The Elf and the Princess by Anna del C. Dye by Anna del C. Dye - Read Online

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The Elf and the Princess - Anna del C. Dye

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Come, My Prince, it’s time for bed," the nursemaid called to Paletin, as she did every night.

The dinnerware had been replaced on the table by metal cups full of ale.

Paletin is twelve years old now, and he will take his proper place by my side, King Rohison intervened.

The king offered the boy a metal cup full of grape juice. It was fermented just right for the king and his father, Rolien. The sweet-tasting drink fulfilled the young prince’s desires.

Thank you, Father, the prince said, as he smiled.

That night a fierce storm brewed outside, and the thunder and lightning threatened to rend the castle in pieces. Paletin’s two older brothers sat by the crackling fire in the dining hall around King Rohison and their grandfather, Rolien.

I have waited many years to be included with the adults in my household, the prince said, taking a place next to his older brother.

Rolien reached for Paletin's black hair and tussled it.

Grandfather, tell us about our ancestors, one of my older brothers asked.

We came from Menarm, an ancient city in the south of Andoriah, Rolien began as his eyes wandered across the fire to somewhere in his mind.

I’ve never heard of the Kingdom of Menarm before, Paletin said.

Loud wind whistled through the closed window in the dining hall, with a scratching tree branch as its background.

And you won’t if you don’t let your grandfather continue, his father told him. Many times it’s better to listen than to talk.

Yes, Father. I’m sorry, Grandfather.

Faraway thunder announced the storm now forming in the lands protected by the castle.

That is where your great-great-great-great-grandfather, Tianon, was king of all the southlands belonging to mankind. Rolien smiled at his favorite grandson.

Menarm was a great kingdom, Rohison added, orange flames dancing on his countenance.

They were prosperous and friendly, Rolien agreed. Its people were hard workers and fair in their treatment of others, which made them known throughout the land. They did business with everyone who came to their city and welcomed them all. There were merchants of all kinds in their land, trading everything you can imagine. That is when… it happened.

Only the downpour of rain could be heard for a long moment, so still were the listeners.

What happened, Grandfather? the curious princes broke their silence, followed by a thunderous booooom echoing in the night.

Your great-great-great-great-grandfather Tianon died unexpectedly, leaving his twin sons to take over the kingdom. The twin heirs were young and their lack of maturity was well known throughout the realm. Nevertheless, they were permitted to fight for the right to be crowned king. Their selfishness caused much pain in Menarm for months. It devastated the kingdom forever, for the people were divided.

Another thunderclap, this time from a bit farther away, boomed, accompanied by the flash of three-forked lightning. Paletin’s quick eyes caught the display through the big paneled window.

One son, Fenil, conquered and won the crown, becoming king of Menarm, Rolien said. The other, Renil, left with his followers to the high lands in the north to build their own kingdom. That is how the kingdom of Renil was born and why we live here. In Menarm, many families were not only separated but also changed forever.

I’m a direct descendant of Renil, then? Paletin asked.

Yes, son, his grandfather answered.

When can we go to Menarm? the prince asked, as more thunder echoed through the hall.

None of us has ever returned to the south after that, Paletin, his father said.

Are we still mad at them? His brows knitted tightly together.

We have stayed apart all these centuries, his grandfather answered, though we hold no grudge against Fenil’s subjects. In fact, some Menarmies live among us today.

We just don’t mingle with them, the prince murmured.

Seventeen years passed and somewhere in the Serra Mountains, in a pitch-black cave, a set of light feet moved quietly toward a figure curled in a bedroll near the fire pit. A loud snore came from the knave that lay there.

Good, he hasn’t heard me, the shadow murmured.

One of the two short swords held by the shadow rose and fell with a mighty swing toward the sleeping figure. At the last moment, the sleeping figure turned over to his left shoulder, and the metal struck the stone around the fire pit, vibrating the would-be attacker’s arm to its shoulder. Sparks flew and rekindled the dry, leftover wood from the past night’s supper, and the renewed smell of burning wood arose. The sleeping figure didn’t blink awake, nor hear the fire crackle.

The new, soft light revealed a small, muscular assailant in dirty black pants and a shirt too big for its wearer. The sleeves became stretched as the wearer strained to strike again, showing a hint of the lean, yet muscular, arms. A small moment later, a loud slap echoed in the cave, as the sword connected with the sleeping figure’s rump, and he sent a fowl scream toward the night sky.

I should kill you for that, Donian screamed and turned the other way, covering his head with the pelt he used for warmth.

Two bedrolls could now be seen at either side of the fire. One belonged to Donian; the other lay empty at the moment. Its occupant stood swinging two swords skillfully, complete attention riveted on the figure in the neighboring bedroll.

Come, you yellow-bellied mongrel, came the cry. Defend yourself.

Donian’s soft snore told the sword wielder that the knave had paid no mind to her insult.

Put out by such disrespect, the small figure reached for the skin Donian used for his cover and pulled hard on it. In the same move, the small figure also kicked the warrior’s sword toward him, and the metal pommel hit Donian on his head.

Now you’re going to get it. In one quick twist Donian stood and faced his attacker, though the sudden movement caused him to totter on his feet.

The small warrior crossed the two swords and caught Donian’s swinging blade there. For a brief moment they stared. In a flash, the small warrior pushed the older warrior off balance with a foot, and he tottered backward. Only his shadow followed him to the floor.

You are getting slow and old, the shadow teased him, legs set shoulder-width apart and swords crossed in between them.

Old … I’m in the prime of my life. The snow at my temples makes me mature and available.

And the dirty skin?

My face is lined from exposure to the rough life I chose for myself. What you call dirt is the kiss of the sun. And this is the last time you’ll attack me in my sleep, Donian cried, and, with recovered force, advanced toward the small warrior, who stepped rapidly to one side and hit him in the ribs with the hilt when he flew by.

Your brown hair and beard look mangled and dirty. If you wear long hair, you need to keep it clean.

Why? I like my pigtail. Besides, I’m not trying to get a wench in my bed. I just want to sleep.

You’re a weakling and I have to toughen you up like me, though that’ll never happen because you’re an old man.

This is insane, Donian screamed, his eyes on the entrance of the cave. It’s still night and this cave’s too small to fight in.

He quickly turned when he heard his attacker’s steps behind him, just a moment too late. He had to back up to avoid the sharp edge of the two swords crisscrossed on his neck. His bad luck continued as he tripped over his saddle, to land sprawled against the side wall of the cave, his shadow falling over him.

No matter what, use your environment to your advantage, rule number…

What do you want from me? Donian interrupted.

You’re sluggish and a disgrace to my training, the small warrior cried, with another swing of the short swords.

You don’t let me sleep day or night. That’s why I am tired and can’t think, he said, and dodged away from the weapons.

Rule number ten, be ready to defend yourself without notice, rang out the chant. Preparation is what will save your life every time.

I had to get you toughened enough to survive in a man’s world, that is why I fought you day and night, Donian defended himself.

Well, I think you succeeded.

Can I go back to bed now? he pled.

What is good for the student is good for the master, the small warrior said, and continued to pound the older warrior right and left while the man just tried to keep away from the short blades.

You’re lucky I’m tired and sleepy or you’d be dead by now.

Come now. Concentrate, that is the first rule you taught me, remember?

At this time of night, I don’t want to remember, he cried, sending his sword flying to the back of the cave. I’ll tell you what. I promise never attack you again in your sleep, if you promise to let me sleep.

Rule number two: never trust your enemy.

I am your instructor, not your enemy, he cried.

But you don’t want your friends to know about it, do you?

If you let me sleep, I’ll tell them that you’re my student.

Ah… and that I’m a woman, too?

Look here, Princess, I’d be the laughing-stock of every army if that was known.

You’re ashamed of me?

You’re good … for a woman, I mean.

We’d better keep up our practice then. I wouldn’t want you to feel ashamed of your student.

You demonic wench. … I curse the day I let your mother shame me into teaching you.

With one, two and three fast strikes to his arms, she left Donian sitting in the creek that went by the cave. The stars and insects became the only witnesses to her rage.

My name is Adren, Princess of Menarm and that … is what you’ll call me.

Chapter One

The Silent Warrior

The morning following this scene, close to Menarm, Paletin’s curiosity had gotten the best of him. For here he was, around one bend from the city he yearned to know. It had taken him ten and seven years to get here. He longed for the sight, anxiously imagining the kind of welcome he’d receive in Menarm. They would know where he came from, for it was their custom to state their origin when introduced to anyone.

I have a bad feeling about this, Paletin murmured. His excitement was replaced by sadness in his heart.

His long, black hair swept one way and then the other over his strong shoulders as he looked around to discover the cause of his uneasiness.

Nothing seems amiss, he said.

However, his warrior’s instincts told him to be careful. Dense shrubbery, dressed in beautiful flowers, in many colors and shapes, covered the green land.

Why my feelings then?

The blossom-laden greenery that dotted the valley extended as far as his blue eyes could see, yet nothing looked out of place.

I have seen no signs of animals for days now. That is not heard of. Only the soft breeze caresses me today.

To his right, a creek murmured softly and calmly, its water clear and cool. His palomino stopped to drink, and his eyes searched the shrubbery near the water for anything abnormal.

Come to think about it, I haven’t seen birds or bees for at least three days now. Everything is so quiet, it’s eerie.

A soft snort came from his horse at that moment, as if in reply to his musings.

Yes, you are right. It is just the task I’ve set for myself—I wonder if Menarm will be hostile to a descendant of Renil? Well, here we go.

He turned the bend and his nose wrinkled at the smell of burned flesh that lingered in the air. The sunny, summer morning yielded to a blackened sky that had settled over the city like an overgrown mushroom.

My fathers! What happened yonder? he exclaimed.

Nearing the city, he could see where the smell came from. The gruesome sight made him sick. Mutilated and burned bodies lay strewn all over the roads, houses, roofs, everywhere. The foul smell of death made him cough, and he covered his nose with a cloth from his saddlebags.

How did all these people die? he murmured, as if to not disturb the gruesome scene.

With his warrior’s senses acute to sounds or movements, he proceeded to look for anyone alive. The echoes of his horse’s hooves were the only sound he heard in the city.

From what I can gather, they were attacked by orks at least four days ago. … Did no one survive? How can that be… a whole nation?

Paletin bowed his head, lamenting the fate of more than two hundred thousand people, his own kin.

Even the women and children met death head on. … If there is any sign of defense against this foe, I cannot see it.

The smell penetrated his lungs, even through the cloth that covered his nose, and the prince coughed again.

They must have been asleep when the attack started. They have no weapons, what could cause that? They were easily slaughtered.

The breeze changed and the smell of burned buildings, mixed with burned flesh, was more pungent closer to the castle than when he entered the city gates. A castle was the strongest building in a kingdom, and he hoped he could find some answers there. Devastation was all he saw, as always when orks were involved in any battle.

In the midst of all this destruction, Paletin felt, more than saw, a movement to his right.

Did something move, or was it my imagination?

Cautiously, he turned his horse towards the movement. About twenty steps away, he found a royally dressed woman, her clothes covered in blood. She tried to walk toward him when she saw him, but had great difficulty.

My fathers! he exclaimed. Are you injured? Paletin hurried to catch her in his strong arms as she half-fell to the ground.

Easy now … do not move, he soothed. He offered the blond woman his waterskin. There … not too much now or it will make you sick. How heartless his words sounded in the middle of a massacre, but he had nothing more to offer her. Take your time. The orks have left the city.

My name … is Saria, came the sound of her voice, soft but clear.

I’m Paletin, Prince of Renil.

You … are my relative? How long I have wanted to meet you.

That’s why I’m here. That can wait for now. I’ll look after your injuries. Perhaps I’ll be able to assist you in some way.

She helped herself to another draught of water, took a long breath and said, I am the queen … of Menarm.

It only took one look to tell Paletin that it was no use. She should not be alive, yet there she was in his arms.

Orks attacked and destroyed my people … during the night. … The king locked up all the weapons, and we had none to defend ourselves. He found me hurt … and hid me in a tower … by the princess’ suite. … Four days … I hid there.

The pain she was in marred her countenance, but the white complexion of the snowy peaks in wintertime still showed on her beautiful face.

After another sip of water, she continued, When I heard your horse, I … came out. There are … no one alive. I didn’t call for anyone … I knew not if the orks … were still here. You’re the only living … person I’ve heard. Please help me, she pled.

The green tones in her eyes mirrored the waters in Lake Dorn on a summer morning, though right now she had closed them in pain.

I’ll do what I can, said he. Your wounds are deep, he said quietly.

I know there’s no … hope for me, she interjected in a whisper, it’s my daughter, Adren. … She’s with Donian … at Mount Serra.

Donian, the warrior? asked Paletin.

Yes. … She’s been with him for two years. Please tell her what happened to me … us. With much effort she continued, I beg you … take her to Lothia, to the house of Tadren.

Lothia, the elf city, why there? he interrupted.

After another draught of water and a long, deep breath, she continued. Please promise me.

I’ll do my best, I promise.

Give … give Tadren … this parchment, she panted as she tried to reach it on the ground, where it had rolled from her hand when she fell. It will explain everything to him … seal it … with the crest of this ring.

She opened her other hand to reveal a ring, attached to a gold chain and spattered with her own blood.

Give the ring to Ad… Adren. Tell her … tell her as she wears it … she will be with her … father.

Those were her last words, and he gently put her down. Once more his eyes roamed around the castle, he saw no one. Paletin’s questions were far from answered, and after the queen’s revelation, he felt more confused than ever.

I wish you could tell me why fate would play this hand to your kingdom, My Queen.

He moved the red tresses away from her serene face.

Only in the deep fires of the black lands of Soline have I seen the color of your hair, My Lady. How sorry I am for this turn of events.

In silence he closed his eyes and wept.

What madness possessed the king to lock up all their weapons? How did you know Tadren? he mused, his eyes now lingering on the ring. It hung on a golden chain that accentuated the fine engraving and clean lines, the markings of the elfs’ craftsmanship surrounded a T of great beauty nestled in the middle. It was the signet ring of the house of Tadren. The second leader of Lothia himself wore the ring on his left hand. Tadren’s was a house he knew well and where he had earned the elfs’ respect and friendship.

‘I need to find wax to seal this parchment,’ he thought. He directed his steps toward the tower the queen had mentioned. Why wouldn’t Tadren nor his four sons ever mention Menarm?

The prince was closest to the eldest son, Dellin, although all of them were his juniors. Many skills that Paletin used he had learned in that beautiful city. His visits had taught him much about that race and his reverence for them penetrated deep.

In a hall of the castle, the prince stopped to look from a high window at the sight of this dreadful place. The once proud city of Menarm lay in ruins before him. All its inhabitants had perished. Insects and birds feasted on the decaying flesh and his thoughts again turned to Saria.

That fate should not be yours, My Queen. I would have loved to make your acquaintance and hear of your deeds.

He turned from the waste that surrounded his eyes and continued toward the nearest tower.

How could so grand a city have been utterly destroyed and lost? he mused.

His horse snorted in the distance. He needed to get out of there before the birds confused him and his mount with food and ate them alive.

Why would a princess be with a warrior for two years? Especially Donian, of all people? What does Tadren have to do with all this? How did this woman happen to come by his signet ring? Why take a mankind princess to the elf city? None of it makes any sense. I shared with Tadren my plans to visit this kingdom. He knew Menarm was Renil’s twin city and that the inhabitants herein are my relatives. He chose not to tell me, why?

Still in warrior mode, Paletin kept his eyes trained on his surroundings. His steps took him to the chamber in the tower the queen had mentioned. A seat and a writing desk occupied the middle of the round tower, which had a few small openings near the ceiling. On the table lay some writing things and wax, guarded by candles. He looked at the parchments placed thereon for some kind of clue. Finding none, he directed his eyes to the parchment in his hands.

After weighing the pros and cons of his action, Paletin opened the parchment and read it. It explained the reasons the queen wanted to send Adren to Lothia and much more than he bargained for.

This secret, I must not divulge. Tadren would not approve of my seeing it. Too late now, my friend, I am sorry that I read it, for this is your tale, not mine.

Paletin rolled it once again and sealed the scroll with the red wax he found upon the small table. He traced his steps back to the queen, took her body in his arms and gently deposited her in the chamber in the tower. He bowed to her one last time and closed its doors forever.

At least the animals will not get to you there, My Lady, he sighed.

Paletin placed the parchment in his saddlebags and mounted his horse.