By not really popular demand so much as a veiled threat, here is the next chapter of the book I’ve been working on. If you missed Chapter One, go back and read that otherwise this part will not make sense to you.
Chapter Two was pretty easy to write, actually. However, one the second run through I realized that it was HUGE in comparison to the first chapter, so I cut it off at a better place than before. Now, it’s also more focused on the arrival of the fae as opposed to everything that happens that’s now in Chapter Three.
Chapter 2: Welcoming the Fae
Arriving at her own estate grounds two days later, Elan was the one holding the reins. She needed to be seen first so the guards would let the carriage in without a fuss. She heard the guards at the towers shout her name to each other, and doors opened in record time.
Flora was stowed away inside the carriage with Amelia and Larent. Jalek kept her company with a trusty bow and a quiver of arrows, just to be safe. They made good time getting there, no brigands encountered along the roads. The guards were trotting along on either side of them, a little tired but used to such ventures.
Jalek said to her as they meandered through the gates, “How does it feel to come home?”
“Honestly,” Elan said as she turned the horses towards the stables, “it doesn’t. I’ve been gone a year, and a lot has happened within that year. Perhaps it’s stupid and arrogant of me to say, but the Queen’s castle started to feel like home I…” She sighed, not bothering to finish her thought.
“Hey, it’s alright.” Jalek put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I know it’s not what you expected. Hell, it’s not what I expected either. Still, at least you’re more than prepared to be a duchess, and it’s not like Flora wouldn’t have you as High Advisor.”
“I just…” Elan shrugged. “I don’t know how I’m going to get used to this again.”
“Well,” Jalek put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed her, “we’re all here for you, so that’s something.”
Elan couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, I suppose that’s more than enough, really.”
The stable attendants came up to take the reins from her hands and help her down. Jalek popped down to open the carriage door for the passengers. Flora stepped out first, sprinting straight towards the side entrance with Amelia on her heels.
“Move!” Flora shouted as she shoved aside a stable hand.
Elan watched a giggling Larent exit with his hand over his mouth.
“They needed to go for miles, but didn’t want to stop to use bushes again.” He walked over to Jalek. “I say we take what little we brought up to the rooms and freshen up.”
Elan motioned for a guard to come over. “I’ll have someone send you both clothes. We have more than enough to get you through these next few days.”
Harlin swung off his horse. He started barking orders as he touched the ground. “Tavin! Get your ass to the staff magician and tell him to get the hot water started. Danival! Help the royal nitwits with their bags. Carl and Vincent! Get the horses brushed down and fed. Myra and Lilly! Get the shit off the horses and into our rooms.”
Elan giggled a little. She let him take control of his guards. Danival took the bags from her hands with a smile and a shake of his head. “Always yelling, I swear, it’s like he thinks we’re deaf,” Danival grumbled.
Jaleck turned to Larent. “Freshen up, brother? Are you going to make me look dashing?” Jalek asked with a scrunched up face. “I would rather keep on this attire.”
Larent glared at his brother. “Heaven forbid you wear something civilized.”
“Perish the thought.”
“Could the two of you please just help with the bags?” Elan interrupted them. “I have enough fools required for entertainment, I don’t need the two as additions.”
Jalek rolled his eyes, but didn’t protest anymore. Elan walked with them and the servant as they headed for the main stairs. Larent whistled, making the sound echo off the white stones around him.
“Stop it,” Elan said, knowing it was useless.
Jalek whistled on behalf of his brother. “Why is your lobby so vast? Most of your estate is this lobby, I swear.”
“It was designed by my great-great grandfather to appear welcoming to all.” Elan said with exasperation. “Just take the bags upstairs!”
Larent and Jalek made faces and mocked her tone as they did precisely what she asked. Flora and Amelia appeared from the side hall. They ran to catch up with Elan on the stairs.
“So before everyone arrives,” Amelia said with a sly smile, “could I perhaps be paired with Larent in a room?”
Elan thought hard about it. “I suppose your wedding is close enough that a child conceived would be within an acceptable time.”
“Oh!” Amelia smacked her on the back. “I will be taking herbs to prevent that for a good year or two, thank you very much.”
Elan laughed. “It’s fine, Amelia, I see no reason to keep you two apart. My mother might have some words for me, but I think it’s high time we change those stuffy old rules about married only couples.”
“If she makes a ruckus about it,” Flora said with her chin held high, “I’ll make it a royal decree.”
“Ah ha!” Amelia slapped her hands together. “I knew one day this contender stuff would pay off.”
The ladies all walked up, up, up to the high rooms on the fourth floor. The main stairs forked to two hallways on either side at each level, the left side being for couple’s rooms and the right for singles. Elan’s own room was on the fifth floor where the main stairs stopped. She brought Flora to the best singles room available, Amelia following with them just to chat.
Elan moved to take the cover sheet off the bed while a servant opened the window. “Apologies, nothing has been prepared. We left so quickly and there was no time to send word.”
“Of course,” Flora said with a nod. “For the best, anyway. Now it can be like old times, just us.”
“Indeed.” Amelia said as she aided a servant with bringing in bags and cleaning supplies. “Besides, it just looks dusty, not dirty.”
“Mother is always having the place cleaned.” Elan said with a small frown. “I think when I am Duchess I shall definitely change that schedule. She demands far too much cleaning and not enough maintenance work, in my humble opinion.”
Amelia made a face that indicated she would’ve liked to have words with Lady Brienne. “What you mean to say is, she’s awful to all the help.”
The servants all winced in unison.
Elan squirmed and said,“Awful is perhaps a bit much-.”
“I’m sure we’ll get it all sorted out quickly enough.” Flora cut in. She walked towards the bathroom and motioned to a servant.“Please do bring up a towel and some tea when you get the chance. I want to feel human again as quickly as possible.”
Elan and Amelia giggled. Within an hour, the ladies were lounging about in Flora’s room on the bed. Flora and Amelia wore simple loose fitting dresses, the older styles of Lady Brienne’s time (and possibly nicked from Lady Brienne’s old wardrobe). Flora’s was a lighter peach colored with lace sleeves, while Amelia donned a dark green one with longer loose sleeves. Elan settled on a yellow old fashioned sundress from the back of her closet.
“We all look as if we’re about to have tea in a garden.” Amelia remarked.
“Not a terrible idea,” Flora said. “But I would rather stay in and relax.”
Elan nodded her head as she yawned. “That ride was too long.”
“Yes, but necessary.” Flora tucked her feet underneath her. “I do wish we could teleport like I’ve heard some fae can? To go from one place to another instantaneously? How extraordinary, and time saving!”
“My great-great grandmother could supposedly do such a feat.” Elan fiddled with the blanket under her hand. “But her stories always seem a little too unbelievable. I suppose I could ask Ravenna if any of it is true.”
“I do so wonder what they’re like!” Flora said, holding up her hands to cover her cheeks. “Do you think those stories are true, about, you know, the time they can spend…nightly?”
Amelia tilted her head back to laugh. “That’s what you’re curious about, Princess Flora?”
“A princess or not, I am curious, although I would never discover first hand.” She wiggled her eyebrows at Amelia. “After all,” she took Elan’s hand in hers, “sometimes it’s best to stick with our own kind, if only for the sake of security.”
Amelia’s smile faltered. “Yes…I suppose there’s some truth to that.”
Elan flicked her eyes between the two, wondering at the odd tension. She also vaguely wanted to know why Flora had become so touchy with her these past few days.
Flora leaned towards her. “Are you as curious about them as I am?”
Elan shrugged, “I’ve grown up with all sorts of tales, so yes, it would be nice to see the truth from fiction, but they only stay to sign the papers and then go. I don’t think there will be much opportunity for anything else.”
“Hmm,” Flora squeezed her hand, “I suppose we’ll just have to find other ways to pass the time.”
Elan looked down at the hand entwined with hers. “I suppose so?” She shot a questioning look to Amelia, who didn’t return it. Instead, her long time friend glared daggers at Flora. She didn’t have a clue what was going on, but she didn’t like it. “Anyway, it’s only a few days off, so I had best get started now, the earlier the better.”
She slid her hand out of Flora’s grip before she stood up. The tension remained, Elan could feel it stirring around as she left. Whatever happened after she left the room would be for the two of them to sort out. Elan had her own problems.
Lady Brienne came in the early morning the next day and set about preparing the rooms with the castle staff, so that was one weight lifted off. However, most of the courtiers arrived the eve of the festival, which made Elan’s tasks all the more difficult to overcome. So much else left to do!
Luckily, she had the Contenders and the Princess herself, and none of them were fools on the importance of the event or the chaos of this last minute increase in guests. Larent was runner for Elan, getting messages to and fro to various places around the estate. Jalek decided to go out with the kitchen staff to hunt in the forests for more deer and other meat. Flora was dealing with the courtiers as they came, entertaining them with her iconic charm. Amelia handled organizing the magicians, who needed guidance on where they were most needed as both staff and security detail.
The biggest issue to tackle was neither the time crunch nor the flood of people crammed into an ill prepared estate. It was one person: Jaden. The old man wouldn’t accept any of Elan’s input, constantly talked over her, and in general acted like a real ass. The old man had organized many a stately affair within the Northern Province, but no one liked to work with him.
In the library, Elan spoke with Jadeb about the plans for the Main Hall. He had scribbles of plans in front of him, his old notes from the time Ravenna came to the estate. All of Elan’s suggestions were continually rejected, and the future Dutchess began to lose her patience.
“Jaden, if we tell the courtiers to avoid the fae, the fae will no doubt be offended. All the records show they are social creatures like us, why would we segregate from them? My mother said she had tea with Ravenna in the sunroom.”
“Against my wishes, I might add!” Jaden said with a huff and picked up an illegible piece of paper. “The woman agreed to the meeting without my approval-.”
“She is the Duchess, Jaden, she never needed your approval.”
“But she was a pregnant woman! She obviously couldn’t think straight. Being around those monstrous things, I can’t imagine what might’ve happened in that room had she done the wrong thing, said an insult, you might’ve never been born. Who knows!”
“Those fae,” he continued over Elan’s attempted protests, “ are on their side of the world, beyond the gate, and we’re on this side. We’re meant to stay apart. The treaty even states for us to never enter the other’s lands.”
“Without permission given by the other side,” Elan managed to interject.
Elan sighed, a long breath rushed out between teeth. “Jaden, it’s obvious to me now that you hold some bias against the fae that wasn’t previously brought to my attention. As such, I’m removing you from the party detail.”
“What! But I’ve done these parties for decades, and-.”
“No, enough. I’m done trying to guide your stubbornness into something productive. We’re not segregating the two species, that’s entirely beside the point of these meetings! We’re going to have everyone intermingle. If something goes wrong, we will deal with it in the befitting manner of our stations..”
“You don’t know, child, you’ve never met them. When you do, you’ll understand.” He said as he clattered up and out of his chair. He grabbed up his papers with angry and shaking fists. “I will be discussing this with your mother and the Duke.”
“What you mean to say, sir, is you are going to discuss it with the Duchess and Duke of Altier.” Elan said with more force than was perhaps polite. “But please, do be sure to tell my parents your entire opinion in full. I’m sure they would love to hear it.”
Jaden stomped out of the room. A lad in waiting rolled his eyes as he took Jaden’s place to stand near Elan. Ken was an older fellow, without partner or children. His tastes in clothes were impeccable, and it was a joke around the estate his talents were completely wasted on Duke Nathaniel.
“I heard everything, Lady Elan,” he said with a slight smile. “I think you did it right, getting rid of him. I can’t stand him, myself.”
“Thanks,” she responded. “But, well, he’s not wrong. I don’t have any idea what the fae are like. Perhaps they are more prone to feel insulted? I don’t know.”
“I was a young lad when the fae came last, and honestly? A lot of things turned out much differently than I thought. Sure, they are a sight to see, but that Raveena and her lot didn’t cause any trouble. They just went through the motions, the ceremony, and signed the papers.”
“Well that sounds…”
Boring, Elan thought. She picked up her own notes, full of even and organized points in shorthand. She read so much on the fae for most of her life. Books upon books, talked with scholars, and even listened to what little she could from people in the estate who were around them.
“I think we need to change those plans, right now.” Elan gave him a smirk. “From what I understand, the fae love a good party.”
A feast then, and a party!
Larent came into the room. He squinted his eyes at Ken and then her. “Sooooo, what are we plotting now?”
Elan giggled. “We’re going to need to get wine from the basement.”
The Northern Province and Ravenwood held a long, entwined history brought about by centuries of war and then peace and then war again. After the crowning of Ravenna nearly two hundred years ago, the two realms finally struck an accord, and peace reigned between them. Thanks to those two hundred years, the fae kingdom of Ravenwood and the Northern Province shared their resources, and in the end discovered both could give each other “gifts” to keep the balance.
The Fae adored gold, silver, and jewels. For them mining mountains would be tantamount to heresy in their realm, for their mountains held their own fae-kin as well as the sentient trees upon them. The realm of man, however, held no such spirits, and could be mined without fear of such intense repercussions..
The human magicians were trained in magic. Humans with hints of magical ability would go to a High Mage for a test. Magicians had their own ways of getting into the fae side that didn’t involve gates. They were a secretive lot, and so integral to most life in Surene. Infrastructure, plumbing, security, so many jobs relied upon the magicians learning new things from the fae.
On the day of the Summer Solstice, Elan mentally tallied all these details, letting them coalesce inside her mind. She breathed in and out, recalling everything she ever learned about the fae. It would serve her well, she hoped.
She stood in front of her mirror, staring at her reflection. Her mother ordered her to wear a similar outfit to the one from Flora’s crowning, but this dress was designed with more intricate silver leaves running up and down her arms, trailing all the way down to the edges of the dress at the bottom hem. Elan’s hair was pulled up into an intricate braided top, practically a crown in and of itself.
A knock at the door startled her. Elan turned, calling out, “Who is it?”
The door opened, revealing Flora. She wore her crown atop her head, as expected. She wore a dress of deep blue, the fabric flowing around her frame. Her long blonde hair wasn’t bound, but instead brushed straight down.
“Are you ready?” Flora asked as she closed the door behind her.
“Yes?” Elan sighed. “Maybe.”
“Breathe, dear.” Flora walked over to her. With a gentle hand, she brushed her fingertips across Elan’s forehead. “It will be a short affair and then it will be done.”
Elan nodded. “I’m still so shocked by all of this. I am grateful you pushed the courtiers into coming, but, well.”
“No need to thank me.” Flora’s eyes flickered over Elan’s dress and face. “Your mother did her half compliment and half terse complaint to me already.”
Flora put up a hand to stave off the apology. “Again, no need. I know how she is.” Flora glared at the space between them. “If I were Queen, I suspect she wouldn’t dare, but we’re not quite there yet.” Flora tossed her head from side to side. “Anyways, it’s best we go. The delegation is gathering down in the Main Hall. I would like to give Harlin less of a reason to yell expletives at us all.”
Elan nodded. “I shall follow you.”
“No, no, please walk with your mother and father in front. Your family sealed this peace treaty long ago. I will not steal your place to receive Queen Ravenna.” Flora shot her a half smile. “Besides, it’ll make your mother incised, and I’m in a mood to make her suffer a little.”
Elan rolled her eyes and sighed. “Can we not with the petty jobs so early in the day?”
Flora huffed. “You know I can be worse. Come on, stop stalling, let us depart.”
The Dukes and Duchesses of the kingdom were all gathered together in a half circle near the Alter Gate. The gate was a winding tree, a magical signpost between the world of human and fae. The branches were stark black, winding upwards as if to pierce the rising sun. The other royals seemed perturbed by the sight, their faces scrunched up and leaning away from the structure.
Having grown up with the Alter Gate so close to home, Elan touched the Alter Gate a time or two when she was a more daring babe. The tree did nothing to harm her for it, simply sat and waited to be used by the Queen of Ravenwood.
Lady Brienne and Duke Nathaniel stood to her left and right. Her mother kept glancing behind her to Flora and the entourage of guards surrounding the princess. Duke Nathaniel coughed into his hand to get her attention, and Lady Brienne glared at him.
“I’m just checking,” Lady Brienne hissed at him.
Elan whispered. “Mother, Flora doesn’t want to disrespect us, so don’t disrespect her.”
Lady Brienne bit her lip. “But a Duchess shouldn’t be before the Princess.”
Duke Nathaniel grumbled at her. “You know Ravenna doesn’t give two licks about human protocol! Shush!”
Elan put a hand on her mother’s arm. “Just let it go. It’s done, and-.”
A hollow toll emitted from the tree. White lights streamed up the branches. Little by little, silver leaves and flowers peeked out from it between the winding wood. A light blue flashed across from across the branches. Steadily, the energy formed into a tall, long knife-like structure.
Elan gasped. Goosebumps popped along her skin, her hair standing on end. The power emitted from the portal was electric, like when a thunderstorm sent a clash of lightning too close for comfort. With a gulp, Elan tried to swallow down her trepidation.
From out of the light, Queen Ravenna stepped through with a smirk on her lips. She wore nothing like the women of the human world, opting instead for black pants that hugged closely to her curves and a silver shirt that hung low. Her ebony black boots shone in the sunlight, rising up to her knees. A cloak hung about her shoulders, covered in black feathers that swayed with her. Her hair was a frazzled upward mess of feathers, holding up a black and silver crown that looked very similar to the Alter Gate tree.
Her dark skin was lined with stark white marks down her arms, sigils of power etched into her by ancient mages in the fae realm. When they peeked through the cloak, the marks didn’t stay stagnant, but instead shifted to-and-fro. And of course, Ravenna had a raven’s eyes, so deep that one could get simply lost in them.
Elan had no idea how long her mouth had been open before she shut it with a clack. Nothing prepared her for the sight of Ravenna, a dark and mysterious force from childhood come to life before her. She thought she understood enough, but one look at Ravenna demanded she reassess. This woman was fierce, confident, and absolutely wild. All the preparation in the world would be useless to understand her.
The only way to get on Ravenna’s good side would be to get to know her in person.
Ravenna was followed by a trio of guards. They all wore the same uniform of white cloaks atop their shoulders with black pants. One had leathery red skin, their eyes a bright yellow with slit irises. Strapped to their hip was a pouch, so most likely a mage. Beside them was a black man with leathery wings, on his back, two knives at each side. The two guards stood a good two feet taller than the last guard, a very pale woman with horns coming up and over her head.
The Duke of the Northern Province began his speech, “Welcome back to the Kingdom of Surene, your excellency! May I be the first to say we appreciate your acceptance of our invitation and look forward to re-establishing our ties…”
Elan waited beside her father as he spoke of their long ties in a much more flurried manner. She only half-listened, giving Ravenna an apologetic smile as he continued on and on. Her hands held a small box of lacquered wood, thin and long. She helped design the silver scepter within it. She was now supremely glad she trusted her instincts on silver over gold, for now it would match the Queen’s crown.
Once it was believed silver was poisonous to fae and demons, but it turned out to be mere human wishful thinking during the Rift Wars. Fae, especially raven-kin, tended to actually adore all shiny things. However, raven-kin hated anything sticky, as it could get on their feathers and keep them from flight. While other fae loved milk and honey, raven-kin abhorred both in near equal measure.
The guards and Ravenna took their time gazing over the crowd. Ravenna seemed neither pleased nor displeased with the large crowd, just owning the space she inhabited regardless of who else was around her. Elan couldn’t help but admire it. Valeria was a Queen beloved for her grace and strong hand with the kingdom, someone the kingdom could admire her beauty as well as her power. With Ravenna, she was a focused energy, a force of nature with no use for grace. Elan knew she would demand obedience and receive it.
Her father finished his speech with, “Accept our humble commencement.”
Ravenna flashed a smile. Elan noted the tips of sharp teeth. “Well met, Duke Nathaniel. My people and I of course accept and wish to give our own thanks in return. Through this accord may we have yet another time of peace in which we both benefit.” She bowed a bit at her waist and her father bowed in turn.
As he rose, the Duke said, “And now, my daughter, Elan Alteir, wishes to give you a token.”
“Oh?” Ravenna turned her full attention to Elan.
It was another lightning strike. Elan moved forward to get closer to her as she fought down her racing heart. It’s just like any other diplomatic effort, she chided herself. There was no sense in getting all bent out of shape because the Queen of Ravenwood simply looked at her!
“Yes, your excellency. I have brought you a gift.” Elan opened the wooden box to reveal the scepter. “I hope it’s to your liking.”
Ravenna stepped closer, tilting her head from side to side as she did. Elan recalled a day when she fed the castle crows from her hand last summer, as they looked at the offered food left and then right before taking it. The Queen reached out to take the metal in hand. As she picked it up, she locked eyes with Elan.
“Thank you, my dear,” she said and leaned in close. “I’ll be sure to treasure it.”
The unwanted blush bloomed over Elan’s face. She nodded quickly as she snapped the case shut. “I am glad it meets your approval, your majesty.” She backed away to return to her father’s side, cutting off the eye contact.
What is happening to me? She wondered. For years she’d been training herself. She didn’t blush over nothing, how childish!
A hand fell on her shoulder. “Elan has the best eye for gifts.” Flora pushed herself forwards. “Greetings your majesty, I am Princess Flora, newly ascended and chosen.”
“Ah!” Queen Ravenna’s eyes widened. “How welcome, Princess Flora. It has been some time since royalty came to meet me from Surene.”
Flora bowed to her. “I wish to create a strong kingdom, and such a thing is only possible with the strength of the ties we form with our allies.”
“Too true,” Raveena nodded with respect. “I hope to meet with you in the coming days to deepen these ties.”
Princess Flora turned to Elan. “You will love the plans we have for your visit. Elan has gone to great lengths to make your arrival party something to remember.”
“Oh?” Ravenna’s focus shifted again to Elan. “What a nice change of pace!” Ravenna turned to her mother. “Take no offense Lady Brienne, you were a lovely hostess, but I do enjoy a chance to unwind as much as anyone else.”
“Your majesty, I take no offense to preferring my daughter’s work over my own. After all, she inherited her good choices from my side of the family.” Lady Brienne said these words with absolute conviction, ignoring her husband’s glare.
Duke Nathaniel said to Ravenna, “I beg of you, Queen Ravenna, do not be beguiled by my wife’s misleading words.”
Ravenna laughed, a loud and cawing sound. “Oh, someone is going to get an earful later, I believe.”
Elan giggled. Ravenna turned to her again, her eyes softening.
Ravenna said, “Yes, I do find myself quite intrigued. Well, shall we then?”
“Yes,” Flora extended her hand between Ravenna and Elan, “please, let’s go to the estate together. We can begin our discussions now.”
“Oh, of course.” Ravenna took her hand, tucking it into her arm.
Elan trailed behind them. She barely heard her father directing the Dukes and Duchesses back to the estate. Lady Brienne chatted with the guards, knowing them apparently from the last visit. The whole short walk back to the estate, Elan kept looking at Ravenna.
When she’d been younger, Elan admired the pictures of the fae. Every tapestry, painting, and inked out page in her books told her they were beautiful and otherworldly creatures. Ravenna managed to put all those depictions to shame. Her essence could never be captured by any artist, for how could a painting show the thick aura of magic and mystery exuding from her?
Oh, I’m in such trouble, Elan thought to herself.
At the estate, everyone went their separate ways to retire to the rooms. Lady Brienne took Queen Ravenna and her entourage to the dedicated fae quarters in the west wing. Elan raced to her own rooms, needing to prepare for the dance and feast that night.
Fin for now. I’ll be talking about characters tomorrow, in a non-spoilery way I promise.