The Elf King stood in the shadows of the Truce Circle, his arms crossed over his chest, with an expression of barely concealed fury on his handsome face. Even though dusk had long since fallen, what light remained stung his eyes which were accustomed to the night. He still had half an hour before the Goblin King was due to arrive, but he had decided to arrive as early as he possibly so that he could have his anger in check whenever he finally came face to face with Marak. In fact, it had taken nearly ten minutes for the magic of the circle to allow him to enter. The powerful magic that had been weaved by both his and the Goblin King's ancestors centuries ago did not allow anyone to enter the circle who might use magic to harm anyone else who entered. It had taken all of those ten minutes for Aganir to stop thinking of the many spells at his disposal that could be used to wipe the no doubt smug expression Marak would have on his face once he finally arrived.
His two lieutenants stood at his side, the hoods of their green cloaks pulled low over their faces to shield them from the bright light. He did his best to ignore the disapproving look on Girzal's face. The chief advisor had used many arguments against even meeting with the Goblin King, let alone even listening to any of the demands that he was sure to have in exchange for the human girl, but Aganir had not listened to any of them. Enlil, the Elf King's military commander, had also attempted to reason with the king about this meeting. No good would come of it, both of the lieutenants had concluded, but nothing they said could convince Aganir to give up. No, the Elf King had been determined to meet with the Goblin King, if for nothing else but to knock some sense into him.
Aganir heard the Goblin King's arrival before he ever saw him. Goblins are as noisy as humans, he concluded with a sneer. Marak entered the circle, the hood of his dark cloak obscuring his face, with both of his lieutenants at his side as well. The Elf King clenched his fists, stepping out into the light.
The tension in the circle could have been cut with a knife. Each of the lieutenants eyed their respective king nervously, as though they might be set off at any moment.
"I do not think that we need to waste time with pleasantries." The Elf King finally said after the two kings had glared at each other for several long moments.
"I suppose you want to know what I want in exchange for the girl?" Marak replied, smiling smugly at him.
"I have my suspicious of what you will want," He responded. "And you already know what my answer will be."
The Goblin King stared at him with a small amount of surprise. Perhaps he had overestimated his rival's feelings toward the human. "Yes, but perhaps we can come to an agreement."
"I won't give you one of my people to drag underneath the Earth into your horrible caves."
"So you're just going to give up Laura without any fight?"
Aganir could not help but flinch at the mention of her name. "If you had any sense of honor at all you would return her to me. You know that she was meant to be my wife. The elves are supposed to have precedence-"
"It is not my fault that you failed to properly guard your bride." Marak countered. "We have not had an elf bride for two generations now. There is no treaty between us which means that there is nothing keeping me from raiding your borders and taking as many brides as I wish."
The Elf King's eyes blazed with fury. "You could not get past our borders if you tried."
"We will see," Marak smirked. "Now, you can look forward to raids to begin to start within the week, or you can at least hear my terms."
Aganir remained silent, so he continued.
"I will return Laura to you in exchange for an elf bride. In return, I shall order that no other raids for brides will be sanctioned for the entirety of my reign."
Aganir hesitated. No other brides to be taken for the rest of Marak Tigerclaw's reign? Even he had to admit that the deal worked out more in his favor than the Goblin King's. Still, he knew that he could never consider allowing one of his people to be dragged down into those caves to be a goblin's bride. How could he even go about choosing which poor girl to be given this fate worse than death?
"Of course, if you do not agree to these terms," Marak continued as Aganir remained silent. "I will also take Laura as my own wife."
The Goblin King was lucky that the truce circle prevented the use of magic, for his brother king was finding it very hard to find a good reason not to blast him into oblivion. Aganir clenched his fist at the thought of the woman who was to be his own wife in the arms of his enemy, sentenced to the fate of bringing one of this horrible, monstrous creatures into the world.
"I will not hand one of my people over to you," The Elf King stated finally. "However, should one of them agree to be the Goblin King's Bride, then I would consent to your terms for the exchange."
The Elf King's lieutenants stared at their king in shock. What sane elven maiden would willingly pledge themselves to be a goblin bride?
"And," he continued. "You will agree that no elf brides at all will be taken for the entirety of your reign, taken through raids or not."
The Goblin King laughed. "It seems that you are learning, brother."
Aganir scowled at him.
"And am I supposed to wait around forever for some girl to decide that she will marry the Goblin King?" Marak said, crossing his arms over her chest. "I will give you until the end of the week."
Aganir scoffed. "How can you make these demands when it is me who is sending one of my people into your airless hole."
"Until the end of the week." The Goblin King repeated. "If you have not produced a bride for me by then, I will consider our agreement to be null and void."
A stormy silence hung in the air for most of the walk back to camp. The Elf King moodily considered the situation that he was now placed in. To allow one of his people to be sentenced to a fate worse than death was unthinkable. As the king, it was his duty to protect his people, so how could he possibly resign himself to send one of the elf maidens down into the goblin caves even if she had consented to such a fate?
"Aganir," Girzal began. "Should I send the message out to the camps upon our return?"
The Elf King sighed, running a hand over his face and through his black curls. "How can we even begin to explain this, Girzal?"
The elvish advisor studied his king warily, attempting to gauge his mood. "It is a slim probability that any maiden would willingly agree to become a goblin bride," he acknowledged. "But even I have to admit that a reign without raids is a very valuable trade from the Goblin King."
They had reached camp now, and the Elf King paused to look at his elves dancing joyfully in the meadow, with no knowledge of the horrible news that he had to tell them. A part of him wanted to leave the news for tomorrow night, to not spoil the excited, joyous energy of the night, but he knew that that would be the coward's way out. It would only confirm what his enemy believed of him. No, he would have to break the news tonight. It was his only hope of ensuring a peace for the entirety of his reign. And, there was the small part of him that could admit that he wanted Laura back, safely in his camp and as his wife.
"Gather the camp. I shall make the announcement myself. It is only right." Aganir finally said, after several long moments had passed. He stared up at the stars as though they might provide him with some wisdom, but for once, they seemed not to speak to him all.