to this chapter would just make it awkward.

The Changeling of Par'Lamer
Chapter Three

Morloth stared, jaw agape at the jaunty half breed. Despite the great sensitivity of his ears, he barely even registered that the creature had spoken. He could feel Amrunil shifting at his side, probably having noticed that their visitor was something less than normal about the same time he had. The Black King's heart was in his throat and he felt sorrow and horror in equal measures for this wayward child of no family. He was forced to remind himself that this, and all manner of equal tragedies, had come from his very hand 1,000 years ago.

The Perdel didn't seem to care overmuch about his moral quandaries, however, and barked, ~If you're just going to stare, I'll bloody well help the lad!~

The oddly fair-faced dwarf-hybrid turned and shouldered his hammer in one easy swing, walking over to where Faenthia was shivering as the adrenaline slowly left his system. Mabakhel reached up with a thickly-gloved hand and took the boy's elbow, pulling him over to a stone where the grass was cleaner and leaning over to get a look into the Elfling's eyes, checking his pupils. He looked over some of the cuts with oddly gentle touches that seemed entirely out of place on a being so rough-spoken and toughened.

At last, the Perdel said, ~You look like a dog's dinner, but you'll live.~

"I...I don't...I'm sorry, but I don't..." Faenthia said, his wits still a bit scattered.

Mabakhel smirked, lopsided through his short beard, "Common tongue, then? Wonders never cease. Just said that you won't be chasing maidens for a day or so, but you'll live."

The golden Elfling nodded, "Ah, thank you."

Chuckling deep like a big cat's purr, the Perdel said, "Thank yourself. You put up one hell of a fight. Never seen someone so small take down to many Cauldlings."

"You're not that big," muttered Faenthia, earning another small chuckle.

"I may not be, but my hammer is."

Both of them made a noise of surprise as the tawny half-Elf was pulled away sharply by many pairs of hands, shoved to the side by a few of the Elven guard (the rest were with Morloth and Amrunil, working on the latter's wounds). Once he was out of the way, they knelt to work on the worst of the Consort Elect's injuries, leaving Limhen to hold Mabakhel in an iron grip. He had the fine blade of a dagger resting lightly on the smaller man's shoulder, warning him not to make any sudden moves. Pinioned as he was, the half-breed never lost his tongue.

"Is this how Elfkind has learned to thank those who help?" he snapped, setting his hammer down to ease Limhen.

"Even a Dwarf should know better than to touch the Consort Elect without his permission," retorted the haughty Elf Captain.

"Well, lucky for you then, I'm no Dwarf. Let me loose."

In a thrice, Limhen had removed his blade and turned Mabakhel sharply to get a good look at his face. Despite the fact that his expression had changed to somewhat less than amused, the Elf Captain was able to see exactly what had so distressed Morloth but minutes before. His reaction was considerably less diplomatic than his King's, however, and he shoved the half-breed away from him.

"Perdel!" he barked in surprise.

Mabakhel glared at the recrimination and the, frankly filthy, racial distinction. His brown eyes had gone hard as a dead tree in winter, tawny brows drawn tight and his mouth affixed in a heavy frown. His fists tightened, but he didn't go for the hammer that he had set aside. Limhen saw his angry expression, but just continued on, taking a step back and looking over the half-Elf like a particularly fascinating insect...or a horrible one.

"I had heard the tales...but never would I have imagined..."

"Imagined what?" asked the smaller man harshly, "That one of your precious little scarecrows would lie down with a Dwarf?"

"It does defy logic," the Captain said somewhat unkindly, rising to the half-breed's pique and matching it with cool superiority.

"What 'defies logic' is that you're judging my mother's bedroom choices after I just risked my own bleedin' neck to save two of your high-royal-so-and-sos," hissed Mabakhel, not daring to raise his voice should more creatures lurk beyond the stones.

Faenthia's lilting tenor cut through the argument, "Limhen, please leave him alone. He fought well and probably saved our lives. Give him some peace."

The Captain of the Guard looked over the Perdel again before sniffing and turning over his left shoulder to return to his King's side. The rest of the guard had patched up the Consort Elect and moved to give him some space. Mabakhel looked over all of them and snorted, tugging his leather hood back up over his russet gold mane. He shouldered his hammer again and turned to go the opposite way.

The voice of the Elfling still sitting on the rock arrested him, "Wait, please. I'm sorry Limhen said that about you. He doesn't think much of outsiders."

"So I'm an outsider am I?" Mabakhel asked, putting on a haughty tone to mock the Elves.

"I only know because he does the same thing to me."

One of the half-Elf's eyebrows ticked up.

"Either way, thank you. For saving us, I mean. It was starting to look grim, so it was lucky you came along when you did," Faenthia continued.

"I'm a Road Warden. It's my job, lad. Never you fret," said Mabakhel warmly, calmed by the gratitude of the young Elf.

Faenthia smiled around a split lip, "Bless me, a Road Warden! I didn't realize your Brotherhood ranged this far out of the White Teeth anymore. I was friends with the order near Chrisanthis."

"Were you now? Does old Cawthorne still lead them?" asked the half-Elf in much better humour.

"Last I heard he was slowly relinquishing control to his daughter, Elonwie," something lively came into the Elfling's eyes when he touched this happy, fortunate connection to his past.

The light dimmed when his fiance shattered the moment.

"Faenthia!" called Amrunil lowly, "Come. We retire."

The cunning, stubborn Elf youth looked up at the sound of his call. Then he looked back to Mabakhel, assessing something deep in his mind. He came to a decision, that much the half-Elf could see, before standing and holding his head high.

"Come with us. I wish for you to be our escort on the road, if you would," said Faenthia, trying for an imperious tone (and falling a little short).

"You're getting yourself in trouble, lad, but it should be good for a laugh or two. I'll accompany you," replied Mabakhel, honestly curious about the fight he was sure this would spark with the others.

The fight had been, in Mabakhel's humble opinion, uproariously funny.

Limhen and Amrunil had been livid when the half-Elf had accompanied the Consort Elect back to camp, but Faenthia had quickly rallied to his defense. The three of them fumed and snarled like caged panthers all while trying not to raise their voices. The Pale King had ended up pulling rank and age on his Consort Elect, which had ended as poorly as one can imagine, namely with said Consort Elect storming off a ways in a cold fury. The Black King merely looked agonized as if he were trying desperately not to bury his face in both hands while the fight escalated. Either that or he had a kidney stone. The face he was making could have applied to either.

In the end, once Faenthia had stormed off to his sleeping pallet, Morloth had restrained Amrunil and pushed him off towards his own. He had sent the guards to their lookout positions before wearily approaching the Road Warden.

~Warden...~ he began, voice strained.

Out of respect (because at least this one was trying), the half-Elf spoke in their tongue, ~Mabakhel, please.~

~Mabakhel, then. Would you do us the honour of traveling with us as an escort?~ inquired the Black King.

The half-Elf chuckled faintly, ~Your lad, he's persuasive is he?~

Morloth winced, no more than a tic by his right eye, ~You've nary a clue.~

~I think I'm starting to get one, judging by that howler of a fight he just started,~ the blonde Warden snarked.

~He's...adjusting to new circumstances.~ The Black King said, then cleared his throat, ~Which is part of why I have asked if you would act as escort. Moreover, if Cauldlings have ventured this far from the High Sepulcher, I would welcome an extra pair of hands and eyes.~

~Oh, aye?~ Mabakhel was drawing this out, polite, but not polite enough to avoid making things a little difficult.

If possible, the King's face became even more drawn, ~If you desire the truth of it, my guard and I will be parting ways from them soon and I would feel more peaceful if a Road Warden were at their side for what remained of their journey.~

It wasn't the full truth, but it was all the secretive Isbalin King was willing to give on the rather sensitive matter. He wanted Mabakhel around for protection, that much was true enough, but he also hoped that maybe 'getting his way' on something so small as this would soothe Faenthia. Amrunil had only just deigned to speak with him tonight and none of the others seemed inclined to bother. If the Consort Elect was fond of this Warden, then why should he not have a companion at least until he reached Miskas? It would ruffle the Pale King, surely, but perhaps it would make his young fiance more amenable to a truce in the future.

Whether he believed what he was told or not, at length Mabakhel nodded, his iron beads clicking, ~It is the job of a Warden to protect travelers, so I'll honour your request.~

Morloth bowed his silken black head in acknowledgement before turning back to his people.

Why could nothing ever be easy?

When Amrunil woke from his brief rest to find the Perdel was still there in the morning, he had been a smouldering pillar of annoyed fury. Needless to say there had been another fight between him and his stubborn fiance and now they rode at complete opposite ends of the party. Or rather the Pale King rode and Faenthia walked next to Mabakhel, leading his charger by the reigns. They were still keeping good pace, but it was an obvious snub (to Amrunil at least) and one that rankled. The irritation only made the hurt from last night's wounds worse and made him more ill-tempered than a bear with a sore head. Even Morloth didn't dare converse with him today.

They had been doing so well, too.

Trying to distract himself from how very, very irritated he was with pompous Elf Kings, Faenthia said, "Why do they dislike you at all? You saved our lives."

"You don't know?" Asked the Warden with some surprise.

Faenthia huffed softly, "Something to do with mothers and such. I drifted in and out of your argument with Limhen last night. Spot of blood loss, you understand."

Mabakhel smirked at the boy's cheek, "Tongue like that will get you in more trouble than you realize, lad."

"Question stands," said the Elfling.

"Alright, alright. I'm just surprised you don't already know. I thought the ghastly stories of the Perdels were told in all the Elven cities," the Warden said, voice deceptively light.

"I wasn't raised in an Elven city. I'm from Chrisanthis. Well, Chrisanthis first, then Par'Lamer," corrected the golden-haired youth.

The half-Elf stumbled a little in surprise, blinking.

"Well, lad, you'll have to explain to me how that works later. Anyway, a Perdel is a half-breed, but I s'pose you can tell that," Mabakhel said, gesturing to his somewhat diminished height and his pointed ears.

"I didn't know Elves and Dwarves could have children together, to be honest," Faenthia said.

His companion snorted, "Neither did the Elves, in truth, but here I am all the same."

"I still fear I do not understand their concern. After all, you are neither ugly nor morally weak, so why are they all so very bothered?"

"Elves don't like strangers. Never really have. Sure, they come out and chat with Men and Dwarves and whoever else when it suits them, but they like being able to separate themselves again at the end of the day. A half-breed is a stranger they can't ever dissociate from. Elf faces with Dwarf beards, Dwarf bodies with Elf builds...s'pose it's like looking in a warped mirror for them," Mabakhel said with a shrug.

"There's also the guilt...we're a bit of a nasty reminder," he continued.

"Guilt?" queried Faethian.

"Most Elves, those who believe in Perdels anyway, reckon we're a pretty unfortunate side-effect of what happened at Filirunde," the Warden explained.

The Consort Elect sighed, looking forlornly up at the sky, "Must everything return again to Filirunde?"

Giving the Elf a curious glance, Mabakhel said, "Lots of the wrong-ways thinking in the world goes back to Filirunde. It...changed a lot of things."

"So I have been made to see," the youth replied bitterly, beginning to truly hate the sound of the decimated city's name.

"What's a dead Elven city done to you recently then, boyo? You sound pretty personally offended by something that happened a thousand years ago," the half-Dwarf prompted.

Faenthia sighed and fingered the bead around his neck absently, "You could say it changed a lot of things for me as well..."

Mabakhel snorted and reached into the small leather satchel hanging at his hip, drawing out a thin-stemmed pipe of bone and a pinch of something. He put the pipe between his teeth and rummaged for a bit of flint, striking it by the bowl and taking a deep breath once a spark caught. Immediately, a sweet scent filled the air that the blonde Elfling found utterly comforting. It reminded him fondly of rowdy nights in his family's pub. A few other sensitive Elf noses caught it and sent them both arch looks, but said nothing.

Once he was content with a draw from the pipe, the half-Dwarf passed it to Faenthia, saying, "Tell me, lad, does it have anything to do with these new circumstances the black-haired Tree Jumper was referring to last night?"

The Elfling took a draw of the proferred pipe and made a face, "More or less."

"So, what then, boy? Is the tall, angry one your long last da or summat?" inquired Mabakhel with a note of derision (though not on Faenthia's behalf).

Taking another puff, said Faenthia rolled his eyes, "My fiance, more like."

Mabakhel choked a bit and then winced, "Elves..."

"Mm," the short-haired Elf agreed, handing the pipe over and blowing an idle plume of smoke into the air.

The Elves, though far and away more resilient than the rest of the creatures beneath the sky, still had to call a halt and make camp. After the close call with the Cauldlings the night before, they weren't prepared to invite any more trouble when the sun went down and two of their number were yet injured. Mabakhel had stayed by Faenthia's side all day annoying the rest of the Elves (save perhaps ever-patient Morloth) with their pipe smoke. At one point they had even broken out into a lusty tavern song to lift their own spirits. Needless to say it had left an already bitter Amrunil with an even fouler temper than before. He had worked himself into a great, fine funk by the time they made camp, snapping out orders.

"You, Perdel, go and take first watch on the far perimeter. You, go with him," he gestured sharply to three of the guard.

The Elves were quick to respond, but Mabakhel merely rolled his eyes and stood from where he'd sat on a rock outcropping with Faenthia. He'd obey, of course, but he'd do it in his own bloody time, especially if that pernickety sot insisted on calling him that foul name. They were Fair Children after all, were they not? They had time to spare. They could wait.

Faenthia watched the scouts go, twisting his long fingers into the shorn ends of his flaxen hair. He was bothered by Amrunil's continued discourtesy to the Road Warden who had quickly become a fond companion, but he was too exhausted of fighting to pick another one. Or rather, to indulge in another one (as he was rather sure that the Pale King would be quite happy to pick it for him). Still, saying nothing about the unfair treatment of his half-breed companion suited his soul ill, so he slid himself down from the outcropping and approached Amrunil.

"I do wish you would treat him with a little more respect," he said, trying for a little less aggression.

Amrunil's jade eyes were full of resentful fire as he turned sharply to regard his fiance, "I would have more respect for him if you were not using him as some sort of...rebellious statement."

Faenthia's head snapped back as if slapped. It stung a bit that there was some truth in what the King said. Initially, he HAD invited Mabakhel along to prove a point, but the point was nowhere near so shallow as what the Pale King suggested. He'd wanted to validate the half-Dwarven warrior...to acknowledge his feat and moreover, to prove that he wasn't a child to be called to heel whenever Amrunil felt the urge.

"This is about nothing so petty. You call him crude names and refuse even to thank him for saving your life last night," the Filirundi Elf snapped.

"Does he require the thanks of two Kings then?" the other responded with derision, "Most would be pleased with one."

"Most would expect the man they saved to be the one thanking them, rather than someone else!"

"We did not need the likes of him," sniffed Amrunil coldly after a long, stunned moment.

"Have you taken leave of your senses?! We would have both died!" Cried Faenthia.

"You fought well enough!"

Both of them stared at each other for a long moment while those remaining at camp pointedly ignored them, giving them what little privacy they could.

"You...you fought well," Amrunil said with something like apology flickering at the edge of his tone.

In a very Human gesture, the other reached back and rubbed his neck, "...I thank you for saying so...but still, it doesn't excuse your cruelty."

"Cruelty?" The Pale King asked in surprise.

Faenthia bolstered himself, realizing that the stormy King was actually listening to him, "Aye, for what other name would you call it when you refuse to thank our saviour, for save us he did, and call him names other than his own? I will not permit it."

Amrunil surprised himself by being amused by that, "Not permit?"

"Nay," said his fiance firmly.

Taken completely off his guard by the sudden maturity of his betrothed, the Pale King laughed faintly, "So now you would order your King, would you my Radiance?"

Thinking he was being mocked, Faenthia narrowed his bright sapphire eyes, "When you require me to, yes!"

Too impressed with his fiance's show of spine to be further angered, the Pale King merely reached out for his hand and said, "If I did not know better, I might believe you had been trained from birth to be my Consort."

The golden Elfling's face smoothed when he realized he was not being mocked at all and a serious little dimple appeared between his eyebrows as he took the King's hand, "If I have to do this, I will not sit idly by when I think something is wrong just because you would rather I did."

"It is a great relief to my soul to hear you speak so," he was reassured.

"Then you will show Mabakhel the respect he is due?"

Amrunil's face tightened at the notion and Faenthia snapped, "Amrunil!"

The Pale King held up his free hand in a bid for peace. Constant arguments tired him just as quickly as his betrothed and this one had gone on for too long. He had no desire to start a new one either, for this marked the first time his Faenthia had showed any desire to rise to his position. He knew in his heart-of-hearts that he was a stubborn Elf (even if only because Morloth persisted in reminding him) and that Faenthia was able to speak out against him with some aplomb? He couldn't bring himself to quash that will and fire even though he knew there would come times when it would irritate him in years to come. When he was calm, Amrunil was a King who knew the difference between what he wanted and what he needed...even if it could take him hours to find that calm.

"Very well. I will...bow to your judgement," he finally replied.

For a moment, dark blue eyes searched his before Faenthia relaxed, "...Thank you."

The Pale King nodded his head and ended that particular conversation with whatever dignity either of them had left. Faenthia was quiet for a minute, just looking at their joined hands.

His voice was less sure when he spoke again, "This will be a difficult marriage, I presume."

"I dare say we shall want to tear each other's hair out at the end of a week," Amrunil replied with dry humour, glad that they were at least discussing it.

"You do not take counsel well," said Faenthia.

"And you, my Radiance, are as skilled at listening as a stone," quipped his fiance in return.

"We are neither of us good at heeding one another. How are we expected to rule together?" there was something like despair in the Elfling's tone.

That coaxed a small smirk from Amrunil, "We yet have forty years to get better at that."

"What if we only get worse?"

Pulling gently at Faenthia's slim hand, The Pale King situated them upon the stone outcropping that had been vacated before they came to speak. Once they were sitting side by side he released his betrothed's hand and reached to hold up the bead that had bound them together. He held it up a little so the moonlight caught it, throwing the lily on it into sharp relief. He caught Faenthia watching it as well and his smirk softened into something approaching a real smile.

"Friend Morloth once told me that if one truly applies oneself to a task, one must be spectacularly unlucky to become worse rather than better," Amunril told the other.

"When did he tell you that?" inquired Faenthia.

"On my Coronation Day a mere week after my father's passing. I was...unsure of my ability to lead," the Pale King said.

"You were frightened," corrected his fiance.

"...Perhaps," conceded Amrunil.

"Had not your father counseled you on how to be a King of Elves?"

Here Amrunil turned his smile to the golden Elf at his side, "Can one become a great swordsman only by reading of it? By being lectured on it?"

"Nay," said the other, seeing his point.

"Being a King in earnest was far different than learning to be one from advisors and tutors and I was...as you say...frightened. Morloth in his kindness desired to calm what nerves he could. I am still not the perfect King, yet I am better than I was. It is also quite likely that I shall be a dismal husband at first, but you and I shall simply have to work to be better."

Faenthia chuckled softly and the Pale King looked at him in confusion.

"Forgive me," he said amiably, "I simply had not thought I would ever hear you speak humbly."

Suddenly, he found his ear tweaked by strong, slim fingers, "Aye! And you shall never hear me speak so again, you impertinent thing!"

The soft sounds of their friendly bickering and laughter carried faintly on the breeze to where Morloth stood, simply observing the stars. He allowed himself a tiny up-tick smile.

Perhaps the things worth having were not meant to be easy at all.

 

 

To Be Continued...

LEXICON
Road Warden - Lone travelers who wander the wild lands along the Great Jaunt and beyond. They are cunning and tireless foot-soldiers of Light and Goodness, all members of a Brotherhood established 890 years ago after the trolls invaded Filirunde un-checked. All Road Wardens carry the seal of Arthar, Walker of the Crossroads who was the founding member of their order.

Arthar, Walker of the Crossroads - A Man from ages long past. After his village was nearly destroyed by fleeing from the devastation of Filirunde, he set out to purge the land of them to keep others safe. He wandered up and down all the roads of the kingdom for years, even establishing some new ones. Tales of his tireless heroism spread across the Kingdoms and called others to his cause. By the time he died an old man, the Brotherhood of Road Wardens had established itself in his name to carry on his good work.

The White Teeth - the massive mountain range which used to hide Filirunde from the world. It has since become the headquarters of the Road Warden Brotherhood.

Chapter Text


The Changeling of Par'Lamer
Chapter Four
Morning on the following day had found all of the riders in better spirits as they bundled up their camp and set out on the road once again. Mabakhel contented himself with holding the rear-guard again, but couldn't contain a smirk when Faenthia decided to ride at the front, placing himself beside Amrunil. The half-breed was doubly amused when the Black King chose to grant them a little privacy, placing himself further back even than the guards. As a matter of fact, he chose to ride right alongside where Mabakhel walked. Wonders really didn't ever cease with this peculiar little group.

At first, the half-breed kept his silence, hiding the little smile that wanted to bloom on his face. Morloth was subtle, yes, but a Road Warden was perceptive. He could almost smell the curiosity radiating off of the dark Elven King, but wouldn't humour it just yet. He wanted to test that legendary, immortal patience that he had heard so much about in the Fair Children. He couldn't help the little crinkles that appeared around his brown eyes as he struggled to fight down a grin. With every passing moment, he truly found these strange hermits of the world to be more and more like children.

All around them the greenery grew more wild as the cities of Man faded further and further away. More birdsong could be heard on the late Summer breezes. The sweet aroma of wild vine-flowers began to perfume the air more and more frequently. The monsters of the world, knowing full well the viciously kept solitude of the Elves, were far less daring (the Cauldlings from before an oddity, certainly). Mabakhel admired it all, taking his time since their pace was slower today to make up for their two injured.

Even the Pale King and his intended were taking it upon themselves to be civil, so it should have been a relaxed, pleasant day.

Still, the blonde half-breed was ever-aware of Morloth's mounting curiosity. It was like electricity in the air between them, not unpleasant, but palpable.

As mid-day rolled around, he finally took pity on the Black King and called up, ~Is something bothering you?~

At the sound of his rough tenor and uncultured way of speaking, Morloth started.

He looked down and breathed, allowing himself a smile of his own, ~Ah, friend Mabakhel. No, truly, I am not troubled. I am simply enjoying this rare peace we have been afforded.~

'Ah, you old liar', thought the half-Dwarf fondly, but if they King wished to prevaricate, he would allow it, ~We're lucky the Cauldlings beat a bit of the fight out of that pair of feral cats up there. Kick up a right fuss, they do.~

The comment earned him a little laugh from the Black King, ~They are, both of them, possessed of formidable...personality.~

~Personality, aye!~ laughed Mabakhel right along with him, throwing back his tawny head.

As their laughter died, Morloth took a moment to consider the half-Dwarf again in the light of day. He was so strange to the Elf's eyes...neither as tall as his Fair kin, nor as short as those who dwelt in the earth. His golden mane, braids and beads and all drawn back into a tail in the day's heat, was not so fine as an Elf's, yet it still shone. His face could have even been called fair, yet he grew a short beard and stubble all about his mouth and chin as an Elf never could. The Black King looked and saw all the things he had seen the night they'd met, but it still felt like looking for the first time, so novel was Mabakhel.

At last he said, ~...Your Elvish is very good.~

~As it should be! My mum would have had my beard if I couldn't,~ replied the half-Dwarf merrily.

~So your mother is of our kind?~ Asked Morloth.

Mabakhel smirked, cutting sly eyes at the King, ~Aye, 'twas my mum. My da was the Dwarf. I know you've been wondering.~

Morloth looked away and had the good grace to look abashed, merely earning another laugh from the half-breed.

~Breathe, lad! I won't take your head off for your curiosity. At least you've tried to be polite about it. Come, what do you want to know?~ said the halfling, patting the flank of Morloth's horse.

He watched the Black King battle internally between his desire for knowledge...his nigh-insatiable childlike curiosity and his desire to remain even a little bit aloof. A dimple tucked into his cheek as he saw Morloth give up the struggle and shake his proud ebony head. Clearly the curiosity of the Elves could sometimes triumph over their aplomb.

~Would it trouble you to speak but a bit of your history, friend Mabakhel?~ said the Black King at long last.

~If that's what you want, but I think I'll tell it in Common if you don't mind. Bit of a long tale to tell in Elvish,~

He was given what one might call an eager nod (were it not an Elf doing the nodding) and so the half-Dwarf readjusted his hammer over his shoulder and thought about where best to begin the tale. Coming to a decision, he reached up into his tawny ponytail and fished out a slender braid from the mass of it, holding up the iron bead at the end for inspection. He knew its grooves by heart, for it was the very first one that ever he wove into his hair, put there by his father as soon as his locks were long enough.

"This is my Sigil Bead. It bears the mark of my House. My father is the patriarch of the Thaforabbad Clan," he explained, watching as Morloth's eyes rounded.

"The Stewards of Grotta Ghar. Your family sits in a position of great prestige, my friend. Why then wander the roads as you do? Should you not be at the right hand of your forebears, learning of your position?" the King inquired, utterly baffled.

Mabakhel waved him off, "I'll tell that part of the tale when I reach it. Sorry, but it's a long thing, my story, and it's best to tell it in order."

"Forgive me for being forward. Please do continue in your own time," replied the King graciously.

Mabakhel gave the Elf King a grunt of acknowledgment and rubbed at his russet gold whiskers, trying to find where he wanted to go next. When he settled on the next detail, he looked up to Morloth again.

"My Grandfather, who was exceptionally long-lived for a Dwarf I'll have you know, was the standing Steward when Filirunde fell. As the refugees of the Filirundi came across our borders, it was his place to see them settled. He welcomed in my mother, though he would have choked on his own tongue if he'd known who she was destined to be at the time," the half-breed chuckled as if remembering the old man's face.

He continued, "After my Grandfather went Beyond the Veil, my father was frantically busy for the first century or so of his tenure. Never knew his future wife had been livin' under his nose for years. They met in the market by chance 349 years ago and my da, bless him, was overtaken. He courted her in secret and they married in secret."

"In secret?" asked Morloth, his neat black brow furrowing.

"Aye. You Elves have your secrecy. Dwarves? We have Tradition. What my father did was unprecedented and wholly against our hallowed ways. Dwarves marry Dwarves and beget more Dwarves, especially those in positions of power. For my father to court, woo and wed an Elf and a refugee, at that? It was scandal of the highest order."

The half-Dwarf's face turned as stern as stone for the next part, "The whole mess only came out when I was born...and only then because he sought the healer for my mum."

The Black King looked sympathetic, "A difficult birth, then?"

Mabakhel nodded, "Mum was a small thing, to be sure, hips weren't wide enough...and while I'm less 'substantial' than my kin, I'm not an Elf either. With the healer's help, she lived, but she never recovered. Not completely. She went Beyond the Veil when I was but 50."

Morloth looked upon the half-Elf with a softness in his eyes.

"My Da was allowed to keep his position and keep my mum, but not as his wife. Their marriage was annulled and he was forced to wed a proper Dwarf woman so there would be no scandal among the people. I was passed as her child until many started to note that I was growing tall instead of stout, my beard thin and short and my face fair rather than ruddy."

"You were found out," said the Black King, realization dawning on him.

The tawny half-Dwarf dipped his head in acknowledgment, "My father's new bride found herself with child when I was 80, so I was 'politely' asked to depart from Grotta Ghar. So I went. So I became a Road Warden. So I have been for the 70 years since."

Morloth felt heavy at this tale of hardship and asked, "And of the other child?"

"I've never been permitted to meet wee Bundushar. Ah well, not so wee anymore...lad's bound to be in his 79th or 80th Summer soon...an adult in Grotta Ghar," his warm brown eyes became distant as he spoke of it.

The Black King's brow furrowed and he ventured, "It pains you to speak on it?"

"Nay, nothing so deep as pain...not really. I just..." he thought of how to phrase it for the Elf, "Dwarvenfolk are clannish to a fault. Family is everything to us...blood or no. You must understand, Master Elf, that, while I knew my mum was truly a Fair Child, my father's new wife was as good as a second mother. She was family. As is Bundushar."

"And you have been lawfully cleaved from their sides," supplied Morloth.

He was met only by a heavy nod from Mabakhel.

The Isbalin Elf felt something more than pity welling in his breast when he looked again at the half breed at his side. To pity him would be to think him weak, yet here he stood strong and tall against the trials of his short life. He had been born of love, yet turned away by the Dwarves. He wandered homeless through the world, banished from family and clan. Despite his good work with the Road Wardens, he faced judgement just for the face he wore. Even Morloth had been guilty of taking him at his appearance when they had first met and he was a King of a very wise, old race of Elfkind.

"Forgive me, friend Mabakhel, I had not realized..." he said softly.

"Few do. Still, at least you tried and at least you're bothering to talk to me now. Makes me think there might be hope for you Elves yet," he offered the King a sly grin.

~Cheek,~ Morloth said, laughing softly.

WwW

"Well, it seems to my eyes that friend Morloth is quite fond of the Road Warden," said Amrunil, turning at the sound of their laughter and chatter.

It earned him a light push from Faenthia, "Mabakhel. His name is Mabakhel."

The Pale King hissed softly when his betrothed accidentally bumped against one of his many injuries. In return, Faenthia winced sympathetically, realizing what he'd done almost the instant it had been too late to stop himself.

"Forgive me," he said, grimacing faintly, "Is it at least better today?"

"Better," admitted the King grudgingly between his teeth, "But I can hardly be called 'whole' yet, so I will thank you to mind your hands."

There was no real heat or annoyance to his tone.

Amrunil sighed as the pain passed, "And what of your hurts? Do they yet pain you?"

"My injuries are not so severe as yours. I kept my feet and so managed to keep the Cauldlings from me," the young Elf replied, "I ache, but it will heal quickly."

"I daresay you shall find yourself fully healed by the time we reach Miskas within another week's time," said the Pale King, looking out over the sky.

"And how long until we have to part from King Morloth and his men?" inquired Faenthia, blue eyes relaxed, yet curious.

His fiance looked over to him, "We will reach the crossroads tomorrow."

"Ah..." said the young one, seeming lost in thought.

"This troubles you." asked the Pale King with a raised eyebrow, "Why?"

Golden haired Faenthia looked a little bit sad, in earnest, "It will be unpleasant to part from King Morloth, if I am honest."

Something akin to sparking jealousy danced in Amrunil's chest, but he remained calm when he asked, "And why is that?"

"...I fear that, without his influence, you and I will never keep peace between us. He is...comforting," said his betrothed, concern dancing through his pleasing tenor.

Just like that the suspicion was quenched in the Pale King's heart as if by a very cold wave.

Silence stretched between them, punctuated only by the calls of birds and the clop of horse hooves on the road. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence by any means, not like the days gone past. It almost felt like a tentative peace had been reached during the fight with the Cauldlings and then the argument the night previous. The two had begun to feel each other out and find limits without stumbling blindly over them as they had done. It was enough to inspire just the first fledgling flutters of hope...hope that perhaps they weren't making a horrible mistake...that they could endure on their own in time without a mediator.

As another bubble of laughter floated up to them from where Morloth and Mabakhel chatted, Faenthia asked, "Why did you and King Morloth journey so far away from your Kingdoms?"

"We were reaffirming our alliance with Chrisanthis as we do every century," replied Amrunil.

"You have an alliance with a Human city?" his fiance sounded confused.

"You may believe it or not, my Radiance, but it would be impossible for our kind to disappear from the world of mortals completely."

"Whyever not?"

Amrunil felt a little bit of smug pleasure at the notion that his betrothed was actively curious in the politics of the realm.

He indulged him, "To begin with, Men are suspicious creatures. You will be well aware of this, having lived with them for so long. If we were to disappear completely without word there would ever be whispering of what it was we were doing. We make an appearance once a century simply to prove to Men that we are yet servants of good and have not sickened in our hermitage."

"I suppose that makes sense," granted Faenthia.

With a smirk, the Pale King continued, "It is also a way of keeping strong the faith of those who stand with us against evil. We do this to remind Men and Dwarf and Wildekinde all that, should true wickedness threaten, we will rise to arms and fight at their side."

"So in a way you are reminding them that you are still part of the world even though you choose to be hidden in it?" his golden-haired betrothed guessed.

Pleased with his quick mind, Amrunil nodded, "To remind them and ourselves, yes."

Faenthia pursed his lips and asked after a long moment, "Amrunil? Why do you not simply rejoin the world in earnest? Filirunde fell 1,000 years ago. No other race in the world is long-lived enough to have seen it. Why not simply forget your shame and come back?"

There was true pain in the Pale King's face when he considered the answer. His mouth thinned and his jade eyes clouded as if he were re-living some terrible pain. Perhaps he was. His shoulders stiffened and it looked as if his spine had been replaced with a rod of iron. His hands tightened on his horse's reigns until Faenthia could see the white beginning to form around his knuckles. He reached over timidly and laid a hand over one of Amrunil's, startling the King into relaxing somehwat with a great sigh.

"Faenthia...we do not hide away for fear of judgement from others," he said, his voice as heavy as lead.

Almost dreading the answer, the golden Elfling asked, "...Then why?"

"Before the War of Shame, for this is what we have called it, no Elf in rememberance had ever slain another. We, overcome by the failings of shorter-lived races, were filled with anger and arrogance. We did not simply slay our kin that day. We slaughtered them and scattered them to the four winds. Our immortality is a gift, Faenthia...one that we stole from our brothers and sisters."

The Pale King breathed deep through his nose before saying, with great finality, "We have created our own world apart wherein we may live in our own rhythm, unexposed to the fiery passions of mortals."

Faenthia fell silent and gazed into the blue of the sky for many long minutes.

He finally spoke again and his voice was little more than a whisper, "...I find that horribly sad."

His fiance offered him a wry little smile filled with pain and understanding, "Being of immortal stock means that we have many countless years to remember our sorrow. I lament to say that our memories are excellent and we do not wither with time, so we carry our sadness with us. It isn't something we can simply forget."

Suddenly, clever little fingers were wrapped in a lock of his hair, giving it a sharp tug, "Well then! You are lucky that you will have me around to distract you, you great misery-guts!"

Amrunil cursed in Elvish and batted at those long-fingered hands before finding that Faenthia had spurred his charger and had raced forward. Ignoring his hurts and eager to show the Elfling a thing or two, the Pale King rose to his challenge and spurred his much swifter horse onward. His cuts stung a bit, but he found that he paid them no mind, his attention caught in following his wayward fiance.

From behind them, Limhen swore when he noticed his King and Consort Elect dashing off willy-nilly like a pair of Elflings, ~Spirits preserve us! They are not yet well enough for such sport!~

Not wanting to let his charges slip away, he grumbled and spurred his own light-footed stallion after the pair. If this was what the next couple thousand years were going to be like, he was going to have his work cut out for him. Of course. Of bloody COURSE his King would leave Miskas to re-establish a brotherhood and come back with a thrice-cursed, mongrel child bride!

As he went, he faintly heard Mabakhel's laughter echoing from behind.

Naught but misery!

WwW

During their ride that day, the Great Jaunt departed from the fields and stones that had littered its boundaries most of the way from Par'Lamer. There was lush green grass now and small groves of trees with patches of flourishing wildflowers. A small stream even wended its way along, bubbling merrily away. It curled like a content snake through the small grove where the party chose to rest that evening after a full day of riding and companionable company. The horses were tied near to the stream that they could have their fill of sweet grass and fresh water while their riders set to enjoying their final evening all together.

Amrunil sat near his golden-haired fiance beneath the stretching boughs of respectable, old tree, their backs against a bedroll to put less strain on their injuries. Morloth sat across from them, the trio speaking softly together. The three of them seemed to be in decently high spirits while Faenthia and the Pale King argued over who had won their little race earlier in the day, neither willing to admit defeat. The Black King, for his part was content to listen and laugh occasionally at the positively silly attempts on both their parts to sway him to their side.

Around them, the small guard retinue had taken to relaxed sentry shifts. Only Mabakhel and Limhen were not immediately among the huddle. You see, having had to walk alongside the horses all day had put a slight ache into the Road Warden's feet and he retreated a short distance upstream where he might soak them before continuing the journey tomorrow. Limhen had, when none of the others were aware, slipped along behind him and now stood by the trunk of a tree, watching the half-breed. His almond-shaped eyes were narrowed in consternation at the Perdel.

The Captain of the Miskas Guard was admittedly uncomfortable with the idea of a half-breed coming anywhere near the secret city. No mortal eyes had even gazed upon the Sentinels of Miskas in an Age and that was at least partially due to the efforts of Limhen and his tireless Guardsmen. Now all of that work would be undone, not only by a mortal, but an accursed Perdel at that? He knew the half-breed had only been permitted along to keep the silly Elfling from fussing more, anyway. What right did the Perdel have to look upon their secret city? None.

Yet, he could not order the creature from their party. That was at the discretion of his King and, it seemed, the Consort Elect. However, that did not mean the Perdel couldn't be made to...see sense, as it were.

Limhen almost started when the Perdel called to him from where he was resting his feet in the stream, ~You can come out now. I can feel your eyes on the back of my head and it gives me an awful case of the shivers, it does.~

The Captain of the Guard cringed to hear it using the Elvish tongue, so he spoke in Common to encourage the same from the Perdel, "How did you know? I am silent as shadow."

"True, you are," conceded Mabakhel, a quirk of amusement in his voice, "But the horses are not. They shifted when you came over."

He pointed upstream just a bit to where Faenthia's charger was shuffling his large feet, reacting to the presence of a newcomer. Limhen cursed the beast in his head, but kept his composure.

"I see you are not so thick as your kin," he said cooly.

Mabakhel turned to grin roguishly at Limhen, "I wouldn't be so sure. Some of my kin can be awfully thick indeed."

Colouring at the obvious slight, the Captain of the Guard stepped out of the shadow of the trees, "I wish no reminder that we share blood, Perdel."

The tawny half-Dwarf sighed and leaned back on his hands, "Then what do you wish from me, eh? You didn't come out away from the King just to keep me company."

"Shall I be frank then, Perdel?" Limhen sneered.

"Aye, for the sake of both our time, be frank," replied Mabakhel, finally giving the Elf an annoyed look.

"Very well then. I believe that this farce has gone on long enough. I've no wish for you to accompany us to Miskas. It was never meant for mortals. It is our sanctuary," said the Captain of the Guard.

Feeling antagonistic, Mabakhel smirked rudely, "Ah, but your Consort Elect DOES wish me to accompany you to Miskas."

"A chafing fact, but a fact nonetheless...which is what I've come to convince you of."

Grunting, the tawny half-Dwarf laid back on the bank, beads clicking as he laid his head down, "Oh? Do enlighten this poor sinner, then."

"Your lack of respect is grating on the nerves, but I'll be plain. I cannot be the one to make you leave as, for whatever foolish reason, the Elfling wishes your continued companionship. However, you were never forbade from leaving under your own power," Limhen said coldly.

"Why would I want to do that?" drawled the half-breed.

Fighting down a snarl, the Captain of the Guard spat out, "Your continued presence will make life exceedingly difficult, not only for myself, but also for King Amrunil AND your precious Faenthia...especially Faenthia."

Ah, now he had the Perdel's attention.

Mabakhel sat up and turned his head sharply to the Elf. All traces of humour were gone from his face and he looked deadly serious, his mouth in a grim line and his shoulders squared. He looked positively fierce and Limhen might have been intimidated if he did not believe he were the superior warrior of the two. He was pleased to see that he finally seemed to have an upper hand in this wretched conversation.

When he spoke again, Mabakhel's voice was flat and dark, "Is that a threat, Elf?"

"Be not stupid, half-breed! I would never dare threaten the Consort Elect," Limhen sneered, "Your presence is more of a threat than my words could ever prove to be."

The tawny half-breed's brow was furrowed down warily, so the Captain of the Guard explained, "Faenthia clings to you as you are a reminder of the life he once had...a life of mortal adventures and journeys as a lowly blacksmith. You give him something to cleave to...you prevent him from completely letting go his past."

"Why should the lad have to give up his past!?" barked the Perdel.

"Do you see how poorly he fits amongst us? How little he understands and how little the others understand him? We are but few. Imagine, if you will, his misery if he continues in this way and suddenly finds himself surrounded by many more like us. His heart and head cannot remain in mortal lands when he is destined to be as good as a King amongst the Fair Children."

Truly, it wasn't the real reason that Limhen wanted Mabakhel gone, but he was willing to use a bit of emotional manipulation if that was what it took to protect the realm. He watched as the wary anger faded from the Perdel's face, replaced by realization. Yes, that was good. After all, even if what he said wasn't his motivation, there was a seed of painful truth to his words. Neither Miskas nor Isbalin were meant for mortals in any way or shape, so Faenthia would have to learn to let go of his human ways of thinking and speaking if he was ever to prove a true ruler of his people. It was only disgusting that he'd been allowed to mature so far away from everything he was meant to be before he'd been found.

Limhen took a step forward, driving it home, "You will only make his life harder in the end."

Mabakhel scowled at the Elf. He was not so stupid as to miss the Captain's true intentions lurking behind his supposedly altrustic front, but neither was he so stupid as to miss the truth of his words either. The half-breed's Dwarvish temper warred with his Elvish patience deep in his breast, neither wanting Limhen to have his way nor wanting Faenthia to feel any further pain. He had grown rather fond of the lad over the past few days, after all.

At last, his desire to protect the innocent won out over his affronted rage and he breathed heavily out through his nose, "...I will say that I have received a garrock from the White Teeth saying I am needed elsewhere."

The Miskani soldier smirked a little and turned to go, secure in his victory over the Perdel, "Very wise, Warden...very wise indeed."

He departed, leaving a sullen, angry Mabakhel in his wake.

wWw

Mabakhel returned to camp about half an hour later after settling himself and putting his boots back on. He needed to go and explain things to Faenthia as well as collecting his things before he set off. The sun had begun to sink down below the horizon, bringing night in on its heels and it would be dangerous to travel without the light of day, but he didn't seem to have a choice. He would have to make this parting quick and clean and then maybe, if he was swift of foot, he could make it as far as the outcroppings. They'd make a defensible camp for the night.

When he walked up, Faenthia was sitting beside King Amrunil with one of the swords he had crafted, excitedly pointing out all the features of it. The Pale King seemed to be listening intently and it warmed the half-Elf's heart to see. At least he was leaving the lad in alright hands.

He went over to where he had left his pack and shouldered it, accidentally drawing the boy's attention.

The golden-haired Elfling stood, "Mabakhel, do you mean to go somewhere?"

The half-Dwarf tried to be stoic, turning his face away and scratching at his chin, "Just got a garrock from the mountains. They need me back by way of the Garazzan's Tomb. Cauldlings again."

Faenthia rocked back a bit at the gruff timbre of his voice, but wasn't dissuaded yet, "But you promised that you would accompany us as far as Miskas..."

Mabakhel tried to hide his wince behind his mane of russet golden hair, "I know, lad, and I am sorry, but my pledge comes before my desires. You'll be alright."

The Consort Elect wilted a bit and by now their conversation had gotten Morloth's attention. The Black King stood from where he had been sitting by Amrunil and Faenthia, walking over with the Pale King's eyes on his back. He considered both the Road Warden and the Consort Elect before placing a gentle hand on the latter's shoulder and nodding back to his betrothed, indicating that he should go back. With perhaps the most miserable expression the Black King had ever seen on a young face, Faenthia acquiesced and Amrunil was wise not to question as his fiance sat by him again.

Morloth, however, did not retreat and decided instead to speak with their golden-maned companion, ~Where do you go to in such haste, friend Mabakhel? Did not you promise to accompany the lad?~

~...A garrock arrived for me while I was by the river. I've been summoned elsewhere,~ replied the half-Elf gruffly.

The Black King little believed that, seeing something deeper and more bitter in his friend's eyes, ~Aye? Pray then, tell me why I did not see the creature when it alighted in the woods?~

The halfling flinched and Morloth knew he'd touched on the heart of the matter. There had been no garrock nor any message. Faenthia and Amrunil had been too wrapped up in conversation to note it, but the only thing that had gone into or out of that copse had been Limhen. Ancient and wise, the Black King needed only moments to figure out what had really happened and why the other was truly parting ways from the Miskani. He reached out with one hand to touch Mabakhel's shoulder softly.

~...Go a ways off of the road, then return to the copse. In the morn, catch us up at the crossroads and you shall travel to Isbali with me and my kin,~ said the Black King, voice pitched low, ~Ask no questions now. Simply go. You may inquire all that you wish when once again we meet on the morrow once the others have parted from us.~

Rich, chocolate brown eyes watched him with suspicious curiosity and Morloth met that stare with an even gaze of his own. At last, Mabakhel simply nodded once and departed as he had been bidden, no questions asked. In truth, he wanted no questions from anyone and he realized that what he was doing could be seen as breaking a thousand-year tradition just to feed his own curiosity. He liked well Mabakhel's homely wit and spirited temper even as well as he enjoyed his time-worn common sense...and was the man not half an elf, anyway? Did he not deserve to see his other homeland since his first was denied him? Besides, thrice curse it all, Morloth was over 1,000 years old and a king and nobody could tell him what to do anymore.

Satisfied with is decision, he turned to go back to his companions to spend a final evening with them before they were forced to part in the morning. After that, their journeys would continue, yet in different directions...different ways.

Oh how strange their lives had yet become.

To Be Continued...

 

 

 

 

 

A/N - So with the next chapter we'll bid goodbye to Morloth and Mabakhel in the main story, which will leave us more time to get down to brass tacks with Faenthia and Amrunil. I'll still do a one-shot or two with The Black King and his favourite Road Warden, but this story isn't about them. I mainly included Mabakhel as a means of portraying the racism that exists in Pausalis, but ended up really loving the character. Physically he was based off of Dean O'Gorman's portrayal of Fili in the new Hobbit films (with some Elf characteristics mixed in).

 

LEXICON
Mabakhel Thaforabbad - 150 years old. Dwarves can live to 500 years or more, though no one is exactly sure of a Perdel's lifespan.

Garrock - A species of avian beast which most closely resembles a mix between a raven and a bat. They are commonly used to deliver messages over long distances by the Road Wardens.

Beyond the Veil - This is the religious euphemism used to describe death. It is believed that only the thin veil of the goddess Namye the Watcher separates the world of the living from the world of the dead and when someone dies, they journey to the spirit world which is literally beyond Namye's Veil. There will be more on the religions of Pausalis as it becomes relevant.

Chapter Text

The Changeling of Par'Lamer

Chapter 5

When morning came again and the small party was setting off again, moods seemed much changed. Young Faenthia was noticeably less spirited and his betrothed was more dour for it. Limhen's demeanor appeared much improved with the jaunty half-breed gone and Morloth, for his part, seemed eager to get underway. His personal guard had seen what he was up to, having been informed of his plans in secret the previous evening and were reasonably stone-faced for it. With everyone in such peculiar humour, the ride to the crossroads was fairly quiet until the time came to part.

Morloth pulled his light-footed steed round and rode to clasp Amrunil's arm in a warrior's embrace, ~Go in friendship, my young stormcloud, and hold your chin high.~

Amrunil sighed and regarded him with resigned jade eyes, ~How shall I weather this without your guidance?~

~By listening to his,~ The Black King nodded to Faenthia, ~He is young, but kind and fair. Respect him as your partner and neither of you shall go far astray.~

Amrunil pulled him closer for a true embrace before releasing his old friend. Morloth smiled once more at him, encouraging, before turning a fond look upon Faenthia. He saw his sadness and gently touched his chin to raise his eyes up. The golden youth would be a proud ruler in only a few short decades and such a defeated posture suited him ill.

"You are a fine young Elf, Faenthia, possessed of pride, honour, a warrior's heart and skilled craft. You have much to offer your people. Do not fear," he said to the Elfling.

Faenthia looked upon the Black King with features somewhat brightened by the faith that had been placed in him and he too received an embrace. When Morloth pulled back he looked at Amrunil and his golden betrothed together, smiling at the bright future he predicted for them both when the time came. Then he could linger no more and wheeled his horse that they might depart. He called one last farewell and then spurred his steed, disappearing with his retinue over a great green hill. There he waited, hidden, for Mabakhel, listening as Amrunil and his kin rode away in another direction entirely.

When at last the half-Dwarf appeared stealthily from behind a tall tree, Morloth smiled and pulled him atop his own horse. His own guards looked unsure, but knew well the ae and wisdom of their king. No questions were raised as horses were spurred anew.

As they finally made for the shadowy silouhette in the distance which would become the deep wood of Isbali, Mabakhel spoke low, ~Do you think they'll be alright?~

~Their way will be fraught with hardship, friend Mabakhel, yet are they both strong and just. They will endure and their people will benefit from it,~ Morloth reassured.

They rode on, leaving the Great Jaunt behind them.

wWw

On the road, the Miskani were more subdued now without their Isbalin kin. Limhen kept the rear-guard while Amrunil and Faenthia rode at the front. Yet another week of traveling stood between them and home and, even with the Black King's kind words echoing still in his ears, the Pale King did not know how to proceed with his radiant fiance. He knew his old friend would encourage him to be kind and attentive, but he did not know where to start. It was especially daunting now that Faenthia was saddened by the loss of the half breed. Still, it would be painful ti ride in silence for a full seven days, so he swallowed his considerable pride and made the attempt.

"I never did ask," he began, wondering if it would be polite to ask Faenthia about himself, "How came you to be so skilled a smith."

His golden youth startled at the question before venturing, "I apprenticed myself in Chrysanthis when I was but a boy."

Amrunil respectfully did not remind his betrothed that he was still 'but a boy' and asked, "Did not your keepers run an inn there as well? Why did you not work for them?"

"My parents were still young enough to care for it on their own. My hands were nimble and I sought real work to bring more money into the household," the younger Elf replied.

"Did you never feel demeaned working in the filth and heat for Men?" Amrunil was curious as to whether there was any princely bearing inherent in his intended.

Faenthia snorted and gave his King a cutting look with those sapphire eyes, "Need I remind you that I fancied myself a Man until just recently? And how could I possibly feel demeaned when I was making weapons which would save the lives of Good Folk? I put steel into the hands of Road Wardens and Knights...and Kings."

For a moment, the Pale King of Miskas was silent. He considered what he had been told, running it over and around in his head. No, his fiance was neither elegant nor regal, but that did not mean he lacked a Princely disposition. It was a wilder form of nobility he possessed, humble and rough-hewn. He had an honest desire to serve and protect the good people of the world with his own flesh, sweat and toil. There was a passion to him, magnetic, and Amrunil found himself drawn in anew. Who knew how the following decades would hone that instinct into the keenest of weapons with which to serve the Kingdom?

He said none of this and instead asked, "Did you truly always believe yourself human? Even when we found you?"

The golden Prince shook his head, soft curls bouncing, "Nay, not truly. When I was yet very young, I simply believed myself malformed."

Anger bubbled in Amrunil's breast, "Your guardians said this unto you?!"

Faenthia startled, "Goodness, no! My parents merely bid me wear my hair short and hide my ears to keep questions at bay. I merely took the wrong reasons for doing so."

"And when did you learn the truth?" the King still bristled that any Elf should be forced to hide their ears or shear their hair, but it was clear that Faenthia would hear no recriminations against the humans who had cared for him.

"Not fully until you and your kin found me. I began to ask questions when the people around me grew steadily older and I never seemed to. My parents told me what I was then and how they found me, but knew little else which they could tell me. I continued to live as a Man, and happily too, never fancying that I would seen an Elf," Faenthia explained.

Amrunil huffed, "Did you never think of trying to find us?"

His fiance shrugged inelegantly, "Why would I? Elves are only seen when they choose to be and I was perfectly content with what kin I had...with the life I had."

"...Do you yet resent me for stealing you away?" asked the Pale King warily.

"There are times..." Faenthia began and the Pale King glowered, "Stop that, now! I said there are times, Amrunil, when I would like nothing better than to turn my horse and escape back to the life I knew...but I have learned too much. I have a burden of responsibility which I cannot look away from or else feel guilt the rest of my days."

"Yes, but do you resent me for putting that responsibility on you?" urged Amrunil, stuffing down the pleasure he felt over the use of his given name once again.

Faenthia rolled his bright eyes, "Well, there are certainly times when I want to!"

Amrunil said nothing to that, so the youth edged his horse closer and continued, "But then I realize that I cannot. Destiny is a devilish hard thing to outrun...and my time among Men couldn't have lasted forever...could it?"

There was a sadness in his tone, so the Pale King reached to gently touch his golden curls, "Ageless and Deathless, you would have ever been a vagabond, my radiance. To outrun your heritage would mean never having home or hearth for longer than a decade or two. That is not a life I would see for you."

His fiance leaned slightly into his hand like a child seeking comfort, "Do Elves truly never die? Must our lives be so long?"

"We can be killed as sure as the sun rises, but the death of Mortals? It is something we cannot ever know. It is not how the Spirits crafed us," explained Amrunil.

"You called immortality a gift before, one you stole, yet to my eyes it does not seem so great a gift," lamented the youth, "Surely there must be some end? Some rest for us that we may not be forever separated from our loved ones who go beyond the veil?"

"Alas, my radiance, I can offer little comfort. Elves were made of Memory and like Memory, we never truly die...we simply fade and become something insubstantial," the King said.

Faenthia looked confused, "I do not understand. What means all this?"

"Some Elves," the King said, "Though they do not die, choose to enter a state of deep dreaming. Their physical selves fade with long centuries and they take to the air as lesser Spirits, able to traverse the Halls beyond the veil and yet walk among the living unseen. They may speak with the dead, but it is not true death."

The golden Prince furrowed his brow, considering this. He seemed deeply troubled by his answer and how could he not be? He was a Deathless being who had been raised to see the world through the finite eyes of Mortals. Endless life was a terrifying thing to one who had been raised to reject it...to never even consider it. Even to some Elves, eternity was a daunting thing, but to a Mortal-Minded youngling with the lifespan of his kin? It had to be terrifying beyond measure.

Amrunil sighed and withdrew his hand, "Would that I had a kinder answer to give you, but Elves are the keepers of Lore and all the history of Pausalis. We are Memory itself. Our lives are not always kind."

Faenthia fell very quiet once more as they rode on into the bright morning and Amrunil could have kicked himself. Only the first hour along with his fiance without Morloth to mediate and he had already managed to offend and depress the younger Elf. Why could he not just be soft for one blasted day of his life? Must he always be a blunt and wretched old King? Damn his eyes!

So caugh tup was he in his self-effacing internal tirade that he barely heard Faenthia say, "...Some memories can be happy."

The older Elf blinked, "...Aye...they can be..."

"It seems to me that Elves keep a great many sorrowful memories near to their hearts, but this need not be so. Why can we not work towards more joyful memories that we might commit to Time?" the golden youth asked, his sapphire eyes far away.

The Pale King felt a rueful smile splitting his face, "Our history has been full of sorrow, my radiance. Your arrival into the world was meant to herald a time of reparation and future happiness. It can still be so."

"Aye, it can," said his fiance with a bit of courage sneaking into his tone, "I mean to make it so."

Unable to help himself, Amrunil leaned over on the back of his horse to lay a fond kiss upon Faenthia's brow, overtaken by his hope, "My radiant warrior...Our people shall rejoice to have you."

"They had better," smirked Faenthia, looking like the devil himself, "I will not live in mourning and neither shall you."

That amused the older Elf and he let out a soft laugh, "And if our people are determined to cleave to the old ways?"

"Then I shall drag them kicking and screaming by their bootheels out of their sepulchers and into the light of the sun!" declared the bold little Elfling.

In that moment, Amrunil saw in this young, wild creature a man that he could love. He saw a youth who would become a worthy husband to him and a worthier consort. His heart swelled as the morning sun struck against the planes and angles of Faenthia's face, catching in his curls and sparkling in his eyes. It glinted off of the bead he yet wore around his neck, reflecting and refracting against the smooth column of his throat. Yes, this fierce little warrior would bring their people into a new dawn and he was starting with the Pale King himself.

Namye preserve him.

wWw

Filled with a new determination, the rest of the week passed relatively swiftly. No fell creatures of the world dared harass a traveling party this near to Miskas. They knew well the ferocity of the beings that lived in these territories and valued their skins more than a full belly and a full purse. The days were easy and the nights were restful. All too soon, the horses lifted their noses to the wind, scenting the lush green smells of home. The soft aromas of vine flowers and fresh water wafted across the late summer breezes. The Elves had left the Great Jaunt some three days ago and had traveled through a forest nowhere near as large as Isbali, yet considerable in its own right.

Now as Faenthia listened he could hear among the birdsong the tumbling roar of a great waterfall. It was like thunder through the trees and the Elves all around him stopped and cocked their ears as if in gladness. This was the song of their homeland, the song of a journey's end and their hearts sang along with the tune of welcoming. Even the golden Elfling felt a peace linger over him, calming the rolling in his belly.

Amrunil spurred his horse with a happy cry beside him and the whole company rode like the wind through the final strand of trees, Faenthia alongside them, until they drew up in front of the grandest waterfall that ever the youth had laid eyes on. It was taller even than the trees and rainbows danced in the spray it sent rushing up from the rocks below.

Standing to either side of the hissing, roiling water were great statues of Elves of old. They stood proud in white stone untarnished by time or water or creeping plants. Their inscrutable, ancient eyes stared out ever onward to the horizon, their straight hair falling like water itself over their shoulders. Over their robes was carved elegant armour and their slender hands gripped imposing swords. They seemed, these creatures of stone, fey and alive and Faenthia felt humbled before them. These were the fabled Sentinels of Miskas.

The Pale King spoke a command in a form of Elvish too ancient for common speech and, before Faenthia's very eyes, the waterfall began to part as massive stone doors, arching and magnificent, swung open. As they parted, a smooth stone road was revealed and the company rode over that road, past the wild waters and the imposing Sentinels, their hearts light even as Faenthia shuddered when the resounding boom of the doors shutting rolled over his senses. The waters closed over the gates once more and it was as if no entrance to this hidden vale ever existed.

Faenthia looked up when Amrunil called his name, holding out a hand for him. The youth rode to his King's side.

When Amrunil spoke, it was with deep pride, his arm sweeping across the whole valley, "Look upon your dominion, my radiance. You have come home."

He had never seen something so stately and exalted in all his days.

The city was as gleaming white as the Sentinels had been, surrounded by verdant greenery. Atop a raised plateau was the Hall of the King, nestled in amongst gardens and sweeping verandas. There were rooms he could see from here, open and airy with large balconies where one could take the moonlight or the sunlight at ones leisure. Majestic covered archways draped in flowering vines wended down the plateau into the city proper, everything connected. Streams ran amongst the other houses, leaping and bounding through shady trees and everything shone.

Faenthia breathed out in wonder and slipped down from his charger's back, eyes wide, "It is everything the old tales say..."

Amrunil fought not to look too smug as he too slipped from his horse's back, "Will you permit me to walk you to the Royal Halls? I must present you to my advisors."

For the first time in a very long time, the youth felt self-conscious, "...Would I be permitted to...freshen up first? I am covered in the dust of the road and do not feel very...Princely."

The Pale King smiled at his protestations, "I will show you where you may clean yourself and I will have new clothes laid out for you."

"My thanks..." said Faenthia, still sounding unsure.

Amrunil gripped his chin lightly and tipped his head up, looking into his eyes, "You are a Prince here. Be not timid. Come."

Handing the reigns of their horses over to the guards, the Pale King led his fiance up the winding steps to the Royal Halls. They passed beneath the covered archways where all the heady scents of the blooming vines teased at Faenthia's nose, crowding around him like a rich perfume. It clung to his hair and his skin, but he did not become lost in it, firmly anchored by the King's hand upon his own, leading him onward. They passed into the shady Royal Halls and it seemed that Amrunil took them a secret way for no others saw them (for which the golden Faenthia was grateful).

Soon they stood within a large, airy room overlooking the waterfall and a very large garden. A soft bed stood against one wall, sunk into an alcove carved with ivy and blossoms so realistic Faenthia felt they might wilt if he touched them. Soft curtains drifted in the breeze by the balcony, as insubstantial as starlight and a beautiful rug took up the center of the room. A pale table stood at the center of the rug where one could take meals or receive parcels.

The King watched his fiance take everything in before speaking, "This will be your room until we are wedded. There is a bathing alcove just over there. Go wash and your clothes will be waiting for your return."

"And then?" he asked, not sure what was required of him.

"Then I will come to fetch you and we shall go to the Throne room. There I will announce to my people that the lost prince has returned to us," Amrunil explained.

He walked over and squeezed Faenthia's arms gently for reassurance before departing.

Alone now, Faenthia wandered over to the balcony and looked out at the alien world beyond. He heard singing in a language he did not comprehend and he drew back into the room. Stiffly, he stripped out of his road leathers, padding over to where the bathing chamber was supposedly located. He found it to be behind another alcove, the bathing pool sunk down into the floor and filled with clear water. Sighing in relief, the youth slipped into the water and allowed himself to be clean for the first time in nearly a month.

He took the time to bathe thoroughly, to groom his skin and his hair. He had never been vain, but if he was to be presented as some long-lost prince, he felt that he should at least try to look the part. He grimaced as he fought to get the dirt from beneath his nails and eventually surrendered when he found the grime too stubborn for the task. He only pulled himself from the tub after what felt like a rather long time, finally feeling clean enough to face an entire royal court. As he stepped out of the alcove, he found clothing folded neatly and waiting for him on the table as promised.

It was...definitely more dignified than he was used to.

What had been left for him was a set of sleek black leggings and delicately tooled boots to match. Over that he had been given a slim robe in midnight blue with silver embroidery and a silver belt. The sleeves of the robe narrowed to points and settled over the tops of his hands when he slid it on, hugging his svelte form flatteringly without being in poor taste. There was a paler blue sash for his waist with a light silver belt to clip round the middle of that. Finally, there was a fragile looking woven circlet which fitted snugly over his brow. He put this on and then regarded himself in a nearby looking glass, finding nothing of the young man he had been.

He looked over himself, wondering who this creature was, wishing in vain for something to cover his ears.

Faenthia jumped when there was a light knock at the heavy carved door of his room and he hurried to call out, "Come in!"

Amrunil entered and smiled at the vision that was his young fiance, "Are you ready, Faenthia? I've assembled the important members of the court."

"I suspect I shall never be ready, but I must do this anyway," he said softly to the King, trying not to look down at his feet.

The Pale King held out his hand and Faenthia took it, clutching at his fingers. Amrunil softly readjusted his grip until it was something more stately before walking out of the room with him. They went through public halls this time and the former blacksmith's face burned when the eyes of servants and civilians both looked upon him with curiosity. Elves were unused to new faces in their hallowed halls and they had never seen the like of Faenthia before. They looked upon his short hair and small form with open intrigue and the golden youth tried hard not to notice, though the task was nigh impossible.

He heard whispering behind him and squeezed his eyes shut before suddenly they stood before a sweeping pair of white doors. Taking a breath, Amrunil pushed them open and led his fiance into the throne room. It was great and open, with the throne itself sitting on a dais at the far end. The throne looked as if it had been made of woven roots and simply plucked up and placed there. With the eyes of many courtiers upon them, The Pale King of Miskas led his Golden Consort Elect up to the dais and stood before his gathered people.

Faenthia couldn't hide the faint tremble in his fingers with all the eyes upon him.

Amrunil spoke, his voice full of power, though he spoke in Elvish, so Faenthia knew not what he said. It was more than a little terrifying.

~Fair Children of Miskas!~ he said, ~Advisors and confidantes all, well do you know of the loss of my betrothed when he was but an infant and well know you the despair it wrought throughout the lands of Elfkind. Well also do you know that I journeyed with the Black King of Isbali to Chrysanthis as we do every century to reaffirm our alliance with the Small Flames of Man. On this journey, my heart felt much light, for hidden away in the city of Par'Lamer, I found a changeling. Some 60 Summers ago this Elfling was found amidst a scene of carnage and raised among Men. This Elfling yet carried my Betrothal Token.~

A great ripple of whispering and astonishment went through the assembled courtiers, but Amrunil held up his hand and continued.

~I say unto you now that this boy is Faenthia, lost Prince of Filirunde and my Consort Elect.~

The ripple turned into a wave and the nobles could not be contained. They cried out in shock and whispered to each other, all looking upon the golden youth. Faenthia struggled to keep his head aloft, the coronet on his brow suddenly feeling heavy beyond measure despite its finespun make. He had no idea what anyone was saying and he felt adrift. He was completely out of his element.

Amrunil's voice broke through the cresting excitement like a bird through the breeze, ~For the next forty years he will learn our ways, our history, our laws and our tongue, for he does not speak or understand it yet. He is a skilled smith and warrior and will serve on the Guard when he is not in lessons. I expect him to be treated with respect and honour befitting a Prince and my Consort Elect.~

Faenthia leaned over a little to whisper, "What did you say to them?"

His King murmured back, "I told them who you are and how important you are. I told them what you would be doing and that they are to treat you with respect."

"Will they?"

"If they do not, they will answer to me," muttered Amrunil with true threat before turning back to the Elves.

"I call now upon Lords Cuiiavas and Faelbain, as well as the Lady Rilfaun. Step forward," ordered the King with a tone of authority.

From the crowd stepped three Fair Children. They were fair and fell and fey beyond estimation.

Amrunil presented them to Faenthia one after another.

"May I present the Lord Cuiiavas, Master of Lore and History. He shall be your teacher."

The Elf he presented was the tallest of the three and willow-slender with silver hair spilling down his back. He wore a robe of deep autumn red and a narrow braid wrapped about his forehead like a wrought crown. His eyes were gray as stormy seas and his face was serene and warm. He bowed his head to the golden Elfling.

"May I also present the Lord Faelbain. He shall teach you our tongue and how to speak with grace among the people."

The next Elf to step forward was only slightly smaller than Cuiiavas, but quite his opposite. Where Cuiiavas was was silver as starlight, Faelbain was dark with hair and eyes as black as ink. Where the other was kind-seeming and welcoming, there was a sternness to Faelbain, a sharpness about the eyes that did not speak of a gentle demeanor. Faenthia could already tell that he would be a demanding and unwavering tutor. Still, the dark Elf bowed with all the courtesy of Cuiiavas.

"Finally, may I present the Lady Rilfaun, keeper of Courtly Law and my most trusted Advisor. She will instruct you on conduct and help you become a strong ruler of this people."

The last Elf to step forward was the most beautiful woman that ever Faenthia had seen. She was the smallest of the three, yet her presence was vast and ethereal. Her hair was full of waves and trailed nearly to the floor, white as snow and restrained in a flowing plait. Her face was childlike, yet ancient beyone reckoning and her eyes were the pale blue of winter skies. She wore a simple gown of pale purple with a golden girdle and all around her hung the impression of a smile even if her rosebud lips never moved. She bowed with the grace of a nimble doe.

"You will begin lessons with them on the morrow," Amrunil said, dismissing the three as well as the rest of the courtiers who departed while still watching the new Consort Elect with awe and curiosity.

Once the hall was cleared, Amrunil slumped back onto the throne and looked up at the golden youth by his side, "Well..."

The Elfling swallowed thickly and sat down at the edge of the dais, "That was terrifying."

The Pale King let out a snort, "And that wasn't even the whole city."

His fiance paled, "I must do this again?"

"Be at ease, my radiance. You will have too many lessons and Guard Patrols to be presented formally to the people for many years yet," Amrunil said, raising a single hand.

Faenthia rubbed ruefully at his brow and found himself wishing for a simple life like he had once had. Intellectually knowing that one was to be a beacon of hope was an entirely different matter from facing the reality. He heard the King sigh behind him, heavy, and turned to regard the older Elf.

"Faenthia, this marks the beginning of a difficult time. I will no longer be able to see you often. You and I will both be too busy. I fear when we meet again we will be as strangers to one another," said Amrunil, his jade eyes troubled.

The Pale King held out a hand and Faenthia stood to take it, feeling the older Elf run his long fingers over his knuckles as if to soothe them both.

"Amrunil...I know you are prone to foolishnes, but to think I would simply forget you? Why, that is so stupid it is almost...human," the Elfling teased.

It broke the King's melancholy and he swatted at his fiance, stifling a smirk, "Bah! Off with you then, you cheeky thing. Go and rest. Tomorrow begins a very long forty years."

Faenthia laughed and slipped away from him. He didn't take the chastisement poorly. After all, he could have sworn he saw the tension in the Pale King's face ease with his words, even wrapped in an insult as they were. He was sure they would not change so very much even over the separation.

As the large hall doors closed behind him, he held his head high for the walk back to his room.

Yes, the separation would be long, but in that time he vowed to become a Consort Amrunil (and his people) would be proud of.

To be Continued...

A/N: Wow, this chapter came out fast. I ended up having a few hours of free, quiet time so I took it upon myself to slam this out. I'm actually REALLY happy with this chapter and we finally get to the romance and courtly intrigue I originally promised with this story! This is where it REALLY gets hard for Faenthia and Amrunil.

LEXICON
Creation - Each Race of Pausalis has a different creation myth, but all come from the same source. When Namye sought to give life to a new world, her husband, Druvaan, sewed pieces of himself into the world to give birth to new life. The Elves were born from his Memory and would be eternal, watching and recording all that the wisdom of the ages would be kept for newer races and should the land ever need to be reforged. Men were born from his Heart and so are fiery and passionate, emotional creatures who burn out quickly and return to the bosom of Namye. The Dwarves were born from his Sinew and so were strongest of all races, steady and firm though unwavering. The Wildekinde were born of his Instinct, learning to trust their senses above their heads and to culture the land. All other creatures such as Goblins and Cauldings were not born of Namye and Druvaan.

Chapter Text

The Changeling of Par'Lamer
Chapter 6


Faenthia roused early the next morn, glad that he was used to rising with the sun.  It gave him time to groom and mentally prepare himself for the day ahead, for it would be like nothing he had known before.  He clothed himself in garb similar to the previous day, still marveling at the being in the mirror so different from himself, yet wearing his face.  He gently touched the betrothal token around his neck, neglecting putting on his coronet for the time being.  He would keep that little bit of himself just for now.  Taking one last long look at himself, the golden youth drifted away from the mirror and over to the balcony, enticed by warm dawn sunshine and the scent of flowers.

He placed his hands on the yet-cool stone of the balcony, closing his eyes and taking in the serenity of the new day.

So absorbed was he in the world beyond his chambers that he did not hear the Lady Rilfaun enter on silent feet.  Graceful as a shadow, she drew up to stand a ways behind him, observing her new pupil.  The chief advisor stood still as the Sentinels themselves, watching as the Prince's shoulders relaxed in his safe solitude.  She was almost loathe to intrude upon his calm, yet knew he must learn to expect and tolerate interruptions at all times in his new role as the Consort Elect.

~Your Highness,~ she demured, her voice unassuming and sweet as silver bells.

Faenthia gasped and turned quickly, "Lady Rilfaun!"

She held her hands out, palms up in peace, "Be easy, little Prince."

"...Am I late?" he asked, sounding breathless.

Rilfaun radiated calm and did not move, "No, my Prince.  Your lesons will be held here in your chambers.  You are not late."

"Oh..." Faenthia said, looking back out at the city beyond wistfully, "Every lesson will be in here? All day?"

The shining Lady could see easily to the heart of the Consort Elect's sudden displeasure just from gazing at his hands and following the line of his eyes.  Clearly, the Elfling was used to freedom and fresh air, to being able to roam when the notion took him.  The very human part of him so recently left behind despaired at the confinement he felt he now faced.  His roughened hands spoke of a life lived through labour of the body and not long studies.  His studies were a necessity now, in this place, yet she still sought to ease his heart.

She lowered her hands and folded them neatly into her belled sleeves, "You fear confinement, young Prince, but you must not.  True, your lessons will take much of your time and must take place, but we mean not to make of you a caged bird.  Your afternoons and evenings will be spent out of doors with the Guard on patrol."

"Truly?" asked the Elfling.

"You must be a well-rounded ruler.  We seek to nurture all aspects of your being...the Noble and the Warrior," Rilfaun assured him.

Faenthia allowed himself a relieved smile and the snowy maiden finally glided over to his side.  She reached out and took both of his hands within her own small ones, pulling them out and opening them before him as she had done with her own earlier.  She adjusted his position as she saw fit, hands no heavier than bird's wings, making sure that his back was straight and his head was held high atop the slender column of his neck.

"This is your first lesson.  This is the traditional way in which one of Noble blood greets another, no matter their race.  It is an opening of the heart and a sign of trust," she instructed, watching his face, "If you greet another king, you may also bow."

The golden youth dipped into a slight bow from the waist, looking up to the Lady for reassurance.  Her face still as ice, Rilfaun tapped the bottom of his chin when he did so.

"No, my Prince.  You must never look unsure.  You must never look to others for approval in public.  People cannot be sure of their King unless he is sure of himself."

The Elfling sighed and pulled away from her slightly, "How am I to be sure of myself when I know nothing of what I must do?"

He found her dainty hand at his chin again and she spoke, "Little one, never did I say that you were never to feel unsure.  Think you that your regal betrothed is always so sure? No, golden bird, you must simply never show that you are unsure when in court.  I am not here to change who you are...I am only to instruct you on how to behave when in Court."

Faenthia looked ruefully at her, "Amrunil never told me precisely what I must do."

Thinking for a moment, the snow-white Lady directed him over to the small table in the center of his room and seated them both there.  She sat with a straight back, but there was no rigidity to her.  She was as crafted ice, sleek yet unyielding.  Faenthia sat across from her and folded his hands in his lap, trying to mimic the way she sat, but feeling that he only looked gawkish and stiff.

"Well then, we shall simply begin elsewhere with our lessons.  So you say unto me that you know not what you must do?" inquired the Lady Rilfaun, her frosted blue eyes warm and tender.

"Nay, fair Lady...only that I am to lead by his side," admitted the Elfling.

One of Rilfaun's soft hands drifted over to touch his own, "Indeed, this you must do."

"How am I to do this?"

The Lady's face was that of Queen and Mother all at once when she said, "You must be his Strength and his Weakness...that which gives him courage and tempers his hard edges.  You must question him, but support him also.  It falls to you, golden Faenthia, to treat him as the one thing no other in this city can."

Faenthia watched the lady with quiet awe writ across his face, "And what is that?"

"A man.  A man with needs and fears and hopes.  To you he must be a partner in all things...not simply a King."

The young Prince was quiet and she elaborated, withdrawing her hand to deftly pick up the circlet he had set aside.

"To do this, you must know your own worth as surely as you know his.  You must carry yourself with dignity for even when you are not at his side, you are an extension of him and he you.  Whatever you were before must never be forgotten, but you must also remember now that you are no less than his equal," said Rilfaun.

With that, she laid the circlet upon his brow, whisper-soft, and allowed herself a small smile when he said, "It feels so heavy to me."

"It will at times, little Prince.  Yet you must be stronger than it and hold your head high, knowing that when the burden becomes too much, Amrunil will be there to help you bear it as must you be for him.  There is more, of course...laws and tradition...but this you must know first for it is the heart of my lessons."

Faenthia touched the woven circle of silver upon his head and took a deep breath.  Lady Rilfaun told him no pretty lies and cast no recriminations.  He was not weak for thinking it heavy, nor did she promise it would ever become lighter...but he was not alone in wearing it.  In public the weight would be his to bear, but beyond the Throne she urged him to realize that Amrunil would share it with him, as well as the advisors and tutors who would guide him even once he was considered an adult among their people.  With that knowledge, a bit of the biting loneliness faded.  There was no need for him to be isolated in this.

He offered her a smile full of new hope and said, "Come, my Lady...teach me the greeting once more."


wWw


The rest of the lesson with Rilfaun had been filled with the old traditions, the gestures, the expectations of his status.  It was a lot to remember and his head was swimming, but he comforted himself with the knowledge that he had forty years yet to master all of this.  He comforted himself also with the notion that he could grow to like the snow-pale Lady.  She was warm despite her poise and she was wise, perhaps even wiser than Morloth.  She had eased his fears greatly and made it so that he could progress into his next lesson with more confidence and courage than he had with hers.

Of course, his next lesson had been with Faelbain and it had been nearly soul-crushing.

It had been perfectly clear when the tutor swept impatiently into the room that he lacked any of Rilfaun's softness and from his thick accent that he was no fond supporter of the Common tongue.  He slipped often back into Elvish and seemed frustrated when Faenthia could not follow him forwards and back between the languages.  He had been snappish and stern as the younger Elf had feared he would be when he had first been introduced.

This was not to say, however, that the grumpy old Linguistics master did not know his craft.  Far from it.  What he taught during that lesson, Faenthia was sure he would remember for the rest of his days.  He merely wished that Faelbain had not seen fit to terrify him in order to make that so.  At least he now knew a few basic greetings and well-wishes that he would be able use for the sake of politeness at the very least.  Still, his nerves were understandably shot by the time the dark-hued Elf swept out of his rooms.

Needing to gather his thoughts, the golden youth collapsed back onto his bed, rubbing his forehead underneath his coronet to soothe the growing headache he felt.  Forty more years of THAT.  Namye save him.  

By the time he heard another knock at his door, Faenthia had lost quite a bit of time (just how much he couldn't really be sure).  Perhaps he'd even fallen asleep even if he'd never admit it.  He groaned and sat up on the bed, pushing himself to standing.  

He didn't sound thrilled when he called out, "Come in."

Of course, his third tutor peered around the door, smiling when he saw Faenthia.  It was Lord Cuiiavas come for the final lesson of the day and the golden Elfling only prayed that he was more understanding than Faelbain had been.  Forcing himself into action, the Prince went through the formal bow and greeting that Rilfaun had taught him first thing that morning, hoping it would be a better start for them.  Maybe, if Cuiiavas was of a disposition similar to Faelbain's, he'd be tempted to go easy when he saw that the Elfing really and truly was trying?

Instead of ire, he earned a delighted laugh from the silver Lord, "Ah! I see Rilfaun has taught you well! Excellent form, excellent! You took that lesson well."

Faenthia lifted his head curiously at the jolly tone.

Cuiiavas came into his room bearing a few scrolls, fluttering about like a great, excited bird while he twittered away, "Of course, you needn't bow to me in the privacy of your own rooms, you know.  Still! Excellent form!"

The younger Elf sighed and let his posture droop a bit, "Oh.  I did not know.  Lady Rilfaun did not teach me that yet..."

"Never fear, child! It is but the first day, after all," chuckled Cuiiavas.

The silver-haired Lord considered the small table where it sat in the middle of the room before huffing to himself, "No no, this simply shall not do?"

"I...I am sorry Lord Cuiiavas, but...what will not do?" Asked Faenthia hesitantly.

"This table! Come, child, and help me carry this onto the balcony.  The sun is yet glorious and I've no wish to be confined to the indoors on such a day," said the Lord.

Baffled, but unwilling to disobey, Faenthia helped the eccentric historian to carry the table out to the balcony along with the chairs so that they might sit out of doors.  The minute the breezes hit his face, he had to admit that, for all that it was a strange request, it had its merits.  After his lesson with his linguistics master, he actually welcomed some fresh air in his hair.  Cuiiavas saw the relief on the young one's face and smiled indulgently.

"See there? Much better.  Now then, sit," he instructed and sat himself down in one of the chairs.

Faenthia sat slowly, watching the teacher warily.  There was something inherently childlike in the older Elf's enthusiasm that he hadn't encountered in any of the Fair Children yet.  Yes, Rilfaun had an air of youth lingering around her ageless features, but she carried a great weight and magnitude about her.  This tall Lord seemed light as a feather on the wind, his energy constantly bubbling and eddying on a whim.  It was a curiosity, but the golden youth said nothing as he watched.  Luckily, Cuiiavas seemed oblivious to his observations, merrily rolling out scrolls and gently brushing away dust with light flicks of his wrist.

"Now then," he chirped, "I will skip Filirunde's history for now as I'm sure you've had your poor ears filled with it...unless there is more you'd like to know?"

"Actually...I would very much appreciate it if we could set my homeland aside for later.  I have heard far too much of it of late...and of its repercussions..." confided Faenthia.

The old historian smiled very kindly, "Then we shall set those lessons aside, child.  There is time enough for heartache later when the sun is not so glorious."

Cuiiavas turned his kindly gaze onto the Elfling and looked him over, his face going softer, "...All I will yet say...is that you resemble him so."

It hit Faenthia like a blow to the chest, "...Who?"

"Why, King Berethel, child.  Your father."

For a few moments, Faenthia forgot to breathe.  He had heard so many stories of the Fall of Filirunde and what it meant for Elfkind.  He had heard of the destruction it had wrought throughout Pausalis and what it meant for every other Race.  He had heard of the ripples flowing out through every corner of the world and how he was meant to be the balm to heal a broken people...but all of that was lofty and faraway...removed from him.  None had yet to speak to him about something so intimate.

He found himself blurting, "What sort of man was he?"

The silver-haired Lord considered Faenthia again, something sad lingering in the faint laugh-lines around his eyes, "...Ah yes...I forget myself.  You knew him not."

"No..." confirmed the Prince breathlessly.

Until just a month past, he had known only Bryony and Pasha as his mother and father.  That there was another man and woman who had brought him into this world that he knew nothing about...it hit him right at his core.  They were the ones who had started him down this path and yet they were as strangers to him.  They had died protecting him...holding him.  What manner of folk had they been?

"Very well, your Highness...very well," Cuiiavas said as soothingly as he possibly could, "King Berethel was painfully young when his father, your grandsire, was killed.  I saw him only once after the Fall and I remember being stricken by the change the war had wrought in him.  You see, your sire was King only in name...only taking up the mantle after his father was slain."

The elder took a moment to think, remembering back, "Before the War of Shame, though...ah, there was no finer lad.  He was as bright as the dawn and as steady as a midwinter bonfire.  He was so full of compassion and warmth...he was much-loved by the people of all the Kingdoms of the Fair Children.  I suspect that was, in part, why King Amrunil acquiesed so readily to your betrothal..."

"And...and my mother?" asked Faenthia, feeling the words stick in his throat.

"Queen Elothian was fine as quicksilver and unyielding as stone.  If Berethel was the heart of the land, then she was the backbone upon which all rested.  She was stubborn and determined as any I have ever known."

The golden youth felt his breath stutter and he had to close his eyes to center himself.  His parents sounded like wonderful people...well...his birth parents anyway.  There was a part of him that would always respect and adore Bryony and Pasha as his parents, but now he was forced to accept that there were others who had once existed in the world...others who had shaped him in fundamental ways before he was even able to speak.  To think now that those others were dead and beyond his reach, that he would never learn from them or even know them was suddenly and sharply painful in a way he hadn't been prepared for.  

Cuiiavas saw his distress and rose quietly to fetch him a small cup of water, "There there, child...forgive me.  I should not have spoken of it.  I am often imprudent with my words, you see."

"Nay...nay, do not apologize.  It simply took me by surprise," said Faenthia, gratefully accepting the water.

When he again opened his jewel-tone eyes, he saw the older Elf looking upon him with concern.  He attempted a shaky smile which might have come off as more of a grimace (if Cuiiavas's answering wince was anything to go by).  His gray eyes were a little pinched and his fingers tapped every so softly against the tabletop.

"Perhaps a different subject might be advised?" offered the willowy Elf.

"Yes...very well," the Prince said, attempting to salvage what poise he had found with Lady Rilfaun that morning.

The silver Lord nodded gently and plucked up a scroll, smoothing it down before Faenthia's eyes.



wWw



By the end of lessons for the day, Faenthia's emotions felt a wild, jumbled mess.  He had been given comfort by the enigmatic Lady Rilfaun as she laid his duties out so clearly and simply.  He had been utterly terrified by his surly linguistics tutor, Faelbain and had finally been thrown utterly into turmoil by the revelations presented to him by sweet and unassuming Cuiiavas.  Faenthia was sure he was supposed to feel more secure now, but he was more confused and pained than ever before.

He wished to run out in the open air.

There was yet another knock on his door and his pale brow furrowed in frustration.  He knew he only had three tutors, so who in Namye's name would be hammering on his door now? Instead of calling for the other to enter, he went to the door himself and pulled it open, thoroughly surprising the servant waiting on the other side, almost causing her to drop the armful of leathers and sundry items she carried.

~Forgive me, your Highness! His Majesty, King Amrunil bids me...~

Faenthia stared at her before gesturing to his ears, "I'm sorry...I don't..."

The servant blushed and sputtered for a moment before repeating herself very slowly in thickly accented Common, "Forgive my...interruption.  I...King Amrunil sends clothing for patrol.  And bow."

The golden Prince raised one eyebrow and reached for the things she held out, looking them over.  Among the bundle was a set of durable, common gray and brown leathers much like he used to wear for his long rides to Chrysanthis.  They were soft and would allow him to move easily and he couldn't help but smile a bit.  Now this...this was familiar.  This he recognized and welcomed with great zeal.  In truth, he had been a little bit afraid that he would be required to wear his princely clothes and circlet even while he was on patrol, set apart even where he should have been his most comfortable.  this was a welcome surprise.

The bow however...

He took that from the servant next (who watched him with nervous curiosity the entire time) and examined it.  Honestly, he had never learned to use one of these.  He had always preferred the grace and strength required in his beloved blades, both swords and knives, so he had avoided archery.  Why in Namye's name was he being given such a weapon? He tried to hand it back to the servant.

"Ah, I am sorry.  I cannot use this," he tried to sound as polite as possible.

The servant bowed her head, "King Amrunil insistent.  Captain Limhen too.  Bow is...the weapon of the Elves.  The Prince must learn it."

So that was it then.  That wasn't so bad really.  He considered the bow once again and admitted that, while he had no skill in it, it was still a well-crafted instrument.  Faenthia gave his thanks to the servant who quickly departed as soon as she felt that she was allowed.  The golden Prince sincerely hoped that all the servants weren't prepared to treat him with the same level of terrified confusion otherwise these next four decades would be extremely tiring.

Faenthia quickly shrugged off his misgivings from the awkward interlude and went to his leathers once more.  He changed into them with great relish, casting off his robes and setting his circlet aside, feeling more himself than he had in ages.  He felt as if he had released a breath he didn't know that he had been holding.  The leathers fit him like a glove, leaving nothing that could snag without confinding him.  There was even a hood on the tunic which would hide his golden hair when the time came that it was necessary.  

Feeling his excitement rising, he buckled a leather belt about his waist and slung the bow over his back along with a quiver of arrows that had been included with the gift.  His knives he sheathed upon his thighs, putting them easily within reach of his hands.  From his balcony, he heard Limhen call up and the golden Elfling rushed from his rooms, intent on joining the Captain for his first patrol.

wWw

King Amrunil stood on his balcony overlooking the great waterfall that separated his kingdom from the world beyond.  Behind him stood the Lady Rilfaun, her eyes as distant as always and her aura filling up every corner of the room like moonlight.  He knew that just about now his fiance's final lesson would be finishing and a servant would be delivering a new set of hunting leathers to him as well as a bow (the boy had kept his hand-crafted daggers).  It was almost time for Faenthia to go and join Limhen's patrol beyond the wall and some part of the Pale King feared having the youth beyond his reach for even a moment.

Rilfaun read his fears and answered them, ~He is yet determined to do right by you and our people.  He will not flee, Amrunil.~

Amrunil did not say that he feared more than his radiant fiance's flight.  He did not say that he feared any number of wild things which could take Faenthia away as easily as they had sixty long Summers past.  He did not say how the fight with the Cauldlings had put that fear in him anew.  He knew that he did not need to.  The Lady Rilfaun was ever-insightful and would surely guess at his worries without him ever having to give word to them.  She was his Chief Advisor for a reason and, even in her most fey moments, she was a source of comfort to him when his old friend Morloth could not be near.

Her voice whispered nearer to him, ~Prince Faenthia has his mother's indomitable spirit within his breast.  You need not fear so deeply.~

~Yet I do...~ he breathed out and turned fully to her, finding she had drifted closer to the balcony while he was distracted, ~How did you find him, today?~

~As promising as ever I did Berethel of old.  He is yet fearful and so the fire of his spirit burns low, but given time he will warm all in his presence,~ she responded evenly and without a hint of doubt.

~Fearful?~ questioned Amrunil, his brow furrowing.

~That he will not live up to the expectations set for him,~ she answered, ~Recall that he was not raised as a Prince of the Realm and knew not what was expected of him.~

There was a tone of admonishment in her delicate voice and the Pale King sighed heavily through his nose, ~I trust you set him to rights.~

~I told him the truth of what he must be, if that is what you wish to know,~ Rilfaun informed him, walking to place her hands on the balcony railing.

Both of them watched as, down below, a golden-haired Elfling bounded down one of the covered archways.  The sunlight flashed off of his curls where it caught them through the dappled shade of flowering vines, the hood of his dull hunting leathers not yet pulled up.  His new bow was strapped across his back with a quiver and his daggers were sheated on his lean legs.  He disappeared like a shadow of gray and brown, headed down towards where Limhen called him on from below.  He was a shade...a ghost...and a dangerous one at that.  Amrunil knew this all too well from their battle on the road.

That didn't stop him from tensing...from longing to call the Elfling back and hiding him forever in the safety of the Halls.

Rilfaun's dainty hand rested on his arm, ~Before he can be your equal, he must learn to stand on his own two feet.  Do not hinder him.~

Amrunil hadn't realized that he had leaned forward ever so slightly, one hand raising as if to do what he had wished and call Faenthia back.  He quickly placed the hand back down, a bit of a flush rising to his cheeks in embarassment at his lack of control.  His hands clenched into fists and he gritted his teeth, a muscle in his jaw jumping.  Rilfaun's hand drew back after a time and she resumed watching the world below while the Pale King fumed silently at her side.

~We can not be ever burdened by the past, Amrunil.~

There it was.

She read his fears and concerns as easily as if they were writ across his face for all to see.  She knew all too well how he remembered losing Faenthia sixty years ago and though she did not know of the Cauldling attack, he was sure that she suspected something of that ilk.  He could never hope to hide something from the snow-pale lady (nor would he want to).   She had advised his father before him and was perhaps older even than Morloth, so ancient that a weaker Elf of her same age would have already succumbed to the Deep Dreaming.  Even when he wished he could have SOME secrets from the woman, Amrunil was ever grateful for her.

He breathed out heavily, apologetically, while admitting, ~So much can happen in forty years, my Lady...~

At the very corners of her lips there appeared the suggestion of a mysterious, encouraging smile, ~Aye, Amrunil...it can.~


To Be Continued...


A/N - Hey everyone! Another slightly short (for me) chapter.  This was just supposed to be Faenthia's first day as a prince and I didn't want to linger over his lessons (because that would be dull).  I did, however, want to introduce you to his tutors.  Faenthia's first patrol is in the next chapter.

LEXICON
Today's Lexicon expansion includes a Culture lesson that I intended to include in an earlier chapter, but forgot to.  Mabakhel has left the story for the time being, but here's a little bit of cultural information about his father's people:


DWARVISH BEAD TRADITIONS
CLAN - a bead that all members of the family will wear.
              Worn - In front of the right ear.
RELATIONSHIP - a bead to signify a Dwarf's marital status.  If they are wedded, they will wear this bead paired with a second CLAN bead from their spouse's  family.  This bead will also announce a Dwarf's sexuality (as there is no stigma against homosexuality in Dwarvish culture).
              Worn - Behind the right ear.
STATUS - a set of beads meant to signify a Dwarf's position in society.  They will wear 1 for a profession, a 2nd bead for where they rank in that  profession (Novice, Journeyman, Master, Grandmaster) and a 3rd bead for their personal rank (Untouchable, Common, Noble, Royal)    Worn - In front of the Left ear.
DEEDS - For every noteworthy deed a Dwarf performs, they are granted a new bead to wear in their hair.  Each of these beads is wholly unique, but fall into  categories (Foe Slain, Service to Kingdom, Noteworthy Craftsmanship,
              Worn - Can be woven anywhere throughout the hair or beard.
KINGDOM - a bead to signify from which city a Dwarf hails from (Grotta Ghar, Grotta Abjad, Grotta Snien).
              Worn - Behind the left ear.

STIGMAS of BEADS
If a Dwarf does not wear a CLAN bead, they are considered pariahs.  Family is the most important aspect of Dwarvish culture.  Only a  family member can grant a CLAN bead and only a family member can revoke a CLAN bead.  If a Dwarf has their CLAN bead revoked, they are disgraced.
- Note: Mabakhel was asked to leave Grotta Ghar, but still permitted to wear his CLAN sigil as he had committed no crimes and been a dutiful child while he still lived in the city.


Dwarves are not often adventurers, so almost every single Dwarf living bears a KINGDOM bead.  Dwarves who do not wear a KINGDOM bead are seen as odd, but do  not bear the stain of those lacking a CLAN bead.
- Note: Mabakhel chooses not to wear his bead from Grotta Ghar and instead fashioned his own to symbolize his loyalty to the Road Wardens.


Almost all Dwarves wear a RELATIONSHIP bead even though it is the least necessary of the 5 types.  Even Dwarves who have no significant other wear a bead to  announce this and it is seen as a way of saying one is open to courting.
- Note: Mabakhel does not wear a RELATIONSHIP bead and is therefor advertising that he is neither taken nor open for courtship.

SPECIAL NOTE
Despite the fact that Faenthia wears a bead currently, bead ornamentation is uncommon amongst Elves.  Beads are only given in the case of an aggranged marriage where the recipient is too young yet to wear a ring.  As Faenthia was betrothed in infancy, he was given a bead which would have been exchanged for a ring at earliest convenience had he been raised amongst the Elves.

Chapter Text

The Changeling of Par'Lamer
Chapter 7


Faenthia very nearly went charging into a group of assembled guardsmen in his eagerness to heed Limhen's call.  He only stopped himself short at the last moment, eyes bright as twin fires.  The Captain of the Guard looked like he simply wanted to put his face into his hands at the almost HUMAN behaviour while the rest of the guard just stared at him in something akin to shock, whispering to each other in that silvery language of theirs.  Only one of the Elves didn't look at him like a child, but rather with interest.

The Elf was as tall as Cuiiavas was and every inch as willowy, but his form was filled out with sinewy muscles.  He wore leathers the same as Faenthias, but his were battered and worn from years of hard use.  The warrior leaned lightly on a tall bow and he wore an easy, curious smile that twinkled all the way up to the one pale blue eye he still had.  The other eye was tightly closed with an ugly scar running over it.  Faenthia worked hard not to stare and focused on the rest of him, noting that his hair was cropped up to his shoulders rather than left to grow, tied up in a short tail at the back of his head.  His locks were a platinum shade that wasn't quite blonde and wasn't quite white.

While the others looked at Faenthia's leathers and scoffed, this peculiar guard could only show an inquisitive excitement.

Finally, another elf among the host, this one with a haughty expression and rose-gold hair in a straight fall down her back turned to Limhen and sneered, ~Why does a CHILD join our patrol? Who gave him a uniform?~

Limhen gestured sharply, an order to stand down before speaking in Common, "Silence! All of you!"

When the host went quiet, he gestured to Faenthia, "By order of your King, this boy begins training with us on the Guard as of today.  You will treat him as a brother.  You will give him orders in Common for the time being or find someone who can, as he does not speak the tongue yet.  Does anyone care to argue?"

There was an uneasy silence then as the guards took in the information.  For those who did not speak Common, Limhen repeated his orders in Elvish.

His attention turned to the platinum blonde elf with one eye, ~Celinagar.  He will join your patrol.  You will watch out for him and train him in the use of a bow when you can spare the time.~

Celinagar smiled and bowed respectfully, one hand over his heart.

Satisfied, the Captain of the Guard turned to Faenthia, "This is Sub-Captain Celinagar.  He commands a smaller part of the patrol.  You will be in the city limits with him until you are deemed strong enough and old enough to patrol beyond the Sentinels.  You will obey his orders.  Am I understood?"

Faenthia looked at the new Elf before imitating his bow as best he could, figuring that was the correct response, despite the insult he was sure Limhen had just given him.  Not strong enough? Where had Limhen been when he had fought off at least half a horde of Cauldlings?

"Very well," Limhen said and Faenthia missed the almost smug look of satisfaction that crossed his face when he saw the Elfling was trying to be less...Human.

With that, the Captain swept off towards the city gates beyond the Sentinels with his larger contingent, leaving the golden youth alone with Celinagar and his small force.  It truly was small too, boasting only five or six warriors in its number, each one of them younger and more fresh-faced than the hardened warriors of Limhen's troupe.  Why, if he wasn't mistaken, these fair, young fighters were only just in their adulthood (or so he guessed).  Faenthia tried hard not to stare at them, blinking when Celinagar stepped up to him.

"Welcome to the City Guard.  For tonight, you will accompany me to the arena to get you started with that bow, shall we? Everyone else will report to me should they need me, yes?" He looked around to his City Guard with his one eye and they bowed before disappearing into the shadows of the hidden city.

"Now then," he said once they were alone, "Shall we?"


wWw


The 'arena' that Celinagar took them to was really more of an archery field ringed in by what great trees had been left to grow wild at the edges of the city.  He was standing behind Faenthia in front of one of the targets now, just guiding him through the basic stances required to use a bow (which were quite different from the ones required to fight with daggers or a sword).  

"Good...now lift your elbow higher and hold it there.  It will hurt, but you must build up the strength for this before you even lift an arrow," he instructed, callused hands tapping the youngling's arms into place.

Grunting a bit at the position, the golden youth held it all the same.

Celinagar backed off a bit and left him to simply stand there, determined to build up strength in the youth.  Faenthia accepted this and looked forward, pleased when his muscles didn't tremble immediately.  Of course, he'd always had inhuman stamina that came from being one of the Fair Children.  Eventually this would take its toll on him, but it would take quite a great length of time, which, he assumed, was what the one-eyed Elf was waiting for.  He kept his bright blue eyes focused forward.

Silence didn't settle for long before Celinagar spoke again, his voice lilting, but roughened as if by smoke...slightly husky, "Tell me your name."

"Ber," Faenthia responded immediately before remembering and sighing, "Faenthia.  Sorry.  It's Faenthia."

"How old are you, Faenthia?"

"60 Summers," Faenthia answered, his form slipping.

Celinagar's hand was there to tap him back into position, asking him the next question, "Interesting.  You are the oldest Elf I've yet to train in the bow, but the youngest ever I have seen join the City Guard."

Faenthia gritted his teeth and held the position again while Celinagar continued to natter, "And I must confess that I have never seen your face."

Feeling snappish at the constant distraction, the Elfling's temper got the best of him, "It may be I have simply been standing to the left of you."

When he realized he had just insulted the disability of a warrior Elf, the golden youth quickly dropped his stance completely and turned, eyes wide, "I'm so sorry...!"

Celinagar, however, looked like he was ready to fall over with laughter, "A skilled jest!"

Now Faenthia was just confused.

The older Elf shook his head, still laughing, and walked over to guide Faenthia back to the position he was supposed to be in.  Unsure what was going on anymore, the Elfling let himself be prodded like a dozy calf.  By all rights, the Sub-Captain could have knocked him into the dirt for saying such a hideous thing, but all he got for his rudeness was laughter and a compliment.  He feared he would never understand these people.

Standing still now, he asked quietly, "...You are not offended?"

"Faenthia, being offended would not grant me back my eye would it? Besides, I annoyed you on purpose," the Elf said.

"What?"

"You allowed me to distract you and you dropped your stance.  You cannot do that in the field, nor in battle, so it's best you get used to it now," said Celinagar with a sly smile.

It startled a laugh out of the younger Elf, but he stayed where he was supposed to.

Celinagar chuckled along with him, "And, to be honest, your words had wit.  If I am to be insulted, I prefer for it to be done with some manner of intellect."

"...Do people insult you often then?" inquired Faenthia with a bad feeling that he wouldn't like the answer.

The pale Elf retreated a few steps, trusting Faenthia to do as he was told without correction for awhile, "Never to my face, no.  That is not the way of the Elves."

His young student raised one eyebrow and he folded his arms, "How do you suppose I found myself relegated to the City Guard instead of the Perimeter Guard as I once was?"

The Elfling huffed softly as pain crept into his shoulders, but found the conversation was a good distraction from the strain, "What is the difference?"

"The City Guard cares for those who live in the walls.  We are few and we respond to emergencies here beyond the Sentinels.  No one remains on the City Guard forever, either.  This is where every soldier starts, training beneath a Captain until they are deemed strong and sure enough to be put on rotation with the Perimeter Guard."

"The Perimeter Guard are the elite, venturing beyond the Sentinels in shifts to ward off the monsters of the wild world beyond and maintaining the secrecy of Miskas," explained the older Guard.

"And you used to be among the elite?"

"In line to be Captain," said Celinagar.

"What happened?" Faenthia asked, looking at the other out of the corner of his eye.

When the other spoke, his voice was blithe as if it simply didn't bother him, "I was acting as an Advance Scout and I stumbled across a Goblin pack at the edge of our borders.  The others of my company came as soon as they could, but, alas, t'was too late for this eye of mine.  Almost too late for me."

"Because Goblins poison their blades," said Faenthia, remembering that from his journeys on the road when he was younger.

Celinagar seemed pleased that he knew that, "Aye, indeed.  I languished in the Healing Halls for a time that I to this day cannot recall and when once again I joined the guard I found that Limhen had taken the Captaincy and my use had been called into question."

"But you were a hero...were you not? Why could they have not simply waited for you to be well again before granting you the position you had earned?"

That earned him a warm look as the other Elf walked over and deftly guided him out of the stance.  Faenthia hadn't even realized that he'd begun to tremble slightly while they were talking.

"The argument was made that I should become a liability with yet one eye left to me," said Celinagar.

"Despite my rudeness, it doesn't seem to hinder you," the golden youth said sharply, not liking what he was hearing, "If I can see that after knowing you for only a single short afternoon, surely they could have as well?"

"It was also argued that we had not the time to wait and assess my readiness.  A point was made that, if Goblins dared wander so close to our borders we required a Captain sooner in case a larger attack was coming," said Celinagar and even he sounded like he didn't believe it for a second.

"That is idiotic political posturing and I cannot believe King Amrunil allowed it to happen thus!" said Faenthia sharply.

"Peace, Faenthia, it was not Amrunil who presided over the choosing, but his father."

"Could not Amrunil have reversed the decision once he inherited the throne?" asked the youngling.

"For what purpose? Limhen has ever served as a loyal, steady Captain of the Guard and Miskas has been safe under his care.  He is a capable Captain," said Celinagar in return, sounding quite reasonable.

"...But is he the better man?" Faenthia asked, more to himself than to his companion.

To that, the older Elf said nothing, taking Faenthia's bow and settling it comfortably across the youth's chest as the other Elves wore theirs, "Each day, I expect you to find time to come and repeat that exercise.  Make sure you alternate arms as well.  When I judge that you have developed the necessary strength, I shall teach you to shoot.  Now then, come.  We will patrol the western district."

Celinagar began to walk away on lean, powerful legs, prompting Faenthia to follow behind him.  They left behind the secluded arbor that acted as an archery arena, back into the early evening sun of Miskas, the warmth of the daylight star glinting off the elegant lines of white buildings.  The older Elf moved easily as a cat through a familiar house, only occasionally having to turn his head slightly to get another look at something when his single eye was insufficient, but he did it so subtly that Faenthia strained to see him do it.  The pale warrior seemed a perfectly capable fellow and it made the Consort Elect even less fond than ever of Limhen if he had so degraded such a worthy guardian.

He was surprised out of his reverie by the other's smoky voice speaking low, "One eye serves me well enough to see that you are Filirundi, at any rate, and therefor something far more special than the common child."

Faenthia froze, but Celinagar merely smirked and called him along for the rest of their patrol.


wWw


Only when the moon had fully risen into the sky did the patrols change over.  As it happened, there were two shifts of City Guard so that those who stood watch during the day could return to their homes in the evening and those who patrolled during the dark hours could rest during the day.  It was different for the Perimeter Guard, who could depart for days, weeks or months at a time and camp out in the sprawling forests that surrounded Miskas.  After all, they were considered the best of the best and so could tolerate more demanding stretches of time and trial.

Faenthia had bidden farewell to Celinagar (who, as it happened, was quickly becoming one of his chief allies) before going back to his own rooms.  

The pale warrior had smiled softly to see him go before taking a covered path to the smaller set of halls towards the foot of the short plateau where the nobility made their homes.  He walked amongst the clean splendour of the ancient foyers flanked by flowing sculptures and twining blossoms in his dusty leathers, weapons still hanging upon him.  One or two ladies bowed their heads in respect as they passed him and he did the same, not pausing or stopping until he reached a set of warm brown double doors.  Only then did his take time to breathe deeply, pushing them open with a sigh and stepping in.

Immediately, his boots were buried in a plush scarlet rug woven with golden vines.  He closed the door behind him and took a moment to slip off his gloves, weapons and boots, leaving them in their designated places before padding towards his bathing chamber.  Honestly, most days he would be happy enough just to get clean in a small stream or waterfall, but the cold water sometimes caused his old wounds to ache.  The Elf stripped off his leather tunic and under shirt, exposing his svelte, scarred chest to the warm Summer air that lingered in the room.

He breathed in softly when he felt soft fingers trail along the large scar that cut a startling groove along his bottom rib up to his spine.  

His eyes fluttered closed, ~Dravagael...how is it I am yet unable to hear your feet after so many years?~

A pair of dry lips pressed behind his right ear, the one missing a small piece out of its tip, ~Because I wish you not to.~

The hand that had trailed along his scars drifted up to the wrought golden ring on a chain that was typically hidden beneath Celinagar's shirts, warming it between chest and fingers.  The pale warrior reached up with his own hand to trap Dravagael's digits there, tangling affectionately with them.

~Aye, and you always get what you wish, do you not?~ asked the noble Guardian, ~Namye herself would weep if you so bid her.~

The person at his back snorted, ~Blasphemy suits you ill, husband.~

~I do beg your indulgence,~ Celinagar said wryly.

Suddenly the warrior turned swiftly and caught the other Elf in his arms, holding Dravagel tight to his chest.  He planted a powerful hand on the small of the other's back, the other cupping a shoulder.  He smirked at his captive and (in his humble opinion) the most beautiful Fair Child in all of Druvaan's creation.  His husband was smaller than him, though not by much, and softer by a great deal with lovely long fingers and wise almond-shaped eyes of crystalline emeralds.  His skin was naturally a few shades darker than Celinagar's own for, unlike his husband, Dravagael was Isbalin born.  The Guardian sighed and touched his forehead to Dravagael's, feeling the cool point of the other Elf's wedding ring on his face where his husband's hands settled.

The two were quiet within one another's embrace for a moment before Dravagael asked, ~Do your injuries pain you today?~

Celinagar shook his head, ~Nay.  The winds are yet warm.~

Dravagael nodded softly, feeling his husband's strong hands shifting to run through his unbound auburn hair, ~I am relieved to hear you say so.~

It was Celinagar's turn to snort, ~Do I not always tell you that you fret too much over me?~

~I am your husband.  It is my right to be as concerned for you as I please.~ his autumn-hued beauty replied archly.

Grinning softly, the warrior picked his husband up and carried him over to their bed.  He loved the passion in his Isbalin lifemate and had ever since the Lore-Keeper had accompanied the Black King on a diplomatic visit to their city some five-hundred years ago.  Dravagael had, even then, been softly spoken but biting and full of spirit and he had thoroughly enchanted the fledgeling guardian.  They had communicated through missives and letters for a full century after that, teasing and dancing around each other before at last Dravagael had returned and Celinagar had proposed on the spot.  His flower had never lost that spirit.

Needless to say, it did things to him, especially after a long day.

He pressed a kiss to his husband's lips only to be pushed back slightly, ~Your parents DO wish to see us at supper, you know.  We scheduled this evening with them ages ago.~

~Aye, and we shall be there,~ said Celinagar, smirking all the way up to his single eye, ~Think you I have so little self control?~

~It is not you I am concerned for,~ quipped Dravagael looking like desire itself.

His husband groaned and nosed aside the collar of his Isbalin beloved's robe, kissing at his tan throat, ~Oh yes?~

~Yes, which is why you and I shall simply contain ourselves until after supper when we shall have all the time in creation,~ Dravagael pushed Celinagar off of him and onto his side.

The Guardian let out a displeased sound (which was most certainly not a whine) and his husband showed him no pity, changing the subject, ~Rumour in the court is that you have a new recruit among the City Guard...a controversial one at that.  A youngling who speaks no Elvish?~

~My, but rumour does travel quickly, does it not?~ said the pale warrior, watching his husband with a knowing eye.

Dravagael merely brushed some of his own auburn hair away from his ear, ~Am I not Lore-Keeper and Song-Weaver? I hear all, Moon of my Heart.~

~Well, your keen ears do not hear wrong, my Autumn Flower.  However, what they may not have heard is that our young soldier is of Filirunde's stock,~ conceded Celinagar.

His husband's eyes widened almost comically, ~A Filirundi boy? Know you not what this could mean? The King DID summon all of his court who could heed the call yesterday, including your honoured mother and father.  Do you suppose...?~

Celinagar laid one slender, callused finger against Dravagael's lips, ~It means nothing we are free to speculate upon.  If indeed it means as you suspect it may, it must yet be kept as quiet as death, for the child is young.  Know you well how the intrigues of Court can meddle with something so firmly in its infancy.~

Rather than arguing, the Isbalin Elf nodded and sat up in the bed, clearly understanding (perhaps better than his husband) the weight of this discovery.  Many in the city were old enough to remember what had happened at Filirunde, but there were few left who could identify a Filirundi by look alone.  Many of the soldiers who had participated in the war had gone to the Deep Dreaming to escape the shame and many more Elves had simply stayed in their cities until the memory of their kin itself had faded.  If the Pale King had only summoned his most trusted courtiers and spoken to no others among his people, then it was only for them to know and hopefully not gossip about for the time being.

Getting his breath back, Dravagael pushed gently at Celinagar, ~Well, go bathe.  We will meet your parents for supper and speak no more of this until we see them.~

The moon-pale warrior stood slowly and dropped a kiss upon the crown of his husband's head before going back into the bathing chamber, ~Aye and once we have granted my parents the time I promised, YOU shall grant me the boon YOU promised so...enticingly.~

Merry Celinagar laughed as a pillow from their marital bed chased him out of the room.


wWw


Faenthia could not deny the ache in his shoulders when he returned to his rooms from his first patrol of the city.  It had been a lovely walk, but that was all.  The city had been as quiet as sleep the entire afternoon and evening after his trip to the archery arena.  There had been no crime to speak of and no invasions and the golden youth suspected that it was to be the same every day.  It didn't seem right for a capable fighter and teacher like Celinagar to be resigned to such a lazy existence just because of a poorly timed and sneakily executed political shuffle.  It filled his belly with a hot feeling that felt very much like frustration and a little bit of disgust.

He looked up to see Amrunil standing out on his balcony, taking in the moon and the boiling in his belly turned to butterflies.

"Amrunil?" he called out softly, watching the king turn, "What brings you to my rooms?"

For a moment, the Pale King just looked at him in that new way of his before he folded his hands behind his back and inclined his head politely, "I was wondering if you wished to have dinner with me this evening."

His Consort Elect watched him carefully and said, "That would be fine.  I won't be sterling conversation, however.  My day has been long."

"As was mine.  We can be miserable company together," said Amrunil in a fit of good humour.

It amused Faenthia.  Had he expected to be turned away? Something about the King's demeanor spoke of relief and so the golden Elfling supposed that yes, he had been concerned about being refused.  Of course, thinking about that gave some measure of relief to Faenthia in turn...it drove home his freedom.  If Amrunil had been concerned about being refused it meant that the young Elf was still free to refuse.  They really were on more equal fitting than he had initially guessed.

"What brought this about?" Faenthia asked, running his fingers through his curls to untangle them, "I thought you would be too busy to spare much time for me."

Amrunil grimaced faintly, "I found a measure of time which I could grant to you this evening.  It will not always be the case, I am afraid, but I felt it would at least be fitting to see how you fared after your first day."

"Could we take dinner here, then? I would like a bit of privacy and, to be honest with you, Amrunil...I've no desire to dress for dinner," Faenthia said, rolling his sapphire eyes.

The Pale King snorted at this, but did so only to suppress a grin.  

"Very well, I will have a servant bring it in," he acquiesced and left the room for a moment to see that this was done.

It gave his Consort Elect time to seek out a water basin that he might wash some of the dust of the day from his face.  He stripped off his gloves and laid them to the side, stretching out his shoulders again as he did so, the muscles catching and kinking.  For once, he didn't bother to look in the looking glass, feeling so comfortable in his own skin that he knew he would only see himself.  Instead, he simply set his bow and quiver down to one side of the mirror, unstrapping his daggers and lying them down next to the other weapons.  He slipped off his over-tunic, laying it to the side and leaving himself in his undershirt.  By the time he had done so, the King had returned.

"How was your first day of lessons?" asked Amrunil, taking a seat at the small table (which still sat out on the balcony).

Faenthia padded over and leaned on the railing of the balcony, "I suppose they went well.  Lady Rilfaun and Lord Cuiiavas were very encouraging."

Amrunil tried to smother his amusement, "And Lord Faelbain?"

Faenthia winced, "Terrifying.  I shall never forget a single thing he taught me if only because I fear his wrath."

The Pale King couldn't stifle a bark of laughter at that, "You are not the first pupil to say so! However, Lady Rilfaun seems fond of you, so I can only say that you made a good impression.  She has high hopes for the remainder of your training.  How was your first afternoon with the Guard?"

"Perhaps the best part of the day.  I find myself quite at ease with Celinagar and it is bracing to have a weapon in hand again," the Consort Elect said with a smile.

Amrunil felt heartened by the smile, "Aye, I had hoped so.  Cuiiavas's lad is an excellent soldier and citizen."

Faenthia raised one fine golden eyebrow, "...He is Cuiiavas's son?"

"Cuiiavas and Rilfaun's only child, yes.  He has served on the Guard some 500 years," said Amrunil, not really thinking about it.

"Rilfaun married Cuiiavas?!" the younger Elf said as if he simply could not believe it.

The Pale King raised his own eyebrow in turn, "Aye.  Is that so strange a thing?"

"They are just...so different.  Cuiiavas is like unto a child and Lady Rilfaun is...she seems so much more..." Faenthia tried to find words for what he meant to say, and simply failed.

There was no way to appropriately describe the Snow-White Lady of Miskas.

Amrunil looked out over the city again, "Know you now that the Lady Rilfaun is not the only one who is more than she is.  Cuiiavas too is more.  Both of them are old, older than even I can trace...two who could have already slipped away into Deep Dreaming.  They have simply coped with the passing of ages differently, though I caution you now to respect Cuiiavas no less than Rilfaun.  I hold them both in the highest of regards and they are both unutterably wise."

"I had not considered..." said the younger.

"All is well.  The way we age is strange to one who has never seen immortality before," soothed the King.

"But wait yet a moment," Faenthia said, holding up a hand, something occuring to him, "If Celinagar is son to Lady Rilfaun and Lord Cuiiavas, then is he not a Lord in his own right?"

Now Amrunil wasn't sure where his young fiance was headed, so he answered cautiously, "Yes?"

It brought fresh frustration upon the youngling as he reconsidered the life the warrior was forced to lead.  He had been a young Lord, born of two wise and noble elves, who had given himself entirely into the service of protecting the city.  He had worked until he was about to be made Captain and then, in an act of courage he had taken on an entire pack of Goblins and lost an eye...almost his life.  Instead of being permanently damaged by this, he had returned to the Guard only to find himself placed on the lowest rung.  It seemed horribly unfair.

It reminded him also of Mabakhel who had been a warrior noble and true.  He had rescued them from a horde of Cauldlings who could have killed them all with only a little more effort and yet he had been treated with scorn.

The Pale King saw the dark look passing over his Consort Elect's pretty face and touched his chin lightly, "Faenthia? What troubles you?"

Faenthia only said, "I feel like my mind is afire.  It is unfair that those who are deserving do not get what they deserve.  I feel as though ALL the races of Pausalis are too heavily ruled by stupid things like politics and archaic traditions."

He did not give specifics, not wishing to argue about anything.

Amrunil's visage softened as it always did when his fiance said something to remind him yet how pure and honest and fiery the lad was, "...It seems you have had a...very enlightening first day."





To Be Continued...

A/N: Another slightly short chapter today, sorry.  This was mainly meant to be a follow up to Day One so we could start pushing on into time-jumps once everything was established.  Also, I made a HUGE oops earlier.  I'll be the first to tell you that much of Pausalis and its people are heavily inspired by the works of J.R.R.Tolkien...but I goofed and had a bit TOO much influence.  You see, for the Dwarves I use a Khuzdul dictionary to make random names and I ended up accidentally giving Mabakhel a surname which actually already exists in Tolkien's work.  It is the name of the Grey Mountains, where many Dwarrows fled after the fall of Erebor so...yeah...that can't stay.  Look to see it edited in future/past chapters in time.


LEXICON
Nothing necessarily new to add today, but since new characters have joined, I'll provide a list of names and a pronounciation guide.

MISKAS
King Amrunil (Am-roon-ihl) - King of Miskas
Faenthia (Fain-thee-ah) - Former blacksmith and Consort Elect of Miskas
Lady Rilfaun (Rihl-fawn) - Keeper of Courtly Law and Tradition
Lord Faelbain (Fail-bah-een) - Linguistics Master
Lord Cuiiavas (Koo-ee-ah-vahs) - Master of Histories
Captain Limhen (Lihm-hen) - Captain of the Guard, Captain of the Perimeter Guard of Miskas
Sub-Captain Celinagar (Kell-ihn-ah-gahr) - Sub Captain of the City Guard of Miskas
Dravagael (Drah-vah-gail) - Bard and Lore-Keeper of Miskas (formerly of Isbali)

ISBALI
King Morloth (More-lohth) - King of Isbali
Mabakhel (Mah-bah-khel) - Road Warden and guest of King Morloth

FILIRUNDE
King Berethel (Behr-eth-ehl) - King of Filirunde after the Fall
Queen Elothian (Eh-lohth-ee-an) - Queen of Filirunde after the Fall

Chapter Text

The Changeling of Par'Lamer
Chapter 8

And so, Time did what it likes to when it feels no one is looking.  

It passed.

In this way, thirty-nine long years passed in the hidden sanctuary of Miskas, slipping away like errant children without an adult to watch over them.  In the world of Men, it seemed an entire lifetime (for some, indeed, it was).  For the Wildekinde of the Whispering Plains it was almost unnoticed, so content are the folk of the wild world to live in the here and now.  The Dwarves in their subterranean halls marked it with great ceremony as they did with most things, yet it ravaged them far less than it did the Small Flames of Druvaan's creation.  For the Elves it was merely a drop in the bucket of infinity, causing nary a ripple.

The sun rose each morning and set each evening, giving way to the moon.  The seasons changed as they always did.  The tides came and went  and the green things of the world grew in their own time.

They were not the only things.

With the 40 years almost up, Faenthia, the Golden Prince of the Filirundi, had grown strong and tall as any of his kin.  His golden curls had loosened with time as they grew out and now they spilled in lazy ringlets over his shoulders, framing his vulpine, laughing features.  He wore his adulthood around his shoulders like the finest cloak, carrying himself with dignity and grace...almost an alien creature to any who had known him before.  There was still a rough edge of humble humanity to him that he never quite banished and it made him both powerful and wild.  His limbs were stronger than ever they had been.  He was every inch the proud Ruler he was born to be with only a year standing between him and rightful adulthood.

He stood now in the old archery arena where first he had learned to hold a bow with his dear friend Celinagar, testing his skill against his teacher's.  His arrows flew true and straight now after so many years with the weapon (though he still preferred his hand-crafted swords and fine daggers).  His hair was pulled away from his face by two braids pulled round to the back until they almost formed a golden coronet (his formal one abandoned back at the Royal Halls for the day).  His sapphire eyes were keen as the finest-honed gems as he focused on his target, letting fly his arrow.

Celinagar laughed and clapped him on the shoulder when it hit the bullseye...half an inch from where the older Elf's had.

~Ah, forty years of practice and you cannot yet best your old Master!~ Crowed the boisterous Elf.

Faenthia reached out playfully with his bow to try and trip his closest friend and ally, ~Less of that, now! Know you well it has yet only been thirty-nine years!~

~Think you can best me in a year when you could not before?~ the other teased back, deftly leaping over the bow aimed for his ankles.

The Consort Elect gave him a sly grin, ~One never does know.~

He whipped an arrow from his quiver swifter than the eye of Man could follow and shot, not to hit the bullseye, but instead to upset Celinagar's arrow.  He laughed as both arrows fell to the ground, earning him a solid slap upon the shoulder from his elder.  Their cameraderie was strong after so long and they often found themselves as partner when they patrolled the city.  After all, Celinagar would never be permitted back on Perimeter Guard if Limhen had his way and Faenthia had not yet been invited (if ever he would be).  They were both outsiders...one damaged and the other a stranger...who had drawn close.

They spent the vast majority of their days together, keeping the city safe and improving their skills against one another.  There were few others Faenthia would trust with his life as he trusted Celinagar.  It was especially nice to have such a constant companion once Amrunil's predictions had turned to truth and he no longer had the free time to indulge his fiance.  They rarely saw one another as the years passed them by, often resorting to sending one another missives when they could spare the time.  

It was not so bad, truly.  After all, the King did make sure to ferociously rearrange his schedule at least once a year when Faenthia's birthday rolled around so that he was free to spend the day with his betrothed.

A day such as today, as chance would have it.

~So,~ said the one-eyed Elf, calming down from their play, ~I suppose I ought to wish you a happy birthday.  After all, this is the last one I shall spend with you before your Queenly duties take you above my poor station.~

Faenthia rolled his eyes, ~Very dramatic, but thank you, Celin.  However, must I remind you that I will not be Queen, but Consort?~

Of course, Celinagar had been one of the first people outside of the circle of Nobles to figure out who Faenthia was truly destined to be.  The Common Folk were yet uninformed just to keep the situation under control.  The Golden youth hadn't minded too terribly having his dear friend know his secret even if he DID use it to tease him mercilessly.  Faenthia could certainly see shades of Cuiiavas in his son...for both could be intolerably merry at times.

~Consort is much more difficult to say.  Besides, with hair like that, surely you are more a Queen!~ said the scarred Elf before having to dodge in a tree from his friend's bow.

~It curls naturally, you insufferable git,~ Faenthia cursed the other Elf in a decidedly human way.

It was true that the Filirundi's naturally occuring curls were a constant source of amusement for his boisterous companion.  Curls in ones hair were not a common thing among the Fair Children of either Miskas or Isbali.  The only way that one saw them was if a female put them in her hair manually for the sake of vanity.  Celinagar teased frequently that the curls were one of Faenthia's many conceits in his attempt to become the prettiest Queen in all the land.

The Guardian laughed from his spot on a low-hanging branch and held up his hands in a bid for peace, ~Very well, then.~

He looked up to the sun, ~Hm.  Either way, the morning draws on and I know your fiance will be cranky if you do not find him soon.~

Faenthia followed his eyes up to where the sun sat full-bellied in the sky, ~Ah, you are correct for once.  I will see you on the morrow, then?~

~Aye, but hold a moment,~ Celinagar said and slipped down from his tree, going over to his quiver and drawing out a parcel wrapped in simple linen, ~I've a gift for you.~

Curious, the Consort Elect took it when it was offered.  It was only a tiny package and light as well.  With great care, he folded the linen back from what lay within, gasping softly when he saw what was there.

It was a small gold hoop designed to go in the lobe of one's ear.  It was small enough that the hoop itself wouldn't hang loose but would instead sit snug against the bottom of the earlobe and it was flattened expertly so that it could be inscribed.  Written upon it was the Elvish word for 'brother' as well as the sigil of Celinagar's house, a stylized raven against an unfurled parchment.  The miniscule inscription and image must have taken no small amount of skill to produce in the detail in which they were presented.  

Faenthia looked up at his old friend, eyes slightly overwhelmed.

Celinagar only smiled kindly, speaking in Common as he knew his companion preferred to do at times, "For thirty-nine years you have been as a brother to me.  I would be honoured if you would wear this for it was all I could think of to express my dedication to you.  Know that, when the time comes, you will be both my ruler and my friend."

Touched to the bottom of his heart, the Filirundi prince knelt down before his friend and exposed his left ear, "I would feel honour to equal yours if you would but put it in for me."

The giving of this gift became a small ceremony as the older Elf undid the tiny clasp on the ring to expose the pin within.  He did not caution Faenthia that it would hurt for it was something the youth already knew and Celinagar had long ago learned to respect that his friend was unphased by pain.  With sure fingers, he pushed the pin through his friend's ear, not noting the small hiss it earned him as he clapsed the ring closed.  He gently wiped away a tiny well of blood with his thumb and looked upon the good work, smiling.

"It suits you, my Prince," said Celinagar.

Faenthia stood and shook his head, "Nay.  Your brother and friend first, always."

"Very well then.  It suits my brother well."

The two reached to take the other's forearm in a traditional warrior's salute before pulling each other into an embrace.  They stood tight for a moment before the younger of the two had to withdraw.  They said no more to one another, their mutual respect and affection needing not be spoken into the morning air for it to be understood.  They held eye contact for a moment more before the young Prince turned and leapt into the woodlands, making his way back to his apartments that he might meet his fiance for their annual day together.


wWw


Faenthia was pulling out his warrior's braids as he walked into his chambers, wholly unsurprised to find Amrunil already there on his balcony as he usually was when he came for a visit.  It amused the younger Elf no end, for he was sure this was as much for the Pale King as it was for himself and this day gave the other a chance to relax as much as it did time to re-learn his betrothed's mannerisms.  He said as much, tone light and unburdened.

~If I did not know better, I would think that you use my birthday as an excuse to escape your duties, oh Mighty King,~ his eyes danced with glee.

Amrunil rolled his eyes, ~A year older and yet still as cheeky as a babe.~

~You protest too much.  You would be bored otherwise and you know it well,~ returned Faenthia quickly, sliding his long fingers through his hair to shake the remainder of his braids loose.

The Pale King grumbled from the balcony, ~You could stand to be a little bit LESS exciting.~

It just coaxed a laugh out of Faenthia and he shook his head, sending his curls spilling down his back.  He still wore Amrunil's betrothal token, but he had moved it up to a thin braid before his left ear.  It was an oddly sentimental thing, for by his age most betrothed Elves would have elected to accept a ring instead as to avoid the more Dwarvish tradition of adorned braids.  True, Faenthia wore a ring as well, but he still kept hold of that long bead with the golden flower upon it.

Amrunil caught himself staring at it as he sometimes did.  Faenthia was polite enough to say nothing of it.

~You adore my Humanity, Amrunil,~ said Faenthia instead as he padded over to join his fiance on the balcony.

~Well, I can tell you I do not adore that you come to our special day yet wearing the leathers of a wild Guardian with the dust of the arena on your face,~ said the King, keeping up his aloof front.

It was a game the two of them had found they rather enjoyed.  Amrunil would play at being detached and easily annoyed while Faenthia harassed him unmercifully.  They both found the verbal dances nothing short of amusing, testing one another's intellect.  There were times when the councillors of the Court thought them truly irritated with one another, only to find them smirking at one another moments later.  Their false frustration had become a source of actual vexation for some of the Nobles...and that amused them too.

~Well, if it so concerns you to be so high above me, perhaps you might deign to join me on my level,~ teased the golden Prince, reaching up and stealing away his King's circlet.

At last, Amrunil could keep the game up no longer and he let a small smile tuck into the corner of his cheek.  He leaned down to press a kiss to Faenthia's lips (even though he found himself having to lean less and less with each passing year).  His fiance returned it warmly, tugging at a lock of the King's pale blonde hair, rubbing it between his callused fingertips.  They stood there in the brassy sunlight of the Autumn morning, pressed together until the King finally pulled back, though he continued to gaze into Faenthia's deep blue eyes.

He did not reclaim his circlet.

~Happy Birthday, my radiance.  How far you have come in thirty-nine years,~ the King said, marvelling.

Faenthia blushed a bit and grinned, the wildness still within his heart.  It was one of Amrunil's chiefest joys to see that the humble roughness of his mate had not been lost completely in Miskas.  He was still proud and tempermental and much preferred working for himself than allowing servants to do things for him.  They had taken him away from the Humans, but they had not managed to stomp out the burning core of his heart which was something for which the Pale King was eternally grateful now that he had learned how much he actually appreciated it.

Amrunil grew suspicious when, as he studied his fiance, he saw a little flash of gold at his ear, ~What is this?~

~Ah? Oh,~ Faenthia turned his head so the King could more closely see the earring Celinagar had given him for his birthday.

He worried quite suddenly that Amrunil would not approve and ask him to remove it.  He didn't really want to fight on his birthday, but he certainly had no intention of taking out such a well-intentioned gift.

He was relieved, however, when Amrunil only huffed, ~Of course, trust my gift to be outdone by Cuiiavas's brat.~

Of course, he sounded more self-conscious than truly annoyed.

Faenthia burst out laughing, ~You vain thing!~

~Do you wish to see your gift or not, you little beast?~ snapped the Pale King and Faenthia quickly closed his mouth, though there was no hiding his smirk.

~Come with me, then,~ Amrunil grumped, holding out one hand.

The golden Prince took his hand and found himself led out of his own rooms and into the hall.  He wondered where they were going.  They were staying in the residential wing of the Royal Halls instead of going to the Throne room so he was unsure.  As they approached a door similar to his own he realized all at once that they were going to the King's private rooms and he was astounded.  Despite having been betrothed to the King since before he'd even arrived and having lived in the same Halls for thirty-nine years, he had never actually been to Amrunil's room.  Usually the Pale King came to see him or they were both too easy to bother with each other.

The doors opened to a room like his, though much less spartan.  There were pale green rugs upon the floor and the curtains that partitioned the room were in a deeper shade of that same verdant hue.  Graceful Elven statues were carved at either side of the bed as though keeping watch and the balcony of this room looked more over the city than the waterfall as if Amrunil would be able to watch over his people at all hours.  Faenthia felt his heart beat wildly as the door closed behind them and Amrunil walked over to the bed, fetching a parcel wrapped in ivory silk.

Delicately, he waved Faenthia over to the bed as if afraid the boy would refuse.

The Prince padded to his side, sitting down gingergly when bidden and finding the parcel slid into his lap.  He looked questioningly at the King before Amrunil waved him on, urging him to open it.  With care, Faenthia pulled the silk aside and blinked at what he saw there.

Within the wrappings was a set of snowy white leathers not dissimilar to the hunting leathers he now wore.  They were tooled with gold upon the raised neckline, displaying images of winding vines and blooming flowers.  Beneath that was a a fine golden sash with ivory embellishments of its own to be folded about the waist, refining the silouhette of the outfit.  It was far lovelier than anything Faenthia had ever worn in his entire life, including the day he was presented to the court.  He didn't know what to do with it.

~Amrunil...I do not know when I would wear such things...~ he said honestly, knowing the King valued the truth over pretty words.

The Pale King's jade eyes were inscrutable as he said, ~At our Wedding, my radiance.~

Faenthia startled and looked down at the outfit again.  It was more fine than what he wore now, but surely the traditions of Miskas would demand he wore something cumbersome and elaborate for a wedding? Especially to the King! Recently, in the rare lessons he had left, Rilfaun had been instructing him on the expectations of his fast-encroaching wedding day and she had certainly not been under the impression that the Consort Elect would wear glorified hunting leathers.

Amrunil saw his confusion and smiled, ~The traditional robes my mother wore would not have suited you.  I had these made so that you could enter into matrimony as no other but yourself.~

For the second time that day, the Princeling was stunned, ~Amrunil...~

The King held up a hand, ~I know I have asked you to change much about yourself from the very first day of our meeting...often without your consent.  Despite all that, I wish for you to know that I have come to love none other than you and I have no desire to endure our Wedding ceremony with any pale imitation of you.~

Overcome, Faenthia felt tears pressing at the corners of his eyes and he set the outfit aside to press the heels of his hands to his face.  He tried to stop the tears before they even came, not wishing to weep in front of his fiance.  He had worked so hard to no longer be seen as a child by the standards of the Elves and he would ruin it if he cried like an infant now.  Still, he felt Amrunil carefully take his wrists and draw them away from his face.

Faenthia felt compelled to speak, his voice shaking with emotion, ~I hated you when first we met.  I feared you for so long after that.  There are times when I have wanted to rip your hair out by the roots...there are still times when I wish to do that...~

~Such a vote of confidence,~ snipped Amrunil, trying to earn a laugh from his fiance.

It got him a light slap on the chest instead, but that was enough, ~Hush! What I mean to say unto you is that...that you are not the monster I imagined you to be...and I will marry you with pride when the time comes.~

~You are stubborn and rude and short-tempered, but I would have you no other way,~ he continued.

Amrunil kissed him to silence his babbling, pulling back to murmur against his lips, ~You are still an impossible trial, proud and far more Human than Elf some days, but you are mine.~

Faenthia laughed through his tears, ~Can we simply agree that we annoy each other terribly, but will have no other?~

~Aye, that we can.  Happy ninety-ninth birthday, my radiance.~

The golden Prince wiped at the tears lingering around his eyes and asked, ~Our wedding is but a year away.  This is lovely, but why show me such a thing now?~

Here Amrunil sighed, clearly not liking what he had to say next, ~Faenthia, you will be expected to join the Perimeter Guard at least once before being crowned as Royal Consort.  Our wedding is to be set for your hundredth birthday and there is only a year remaining before that, so it must happen now.~

Faenthia gave him a look that was half curious and half excited and he looked ready to blurt out rashly before his fiance stopped him.

~Tut! I beg your indulgence a moment.  I will explain further.  I have approved a four month excursion out beyond the Sentinels with Limhen as your Captain.  We will spend the next eight months putting what preparations we can in place and then you will go on your patrol,~ the King explained fully.

~So is this to be a rite of passage into majority, then?~ Asked the other with a sly smile.

~You could call it that.  This is why I chose to give you that present today.  The next eight months will be filled with decisions about the upcoming wedding and there shall hardly be time after that.~

The Pale King looked suspicious when his fiance got one of those wily looks of his.

Faenthia stood gracefully from the bed and padded to the balcony, ~Are you sure it isn't simply because you forgot to get me something for my birthday and just happened to have this?~

Amrunil saw the bait for what it was, but played the game anyway, ~And what would have been a more fitting present for my radiance on his birthday?~

He watched as Faenthia actually considered that.  He walked over to the railing and allowed his perfect posture to drop.  He put his elbows on the railing and let his back bow as he bent from the waist.  The Pale King of Miskas would not admit that he found these moments painfully alluring.  He simply would not.  Instead, he kept his ears open and tried to ignore the sleek lines of his intended's muscled back through his tunic.

At last, the youth said, ~...If I am to leave the city for the wilds, should I not be allowed some small comfort?~

~Aye...even the canniest of warriors requires some small comfort in the long excursions...~ replied Amrunil, albeit hesitantly.

He knew not what his betrothed was playing at, but when the Filirundi boy plotted, it usually ended in a headache.

Faenthia smirked and Amrunil knew he was caught surely as a fox in a hunter's snare, ~Very well, then.  If I cannot have my betrothed fight at my side, I would have my brother.  I request that Celinagar join me on patrol for four months.~

~Out of the question!~ the Pale King said in surprise, ~He trains the new recruits in the City Guard.  I cannot spare him for four months!~

~And yet, you can.  Who trained the new recruits before Celinagar sustained his injury? I know full well that no one remains permanently upon the City Guard and yet you have had an exceedingly fine warrior languishing there for far too long.  I will have this,~ said the golden-haired youth in a firm voice.

Jade eyes narrowing, Amrunil calculated his options.  He could outright refuse his intended on his birthday and face the rebellious (and cunning) youth's peculiarly cool brand of snubbing.  On the other hand, he could allow it and spend the rest of the day in peace.  He knew absolutely what the outcome would be if he said no and it pleased him little.  However, if he said 'yes', he had no idea what would happen which concerned him further still.  Celinagar, while a fine young warrior in his time, hadn't seen open combat in centuries and his disfigurement was a rather glaring mark against his ability to go into the field.  Still, it was just as likely that nothing would happen...

Fine, but there would be ground rules.

~Celinagar will join you for four months, however you will both bow to Limhen as Captain and follow his orders unwaveringly...and only if the son of Cuiiavas wishes to go in the first place.  Am I understood?~

When his betrothed turned and fixed him with a dazzling smile, Amrunil was suddenly much less worried about whether or not he had made the right choice.  

There were more important things to worry about on this his fiance's birthday.


wWw


The rest of that happy day passed in warmth and peace between the budding lovers.  They did nothing of any particular import, save spend time in each other's company.  Faenthia had even taken to simply reading a book in the sunshine on the balcony while Amrunil sat at his side.  They had dined together in the evening and no matter of business had come between them.  Despite having no grand celebration (for Faenthia wouldn't allow such things), it settled as a happy memory and an oasis of calm to be savoured before the storm of an impending wedding day fell over them.

And what a storm it was.

A mere month after that happiest of birthdays, Faenthia was quite sure that weddings and everything to do with them should be thrown down a dark hole and set ablaze.  Every step of the planning felt like petty harassment to him.  While the King was asked to look at treaties, Faenthia was badgered like a woman about silly fripperies like food, decor and Spirits knew what else.  He had been poked and prodded by Elves he'd never even seen before as they wondered whether his hair should be straightened or the calluses on his hands from smithing and combat ought to be filed and softened.  He'd vetoed both suggestions with a snarl and gotten his nails extra dirty before the next visit just to spite them.  

He was fighting to keep his princely demeanor in place and his temper in check.  He didn't care about colours for the hall or what flowers should decorate tables.  He absolutely didn't give a single fig about seating arrangements, either.  If one more person asked him about music he was sure he would instruct them to play bawdy tavern songs all night and consequences be damned.  He didn't understand why he was being laden down with all of this utterly ridiculous foofera when all he wanted to do was something important!

Faenthia wanted to start discussing policy or be out at the arena training for his four months away from the city.  He wanted to actually start being acknowledged as a future ruler for these people instead of just pretty arm-candy to the King.  He wasn't a trophy of some bygone race! He was a prince! He'd not been groomed for almost forty years just to obsessively plan for one stupid day.  The Filirundi wanted to shake each and every Elf who came up to him asking about napkins.  He hated marriage already and he wasn't even married yet.

The Golden Prince of Filirunde had become more-or-less a thundercloud just one month into the planning process and even the planners were a bit afraid to approach him.  

Naturally, word got back to Amrunil.

Though he would never admit it to anyone, he was quite amused by the ruckus his fiance was causing over the nagging of planners hovering around his head.  It had been no small feat to slip away from them himself and he only managed to do that by claiming he had more pressing responsibilities.  The Pale King felt a bit sorry for Faenthia and so when good news of a happy arrival reached his ears from one of the Perimeter Runners, he politely dismissed his advisors and went to his brooding betrothed.

He had to physically force himself not to laugh out loud when he found the golden youth glaring at a flinching party planner who was, hysterically, clutching to fabric swatches as if they could save her.  The King needed a moment to compose himself and hide the slight uptick of his lips before he approached.  The girl looked thrilled to be dismissed and Faenthia looked ready to punch a hole through a wall before, alone now, Amrunil placed long-fingered hands upon his shoulders.

"We cannot simply have this wedding in the mud, you know," he said, hiding the laughter in his voice.

He spoke in Common for he knew it calmed his wily intended.

"They want to straighten my hair! And look at table cloths! What care I for table cloths?! They are but cloths! For tables!" raged his fiery little beloved.

Amrunil's eyebrow ticked up, "...You are not straightening your hair.  Not a single curl."

Faenthia snorted in something that might have been agreement before saying, "And? What troubles you that you must leave affairs of state and spare others my rage?"

"The first of the wedding guests has arrived, if you must know, and I had hoped you would greet them," said Amrunil.

"So soon? The wedding is yet eleven months away.  Who would come so very early?"

Here, the Pale King finally allowed himself a pleased smile, "One who had quite a distance to travel and therefore made it early and will remain for awhile ere he must make it again."

The Pale King could already see his Faenthia's brain ticking over who it might be.

He gave him another clue, "He is a very important man and so must orchestrate his absences with great care."

Brilliant blue eyes suddenly grew bright as stars in the sky, "Morloth has come?"

"You should go and greet him else he may feel unwanted.  Off with you," Amrunil said, trying to look stern and failing.

Looking giddy as a new colt, the Prince shucked off the constricting outer robe that he wore and tossed it towards his fiance.  It left him in only a light under-shirt and trousers, his circlet handed over as well.  Hastily, the boy whipped his hair back into a ponytail and climbed onto a railing before bounding down into the greenery beyond.  

Exhasperated, his fiance called down, "You intend to greet him like that?"

"I must!" called Faenthia back in a laughing tone, "Else he may not recognize me!"

Amrunil shook his head and merely watched his fleet-footed Prince go dashing off.  Despite the fact that he ran through the gardens and leapt across wall-tops, he stirred not a single blade of grass.  His steps had grown lighter and lighter with training and time, harder to follow and even harder to hear than before.  He carefully folded Faenthia's court clothes and laid the youth's circlet on top before sighing and going to soothe the planner the other had been terrorizing before...even though he cared less about table cloths than his fiance.


wWw


Down below, Faenthia ran swift like a deer towards the front gates.  His eyes blazed with joy and he felt excitement coursing through him.  It had been so many years since he'd seen the elder King and many years since he'd first counted the Elf as one of his friends.  He could hardly wait to gaze upon the man's face again after nearly four decades had slipped past them.  In his haste, he drew a few whithering (or curious) gazes from the citizens of Miskas, but he paid them little mind.  

Nothing could dim his jubilation!

Or at least, he assumed nothing could until he reached the gates and found a commotion outside them.  The massive portculis was opened, but there was a small collection of guards assembled, all grim-faced.  Limhen stood amidst them and two travelers stood before them, one tall and dark of hair, his expression reasonable.  The other only reached the first rider's shoulder and wore his hood.  They seemed to be arguing with the guards about something and Faenthia, still filled with fire, was only too willing to get in the middle.

~What goes on?~ he called, padding up.

Limhen's head turned to him and the Elf was clearly working to suppress a sneer at his Prince's appearance, ~His Majesty the Black King brought the Perdel with him.~

Faenthia's disdain over the term outweighed any joy he felt at those words, ~The 'perdel' speaks Elvish better than I do.  He hears when you say such things.~

The Captain of the Guard wore a face that said he didn't much care.

The Prince continued, ~And I see not why this is a cause for arguments before the city's own gates? If he is the guest of the Black King, a man who's judgement I trust implicitely, then surely he can be allowed in?~

The Golden Prince had never learned why Mabakhel had left their party during the journey so many years ago and so did not know Limhen's misgivings concerning the half-Elf.  It was likely that Faenthia would have had a few choice words for the Captain if he knew them anyway.  The Prince had swiftly proved to all and sundry that the old ways of racism were not to be accepted...at least not in his presence.  The first time he'd heard a servant making a derogatory remark about the Filirundi, he'd terrified the young thing into a stupor.

It left them at an impasse now, however.

Limhen drew himself up to his full height amongst his guards, ~I am Captain of the Guard and I do not deem it wise to allow him entrance.  This is a secret place for Elvenkind.~

He was likely hoping that his rank would impress the youth.  After all, when Faenthia did encounter him on patrols during the rare stretches when he was in the city, his word was law.  It was not so, now.

~Aye, and I am the Prince.  I say to grant them entrance,~ Faenthia said firmly.

The Captain of the Guard looked mutinous for a moment before he bowed sharply and waved to allow the weary travelers and their horses through.  Faenthia, Morloth and Mabakhel stood solemnly before one another while the guards departed and the gates closed behind them.  It seemed quite grim until the waterfall once again began to flow freely, concealing the entrance of the city.  Only then did Faenthia throw himself at the Black King, taking him in an embrace and speaking rapidly in Common.

"Ah, I have missed you!" He cried.

Morloth chuckled softly and pulled the youth to arm's length so he could take him in, "I am pleased to see that you and Amrunil have succeeded, at the very least, in not killing one another."

It teased a pleased grin from the Prince before Mabakhel pushed his hood back and said, "And here I was worried you'd be a stranger, lad.  I see these Fair Gits haven't beaten all the fun out of you, yet."

He too received and embrace from the Consort Elect, "Nor shall they ever, I suspect! Oh, it is such a kindness upon my heart to see you again.  I had feared I would never see your face again!"

The half-Dwarf just laughed in his rough way and patted the Elf youth on the back, "Morloth would have had my ears if I had missed your big day.  He insisted I travel with him and so I have."

Faenthia beamed and shook his head, dislodging a bit of fern that had woven itself into his curls when he'd jumped over the railing, "You shall have to tell me everything once we get your horses to a stable and find rooms for you.  There is so much to speak of."

Just like that, even in the midst of planning a nightmare wedding and preparing for a coronation, life felt just a little bit more normal.

 

 

To Be Continued...

 

A/N - And it's just going to get ugly from here on in, I'm afraid, though I do have a happy ending planned.  I don't have anything new to add to the Lexicon today (unless someone has a question that needs answering).  However, I will drop a quick note on how I write these chapters.  I tend to plan absolutely nothing in advance, turn my music on and just start writing.  I am my own beta, so there are errors, but I'm also dreadfully picky, so I tend to re-read obsessively and weed them out with time.  Now, I mentioned I write using music.  I have three playlists that influence this world and if anyone's interested in hearing what I've used, I'd be happy to list out.  Until then, thank you so much to all my readers, both those who have left comments and kudos and those who are silent.  Happy reading!