Sorry that I am a week late with this update. I have just been incredibly busy with school the past couple of weeks. As a result of this, I will be planning to make updates bi-weekly for the time being; however, if I finish a chapter early I will simply post it upon completion. I've really been enjoying the positive feedback you guys have given me on this story, so please keep 'em coming and if you notice anything that could be improved grammatically please let me know.
***This chapter was very lightly edited, so if you see any obvious grammatical errors let me know.***
The trio quickly launched themselves off their horses, and hid behind the nearest cover they could find. Elia tried desperately to control her breathing as panic built in her gut. The instinct to run was almost unbearable, but she knew that it would only give away her two companions. As though sensing her discomfort, Allanon gently wrapped her trembling hand in his to give it a brief squeeze before retreating once more. Elia quietly met his soft gaze with a grateful smile.
Suddenly the ridder burst through the nearest tree line into the clearing. Given the speed of the horse, he would have most likely continued on had Spitter not whinnied loudly in greeting to the new horse, alerting the rider to their location.
Wil slapped his hand against his forehead and stared at the bushes in front of them in pure mortification. "Of course it had to be my horse."
Allanon looked to her with an indiscernible expression before turning to the panicking young boy. "Take Elia and the horses. Do not look back."
"No," she growled, grabbing a hold of his bicep, "You saved me. It's only fair I return the favor. If I run into the clearing I might be able to-"
"No," he whispered, gently cupping her face in his hands, "Ride and do not look back. That will be repayment enough."
Before she could formulate a response, he lifted her onto Artaq and strode into the clearing leaving her in silence. She paused for a moment staring down at his horse's magnificent head, only for a completely ridiculous, utterly suicidal thought to form in her head. The logical part of her mind told her not to do it, but the strange, foreign part of her that was inexplicably drawn to Allanon told her to act on her instincts. For once Elia decided not to listen to logic. Instead, she spurred Artaq toward the clearing with a muttered prayer to the heavens.
Allanon shouted her name in both terror and surprise as she barreled past him. Despite the ache that settled in her chest at the panic in his voice Elia continued on, spinning the stallion on his powerful haunches to stand in front of the cloaked figure in a movement that would have ordinarily been considered far too flashy for actual mounted combat. "I suggest you leave now, stranger."
"You have stumbled upon the wrong two people, Rover." The figure growled, drawing his blade in a smooth motion.
Elia scowled in confusion as she used Artaq's body to force the man to step back. "What the hell is a Rover?"
Before either of them could respond, Allanon stepped up gently pulling Elia from his horse to place her behind him. "Prince Ander, I apologize for not recognizing you sooner but your cloak does not bear the royal seal. I thought you a common vagrant."
"Ah I see," The young prince responded kindly, running a hand down the back of his head to reveal his handsome face. "My father sent me to find you, but did not wish to cause a disturbance with my absence. In hindsight, I should have just left after dark rather than catch you unawares in this thing." Elia curiously peered around Allanon's shoulder at the newcomer, catching his gaze briefly before retreating once more. "I'm assuming the woman is the one you went searching for?"
"Elia is not a descendent of Shannara, my prince, but she is certainly a person of merit nonetheless. The boy, however, should be around here somewhere." He responded, emphasizing the last word to indicate to Wil that his presence was wanted.
The young man cautiously trotted Spitter forward from behind the brush, coming to a halt a distance away from the rest of them. "Lovely evening for a ride isn't it?"
"Now is not the time for playing around, Wil."
He sighed running a hand down his face. "We've been riding for nearly a week, Allanon! Honestly, I wouldn't mind resting, and even if I wasn't exhausted I don't think I would want to discuss some life altering quest in the middle of a dark forest. This isn't exactly a setting that instills confidence in a person."
Elia nodded in agreement. "I have to say I agree with him. It's late, I'm emotionally drained, and….oh yes…I'm naked."
The prince smirked slightly and cocked his head as his gaze travelled unabashedly down the length of her body. "I was wondering why the lady was wearing your cloak, Allanon, though I must say that it looks far better on her than it ever did on you."
She scowled bunching her arms over her chest as she glared at the young prince. "No offense, dude, but that comment…kinda creepy. If you want to impress someone I'd take a more subtle approach in the future if I were you."
Allanon tensed beside her but relaxed when Ander began to laugh jovially. "I don't know if I've ever had a woman be so frank, but I must say that it is refreshing."
"As much as I'd love to stand out here all night talking about what a special cookie I am, I would really, really like to get into a change of clothes that weren't made for a man twice my size."
"And I would like to eat something that isn't roasted squirrel." Will offered with a casual flourish of his hand.
"Unfortunately both of your wishes will have to wait," Allanon replied somewhat apologetically. "There is news I must share with the king immediately."
The prince nodded his head in understanding. "I will take you to my father immediately and have one of the maids attend to the woman. There is no reason for her to wander without clothes when it can be seen to immediately."
Without further conversation the group swiftly mounted their horses and headed toward the city's gate. All remained silent save for Elia who grumbled irritably about the lack of name usage in regards to her person until Ander vowed to use it in conversation with a teasing gleam in his eye.
Elia sighed wearily as she watched shadows cast from the fire dance along the ornate walls of her newly designated room. Without the company of Allanon and Will, she was beginning to feel depression seeping into her bones. The full weight of her world's loss had not yet fully settled in her mind, but the absence of its familiarity was sorely being missed.
Thankfully, years of living on the road and as a researcher in remote locations around the globe had prepared her for surviving in less than ideal conditions. In fact, Elia found it rather strange to be sleeping in an actual bed. For the most part she had spent her time sleeping on the floor or in a hammock when the situation had afforded one. For all the strangeness of the past few days, she actually felt quite pampered at the moment.
Her sun-tanned skin was devoid of any grime for the first time in what she felt must have been millennia, and the rat's nest atop her head had finally been tamed into a soft cascade of golden waves down her back. Were it not for the severity of her features and utter lack of curves, she might have even considered herself beautiful; however, as it was with many women from the time of man, she was insecure about the imperfections her body carried.
A soft knock at the door echoed faintly through the high-ceilinged room, driving the melancholy thoughts from her head. "You can come in."
"Ah, I thought you might be asleep Miss Elia. My name is Catania." A small elven woman replied, poking her head around the edge of the heavy oak door. "I was ordered to check on you by the druid. He seemed worried for your safety."
"Why would he fear for my safety?"
A dark shadow passed over her face as she contemplated her next words. "I do not know how much I am allowed to share with you, miss, nor do I know how much it will help to alleviate your confusion if the rumors about you are to be believed."
"What are the rumors exactly?" Elia questioned cautiously with a raised brow.
"If they are true, it is said that you are an ancient human from before the fall of man, miss."
She nodded slowly as though not to scare the demure woman before her. "I do not mean to frighten you, Catania, but for once it seems the gossip is justified. As far as I can guess I am from before the 'fall of man' as you refer to it, and despite my lack of knowledge I should still like to know the reason for Allanon's concern."
"Very well then," she said, tilting her head in acquiescence, "I shall tell you, but if anyone asks you didn't hear it from me. When your druid was set to meet with the king, they discovered the entirety of the Chosen killed in cold blood. There are whispers in the servants' quarters of an intruder though none have been spotted."
"You know for someone who's just been told that I'm a millennia old human, you're taking it remarkably well." Elia joked, trying to alleviate the sadness in the air. "And based on your tone, I would assume that these Chosen you speak of are important to your people, yes?"
"Druid's are known to protract strange things in their travels, miss. Though I cannot say I have ever heard of a human being found before, so you may be entirely unique. And yes, the Chosen have a very special place within our society as the caretakers of the Ellcrys."
"The Ellcrys?" she mumbled in quiet confusion. "You must think me daft, but I do not have the faintest idea as to what that may be."
"Do not fret over it. I am sure there is much that you will have to learn in the coming days. Think of this conversation as the start to your education. The Ellcrys is an important symbol to the elven people as a vanguard against evil. It is said that each leaf traps a demon in a realm known as the Forbidding."
"This shit just keeps getting weirder and weirder, "she growled pinching the bridge of her nose between two slender fingers. "So there's a magical tree that keeps….demons in another realm, and these Chosen…they take care of it."
Catania smiled brightly and patted Elia on the shoulder in a congratulatory manner. "It seems you are already getting a grasp of things, miss."
"I fear that you have a decidedly low standard if you think me to be coping well. In reality, I just haven't really put much thought into the situation yet. And as my mother would always say, 'that's avoidance, not coping.' God, I can practically hear her scolding me through the ages. 'You need to learn how to deal with your problems, Elia. If you just keep avoiding them they will just keep festering inside of you'." She grouched in a poor mockery of her mother's voice.
"Did you and your mother not get along well?"
"Oh no, quite the opposite actually, we were very close. It's just that she was always far wiser than I, and me being the prideful fool that I was in my youth often chose to ignore her."
"You talk as though you are an elderly woman, but you look not a day over twenty." She laughed quietly.
"I look twenty to you," Elia replied with a slightly horror stricken face. "Jesus Christ, I'm twenty-six….or well I was twenty-six before this mess started. Come to think of it, I look damn good for being several thousand years old."
"That you do and I'm sure the druid would be quick to agree."
"Allanon? You think he finds me attractive." She replied skeptically as she pushed herself into a sitting position on the bed. "What makes you say that?"
"You should've seen the longing look he sent your way when we headed toward this wing of the palace. He looked as though he wished you would stay by his side."
Elia scoffed, "That's a lot to draw from a single look, Catania. I can't deny that he is kind to me, but I would say that attraction is a step too far."
"I would not discount it, Miss Elia. For now though I think you should rest. The coming days will be long for you of that I am certain."
"Good night then Catania. I suppose I will see you at some point."
The blonde elven woman bowed her head respectfully before gliding from the room, leaving Elia in silence once more.
Elia startled awake when a heavy hand fell against her shoulder. Through sleep covered eyes she could hazily make out the large silhouette of a man and immediately struck out with her fist to counter the action of her would be attacker having forgotten where and whom she was with.
The man quickly shifted his weight over her to block her movements and soothed her in a soft, familiar voice. "Shhhh it is just me, little one. You are safe here."
Elia's face heated in embarrassment as she realized her actions. "Shit, I am sorry Allanon. I forgot where I was for a minute. It's not every day that I wake up with a man standing over me."
"I should like to think not." The druid replied with a slight smirk. "Unfortunately, I have come to discuss our current situation and your options in regards to them."
"My options?" she stated curiously, drawing herself into a sitting position to better focus on the conversation.
"Yes," he nodded with a somewhat sad smile, "As I am sure you well know the Chosen were murdered last night in an attempt by the Dagda Mor to kill the Ellcrys. One survived- the Princess Amberle- now we must find her before it is too late."
"Okay hold on a minute," she grumbled. "So the magical tree can die? And someone or something is trying to kill it probably in an attempt to release the demon army it supposedly conceals in another realm. What the fuck is this shit?"
"Catania told you more than I expected, but yes that is essentially the crisis we now find ourselves facing. If Wil and I cannot find the princess it is very likely that the world will fall."
"You mean that we're possibly facing the equivalent of the next apocalypse and I've only been awake for a few days?" She asked in a trembling voice. This entire situation was becoming too much to bear.
Allanon blanched slightly as tears welled in her eyes and he quickly moved to try and placate her. "I know that our situation does not sound like a salvageable one, but this world has endured many such crises and I am sure that it will again. In the meantime though, you must be kept safe."
"And how will that be done? Based on the information I have been given, it appears as though Arborlon is no longer safe."
"You could travel with Wil and I."
"You know that wouldn't work Allanon." She sighed softly. "I would only prove a hindrance to your mission."
"Wil is no stronger a fighter than you have proven yourself to be." He countered.
"That may be true, but that doesn't mean you should have to take care of two novices."
Allanon growled irritably, pacing around the room like a cage lion. "Then what do you propose we do? As you have already pointed out it is no longer safe here."
Elia smiled at him gently and pushed herself from the bed to place a steadying hand against his arm. "You already know the answer to that question, Allanon. I must stay here. It is the only viable option. Whatever intruder lies within the palace walls will be no more a threat to me than the average citizen here. If they are strong enough to endure it then so must I."
"You could be killed if the demon discovers your true nature."
"I do not fear death, Allanon." Elia replied, gently running her hand along the length of his stubbled jaw. "And you should not fear mine either. To be honest my death is already several thousand years late."
"You should not joke about such things, Elia."
"I'm sorry that was in ill taste, but the sentiment is not wrong. I want to live just as most people do, but the world would not suffer from my loss."
"How can you be so certain of that?" He questioned. "Do you not think that there might be some purpose to your arrival here?"
"You mean like fate? No, I do not believe in such things," She answered with a slight chuckle, "Though a week or….several thousand years ago….I would have said that I didn't believe in magic either."
"I believe there is a purpose for you being here, Elia, so please try not to get yourself killed."
"No promises Allanon." She replied, patting him on the chest as she moved toward her clothes chest. "Now would you please mind leaving so I can put on some decent clothes?"
The druid coughed uncomfortably and nodded in response before hurrying from the room when Elia unceremoniously began peeling her nightgown over her head.
The scent of wild flowers permeated the air as Elia walked the streets of Arborlon in an attempt to find the stables before Wil and Allanon departed. Despite her anxiety over possibly getting lost, she could not deny that she was enjoying absorbing the sights and sounds of the city. It was a uniquely beautiful place, blending both modern architectural styles with those of the ancient past. There was also an unusual integration with nature present in the elves' designs that made it almost impossible at times to distinguish where a building began and ended. Were it not for the curious stares that seemed to follow her every movement, she would have been thoroughly lost to her observations.
As it was though the occasional person would approach her, cautiously asking questions about her life before darting away into the crowds. She did not mind divulging the nature of her world, but it was a strange thing considering that only a few days ago in her perception of time America had been the dominant culture of the western world. No one she would have encountered travelling through Montana or any other state would have needed a description.
Elia sighed somewhat forlornly as she continued toward the edge of town. Eventually the nearly overpowering floral scent dissipated into the familiar scent of horse manure and a few more twists and turns down the road revealed the city's stable yard. It was as elaborately designed as the rest of the buildings and kept impeccably clean. Not wanting to disturb the bustling grooms, she quietly walked into the central courtyard of the stable where she saw Artaq and Spitter already tacked and waiting for their riders who were nowhere to be seen.
The two magnificent horses nickered softly in greeting as she approached them. She laughed quietly at their response as she remembered the horses she had spent her youth around. They had been decidedly less grand than Artaq, more closely resembling Spitter if being even slightly more homely in appearance. Her favorite mount as a teenager has been a darning, slightly portly gelding with a hole in his head resulting from an ill-fitting halter placed upon him as a growing colt. While most of the other riders in the barn had avoided him like the plague for his ill appearance and stubborn attitude, she had fallen hopelessly in love with him and had spent a great deal of her time working with him. Now he was gone along with everything else. A heavy sigh escaped her lips. I miss them.
"There you are! I thought you might sleep so late that you'd miss our departure." A cheerful voice range out.
"What kind of person would I be if I didn't see off the only two people I know in the entire world?"
Wil rolled his eyes at her antics before playfully shoulder checking her. "You know without us around you're going to have be decidedly less morose or you're never going to make any friends."
"Who ever said I wanted to make friends?" She teased, bouncing lightly on her feet.
"I just figured you wouldn't want to be bored while we're away on our important quest." He responded casually. "Staring at the four walls of your room doesn't sound like a good way to pass the time. Granted neither does riding out across the Four Lands in search of a princess who really doesn't want to be found."
"I certainly do not envy you that task, my friend. In all honestly, I would probably only manage to get myself killed."
"Says the girl that was prepared to get herself killed only a day ago."
"That was different. Were we being followed by an actual threat my actions could have saved both of you." She groused irritably, folding her arms across her chest.
"I'm not saying that your actions weren't brave," Will said, "Only that it seems you have a habit of putting yourself in dangerous situations. When you did what you did, it really frightened Allanon and he's not a guy that gets ruffled easily from what I've seen. I don't know why but he seems to think you're important."
"So I've been told," she mused wryly, "He thinks that my being her has something to do with fate."
"Honestly, if Allanon thinks that it's probably true. He doesn't seem to be wrong often."
"For my sake I hope he is."
The steady thud of approaching footsteps forced their conversation to a close as they directed their attention to Allanon. He looked more apprehensive than Elia remembered him being this morning. It almost seemed as if a great weight rested upon his shoulders and for whatever reason every time he looked in her direction it was with guilt evident upon his features.
"I'm sorry to interrupt your banter, but we must depart Wil. If the Dagda Mor reaches Amberle before us then the Ellcrys will die and with it the world."
"Ah there's the doom and gloom again. I wondered when it would show back up."
Elia snorted at the boy's response and quickly tried to hide it behind her hand to no avail. "I can't say I disagree with him. You are pretty cynical."
"And you're not?"
"Point taken." She conceded with a nod. "Now come over here so I can give you both a hug. I promised Catania I would meet her later to begin learning the history of this world."
Wil was quick to take her up on her offer and quickly wrapped his arms around her in a haphazard hug before moving toward his horse to finish tightening the girth. Allanon on the other hand was decidedly less forward. Instead, he eyed her cautiously before taking a few tentative steps forward and stopping. Elia sighed in exasperation before quickly closing the gap between them to throw her arms around the reluctant druid. He tensed briefly before wrapping his arms around her as well.
"You're warm," she practically purred, burrowing her face against his chest content to soak up the heat he radiated.
"I'm warm?" Allanon questioned, chuckling quietly at her antics as he gently smoothed a hand down the back of her head.
"Hmmhmm and I am an eternal freeze cat."
"I have no idea what the means, little one."
She pulled back slightly; realizing that they'd probably been in contact far longer than what was considered decent. "I guess it's an old saying from my time then. It's basically just a roundabout way saying I get cold very easily."
He tilted his head to the side as the testing the phrase in his mind before giving a noncommittal shrug. "Your people certainly had an unusual way of speaking. When Wil and I return, I would not mind hearing more of your colloquial speech."
"So you don't know what a freeze cat is, but you people still use the word colloquial?" She chuckled in amusement. "It figures that you'd all speak as though you'd stepped out of a Tolkien novel."
"I don't know what that is either." He replied with a somewhat teasing grin.
"That's slightly depressing. You guys are missing out on some of the great literary works of the 20th-century. The man was a genius." She replied, reminiscing about the books she had so loved in her childhood. "Ah, I should probably stop rambling and let you guys get on your way then. Ya know with the whole end of the world thing at stake."
"As much as I wish we could spend the day conversing, you are correct, little one. It is time to say our goodbyes for now. Remember what I told you about staying safe, and should you ever feel uneasy don't hesitate to tell someone within the court."
"I'll try my best not to get beheaded or disemboweled, of that I can promise you." She replied with a cheeky grin.
"Thanks for the unpleasant visuals, Elia. Real empowering as we set off on a possible suicide mission."
"Aww you know you're going to miss me, Wil."
"Unfortunately, you're probably right." He replied with a begrudging sigh.
"I always am."
Slowly they both moved toward their horses and mounted up, heading toward the long road ahead with stoic expressions upon their faces. Elia waved at their retreating backs, giving them both a reassuring smile when they occasionally turned around in the saddle. The rest of the stable yard continued to move noisily around her as the only two people she felt safe around disappeared over the horizon.
Alrighty, so that's a wrap for Chapter Two. I hope you guys enjoyed it; I know it was once again dialogue heavy but next chapter should be a bit more descriptive.
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