The light was bright, way too bright. My senses felt more acute than usual and as a result they were also more raw. I rolled over onto my stomach and buried my face into the pillow. I was almost drifting off to sleep when I heard a feminine voice ask,
"Which robes would you like?" Her voice grated on my ears and I covered them with the pillow.
"The red ones," a deep, rumbling voice replied. It was much nicer to listen to. I wondered who it belonged to.
I pulled my face out of the pillow and looked around the room to see a few Winter Court female servants walking from place to place, packing clothes into suitcases. Lord Kendryek was standing off to the side, observing the process. He wore a light red silk tunic and brown pants. The sleeves were short enough to show off the bulky muscles I hadn't fully appreciated last night. His fiery red hair was combed into a homogenous wave and he wore two small gold studs in each ear. His freckles were almost glowing. He was stunning.
I snatched at the covers and pulled them over the exposed parts of my body. The sounds of my scramble alerted Lord Kendryek to me.
"Good morning Allyn," he said. "I decided to let you sleep in, you had a busy day yesterday and I thought you deserve the rest." It felt like my head was imploding. I pinched my leg to make sure I wasn't in some kind of absurd dream. "I regret to inform you that I must visit The Forest House to celebrate his two thousand and thirty second birthday. I would spend more time with you today, but it is too late to work you into the plans for the visit and this cannot be rescheduled. I will be back by no later than tomorrow night."
It took me a few moments to get any words out.
"Th-that's okay." That was perfectly okay. That was completely and one hundred percent okay.
"Vivianne will assess your fighting skills later today, but other than that you are free to do whatever you please." He waved his hand at Tonilia. "If you need anything, feel free to ask the servants to get it for you." Tonilia gave me a little knowing smile, like she'd seen this coming a mile away, and nodded.
"Thank you," I said.
"We already have plans to visit the Winter Court in order to deliver Kalista's Tear to her." Lysander ran off with it at some point yesterday. "It will not be difficult to add you to the plans that we already have in place, assuming you would like to go."
"I would, thank you," I said. I could have thanked him a hundred times.
He got up from his chair and walked to the door. The two other servants held it open for him.
"I'm afraid it is time for us to leave now. Tonilia will fill you in on the details surrounding your assessment. I will see you again in just a few days. Goodbye Allyn," he said.
"Goodbye Lord Kendryek," I replied. He smiled warmly.
"Just call me Ken," he told me before leaving.
As soon as he was gone, Tonilia turned to me, grinning from ear to ear.
"How was it?" So much for never having to see her again.
"Spending the night with Lord Kendryek?" I reddened.
"That's private," I said. I didn't even want to think about that beautiful disaster. She waved her hand dismissively.
"We're two girls, you can go ahead and tell me." I started to get the idea that even though she was easily a few hundred years old, she never matured past the age of twenty. "And I've spent a night with him too. Maybe more than one, but that was a long time ago." She smiled and looked off to the side. "he definitely has a type."
"What?" I asked.
"Don't you find it weird that there is an abnormal number of Winter Court females here?" Now that she mentioned it, I did.
"Yeah, I guess so." I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
"I think it's our blue eyes. He loves them." She spaced off, clearly thinking contentedly about something. Then she frowned. "Though he never told me to call him Ken." Her frown deepened. "Or told me to ask the servants for anything I wanted." She scowled at the ground for a moment before brightening. "But that's good for you!" She said. "It means he likes you more." That made me feel better. "Anyway, you'll be meeting with Vivianne in the training yard at three. I'll start getting you ready, starting with helping you bathe. I'm sure you got very ick-"
"I'm good thanks. I can bathe myself, I did it yesterday," I quickly said, cutting her off. She glared at me.
"I don't understand why you're so against us helping you. We're here for your ease and care after all," she said, sounding extremely annoyed and hurt. I thought back to what Lysander said about her and her past.
"I'm just not used to it, I'm sorry." She shook her head.
"You don't have to be sorry!"
"Oh-kay…" I said. I really didn't understand this woman. "I'd really prefer to be alone when I bathe. You can pick me out something to wear if you'd like." Hopefully that would make her stop obsessing over my every move.
"Oh I'd love to!" she said brightly.
I spent as much time in that bath as I could. I vainly hoped that if I took too long, Tonilia would get bored and go do something else. Eventually she loudly rapped on the door.
"Miss, are you still alive? It has been an hour and a half." Miss? Since when?
"Yea, I'm just finishing up," I lied. I had been done cleaning every inch of my body as thoroughly as I could an hour ago. All I needed to do now was just dry off, which I took my sweet time in doing.
I put on a robe, ensured that it was well secured, and walked out of the room to see what she picked out for me to wear. On a mannequin was a buttery yellow dress that was almost as wide as I was tall.
"Tonilia?" I asked.
"Do you like it?"
"Please don't take this the wrong way."
"How the hell and I supposed to be physically assessed in something that I won't be able to sit down in?" She opened and closed her mouth, forming a few silent words. Her brows knit together - anger or confusion I couldn't tell - before relaxing.
"I'm sorry miss, I thought it would look really pretty on you..."
"I'm sure it would, but can you please pick out something a bit more practical?"
After she found two more dresses, each only slightly more agile than the one before it, I took matters into my own hands, went into the closet, and found a plethora of dresses, skirts, and gowns. There was nothing for a lady to train or fight in. I was seriously considering just taking one of Kendryek's pairs of pants when Tonilia finally relented and left to go get something from a different room.
I couldn't think while she talked. Her voice was too distracting from my thoughts. I didn't want to be rude, but I was going insane listening to her ramble on about pointless drama between royals. It was bad enough that I had to say something.
"Tonilia, can you please be quiet? I have a bit of a headache." Once again, her mouth moved but no sound came out. She closed her mouth and didn't say anything else. Finally, I was able to think.
A servant named Tonilia and Bloodletter, I'd heard my grandfather say those names before. Either one could have been a coincidence, but both was highly unlikely. But how did he know them?
I thought back to the book.
I never knew where grandfather had gotten all of his stories. I'd never taken the time to think about it. If grandfather had found a book by Alexander, then it would explain how he knew the names. Lysander had one of Alexander's books, I'd have to…
I frowned and clenched my teeth. I was still mad at him for blatantly lying to me. I quietly seethed about how easily I'd been fooled by him and worried that Kendryek may be no different.
She set the brush down on the marble counter and gestured to my hair.
"It looks great!" I said. I wasn't lying. The part in my snow white hair was crisp, but she still managed to give it a messy look. I loved it. "Thank you." I got out of the chair. "I'd like to take some time to walk around the mansion."
She nodded, still no talking. Weird...She wouldn't stop talking earlier and barely followed any of my requests.
Then it hit me. Kendryek had told me that I could ask them anything I wanted. Did that extend to forcing them to be quiet?
"You may talk now," I said, hoping I wasn't painting myself as a pompous fool.
"Thank you miss." I was right. "Would you like a tour?"
"No thank you. I need some alone time." She didn't resist.
"Okay," she said cheerfully. "If you need me, I'll be in Jas' room. It's the one across from Lord Kendryek's. Don't hesitate to get me if you need me!"
"I won't." She clapped her hands and all the toiletries in the room jumped into a basket on the counter. She picked it up, waved goodbye, and left the room.
My first stop was going to be the reading room. I knew exactly where it was. I'd spotted it the night before.
I'd never seen so many books in my entire life. There had to have been hundreds-no thousands of them. They were stacked high on time worn oak wood shelves. Each of these shelves was set in order of the author's first name - last names appeared to be rare in Prythian. "Biography of Helion the Third," "Biography of the Lost High Lord," and "Biography of Alvis, the First of the Alkyonides" were some of the titles that I'd spotted. The biography and autobiography sections appeared to be the two largest of the entire room.
In the center of the rectangular room there rested a circular desk. Stacks of papers were untouched and covered in a thin layer of dust. A map was spread out on one portion of the desk. A few odd mechanical contraptions were spread out across one open area on the desk, seventeen in total. They whizzed and whirred along hypnotically. I got the feeling that Lord Kendryek was somewhat obsessed with them.
I returned to the autobiographies section and started my search.
It wasn't in the "A" section of the biographies. It wasn't in the "A" section of the autobiographies. It wasn't in the "A" section of the folktales, the storybooks, or the "A" section of the nonfiction documentation of old legends. I berated myself for not remembering what the title of the book was, as that would have helped me look for it, but I couldn't. All I knew was who wrote it and that Lysander had it in his office.
I sure as hell wasn't about to ask him about it.
At some point I'd started checking shelves randomly, hoping that I'd get lucky and stumble across it. I used that strategy until I'd at least glanced at every single shelf, which meant it most likely wasn't on any of them. The only place I hadn't searched was the desk. I'd stayed away from it up until this point, but I was too frustrated and too desperate to care about privacy at this point.
All the manners grandfather had hammered into me were scream at me to stop what I was doing, leave the desk alone, and just wait and ask about it. There was no telling the consequences of getting caught. I didn't want to risk my standing with Kendryek this early, but my curiosity got the best of me.
There were few books, all of them were lined up neatly and none of them the one I searching for. The rest of the desk was boring papers, scrolls, and more other official documents. I refused to admit defeat. A large portion of the desk was drawers, maybe it was in one of those.
The only thing in the drawers was folders containing more goddamn paper. All of the drawers were packed to burst, except for one. While throwing the drawers open and closed I noticed that it was far less full than the others and I felt something shift at the bottom. Something heavy.
I shoved back the folders and revealed what was below them.
There was a book. Scratched brown leather, torn gold lettering, it looked like a damaged version of the book I'd found at Lysander's cabin. There was a corner of a piece of paper sticking out of the side and a few pages were dog-eared.
I couldn't contain my excitement when I found the book. I snatched it out of the bottom of the drawer and opened it. Just like on Lysander's copy there was a note on the front cover in the same loopy handwriting. It was written below a printed date.
"I wish you and your new fiance luck in your marriage. Be glad that neither of you need wings for the ceremony! -Alexander the Adventurous." I felt a twinge of pain, knowing that the wedding never happened. "P.S. I've marked a few passages that will help you learn more about your new friends and better understand them."
It was completely in half with a second, partial tear down the center of the two pieces. It was like someone had started to rip it up before deciding against it. I put the piece back together and started reading.
I know I'm not supposed to be sending this to you as any kind of contact between the anyone in the inner circle risks tracking, but I want to assure you, Lys, and Erin that everything is well. Life is going well in the mortal lands. Lysander's plan worked flawlessly. We have not faced any issues other than a bit of xenophobia, but the gold and a little rough housing cleared that up. We're under protection from the Baron now. No one will touch us for fear of the guards getting involved.
I have yet to decide on a name for her, but I'm running out of time. She began walking last week though Lysander claimed she was no older than eight months. I can tell that she is going to be a strong, powerful, beautiful woman. I hope I can be the father she needs to grow up kind and compassionate.
I have to thank you again for allowing this to happen. I cannot put how grateful I am into words. All I've ever wanted was a daughter and you've given me the opportunity to have one. The quiet retirement in a relatively peaceful area of the mortal lands away from any of the fae I'd angered is just a bonus. I know you were skeptical of this plan, I was too, but everything is working out and I couldn't be happier.
Please don't be so hard on Lysander. Fae can change. Don't let what happened a hundred years ago change how you treat him today. He is a good person now, I know that for a fact.
I miss you all. May the Mother protect each and every one of you and Arphaxad guide Erin.
My first thought was a ridiculous one, one so absurd and silly that I refused to entertain it for even a heartbeat.
After reading the note I folded it closed. I guiltily tucked it back into the front cover of the book. This was clearly something extremely personal to Kendryek and I'd just dug into it without hesitation. I didn't regret my choice though, as I'd learned a lot from just a few paragraphs. Everything I learned only raised more and more questions. Who was the girl that he was raising? Where were they in the mortal lands? Did I live closer to him that I first thought? What did Lysander do to make Kendryek distrust him so much?
I scanned the side of the book to read each of the book marks. Lysander and Hadrian, Erin, and Hadrian again were listed along with Vivianne, Jas, and Rosalind in a different kind of handwriting. I skipped Lysander and Hadrian's entry and went straight to Erin's - I wanted to know more about her and her maimed wings. The entry was titled "Peregryns" and the writing miniscule.
"Peregryn's are a group of winged faeries that mainly reside within the Dawn Court. Their society and culture are defined by their most prominent feature, their wings, much like the Night Court's Illyrians (see page 231). Unlike the Illyrians, they're a much more peaceful race that tends to decide disputes with as little violence as possible as most Peregryns are extreme pacifists and follow Arphaxad's Doctrine. This is a gross generalization, as there are many notable exceptions, such as the current High Lord of the Dawn Court, Damon."
I skipped down to the passage about their wings.
"The wings of a Peregryn are arguably the only thing that truly matters to them. Many would choose death over the loss of their flight. Many have." I grimaced. "For example, a Peregryn wedding ceremony requires that the bride and groom into the air and eclipse the rising sun. If this cannot happen because either partner lacks wings, their marriage will not be recognized by the vast, vast majority of those within the Dawn Court. This has had the added effect of creating an entire subrace of fae, the Alkyonides (see page 3)." There is was. That word that Lysander seemed obsessed with.
I let my finger mark the page where I'd left off as I started flipping to page three.
I heard footsteps enter the reading room and froze. They faded and rose in volume as they walked between the different shelves before stopping just as they faded. My heart was hammering in my throat as I quietly put everything I'd gotten out away and silently removed myself from behind Kendryek's desk. I headed towards one of the shelves opposite the footsteps, doing my best to look nonchalant.
"Hello?" It was Lysander. I acted like I didn't hear him. I snatched a book off the shelf and sat in the nearest chair. I propped it open on my legs and stared at the words, not reading a single one of them. "Good afternoon Allyn," he said as he found me. He seemed very refreshed after his night with Erin and happy to see me. He wore his signature green tunic and brown pants. In his hands he held books written in languages I didn't recognize.
"Hello. I'm not in the mood to talk," I said coldly, not taking my eyes off of the book I was reading. I was still angry that he'd lie to me like that. I could only guess that he lied just to try and get me in bed with him.
"Well that was a bit frosty," he replied jovially. I'd show him frosty.
"Did you have fun last night?" I glared up at him. He stared on blankly to feign innocence.
"I thought you said you regretted leading Erin on! Then you turn around and take her back to your cabin?" He narrowed his eyes and furrowed his brow. Confusion seeped into his green eyes.
"What are you going on about? Who told you that?"
"You trusted Hadrian!" He exclaimed. "One of these days I'm going to beat that man so badly he won't be able to stitch himself back together." He rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. "You didn't know," he muttered quietly. "Never trust that idiot. He'll do whatever he can to cause an argument. He feeds off of them." I compared that statement to everything I knew about Hadrian so far; it definitely seemed like something he'd do, but my emotions were still too high.
"How can I trust you?" I spat. I immediately regretted my words. He hadn't done anything to convince me that he was undeserving of my trust. He grew more serious. The glimmer in his eye vanished. I looked down at the floor. "I'm-"
"I leaned down to pick my fork up off the ground and fell asleep. Erin got angry and forced me to go stay in the infirmary overnight. If you don't believe me, I can take you to her." There was a venom to his words.
"No, I believe you," I replied. He blinked and stared at me silently.
"Then why did you assume the worst?" I could hear his unspoken words. I asked myself the same question. Maybe it was because he was an emissary, a whore. Maybe I didn't trust him because I refused to look beyond that. I was in no position to judge him for that either, not after last night.
"What are you doing here?" I casually asked. He held up the books in his hands.
"That's none of your business," he said tonelessly. Well shit. I felt a cold strain on our friendship - the only one I felt certain that I had. "Don't you have somewhere to be? I believe it's a little after two o'clock and I remember Vivianne mentioning something about testing you around that time during breakfast." Oh shit. Tonilia hadn't told me anything about that. "She'll fill you in when you get there. Now if you'll excuse me, I have other things to do right now." He then spun around and strode out of the room. I watched him leave, deeply regretting everything I'd said.
But I didn't have time for self pity. I had yet to eat anything today and had completely forgotten about the test. I crammed the book I'd grabbed back into the shelf and left.
I caught a servant in the hallway who directed me towards the kitchens. I scarfed down a half a loaf of bread before speeding off to the training grounds. They were located outside of the wall on the other side of town. I had to lightly jog there to arrive on time and I hoped I wasn't supposed to bring any of my weapons - they were still in Lysander's cabin.
They were four large fields, each one at least a hundred or so yards long. Each was dedicated to a different kind of training. Twenty nine archers faced the treeline and fired arrows into targets and a group of fifty heavily clad fae practicing their swordsmanship. The other two fields, one dedicated to a complex obstacle course and the other completely bare of any obstructions, were empty.
I looked around for a woman, there were none. I slowed to a walk and found a spot on the edge of one of the empty fields to sit while I waited.
While waiting, I watched the soldiers training and wondered. Where was everyone? There could have been more than a hundred and fifty men training. That was almost as many as what my old town had. Kirkwall was a few orders of magnitude larger, so where was everyone? I worked to rationalize this oddity.
First off, fae were different than humans. Most couldn't replicate at the same rate that humans could and they didn't die every nearly as easily. I was also sure that eventually an immortal could only get so good at swinging a sword or shooting a bow, so constant training would become unnecessary. There also had to be a substantial number guarding areas of the city. At one point I'd counted how many guards were out on an average day at my old town and the surrounding area and used that number to guess how many were…
I eventually explained away most of the issues that I had, but the number still seemed on the small side.
Just as I was starting to wonder if I'd gone to the wrong place, someone winnowed into the dead center of the training grounds. I instantly knew she was the person I was waiting for. She couldn't have looked more like someone from a foreign land.
She had only one leg, one arm, and (I assumed) one eye. An intricately carved ivory leg peaked out from below her dress and there was a piece of porcelain covering her right eye. A violet was painted onto the center, where her eye would have been. She wore a rose patterned red dress. It folded over her chest and the edges were lined by rows of black. At her waist hung a thin, curved sword. Her long black hair was held back by a red cloth.
Out of all of the things, her face was the most different. Her skin was a darker tone than mine and a slightly different color. Her remaining brown eye was squinted and slanted slightly. A faint layer of pink blush accentuated her cheekbones. She was undeniably attractive, but not in a way that I was accustomed to.
She strode towards the fae that were training. I got up from where I sat and walked towards her. As I approached I drew the attention of a fthe other fae. They had now formed rows to stand at attention. Vivianne did not look at me before stating,
"Allyn, good. You're here, albeit slightly late." I bit back a sharp reply. I'd gotten here before she had! "You may stand over there, next to the rest of the trainees." I did as I was told, dropping into line beside one of the many armored fae. It was hard to tell what kind they were or what they looked like as each and every one of them was covered from head to toe in steel plate armor. The only way I was able to discern their gender was by the grunts they were making when they practiced.
I was under-armored, under-weaponed, and the one of two women. The only way I could have felt more exposed was if I was naked.
"I take it that Gilan has ran you all through your warm ups today?" She asked. I took it that Gilan was the red haired, bulky High Fae who was directing the others.
"Yes mam!" They replied in unison. I didn't say anything, I didn't know what the hell was going on. This wasn't at all what I expected.
"Good. Display form three. I demand perfect precision out of all of you." They all took up positions in front of practice dummies, drew their weapons - steel swords of extreme quality - and began practicing a set of moves in near-perfect unison. I didn't move. I didn't have a weapon, I didn't have anything to practice with. With each passing second my face became redder. Vivianne took notice of this and approached me.
"Do you think you're too good to train like the rest of them?" I shook my head.
"I wasn't told to bring anything." I was barely told anything really. All I was given was a time and a location.
"Do you think that excuse will work on an attacking enemy?" She asked with a very patronizing tone. I knew I couldn't open my mouth without saying something rude. "Do you?" She pressed. I shook my head. She took a step towards me. "Speak."
"I don't own a sword, I have no way of purchasing one." I supposed I could have asked a servant for one. How was I supposed to know to do that? "Besides, what are the chances of being attacked by an enemy this deep into Lord Kendryek's territory?" Not even a flicker of emotion crossed her face. She formed a claw with her remaining hand.
A bolt of red hot lightning coursed through my body, filling every pore with excruciating pain. The blood in my veins felt like it was boiling. I let out a strained cry of pain and fell face first onto the ground.
"Much higher than you think," She replied with a slight smirk. The meaning was clear. She threw a sword at my feet. "Stand. Fight me. You must be able to justify your own arrogance."
I grabbed that sword and leapt to my feet. Cold rage turned my body cold. My hand shook as I held the weapon. I wanted nothing more than to drive it directly into her remaining eye.
It was a thinner, shorter sword like the ones I was accustomed to wielding. I held it in one hand and assumed a strong stance, my feet a shoulder width apart. Normally I held a dagger or a parrying knife in my off hand, but I could not easily access one. She too dropped into a more ready stance that compensated for her disabilities. She took small, conservative steps towards me. I backed away.
I noticed that there was an unevenness to them that left her unbalanced and less able to strike back. This was surely brought on by her ivory leg. It was a weakness, one that I could exploit.
As I backed away, I formulated my plan. I imagined how it would play out to the finest details. I would dive forward, timing it perfectly as to catch her in the middle of her uneven step and cause her to become more unbalanced, driving the-
Wrong, I suddenly thought. No, that wouldn't work. This was Vivianne, second in command of Lord Kendryek's court. This wasn't some run of the mill grunt with a bad leg. There was no way she'd have a weakness this obvious, this exploitable. It had to be a trick.
"Stop running from her, fight!" Gilan shouted at me. I ignored him, he was only a distraction from my goal. I was going to beat Vivianne.
There was no way that I could out duel her in the current situation. She was more experienced, both in general and with the blade that she held, and far stronger.
The knife! She didn't know I had a knife! I couldn't reach it without completely exposing myself, but there was another option. I think I'd done it twice before, once with Oliver and once last night. Somehow I could get it into my hands without reaching for it.
She grunted from frustration and dived towards me. There was a sharp SHING as our blades deflected off of each other. She pressed the attack, forcing me to jump backwards and out of her way. She fell back into her regular, uneven gait. There was definitely a discrepancy between how she fought and how she walked. She was toying with me.
I worked quickly, focusing my anger into something more productive. I channeled, using it to access what was deep in me. Something pinned and chained by an even greater something else.
It took an extreme amount of focus, but I knew that I could draw it the second I needed to.
I stopped backing up, allowing her to get into range of me. Our blades struck each others lightly, each more of a test of each other's skill than a true attack. A few shouts of triumph from the onlookers drowned out the clash of metal. She kept me at range, close enough for our blades to touch but nothing more. She was looking to disarm. I was looking to win, at any cost.
There was no point in letting the battle go on any longer. I leapt forward and jabbed in such a way that she would be forced to deflect it to the side, leaving her stomach open to a counterattack.
I felt the weight of my knife settle in my hand as I drove it towards her abdomen. Too late she realized what I'd done, the ace I'd had hidden in my boot. The tip of the blue dagger punched through the barrier surrounding her body and into her stomach, just below her bottomost rib.
Pain burst into her eyes the second it broke the skin. I didn't have a moment to celebrate my victory. She tensed her free hand in the same way she had before. She called that red lightning onto me again. This time it was worse, much worse.
The pain was so great that time stretched into eternity. I knew nothing, thought nothing, felt nothing, and saw nothing but that electric fire that burned in my body. Then it all went black.