Tissaia de Vries, Grand Rectoress of Aretuza, was spending her evening going over reports on the progress in the Northern Kingdoms in regards to wheat production. It was very, very dry information, and more than once she had caught herself nodding off. During the same paragraph, in fact. She twisted her neck in order to level out the kinks bunching themselves around her shoulders, when she saw light breaking in the night sky. Oh well, she thought. No point going to bed now at this rate. Sighing to herself, she tried to focus back on the issue at hand while mentally calculating how long it would be until the kitchens were open. Reading about Lyria’s reciprocity with Redania in regards to cultivation practices was making her surprisingly peckish.
In the midst of her silent musings (oat bread cakes or honey bread cakes), she noticed that it seemed much brighter than it should be in her office for very early morning dawn. As she turned back to her eastern window, her eye caught not on the window, but the growing glow of her seeing-glass. The flat round plane of crystal was her direct view into the lines of chaos that mingled through the continent, and right now, at this very moment, it was sounding an insistent yet silent alarm.
Heart beating fast, she leapt up and ran to the object. A red light was steadily building around its edges, and she could just make out the gold line snaking its way through the glass itself. Suddenly a wave of energy bolted across the room, shaking the windows in their frames. She grinned to herself, now wide awake. A potential mage had just revealed their powers, and their untrained magic was some of the strongest she had ever seen. Grabbing the map of the continent from a drawer, she placed it behind the seeing-glass, eyes narrowing as she tried to determine the epicenter of the magical activity. She became puzzled, as the signs began to clear and the map glowed with purpose.
Dol Blathanna; the Valley of Flowers; the End of the World.
It was the elves.
The next day, she received an invitation on behalf of the elven king himself, Filavandrel aén Fidháil.
Tissaia de Vries waited in the empty throne room. Her footsteps echoed off the high, vaulted ceilings of its pure white stone. The beauty and craftsmanship on display was the finest she had ever seen. In the center of the room was a raised throne, carved from a single piece of marble and mimicking the form of a tree, with carved limbs and branches, and faithfully rendered leaves rising above it. She could see that whomever sat upon it would be rendered a near mythical figure of nature by its sheer majesty. Clearly, the self-imposed isolation of the old races had hidden a great deal if this palace was any indication. The kingdom of Dol Blathanna had held firm over the ensuring centuries, refusing to kowtow to the growing human influences. A spiraling realm of elves, dwarves, and gnomes, it was closed to human outsiders and its borders were fiercely guarded. The surrounding kingdoms had at various points tried to conquer them, but the army of the old races, the Scoia'tael, had held fast. To this day, few, if any, humans had been permitted inside the magnificent city gates.
A fission of excitement lit up Tissaia’s spine as she took everything in. This was the greatest opportunity she had been given yet. A communion with the elves would shift the balance of power on the continent. Perhaps borders could be loosened, enough for trade to begin between the kingdoms, with the end result of less wars, and more stability. The possibilities seemed endless, and she had to force herself to stop thinking so far ahead. Her invitation from the king had consisted of the vaguest particulars, only a request to meet. She thought back to the wave of chaos that had been released just yesterday from someone within this kingdom. It could not be a coincidence.
“It’s so beautiful,” the young mage next to her whispered, as if they were in a holy sanctuary. Tissaia smiled at him, glad in her choice of companion. Istredd had become the Chapter’s foremost expert on the old races, though he had only recently ascended and had yet to be placed. His knowledge could well prove invaluable in whatever negotiations lay ahead of them.
“Indeed, it is,” she agreed, eyebrow raised. He remained silent for a long moment, but she could see that he was working a question through his mind. When she had offered him the opportunity to accompany her on this task, her only requirement was that he asked no questions. Clearly, this was taxing his self-control. It was fortunate for Istredd that the great doors then opened, and a stream of courtiers entered. Tissaia schooled her face and settled back into her role as Rectoress. She waited at a respectful from the throne, hands clasped in front of her, with her head slightly bowed.
Eventually, a silver haired man stepped forward, flanked by an assortment of elven guards. He was unassuming at first glance; not terribly tall with the build of a dancer, his clothes were made of only the finest materials, yet lacked any sort of decoration. Similarly, he wore no crown, with only a small band of silver across his brow signifying his importance. But his eyes told the story of centuries; sea-green with flecks of gold, penetrating in their gaze. He bypassed the throne completely, coming to a stop before the two mages, and accepted their bows without airs, only grace.
“Rectoress, thank you for coming so promptly.”
“It is my honor to be sent for. I simply hope it is within my power to help you with what you desire of me.”
“As do I. And let me welcome you properly, to Dol Blathanna.” With a wide, but distant smile he extended an arm to Tissaia, leading her away from both the court and throne room. Tissaia was pleased to see that Istredd fell behind at a respectful distance; not too close to overhear, but close enough to be useful if she needed to call on him.
“This is the heart of my kingdom,” Filavandrel said, sweeping his arms wide open. They had arrived at an atrium of sorts and Tissaia eagerly inspected the multi-story room, which had glass walls and ceilings in lieu of wood or stone. And over every inch were plants of every kind. A mixture of sweet grasses swept the outer ring, with ferns creeping over the center divider. Cascading flowers bloomed in the shrubbery and trees as a small stream fed itself lazily through the room, gurgling quietly amongst the mossy stones. And in the dead center of the room, stood an ancient oak, branches reaching steadily for the sky. Here and there Dol Blanthanna citizens wandered amongst this natural wonder. In all, it was dazzling.
“My king, this is a wonder I have never seen,” Tissaia said. She took a moment to indulge her curiosity for a moment, before turning a side eye at the king. He was not what she expected, and she could not help but wonder her purpose for being there.
“Here, in this room, with the power of nature around me, I feel equal to my subjects. I believe it is important for a ruler to do so, for how else is one to rule if one knows not who they rule?”
“Wise words,” Tissaia answered, taken back at the openness and direction of this conversation. Dol Blanthanna, it would seem, would continue to surprise her. Again, the king tilted his head at her compliment.
“Thank you. Now, Rectoress, I must discuss why I have requested your presence.” At this Filavandrel hesitated. “I have little doubt you are aware of an… event, that took place here two nights past?”
Tissaia nodded. Filavandrel’s eyes settled on a group of three people walking slowly from across the atrium, as if searching for an answer among them.
“In order to answer the question I’m sure you want to ask, I must divulge a story. Just over a score ago, my son was lost to me. He wanted to see the world beyond the boundaries of our kingdom, and could not be dissuaded otherwise. He left us, and we were left to wonder for many months. Then, one day, a young human woman came to the gate, begging to see me, personally. She had with her a young child, almost a newborn. In her hands, the young woman carried the tip of a spear, the symbol of the Scoia'tael. Her story was easily grasped. She had a small dairy farm in Temeria. My son had fallen in love with her when he was wounded trying to cross a river during a storm. She found him and nursed him back to health. Love was caught between them, and they planned to come here to marry. The babe followed not long after. But before they could make their journey, a band of roving bandits caught him. She was forced to watch, and then her farm was burned in punishment for her crime of loving an elf.”
Here Filavandrel stopped, overcome for a moment. Tissaia turned her head away, to give him a small amount of privacy to collect himself.
“She died not long after; a year or two. The child was, is, different, and she has different needs than my other grandchildren,” the king said, gesturing to the three young people who were now almost to their spot on the edge of the green. Two tall blonde men towered over the lone woman.
Surprised, Tissaia regarded the young woman. The half-elven blood she carried in her veins had confused her body and thus warped her form. A hunchback, with long, glossy dark hair, and the lingering magical traces of a fixed jaw deformity, she nevertheless carried herself with the same grace and confidence as her cousins. And in spite of her defects, her vibrant purple eyes conveyed a depth of purpose and understanding that made her an arresting figure.
“Elves do not have the same biases towards those of mixed blood as humans do, Rectoress,” Filavandrel said smoothly, noticing the curiosity of her gaze. “She is my granddaughter and is accorded a place of honor in my family. She, and whatever children she may bear, will never rule this kingdom, but they will not be shunned due to the circumstances of their birth. My son loved her mother. His death cut short whatever union they might have shared, and I will honor his memory. In the human world, she would have been shunned and may not have survived. We do not do that here. It is not our way.” His words were stern, reminding her of the power he held as king, and the protection he felt as a grandfather.
“You are a credit to both your people and your family, Your Majesty,” Tissaia said, in surprising sincerity. “That is not a trait I have seen much in kings over the course of my life.”
He nodded at her candor and returned his gaze to the trio of cousins, laughing as they made their way towards them across the palace atrium.
“She has just passed her twentieth year, and an innate magical ability is growing inside of her. It is different than our ways of chaos, and I believe needs a different approach. A human approach. Her powers are… a tad temperamental, and I believe it is now time for additional help.
“These are my terms,” he said sternly, kingly mantle settling back in place, “you may place one mage on my council, as long as they meet my continual approval. No other humans may have a place here. In return, I want my granddaughter to be schooled in the human way of magic. The payment for the scholar that undertakes her education, as well as the council mage, will be access to our library and archives.”
Tissaia’s heart beat faster at the thought. All of the knowledge and history of the elves; a thousand years of the finest records on the continent, sciences and the arts included. An idea had not quite finished forming in her head before she stepped forward.
“I would be happy to oversee the Princess’ education myself, Your Majesty.”
Filavandrel nodded in assent, and she belatedly realized that had been his goal all along. The Grand Rectoress of Aretuza herself had been the only option he would consider, and in her excitement and awe, she had not realized it. Tissaia stumbled a bit in her thoughts as she considered the next term of the agreement.
“We have a newly ascended mage, Istredd, who would, I’m sure, be a welcome addition at your court, Your Majesty. He is here with me now, if you would like to test his suitability yourself.”
Istredd may not be so happy at that. He was a scholar foremost; his distaste for courtly politics was well known throughout the Chapter. But this was not the same atmosphere as the other courts, and she was sure the duties would be different as well. Elven appreciation for knowledge would appeal to him, as would the access to their archives. Yes, she was fairly certain he would jump at this opportunity. She turned back to the scene of the atrium and was met with the direct gaze of probing violet eyes, which contained the same heavy power as her grandfather’s.
Yes, the duties on this assignment would be different indeed.